Shiver is a brutal and unsettling film that puts the viewer through an emotionally rough experience while bombarding them with images that won’t easily fade. This is something that is not easily done and takes some skill.
Enter director Julian Richards whose film, The Last Horror Movie, has scared me for years.
His latest effort is an uncompromising look at loneliness, torment, and murder. Shock safely sat down with him for a one on one about bringing the book to life, casting the characters real life counterparts, and causing the audience to Shiver…
Shock Till You Drop: How difficult was it to translate Shiver into a film?
Julian Richards: Very difficult. The book is very dated so one of the biggest challenges was really to update the story. The other was that the story isn’t just told from one point of view, it’s not just Wendy’s story. She shares the point of view of the story with the killer. So right from the get go, we put the killer in and we introduce him as a character rather than keep the killer in the background. In drama, the character of the killer speaks a lot and horror is different. Let’s hide him, let’s put blacks on his face, a hat or something. It actually turned out to be that kind of horror film. It has drama elements. It has rich characters, and a point of view that’s shared between the antagonist and the protagonists.
Shock: I can imagine that was pretty daunting…
Richards: Yes. There were lots of obstacles in my way. The constitution of every film differs. I’ve made films where I’m the producer, I’m the writer, and I’m the director. The producer, Robert Weinbach, also wrote the screenplay, so he’s been living with the project 10 years before I came on the thing so it’s for him. It’s very much his baby, but it was full of problems. It was a big challenge.
Shock: What is the biggest difference between the two mediums in your opinion?
Richards: In film we have the close up and the power of the close up. Eyes are the window to the soul. You can actually see what people are thinking. Whereas in books, you can’t see what they’re thinking, you have to be told. When converting a novel to a screenplay, one of the biggest problems is dealing with the amount of exposition that exists in a novel. That was a big challenge with the screenplay. There was a lot of exposition in Weinbach’s screenplay. A day or two before we started shooting, we went through the screenplay with our main focus on addressing the exposition through the dialogue, trying to reduce it as much as possible.
Shock: How did you go about casting the leads, were you searching for physical representations based on the book descriptions or were you searching for a feel?
Richards: Definitely the feel of the characters. John Jarratt, who plays the killer, he was already onboard the project before I arrived as director. That was an interesting dynamic because I had seen Wolf Creek and I thought it was amazing but I thought, well, is he the actor that I see as Rood? And initially, if I’m going by Wolf Creek, I would say no. But when I got to meet John, and listened to his take on the character, he had a very specific take on him. A very great gift with what he had done previously. I think in terms performances, that the character of Rood was a specific character on John’s take on it was out of the box. As a director, I don’t necessarily tell people what to do; I listen and think my way through the process. So when I first started going through rehearsals, I thought I was doing that. I was like this is either gonna work or it’s gonna fall flat on its face. One of the problems being that the killer is so in your face, so evident. So my policy all the way through the shoot was that John would do it his way then for the next two or three takes, I would adjust the performances. So I created latitude that I could then apply to the edit. If at any time it felt over the top or a little bit too much on it then I could bring it back. So that’s how I worked with John. Now with Danielle Harris, I actually auditioned her through Skype, I was in London at the time and she was in L.A., and she just felt absolutely right for the part of Wendy. A film is only as good as its worst performance and I like to cast people who are very close to the characters in the story rather than somebody who would act their way through the part.
Shock: The journey was intense…
Richards: Yes. It was incredibly demanding for Danielle and a little bit like “I Spit on Your Grave”, not quite that bad, but she’s being chased and tortured from beginning to end so it was quite an ordeal for her.
Shock: The film is pretty gruesome, were there things that made you uncomfortable?
Richards: I think that, for me, the most uncomfortable scene was the opening in the dinner. It felt very real. In terms of the weapon, it’s not just one spike to the head; it just goes on and on and on. I think that’s something I got from a film I did years ago called The Last Horror Movie. We did all the murder scenes in one take which is something that I picked up from Alfred Hitchcock with the neck tie murders. I can remember murder scenes in that film going on for much longer than I would have cared for and being quite disturbed by that. That’s an important thing in this kind of film.
Shock: The book is based in Los Angeles, but the film is Oregon. Why the change?
Richards: Originally we were three days away from shooting the film and for various reasons it didn’t work out so we had to move forward. The reason we eventually went to Portland was they have a 20% tax incentive. Oregon is a tax free state. It’s generally cheaper to shoot there as well with the tax break you get the most for your budget. I had never been to Oregon before and a big part of Portland, especially in December is the rain, and I was a little concerned about that, shooting through rain day in and day out, but it actually created an atmosphere, almost SEVEN-esque.
Shock: Would you like to adapt more of the series?
Richards: It’s a tricky one. I’ve not read the series. I would need to read them to answer that question. But Wendy is still there so I suppose its how that story develops. You could do an interesting thing with Wendy with her developing into a killer herself. I don’t know. It’s definitely something that the producers have in mind, but it all depends on the success of the first one.