23 April 2014

[continued from Part I]

TT: And all the special effects were being handled by the Burman Studio, correct?

GM: Yes, it was Tom Burman and his studio. But they were putting things together down in the mine too! What happened at one point is that we ended up running behind a little bit...and because of the delivery deadline that we had to live up to, we had to have second unit crews.

So I would finish my twelve-hour day on the first unit and I would run back to the motel, take a shower and run off and shoot another four hours with the second unit.

For instance, that scene on the Bluffs between Paul Kelman and Lori Hallier...when they're by the water and they're expressing their love for each other? That was a second unit scene that we shot just as the light was disappearing.

TT: Twilight love, literally.

GM: Yes. The other funny part about it is when we showed up in Nova Scotia at the time, we really wanted to have that grey, dreary, foggy feel to it. And of course, everyone said that Nova Scotia is known for that. Well, except in September and early October...when it seems to be the nicest and the clearest! For the camera at one point, it looked like blue skies and blue ocean.

We did one scene where Kelman and Hallier are walking down a street in the town. Hallier was working as a cashier. And then they walk out...well, that was shot under incredibly bright sunshine. We ended up creating these 20 x 20 silks all along one side of the road to give it the shadow we needed.

Here again is where MBV was different. For the usual slasher films, if it wasn't a part of the lighting for a particular special effect, nobody usually cared about what the rest of it looked like. But we did. Or we tried to anyway.

TT: Aside from the mine, the other main place of action would be the hall where the characters hold their Valentine's Party. Where was that filmed?

GM: That was the United Mine Workers Hall there in Sydney Mines. A meeting place for the miners, workers' committees, etc. We brought in all the decorations, the pool tables, signs. In real life, that UMW Hall probably would have looked quite bare.

TT: Do you want to reveal any information about the car accident involving one of the cast members and a subsequent lawsuit?

GM: Well, what happened was one of the cast members...I'm sure if you watch the film you can easily figure out who...one of the cast members maintained that they could drive. If you notice, we were using '60s and '70s muscle cars.

TT: Which scene?

GM: When they're all ready to leave the mine and things are still going good and they're running off and getting into their cars and taking off to have a good time.

TT: That's our clue to figure out who it was?

GM: Yeah, that's the clue. They're all fishtailing out of the gravel parking lot of the mine. And so we're doing these shots and we've got drivers to do that. And this cast member said, "No, no, no...I know how to drive. I know how to drive these cars, it's not a problem."

So this cast member jumped into the car, put his foot down on the pedal, fishtailed out toward the gate...gravel flying...and ended up losing control of the car. And in the process, knocking someone over.

TT: He didn't know how to drive at all?

GM: No. We found out later. He didn't have a license either. Those were the days if you asked an actor if he could fly, swim, ride a horse or motorcycle...he'd say "Yup." He'd get the job and THEN he'd get the license.

TT: That's the type of machismo guy who says he can do anything. And then they have an accident and it slows everything down.

GM: It certainly didn't help matters. And we're still not sure (after all these years) whether he actually got hurt or just to somehow assuage his conscience, decided he was injured.

TT: Didn't he use a cane for a short while after the incident?

GM: Yes. So then he said his back was hurting and that he needed to get some pills for that.

TT: This goes from slightly comedic to starting to sound like a burden...

GM: It got kind of pathetic for a while. It was not pleasant and it was all happening at a time when people were getting quite tired and irritable. There was major sleep deprivation and we were shooting strangely around the clock.

We'd go down into the mine and then we'd have a 'methane morning'...which meant everybody out. And the mine would be closed until the methane gas would clear. Because the minute it got very cloudy, the "low pressure systems" (as the technicians called it) would then put pressure on to the airshafts that the mine breathes with. So normally the mine should have this constant draft going out...like a fireplace chimney. When you have air moving above a chimney, it sucks air out from the inside and allows the smoke to go up, right?

TT: Right.

GM: Well it's the same thing in the mine. That's what would get rid of the methane.

On the other hand, if it had very low pressure...which in meteorology means more pressure...if you have a cloudy day with a lot of moisture and humidity pressing down on the atmosphere, that would stop the methane gas from escaping and you'd have a methane build-up.

It was quite scary working like that because at a certain point, it becomes extremely dangerous. I mean, you can die. That's why they used to have canaries in coal mines.

TT: A warning sign for those down below?

GM: That's right...if the canary died, you got out. (Laughs.)

TT: Great. Unless it took you an hour to get out. You could still have problems getting out.

GM: You would. Coal mining was not necessarily a very safe and secure profession.

TT: But as with Sydney, sometimes it was the only kind of job you could get.

GM: Oh and that WAS the only job.

If you read about it, there's constant coal mining explosions in China, the Ukraine, in Russia...and places where coal mining is still a viable industry. There's constant tragedies.

TT: And the Princess Colliery mine was no exception. In 1938, there was a nasty mancar accident that killed 22 miners. Which lends an added creepiness to the fact that MBV was shot right there...

GM: Exactly. No matter how careful you are and no matter how good your equipment is, mining is not sunning on the beach.

TT: Let's ascend from the mine for a moment and talk about the kills. The murder of Mabel (Patricia Hamilton) in the laundromat is not typical for slashers, in the sense that she isn't some young, nubile thing. Her demise is a pretty brutal end for an older woman. Was that in the original script?

GM: It was. I think the reason we did it was to disturb, for one. Because it's not something that's expected. The adults don't usually "get it" in these things.

TT: Right on.

GM: But it was also to take suspicion away from the real killer. Because you would not expect him to do that. It sort of brought into people's minds, "What's going on here...because all these things are supposed to happen in the mines. So...maybe it can't be Harry Warden, maybe it's somebody else."

TT: Someone in the town...

GM: That's right.

TT: We can't really talk about the kills without talking about the infamous MPAA cuts. They're inextricably linked. The death sequences were ALL cut in some form or another, correct?

GM: Every single one of them.

TT: For example, what do you recall about Patricia's death?

GM: Patricia's was one that got cut the least, actually. It was cut by about 20 seconds. The way it is now, you don't see her turning in the dryer.

It was Tom Burman who made these incredible applications...where her neck was on some form of swivel device. When the door opens on a dryer, the tumbler carries on spinning. Depending on how much weight there is in it, it will carry on spinning longer or less.

So the way we first had it originally edited was we cut out just as the dryer came to a full stop. Because for one thing, the minute it stops, the eye can begin to really look at it and examine it and it looks fake. If it's in movement, there's less of a chance of that. Another plus was that the neck movement Burman had created was so naturalistic.

Basically with Mabel what you had was this head bobbing up and down with that articulate neck looking really like a human being whose neck was broken and turned into rubber.

TT: So what you're saying is there were several turns of her neck and then BOOM, drop down and her neck fell down.

GM: Yeah, that's right. So that was all cut. And that was one of the few where they allowed the shot to remain for any length of time.

TT: Was there more of the full charred body on the table?

GM: Oh yeah. Everything.

One of the goals that we set out to do and what Tom Burman created for us was to be able to create these special effects in one shot. So often, what you had in those days is you'd see the arrow going towards the back of somebody, then it would cut to the front, then it would cut to the top, then it would cut to the side. It would take three or four shots to actually achieve the effect.

Once you got finished with that type of multi cut scare, we felt it took away from the creepy realism we wanted to get with MBV. It took away from the flow.

Tom devised some inventive things, like when the miner lifts his pick ax up under the chin of someone.

TT: Hap the bartender?

GM: Yes. Imagine in those days...what we had was Tom devised a way where you could see the pick ax hit the bottom of the chin and part of it come out through the eye socket...and have the eye ball pop out at the same time. All in one shot.

TT: A close-up of the still photo is in the MBV Gallery which will follow the interview. So then the killer drags him across the ground?

GM: Yeah, but all that got cut out. The story is actually quite amazing about all of these things. This was one of the first films where there was serious attention paid to sound editing and atmosphere.

We had this fabulous company called Burbank Editorial, who did all the sound effects and the pre-mixes of all the sound. And then we had Canada's top sound mixer do the sound mixing for us.

What happened was we sent the copy of the final cut of the film down to Los Angeles for Paramount and for the MPAA. The MPAA basically said, "This is an 'X' film, sorry." They asked for cuts.

Now imagine, at the time we were working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in January (1981) to do the final mix of the film because we have to deliver this picture by...I believe it was February 5th so that they could make the 1,200 copies.

TT: Cutting it so close?

GM: Something around the 5th or 6th of February, I believe it was. Yes, they gave us basically a week or so.

TT: That's how long it takes to strike the prints?

GM: Yeah, from the final release negative...or whatever it's called these days.

Anyway, the process was going like this...the editor in Los Angeles takes out 3 or 4 frames of one shot, we're taking out 3 or 4 frames of our working copy that we're doing the mix to.

Meanwhile, we're taking 3 or 4 frames out of our master sound copies that have already been mixed...and at the same time, somebody is taking 3 or 4 frames out of a negative that's already been cut.

TT: So there are four different sources where people are cutting MBV?

GM: Correct.

TT: There must have been a lot of confusion...

GM: There was a lot of confusion...but it all turned out fine because we had really very good people. It was coordinated well.

We'd take out the eight frames that the MPAA asked to take out and we'd send the film back to them because they'd have to see it. Unfortunately, what happened was that the sound effects were so damned good. Even if you didn't see anything, you heard it...and that made them cringe again.

TT: Oops.

GM: Yeah, oops...so here another round would take place with the MPAA because of that. Take out another four frames. (Laughs.) To the point where it was getting kind of anemic. Because of the sound, they still thought they saw what was no longer there.

TT: The sound shouldn't have been so effective!

GM: Well, yeah...but the whole point is that the producers wanted to have state-of-the-art.

TT: What's so ironic about all this is that the people who are going to see these types of movies WANT to see the gore. They expect it.

GM: With a title like My Bloody Valentine, they're not exactly going in for some moral refresher course or family drama. They're not going in for a teen comedy....they're going to see a BLOODY Valentine.

TT: Regarding the cuts, in your opinion, which was the most egregious?

GM: Helene Udy's death in the shower stalls. Because it's the one we worked hardest on. We actually re-shot a part of that because she was wearing an angora sweater.

I don't know if you know anything about angora wool but moisture beads on angora. It doesn't flow. So basically what happened was that when the blood came out of her mouth, it sort of just beaded. It rolled off...as opposed to staying on. It wasn't bloody enough.

TT: You wanted that to flow and stain.

GM: Yeah. We ended up having to re-shoot. I remember I had a very bad cold at the time and we were sitting in this horrible, freezing place with water running everywhere. And I'm thinking, "I'm gonna catch pneumonia here just for a couple more drops of blood!" (Laughs.)

TT: Can you walk us through how Sylvia's uncut death scene would have looked?

GM: With that scene, we had worked out a way to see her get impaled on camera. Then, the camera would crane down to the killer's hands as he reaches for the knob and begins to turn on the shower...then it would slowly crane back up to her face where now her head has turned into a bloody shower head.

TT: And you would see all of this before her boyfriend John comes back with the beer?

GM: Yes.

TT: And so the camera would move from the miner's hand turning the knob and then it would pan up and you'd actually see Sylvia as the shower head (in the form of what presumably is now a model dummy)?

GM: Yeah. With her poor eyes still moving around in spasms of agony. And the water just spraying out of her mouth.

After the cuts, the only shot they allowed us to keep was that shot where it's a profile of Sylvia, almost out of focus. That was sort of like a second camera shot in case things fucked up...we'd have another angle.

TT: Fascinating...and such a shame. The shot of Sylvia's profile and of the beer dropping is obviously just a footnote to the real work that went on there.

GM: Yes. The other piece that was a tour de force from Tom was the death sequence for Dave (Carl Marotte)...the skin of his face being boiled off.

TT: Walk us through that one.

GM: What Tom created for us was this new, weird make-up where you saw Dave's face perfectly fine like yours and mine...and that same face went down into the pot of boiling water, which of course couldn't be boiling...

Tom had some basic chemicals in the water that made it bubble, made it look like it was boiling. The whole shot was done through a plexiglass bottom of the pot.

TT: So you'd see the sequence through water?

GM: Right. And as Dave was drowning, the make-up would start to take effect. You'd see his face first turn red. Then you'd see the skin start bubbling and peeling off. All in the same shot. And then he'd get pulled out.

TT: Dave's scene always reminds us of the spa scene in Halloween II. We always feel a little sadness with Dave's death because you actually get more gore [in the Halloween II version] than you get in MBV.

And so after cuts, the only shot we're left with here is the still shot of Dave in the refrigerator.

GM: Unfortunately, that's correct.

TT: Was Howard's decapitation a lot longer?

GM: Oh yeah.

TT: Was there a full, longer shot of his body separating from his head?

GM: Absolutely. It was one of those things where a noose was put around Howard's neck and then he was thrown down the shaft live. The noose tightened and he gains speed falling...and then comes to a screeching halt. What we had was you could actually see his neck being squeezed and stretched and then finally the weight of the body forces the head to pop right up and off.

TT: Followed by the blood spurting on Lori and Cynthia?

GM: That's right.

TT: Having read stories about executions by hanging, that certainly would have been based in fact.

GM: Yes it is. Tom did some incredible research for us. We did too. Everything we did was sort of logistically based in fact.

TT: Was Michael and Harriet's death scene originally on camera?

GM: The scene in which Tom Kovacs gets the huge big drill in him? Yes, it was. Mike is on top of Harriet and the killer comes in and shoves this drill bit into his back, which makes him jerk and react. This makes Harriet think that Mike's begun to thrust a little harder.

TT: Oh...like he's getting into it, like he's having a good time?

GM: Exactly. Which makes Harriet open her mouth and go, "Oh, that's good" - just as he begins to bleed down into her mouth.

TT: Wow.

GM: Yeah. And then as she opens her eyes and sees Mike all contorted and with blood coming out of his mouth, the miner pushes down further on the drill and...scrunch...now it impales her also.

TT: That's great. It sounds reminiscent of the shiskebab scene in Mario Bava's Bay of Blood.

GM: (Laughs.) That's how it went. So no, originally that wasn't supposed to be off camera. All of it was to happen onscreen.

Every one of the deaths, there's 10, 15, 20 seconds of what basically a large percentage of the movie's budget went for.

I have a theory about all this.

TT: What's that?

GM: Early December 1980 is when John Lennon got shot...

TT: December 8th.

GM: Right. I remember I was driving up to the editing room and it was an ugly, ugly horrible day in Montreal. I walked into the editing room and all of us just said, "Fuck it, let's just all go home and get drunk." This was the most meaningless crime as far as we were concerned, the most meaningless form of violence we'd ever seen.

I honestly do believe that there was a major backlash against gratuitous violence because of that. And it was an immediate reaction.

TT: Not to mention the obligatory lawsuit from a parent whose kid goes out and commits a crime and and the mother blames it on the influence of slasher movies.

GM: Yes. And you know how sometimes the reaction in Hollywood is about things. There's a scandal and all of a sudden, it just goes totally to the other side of the fence.

And then nobody wants to do horror anymore, nobody does this...nobody does that. The worst part is six months later, it's over and we all go back to the way things were.

TT: It was also around the same time that critics such as Siskel and Ebert initiated a letter writing campaign against these films.

GM: Yes, that too. My feeling is that it all culminated in the John Lennon thing. Here was somebody who kept singing about peace and love and "imagine" and so on. It was so senseless.

TT: Although that didn't stop Lauren Bacall from filming The Fan around the same time...and she was a neighbor of the Lennons in the Dakota.

GM: Exactly. My point is that people didn't stop making these things...but they didn't come out at the time. I believe that letting MBV go uncut was gonna look like a major slap in the face to that solemn, chest-beating "we're all responsible for the senseless violence" feeling.

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