Hickox, Anthony (Knife Edge)
Have you seen Waxwork? Or Hellraiser III? Or Warlock: Armageddon? Or Full Eclipse? If so, then you know the works of Anthony Hickox.
The British director has been working since the early 80’s and, in his heyday, delivered some of the coolest horror movies of my youth, Waxwork being at the very top of that list. Now he’s poised to make a serious comeback with Knife Edge, his first horror movie in years, and I took it upon myself to find him and talk to him about it.
Easier said than done! I’ve never had quite as hard of a time tracking down someone online as I did with Mr. Hickox; over a month of following up on every lead I could possibly get my hands on, almost all of them leading to dead ends. Then one day I get the e-mail I’d been hoping for; “Mr. Hickox would love to talk to you about Knife Edge!” Score one for the good guys.
So, nervous like I haven’t been for an interview in a long time, I got to picking the man’s brain one Friday morning, and the results speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy!
Johnny Butane: First of all, why have you been away from our genre for so long?
Anthony Hickox: Good question! It wasn’t intentional; I love horror, it’s my favorite genre. I guess I got sidetracked into the low budget action genre. I had a big mortgage to pay and I was being offered these movies one after the other, and I love to shoot, so...
I think it happened when I did the TV show “Extreme”, God knows how I got that, and from there I was just offered these low budget action movies; I must say I do enjoy blowing shit up! But it was beginning to get a little mind numbing, especially the one I did with Segal; I just decided “I can’t do this shit anymore”.
JB: That’s funny; I’ve heard some horror stories about Segal...
AH: He is a nightmare! He’s impossible; he doesn’t turn up, he refuses to say any line that’s written, it’s just ridiculous. I sat back when I was making it and said “I’m a better director than this” so I went back to what I like to do, which is write and direct horror.
JB: So we basically have Stephen Segal to thank for you coming back to horror?
AH: Exactly! (Laughs) Thank Segal!
JB: That’s awesome; I knew I’d have a reason to thank him someday!
AH: Things happen in strange ways, you know? I’d probably be doing a Van Damme picture now if I hadn’t done the Segal one, so we’d be thanking Van Damme (laughs).
AH: Well, it was a script that was sent to me when I was prepping Submerge (the Segal movie), written by Fiona Combe, and it was a really good story (we’re then briefly interrupted by Mr. Hickox’s Dalek message machine, which was awesome).
She had a great passion, though she admits she’s not a film writer, and the story was somewhere between, I would say Gaslight and Rebecca. So I said "if you let me run with it and do a Page One re-write, I’d be very interested", and she did!
Then it was a long, hard process because we didn’t want to have the same kind of cast I’d had in my previous horror films. I didn’t want the B-movie names, I wanted to make the movie with up-and-coming names and do it our way. The budget was not small, either, so it was not easy to setup. It went into official prep three times and was shut down a week before shooting.
JB: For various reasons?
AH: No, only money! It was setup once in the Isle of Man and twice in Ireland. I had a personal relationship with Peter Hoffman at 7 Arts and I wanted him to be involved from the beginning but another producer, Pippa Cross, didn’t want to use him and wanted to go by herself. In the end, the third time it collapsed, I called him from Ireland and said “you have to come and help me with this”. He did and we made the movie!
JB: That’s great, I’m glad it finally came to be! Now you worked with Pete Atkins again on this, right?
AH: Oh, yes, I always work with Pete. On one of my two next films, and I’m not sure which it’s going to be, but there’s one called Catwalk that I wrote with Pete. They just produced a movie we wrote, Prisoners of the Sun, which I don’t know what’s happened to it cause we sold that script. We’ve run out of scripts, though, so we’re going to start specing again. But then I guess we’re not allowed to write right now, are we?
JB: Not right now, no! So what stage is Knife Edge at?
AH: We’ve locked picture, apart from this Dali-esque dream sequence I’m working on as we speak. You see, the main character is psychic and she can see the future, but she doesn’t know if she’s seeing the future or the past, and two men are trying to drive her insane so they’re drugging her. It’s a very interesting story! When she’s on drugs she gets all her psychic messages all fucked up, and that’s where the Dali-esque images come from.
JB: That’s actually something I wanted to ask about; there’s a pretty detailed synopsis for Knife Edge on the 7 Arts site, but what’s your take on what the film is about?
AH: Well, that’s not the synopsis you’d want to go with. The one on 7 Arts doesn’t really say much and gets a bit too confusing, I think.
If I tell you what it’s about it will give away the twist! Actually anything I tell you could give it away ... Put it this way; you’re not meant to know if you’re watching a ghost story or a thriller and you probably won’t know until the last five minutes what you’ve been watching. Hopefully I’ve made it work!
JB: That’s definitely a different path for you, eh?
AH: Yeah, it is. I like the campy stuff like Waxwork, having fun and all that, but this is a very serious, grown up horror movie. I actually really like the Saw movies and all those, but I’ve done mine in the 80’s and I wanted to do something a little more grown-up. Something you have to think about, something that's not all laid out there for you...
If you know the movie or the play Gaslight, it’s very similar to that but with a supernatural element. There’s a lot of Hitchcock in it, too; in fact every scene there’s a reference to a Hitchcock movie! Whether you get it or not you’ll still enjoy the film, but we had an homage to Hitchcock in every scene. You really know your Hitchcock if you get them all!
JB: Was that something planned or...?
AH: Yeah, when we were prepping it we said, “let’s just go all the way with the Hitchcock thing”, and that’s what we’re doing. Originally the surreal scenes we’re going to be very fucked up and dark, very Nine Inch Nails, but as we got into it we said if we’re going to homage Hitchcock we should really have Spellbound, for which Dali had come in to do the dream sequences. So really they’re an homage to that movie; lots of floating eyes and melting trees.
JB: So what are the release plans so far?
AH: Well, we’ve shown the trailer at AFM and it played really well. Right now there are a lot of English companies chasing it; this is very much an English movie so the plan is we get a descent UK release and follow to the Americas from there.
The trailer played really well at AFM, though, and it’s just a rough off the Avid, too! Believe me, I’ve made some turkey movies and can tell the difference in crowd reaction. There’s the reaction of “oh yeah, it’s great...” then there’s the ones where they send you e-mails everyday saying “we want to see the movie!”. You know you’ve got something when it’s the latter.
So that’s what’s happening right now; hopefully we’ll have an English bidding war on our hands soon!
JB: You mentioned Prisoners of the Sun, which was a film we’ve covered on the site after I randomly found it on the IMDB and noticed you and Atkins and written it. Where did it come from?
AH: Yeah, Pete and I wrote it and we thought it was a really good script. It was originally written as The Mummy for Hammer back when Richard Donner had Hammer, then when the Hollywood version of The Mummy came out we had to change the title and made it Aztec. But it was a really good script; I read the one that they shot and I was pretty shocked and disappointed but what can you do? We did sell it after all.
JB: I guess you just have to let it go.
AH: Yeah, I mean I did start prepping it, I was going to direct it. I did two weeks down in Morocco for prep but they kept wanting me to cut out all the fun stuff and in the end I couldn’t do it. I said “I’ll give you the script but I can’t direct it if you’re going to take out all this stuff”.
JB: That explains why they won’t get back to us about covering the film, I guess...
AH: Yeah, I think the producers are all wrangling amongst themselves, all these legal issues.
JB: All right, getting back to Knife Edge; you said the cast were all up and coming. Were these people you wanted to work with or did they all audition?
AH: It’s actually been a lot of fun! Normally on this budget you would need at least a name or two attached, but it didn’t happen that way. There’s a role that’s written for a very smooth French guy, like in Gaslight again, so I when to Paris and I just auditioning all these new French actors and the one I settled on is just brilliant.
The same with Nathalie Press, who’s done a lot of indie English movies like From London to Brighton and My Summer of Love; she was great. Then we got Joan Plowright to come along because she’s friend with Fi, then we got Hugh Bonneville ... it just worked out really good on all fronts!
The funny thing is we got Peter O’Tooole’s son, Lorcan; Knife Edge is his first movie! He looks just like Peter. We also got Richard Harris’ son as well as Mick Jagger’s. It’s hysterical. I told the producers they should have “O’Toole – Harris – Jagger” on the poster!
JB: No one would be the wiser!
AH: But yes, I’m very happy with this one.
JB: Good! I was worried I’d spent all this time tracking you down and it’d be something you were ashamed of.
AH: I felt good after I did Full Eclipse, Hellraiser III, Waxwork, that’s how I feel now. You just know the ones you’re going to be proud of and Knife Edge is one for me. I don’t care if anyone else likes it right now; I like it (laughs)!
JB: That brings me to this; what of you’re many films are you most proud of? Setting aside Knife Edge since it’s so fresh...
AH: The one I really enjoyed, which a lot of people don’t really get, was Full Eclipse.
JB: I’m so glad you said that! I just watched it again recently and remembered how much I liked it...
AH: The other one that I really enjoyed that no one saw because Vestron collapsed was Sundown. Have you seen it?
JB: I have not, but my wife loves it...
AH: Yeah, you have to see it, I’m very proud of Sundown. That was a very great working experience, too. I didn’t know the pitfalls of making movies at that time so it was great.
The one I was most disappointed with, the one that should’ve been a great movie because it was a great script but they fired me from it, was Prince Valiant. That was supposed to be like The Princess Bride or The Holy Grail, that’s how it was meant to be, but the Germans didn’t want that at all. If you’re making a totally different movie than the financers want, it’s always going to be a nightmare. It’s fine to make the same kind of movie tone and just argue about cuts and such, but when they think they’re making Braveheart and you think you’re making Monty Python, that’s trouble all the way.
JB: Yeah, that doesn’t sound good at all, sorry to hear that! So why have you been so out of the limelight for the last few years, as well?
AH: It’s funny; I’ve always just kind of kept to myself and just made movies. That’s probably my mistake; I should get my name out. After Submerged there was just no point in getting my name out, though; I just didn’t want to be associated with it. Then, when I’ve got a movie that I care about like Knife Edge I’d get out there. And here we are!
JB: So if I had approached you to talk about, say, Jill the Ripper, you wouldn’t have been hip to that (laughs)?
AH: No, I would’ve just hidden away. Though that wasn’t a bad script! Originally Tom Berenger was supposed to play the cop, which he would have fit perfectly because he’s got that perfect look. Then at the last minute they said, “Tom Berenger has pulled out, here’s Dolph Lundrgren!”
AH: No, not really. But since Prince Valiant came out I couldn’t be hired at the time, and I needed to pay the rent.
JB: To be honest, though, I haven’t heard many bad things about Jill the Ripper. I’ve not seen it, but...
AH: Oh, it’s pretty awful. I loved the locations, though! And Lundgren is a very sweet guy, fun to work with. But the producers went back and shot all this weird S& M stuff that wasn’t meant to be there. It was nice to be in Toronto, though!
But anyway, now I’ve got a movie that I’m proud of and I do need to get my name out there!
JB: And I’m glad we can help! I’ve been such a huge fan of Waxwork and Hellraiser III since my youth...
AH: Oh, this will make you laugh, then; the guys who did the Rocky Horror Picture Show are talking about doing a Waxwork musical! I’m meeting with them next week, actually.
AH: Yeah. I think it could be funny; that seems to be working so well, turning cult movies into musicals.
JB: Yeah, I mean I could really see it working. It would be very dependent on the score, of course.
AH: Right now they’re talking about 80’s songs, but we’ll see...
There’s also always someone coming to me about doing another Waxwork but it never quiet happens.
JB: A sequel or a remake? Please don’t say a remake...
AH: No, not a remake. The last guys who talked to me about doing a remake wanted to make all the displays like Saw and Hostel.
JB: Thank you for not doing that!
AH: Well, I won’t but someone will, I’m sure. Waxwork is just a great premise; I especially like Waxwork II because I went so over the top, even though we shot it for, like, a hundred bucks (laughs). If you look none of the sets had walls!
AH: Seriously! Especially at the end in the medieval one, it was just pillars with windows in the background with light coming through; there were no walls, just hanging windows. All those pillars, too, when you laid them on their side became passageways.
JB: That’s a sign of a good director and DP, if you can shoot that and no one notices it, that’s impressive.
All right, two quick questions before I have to run; have you heard anything about a special edition DVD of Waxwork?
AH: Right now I don’t know; the one that’s out now is just terrible with nothing on it, but I know there are some guys trying get it done. It should cause I’d bring in the actors and we’d have the funniest time. That was a really fun movie to make because we knew nothing at the time. We didn’t know what we were doing but we were having a great time!
I have albums of behind-the-scenes photographs that they could use, too. They should do it; it’d be quite a fun package.
JB: All right, one last question; Invasion of Privacy; any word on a DVD release for that?
AH: Ah, sadly I have no idea. Same with Prince Valiant, I have no idea why that’s not out on DVD especially with Katherine Heigel being so huge now.
But I’m sure Live has Invasion of Privacy, so it will probably be out eventually. I actually enjoyed that movie a lot. It did very well in France for some reason; it got a major theatrical and everything. It was made for HBO, though, so it was never meant to be theatrical.
All those movies, Contaminated Man, Last Run ... I did, like, five movies for HBO that are just sitting and waiting.
JB: Same thing with Sundown, which still isn’t out.
AH: Sundown got so messed up, which was upsetting because it was my second movie. I had a three-picture deal with Vestron and they were going to release it right after Earth Girls Are Easy. They said if that movie didn’t make any money they’d fold. So I went to the premiere of Earth Girls Are Easy and just saw Sundown going down the drain. So Vestron went down and Sundown went with it!
JB: It’s funny because people still talk about all the great things Vestron did for our genre.
AH: Really? Yeah, they were great to me, they gave me a chance with Waxwork and Sundown, and they let me do what I wanted. Bruce Campbell is great in Sundown. Bruce Campbell doing Van Helsing you can’t really beat.
And that was the end of our talk; not nearly long enough but he did say we could do it again soon which I every intention of following up on! Thanks of course to Mr. Hickox for his time and for everything he’s done for our genre during his career, as well to the Knife Edge producers who helped set up the interview.
Keep it here for more Knife Edge info as it comes our way!