Mark Hartley’s reimagining of cult ’70s shocker Patrick hits UK DVD shelves today, 14 August, titled Evil Awakens. With this in mind, we recently cornered Hartley as he took a break in London to pick his brain about the film, his feature helming debut.
Until now, Mark has been most widely known for his directorial work on music videos and documentaries such as Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed. When quizzed about the circumstances that led to finally getting in the director’s chair for a narrative feature film, he tells us, “Well, I had never ever planned, or had any ambition, to make documentaries.”
He elaborates, “That kind of happened by accident… I had always intended to make narrative features, and it was just a very difficult process. My background is actually music videos – I’ve made like a hundred and fifty music videos in Australia prior to making those two documentaries – and I thought that was going to be the pathway to making narrative features.”
“‘Not Quite Hollywood’ is a documentary about Australian genre cinema, and during the making of that I got to know Tony Ginnane, the producer of the original ‘Patrick,’ very, very well. At that point – about 2008, 2009 – every single film that had hit a cinema screen at any time in the history of cinema was getting remade and [we were looking at] all of the films featured in ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ and which ones would stand up well for a remake. ‘Patrick’ seemed like a no-brainer out of all of them purely because… I just really loved its central premise: Here’s a guy with unlimited powers but very limited ambitions – just wanting to focus that power on making a woman fall in love with him. I thought that was such a great idea, and Justin King, who wrote my ‘Patrick’ script, was a researcher on ‘Not Quite Hollywood,’ so we just pitched [Tony] the idea of making it [as] the ‘anti-Bourne’ film. We didn’t want it to be tech-savvy. We wanted it to be a throwback to an old style Gothic chiller. That was the pitch, and he kinda liked that approach and went away; it took a while, but he found the financing.”
So Mark was evidently already well versed with the original film? “Yes, I was very, very familiar, and I had known Richard Franklin, the director, too, very well. It was actually the first film I ever bought on VHS, so it was a very strange kind of circle to be on set reimagining it,” he says.
From the first word that it was being remade, Patrick seemed like an odd choice in a world of genre remakes that seemed to focus almost entirely on well known classics that could guarantee a big box office draw for the filmmakers. When asked what it was about Richard Franklin’s original film that was so inviting for a new approach, Mark explains, “Well, there are films that should just be left alone. There are films that are perfect – that are so of their time – that they just can’t be improved upon. ‘Patrick’ was a film that was very much of its time. I love ‘Patrick’… but Richard, the director, had lots of battles on set, and when you look at ‘Patrick’ now, it’s dated so badly because, you know, there’s a Hitchcockian style, but… Richard really wanted it to be atmospheric, but he was fighting all the time with the cinematographer, who was a documentary cinematographer, who kept on saying ‘Well, I’m not quite sure where the light source is supposed to be to create those shadows,’ and Richard would say ‘It’s a film about telekinesis, for Christ’s sake!'”
“So we knew that we could take it in a very different direction, but we also wanted it to be very reverential [to the original]. So there’s lots of nods in there to people who do love the original, to try and win them over and let them know that we are fans of the original and not just doing a hatchet job on it.”
“We had the same costume designer who worked on the original, so she had the original costumes that we put on one of the actresses in a dream sequence. There’s Brian May’s music featured every time Roget’s [Charles Dance] got his headphones on. There are props in there [too]. The original Roget Clinic is used as a location… so we threw things in where we could.”
Speaking of costuming, and the production design in general, one of the more striking elements of Hartley’s remake is the almost antiquated nature of the equipment, clothing, and everything else within the Roget Clinic – yet, the story most assuredly takes place amidst our modern society. Of the design choices, he quips, “Well, we figured that this is a place that’s down the coast. You need to set things in these faraway places when you’ve got nefarious deeds happening, away from prying eyes. We just figured that technology wasn’t really something that was important there. It was more the advances in drugs and things like that, that they were using for experimentation. A shock therapy machine is no different if it’s made in 2017 or 1950, so yeah… I wanted to have a kind of strange, timeless feel – but suddenly someone pulls out an iPhone.”
We wanted to know if it was particularly difficult to balance that element of timelessness within the clinic with the more modern world outside: “I’m not sure… it’s strange – I’m so close to it that obviously it isn’t jarring for me. I mean, we have modern day cars in it from the start – it’s not like they’re driving around in ‘50s cars or anything like that. The way we thought about it was that in the Roget Clinic it’s Cassidy’s [Rachel Griffiths] only place to have any control and power in her life, and so she treats it like a very regimented place… you know, the nurses’ uniforms, it’s like that’s the only thing that she can control. To have that sort of militaristic feel to it as well – that’s how we thought we would get away with that kind of stuff.”
On the topic of the clinic itself and its impressively moody, oppressive set design, we query Mark on whether much of the film was shot on location at a particular facility. Much to the film’s strength, it would seem not: “No, it wasn’t,” Mark explains. “It was predominantly shot on a set. We built the Roget Clinic interior on a sound stage, which was the only way we could do it. It was only a 25-day shoot, and we had Rachel [Griffiths] and Charles [Dance] for ten days each, so it was the only way we could get things shot. It worked out great because we could control the lighting, we could control the camerawork, and very proudly we wanted to make a film that didn’t have any hand-held camerawork – that was very much classically shot.”
“We found that fantastic exterior for our Roget Clinic and we ended up using the staircase in there, but that’s pretty much the only thing that was shot, as far as the Roget Clinic, on location.”
The Patrick remake is a film that very much seemed to come out of nowhere – without much fanfare or pomp behind it, nor the usual swathe of press materials during production (or even shortly thereafter). We ask Mark if this was a conscious decision or just a side effect of a shorter production schedule. He tells us, “I think that the problem was that everyone just assumed it was going to be shit! Quite honestly, we were left alone because everyone just assumed it was going to be terrible. A remake of an Australian film… that’s a remake of an Australian horror film… that’s a remake of an Australian horror film about telekinesis! I don’t think anyone assumed that it was going to have any spark to it, really. We premiered at the Melbourne Film Festival, from which we got very, very good reviews, and then we played at Fantastic Fest and Sitges, so yeah…”
“It’s an independent Australian film. Obviously if it had been picked up by a major distributor, it would have made a bigger splash, but it wasn’t. I think in some ways, the fact that it was a throwback unsettled too many people – they weren’t prepared for the kind of film that it was.”
“It’s very strange – in America when it got released, they did a viral campaign which you can find on YouTube and stuff like that… [it] was a found footage campaign, and it seems it was the absolute antithesis of everything our film was! (laughs) We were trying to make a very atmospheric, stylistic, old-fashioned haunted house film, and the last thing it was, was a hand-held found footage movie.”
Hartley continues, “I think making old-fashioned Gothic chillers is a bit of a hard sell. It’s funny, too, because we thought that the film announced its style from the first frame – you know, you’ve got Pino Donaggio’s fantastic music – and yet, we still get a lot of criticism for the CGI effects, which I wanted to look slightly… “hokey” isn’t the word… but I said to the CGI people, I want this film to have a film reality, as opposed to a real life reality. I didn’t want them to look real at all. I wanted them to look like they’d been manufactured in a lab, like old-fashioned visual effects, particularly with Wright’s car death. I wanted that to be almost like a back projection Hitchcock thing. The film’s received a lot of flak for the visual effects… but it’s exactly the sort of sensibility that we wanted the film to have. In some circles it is a little bit misunderstood, I think.”
With the mention of Hitchcockian style, we query just how much of an influence the legendary filmmaker’s works had on Hartley’s directorial approach with his film: “I think that Hitchcock’s protégés were a bigger influence, to tell you the truth! [The original] ‘Patrick’ obviously is very Hitchcockian because Richard Franklin was very much a disciple of Hitchcock. Growing up, I was much more in love with Hitchcock’s protégés – De Palma, Argento, Richard. They’re certainly referenced much more in our film,” he advises.
Moving on to the topic of casting, we ask Mark if his final ensemble for Patrick were all his first choices for the roles: “Originally we had Richard E. Grant attached as Roget, and that’s only because – from what I recall, and this was a long time ago as the film was in development for a few years.”
“When you make these films, you have sales agents who give you a list of actors that they can get pre-sales on, and Richard E. Grant was on the first list we got. So we attached him, and then our film got put on hold, finance didn’t come through and the shoot moved, and Richard was no longer available.”
“The new list appeared, and Charles Dance (above right) was on it, which was incredibly fortuitous because Charles was such a great guy and absolutely fantastic to work with. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role, so it was a great opportunity having a chance to work with Charles. Watching it, I like to think that he’s channelling his best Peter Cushing.”
“I don’t know if you’ve seen many recent Australian genre films, but not many of them have named players in them. They’re mainly all about the concept rather than the cast. We wanted our film to have an air of prestige about it, to kind of separate it from a lot of other genre films and so we really over-wrote the script, to make it seem a lot smarter than it actually was. That was all about trying to get a decent prestige cast, and Charles and Rachel both really warmed to the script.”
There’s been little mention so far of Jackson Gallagher’s turn as the titular Patrick – a performance that sees him admirably able to exude a sense of menace despite doing little more than lying down and occasionally spitting. Mark is quick to praise the actor’s efforts: “Yeah! It’s a hard role… I always felt sorry for actors who were auditioning for Patrick because their agent says, ‘You’re going up for this role.’ ‘What’s it called?’ ‘Patrick.’ ‘Who am I playing?’ ‘Patrick!’ ‘Fantastic… lead role!’ Getting sent that script… then spending hours going page to page trying to find one line of dialogue (laughs)… Jackson was great. He could certainly show that inner menace, and it’s not a lot of fun lying, pretty much naked, on a hospital bed for the entire shoot, trying to keep your eyes open, trying not to blink. He was really good.”
“The first two days we shot on this film was Patrick murdering his mother, and that certainly threw us in at the deep end because that was full-on. I mean, Jackson really was pushing Simone under that water and holding her there… we all thought she was going to die that day. But they’re both really great sports, and both totally put the whole crew at ease, and from then on it was a great experience.”
“It was great for that first bit because that was our kind of wild card that we could keep cutting back to in the end. That was hopefully the thing that would get us into that final gear because that was one of the important things when Justin and I were writing the film – we always thought that a lot of Australian thrillers were great, but they couldn’t find that final gear that they needed to. We wanted to hopefully, you know, step on the accelerator towards the end.”
Independent film production is never easy – a multitude of problems always seem to raise their ugly heads – and so we asked Mark if he could remember what the most gruelling obstacle he and the crew faced on this particular production may have been. “The hardest thing is always the schedule. I was working with a cinematographer that I’ve worked with for twenty years, and Gary had never shot a feature film either, so we basically spent six months shot-listing the film so by the time we stepped on set, we knew everything that needed to be done… but we’d over shot-listed it, so we’d have to get there every morning and cut our 60 setups down to 70 setups. I think that just getting through those and making sure that we had enough shots in there that showed that we really were trying to punch a little bit above our weight – show that we really gave a shit – that was the important thing, really… to have a couple of shots a day that showed that we weren’t just phoning this in and just trying to cover it as well as we could,” he muses.
Considering these restrictions, does Mark see anything about the film that he would change, and – being his first time in the director’s chair for a narrative feature – did the experience teach him much about the process of making that particular kind of film? He admits, “That’s a good question. I hadn’t thought about that. There are scenes in there that we just ran out of time with that I particularly dislike. I just don’t think the coverage is there in a few scenes, but that’s pretty much it. I mean, we were lucky that we had great support from the producer on the film, and whatever vision we had ended up on screen. We were certainly blessed with a great cast… and the fact that I managed to get Pino Donaggio to do the score is one of the great moments in my life, considering the whole film had been written while listening to Pino’s music.”
Ah, the score! Pino Donaggio’s classically-minded, tense orchestration that sets the scene for Hartley’s take on Patrick – how did Mark manage to get the composer he so desired on board? He reveals, “I contacted him through a CD label that had released his last couple of soundtracks, and I got an email back from his English-speaking assistant – producer, really – saying that he likes the idea of the film, but he won’t commit until he sees it. So we sent him the rough cut, my sort of like director’s cut, which had been temped, quite honestly, with Pino’s music anyway! Which is slightly embarrassing when I think about it now. (laughs)”
“I got an email back a little while later saying he loved it, that it reminded him of when he first saw ‘Carrie’ and that he was happy to do it! I think that really helped, as far as I was concerned, set the sensibility of the film. The first note of Pino’s score… I think it really does just signpost the kind of film that you’re in for.”
With the film landing on DVD in the UK on Monday, August 14, we wondered if, considering his documentary background, Mark had ensured that bonus materials for any future home releases were recording during production. “We did a lot of extras for the Australian release, including commentaries. I’m not sure what extras are on the English one. Summer De Roche, who’s the daughter of Everett De Roche, who wrote the original ‘Patrick’ – she is a filmmaker in her own right and she made a ‘making of’ the film which I know is definitely on there… like a half hour ‘making of,’ pretty fly-on-the-wall. I’m not quite sure what else [will be on this release],” he tells us.
So what’s next for Mark? At present he’s taking a well-deserved break halfway across the world in London, but what’s on the planner professionally? Some interesting stuff, it turns out: “I just finished my very final documentary. It’s a documentary that was going to happen prior to ‘Patrick’ and didn’t, and I thought when ‘Patrick’ happened that I’d never need to make another documentary, but it subsequently got funded during ‘Patrick’ and I found myself having to make it! (laughs)”
“It’s very interesting… it’s called ‘Electric Boogaloo’ and it’s the wild, untold story of Cannon Films. We’ve just finished that, and that premiered at MIFF [Melbourne International Film Festival] and then rolls out internationally very soon after. We interviewed I think about 60 people for it, including everyone from English people like Oliver Tobias and Pete Walker, Martine Beswick to Tobe Hooper and Zeffirelli, Bo Derek… lots and lots of people; Elliott Gould also. Hopefully it’s the definitive story of Cannon.”
“Justin, Tony Ginnane and myself are also working on another remake that he’s got, a film called ‘Fair Game,’ which is another film that featured in ‘Not Quite Hollywood.’ Justin’s going to start writing that script, so that’s a couple of years away. That’s going to be a sort of female ‘Straw Dogs’ meets ‘Duel’ in the Outback.”
Finally, we ask Mark to sum it up for us: Just what are audiences going to get from Patrick when they pick the film up off the shelf and pop it into their players? “Hopefully it just delivers a lot of old-fashioned thrills and chills. It’s certainly striving to be a rollercoaster ride like the horror films I loved when I was a kid were. There’s no shortage of jump scares in it, that’s for sure – that’s another thing we’ve been criticised for (laughs) – but I was thinking, well, all the horror films I love are full of jump scares! We were very unapologetic about that, so hopefully it does offer [that roller coaster experience] through thrills and chills.”
“When we set out to work out what kind of style we wanted, ‘The Orphanage’ was the go-to film for us. Just the sensibility in there – the feel – we wanted to put on-screen.”
The Orphanage is certainly good company to keep, and Patrick does seem to offer that same kind of wide audience attraction with its central drama. Commenting on that, with the film being equally engrossing for this interviewer’s non-horror loving spouse, Mark replies, “That’s funny – when we had test screenings in Australia, woman really related to it, and when the people asked them, ‘Didn’t you find Patrick to be a cold, manipulative murderer?,’ they said,’ No, he’s just misunderstood.’ So women loved that.”
So, ladies: Is Patrick your man, or just a dangerously obsessive telekinetic nutcase? Check out the film and find out!
Dread Central would like to extend our greatest thanks to Mark for taking the time out to speak with us.
Patrick: Evil Awakens stars Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths, Sharni Vinson, Peta Sergeant, and Jackson Gallagher in the title role.
When a young nurse begins work at an isolated psychiatric ward, she quickly becomes fascinated with Patrick, a brain dead patient who is the subject of a mad scientist’s cruel and unusual experiments. What starts as an innocent fascination quickly takes a sinister turn as Patrick begins to use his psychic powers to manipulate her every move and send her life into a terrifying spiral out of control.
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