Exclusive Interview: Mark Stevenson from The Last Horror Movie
10th May 05
The Last Horror Movie is undoubtedly one of the most original and independent British horror film of recent years, and although it has been available on DVD in various countries for some time now, it is finally getting it's native cinema release this week, courtesy of Tartan Films.
With the film opening at London's Odeon Panton Street on May 13th (a nationwide release is dependent on how well it does on it's one-week London run), we managed to chat to one of the film's stars, Mark Stevenson, who plays the assistant to Kevin Howarth's Max Perry.
As well as a stunning and sympathetic turn in The Last Horror Movie, Mark has also played Arthur Dent in the recent release of The Hitchhikerís Guide to the Galaxy (sort of) and has much other work in the pipeline, including a national one-man theatre tour throughout May.
Q Hi Mark. So tell us, how did you get involved with The Last Horror Movie? It was actually unlike a lot of work you get, in that it was a standard actorís job and my agent set me up for it. So I went to Julianís (Richards - the film's director and co-writer) flat where there were big piles of photos of everyone else trying to get a part, and I read for it.
It was one of those where you get the script before and go along and read, and I think the writing in the script defines quite well how the character (of the assistant) works, so I had a good idea before I went there.
Q Was it a role you really wanted? Absolutely. Itís a good part, and itís a great script. I tried it in my nice English accent and it went very well - I think itís actually on the DVD extras, which is very scary. But the director, then asked me to try it another way and Iím originally from Glasgow (although no-one would know from my accent), so I tried it that way. And it works quite well for a softer character, a sympathetic character. You can get away with being sympathetic whilst being weak with a Scottish accent.
Q What did you feel when you first read the script? Were you offended by it, did it shock you? Or did that part appeal to you? No, it was part of the appeal. Reading the script, you get the same excitement out of watching the film. I didnít know where it was going. There was no added extra information in the script. So, actually, I just went on the journey.
Because it was so exciting and fantastic, and the possibilities in the story, and the brilliance of the writing with a mixture of comedy I just thought it would be excellent. I though it would be fun to do, and I thought it would be a great film.
Q It is a funny film, yet also often quite shocking at the same time. Yes, it gets to that point where youíre laughing at the film, and then it turns round and you go ďOh my God, I was laughing at that!Ē And itís almost wrong to laugh at it. And I have a lot of friends who have been to see it, who are not particularly horror fans, but thatís the thing that gets them the most. Theyíre not used to having that turnaround.
Q The Last Horror Movie is a very low-budget film. Was it all shot in Digital cameras? Yes, it was all shot on DV. It was six-week initial shoot, and then an extra couple of weeks for pick-ups. The film initially came out a lot more comic, and if you get to see some of the extra scenes, some of them came out just the wrong side of comedy. It was a fine balance, so there was an extra two weeksí shooting, but it was all a quick turnaround. Julian wanted to use DV because it would be quick, and because the script calls for it.
Q There are a couple of scenes where it is obvious it is you operating the camera. Did you have to do a lot of that? Thereís probably about 5 or 6 scenes that I filmed. Anything with mirrors, or windows. A lot of the time it was handled by the DP, but sometimes there was also some passing between us as well. I mean, Iíve been to Film School, and I direct as well, so Iím used to being on that side of the camera, and it was great for me. I got to do both sides of the job that I love.
Q Tell us more about the one-take scene where your character attempts his first murder. That was good fun, but it was also a very panicky day, because we only had two fake necks. They were great special effects necks though, standing next to the actress, I couldnít tell they were fake. They had pipes coming right up through them, and theyíd pump the blood up at exactly the right rate for it to come out for that type of cut. And it was brilliant.
But we only had two necks, and we only had two sets of clothes. In the final film, itís a little shorter, but actually it was a really long scene to film, and you can see the other bits on the extras on the DVD, and that was one of the really Ďjokeyí scenes with a paintbrush and plastic bag. But there was a point in the scene, that if we hadnít got to the slitting of the throat, we had to stop there if any minor, miniscule thing had gone wrong.
So, it was a strange thing as an actor, youíre kind of worrying about getting it all absolutely right, and Iíve actually got quite a big emotional journey in that scene, and we only had two chances to get that one right.
Q Were you disappointed those comic parts of the scene got cut out? No, I can absolutely see why they were cut out. And thatís one of the great things about the film, is that the line between comedy and seriousness of it I think is just balanced exactly right, because it could have so easily tipped too much one way or the other.
Q What was the director Julian Richards like to work with? He was fantastic. He is just the calmest person I have ever met on a film set. I donít ever remember him ever getting annoyed, or worried or stressed. He probably did when he went home at night, but never on set. And so the whole shoot was great. It was one of those ones where every day you go and have lots of fun and hang out with some mates.
Q Kevin Howarth, who plays Max either played his part to perfection or heís like that in real like. Which is it? Oh, no Kevinís lovely. He does have those eyes that can go either way, which is perfect for the part. And when you think about how much of his performance is to the camera, heís just brilliant. But I would be surprised if heís ever killed anyone.
Q Do you think the film pushes the envelope to far in its depiction of violence? Well, I like this genre. I think in the trailers for this film, you see the majority of the gruesome stuff, well, there are a couple more bits, but I donít think the film is too weighted that way. I know some people who donít like horror films, who have come to see it and really enjoyed it, because there is a thriller element happening to it, youíre not too sure whatís happening, youíre trying to figure it out, and I think the gorier elements of it are only used when necessary and help the plot along.
Obviously sometimes the gore in films is extraneous, although having said that, sometimes that can be fantastic, like Bad Taste or Braindead, you know Ė why not cover everything in blood, thatís great, because it ends up making it more comedic.
Itís like actresses saying I wonít get naked unless itís essential to the plot, and I think in this situation the gore is essential to the plot because it shows the extremes this character, who is actually quite charming, will go to for his end. So I donít think it pushes it too far.
There were days when the crew would just come away feeling a little sick because of everything that was happening. Because there is some gore in it, but it looks so realistic, and because we were shooting on video, and it was all quite close, everything had to look as realistic as possible,
Q And you canít really cut the scene at all as itís all one take, from this one point of view camera. Absolutely, Which is great because every single shot is like that. Thereís one that I got to film where it was we were going from upstairs to downstairs, around into other rooms. Itís more like doing a play as you get that entire movement, and you get to go through what the character goes through instead of little cut up pieces, which gives, I think, more life to it as well.
Q Were you involved in the promotion of the film in Cannes 2003? I heard the producers got into a little trouble out there. Yeah, they nearly got into trouble, but it was fantastic and they got a lot of publicity, because people werenít sure if it was real or not real. They mocked up a Wanted poster of Max and the number went through to one of the producerís numbers to get the information, and it was basically Julian and the producers going around and sticking on as many lampposts as possible. But it worked, and it got picked up by Tartan Films.
Itís been doing very well in America. Itís won a lot of awards out there, and it had a small cinema distribution deal and itís doing well on DVD.
Thereís also another Ďfakeí website called Bryce Investigations which was set up like a detective who has come in after the film has been made. Thatís been out a couple of years, and it has all the victims listed there, and the Wanted poster there too.
Q So how did you get involved in The Hitchhikerís Guide to the Galaxy? Well, I was very lucky in that the week before they started filming I got to go and play Arthur Dent for a week for the test shoots. It was before Martin Freeman came along, so I got to wander around alien planets with a dressing gown on, and got chased by Vogons with guns, which was brilliant. I love the books, and to even get asked to do that was amazing. It was superb
And then I got called back for the first week of filming, just to do a small part. Which I havenít yet been to seen yet, so I donít know if thereís much of it left, but if you notice a native American Indian at the party where Trillion, Zaphod and Arthur all meet, thatís me.
It was a bit of a transition from low budget to Elstree, and itís all built on set. Thereís one sound stage with the Islington flat, and next door is the Vogon ship, and next door to that thereís other stuff, and because the party scene was fancy dress it was like one of those old Hollywood sets where just lots of people wander around with different costumes in.
Q What else have you got currently lined up? I'm about to tour a one-man theatre show around Britain called ĎA Different Placeí until early June (see www.differentplace.co.uk for more details - including details for the London show on Sunday 15th May at 8pm - for booking details call 020 8533 0227), and a couple of other plays. Thereís also a short film on the Internet called Let It Be Me which you can see at www.shortround.tv.
Iíve just done some stuff for the BBC, Macbeth, again playing another down-and-out loony, which seems to be my casting for the moment. Any actor can be quite good at playing certain parts. Itís not stereotyping as such, but itís kind of a default thatís easier, so I can play the Ďslightly nice loserí quite well. Which isnít how I really am of courseÖ
The Last Horror Movie follows the adventures of a serial killer who uses a horror video rental tape to lure his victims and stars Kevin Howarth and Mark Stevenson.
Tartan Films are releasing the movie at the Odeon, Panton Street, London from Friday 13th to the 19th of May. It's only screening for one week, as the distributors are using it as a test run to see if it is worth releasing it nationwide. The box office number for Odeon on Panton Street is 08712 244 007.