“American horror has shifted away from experimentation. Foreign horror tends to be more inventive, visceral, and far less cliché.”
Fred M. Andrews’ and Tracy Morse’ Creature is a blood-fuelled, good old-fashioned monster movie with Southern Gothic sensibilities, a great cast, a badass fiend, Lovecraftian connotations and lots of blood, guts and boobs.
When a group of plucky youngsters on vacation in New Orleans decide to take a trip down to the Louisiana Bayou, they make a pit stop at a dubious roadside convenience store, owned by the suitably creepy Chopper (genre veteran Sig Haig). He tells them about local legend Lockjaw – a mythical human-alligator hybrid who stalks the backwoods. It isn’t long after they set foot in the swamp that they are being picked apart by the scaly toothed terror of folklorian origin. This beasty wouldn’t be out of place in the Roger Corman canon of monsters.
The pulpy creature feature is a collaborative effort between director Fred M. Andrews and screenwriter Tracy Morse. They speak about the genesis of the movie, how the film came to be produced by The Bubble Factory, Sid Haig’s casting and their thoughts on American genre filmmaking and how they think it might be moving away from risk-taking and experimentation….
The story was originally conceived as a serial killer thriller you co-wrote back in 2002 and you’ve said at first it adhered to a more traditional stalk and slash template, could you tell me a bit about the original story and how it evolved into Creature?
TM: The genesis of Creature started way back in 2001 when I was trying to come up with a creepy, original, single – and cheap – location to set a creature feature and settled on a dilapidated retirement home in the Florida Everglades. The characters of Niles, Emily, Oscar, Karen, Randy, Beth, Chopper and Grimley Beautine, aka Lockjaw, were all created then. I definitely wanted my lead protagonist to be African American. My original draft was set in the seventies and I wanted the Vietnam conflict and racism to be catalysts and challenges for his character. The story started with an elderly nurse and two sexy candy strippers (of course) trapped in the rest home by a hurricane. They are told a scary story by a very badly burned, shadowy resident named Mr. Niles. The twist being that Mr. Niles was really a murderous cannibal named Lockjaw, and the elderly nurse is revealed as Emily who’d been searching for the monster who killed her love thirty years before.
The problem with this draft is that it became a flashback within a flashback and a bit tedious. I rewrote the script. I modernised it, streamlined it and got it down to the key horror elements that I felt were expected of a great creature feature: action, girls, gore and a kick-ass monster – and it was good.
Now, at the time I was working as a below-the-line agent representing cinematographers, production designers, stylists and editors. One of my most talented clients was production designer Fred Marshall Andrews. He was an amazing artist and an extremely gifted sculptor. Fred and I became friends fast. We both shared a deep and profound love for film and all things horror. I gave Fred the script – he loved it, optioned it and immediately sculpted my exact description of Lockjaw. I have always been a huge Friday the 13th fan, and seeing my vision of a Jason-esque inbred alligator-toothed killer hillbilly was thrilling. Then Fred got really busy – for the next seven years or so. He production designed three features, then got snatched up by
CSI: Miami and then went straight on to Without a Trace. But we never forgot about Lockjaw. Eventually, Fred found himself – again – with some time on his hands and we dusted off the script and took a look. And it was still good… but it could be better. We brainstormed and I rewrote it again with Fred’s notes. And it got better. Way better. Our mythology expanded. It became kind of a Wicker Man meets Deliverance meets a kickass creature feature!
TM: Originally, he was more man than monster. I know Fred went through multiple incarnations with production to find the one that fit.
FA: Yes Lockjaw’s look does pay homage to the Gill Man as well all the classic Universal monsters and some of Roger Corman’s rubber suit classics from my childhood. It was very important to me that the creature be a ‘guy in a suit’ as I thought that that was fitting for how I wanted to present the story. But there is also a huge nod to Grendel, John Gardner’s book from 1971 and Murray Tinkelman’s cover art. Both the book and the cover were certainly very influential for the look and the behaviour of Lockjaw. During development with Bubble Factory, I did go through several versions of the look for Lockjaw, that’s true. I had made several pieces of original art that I thought captured the bestial aspects of the creature but preserved the humanity he had. There were a lot of changes to my original designs, about sixty-eight of them I think [laughs]. But in the end the creature design swung about 340 degrees back towards the original. During that process the most important thing for me was to keep the human aspects of the monster intact.
I watched the Norwegian found footage mockumentary TrollHunter recently and was blown away by it. Do you think in the last decade the horror genre – specifically film – has shifted away from risk taking and experimentation?
TM: Absolutely, but in my opinion it’s more specifically American Horror films. Foreign horror tends to be more inventive, visceral, and far less cliché. Let The Right One In, The Descent, Wolf Creek, Rogue, Audition, Ju-on, Martyrs, Severance, I Saw The Devil, The Human Centipede & The Host have been some of my favourites. That being said, in the last few years a few new American Directors have hit it out of the park. I loved Ti West’s House of the Devil, Adam Green’s Frozen, and even though he’s not a new director, Kevin Smith’s Red State made me an instant fan.
FA: I think American horror has shifted away from experimentation and I am pretty sure I know why – money. Getting a movie made at any given time is a daunting task, getting a movie made during the worst economy in our history is almost impossible. The financial backers do not want to take any risks with their money and that is why we see remake after remake. It’s all gotten pretty formulaic and stale in my opinion. Do we really need a remake or excuse me, reboot, of Scream? To me it’s story that is missing from the glut of American horror films and I think with the foreign films the story comes first, not how they can market the film. And like Tracy said there are a few of us Americans that are taking chances and putting the story before the cover art, but not nearly enough in my opinion.
FA: When we, my producers and I, were discussing casting there was nobody else in my mind for this role. No one could pull off the presence or instil the sense of dread needed to play Chopper except for Sid Haig. We sent him the script and he said he loved it. Fortunately for us he had time in his schedule to be a part of the film and for that I can’t tell you how grateful and lucky I feel. He’s awesome – the perfect Chopper.
You collaborated with Sid Sheinberg, how did the project become involved with his studio?
FA: My executive producer is the legendary Paul Mason. He introduced me to Sid Sheinberg. After several long and intense meetings going over the idea for Lockjaw, The Bubble Factory, Sid’s company, agreed to do the film. I can’t stress how fortunate I was to get Sid Sheinberg as my producer. Sid is known for his risky decisions and going against the grain. He’s a fantastic producer and extremely hands on. Sid got the story and what I was trying to do with it and let me run with it. There has been some misinformation out on the net that the film was in trouble and that the Bubble factory swooped in and saved it, all of which is untrue. The Bubble Factory and Sid were involved from the very beginning of development, they are and always have been incredibly supportive and behind the film one hundred percent.
How much of the graphic novel made it into the film and what was omitted and why?
FA: I should explain here that Tracy and I did not write a novel together called Blood is Blood – I am unsure where that information came from. Blood is Blood was the title of the film for a brief moment during shooting. The comic, also called Lockjaw, was something I came up with separate but in conjunction with developing the script.
The outline is based on mine and Tracy’s script and is all about Lockjaw. I thought it would be a neat kind of cross marketing promotion since I was doing so much concept art from the very beginning: it seemed a natural thing to try and do something related to the story in comic book form. The comic was meant to be an addition to the script, more of a prequel to the film, and if things had gone as planned, it could have been released simultaneously with the film. The comic’s story was told from the monster’s perspective and the storyline really delved even deeper into the mythology
Tracy and I had come up with. I had intended the story to be a six issue limited series and had taken the first eighteen pages of work-in-progress material to Dark Horse to see if they might be interested in doing it or the film. Sadly, they were not [laughs]. But around the same time, I met my Executive producer, Paul Mason, and Paul loved the monster and the artwork and wanted to pursue making Lockjaw – not as a six issue – as a full on graphic novel first and then the film. When we met with Sid Sheinberg he was open to doing both the film and the graphic novel. However as development progressed he thought it best that we should develop and do the film first, and I agreed the graphic novel could come later. So I went from drawing layouts for the comic to story boards for the film, and the graphic novel was put on hold. In the end not too much of the graphic novels content made it onto the screen, with the exception of a few scenes – specifically the opening and parts of a flashback. But what was great about going through that whole process was that I ended up incorporating a lot of the ruff layouts, their compositional elements, into the aesthetic of the film. It really does give it a sort of comic book feel in the way the shots were composed.
Will Creature be released as a graphic novel?
FA: I hope one day it will be. But, currently there are no plans to do so. The story bible for the entire project is completed but the artwork is not. I hope that after the films’ release that the producers may wish to revisit it.
How deep into the Bayou did you go constructing the mythology of Lockjaw?
TM: How Lockjaw became Lockjaw has stayed pretty much the same from the first draft. Fred is a big fan of Lovecraft and peppered in other elements during pre-production.
FA: Tracy had a great back story for Lockjaw right from the get-go, and that stayed pretty much intact. We did evolve his (Lockjaw) mythology together over the years. For the final film I peppered in a few slight additions that incorporated our original story with well documented Southern folklore, and local Boogeyman stories from the bayou, to try and lend that extra element of authenticity to Lockjaw’s tale. It was pretty seamless.
Will you be collaborating together on a future script and if so, what is it about?
FA: Yes! In fact there is another project from Tracy’s twisted mind that I am developing now. A tight, very creepy script called Guest of Honour. I am very excited about this one!
TM: It was all Fred. Fred is an amazing artist and sculptor. Back in 2003 he sculpted Lockjaw as I saw him in the original draft. Even that was awesome! I know he went through countless revisions and marquettes. I was working with SFX make-up artist Jerry Constantine on a project of my own. I put them together, and the Creature was born.
FA: Thanks for the nice words, and the hook up with Jerry. I did all the 2D work and some ruff 3D stuff in the beginning, as I said, but I have to give praise and all the credit to Jerry for bringing Lockjaw to life. Man that guy is super talented – really phenomenal!
Will we see a sequel?
TM: The story and mythology is ripe for exploration. Say no more.
FA: I certainly hope so! If the film continues getting the support from the fans, like it has so far, I see no reason why we wouldn’t put our boots on and get back in the mud. So, please go see Creature!