An Interview with Gary J Tunnicliffe, Director of Hellraiser: Judgment
By @Roger Crow
Ex-pat writer, director and make-up wizard Gary J Tunnicliffe is one of Hollywood’s most successful horror fantasy film makers. Thirty years after our last chat, he discusses writing, directing and starring in new release Hellraiser: Judgment, working with acting legends like Malcolm McDowell, and the art of scaring people silly…
Hi Gary. Congratulations on your gloriously macabre new movie, Hellraiser: Judgment.
Thanks. We made it in 2015, and in 2018 it came out in America, so it doesn’t feel very new to me at all, but it’s great that it got released. Those first 12 minutes are definitely quite interesting aren’t they?
It’s really intense, but if you make a Hellraiser film you’ve got to be haven’t you?
I thought so. Some people have criticised me and said: “It’s too much”, or “It’s too intense”. People have said: “It’s really grotesque and nasty in Hell”, and I’m like: “Well that’s the point. (Laughs). What did you expect? Bunny rabbits and flowers?”. So I tried to make it as disgusting as possible.
Audits are my personal hell, but I like your character The Auditor. He adds a touch of much needed jet black comedy.
Thanks. Getting The Auditor on screen was really difficult because at one point the studio was like: “Shall we lose that whole Auditor thing and just do the detective thing?” Originally the whole film was very different because the studio got in there and tinkered with it a lot, and I had to really cling on tight to The Auditor. Certain parts of the film are not really me and more the studio, but The Auditor is the one thing I really wanted to get in there; that whole strange, taboo, weird Clive Barker stuff.
It must be nice to cast yourself.
Yeah, though intimidating. It was a bit of a trick on my part. I didn’t know how (production company) Dimension would take it. So all eyes were focused on casting Pinhead, and I used that to kind of blur the issue and never addressed casting The Auditor at all until we got a couple of weeks away (from shooting), then my Line Producer said: “Who are we going to get to play The Auditor?’” And I said: “I’ll play him”. I’d already got the make up and costume ready. Luckily he didn’t bat an eyelid. A couple of months after we finished the film I got a call from Bob Weinstein, which was a shocker to say the least. I said: “What do you think of The Auditor?” He said: “The guy with the cuts on his face? I love him! Who played him?” I said: “Me!” He said: “We’re definitely going to work together and get you something in the future”, and within a few months the whole thing blew up with Harvey (Weinstein), and of course my opportunities went out the window with it. For a while we were like: “Will the film even get released?”
I’ve been following your directing career since 1996 when you made Within the Rock. How was it making that leap from make-up effects guy to director?
I look back on that now and that purely was my directing school. I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I acted like I did, and everyone was very kind and said they thought I did an amazing job. I mean you go to film school for a reason: to learn. But that was really handed to me on the proviso that the producers thought: “If we hire you to direct it, we’ll get the effects cheap”, which is what they did.
A good job you turned down the Humanoids From the Deep sequel.
Yeah. I read it and said: “This is terrible!” I said: “I have a script called ‘Within the Rock’,” and they said: “Okay, send it over tomorrow.” (Laughs). So that night I wrote 60 pages and sent it over the next morning. I rushed (the rest of) it out by the end of the week; ended up making the film and it actually won an award.
But it wasn’t all glamour?
No. I put all my own personal money into the effects and stuff. I was completely broke. I remember cleaning the toilets in my studio and sweeping the floor thinking: ‘I was directing a movie a few months ago. I’m here cleaning the toilets!’ So it was a long time after that that I got the chance to direct again; it wasn’t the meteoric career that I hoped it might be.
Hellraiser: Judgment looks amazing considering it was made for $350,000.
It was $400,000 until two weeks before, when we found out that we had to give $50,000 to Clive Barker. That was a real kick in the teeth, but I was over the moon with what we are able to do. And it’s nice to turn on a movie and see the name Lionsgate come up at the start, and not something like ‘Wiggity Wiggity Productions’, and you think: ’Who the hell is that?’
What was the best thing about working with Leeds screen legend Malcolm McDowell on The Big Ugly?
On the last day we were working together I had ‘Singing in the Rain’ (from A Clockwork Orange) queued up on my phone. So we’re in his trailer doing the make up and it started playing over the speaker system. I looked at him and he started singing along. It was amazing. But what a raconteur. A complete cad. He would swear like anyone and had great tales to tell, and we actually still keep in touch. I got to double him as a stunt person. In the film he gets shot and killed, and I doubled him for his death sequence.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just signed on to direct a film called Coulrophobia, which is a fear of clowns. It’s a ‘cabin the woods’ movie, and the protagonists are clowns.
Good luck with that and stay safe.
Cheers. You too.
‘Hellraiser: Judgment’ and ‘Hellraiser: Revelations’ are on Digital now and Blu-ray/DVD 1 March, 2021