If you are a fan of the horror genre, then chances are I don’t need to inform you of who Doug Bradley is. Most widely known as Pinhead from the Hellraiser series, Bradley has become an iconic and integral part of the genre. So it’s no surprise that his latest venture into horror is what I guess you could call the ultimate tribute to the pioneers of the genre.
The names are the stuff of legends: Dickens, Poe, Bierce, Lovecraft and Doyle to name a few. With the help of Renegade Arts Entertainment, Bradley has brought the magGot infested corpses of these authors back to life with “Doug Bradley’s Spinechillers”. A series of audio books and dvds in which Bradley and guests lay forth some of these author’s greatest tales.
Throughout the interview via skype I talked to Bradley about his new series, along with his future projects and his… shall we say… distaste for the recent flood of remakes.
Recently you’ve been working on Spinechillers, what can you tell us about it?
It goes back to a prior company Renga Media, which was really when I was working with Tony Luke who is based in Brighton England. And I’d been working with him for several years. We had made an animated movie called Dominator. We were working on the second Dominator movie, and we were having trouble securing financing. That was the point in which Alexander Finbow, who was already known to Tony and I came into the picture and came on board and Renegade was born.
So this process of getting Alex involved in the birth of renegade happened during 2007 and the early part of 2008. It was clear at the same time that the money for the second Dominator film was not going to be forthcoming, the usual tale of promises and half promises and so forth. Alex brought some inward investment into the company with him, but not enough money to first fund the whole movie. So now we were in a slightly odd position of being ready to move forward with the second Dominator movie without having to completely tread water and having this fledgling company to get off the ground and get busy. Alex was very keen that we didn’t just focus on Dominator and that everyone brought their own ideas to the table. And he had a number of comics projects that he wanted to get going which has happened, which is the other branch of Renegades work at the moment.
We also produced a childrens book written in England, which is Illustrated by Liz Dodsworth who is also a part of the Renegade team. And I have had half an idea during the summer of 2007 recording the audio book for Clive Barker’s last novel “Mr B Gone”. I was recording the audio book and I was kind of vaguely thinking how the audio book had not really advanced from the days of the cassette tape, and in a way because of my work with Tony I was imagining what could be done with the full map of an audio book in relation to the work that he and I had been doing together. And I put that idea, well no more than half an idea really out on the table and Tony was keen on it as well as Alex.
Tony and I had talked about always wanting to do something with HP Lovecraft. Both Tony and I were huge fans of Lovecraft’s work and always have been, and we talked about that but never got around to it. So it seemed like now is the right time to pursue that as well, so the 2 ideas kind of came together. I went home and I assumed I was going to engage in a pretty long process of sitting down and wading through HP’s entire output to find the right story. As it happened the first story that I picked up and read was ‘The Outsider’. I just thought if we could commission HP to write the perfect story for us it would have been this. It was absolutely perfect. It’s a first person narrative, it’s a great story and I’ve always loved it. It’s ambiguous, it’s upsetting, it’s the only story that had everything going for it. So I went back to everyone and said look I think The Outsider is perfect. It’s exactly the right length as well.
So The Outsider it was and this was the idea for a kind of audio/ visual audio book, and we set about doing it and I was directing. So I learnt the entire story which damn well almost killed me, but I did. And I was narrating the story in front of a green screen and that was taken as an element and mixed with illustration of a small amount of animation. I worked very closely with Tony to get it all together and we got it completed and I was really pleased with the outcome. We screened it at a HP Lovecraft film festival in Oregon in October of 2008 and we won an award. So we then set about doing the second of that series, which by then had been given the name of “Doug Bradley’s Spinechillers”.
So everyone looked at me and said “OK, what do we do next?” And I said ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allen Poe which we set about doing, and that is now complete and hopefully will become available on dvd very soon. Again I’m really pleased with the idea. But they’re complicated things to produce and they take time and they take money and somewhere I guess probably after we completed “The Outsider” Alex came to me with a suggestion that we proceed with doing a series of straight audio books also under the Spinechillers banner. We talked about it and it seemed like a sensible idea and we set about doing it. And low and behold it has now grown to a 13 volume set which as we speak the first 6 volumes are now available on cd. So that’s the history of the Spinechillers series to date.
I never thought of Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle as ‘Horror’ writers, how did you stumble upon them and think to include them in the series?
Dickens, no you don’t think of him as a horror writer. But as we approach the Christmas season, arguably his most famous, most read and most loved story is “A Christmas Carol” which is a straight forward ghost story, and it’s fairly scary in places I think. I have always been a huge fan of Dickens so I knew that he had written a number of other ghost stories, and I was aware of “The Signalman”. I went back to “The Signalman” and chose that straight away. The second Dickens story that was included in the series was “Trail by Jury”. I didn’t know, but again it’s a ghost story and it’s an interesting story and the third we recorded.. the title of which escapes me which is another ghost story, actually Alex discovered that one.
Conan Doyle, again it was Alex who brought the Conan Doyle stories along. I was vaguely aware of some of his fantasy stories, obviously everyone associates Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes and I guess after that maybe people know the Professor Challenger stories.
I knew that Conan Doyle had always been very interested in spiritualism and the table rappers and the seance holders and such. But it was just a case of Alex bringing the stories along and we read them and we picked them out. Some of them were, to be honest a revelation to me and I had no hesitation to including them in the Spinechiller series.
Are some of these stories what originally got you into the horror genre?
Absolutely yes, it would be movies probably first, no, am I right in saying that? Probably not, I remember as a kid I was really terrified by ghosts and they really did scare me, and I couldn’t get enough of them at the same time. It would probably be movies that got me into the horror genre. I think for a lot of people of my generation there was a period in… it must have been in the very early 70s or just at the turn of the decade, that Grenada television in the north west of England were I was growing up in Liverpool, every Monday night they ran a Hammer film. And although I had earlier encounters with genre movies, in particular I think the first genre movie if I can include it in the genre is Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents” which remains one of my favorite horror movies, absolutely scared me stupid when I was much much younger.
So I now discovered the wonderful world of Hammer, and it was just a case of tuning in around 10:30 every Monday night and there would be Peter (Cushing) and Christopher (Lee) waiting to lead me gently by the hand into the world of Dracula and Frankenstein. And of course I was also going to the movies and there were also some people who tend to delegrate quickly the work that Hammer was doing around that time, and there were some turkeys. But there were some really smart movies that Hammer were producing around that time.
I have to take a pause at this point because just in the last couple of hours I’ve received messages that Ingred Pitt has died. “Countess Dracula”, “The Vampire Lovers”, “The House that Dripped Blood” ect… I got to know Ingred quite well over the last several years and I feel pretty sad to know that She’s gone.
But sorry I’m talking about movies and you want to know about stories. Yes, would be the short answer but in particular the two authors who really are forming the backbone of the Spinechillers series are Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft.
I discovered Poe at a young age, I know my Father had Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I can remember kind of dipping in to those and being rather alarmed and very fascinated by what I was seeing, but that would have been at a very young age. And then re-discovering Poe and Lovecraft when I was around 15 or 16. Of the authors that we’ve included in the Spinechillers series they would be the Godfathers of the genre without question and they were certainly the two authors I was reading often as a teenager and right up to the present day, so I was very familiar with their work.
You go into this in the jacket of ‘The Outsider’, but for our readers will you please give us your description of the term ‘Lovecraftian’?
Well what I actually said on the jacket of ‘The Outsider’ was that it is a word that people use all the time. “It’s very Lovecraftian”. The trouble with describing things as Lovecraftian is that Lovecraft himself, part of the thing that is Lovecraftian about Lovecraft’s writing is that he tended not to go into real detail, He tends to give hints and suggestions, or he will use the old authors excuse to get a writer off the hook to describe something, it’s the ultimate in horror as something they couldn’t possibly describe, And Lovecraft tends to use words like unnameable and unknowable and unimaginable and whatnot. And in the hands of the wrong writer that can become simply frustrating, in the hands of someone like Lovecraft it just sets every nerve a tingle because you’re desperate to know what the unknowable is, you’re desperate to have names put to the unnameable. Beyond that Lovecraftian is about the kind of twin notions of the ancient evil which in the body of Lovecraft’s work tend to either come from the depths of the sea or from the farther reaches of the universe, and come to us from extremely ancient times.
It is also stated in the jacket that “Lovecraft saw no proper collection of his stories published in his lifetime: they have inspired countless thousands of people since his death.” Why do you think it is that people like Lovecraft seem more popular now than in their own lifetimes? Were they simply ahead of their time?
Yes, I think so. The same applies, absolutely for Poe. even more so with Poe than Lovecraft. Poe was the single biggest influence on Lovecraft’s writing. Exactly what were the influences on Edgar Allen Poe’s writings are hard to fathom. Poe is fully formed almost out of nowhere, he belongs in no mainstream of literature and he arrives fully formed, absolutely complete. And although his stories had some success in his lifetime, the same thing is true with Lovecraft and obviously you have to look at the young age of which they died. Poe was 40 and Lovecraft was around 46 so relatively speaking they were very young. Maybe if they had lived into their 60s or 70s they would have seen some of that success come to them.
Indeed Poe’s work was becoming very popular, very quickly after His death, and I said that I as a young boy had my Father’s copy of ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ to look at and I subsequently came into possession of an older version of the same title which One of my Grandfather’s Brothers gave to His Brother as a Christmas present in 1920, which is just 70 years after Poe’s death. So he was in the mainstream very quickly. The stories are universal and will remain universal even more for Poe than Lovecraft. Lovecraft is more a taste for the specialist really, whereas Poe’s work addresses absolutely fundamental human fears. But yes, without question, both of them were very ahead of their time. Poe is credited with creating the detective story with ‘Murders In The Rue-Morgue’, he’s credited with creating the Science Fiction story and the Horror story, and Lovecraft has very much that cross over between horror and science fiction. Which we’re very used to now, but perhaps not at the time when Lovecraft was writing his stories.
Robert Englund was brought in for Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’, what brought him to the table and will there be further collaboration in the future?
At some point Alex and I had a conversation about guest readers, and I’m not sure exactly when that originated. I know Robert pretty well, we’d made a movie together in the mid 90s and I knew him pretty well from the convention circuit as well. Alex and I picked out some stories that we’d like him to read and I contacted him and told him what the series was about and put forth the idea to him and he was enthusiastic to do it. And somewhere in the summer of 2009, Alex and I went to the San Diego Comic Con and in the following week we went down to Los Angeles and hooked up with Robert and recorded Ambose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ and he has also recorded for us Lovecraft’s “The Terrible Old Man” and an Edgar Allen Poe poem “The Sleeper”.
To the second part of your question, along with the recording session with Robert we did a session with Jeffery Combs who most horror fans will know from Stuart Gordon’s 1985 film “Re-Animator” playing Herbert West, adapted from Lovecraft’s stories. I also got to know Jeff pretty well over a number of years on the convention circuit, so again I contacted him, initially with the idea of asking him if he’d be interesting in reading the Herbert West series of stories, and he said yes. So he’s recorded those which will be in 6 installments over the last 6 volumes of the series. He has also recorded an Edgar Allen Poe story “The Cask of Amontillado” and an Ambrose Bierce story “A Fruitless Assignment” so those collaborations are already there. We have also talked about putting together a complete Edgar Allen Poe, Ambrose and Lovecraft collection. And I’ve been wanting to expand the scope of guest readers and maybe even some stories that I’ve already recorded for the Spinechillers series for those collections we could get some other actors in to read other stories.
There’s also a number of stories by Women writers have come up while we’ve been putting the series together, I’ve also been discussing with Alex about doing a separate series covering those writers and it would be very nice to get some actresses associated with the genre to come on board to read as part of that series. So yes I hope there will be further collaborations.
For several years you had your one man show ‘An Evening With Death’, is there any chance you’ll be taking it on the road again?
I hope so. To explain “An Evening With Death” is a one man theater show, which I created with the help of a very close friend of mine, an actress back in England Mary Rosco, who helped me devise the show and also directed it. I’ve been performing it principally at colleges and universities in the States, usually in October around Halloween. A collection of pieces to some extent surrounding the season of Halloween but also around the idea of death with original linking pieces which I wrote myself.
The last few times I performed it was back in Britain at the Abertoir Horror Film Festival, I performed it in the theater as part of the festival weekend and then at the Riverside studios in London in November last year, again it was part of a horror themed festival. I’m very proud of the show and I love performing it, so I would hope it’s not the end of the line. The college and university bookings have stopped over the last while but I would certainly hope that there will be life in it. And again it’s to a great extent a story telling exercise and a story telling experience so it relates quite closely with the Spinechillers series. Alex and I have talked about the possibility of it being a kind of live Spinechillers event. So maybe the two things will come together in someway, but at the moment the live Spinechillers is no more than talk. We’ll have to see how that develops.
What’s next for you? Any projects in the works?
Experience tells me, the more you talk about these things the less they happen. I’m in a permanently frustrating position. I would say there are 2 movies that I did that are about to see the light of day. An independent, low budget British horror movie that I did at the beginning of last year called “Umbrage” written and directed by Drew Cullingham. It’s a really good script, and I thought a very powerful story, I play the lead role in that and it looks like we’re going to get some limited distribution on it. And then a movie which I shot in Barcelona called “Exorcismus” which was a two scene cameo part in that, but I know that was just screened at this years Abertoir Film Festival so it seems that has seen the light of day.
Otherwise I am sitting on maybe half a dozen scripts, some of which are fairly ordinary I’ll be absolutely honest. But I would say three or four of those scripts are outstanding. One is written by Frazer Lee whom I collaborated on the short movies “On Edge” and “Red Lines” a number of years ago. Quite frankly and honestly I do not know why this film was not in the can five years ago, it’s nuts that it isn’t. It’s an outstanding script, it’s a great idea with franchise potential. And I know that Robert Englund was also attached to it and he was also very keen.
A movie called “Tomorrow Gamble” which again I’ve been attached to for probably three years now. Robert Englund was even more enthusiastic about that script than I was and God knows I’m pretty enthusiatic about it. It’s an outstanding script and again I just cannot believe that that movie is not being made. It’s a comedy horror, a Lovecraft comedy horror. It’s a British script that was sent to me. I’m not a huge fan of comedy horror but this made me laugh out loud and it also takes it’s horror and Lovecraft seriously and I would really love to see that made.
There’s a movie that Neil Marshall is involved in as producer which I have the script for and I’ve said yes to. Which is a traditional English haunted house/ ghost story with I think a very clever twist, and again I think a very decent script. But I’m not hearing in the case of either of those scripts that any funding is coming along.
It’s just one more thing that makes me angry in this flood of expensive remakes. Studio executives should not be putting money into remakes, taking a safe ride on the back of the work of people who were principally first time directors when those movies were made the first time around. “The Hills Have Eyes’, “Friday The 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” and the irony of all this crap about remaking Hellraiser is that if Clive were to go into a studio executive’s office and pitch Hellraiser today, they’d turn him down in a heartbeat. It’ the job of the studio to find new talent. It’s something I’m opposed to in principle, nobody wants to see these things. I think people go to see these things for the same reason people slow down on the freeway to see a car wreck.
I hated the remake of Halloween with a passion and I came out of the theater knowing that I’m part of the problem, not the solution, as I gave them my money. And the only motivation for making these films is money and the only thing that will stop them from making them is if they stop making money. I actually think people should illegally download the remakes. So don’t give them your money and they’ll stop. My point being is that it annoys me that these remakes are filling up the market and swallowing the money that new original movies should be making. Studio executives should be on the lookout for the new Sam Raimis, the new Toby Hoopers, the new Wes Cravens and the new Clive Barkers.
You can buy Doug Bradley’s Spinechillers Audio Books and Dvds or download single stories in mp3 format at http://www.renegadeartsentertainment.com/spinechillers-home