A slightly reworked version of Matty’s archival 2014 chat with helmer Anthony Hickox, who dishes the dirt on his ace action horror hybrid and several other lesser discussed titles from his resume. Be warned: it’s raw, shrill, and fanboy-y.
It’s not everyday that you get to chinwag with one of your favourite filmmakers. Then again it’s not everyday an intense campaign of social media stalking actually pays off without a restraining order. You see, after spending two weeks grooming them like a predator – an Instagram comment here, a begging, pleading “for the love of Christ, talk to me!” post there – I finally got the response I was after:
“Hey there!” it read, “Just don’t ask me about the end werewolf!!!! Hahahaha.”
Fast-forward a few days later, and I was making a transatlantic phone call to someone whose work I’ve obsessed over for as long as I can remember. I was talking to one of my own personal all-timers, the brilliant Anthony Hickox. And our focus? His ace cops n’ werewolves action horror hybrid, FULL ECLIPSE (1993) (as well as a few other morsels, natch).
“God, I can’t even remember. Go on IMDb!” the London-born maverick laughs when pressed for a breakdown of his beginnings and career up to Full Eclipse, his sixth feature. “It all started with Waxwork (1988) but I’m not sure how it got from doing crazy low-budget gore-fests to HBO saying “Come and do Full Eclipse for us”. I think I might have done Extreme (1995), a TV pilot, before then but I don’t remember the dates. Or they might have been friends with Pete Abrams of Tapestry, where we’d just done the [Warlock: The Armageddon (1993)]. I can’t quite remember exactly how.”
Well, let’s see if we can fill in some blanks…
Hickox is from a filmmaking family. The great nephew of Lord J. Arthur Rank, who controlled the British film industry for decades, Hickox’s father was the late Douglas Hickox, director of Zulu Dawn (1979) and the Vincent Price classic, Theatre of Blood (1973). His mother Anne V. Coates, meanwhile, was the Academy Award-winning editor of Lawrence of Arabia (1962); the woman responsible for arguably the most famous cut in cinema. Young Tony, it would seem, was destined for the movie biz.
“I don’t think I really had a choice,” he says. “My dad always said that if he was a butcher, I’d be cutting meat. Which is true because both of my parents worked all the time, so every holiday I had from school I’d be on a film set. Which helps a lot, you know? I mean, it doesn’t help you to make good movies ‘cos you either can or you can’t, but it certainly gave me the experience so that I wasn’t scared when I went to make Waxwork. Even though I hadn’t done anything before, I had the confidence and I’m sure that was a running help in it.”
An impish, meta-soaked mix of fun and frights, Waxwork quickly became a favourite among renters in the halcyon days of the video store that, for the next five years anyway, enabled Hickox to belt out a string of lively, idiosyncratic shockers. It’s a genuinely impressive run, from the excellent bloodsucker western Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990); to his trio of cracking sequels, Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992), Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992), and Warlock: The Armageddon; all the way through to the mighty Full Eclipse.
“I loved doing Full Eclipse,” says Hickox. “It was a really fun experience, and we had a budget and we could actually do some stuff. It turned into chaos by the end because we went way over budget and schedule. We had all the HBO execs sitting on the set the last day and we had like six pages to shoot, and they were just like “Well, we don’t care! We’re going to shut you down in two hours!””
“There’s a new police force on the streets,” screams Full Eclipse‘s tagline. “And they only come out at night!”
Decorated LAPD detective Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) is burning out. His marriage is crumbling and now, thanks to the bizarre aftermath of a nightclub shootout, his partner Jim Sheldon (Anthony John Denison) has committed suicide. Soon, Max finds himself at the attention of the mysterious and charismatic Adam Garou (Bruce Payne), a high-ranking police officer who shares Max’s distaste for the scumbags they have to contend with each day. Inviting Max to a special meeting with four other officers (Patsy Kensit, Jason Beghe, John Verea, and Paula Marshall), Max quickly becomes embroiled in Garou’s ‘Pack’: an elite squad of vicious vigilantes turbo powered by Garou’s werewolf serum.
“Full Eclipse was a big, wild TV movie,” chuckles Hickox. “HBO wanted – I’ve forgotten who it was over there, but he was a really nice guy – and he wanted to try and, well, HBO just liked the script, but they kind of wanted to do that Friday night action movie thing that they began after that. It ended up really successful for them too; like, it ran for five years. I just liked the idea of Full Eclipse though. I love action movies and I love werewolves so to me it was just perfect.”
Hickox’s attraction to Full Eclipse‘s Michael Reaves and Richard Christian Matheson-penned screenplay – originally titled ‘The Pack’ – is obvious in hindsight. Dissecting the helmer’s complete body of work, as a written work, Full Eclipse is ram-packed with everything quintessentially Hickoxian: adrenaline-pumping set pieces; the merging and subverting of multiple genres and conventions; and, most noticeably, the idea of a normal average Joe transforming into a superhero-like being. It’s a recurring Hickox motif, present in everything from Waxwork II and Warlock: The Armageddon, to Invasion of Privacy (1996) and, to a more twisted extent, The Contaminated Man (2000)
“That’s interesting,” muses the director. “I’ve never thought about it like that. My favourite movie of all time, though, is North by Northwest (1959) where, you know, Cary Grant has to turn from a normal guy and become that kind of superhero. Obviously not in the mystical way, but he is put in these situations that he has to figure out and he has to become the guy that those pursuing him think he is. I guess it’s that I’m tapping into.”
“Full Eclipse’s script, though, didn’t actually have that much action originally. It was more just the cop side: cops who become werewolves, kind of Judge Dredd, the law and the executioner. I just added those two huge action scenes at the beginning. I love to blend genres; it’s fun as a director to try and blend. I kind of did with Waxwork, which was really kind of a time travel comedy as well as a horror movie. And with Sundown, I kinda love that, ‘cos I wanted to make a cowboy movie but no one was really making cowboy movies, and that original script came and I kind of rewrote it to become much more cowboy. The six shooters, the holsters – I did a TV pilot that never went too called Martian Law (1998) and that was cowboys on Mars. David Carradine was the bad guy and I literally, I mean, I did a full on western on Mars. The whole deal!”
Never one to shy away from tipping his cap to his myriad of influences, Hickox stages Full Eclipse‘s plentiful scenes of gun-toting rough and tumble with real Hong Kong-style elan. It’s a bold choice; a bold choice that renders Full Eclipse – along with his ace 1996 psychodrama Invasion of Privacy, which made extensive use of split-screen – one of Hickox’s most visually arresting movies.
“Yeah, I’d been watching all the John Woo stuff and I’d been watching all these crazy Hong Kong action movies, and I was like, “well this would be great” about all the slow motion and all the double gun stuff. Of course, it’s been done to death since then but at the time no one had really done it, especially on American television. Now, I’d always loved Sundown and the way I’d shot it really wide – like, there’s hardly any close ups in it – but I thought if I was going to be doing a TV movie, I’ve got to come close. I’ve got to get really close to try and make it stand out on a television screen. Tony Scott and the kind of movies he shot, those were a big influence too, where you just put [the camera] on a 1000mm long lens and you kind of dig in and try find the moment. Most of Full Eclipse’s sets were three wall sets so the camera would be literally across the stage from the actors. It’s really interesting, but it helps kind of give it that really slick look, especially when you put a lot of smoke in there. I thought Sandi did a great job.”
“She’s a tough girl and she has a real opinion,” Hickox says of his working relationship with Sandi Sissel, Full Eclipse‘s BAFTA and Satellite Award-nominated Director of Photography. “And I have got to say I got along really well with her, but she was very difficult to producers and stuff. She wouldn’t let them fuck with her, you know.”
As awful as it sounds, maybe it’s because she plies her trade in such a male-dominated area?
“Maybe. There is hardly any female DP’s though. It’s really weird. But, yeah, she was great. I loved her. I tried to get her on a couple more movies but she was busy, and I still want to work with her again at some point. She captured the look I wanted perfectly.”
Hickox is full of praise for the rest of his behind the scenes crew as well.
“All the costumes – we had Tarantino’s costume designer, Jacqueline Aronson. Everything was designed: all the suits, all the colours. There were very few accidents on Full Eclipse. We had a really good editor on it too, Peter Amundson, a big action editor. He’s still working on all the action movies. So we had a really good team. It was just one of those things where everybody – the production designer, everybody – we all got along and we all had the same vision. HBO too, they didn’t hold me back at all. They just totally left me alone – well, until the last week where we went over and stuff! But creatively I had no, no nothing. They just said go for it which is why I think HBO right now has such quality. They pick directors they want to work with and they let them go and do what they want to do. They famously don’t try and control the film in any way: they hire you and leave you alone to do the movie. And that’s what good producers do.”
It’s hard not to push for further comment hearing Hickox say that, what with his own experiences with meddlesome producers: first on 1997’s comic strip-based fantasy Prince Valiant (Hickox thought he was making The Princess Bride (1987), but the German producers wanted Braveheart (1995)), and then on 2000’s Jill Rips, an underrated serial killer thriller.
“Oh, my God, yeah,” he laughs. “Well, the problem with Jill Rips was it was originally meant to be Tom Berenger and we got… Dolph Lundgren. And, well, you know what? I should have probably just left the movie at that point but I can’t do that. Dolph’s a nice guy – we’d just worked together on Storm Catcher (1999) – but he was just wrong for the part, and the friend of mine who financed it was like “Just make it, Dolph’ll be great” and so we did the best we could. I actually love the way that looks too, by the way. I love the kinkiness and I love the fact I tried to make it look like a ’70s porn movie, the whole thing. I wanted Jill Rips to have that feel.”
“But yeah, when everybody is kind of working towards – and doing – the same movie, usually something good will come out of it. Not always, but usually. As long as the creative team are all one vision, and the actors have to understand it too. We did have a little problem on Full Eclipse with Patsy Kensit. She wasn’t quite used to shooting how we were.”
So was Kensit difficult to work with?
“Not so much difficult as… Look, she came from a different place. We were all mucking in and it became a bit of a boy’s club. We were all like “Let’s just shoot, shoot, shoot” – I love to shoot and I hate just sitting around – and all the other actors understood that. But Patsy, she was just like “Oh no, no; I’ve got my make up and my trailer!” and we were all “No! Get her out, get her on set. We’re shooting!”. She didn’t know what was going on.”
Interestingly, around the time she appeared in British soap institution Emmerdale, Kensit stated in a Sunday paper supplement that Full Eclipse was the most miserable shooting experience of her career.
“Yeah, she mentioned it in her book as well!” cackles Hickox. “Somebody, a friend, said “Oh, you’ve just been insulted in Patsy’s book”. Patsy was actually a friend before which is a bit weird, but she just couldn’t – she just didn’t understand the pace we were doing. And we were working long hours; sometimes like fourteen, fifteen hour days. We had five weeks which for a TV movie is a good amount of time, but we were packing a lot in and to light – to make it look like how it did – takes time. The lighting was just so important.”
So what of the other members of the Full Eclipse cast? How were they to work with?
“Van Peebles was fantastic. He’d directed before too which was great, and which was probably another thing with Patsy because he totally understood what I was doing, how I was doing it and… And I think she felt a bit left out. And, you know, he would encourage me to go even further all the time. I’d just saw that cowboy movie he’d made, Posse (1993) [which he also directed], and I thought he’d be great and I sent him the script and he said “I love it”. It’s funny because the part was never written for a black guy and, even when I sent it to Mario, it was written for a white guy. He said Full Eclipse was the first script he’d ever got that didn’t outright say “a black guy” in it.”
And Paula Marshall?
“Oh, I love Paula. She’s great. She’s another one: she comes on to the shoot and she’s just fun to work with,” he says.
Having starred in both Hellraiser III and Warlock: The Armageddon, it’s safe to say that she was once one of your stock players, yes?
“It’s like, well, why not? Why not work with people who are good and that you know? It makes it so much easier every time you work them, so I’d work with the same people all the time if I could. I think it’s very important. Like when I work with Gerry Lively [Director of Photography and frequent collaborator], we don’t need to talk half the time because we just know what we’re doing together.”
What about Bruce Payne, then? Best remembered as the lip-smackingly wicked villain in Wesley Snipes actioner Passenger 57 (1992), the English thespian is well known for his somewhat prickly on-set presence.
“Yeah, Payne, the name is quite appropriate!” chuckles Hickox again. “But that’s what he does to get what he does, if you know what I mean. I’ve found with actors now that some are them are just like that: they don’t have to be fun as long as they’re good. And he was very professional. So, he’d always be on time, he’d always do what he was told, he gave the performance. He doesn’t have to be a happy or joyous person on the set; that’s not what they were paying him for. I think he did a great job.”
And indeed he did. Payne’s electric actually, unleashing a turn of magnetic and seductive evil. Just look at the scene in which his Garou asserts his status as top dog over Kensit’s Casey Spence; it’s quite possibly the highlight of the movie. And regardless of how problematic Kensit and Payne may have been, their behaviour was surely a cakewalk compared to the hell martial arts bloater Steven Seagal inflicted upon Hickox while making Submerged in 2005; a conversation impossible not to segue into.
“The script for Submerged was brilliant, I have to say,” sighs the helmer. “It started life as a full-on horror and sci-fi. I just thought wouldn’t it be great if you were stuck at the bottom of the ocean with fucking aliens on your submarine! So that was the original idea, and we story boarded it and we designed the creatures; like these little, mini kind of crab insects that could go down the drains of the submarine so you’d never know when they were coming. It was really interesting…”
“And then Seagal came on board.”
So that’s how it turned into just another of his straight-to-DVD action flicks of the period?
“Yep. I met him at his house – which is when I should have realised it was all going to go wrong – but he was like “I love the script blah blah blah” and then I get a phone call like three weeks before we started shooting. We’d planned everything and he was like “I don’t think this movie should be on a submarine”. Erm, but it’s called Submerged and it is on a submarine! And then he was like “But I want a big opera scene,” – I mean, this is literally how it happened – “I want an opera scene.” But, you’re on a submarine! “Yeah, well I’ve decided I don’t like aliens and I don’t like monsters, and I don’t want to be in a monster movie”. And basically that’s why it ended up like it did. We had no clue what we were doing: no script, and the whole mind control thing in the final film was made up the last week before shooting. It was really insane. At that point, again, I should have quit, but I needed the cash.”
Though not entirely worthless, with Hickox’s aesthetic verve and commitment to rapid fire incident as strong as ever, Submerged is a mite frivolous. It is, however, almost a near typical example of Hickox’s post Full Eclipse career, even if it’s not best representative of it on the whole.
“I sort of went off on a tangent that I’m now trying to get back from,” explains Hickox. “I started getting – well, you’ve got to pay the rent, and I started getting these offers for these ten-million dollar action and thriller movies, like Blast (2004) and Submerged.”
Full Eclipse, then, fits nicely between these two distinct phases of the director’s career, thanks to its union of hare ’em-scare’em horror and bullet-sprayed action. If you haven’t already, you’d do well to give a bunch of Hickox’s later flicks a look, the Armand Assante-starring Federal Protection (2002); the noir-tinged erotic thriller Payback (1995); and the aforementioned Invasion of Privacy especially. But even though Hickox moved away from horror it’s still easy to see just how much the genre courses through him, as the denouement of Invasion of Privacy can attest to.
“Yeah, I kinda let myself go into my slasher head at the end,” he says. “I shot it a bit too slasher like when the rest of the film was – I was trying to do Polanski. I shot it all on 35mm, kinda doing Rosemary’s Baby. If you look at the sets, none of the sets have ceilings, which if you look at Rosemary’s Baby, you never see a ceiling. I was really doing my homage to Polanski with that style and the kind of weird relationships that he loves to explore. I think I went a bit too ’90s slasher with the lightning and the rain at the end though. I mean, I love that, but did it need that in that particular movie? Should I have been a little more toned down? I just love horror though; I don’t necessarily love all the new stuff, but I am a huge horror fan, like from the moment I could speak. I was always sneaking downstairs to watch Hammer movies late at night. And that’s why my Dad made Theatre of Blood; that’s the story. I was like, “You have to do a horror movie!””
“Invasion of Privacy has got my favourite musical theme of all my movies too. It was an Angelo Badalamenti theme, who did all the David Lynch movies, and I just called him up and was like “I love your work, and I can’t afford you, but could you just do me a theme?” and he said OK. He didn’t write the whole movie but he did me the theme.”
An exec producer credit on his younger brother James’ Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995) and overseeing reshoots for the Wes Craven-presented Carnival of Souls remake (1998) aside, Hickox wouldn’t make his return to horror proper until 2009’s Knife Edge. Sadly, critical and fan reaction was hardly positive.
“Yeah, nobody liked that movie,” sighs Hickox.
A mature and measured throwback to old school woman-in-peril mysteries, tonally, Knife Edge was a refreshing change of pace for the generally more rambunctious auteur; a film the polar opposite of Full Eclipse‘s white-knuckle swagger. It ain’t perfect, sure, but it ain’t that bad either; certainly nowhere near as duff as its mass drubbing would have you believe.
“I very purposefully went for a very ’60s Hammer look,” explains the director. “I think when we were originally going to make Knife Edge it was right at the beginning of that whole ‘ghost kid’ thing from Japan, and I think the problem with it was that we were just too late. We should have looked at the script and gone “You know, they’ve done it like a hundred times now and we’ve got to put something new in there”. It was actually not a very nice shoot either: we had another problem with an actress, Natalie Press. She made it very difficult. She’s insane! But then [co-star] Hugh Bonneville was just so great and so nice that he just balanced it out.”
So what’s next for the idiosyncratic helmer? Will there be more horror on the horizon, a return to Full Eclipse-style territory perhaps?
“Well, I’ve started writing now, and I’m starting to become kind of successful on that front so hopefully I’ll be able to turn the career around and get back directing the stuff that I want to do. I’ve just done a Mugabe script – Rhodesia – that Nick Cassavetes was doing, and then Ino Moxo that Peter Webber has signed on to about the Amazon. They’re kinda serious, big – they’re writing jobs, but hopefully one of them will take off and I can go, “OK, this is a movie I want to make”. It’s like if I can make money writing, so I don’t have to do all that shit, well that’s the way I’ve got to do it. After Submerged I just stepped back from directing for a sec and thought that I was just getting tied up in all this and that and not doing what I want to do. I did try with Knife Edge but it’s the crazy, camp Dr. Phibes- style that I love. I want to do it kind of my way now.”
“Full Eclipse though,” he reflects, “was just one of those things that was just a really good experience; the kind that doesn’t happen that often in moviemaking. You know, they say directing is compromising ‘cos you’ve got a budget, you’ve got a time and stuff. When you’re writing you’ve got all the time you need and anything you want, but when you’re directing, you’re constantly sorting out problems. With some movies, like on Prince Valiant, there’s a problem every day but then some, like Full Eclipse, it was fucking hard work, yeah, but it wasn’t a problem. It just kind of worked.”
As our chat winds down – and the horror of just how much I’m going to stung for an hour-long international call becomes apparent – I’ve got one final question that I need answering. It’s the one that’s been hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles; the elephant in the room as it were. Well, maybe more the wolf over the phone…
Just why, exactly, does Hickox hate Full Eclipse‘s end werewolf effect?
“OK, OK!” he laughs. “Well, my favourite werewolf that I’ve done is the Waxwork one. For some reason I just love that one by Bob Keen. I love Bob. And I love Tony Gardener [Full Eclipse’s FX man], but the thing with the end werewolf is that it was done very late so we couldn’t really work and refine it. It’s like a first draft of what it was meant to be, and it kind of just always pissed me off that we didn’t get into it earlier.”
I’ve always really liked it, I counter. Compared to some other poor ’90s lycans – the surprisingly cheap-looking Rick Baker work in the horror-lite Jack Nicholson vehicle Wolf (1994), and the tawdry CGI of An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) – Full Eclipse‘s final beast is the dog’s bollocks.
“Yeah, the design – it’s not really the design, it’s the fact it’s so unmovable. It’s kind of like wearing a suit of armour. Like, the guy inside couldn’t even move the wolf’s! I kinda wanted a World War Z (2013) version of a werewolf; a fast moving one, that’s why he’s climbing all over the crate at the end. CGI would have been great in those days! Emotionally, yeah, it does what you want it to do, but it was all put together in the cutting, and it was tough to cut. It was just a guy in a suit, and that suit was really fucking heavy!”
Previously published on UK Horror Scene.
Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz