With a brand new 'Scream' film kicking ass at the box office and another one set to start shooting this Summer, it looks like the slasher sub-genre is making waves again in a big way (did it ever really go away?) One of the most overlooked slashers in the last 20 years is 'Valentine', directed by the talented Australian filmmaker Jamie Blanks.
When the film was initially released in 2001 critics were not too kind and although it performed admirably at the box office it didn't make as much profit back as some slasher films that came before.
There's always been a fairly huge fanbase for 'Valentine' and in recent years the film has been garnering some richly deserved re-evaluation. Writer Gavin Logan was lucky enough to interview director Jamie Blanks recently and asked him about the filming process, what films influenced his career and much more.
GL: Before we even get into 'Valentine' we wanted to rewind the clock a little bit first. As a child growing up in Australia what were some of your favourite films to watch and what were the films that would've had a big influence on you?
JB: 'Halloween', 'Dawn of the Dead', 'The Fog', 'The Evil Dead', 'Alone in the Dark', 'Friday the 13th'. The usual. Carpenter's movies had the biggest impact on me in terms of wanting to become a writer/composer. I had a natural flair for music as a kid, I could play back any song I heard on the piano so figuring out Carpenter's music was pretty simple. I loved that it was possible for a director to also write their own music so that's something I always wanted to do.
GL: Was getting into the film industry always the goal? How did you get your foot in the door of the business?
JB: I went to film school, won some awards, made lots of connections and started out as an editing assistant eventually becoming a commercials editor. Fred Schepisi's company head hunted me and I became their head of post production. It was there I was able to get the gear to shoot my teaser trailer for 'IKWYDLS'.
GL: Is there a particular filmmaker that you look to when you're directing a movie or is each of your projects very much about finding your own style that fits correctly with the script and story?
JB: Each film demands its own style - that said, I'm always looking for the most visually interesting way of accomplishing each shot. Films are a visual and aural medium - it's the filmmaker's responsibility to find ways to make the experience as rich as possible for the audience. Even good filmmakers on a low budget like Sam Raimi always find ways to do this.
GL: We're huge fans of Sam Raimi here.
JB: Raimi was hugely inspiring to me, as was Robert Rodriguez.
GL: You credit getting the 'Urban Legend' gig to the trailer you made for 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'. Did you have a particular pitch ready for your version of that script? Any funny stories about making the trailer?
JB: I shot the trailer over two weekends with some actors all trying to do American accents. It was pretty funny as some were more successful than others. I'm glad producer Neal Moritz and the others who saw it were able to look past that aspect of the trailer and see the filmmaking behind it.
GL: 'Urban Legend' was a huge hit and 'Valentine' did well at the box office too. What would you say were the main differences on 'Valentine' compared to 'Urban Legend'?
JB: 'Valentine' was intended as a straight throw back to the '80s slashers I loved. 'Urban Legend' was much more in the mould of 'Scream' in terms of its self awareness. I didn't want to do that again with 'Valentine', I wanted it to be straight slasher film with characters we cared about. They have a lot in common those two movies, especially in terms of the visual style I used. The main difference was my intent to make 'Valentine' feel more '80s than '90s.
GL: Are we correct in saying that 'Valentine' was almost ready to go straight into production when you were hired? Did you have a lot of input on the casting of the film or the final script?
JB: I had a lot of input into the scripts, the casting, the crew, the locations- everything. They had done several drafts before I came onboard but I supervised several drafts and the final shooting script.
GL: Traditionally slashers that are set during a famous holiday usually are the ones that are fondly remembered the most. Did you think that 'Valentine' would be your 'Halloween'?
JB: I'm never presumptuous to think that one of my movies could be 'Halloween'. I just wanted to make a Valentine's day themed horror film that had iconic Valentine's Day imagery, like the Cherub, the presents. 'My Bloody Valentine' had been a miner's gas mask and I thought there was room to do something with classic imagery associated with the day itself.
GL: Any funny stories from the set?
JB: Too many to list here. I always loved David Boreanaz stalking the girls on the stairwell reciting lines from 'The Shining'. He could never get enough of that. It was hilarious.
GL: What's your favourite kill from the film? Which one was the most difficult to film? Was there a kill that you wanted to do but couldn't for budgetary reasons or something else?
JB: Probably the hot tub kill. On the Scream Factory blu ray there is an alternate cut of the scene which is far more intense. I was asked to tone it down. Drove me crazy being asked to make the movie less scary, but there you go.
GL: We're fans of the film obviously and having rewatched it recently it does feel very much a slasher of its time. Do you enjoy the film? If you could go back and do it all over again what would you change?
JB: There are a ton of things I would change. Mostly in the opening scene with the cadaver breathing - the producer insisted we do that on the day and he deviated from the original planned scene which never had the cadaver being swapped. It made no fucking sense and still doesn't. I wish I could have shot the scene as scripted and as I intended to do when I showed up on set that day. It was the only time I was furious with the producer on the entire movie and I still think he damaged the movie by insisting on that. I don't know why people who don't watch horror films feel the urge to tell people who do how to make a horror film. Same thing with the fucking pool scene in 'Urban Legend' with the girl walking in with the parka and my job was to convince the audience the killer was about to strike. It just sucks and audiences always reject that scene. I didn't want to do that scene either but I was 26, doing my first film. My job was to shoot the script I was given, so I did. Doesn't mean I like it in the movie. The audience always assign blame on the director for this stuff, which is just part of the job. They just don't know all the things that lead up to that moment being in the movie. There is a reason director's covet having final cut on a film. I didn't have that on either 'Valentine' or 'Urban Legend'.
GL: You're quite active and responsive on Twitter which is always really nice to see. If a young filmmaker reached out for advice what would be the first 3 tips you'd give them?
JB: Make sure film is your absolute passion, if it's not you're competeing with tons of people for whom it is. Have a vision then figure out a realistic way of executing it. Don't accept mediocrity - I know too many directors in Australia who do. Be persistent. Be a nice person to work with - always. A sign of character is how you behave when things get tough, not how you are when they are easy. No exceptions, ever.
GL: You're not just a director obviously. You've produced, edited and composed original scores too. If the right project came up would you like to direct another horror film?
JB: I am doing one this year all going to plan, which it looks like it is as of this writing.
GL: Oh nice. We gotta ask what kind of horror film you'd jump at directing in 2022?
JB: Can't say - but it's in my wheelhouse.
GL: What would Valentine 2 look like?
JB: Someone should do an actual adaptation of Tom Savage's novel. It's fucking great.
GL: Well thank you so much Jamie for your time. We can't wait to hear all about this new horror film you're working on this year. All the best for the future.
A massive thank you to the amazing Jamie Blanks for giving up some of his precious spare time to us. Please go follow Jamie on Twitter and support his upcoming projects.
- Gavin Logan