Based on two semi-related tales from Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’ short story collection, Book of Blood follows teacher/supernatural investigator Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward) checking out a house in which several gruesome murders have taken place.
Along the way, she encounters into Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) a tortured student who may or may not provide a conduit into the house’s tortured souls, but when the truth about Simon is finally revealed, there’s a nasty price that has to be paid.
In this conversation, writer/director John Harrison talks about his film’s disappointing lack of a theatrical release, as well as some of the other upcoming projects he’s involved with, including an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Cell…
What happened with Book of Blood’s theatrical release, and how did it end up going directly to DVD?
Unfortunately, the company that had tried to sell it, which was back around the time of the American Film Market, that was when the economy had really tanked and because we had done it as a negative pick-up, a lot of companies were scaling back so that they could have money for their own releases.
Obviously I don’t want to start trashing the movie, but I’ve said the real version is going to be the Blu-Ray, and the television premier [on Sy Fy] will be a modest advertisement for it. On the other hand, response to the movie is really good and the reaction at the film festivals, the couple that I’ve been to has been really great.
What were some of the major obstacles you were going to have to overcome as director?
There are several things about that script that I knew when I was writing it would be critical to the success of the story. It’s not really a slasher movie or an in-your-face gore fest, it’s a drama and a supernatural thriller if you will, so mood and atmosphere are critical to the success of that storytelling, so finding the right location, finding the right cast, finding the right house for Tollington House was really going to be an important thing.
When they suggested I shoot it in Scotland, I was pretty thrilled actually, because that city is so gothic and there were so many opportunities there, so that actually became a good thing and we found the right place and those things all started to fall into place.
I found a great cinematographer, Phil Robertson who shared my vision for how we wanted this thing to look. He had great ideas about the colour palette and how we could create a creepiness with the way he would light and shoot it and we were definitely on the same page there, and I had an absolutely brilliant production designer named Andy Harris who also contributed to that visual palette we were looking for to make the movie work.
The key to this film was finding the right actors for Simon and Mary, wasn’t it?
Yes, and I think I found that right chemistry. We went through the old song and dance of trying to get stars to do it and we spent a lot of time trying to cast people who strung us along or whatever. We ended up casting a beautiful actress named Sophie Ward who was, of all the British actresses I auditioned, outside of going to star names and making offers, the one that I always wanted.
It took us a while to get there, but fortunately she hung in with us and then we chose her. And then a young actor named Jonas Armstrong who was the BBC show Robin Hood came to us and he was great. He was totally game for everything that I threw at him and he and Sophie got along great.
There’s some pretty explicit sex in this and they were very game and I thought it was pretty hot stuff that worked well for the movie and he’s a terrific actor. He plays a very damaged character at the beginning, who turns out to be something more than we thought, and of course ultimately gets his own comeuppance and I thought he really pulled it off.
When did the opportunity to adapt Stephen King’s Cell come up?
I don’t know exactly what happened with [original director] Eli Roth, but CAA called me up and said, ‘The Weinsteins are thinking about doing Cell as a TV mini-series so your name came up and they’d be interested in hearing your take on it.’ I read the book again, put my notes together and they loved the pitch and made a deal with me to do it.
The message about the dangers of cell phones is even timelier today than when it came out, isn’t it? Some readers consider it a zombie story, but that’s just part of the metaphor.
I agree about the central theme of the story, which is the dangers of technology and some of the unintended consequences, but Stephen never answers this in the book, and I don’t either as to what actually caused the viral spread to occur.
Was it a terrorist? Was it a bunch of hackers at MIT and things just got out of hand? Was it some kind of government experiment gone awry, or was it just some madman in a cabin like a Ted Kozinski, who set something off and didn’t realize what would happen, and created this self-replicating virus that got into the cell systems and drove everybody nuts?
Obviously the metaphor is just what happens when that particular technology fails and we’re left without it but it actually attacks us!
You’re also listed as a producer on the upcoming Dune film?
What happened is that [producer] Richard Rubenstein and I made several attempts to continue the Dune franchise either as a television series or to use the prequel books that Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert had written.
We had a whole pitch designed for the first three books, which were House Atreides, House Corrino and House Harkonnen; there have been seven or eight since, and we were trying to set them up as theatrical features. A producer from Paramount said, ‘Look, I think the time is right to do a new movie based on the original book.
Dune is the franchise; the original book and the original idea, and I would really like to do that!’ Well, because Richard Rubenstein still had some rights, they made a deal with Richard and fortunately he included me in that. It’s still very much in the nascent stage, but Paramount is investigating doing it, so we’ll see.
But you don’t want to be wandering around the set saying, ‘Gosh, when I did Dune, we did the sand worms this way…’
I don’t think they’ll let me do that. They’ll keep me at arm’s length!