An Interview with Damon Rickard by Dean Sills.
UKHS – Thank you for your time Damon and welcome to UKHS.
When did you first discover your passion for filmmaking and writing and how did you team up with Alex Mathieson, your Co-Writer and Co-Director of ‘The Tour’?
DR – I’ve had a passion for films and filmmaking as far back as far back as I can remember. When I was in my teens we made some really rather ridiculous short films which will likely never see the light of day. And trust me this is a good thing! The first screenplay I wrote was about 15 years ago but it never went anywhere. Unfortunately it was too big a scale for me to do and I was unable to get any funding for it. And amazingly it wasn’t a horror but a heist movie told over 3 decades. I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point.
Alex I met almost 20 years ago. We worked in a video store together for a couple of years but shared such a passion for both film and music that we have remained firm friends since. We’ve both always wanted to make films so just thought there’s no time like the present. Financial commitments and life in general have just seemed to get in the way before and within the blink of an eye 10 years passes. We didn’t want another 10 years to pass before we did anything about it.
UKHS – Who are your biggest influences and what’s your favourite Horror movie?
DR – My biggest influences growing up would be the likes of Carpenter, Romero, Raimi, Cronenberg and Hitchcock. For other reasons Stephen King, Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero. Although all three of those have tried their hand at directing, that’s not where my influence comes from with them. If we look at the more modern horror film makers I’d say the likes of Ti West, Eli Roth, James Wan, the Soska sisters, the Pierce brothers (who did Deadheads) and Adam Green. None of these guys are just churning out typical horror. They’ve all got their own style and way of story telling. Too much modern horror has no identity, From the likes of The Pact to The House At The End of The Street you would have no idea who the filmmaker behind it was. There’s some exciting new talent on the horror block and hopefully I can get myself among them!
As for my favourite horror film, well I always struggle between The Thing and Day of the Dead with this. So can I just pick both as an equal favourite?
DR – The tour is a take on the haunted house story. It’s set in a town which boasts the most haunted house in Britain and this keeps tourists flooding in to help keep the town alive economically. The house itself is closed to the public as there have been numerous unexplained deaths there but after taking a shine to one of the people on a particular tour, the guide promises to show them the inside of the house. His libido starts taking over from his common sense. The girls, intrigued to know the secrets of the house accept but don’t count on what is waiting for them inside.
The story started as something we felt we could pull off as a low to no budget film. So we wanted something with minimal principle cast and few locations. We also wanted to do something that we would want to see. We’re both massive fans of Robert Wise’s The Haunting and in films such as this the house is a character. We liked the idea of
giving this character a purpose. And in the current economic climate where we’re seen high street stores shut down in quick succession we realised that some places literally have nothing left keeping them going. All the money starts going out of the towns and soon enough people start relocating.
Some towns in England are very set in their ways and something like this would ruin them so there was room to explore how a town would cope. Luckily for Darkmoor, it has this haunted house to keep tourists coming in and spending their money at their bars, their cafe’s etc. And thus Darkmoor Manor was born.
UKHS – I am very excited about your cast especially the lovely, beautiful Jessica Cameron. Wow! Getting Jessica in your movie is the greatest magic act since Dynamo did that levitation trick at Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. How did you pull this off and what can you tell us about your other leading lady, Heather Dorff?
DR – With Jessica I’d like to say it was all down to my English charm. But I also hope it was down to an interesting script. It’s not going to be an atypical haunted house story. But we’re keeping things secret for now. I have been following Jessica for quite a while now and boy are my legs tired!! Haha. In all seriousness I have had her on Twitter for some time and we got chatting as she’s very interactive with her fans. More so when she was promoting Truth or Dare and I also reviewed To Jennifer which she is in. This led to us talking about The Tour and she agreed to have a read of the script which luckily she loved. I also promised her Skittle Bombs – a take on the Jager Bomb that tastes just like a mouthful of skittles!! I think it was this that got the final yes!!
Heather I knew from being one of Jessica’s actors in Truth or Dare. She told me that Heather had also seen the script and was interested in taking the other role. We had been struggling to find someone to take on Cassie but Heather was perfect. So it was really Jessica’s influence that got us Heather.
UKHS – I interviewed Jessica last year and I asked her about working in the UK, so I am delighted you and Alex have achieved this, just remember to hide all the duct tape before you begin filming!! What can you tell us about the rest of the cast and crew and have you worked with any of them before?
DR – I’m curious if this duct tape goes beyond the Truth or Dare set and if there’s anything I should know haha? Well we are delighted to have Richard Bell as our DoP. He’s recently over from Australia and is a real talent to watch for. We’ve also got a post production house working with us that are very experienced and at the end of it we should have a product that looks 10 times what it cost to make. Alex has worked with a number of the people we are using before. He used to work at E4 and now is at MTV as a creative director and is using the people he trusts to help us out on this project. We will also be announcing our male lead later today.
UKHS – The duct tape does go beyond the Truth or Dare set, if you read Jessica’s interview at UKHS you will find out!
If you could go on a Tour of a real haunted house with three people (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
DR – Ooh good question. I think my first would be Scorsese – what that man doesn’t know about films probably isn’t worth knowing. My second choice would be David Mamet as I think he is one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. And lastly I’d go with Ginger, the frontman for The Wildhearts. He has given me some of the best experiences and memories of music in my life and has been doing so since I was 16.
UKHS – What would you consider to be the three main ingredients that you need to make a classic horror flick?
DR -For me there are very specific things which classic horror needs. The first and I think the most important are likeable characters. Without these you don’t care what happens to them and that makes it very difficult to build any tension.
The second is sound and score. You really need to have the right choices here to build a sense of dread. I remember watching Argento’s Phenomena and out of nowhere Iron Maiden starts playing. Whilst I love a bit of Maiden, it didn’t fit and stopped you being in the moment with the film.
The third is fake jumps and other such cliches. And not to have them in but to avoid them. The Haunting In Connecticut had so many false scares that you just got fed up with slow turning handles, shower curtains etc etc etc. Also things appearing from around a corner, yawn or no signals for mobile phones. The list of over used tactics grows longer by the day. For instance don’t just chuck into the screenplay that mobile phones don’t work – to me that’s becomes lazy. Embrace the use of the phone or perhaps write the phone out in some other way.
Also the bad guys when they are revealed to the protagonist always become different. They start speaking weirdly, cock and rub their head a lot and just act “crazy”. And I never understand why if they were like that from the beginning that’s fine but to have a total 180 of their character right at the end is just annoying. With the Tour we are hopefully avoiding as many cliches as possible and any we do use will be embraced for what they are.
UKHS – Will you be working on any other projects after ‘The Tour’ that you can tell UKHS about?
DR – Both Alex and I are writing. I have a couple of shorts that I’m wanting to do as well as a feature. One of my shorts is planned to mess around with emotion. Taking you from a high to a low incredibly quickly and have the audience feel confused as to what they should be feeling. I also want to try and do something different with the zombie genre. This is one of my favourite areas of horror but it has been taken over by the mainstream in recent years. Especially since the arrival of The Walking Dead. So I want to do something that removes itself from the current mainstream output. Films like The Dead are great and have managed to do this but it’s still zombie films we’ve seen before. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I want to do.
Ti West has been taking genre films and giving us something fresh so it shows it can still be done. I’m not saying I’m the man to give zombies back to independent horror just that I want to try and do it differently to hopefully give the audience something they haven’t seen before.
UKHS – Thank you, Damon and good luck with ‘The Tour’.