Films, fear and Ronnie Corbett: How childhood scares shaped horror filmmaker
PUBLISHED: 13:48 28 March 2018
Independent horror writer and director Pat Higgins reveals how channeling childhood fears can inspire great film ideas in his latest masterclass.
Fear has always played a big part Pat Higgins’ life. The writer and filmmaker who will be sharing his skills at a masterclass called Fear and Film at Three Wise Monkeys, in Colchester, this month, admits to being a nervous child with a very active imagination. It would only take an episode of children’s cartoon Scooby-Doo or Doctor Who to get his mind rushing with all manner of horrific possibilities stemming from what he had seen.
He held off until he was 13 to watch his first horror film, conscious that if an episode of 1970s family favourite comedy show The Two Ronnies – albeit a rather egregiously bloodthirsty one in which Ronnie Corbett played Teeny Todd, the vertically-challenged demon barber – was enough to give him sleepless nights, a real horror film would be “mindblowing”.
When the time came it was Ridley Scott’s classic Alien he peeped through his fingers at, but he was amazed that, while he loved the film, its scares were tame compared to those he could conjure up in his own head.
“I mentally filed horror movies as ‘other’ as a child,” Pat says. The posters were enough to scare me rigid. I remember the poster for Scanners [an early David Cronenberg horror] and its tagline; ‘In 10 seconds the pain begins. In 15 seconds you can’t breathe. In 20 seconds you explode’. My young mind went into paroxysms of panic over that.”
After Alien, and much like the film’s otherwordly beast, Pat’s appetite for more was ravenous. He watched hundreds of horror movies and was soon obsessed with them.
Already interested in writing, Pat now knew the genre he wanted to focus on.
“When I saw Alien I realised horror was not only something I could handle but also something I actively loved. I carried on my screenwriting attempts, and now I’d truly found my genre.”
After graduating university, Pat struggled to sell his scripts and break into the film industry, opting instead to share his stories as a stand-up comic on the Southend and London circuit for three years. However, the urge to make films never went away and he realised to get it done he would have to finance it himself.
“My wife and I had a few grand in the bank and were intending to buy a car with it,” he says. “I suggested making a movie instead, and because she’s the greatest human being in the universe she said ‘yes’. We shot my first film, Trash House, in 2005 in a warehouse in Shoeburyness. It got a wide DVD release in the UK, and that really was the first proper step forwards.”
It allowed Pat to carve an idiosyncratic furrow in the British horror film industry with directing or screenwriting credits on another seven films and the setting up of his own production company, Jinx Media Ltd.
The flights of dark imagination that plagued his childhood run rife in his films which also bring in plenty of humour and quotable lines – Pat was described by SFX Magazine as the ‘Quentin Tarantino of budget gore flicks for style and dialogue’ - as well as a playfulness keen to subvert the rules of cinema. Acclaimed 2008 release The Devil’s Music purports to be a documentary following a rock band on tour – a bit like Spinal Tap, but this time it is the blood lust turned up to 11. The DVD release included a commentary from Pat, which he describes as a “director’s breakdown commentary”, in which he stayed in character throughout discussing all the events as if they were real.
The provocateur tactics reached their height with 2016’s The House On The Witchpit, which Pat premiered at a sold-out screening at Southend’s Horror On Sea festival before coming on stage to destroy the master tape and back-up version in front of the crowd.
“I wanted the film to become like an urban legend,” Pat says. “I liked the idea of a film that only a few people see, but it grows by a kind of Chinese whispers.”
That was not the end for the constantly evolving film. Pat shot a new version and made it available to rent on Amazon for one day only, Halloween 2017, before destroying it again.
He is still not done with the project and promises the release of a final version in the next 12 months. Upcoming film projects also include Your Lying Eyes, a script by Pat that has “gained a lot of interest in the US. It has been doing the rounds on some fairly major tables over there so I’m very excited about that”.
He is also hoping to get another of his scripts, Killer Apps, into production by the end of the year. “It’s college-set smart phone horror. I would really like to shoot that one myself rather than sell it.”
Pat’s desire to take the reins may stem from the lukewarm reception to Strippers vs Werewolves in 2011, which was based on a script by Pat, and starred former soap stars Ali Bastian and Adele Silva as well as the original Freddie Krueger Robert Englund. It was Pat’s first involvement in a film with a cinematic release, albeit one which took a total of £38 at the box office. He is determined it will not become his legacy.
“I think a lot of people worked very hard on that project, but I do wish some things had been done differently.
“Still it was a cinematic release, which has given me some determination. It has inspired me to do something that will be remembered more fondly. I do not want that on my gravestone.”
Learning from his mistakes informs much of the advice Pat regularly gives out in talks about screenwriting and filmmaking at film festivals and universities and he has a screenwriting book, ‘Bloody Screenwriting: Write a Killer Screenplay in 30 Days’, approaching completion.
“I have made sufficient mistakes over the years so I feel qualified to advise people how not to repeat them. It is very gratifying and a privilege if I can inspire others to find their voice.”
There is sure to be some representatives from the next generation of horror filmmakers at the Three Wise Monkeys show, on April 12, but there is plenty for all with the onetime stand-up Pat an entertaining host, although he is going to be helped out by an interactive on-screen host called The Scissor Man, who will, Pat says, “turn up to help or hinder the process”.
Be prepared to take a look at your own fears, though. For all the humour and playfulness in Pat’s films, above all he likes scaring people.
“Fear sits underneath all the writing I do. Some of my stuff is quite light, but it’s always there, underpinning all of it.
“In the show we will be looking at childhood fears. I was obviously scared by some fairly stupid stuff in my youth and I wonder what good it is to me now and how I can make use of it.
“In the show we will do a couple of exercises in which people will write down their own fears and we’ll try to find ways to turn it into a story.”
Face your fear and get along to Pat Higgins presents Fear and Film at The Three Wise Monkeys on April 12. The event runs from 8pm to 10pm. Tickets start at £7. Visit here