February 22, 2018 Interview – Gary J. Tunnicliffe
From a young age, Gary J. Tunnicliffe gravitated to the Horror genre. Fascinated by monsters, he would take his interest to the professional level, becoming a special makeup effects designer. A job he is very passionate about, Tunnicliffe has been involved in a massive list of Horror flicks known and love by fans of the genre including 1992’s Candyman, 2006’s Pulse, 2011’s Scream 4, and many more.
Fortunately for Tunnicliffe, he had the chance to work on 1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, a franchise he has adored for decades. Little did he know it would lead to a long standing working relationship with Hellraiser, one that would eventually lead him into the director’s chair for 2018’s Hellraiser: Judgement. Recently we caught up with the filmmaker to talk his dedication to the Horror genre, the idea behind the latest Hellraiser film, his plans for the future, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in film for nearly three decades working in makeup, special effects, and, later, directing. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in film?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – My fondest memories of a child were Friday nights in England where every week a Horror film would play on one of the only three channels we had, I would scan the morning newspaper and see titles like Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), etc., and then beg my parents to be able to stay up late to watch whatever it was. Then, later that night, washed and pajama dressed, lights turned off, I’d get to visit with Van Helsing, The Baron Meister, or Johnny Alucard, etc., it was exciting and thrilling and started my love of film and monsters.
A teacher when I was 8 years old asked me what did I want to be when I grew up, to which I exclaimed, “…be an actor in Horror films.” I was a skinny kid, with sunken eyes and buck teeth, and the teacher (rather cruelly looking back on it) joked with the class, “Well the way you look, I think you’ll make it!”
Years later, when I was a singer in a Rock band, a drummer introduced me to a magazine called Fangoria from the USA. Its pages were filled with full color images from Horror films celebrating the characters I loved, but also focusing on the burgeoning field of special makeup effects. I’d always loved special makeup effects, but suddenly I was looking at the practitioners of this art and they looked like me! Young guys, wearing Rock t-shirts and jeans. I very much thought if they can do this, why can’t I? Almost overnight, I became obsessed with all things makeup effects and the pursuit of it as a career.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it is great to hear you have had a passion for Horror movies and Rock music for so long! Of your many credits as a makeup/effects artist, you have worked on a list of Horror films. Based on your answer to the first question, is it safe to say you have an affection for Horror cinema?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – I love the Horror genre. I never wanted to do old age makeup or animal fx etc., although I have done lots of that stuff. I got into the industry, all facets of it because I love Horror films, sure I criticize them, pick them apart, analyze, slam, and adore them – as any good Horror fan does, you’ll never see a convention dedicated to Rom-Com’s or Action Movies. Horror films have and always will polarize audiences; what is wonderful to one viewer is garbage to another, and unlike other genres, Horror fans are outspoken, opinionated, and verbose! I wanted to make monsters, create creatures, and design and execute elaborate kills.
CrypticRock.com – That is fantastic to hear. You are right, there is simply no fanbase like those of Horror films. One particular Horror franchise you clearly do have a passion for is Hellraiser. Working behind the scenes as a makeup artist on 1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, did this first taste plant the seed that you eventually wanted to write and direct a Hellraiser film?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – The Hellraiser seed was planted deep within me when I sat at the Classic Cinema in Cannock, England in 1987 and watched this eloquent, intriguing character, bound in leather, bombarded with smoke and punctured with pins uttering lines that have become seminal. My involvement on Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth was the result of dogged determination against all odds to get from being a blue collar working stiff in rural England, with a family utterly confused by their sons ambitions, to be on set of the movie franchise he adored.
I’d never considered directing until a few years later when I was working with Bob Keen (Image Animation) and we were shooting some inserts for a Science Fiction film, it was a small crew and Bob was directing when he suddenly said, “Why don’t you shoot this?” – I think I may have actually pointed at myself (finger to chest) and mouthed the word “me” like in a bad movie and when he nodded I did just that, set up the shot and called “Action” and then “Cut,” gave the puppeteers a little direction and did the same again. Then it was over, Bob very generously smiled at me and said, “You’ll make a good director” and even though it was just a puppet baby shot, for a bad movie, it opened my mind and my thinking up to new possibilities, and I have Bob to thank for that.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. It seems to have worked out well. You would eventually have the opportunity to write a full-length Hellraiser film with 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations. What was that experience like?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – Frustrating. The first phone call I received was offering me to write and direct a new Hellraiser film. After working on 6 of them and having even done my own fan film No More Souls (2004), the opportunity was finally given to me. I was ecstatic (even if the budget was low, etc.). Then it was taken away, I was working on Scream 4 (2011) at the time and Dimension did not want me leaving their high profile, big budget, flagship project to direct a $200K movie. It was an utter gut punch – I was very happy to be on Scream 4 and loved working with Wes (Craven) but to be that close and then have the opportunity taken away hurt a lot. Then, to make matters worse, I wrote the script but what was shot and what was finally produced I didn’t feel was representative of what I had written or imagined.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds quite frustrating for sure. Well, all these years later, you get to finally write and direct a Hellraiser film with Hellraiser: Judgment. Seven years removed from the previous film, what inspired this new chapter?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – Well, my inspiration had to be tempered for sure. I think I have a pretty big imagination and I have definite ideas about what I would like to see as a Hellraiser movie and the characters within its world, but unfortunately I was restricted by the parameters of the budget. So, I was “inspired” to write what I felt I could realistically achieve whilst bringing something new to the mythos.
My inspiration with the characters and The Auditor was to hopefully instill some of that same bizarre, intrigue, and confusion that I felt when I first saw Pinhead in the opening of the very first Hellraiser. I was hoping people would be ten minutes into Judgment saying, “What the hell is going on here!?!,” but still find it grotesquely fascinating. I tried to weave a strange cop story with the new mythos of The Auditor (and the stygian inquisition) combined with the old guard of Pinhead and The Cenobites.
CrypticRock.com – It does work on many levels. Hellraiser: Judgment is a unique, entertaining new entry into the series. In this story, you bring some new concepts and introduce a new character, The Auditor. Tell us what inspired the addition of The Auditor?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – Honestly, I don’t really remember the exact genesis of The Auditor. I have been creating characters for a long time and this bespectacled, lacerated figure suddenly appeared and started speaking. I think I’d seen an image from a Church of Scientology documentary with someone being audited, clutching these E meters and my brain went down the “what if” road of being connected to the machine intravenously. Then the idea of the blood etching the pages came into my head, truthfully, it was created over a period of time by adding layers and layers of each character and their task. I do remember a few months after the film was completed, watching Schindler’s List (1993) and seeing Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern and having a WOAH moment, the clothes, the typewriter, the glasses – clearly I had drawn on that as well!
CrypticRock.com – Very fascinating. The Auditor is quite an interesting character. Without giving the story away, the film’s ending is very open-ended. Was this done by design? Additionally, are there hopes for further sequels perhaps picking up where Hellraiser: Judgment left off?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – When I was writing and shooting this movie, I gave no thoughts to sequels or spin offs. Trust me, I’m not that optimistic a person. I wrote and shot an ending that satisfied me, I couldn’t simply do what had been done before, I know some people have massive problems with it, but like most climaxes, your options are pretty limited for the bad guy/protagonist, he/she has to die, survive, commit suicide, be incarcerated, etc. I just tried to do something “out of the box” (no pun intended).
At the end of the day, I did try to follow the Sam Raimi rules of the Horror film – one, the innocent must suffer; two, the guilty must be punished; and three, the hero must taste blood to win the day. Obviously I’d love to do a sequel or a spin off, but honestly, I just want to direct another Horror film and have the opportunity to create something bigger, bolder, and scarier.
CrypticRock.com – Understood. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see if the story picked up from here. With Hellraiser: Judgment, we do see the infamous, yet beloved Pinhead sort of take a backseat as a character. Was this also done by design in the story?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – Pinhead is like a Bond villain, you have to be very careful how much you see him and how much you use him. The law of diminishing returns means that every time he appears and “waxes lyrical” without doing anything you weaken the character – you should be excited to see him, not tired of him, not “used” to him. The more you get to stare at him, to break him down and see his humanity, the more I think it weakens his character. I would suggest he’s as much of a ‘back seat’ character in this film as he was in the first film, that’s all.
CrypticRock.com – Very fair point. You are right, you do not want to overexpose the character. The Horror genre has had its ups and downs over the last decade or so. There is no denying the genre’s peak was during the 1980s into the early 1990s. It seems there has been an influx of original and well-planned-out Horror related films in recent years. What are your thoughts on the current state of Horror cinema?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – This is an “age old” question and there is an “age old” answer, Horror never goes away and it’s cyclical. There is a fashion to Horror – it’s zombies, then werewolves, then masked killers, then creepy supernatural movies etc., etc., and it just goes around and around. Horror will never go away, and every year there will be one particular film that blows up. Last year it was It. Horror films are a great bet for studios and independent producers because, honestly, you can invest a low amount or a reasonable amount and have a massive (cost compared to profit) success. Especially if it happens to catch the public imagination and find its way into the popular culture.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is what is great about Horror, no matter what, it always survives. There has not been a Hellraiser theatrical release in quite some time. If another Hellraiser film is in the cards for you, would you like to see the franchise earn itself a theatrical release once again?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – Of course, absolutely! I think Pinhead is a character that deserves to be seen on a big screen in a dark room with lots of people! If I was involved with another Hellraiser film with a bigger budget and a theatrical release, I think it would be smart to make the film at a capped budget ($5-8 million), concentrate on an intimate story akin to the first film or The Exorcist (1973). Make one that embraces all the fascinating mythology of The Cenobites and the monstrous nature of humans, find some excellent (known faces) cast, use a limited amount of CGI to enhance predominantly practical effects, and make the very best film possible that reintroduces and re-energizes the franchise for a new era.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds like a really exciting vision, let us hope it comes to be one day! As a makeup artist, you have earned a plethora of experience over the years. What are some of the more important things you have learned about the art of effects?
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – In the past I would have said, in relation to effects, you have to embrace the edit and use of cuts to carry out an effect. Directors who wanted to see a transformation or a kill take place in one shot were a nightmare and the editor is the biggest accomplice to a great kill or practical makeup effect.
In regards to prosthetic makeup, what I learned was glue that sucker down well and apply and color the makeup to your eye, if it looks right close up when you look at it, then it’s probably going to look good on camera. But the thing is that now, with both makeup effects and prosthetics, you do have the fall back of CGI to clean up and blend prosthetic makeup and makeup effects. Testing is invaluable, sometimes budget and time don’t allow for it (seemingly more these days), but it is so much better if the first time you are applying a makeup or executing an effect it isn’t on the day of the shoot!
CrypticRock.com – That makes a lot of sense. Last question, CrypticRock covers all genres of music as well as Horror/Sci-Fi films. You clearly are a fan of Horror. What are some of your favorites in the genre. Also, since you like music, what are some of your favorite forms of music.
Gary J. Tunnicliffe – It would be easier to list the music I don’t really like I suppose. I am not a fan of masses of Hip Hop, Soul, Blues, or Dance. Aside from that, I range from Norwegian Black Metal to The Beach Boys and all stops in between. Hard Rock I suppose is my happy place – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Michael Schenker, UFO, Scorpions. I love Composers like Vangelis and John Barry. I’m also a sucker for ’50/’60s Rock-n-Roll and ’80s Pop! For newer stuff, I’m really into Big Wreck, The Vaccines, and I’m interested to see where Greta Van Fleet go.
As far as Horror Films – The Exorcist, Evil Dead films, The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Brides of Dracula (1960), American Werewolf in London (1981), Shaun of the Dead (2004), The Omen (1976), 28 Days Later (2002), Constantine (2005), The Prophecy (1995), The Ring (2002), and The Babadook (2014). For Sci Fi – Blade Runner (1982), Ex Machina (2014), Her (2013), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), Gattaca (1977), and unapologetically Dune (1984). I also really enjoy most of Black Mirror.
I have to admit I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a good deal of the Marvel movies, and I include Blade (1998) in that. Also Blade II (2002), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Deadpool (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)and from DC the first two Nolan Batman movies.