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UPDATED: Exclusive: Director Andy Fickman on Remaking Val Lewton's Horror Classics!


UPDATED 3/16/2009: has confirmed earlier reports that RKO’s Roseblood Movie Co. and Twisted Pictures have chosen Adam Marcus (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) to run with the Val Lewton RKO remake of the 1943 classic, I Walked With a Zombie. The report also indicates that Marcus has written the script with Debra Sullivan (Conspiracy) about a tutor who discovers a terrifying family secret while working at the creepy estate of a New Orleans businessman. Our old pal, Andy Fickman, will executive produce the pic since he has recently agreed with Roseblood Movie Co. and Twisted Pictures to oversee four RKO remakes including the upcoming titles I Walked With a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Bedlam and Five Came Back.

"Adam and Deborah have created a chilling screenplay that along with Adam's vision would make Lewton proud," said Fickman.

Make Lewton proud? We’re guessing since the very name I "Walked” With a Zombie indicates some level of plodding, this zombie remake will refrain from super-subhuman marathon runners that seem to give undead movies their ahem, “life” these days. Let’s hope…

Catch FEARnet's exclusive interview with Andy Fickman (Race to Witch Mountain) below. are reporting that the first Twisted Pictures / RKO title to be remade this spring will be I Walked With a Zombie and Andy Fickman revealed exclusively to them that Adam Marcus (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) will direct.

While one of the oldest of film genres, horror has, since its birth, never stopped evolving.  In part thanks to Val Lewton, who, in 1942, was named head of RKO Pictures’ horror unit and changed the face of the fright flick forever, creating first-class fear on a shoestring budget.

Fast forward sixty years.  The genre has changed in many-a-ways but there’s still plenty of struggle – especially for director Andy Fickman.  While Fickman is definitely a hot commodity, straight off the success of family-oriented comedies She’s the Man and The Game Plan, and heading into next year with one of March’s biggest releases (Race to Witch Mountain), last month the director signed a deal with scare-fare powerhouse Twisted Pictures to remake four of Lewton’s RKO horror classics.  So how exactly does a successful kid’s movie director make the transition to a genre of film most commonly associated with making kids cry?  Apparently he starts by knowing it like the back of his hand. 

We had the chance to talk with Andy Fickman last week and we gotta tell ya – this guy knows his horror.  Check out the interview below, as Fickman gives us the goods on his love of scary movies, his past experiences with the practice of voodoo, and of course the man who made all of this possible – his predecessor Lewton.  (And, hey, if you'd like to know more about Race to Witch Mountain - check out part one of our interview!)

You recently signed a deal to shepherd four classic RKO horror films [I Walked With a Zombie, Bedlam, The Body Snatcher, and Five Came Back]… how far along in the filmmaking process are you with that?
Well, this is something that’s been kind of a long process.  It’s always interesting because anytime something gets reported in the trades – sometimes it’s a “just happened” kind of deal – but most of the time it’s one of those things where it’s been in the process for a while.  I had always been a huge horror fan, and to me Val Lewton kind of changed the face of horror.  In the ’30s it was all about Universal’s creature features, which I loved, but the real face of horror was Frankenstein and Dracula and the Wolf Man and the Mummy – it was something that you could physically see coming towards you.  And because RKO didn’t have the kind of money Universal did, Lewton had limited budgets and had to come up with these atmospheric thrillers, that I remember watching as a kid on the Saturday Afternoon Movie type deal.  I remember Cat People freaked me out.  I remember always getting confused between The Body Snatcher and Invasion of the Body Snatchers – I would tune in and The Body Snatcher would be on and I thought it was Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  I remember tuning in and I was like, “They’re diggin’ up corpses.  This is freaky!”  I remember I Walked with a Zombie, watching it when I was like eight or nine years old, and there’s this chick sleepwalking and there’s all these tribal drums.  So I think I kind of thought for a little while that if you were sleep walking that meant you were dead and you had become a zombie.  [Laughs.]  So I had started talking to RKO years earlier about what they thought they were gonna do with the Lewton movies – this is at the time that the William Castle movies and everything is starting to get remade.  But y’know, the fan in me always looks at remakes saying, “I don’t know.  Sometimes a remake’s great, sometimes it’s not so great.”  There’s certain movies that the purist in me says, “I’m never gonna see better than The Exorcist.  I’m never gonna see better than The Omen.  I’m never gonna see better than the original Rosemary’s Baby.”  All of those are movies that I’m happy to avoid, but then there’s a movie like this that I’ve seldom found with any friends of mine or people I talk to who can remember these movies.  And I’m always telling them how great they are but it’s very hard to get your friends to sit down and watch a movie from 1944.  Then if you do they look at you and say, “Dude, this was scary when?”  Y’know the movie is 60, 70 minutes long, the acting is – well, let’s just say there are no real Academy Award-winning performances.  And you’re trying to say, “Y’know at the time this was very scary to moviegoers.”  So I remember talking to the people at RKO and I think they were in a position where they didn’t know what they were gonna do yet and I think I was in a position where I really couldn’t offer them much – like I didn’t have enough clout to get it done and I was still producing then.  Then I guess, right around Reefer Madness, they were talking internally about how they were gonna get it done and finally they tracked me down when I was doing The Game Plan.   

They had just teamed up with Twisted Pictures – who was having huge success with the Saw films.  That was when RKO partnered up with Twisted and both parties kind of came and found me and said, “Well, you’ve always been a huge fan.”  I said, “Yeah, but y’know, I’d like to take these and kind of do what Lewton would do if he were still alive today” – which is I wanna give them a fresh spin but still honor what the stories were about.  I wasn’t as interested in doing them as period pieces.  I don’t want Bedlam to feel like it’s set in that time period.  But there’s stuff now where almost all of those stories that Lewton told – they can still be scary as hell.  I was reading somewhere now about this doctor who’s on trial for early harvesting of this kid’s organs – and that stuff is a lot scarier sometimes than Dracula, in the sense that, “Wait, I’m gonna go to my doctor and that doctor might encourage me to die a little earlier because my kidney looks good?”  That’s scary stuff – and it’s very real.  So I looked at it, and I said, “That’s what The Body Snatcher is today.”  Bedlam is today… now we’re dealing with finding out what really happened in mental institutions.  A crazy person sees a ghost – how do you know if that’s real or not?  Then if you’re, on the other hand, working in the insane asylum and you see something you’re not quite sure is real or not, you’re not sure you can tell anyone.  As we were going through I did a ton of research with voodoo and modern-day voodoo, and I Walked with a Zombie played heavily into what voodoo really is and what it could be like.  Then we had Five Came Back, which was not a Lewton film and was certainly not so much of a scary film when it came out, but I had had an idea.  We filmed a lot of Anaconda in the Amazon – but some of the stuff you hear about that goes on when you’re down there – it’s in the Jungle and there’s a lot of spirits down there and a lot of mysticism.  I wrote a UFO movie in Peru and the director had brought me down and I spent a sizeable amount of time in that area.  So I took away from South America a lot of these stories, and y’know there’s a lot of creepy, creepy shit.  So Five Came Back – it was like, would you ever think about turning that into a horror film?  The elements just meshed so well and it really let me tell a scary story, but also being able to keep the elements that made the original story so great. 

So with the kind of quartet of projects you’ve got here are you eyeing one up to be released first or will they all hit simultaneously?
They’ll probably go in a certain order, but right now we’re in the process of scripts on all of them and then it’s kind of a race to the finish.  I’ll probably direct at least one of them.  With the writers and all the people we’ve brought on we really spent a lot of time bringing in people who were steeped in horror films.  The types of writers we were meeting with and types of people getting involved with the projects, I wanted them to come in and I wanted to see that they were as excited about horror films as I was – and more importantly, I wanted people to come in and be as aggressive as me in showing that drive towards the paranormal.  So in order to come in and talk to me about Bedlam I wanted people who were familiar with the material – you know, people who have seen every episode of Ghost Hunters or Most Haunted, basically “Your DVD shelf better be like mine.”  That was sort of the level I wanted.  People who wanted to come in and talk about voodoo and I Walked with a Zombie.  I needed someone who had kind of gone and done the kind of research that I had because I felt like that was the only way to dive in and give it that grit.  The more research I did on Val Lewton the more that I found how big of a part this was in his world.  I mean you and your readers know this better than anybody, that horror and comedy live in the same world, where they never get the respect they deserve in the cinematic circle.  I literally could do a movie about losing car keys – like just a movie where two people sit silently in a room staring at each other – and it would be nominated for fifty awards easy.  But you start dealing with comedy and horror and people, for some reason, stop taking you seriously.  So I didn’t want somebody coming into this film just looking for a job or looking at the superficial aspects of the job.  I wanted someone to come in who loved horror movies and just do it because of that, do it because they love these movies so much.  I wanted a fan of these movies because as a fan you’re gonna do your best to try and deliver these movies to the audience.  That was our goal with Race to Witch Mountain.  I love UFO movies, I love UFOs, I believe in them.  I wanna make sure that what I’m watching can make me believe – and that’s exactly what we wanted to do with updating these movies.  Back when Lewton was making these films, he was using horror so much as a metaphor.  This is coming off of World War II, and there were no scarier villains than the Nazis.  What Lewton was trying to say is that the scariest villains are the ones you can’t see coming – the person who doesn’t have fangs or horns.  Someone sitting right next to you could be far scarier than any monster – and that was the Nazis.  So in that scenario I think what I loved about Rosemary’s Baby was that the neighbors are just so screwed up – Ruth Gordon is like the perfect grandmother, of course you’re gonna want her to come over and make you tea, you had no idea what an insane bitch this chick is.  The same with The Omen – you can’t look at Damien and see anything but an angelic child, and so by the time David Warner comes to Gregory Peck by the end of the movie and says, “Oh by the way, you have to kill the kid,” it’s hard to look at the kid and think, “Uh, is there a B option?”  [Laughs.]  Even with The Exorcist – the more they transform Linda’s face in the movie, they still keep reminding you that she’s a child.  So even though there’s this grotesque physical entity that’s taken her body over, throughout the movie you’re reminded that you can’t stab the Devil – because in the end you won’t kill him, you’ll kill the child.  I think that was what Lewton was doing with a lot of his movies, and I think that’s what we were trying to do with our movies – enjoy a lot of the same ground work that was being laid.

You’re teamed with Twisted Pictures on this RKO project.  Horror has changed so much since the Val Lewton days, and I think Twisted Pictures is kind of the embodiment of that – with the visceral, gory style of horror that they’ve brought to the Saw movies.  Do you think there’s a place for that new style of horror in these re-imaginings of Lewton’s work or are you trying to stick to that same creepy, atmospheric style that Lewton once embraced?
I think you just said a mouthful about Twisted.  Y’know, every so often someone comes along and re-shakes up the genre.  I think Twisted re-shook up the genre with Saw in a big way because they certainly unleashed upon the world, from Hostel to Wolf Creek, all the scares that you can imagine.  I think that what’s great about the Twisted people, with Mark Burg and Oren Koules and Carl Mazzocone, the three of them have been so excited about these movies.  I think the reason for that is that they’ve been really excited with the idea of shaking things up again and being able to do that with these films.  The idea of “Can we do something that’s atmospheric and not as blood-drenched as maybe a Saw movie?”, but at the same time do in a way that lets people walk away from what they’ve just seen, and say, “Yeah, I can see how the Twisted Team came together and made that.”  I think the thing that’s most exciting is that with our versions of these films, we’ve really allowed ourselves to get fresh with each version.  Also these films are so different from one another that each film is allowing us to do something completely different with it than the others.  With the four films I’m taking the approach that, “Yeah, this film will be more visceral than that one,” and “Oh, I really hope this one messes with your head and leaves you walking out of there feeling like maybe you should turn that light on in the hallway before you go to bed.”  [Laughs.]  Not because you’re not man enough, just because you think there might be a burglar out there.  That’s kind of the approach.  And Ted Hartley and Dina Merrill who run RKO – one of things is that Ted and Dina are both two great actors.  Dina’s been an actor for many generations – you know she starred with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and Ted Hartley starred in Ice Station Zebra.  You know both of them have been around for a while in terms of understanding Hollywood, and, for RKO, they have such a love and appreciation for these movies.  The Val Lewton movies are so important to them because I think they’ve studied them so much.  Over the years many people have tried to buy the Lewton library from them, and each time it was not appealing to them because it was kind of like an “I’m gonna buy the title and just turn it into a crappy movie” thing.  It’s like, every week I buy the twenty or thirty horror movies that come out that week and it’s like…Bram Stoker’s Dracula – which was made for thirty dollars – you know Bram Stoker is rolling around in his grave.  Because of that I think at RKO they needed to hear from myself and from Twisted what our intent was or what our desire was with these films.  Here’s a little bit of trivia for you guys, in Race to Witch Mountain, Ted Hartley makes an appearance as one of the generals, and his name is General Lewton.  I spent more time clearing the name and getting the name tag made than it was probably worth.  It was like “No one will know this is in the movie but me.” [Laughs.]  Ted and I had a hoot with that.  But the other thing I think Twisted brings to the table that I think is important – and I think FEARnet speaks to it as well – is that Twisted has a very clear appreciation of audience for horror films in general.  Every time you go to the Scream Awards and you see how intense the fanbase is – I think Twisted understands that and it’s important to them to deliver to its core fanbase first and foremost.  I think that’s really important, and that’s something else we’re trying to do with these films.  It’s crazy, because on the other hand you’re getting all kinds of actors calling in who are interested in the project, because you know they loved Bedlam as a kid or they were a fan of one of these movies.  It’s definitely cool to get a response like that.  I think we’ll end up delivering something that new fans can come to and discover and enjoy; and nothing would make me happier than people who see our version and wanna go back and see the original.  There’s a great Val Lewton set that’s out right now – the Val Lewton Horror Collection – it’s like nine of his movies.  But if I thought we could help that thing soar – boy, I would be thrilled.  Even after Reefer Madness, we heard that sales were going up on the original.  We were like “Dude, watch our version and then go watch the original version and you’ll see where we grew from, where we were having fun, and all that – plus the original Reefer Madness is about twelve minutes long.”  [Laughs.]

A lot of these films are pretty bleak – and even with the great history of Twisted Pictures, we all kind of know how Hollywood works sometimes.  Are you getting any pressure to brighten them up in any way?
That’s a very good question.  I haven’t felt pressure yet.  I will say that Val Lewton films – they all have this bleakness about them that I, in my approach, am embracing.  I mean Val Lewton doesn’t have a lot of happy endings.  I think that sometimes the movies that stuck with me the most – if I look at my favorite horror films.  If I look at The Exorcist or I look at Rosemary’s Baby or I look at The Omen, it didn’t end so well for the heroes.  [Laughs.]  Potentially you take the life of a priest where he sacrifices his own life to kill Satan and he saves Regan.  You know things didn’t end too well for Gregory Peck.  Mia Farrow probably could’ve done a little better with a different husband.  For those movies it’s a mistake to try to make some of them feel too different.  It starts feeling then that you’re looking for the Hollywood ending.  The truth is that sometimes you go to see these movies looking for that kind of “scary high” – and I mean that’s why I read horror books and watch horror films, to go on that journey.  I hope that when people get to the end of it they’re kind of surprised by how enthralling the adventure they’ve just taken was, and not just how happy [a] movie feeling it is. 

So any idea on when we can expect the RKO films to hit?
Our goal is to be filming our first one sometime in the spring of this year.  Because now, as all the scripts are starting to come in, we can say, “Alright, we’d like this one to go here and that one to go there,” and really subscribe to a game plan for the whole thing.  We’ve already started, with a couple of scripts, to do location scouting.  I already had an idea of where I wanted to go with a couple of them, so we sort of built around that and we’ve sort of been putting the feelers out with that.  The good thing with Twisted – and what you can see with the whole Saw franchise – is the notion of how they’ve been able to turn those things out in fairly rapid succession.  I’m hoping that’s what we’ll have happen here.  The other thing is that there’s nothing saying that we can have two of these pictures overlapping or going at the same time.  There’s nothing really keeping us from even having three of them going at the same time, aside from the manpower and us not wanting to spread ourselves too thin – especially from a producer’s standpoint.  If I’m directing, I’d obviously want to be focusing on the one I’m directing.  But we should be in production sometime in the spring.

Sounds good.  So one last question – this our trademark question here at FEARnet, we ask everybody this – in real life, what is your greatest fear?
Spiders.  Spiders are just – they’re wrong.  There is nothing that paralyzes me more than spiders.  I am about as arachnophobic as possible – there is something about them that literally paralyzes me with fear.  But I will say though, on She’s the Man we had a tarantula in the movie and we had the bug handler there – that’s the guy who has the scorpion under his bed and comes out and brings it to the movie set – and somebody said, “You know the best thing you can do is face your fears, stick your hand out and let that spider climb up it.”  Well they had the cameras out and all the cast was there, so now I’m feeling like the director in front of his troops.  I stuck out my hand and said, “Yeah, put that tarantula on there…”  So now they have photos of that thing crawling all over me.