Exclusive Interview with Greg McLean on ‘Wolf Creek 2’

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Australian film director Greg McLean returns to the scene of the crime with “Wolf Creek 2,” a movie which, supposedly anyway, is based on actual events. The original “Wolf Creek” came out in 2005 and introduced us to the relentless serial killer Mick Taylor (played by John Jarratt) who captures a group of backpackers and tortures them without any remorse. Now Mick is back to take on another group of tourists who make the mistake of crossing his path and have the serious misfortune of not being from his home country. If you are not a proud Australian and are not fully aware of the country’s rich history, pray you don’t run into Mick.

McLean also directed the killer crocodile horror film “Rogue,” and he is said to be a member of the unofficial “Splat Pack.” This term, which was created by film historian Alan Jones, refers to the modern wave of directors who make brutally violent horror films, and other members include Alexandre Aja, Neil Marshall, Eli Roth, James Wan and Rob Zombie. I spoke with McLean about “Wolf Creek 2” and he talked about how a sadistic psychopath like Mick Taylor can be strangely appealing, how this sequel differs from the original, and he pointed out the differences between making a film in Australia and the United States.

Ben Kenber: This was a terrific sequel, and it was great to see John Jarratt return as Mick Taylor. Mick is one of the most sadistic psychopaths ever put in a movie, and yet there is something about him which is undeniably appealing. Why is he so memorable and why are we drawn to characters like him?

Greg McLean: I think that people are generally fascinated with evil and true crime. A character like Mick Taylor represents a very interesting way of peering into a very, very dark psyche. People are fascinated with the nature of evil, and I think the appeal of a character like Mick Taylor is to really get a chance to examine someone who is completely devoid of any sign of humanity. He’s really incredibly dark and twisted, and he’s very terrifying. I think people who like horror films and thrillers and like being scared enjoy coming face-to-face with really disturbing personalities. There is a long history of really fascinating, evil characters and I think people are intrigued at how their personalities work.

BK: When it came to doing a sequel to “Wolf Creek,” was it something you had planned on doing all along, or did you consider doing it after the original movie was finished?

GM: My plan was always to see if the movie worked and people liked it. If people embraced the character (of Mick Taylor), then there will be a chance for another film. So it was always in my mind to do it, it just took a lot longer to get around to it than I thought it ever would (laughs).

BK: Regarding John Jarratt’s portrayal, did you develop the character with him or was it largely his creation?

GM: Well we obviously did the first film together so we had a background to how to approach the character and a discussion on what the character is about. We had been talking about this particular draft of the screenplay (for “Wolf Creek 2”) for a couple of years, so there were certain things we wanted to explore and certain aspects of the character we wanted to bring up, and we kept evolving it on set. Obviously John makes choices as an actor, and then some of those things are in the script and some are developed in the moment. When we got together, we just kind of jammed and came up with cool things to do.

BK: Since the script was in the development stage for a couple of years, did that make it easier for you to return to the character of Mick Taylor and the original movie’s setting?

GM: It certainly enabled us to mine the thematic ideas that we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have such a long gestation period. We had a script a couple of years ago and it was good, but it just wasn’t amazing. I realized that there was an element to it that was missing and which was making me not want to pull the trigger on it, and what it didn’t have was a kind of somatic investigation into the character that I thought we needed to have. Then once I locked into that concept, then there was enough new information we revealed about his character that I thought it be worth making the film. We also wanted to make a different genre film. The first film is very much a first-person, true crime, real terror film whereas this one I wanted very much to explore the thriller film, and it’s more of an action film. It has horror elements, but it certainly is a different structure in terms of what kind of film that is.

BK: I agree, it does have a different structure and feels more like a road movie. Speaking of that, how did you manage to pull off the sequence where Mick Taylor launches the big rig truck into Paul Hammersmith’s (played by Ryan Corr) car?

GM: We just found a big hill and dropped the truck off it (laughs). It’s much easier to do stuff like that in Australia than it is in the (United) States. Doing things over there is still a bit of the Wild West. It’s interesting because I’m doing a film right now in Los Angeles and I showed that scene to some people and they were just like going, “Wow! How did you do that?” And there’s a shot after the actual truck hits where the fire is just actually continuing to burn the hillside, and everybody was freaking out about that. I said, “Why is that so weird?” They were just going, “Oh my god, how did you let the hill keep burning?” The restrictions are very intense. Obviously there are rules and regulations here and there are in Australia as well, but they were just fascinated by the idea of just literally destroying a truck and letting it burn a hole in the hill. We had fire brigades in the back, and we were able to just do some really crazy stuff. We also wanted to do it in a very practical way. I love doing CG stuff and we used a lot of CG for the kangaroo sequence, but some things I feel are just better to get onscreen practically because you see the texture of things and the physics of moving in a particular way that’s kind of cool.

BK: Yeah, I think that’s what I liked most about that sequence because it really did look real. In most American films, filmmakers would more likely film a sequence like that with CG.

GM: Yeah, I think that part of that is kind of a budgetary thing as well. When you have a low budget you have to find more practical ways of doing things. Digital effects, if you want them to, can be ultra-photorealistic and necessarily expensive. The other way to do it is to find a location you can do something like that and ask to just do it. For all the driving stuff in that sequence, we just closed down highways and did crazy driving on them for two weeks and got all the shots. It was great fun doing a sequence like that.

BK: Looking at those empty highways reminded me of “The Hitcher” with Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell. You have this great open space, but still there’s something about it which is quite claustrophobic.

GM: Well I think the first movie had a very particular primary feed that it was drawing on, and this film to me was really about the fear of isolation in a desolate place. What most of the fear comes from is the primary idea of that which is quite different from the first film. The first film had a different emphasis which was more about the randomness of violence in the real terror that comes from believing someone is something and then suddenly seeing them transform. This one is really much more about exposing the audience to the real terror which comes from extreme isolation and being pursued by a character that is just relentless.

BK: What elements do you believe a horror movie should have in order for it to be successful?

GM: Two things. One, it needs to be based on a primary universal human fear that touches the psychic pressure point. Number two, the film has to have three, if not more, unique and believably memorable set pieces or things that people will talk about when they leave the cinema for hopefully weeks if not years, and that’s it.

I want to thank Greg McLean for taking the time to talk with me about “Wolf Creek 2.” The movie is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

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Michael Cimino

I was shocked and saddened to learn that Oscar winning filmmaker Michael Cimino passed away on July 2, 2016 at the age of 77. It should go without saying that he will always be remembered for two films: “The Deer Hunter,” one of the best war movies ever made, and “Heaven’s Gate,” one the biggest critical and commercial disasters ever unleashed on moviegoers. He only made seven films in his lifetime, and his last full length feature film was released back in 1996. His last directorial effort was the short film “No Translation Needed” which was part of the 2007 French anthology “To Each His Own Cinema.” There is no doubt in my mind that there were many other great movies brimming inside of him, but now we will never see them which is tragic.

Deep down I always hoped that Cimino would make another movie. I remember when I first saw part of “The Deer Hunter” on cable television. In a time where flipping through channels became a habit impossible to get rid of, I could never take my eyes off what was unfolding before me. The wedding which opens the movie was extraordinary in its presentation, and the Russian roulette sequence remains one of the emotional visceral and draining moments I have ever witnessed on film. While I never got around to watching all of “The Deer Hunter” that evening, I did not even hesitate to buy it on DVD the very next day. After all these years it remains one of the most enthralling cinematic experiences I have ever sat through.

Michael Cimino with De Niro and Streep

That was the thing about Cimino’s movies; that felt thrillingly alive. Whether it was “The Deer Hunter,” “Heaven’s Gate,” “Desperate Hours” or “Year of the Dragon,” there was a life force pulsating through each frame he put on screen. As terrible as “Desperate Hours” was, the images Cimino captured felt kinetic, and that wasn’t just because he had great actors like Anthony Hopkins, Mickey Rourke and Mimi Rogers to work with. For better and worse, his films were operatic to where you were reminded of the powers and beauty of cinema. Even “The Sunchaser” had a look to it that was unmistakably Cimino, and while it was deeply flawed there was an excitement to it that was undeniable.

Movies these days don’t feel that way most of the time. Many are simply made for entertainment purposes which is fine if they work, and others are made for the sake of creating the next big franchise that will spur profits beyond anyone’s imagination (hopefully). Few directors are able to capture their unique vision or get final cut with the exception of Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino to name a couple. The world of movies always needs a cinematic grenade thrown into it to shake things up, and it could really have used one from Cimino. Whatever he could have come up with, good or bad, would have made a sizable impact.

Michael Cimino and Kris Kristofferson

Like many auteurs, he was described as being egomaniacal, selfish, vain and self-indulgent. Who knows if he still would have been an unforgettable filmmaker without any of those attributes. True, he brought a lot of bad karma on himself with his extravagant demands, and yet it’s hard to think of another filmmaker who suffered more. The critical and commercial disaster of “Heaven’s Gate” shadowed him throughout the rest of his career, and even a recent critical appraisal and a Criterion Collection special edition of it could never take away all the shame Hollywood threw at him. How he lived through all that is beyond me. Other filmmakers have suffered flops, but they rebounded somehow. No one ever really let Cimino rebound from “Heaven’s Gate” as its failure marked the end of the director-driven movie era, and he spent practically the rest of his life in seclusion, coming out of it only to make another film or write a book.

With his death, perhaps Michael Cimino’s legacy will get a different perspective, one that’s more positive (even if it’s only a little more). Whether you loved or hated his films, his vision was unique and energetic. He left his mark on Hollywood, and nobody will ever forget that.

Rest in peace Michael.

Michael Cimino at film festival

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.