James (DR) Hickox was born into a film-making family. His father Douglas Hickox directed Behemoth the Sea Monster, Theatre of Blood and Zulu Dawn. His mother is Oscar-winning editor Anne Coates, whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia, The Eagle Has Landed, Erin Brockovich and The Golden Compass. Brother Anthony Hickox directed Waxwork I and II, Hellraiser III, Prince Valiant and Jill the Ripper, while sister Emma Hickox followed her mother into the cutting room, editing Blue Crush, Kinky Boots and The Boat that Rocked.
I interviewed editor-turned director James Hickox at the American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica in 1998 where he was promoting Death Do Us Part and The Gardener. Since then he has gone on to helm the likes of Sabretooth, Krocodylus aka Blood Surf and Girls Gone Psycho. The Gardener was released as Garden of Evil. Death Do Us Part never got made, as far as I can tell.
With being part of this film-making family, was it automatic that you would work in movies?
"Actually, no. Well, yes of course it was totally natural - since I was this high. But my parents tried to talk us out of it always: ‘Why can’t we have a lawyer or a nice doctor in the family or something?’ But we all got hooked. My elder brother actually didn’t do anything in the business till he was 28, and then just went off and did Waxwork which was his first movie. And my sister, inbetween my brother and me, is an editor. She’s taking a leave of absence in Vienna at the moment with her boyfriend, but she’s an up-and-coming young editor. So yes, all of us."
Is editor a natural step up towards being a director?
"I think so, yes. My mom actually said she wanted to be a director but she found when she started having children she got into editing. But yes, I worked with great directors like Larry Kasdan and Frank Oz. Watching them work… and especially on the budget movies I’m doing at the moment, it’s really useful to have the editing experience because then you know what to shoot and what you don’t have to shoot. So I kind of cut in the camera a lot. I’m actually shooting something at the moment. I’m doing the first ever internet television series."
Can you explain that a bit more?
"Well, I’m not too technical. I’m working with these two guys who, when they were 20 years old, brought the internet into people’s homes and became multi-billionaires. [Marc Collins-Rector and Brock Pierce, founders of Digital Entertainment Network - MJS] They’re now about 30 and they’re bored so they’ve spent the last two years coming up with technology that can basically shoot on digital film, and then you put it straight into the computer. You can manipulate the frame any way you want. We’re doing the experiment, we’re doing the pilot. I’m shooting at the moment; it’s called Chad’s World."
So you’ll get this over the internet?
"Yes, you just sit there and you download it for half an hour on your little computer, and if you’re in class and you’re bored - these kids can watch it at school. Or anywhere; it’s incredible the technology now."
Is that a sitcom or a drama?
"It’s a drama series and I’ve added a little bit of comedy, I like to think. It’s amazing. What they’re talking about, in the next few years, they’re going to start building their own studios, these guys, and making their own movies: $3-5 million movies within ten years or even less. It’ll take over from videos because you can download them on your computer and then you have a little bit rather than a big tape. That’s really interesting."
We’d better get on to this film, Death Do Us Part.
"I’ve actually been on for three years; I’d only made one movie then. Julia Vernon I’ve known for years, just out here. It’s been through various rewrites and changes and various people and it hasn’t gone and hasn’t gone. I don’t know if you know the story exactly, but it’s basically a Green Card gone wrong. Angie Everhart plays the old friend of Sammi Davis and she accidentally meets C Thomas Howell who charms her and she gets married for a green card, because she’s run away from home.
“Of course Angie is the bad girl because she’s got lots of money and basically they’re planning to scam her out of her money. So it’s a very Hitchcock-ian tale and that’s why I’m interested in it. It really plays on your head and you really feel for this poor girl as she’s taken through hell by these two."
How did you become attached to this project?
"Just through Julia Vernon, who’s producing it. We always wanted to work together and she gave me the script to read. Like I say, since then it’s been through many rewrites over the last three years. But it’s actually come back: the latest write of it has come back to how it was originally. I’m looking forward to doing it actually. We’re going to have to shoot it pretty fast; it’s not that big a budget."
So it’s not been shot yet.
"No, this is in the future. The Gardener which I just did, that’s the one that I’ve just finished. They’re selling that now."
What’s that about?
"A quick run-down on The Gardener. Again, a psychological thriller. Malcolm McDowell plays a guy who is actually only 36 years old but has an ageing disorder -which obviously made his childhood hell at school - and he decides that he’s going to love plants and flowers and spend his time in the garden. He also has a little bit of vengeance in him.
“I don’t know if you know that they use cattle for soil to grow plants. So he decides to use women instead and grow them ‘more pure than they were before’ as he puts it. So he’s a serial killer and he uses women; he basically chops them up and uses them as soil and grows them into beautiful, special plants of his own. And each of them has the name of the woman he killed, etcetera. And Angie Everhart’s partner disappears."
She’s in that as well?
"Yes, she is. I can’t get away from her. Not that I want to. So she’s in it, and also Richard Grieco, who we didn’t have until we were two weeks into shooting. We were trying to write this part out but then he got hold of the script and said he’d love to come and play the chief of police, Angie’s boss, throughout it. So we then built it up in the last two weeks. It was a great shoot. I think it’s a fun movie. It’s a weird movie."
Destined to be a cult film?
"Yes. definitely. Much more of a culty film but it’s not for everybody. It’s very subtly done, but basically what he does is cut them up and eat them then shit them out. We don’t go into that at all, but you do see him eating these women. But it’s not done like a horror movie, they’ve done it more like a mystery thriller. There’s a lot of dialogue. We actually like Malcolm McDowell throughout the movie, which is great. We actually like the guy then he suddenly turns on us. That’s the most interesting part of it for me; getting into the mind of this guy. Malcolm McDowell can pull it off so well."
With The Gardener, Children of the Corn III and going right back to being a PA on Little Shop of Horrors, there seems to be a death/plant theme to your work.
"Yes, I know. And this: Death Do Us Part. It’s something to do with my dad’s sense of humour. He did Theatre Of Blood, which I have a poster of in my house, the original poster with this great, great old English cast. Ever since then, we’ve always had a sense of humour for black comedy, and I always try to put a little bit of comedy in my movies. Because when you’re trying to scare people, you have to make them laugh first, and then they relax - and then you grab ‘em!"
When you were a kid and your dad was making films, did you go on set?
"Oh, completely. I was so lucky. I met John Wayne as a kid, I met Richard Burton, I met Vincent Price. I had a great childhood actually, it was great fun."
Is there any rivalry between you and your brother?
"Tony’s been incredibly helpful, actually. There always was, growing up. I always just used to try and be like my older brother. But Tony’s really supportive and I love him. We always put each other in our movies. And actually I worked with him, shooting second unit on Prince Valiant which he’s just made last year in Wales. So we work together, and we like different subjects actually. So we’re okay. Even though we both have done horror, we’re now moving in two different directions, I’m moving in a different one."
Would you like to get away from horror?
"You know what? I like to do both: I like scaring people and I like getting into people’s hearts as well. So yes, I’d like to do everything in a Kubrick kind of way: a space movie and…"
One film every ten years?
"Well, no. I’d like to do at least one film every year but on different subjects. But I love horror, I always have. My brother used to wake me up on Saturday nights, after Mum had gone to bed, and drag me down to watch two o’clock Hammer horror movies, which we loved. I was six and he was 13 or whatever. So he’d go to bed and he’d be fine, and I’d be lying there, awake in my bed, terrified. And he always used to tell horror stories: he’d always come round my door with a hairy hand glove or something like that. It was a nightmare growing up with my brother!"
Gerry Lively was here yesterday.
"Yes, I spoke with him yesterday. He worked on a lot of my brother’s films and he DPed Children of the Corn. I love Gerry, he’s a great guy. I heard his movie’s really good."
Have you got any pet projects?
"Yeti, but keep it quiet. I have got the best script. Bigfoot, Sasquatch, whatever you want to call it. This one’s called Yeti. We’re talking like a Jaws script, an incredible script, and we’re looking to make that this year. We’ve got a lot of interest, but I don’t want a lot of people to know about it. But this is a great script and there I can really have fun. It’s a much bigger budget."
Do you tend to write your own scripts?
"No. I’ve written some. Which Way to Oz I wrote. I get very much involved with the writing but I don’t normally take a credit. On Children of the Corn I did a lot of that, but I couldn’t have done it without the writer. But yes, I do. Another project I’ve got is Lord Byron which we’re scheduled to shoot in January next year and that is an incredible script. That is where I do want to be heading with my career. I don’t know if you know the story of his life. I thought I did, until I read the script. He died at my age, 32, but he’d lived a whole life that we’d all want to have done: travelling around the world, getting involved in wars, writing poetry, having love affairs. An incredible life, and it’s a great script and we’ve got a really good cast."
That interests me because I’m a Mary Shelley obsessive.
"It’s not like Gothic, but there is that weekend where Shelley actually went off and disappeared on the boat. There’s a great scene where they all wave goodbye and it’s a bit rough, but everyone’s having fun. That and another one called Villa de Rizzi. I love to make movies in England, although I’ve been eleven years now. This is a kind of English Leaving Las Vegas, about a British ex-spy drinking himself to death because he lives in sin with his sister, written by Piers Paul Read who wrote the book Alive and also the script for the movie. A very British man: I went and had tea with him.”