Interview – Tom Holland

Interview: Tom Holland

To say that many people grew up on a steady diet of Tom Holland’s films would probably be something of an understatement.

With films such as Fright Night and Child’s Play, Holland was the man behind some of the best loved and continually celebrated horror films of the 1980’s.

With Arrow Video having recently released The Beast Within on Blu-ray it is a perfect time to explore and re-visit the maestro’s filmography.

We recently caught up with the man himself to discuss The Beast Within, his career to date and the inspiration behind his work.

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Could you explain how The Beast Within first came about?

Harvey Bernhardt had bought the title, because he liked it. The Author had not written the novel. Harvey told me he was involved in a divorce. Harvey wanted me to write a script that had as its penultimate moment the emergence of a Beast from within a human being. That was it. Levy may have had a short novel proposal, but I have no memory at this point, one way or the other.

The film is an adaptation of Edward Levy’s 1981 novel of the same name. How faithful is the screenplay to the original source, and does the original tone of the novel remain intact? 

There was no novel at the time I wrote it, which is why I receive “story by” credit from the WGA.

The Beast Within was your first feature film script. How different was the film process compared with your previous work in television? 

Harvey was crazy (smile). But then we all were. Harvey had a lot of power because of the Omen films, which he produced. TV was a lot more like a factory product back then, and features were one-off.

How did you first get into movies?

I was an actor. For instance, I am the juvenile in Walk in the Spring Rain, under the AKA of Tom Fielding. When I joined SAG, there was another actor named Tom Holland and I could not use my real name.

Which filmmakers would you say have had the strongest or most significant influence on your own work?

Hitchcock.

Is there any one specific film that you would credit with influencing your decision to want to enter the world of film?

I loved genre films. I knew the way of making films had changed when I saw Breathless. I knew horror had changed when I saw Psycho.

You initially trained as an actor at the world famous Actor’s Studio. What was it like under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg? 

Boring. Lee would drone on for hours. He loved the sound of his own voice and after a while it was impossible to listen. But being in the Studio was a big deal and I met many terrific people. The Studio had a playwrights wing and I started acting in one-act plays put on there, and met writers for the first time. James Bridges became a friend there. It was the first time I learned that I had an instinct for directing, by putting scenes on their feet. I also learned that writing could lead to directing in Hollywood. That was one of the reason I started writing. I was an actor that became a writer, so I could direct.

Looking back through your filmography, you have very rarely strayed from the horror genre. Is there specific reason for? 

I’ve never thought of myself as ‘horror meister’, as much I have thought of myself as a fantasist. I combine thrillers, quite often psychological, with horror and fantasy. I was always interested in creatures, monsters, but when I started the business could not create what I was seeing in my head. There was no CGI in those days.

Beast Within is a good example. In the script I used Cicada, who shuck their shell once every 11 to 17 years, depending on the species, as a metaphor for what the boy, Michael, was going through. It’s alluded to in the movie but it was too expensive to do live, or using models, and they dropped it, so a lot of the story is lost.

That wasn’t a fault of the filmmakers, well, not Phillipe Mora anyway, but Harvey Bernhardt, who didn’t want to spend the money. Now it would be much easier to show the “Kattydids,” because of the computer graphics.

This is an excellent reason to remake the movie, which I would like to do, so I could put the Cicadas back in. (smile)

Is there any one specific film that you feel particularly proud of?

Fright Night.

Fright Night was your first film as a director. How did that first come about, and did the move to directing just feel like a natural progression from screenwriting?

I spec’d it when I was hot as a screenwriter. I had offers, but they wouldn’t let me direct, so I refused, until Columbia agreed. God bless Guy McElwaine, who was the head of the studio at the time and gave me the chance.

How did the idea for a Fright Night remake first arise?

I was writing Cloak and Dagger, which was loosely (very loosely) based on The Window, the juvenile version of Rear Window, both written by the brilliant Cornell Woolrich. That brought in the element of voyeurism, and I thought how hilarious it would be if a horror movie fan (me), became convinced that his next-door neighbour was a vampire.

How much of an input did you have on the final outcome? 

I had total control of the movie from beginning till end. I also had enormous support from Shell Shraeger, then head of production for Columbia. He gave me the entire EFX staff, headed by Richard Edlund, that had just finished Ghost Busters. They were brilliant. They had made all the mistakes with the big budget Ghost Busters, and knew just how to make the EFX on Fright Night work. I was very lucky.

Could you tell us a little about your upcoming projects and the future for Dead Rabbit Films?

I hope to do a remake of Beast Within. I also have written a script off a Stephen King short story, Ten O’clock People, which I hope to get done. On top of that, I have an original script called Killing Frank, which is set up to shoot in England.

How did the idea for Twisted Tales come about?

I’ve always wanted to do an anthology series. I shot 3 Tales of the Crypt, wrote one, and like the form. I also wanted to work digital, because it is so much cheaper and faster, and I could play with it and try things that would not be possible in more expensive productions.

I learned a lot and am excited about the possibilities digital opens up; like helicopter shots from small drones that cost nothing, compared to the old days.

The language of film is not just changing, it is become more cost efficient, which allows more people to try and learn. Digital democratizes the process. It doesn’t give you talent, but it certainly allows you to grown, learn, and experiment because it is now so much more affordable.

Was it always intended to be a web series?

Yes.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Keep shooting.

Finally:

Top 5 movies?

I have no top five. I think the movies you see when you’re younger are the ones you carry with you, and the more you learn, the less involved you become in them. The harder it is for the story to suck you in, because I now tend to look at the technique.

When I was a kid, I got sucked into the story. I remember the cinematographer, Allen Daviau, telling me to tap my leg every time I saw a cut, so I would force myself to see how the film was put together in the editing room and to make myself aware of coverage.

Regardless, I watch film (video or whatever you want to call it, and look at the parts that go together to make it, cinematography, music, EFX, etc.)

Currently reading?

John Ford bio by Scott Eyman. Very good.

Current favourite bands or albums?

Kiesza’s “Hideaway

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Special thanks to Tim Sullivan

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The Beast Within is available on Blu-ray now from Arrow Video.

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