Unrestricted Views James Shanks Co-Writer and Director of Stag Hunt

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Love Horror: Tell us about your film?
James Shanks: “Stag Hunt” is a comedy drama – with scary bits – which we shot over a period of two weeks on location in Dartmoor. It stars Mackenzie Astin (“The Garbage Pail Kids Movie”, “Iron Will”), Neil Cole (“Richard the Lionheart: Rebellion”), Chris Rogers (“Obsession: Dark Desires”) and Donald Morrison (“Judas Goat”) as four friends who embark on a reckless stag do on the moors and soon find themselves fighting to survive the night against a legendary wild beast. Having been entirely self-funded by both myself and co-writer/producer Neil Craske (at least a quarter of the budget went on creating the “beast” at Animated Extras in Shepperton), we took the finished film to Cannes, where we secured a sales agent, and have since seen the movie released in the US and Europe.

Love Horror: How did you get into making horror movies?
James Shanks: I’ve always been drawn to horror films, particularly the classic Universal monster movies, since a very early age. Having devoured Ed Naha’s “Horrors from Screen to Scream” book, along with Dick Smith’s Horror make-up kit – complete with Flex Flesh! – I started shooting short films on Super 8mm and then show them to my friends in the homemade cinema in our loft. I also had an unhealthy fascination with Lon Chaney Jnr’s “The Wolfman”. But it wasn’t until 1995 that I finally got to make my first proper horror feature film, “Devil’s Harvest”, shot on 35mm and starring Brian Blessed. Although the film was low-budget, it did manage to get released in eight countries and made a tidy profit (although for some reason it was released in the UK as “Don’t go into the Attic” – blame the sales agents).

Love Horror:  What is your view on horror in 2016 and how would you change it?
James Shanks: I like how horror films seem to be returning to practical effects again. There’s nothing scary about a CG werewolf, but a guy in a furry suit can be terrifying if done well. The blend between practical and CG is the best route, and that does seem to be the trend. Paul Hyett’s excellent “Howl” was a good example of this. Horror films also need to breathe. “The Exorcist” may be considered to be a slow-burner by today’s standards, but I love that you get to really know the characters, which makes what happens to them later all the more powerful. We tried this approach with “Stag Hunt”, hopefully the audience will have spent enough time in the company of the four guys to get to know and like them before the bad stuff happens.
My favourite film in the genre that I’ve seen recently has to be “The Conjuring 2” – even though I was slightly gutted as it’s a story that I’ve wanted to tell since reading Guy Lyon Playfair’s book “This House is Haunted” many years ago, but I thought that they did an excellent job with it. And I do like James Wan’s style. I also loved “The Shallows”, which tapped into that deep fear a lot of us have had since “Jaws”.

Love Horror: What is your favourite horror film and why?
James Shanks: My favourite film of all time has to be the original “Jaws”, if that can be classed as a horror. It’s a perfect movie as far as I’m concerned: the pacing, the characters, the dialogue, the photography, the editing and of course the music. We tried to emulate some of the unseen menace in “Stag Hunt”, which Spielberg achieved so beautifully under such difficult situations. But, if “Jaws” doesn’t count as a horror film, then “An American Werewolf in London” is also a masterpiece. The balance of real, genuine horror and laugh-out-loud comedy is absolutely stunning. When pitching “Stag Hunt” to the cast and crew, I’d always liken it to the first ten minutes of “American Werewolf”, but for the whole ninety minute film.

Love Horror: If Hollywood came knocking and gave you anything you wanted what movie would you make and who would it star?
James Shanks: I’m a big fan of horror-comedy, when it’s done well – more “Shaun” than “Scary Movie”. There are too many remakes of old classics, so it’d have to be something completely original, of which we have a couple of ideas already in development. Two of them are set in Scotland, which has some of the most dramatic scenery and would suit the genre well. Casting-wise, I would definitely use any or all of the four “Stag Hunt” boys as they are all excellent. But I’ve always wanted to work with Mark Hamill, he’s not doing much these days…

Stag Hunt plays at Unrestricted View Horror Film Festival at 3.30pm on the 5th November. Find out more and book your tickets Here https://www.unrestrictedview.co.uk/uvhff-stag-hunt/#prettyPhoto

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