Interview with Writer/Director C. Courtney Joyner

C.Courtney Joyner is a name cult horror movie fans should be familiar with. A couple of the screenplays he has written are Class of 1999 and Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys. Joyner has both written and directed Trancers 3 and Lurking Fear. Lurking Fear is coming out on Blu-ray for the first time on June 15th. Lurking Fear is based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story with the same name. It has been fully restored from the original 35mm print and is definitely a must-have for its fans. Joyner was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about this horror gem.

Lurking Fear

What was it about H.P. Lovecraft’s story that made you want to make a film based on it?

The movie was already slated by Charlie Band, and originally to be directed, naturally, by Stuart Gordon. Stuart got busy with something else, so Charlie offered the project to me, which was exciting, to follow in the great tradition that Stuart, Dennis Paoli, and Jeff Combs had set with their adaptations, and try to capture the atmosphere, and feeling of dread that’s so much a part of Lovecraft.

What were some of the challenges that you were faced with when making Lurking Fear?

I really studied the short story; Lovecraft’s writing crawls right off the page and into your brain. Without sounding too heavy-handed, that’s part of the experience of reading Lovecraft. He created this amazing mythology, but it’s the atmosphere that always got to me. He was, obviously, a troubled man, and it’s right there, in the work. But how do you capture that?

There was a movie written by a friend of mine that I really liked, OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, which is the flick about the man terrorized by a rat in his New York apartment. He’s alone, and fighting this thing, and I thought that style would be a good approach for a film version of LURKING FEAR. One man against these monsters, since the story is a testament, from his point of view, of the experience that drove him insane, and he’s recounting it. I found it incredibly tough to dramatize, since the story is so short. I still wanted it to be basically a one-character piece, hopefully with Jeff Combs, but, honestly, I couldn’t expand it properly, make it come together with the right kind of energy. That can happen when you’re developing something, and so I framed the Lovecraft tale within a crime story – an area that I was comfortable with – and placing the characters in what I hoped was a “Lovecraftian circumstance,” and working on it from there.

My thinking was to hit the same notes as some of the Lovecraft adaptations from AIP in the 1960’s and 70’s. I know comparisons aren’t always the best way to describe intentions, but that was my thinking, as the start date loomed, and the movie was going to be made and delivered.

Creature From Lurking Fear

What were your inspiration, if any, for the design of the creatures of Lurking Fear?

Two big ones: the make-up of the killer dwarf in Argento’s PHENOMENA, with the split palate, and Bernie Wrightson’s monsters from the great black and white Warren Comics, like CREEPY and EERIE. Wrightson has a way of shaping the heads of his creatures, with the concave nose and extended jaw – the cover of SWAMP THING #1 is a great, beautiful example. I always thought the look was striking and unique. They were the monsters that haunted kids who read those magazines – they certainly haunted me – and Wayne Toth did an amazing job capturing that Wrightson feeling. Just perfect.

How different was directing Trancers 3 to Lurking Fear?

There were quite a few differences, for me personally. TRANCERS was shot in L.A. and LURKING was made in Rumania. Albert Band produced TRANCERS – and what a grand guy he was, and a fine director – so he was someone I could always turn to, if needed. Also, I had the great friendship of Tim Thomerson, and also Andrew Robinson. Tim and I had made a film together already, and he’d really campaigned for me to direct TRANCERS, and Andy had been a great, supportive friend since we’d met in college, when I was doing a little class project on the career of Don Siegel. On LURKING, I had my cousin Alison Mackie in the cast, and she was great, and Jeff Combs, one of my guiding lights, and someone I liked enormously, Paul Mantee, who I met when he was cast. A great guy. I also had Adolfo Bartolli behind the camera again, and he was doing outstanding work. But, I never really connected with Jon Finch, who was my lead. A great actor, and he did a superb job, but the simpatico wasn’t there, and I think that hurt my process. I was still finding my way – unsure – and wanted a better collaboration with my lead, and it just wasn’t there. No great fault, of course. This was work. A professional relationship, but I had been very comfortable on TRANCERS – maybe too much so – and when I was in Europe, trying my hand the second time, there were some lessons to be learned about production, etc. I surely would have liked to work with Jon again, though, and we did have one night of great stories about Hitchcock and Polanski, which I treasure. But making the movie was a challenge, which isn’t a bad thing at all, and I wouldn’t trade the experience, and what I took from it, for anything.

Lurking Fear Combs and Lawrence

What do you think it is about Lurking Fear that has horror fans today still talking about it?

The cast, photography, and atmosphere. There are some moments in the film – the actors are really solid – but where they shine. One I love is when Ashley and Jeff are setting the bombs in the cemetery, and Jeff confesses that he’s in love with her, and she rejects him. I remember telling Jeff this was the moment when the quietest kid in class asks the class beauty to the prom – and he nailed it. Gorgeous stuff.

Also, when Paul Mantee is alone with the creature, and Mike Todd did such a wonderful, physical performance – using his body, and head movements so well – and I think it was so creepy, because Paul’s acting is so sincere. He’s lost his sanity, but he wasn’t hysterical, he was just in another place in his mind, thinking the creature was sent to him as revenge for his failings in the church. That was wonderful, and I loved the tearing out the heart – which was made by Ken Hall. These moments are sprinkled throughout, and I think people respond to those. Also, we blew up lots of stuff in the end – and we really did it! – and it looked terrific.

What kind of extras can fans expect on the Blu-Ray? Did you do a commentary on it?

I did a full commentary on the film, and tried to fill in the missing pieces about the production, shooting in Rumania, etc. The transfer is great, and the movie, really brings Adolfo’s photography to life, way beyond what was available before.

Did you ever think about doing a Lurking Fear 2?

No, but I’d love, one day, if the stars and heavens align, to take another crack at doing Lovecraft. I’ve learned so much more about him, and about his work, that I think I’m better prepared to put another story of his to film. Or, just try writing a really good adaptation for someone else to direct. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that chance, but it’s something to think about on a rainy night.

You have written some of my all-time favorite movies, including Class of 1999 and Trancers 3. What is it about writing films that you enjoy most?

I’ve always been a movie addict, and what a great thing to be able to do what you love, and keep the lights on at the same time. Working in the film business, doing low-budget films, and staying in the trenches, isn’t always the easiest – and I’ve done other kinds of writing – but the excitement when something you’ve written goes in front of the camera, and your dialog is spoken by an actor or actress you admire – I can’t think of anything better.

Available for the first time on Blu-ray with exclusive special features, Lurking Fear will available from Full Moon Direct and Amazon.com.

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