David McGillivray would have made an inventive serial killer. Luckily he wrote some of Britain’s most outrageous horror films of the 1970s instead. STEWART KING interviewed David for the Spooky Isles.
Stewart: You’ve penned some quintessentially British horror movies that dealt with a lot of topics that the national psyche was (and still is) getting to grips with – namely sex and religion. Do you think the UK has more of a handle on these now or, as explicitly suggested in your scripts, is there still an older, outwardly respectable and authority fearing generation who are messed up by their own repression and perversity?
David: I wrote the 1970s horror films when I was young and ignorant. I find it interesting when people today tell me what the films were really about, i.e. sex and authoritarianism. I doubt whether anything has changed dramatically. Only a couple of weeks ago I wrote that ‘No matter what their politics, British governments usually try to protect ordinary folk from things which might take our minds off honest labour’.
Stewart: I’ve always felt that the movies you worked on with Pete Walker bridged the gap between the end of the Hammer era and the video nasties. ‘Frightmare’ is a particular favourite. Sheila Keith’s drill murder predated Abel Ferrara’s ‘The Driller Killer’ by five years. Is this still something that you’re proud of?
David McGillivray: Fair comment. I haven’t achieved a great deal but I think I was the first to think of using an electric drill as a murder weapon.
Stewart: Location wise, where was the country house that mad Dorothy (Sheila Keith) lived in?
David: Haslemere in Surrey.
Stewart: I know you performed a cameo in a lot of your movies. I remember spotting you in a party scene in ‘House Of Whipcord.‘ Did you hang around the set a lot?
David: True. But otherwise I wasn’t on set a great deal. I don’t think anyone wants the writer hanging around making helpful suggestions.
Stewart: One of my favourite pieces of dialogue in your movies was the scene between homicidal priest Father Meldrum (Anthony Sharp) and his loyal housekeeper Miss Brabazon (Sheila Keith) at the climax of ‘House Of Mortal Sin’ (aka ‘Confessional’). Both performances in this segment were a real highlight for me. Were scenes like this worked through with the actors or was there really no time for such luxuries and it was shot after a few rehearsals?
David: On the rare occasions I watched Mr Walker working I didn’t notice much rehearsal. It was all done very quickly and this is how I prefer to work today. He was a big influence on me.
Stewart: Something I’ve frankly never forgiven you for was having a scene in the same movie with Stephanie Beacham and Susan Penhaligon sharing the same bed and not doing anything more interesting than dialogue. Ok – they were sisters but a character rejig could have opened up all sorts of possibilities. What were you playing at?
David: I have no idea. I can’t even remember this scene. Whatever the case, I don’t think the BBFC would have taken kindly to incest in the mid-70s.
Stewart: I know you’re still a fan of horror. What’s your opinion of contemporary horror movies and which recent ones have you enjoyed?
David: I am. I love horror films of all periods. Today they don’t scare me as much as they used to but that’s because I’m so old. European movies scare me more than most. Having said that, I thought that ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ delivered the goods.
Stewart: You are now a producer and have shot a series of short horror movies under the umbrella title WORST FEARS. Those interested can watch a trailer and find out more about each individual movie here. Which is the latest one to be completed?
David: There’s one we did four years ago, ‘Sleep Tight,’ which has just been finished. The last one to be completed and shown was ‘A Kiss From Grandma’ last year.
Stewart: You’ve had some interesting names queuing up to appear in these movies – Fenella Fielding, Victor Spinetti, Anna Wing and even Clement Freud. You’ve also had some behind the camera veterans getting involved. Was a lot of coaxing necessary?
David: Yes, there’s no queue to work on my films. Everyone has to be coaxed. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I’ve had many refusals. There are even extras who won’t work for me.
Stewart: Have you secured deals for these movies? Where can fans view them?
David: I sold the first seven in the ‘Worst Fears’ series to a Canadian distributor. They have since turned up on obscure cable TV stations, but never in the UK. Our contract expires this year and these seven films will be released as an Amicus-style portmanteau, also called ‘Worst Fears,’ which has been sitting on the shelf since 2007.
Stewart: Recently you posted your minute-long movie ESTRANGED on YouTube (see below). How did this come about?
David: Filminute (the international one minute film festival) got in touch and asked me to enter. A talented writer named Richard Jay Parker (who wrote ‘Sleep Tight’) wrote me a one minute script and we shot it in a garage in one take in 2010. We didn’t get placed. I’m not entering again. That film cost £25.
Stewart: What’s your ultimate ambition now? Would you take on a feature or do you value your sanity and coronary health too much?
David: I have unrealistic ambitions in many media. I wrote a feature called ‘Lines,’ which requires a country house with a trap door leading to a tunnel. Earlier this year I found it in Romania and got terribly excited about this project again.
Stewart: Best of luck with it and thanks for such an entertaining chat. I hope this interview has taken the minds of ordinary folk off honest labour for a while.