Interviews

INTERVIEW: JOHN McNAUGHTON

By • Mar 30th, 2009 • Pages: 1 2 3

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In 1985, filmmaker John McNaughton was busy making documentaries and industrial films, while bicycling prints from place to place for a Chicago-based video equipment company known as MPI.

Near the end of that year, the owners of MPI – Waleed and Malik Alie – gave him the opportunity to direct a feature film. Over a four week shooting schedule, McNaughton delivered on his promise to create a horror film unlike any other made in that genre with a budget just over a hundred thousand dollars.

That film was HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER and it was plagued with release problems and controversy due to the film’s content and subject matter. McNaughton filmed HENRY almost entirely from the point-of-view of its central character: a brutal murderer of mostly young women. He admittedly drew inspiration for HENRY from ABC’s television news magazine 20/20 that featured a piece on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

On the right, Buddy G.  On the left, FIR's editor. In the middle, John McNaughton. London, late 80s.

While most horror films are universally panned by mainstream critics, HENRY was a different story altogether. It became a revered film among critics and appeared on sseveral top ten lists for movies released that year; a remarkable accomplishment for a low-budget horror picture.

From there he went on to direct play writer/actor Eric Bogosian’s one man show, SEX, DRUGS, ROCK ‘N ROLL and one of my favorite underrated horror films, THE BORROWER. That film was about an alien sentenced to Earth as punishment for crimes committed on his own home planet. When the human body he overtakes to disguise himself disagrees with his alien genetics, he’s constantly on the lookout for victims to decapitate to continue living unnoticed amongst American society.

McNaughton’s continued success caught the eye of Hollywood filmmaking legend, Martin Scorsese, who brought McNaughton on board to direct screenwriter Richard Price’s MAD DOG AND GLORY. The movie stared Robert DeNiro, Uma Thurman and in a very brave decision against typecasting, McNaughton brought in comedic actor Bill Murray to play a vicious gangster. It was Murray’s first successful dramatic role.

My personal favorite film Mr. McNaughton has directed was 1998’s WILD THINGS. Just like HENRY, WILD THINGS was met with similar contention regarding the sex and violent capacity of his homage to the film noir movies of the forties and fifties.

This interview was months in the making. John McNaughton had been suffering from a savage bout of the flu that he just couldn’t seem to shake. While he did get better, when I spoke with him, you could tell by the sound of his voice that he had yet to return to his completely healthy self. Yet, through it all, he was kind enough to carry out the promise he made to me that an interview would be conducted between the two of us.

I like John McNaughton. He’s a very cool guy who doesn’t hold back on his opinions about the absurdity and tribulations of the film industry. He’s funny, polite and charismatic. But, most of all, I like John McNaughton the filmmaker. In my opinion and for my twisted tastes, he’s simply one of the greatest directors in the business.

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