Chat with Peter Atkins

Lost Souls: When did you first start writing fiction?

Pete Atkins: In a serious sense, in 1985. I'd been doing rock and roll for five years prior to that and I had just turned thirty. I figured if I wasn't a rock star by that age, I wasn't going to be one. So, I was looking for something else to do at that point. I played on and off with the idea of writing and the usual bad adolescence poetry and stuff that everybody does. I really started seriously writing in late 1985. I did at least four or five short stories, and I had interesting publications of two of them. I sold one to an editor, John Gilbert, that was just about to start a magazine called Thea, and Dark Harvest Press had expressed interest in a novella that I had written called 'The Vampires of Summer'. In early 1987, Clive introduced me to Chris Figg (the producer of Hellraiser) with their commendation that I do the screenplay for the sequel. Before the first short story was published, I was already working on Hellbound.

L.S.: Was your activity in screenplay writing influenced at all by your involvement with the short films that you made with Clive and the Dog Company?

P.A.: Not directly. I hadn't done any what they call speck screenplays before writing Hellbound, I'd only written fiction. So the first movie that I wrote was Hellbound, and obviously that was a sequel to Hellraiser. In the same sense you could say the stuff that we had done in the made and like certainties that had influenced Clive had actually also influenced me. Not just the short films that we had done, but also the work we had done in the theater. Although there might be some somatic interests in common, they really have very little in common with commercial theatrical features.

L.S.: Do you write the scripts from Clive's ideas or are they strictly from you?

P.A.: That varied from movie to movie. Hellbound was a story that Clive and I came up with together. It hadn't been fully detailed. Basically we batched out a skeletal plot outline in one night at Clive's apartment in London. From there we presented that to Chris Figg and New World and they approved that and I went off and did the screenplay on my own. Hellraiser III, Clive wasn't involved with that at all until post-production after the movie had already been shot. The story had in a similar sort of fashion, a skeletal sort of plot outline put together with Tony Randall who directed Hellbound and who was at one stage going to direct part III. It was just a three-page outline, but I actually had to sit and write the story. Hellraiser four; Clive was back on board as executive producer. I wouldn't say that he had a story, but it was his idea to make the movie a three-part story tracing the fortunes of one family through three different time periods. That was a great and invaluable idea. He didn't have exactly the same time periods we ended up using, suggesting that we start in Victorian London with a brand new family. I suggested that we use the Lemarchand family, the family that had made the box in the first place, and therefore set the first part in Revolutionary France. I didn't have to write an outline this time because we were very familiar with the people at Miramax having worked with them on number three. It was more of a pitch presentation where Clive and I threw around our ideas and basically they said 'fine, go away and write it', so I did.

L.S.: After delivery of the screenplay, how are you involved? If at all?

P.A.: Again that varies. Hellbound I was involved but not on the set for the whole shooting period. Once you hand one draft in that's not the end of it. They have notes and you do a second draft, and then they have more notes and you do a third draft. Then they hire a director and he has some ideas and you have to do a fourth draft and finally the movie can be shot. On Hellbound I worked very closely with Tony Randall once he'd been hired. Although that one was shot in England, where I lived at the time, I wasn't down for the shooting until about two-thirds of the way through and stayed for the final two and a half weeks of the shoot. Hellraiser III, I was intimately involved with them from beginning to end. I was in North Carolina with them all the way through pre-production and through shooting then into post-production. Hellraiser four, again same pattern as Hellbound. I wasn't on the set creatively while they were shooting.

L.S.: Why the long delay on the release of number four?

P.A.: Because they needed to do some more shooting. They liked a lot of what they saw but some of it they didn't plus they wanted more. So they brought Doug back and a few of the other cast members and did what they call an enhancement shoot in early April this year. Since then they've been back and reedited. Now, they are about to do another six days of shooting to improve Pinhead's death. The movie will finally be released in March 1996.

L.S.: Is this the series end?

P.A.: You can never tell. Miramax is very interested, but you have to look at these questions from a creative viewpoint and a financial one. As far as I was concerned, part three was the end creatively. It seemed to round things off. I had taken away the remnants of the human soul that had driven Pinhead at the end of Hellbound when Kirsty reminded him that he was human. Part three, what I wanted to do was tell the story of the dissipated soul, to have the ghost of the English officer who had become Pinhead in 1921 be a driving force in one strand of the narrative and the thoroughly soulless Pinhead the other force. The end I brought them back together, thus putting Pinhead, more or less, in the position he'd been in at the beginning of the first movie. I thought we'd rounded everything off nicely there. But Miramax wanted to do a fourth part and Clive's had the nice idea of a three part, which excited my interest. Then I thought, I did the pinhead story but now I could do the story of the family of the box-maker. I thought that was another interesting thing to add to the mythology. And now I say, touching wood, creatively the series is over. I think from this point on it would be just telling more stories about the box and the demons. So I am not particularly interested in pursuing it. Miramax certainly wants to preserve the franchise. One reason why they are spending the extra money in having this extra shoot is to keep the franchise alive for part five and six.

L.S.: Yeah, Pinhead Vs. Jason!

P.A.: You'd better believe it! Actually, they don't own Jason, but frighteningly they do own Michael Myers. So Pinhead Vs. Michael Myers might be a distinct possibility somewhere down the road, but I swear I'll have nothing to do with that. In a strange way, although obviously they have become creatively bankrupt those movie, it tickles the old-time fan in me because it is very reminiscent of Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. The guys at universal in the thirties were doing what we are doing now which is telling stories about monsters. Eventually they put all these monsters together in one bumper package. It kind of amuses me that, Hey, maybe our monster will get to be part of this big monster mash.

L.S.: Right, like a big wresting match where you say who will win?

P.A.: Yeah, that's what we can do. Tag teams from hell!

L.S: The Dog Company, when did you first come on board?

P.A.: In 1974, early summer. I was just about to finish high school and Clive had just finished University. He along with Doug Bradley and Doug's wife Linda (not at that time) and several other people had been working a little bit in theater. They all went to the same high school, which I didn't go to. When Clive, having left University, they wanted to get a little more serious about it and I joined them just before we became professional, if you can ever say we became professional because we never made any money at it.

L.S.: Other than the Forbidden, what plays were you in?

P.A.: They had already booked a theater in Liverpool for later that summer. I took very small part in the three shows we were doing then (Wolfman, Dream, and the other was an evening of various short pieces). After that, I was in A Clown's Sodom; Day of the Dog; Dog; Nightlives; and The Magician. The year after that was when they did History of the Devil. Although I had started rehearsing with them I left before they put it out.

L.S.: Do you keep in contact with the other Dog Company members?

P.A.: Yes, some of them. By 1975, when we had actually taken the name The Dog Company, the company had really boiled down to me, Clive, Doug, Lynn, Julie Blake, and Phil Rimmer. It was basically the six of us for three or four years. Obviously I am in touch with Clive and Doug and Lynn. I am on and off in touch with Julie who is married and still living in Liverpool. I have been in touch with Phil, but we have lost contact.

L.S.: What do you miss the most about The Dog Company?

P.A.: Being Young. I miss the drive and confidence and ambition that you can only have at that age. It was a blind faith and complete commitment to what we were all doing. I miss the sense of a very fruitful artistic collaboration with a peer group that you loved, admired, and respected. It's not just the artistic side; it's also the fun of just doing it. It was like when I formed a rock band after I left the company. It was the same thing, just 'six of us against the world' feeling. We had no money whatsoever. We would stage these ambitious plays on non-existent budgets. We would all sit up late at night making the costumes and the props, printing the tickets. It was hell, but it was great as well. What I miss is the togetherness in the face of adversity kind of thing.

L.S.: Did you have input with the writing of the plays?

P.A.: We all did. Clive was absolutely artistic director without a doubt but it was very much workshop theater. Clive would produce a text and then we would collectively mutate it for the next six months as we rehearsed, and rehearsed, and rehearsed. Although I don't think that any of us actually put pen to paper, it was an avant-garde and experimental theater in which we all contributed and worked and changed things.

L.S.: What is Pete Atkins working on now?

P.A.: I'm working on my second novel, Big Thunder. I'm about a little more than two-third done and it should be published in spring 1996. Actually, it's published in England in hardcover in the spring, I'm not sure about the American paperback. I hope that it comes out at the same time.