Tony Randel is someone all horror fans should know and appreciate. Working up in the business from under the wings of Roger Corman, he went on to be an integral part of the “Hellraiser” film series before it went to hell.
Rising to directing, he made “Hellraiser II” and the cult film “Ticks”. He helmed one of the “Amityville” sequels, and has done editorial work on some of SyFy Channel’s biggest hits. At the time of this interview, he had just wrapped up editing “Lucky Bastard”, one of the few good found footage films out there…
A true honor and privilege, this was how the conversation went down…
GS: Let’s do a general overview before getting to the new project. You started out with “Battle Beyond the Stars”…
TR: Yes. I was hired in the effects editorial department to log and catalog all the various elements used in the visual effects production side of it. That was my first professional job.
GS: You went on to do “Escape From New York”, “Saturday 14th” and some others that have gone on to become classics…
TR: Yeah, that was when I was working at the “lumber yard”, as we used to call it because it was converted lumber yard… turned into Roger Corman’s effects facility. I handled all the editorial at first and later on I was supervising all the optical effects.
GS: But today, you’re probably most associated with the “Hellraiser” series. What lead you from Corman to Clive Barker?
TR: When Roger sold New World Pictures to Larry Kupin and Harry Sloan (in 1983 for $16.5 million), it became a much bigger, better-funded entity. They had a lot more money. I was working for Roger as head of post-production for his new company, called Millennium but quickly changed to New Horizons for some reason. In any event, I was the post-production supervisor for that company for a few months, and was offered a job with New World Entertainment, a new company, to be their post-production supervisor. I took that job, and my official title was director of post-production. I did that for a couple of years, and in that time I did a lot of re-cutting of features and making them presentable for release.
So I gained a reputation as a sort of “editorial film doctor”. In that time period, I did a major job on “Godzilla 1985”. I did re-shoots and dubbing, it was kind of a big deal. It was an era when things were going out on video and video releases meant a lot of money. I worked under Bob Ramey (??), who was the president of New World Entertainment. He promoted me to vice president of post-production. I worked on a few features as a production executive, and was basically assigned to “Hellraiser” because “Hellraiser” was having some problems shooting in London. I went over and worked closely with the director and producers, as well as the editor. We worked on that quite a while, a lot of re-shoots and a lot of editing. Eventually it turned out pretty good. When that was finished, I went to the president of production, Steve White, and said, “Steve, I really want to direct and I know you want to make a sequel. Why don’t you let me make the sequel?” He thought about it awhile, and eventually said okay. That’s how my directorial debut came about.
GS: In many ways, the second “Hellraiser” film is better than the first, particularly with the gore effects.
TR: Well, we had more money to spend. That helped.
GS: Were you afraid at any point of disappointing fans of the first installment?
TR: I immediately disappointed fans, actually. The initial response to the second film was somewhat negative. I was anticipating it and wasn’t surprised, but over the years its reputation has grown and many people now tell me it’s the best in the series. There was a bit of a mystique around the first film, so it’s hard to do a sequel when something is looked at as an instant classic. It was not unexpected that I would get a negative response, but over the years it has grown in popularity…
GS: Can you speak to the alleged issues with the MPAA?
TR: It was very difficult to get the R rating. We had to go back several times and appeal the rating to the MPAA. We lost the appeal, but ended up having to make only a very minor change. That was for the theatrical version. As we know now, movies really live on video and DVD and streaming. The current version is uncut and I don’t even know if you can find the R-rated version anymore. Every format I’ve seen is uncut.
GS: Which moment did they object to?
TR: There were little things everywhere, but the big scene as I recall is when Julia attacks Browning. It was very brutal and they made us cut almost all of it. What you see now, with them chasing around on the floor, that’s all uncut. If anyone is worried about their DVD copy, they should know they’re seeing the correct version.
GS: So many great things we could talk about if we had time, but your most recent project was “Lucky Bastard”. You worked as the editor… would you agree or disagree that editing is one of the most thankless jobs in the movie industry?
TR: (laughs) A thankless job? I think editors get respect. It’s certainly one of the most technical jobs in the process. Editors aren’t particularly outgoing, charismatic people, so that doesn’t help. We don’t have fan clubs.
GS: What I mean is that if a film is edited poorly, critics will jump on that. But you rarely see good editing get recognition.
TR: Well, yeah, our first review on IMDB looks like I wrote it, but I didn’t. It mentions me by name and says I was worth every penny. It was nice and a good compliment, but I don’t know where it came from. Another review mentioned the editing, so it’s been brought up twice. So, that’s good.
GS: As far as editing goes, “Lucky Bastard” was made to look like several cameras were filming from different angles at once. Was that the case or just the illusion of cinema?
TR: That was actually the case. They had four cameras, but they re-staged them just as you would with any other film. So yes, they had multiple angles filming, but maybe not as many as it appears. That said, the way it was shot, it wasn’t like having a multi-camera edit where I can have two shots running in sync on my Avid and intercut like you would for a TV show. The illusion is that there was continuous action, but the reality is that there was not. There were many different takes.
GS: What was the biggest challenge of editing something like this?
TR: What I focused on was performance. The first thing I looked at was which camera gave me the best performance. So, that’s where my eye always was. A lot of these cameras were in awkward positions, such as the corner of the room. They would turn it on and let it run, so there might be four or five takes of one scene in one camera. So that generated a lot of footage, which was challenging. What was nice was that because of this, I not only watched the takes but could watch what was between the takes. And that was very helpful because it caught director Robert Nathan speaking to the actors, and I could hear what Robert was going for. It was like having him sitting next to me in the editing room, telling me to look for a certain emotion. That was a great advantage.
GS: So, basically you had little interaction with the crew at the time and just had footage dumped on your desk afterwards…
TR: Yeah. And technically it was challenging. Among their four cameras, they had two Panasonic HD cameras and two Go Pro cameras. They recorded the best sound on one camera, and the others had sound that you could hear but not good enough that you could use it. So I would have to sync the sound from the one camera to the three other cameras. That took a lot of time. When I started out on this film, my first job was organizing. There really are no assistant editors anymore — the editor does everything.
GS: Not to steal the director’s thunder, but would it be fair to say the finished product was ultimately based on whatever footage you kept and what you tossed?
TR: I don’t want to make that claim. I will say that most of the way I cut it at first is the way it is because it was obvious to me that it was how it had to go together. Another editor may have seen it differently — better or worse, who knows? I cut it the way I did with what I saw as Robert’s vision.
GS: Looks like time is running out, so I just have to say thank you and it’s been a real honor.
TR: Thank you!