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DIRECTOR JOHN HANCOCK ON "SUSPENDED ANIMATION" PDF Print E-mail
Written by by Mitch Persons   
Nov 09, 2004 at 07:00 PM
Veteran film director John Hancock has given us such gentle films as the Robert DeNiro-starring BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY (1973,) about a dying baseball player, and PRANCER (1989,) about a young girl’s affection for a pet reindeer. He has also given us the chilling LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971,) a phantasmagoria of a horror yarn about a woman who may or may not be plagued by vampires. Hancock is now back in the horror groove with his latest picture, SUSPENDED ANIMATION.
"It’s actually more of a suspense thriller," says the fatherly-appearing Hancock. "The characters in it are quite real, and full, and full of love, but it’s got a lot of violence and erotic content, and I hope audiences are going to find it very scary."
Written by Hancock’s wife, actress Dorothy Tristan, SUSPENDED ANIMATION weaves the tale of a successful Hollywood animator, Thomas Kempton (Alex McArthur,) who, on a winter vacation, goes snowmobiling with a couple of his buddies. Through a mishap, Kempton finds himself trapped in a cabin with two psychotic sisters, Vanessa and Ann Boulette (Laura Esterman and Sage Allen) who also happen to be cannibals. Kempton manages to escape, but upon his return to Hollywood, develops an eerie and unnatural obsession with Vanessa. He decides to incorporate his experience with her into his next animated film. The development of the screenplay starts a gruesome and horrifying chain of events involving Kempton’s wife (Rebecca Harrell,) Vanessa’s daughter, Clara Hansen (Maria Cina,) and Clara’s fifteen-year-old son Sandor (Fred Meyers,) who has inherited the family propensity for madness (and perhaps even the craving for human flesh.)
"There is an ironic counterpoint in the story," continues Hancock. "Remember, Tom is an animator, and the film that he is obsessing over is an animated film. As such, we have incorporated some animation into his real-life experiences. You do see it here and there, which, I think, adds to the horror of what this man is going through. Creating the actual animation is a place in Chicago, Calabash. They are the top animation house for commercial work in Chicago. They are doing a sensational job."
"In LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY, I didn’t want anyone to feel that there was a director. The audience wanted to relate to the people onscreen, and I think by holding back on my usual way of directing, it worked. Take DeNiro’s work in BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY. It opened up at the same time as MEAN STREETS; they were playing right next to each other at Third and 60th in New York. As you know, they were two entirely different kinds of films, and each one in its own way helped shoot Robert up into stardom. At the time, he was terribly nice, and I don’t think he’s as easy to work with now, but he definitely knew what he was doing, and I let him. He learned how to play baseball -- he would shoot all day and then go take two to three hours of batting practice, and then he’d be up the next morning, before we started to shoot, and run five miles to keep in shape. He was meticulously prepared. He was very secure in his performance, and didn’t take much directing at all.
"Even to this day -- right up to SUSPENDED ANIMATION -- I try to hire actors that don’t require very much directing. I am very wary of the ones who do require a lot, because I think it’s very easy to lose your perspective and mistake obedience for quality, and think that ‘I’m making this performance. I’m getting it out of him,’ and then you look at it later and you see you’ve made a mess, somehow. Taking that many suggestions unsettles an actor, and she or he is not centered any more, and you’ve lost what you got from an his or her confidence. I mean, the idea of a director who breaks ‘em down and builds ‘em back up, I don’t subscribe to that school of working. I have resorted to it several times, and have never been thrilled with the result."

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