Clive on Underworld / Transmutations

SAVARY : The drug is euphoric and powerfully hallucenogenic; a superb pain-killer, truly superb. People can do amazing feats of strength under its influence. Unfortunately, the side-effects are unpredictable, and when they're bad, they're terrible. If only it could be made safe...
Of course, I stopped manufacturing it as soon as the problems were confirmed, but by then it was too late - a number of people were already hooked who needed it and I, I'm the only possible source. I'm doing everything I can to cure them, but it's difficult. Not unnaturally, they don't trust me.
BAIN : What are you planning to do with that?
SAVARY : With this? I'm going to introduce you to the joys, and perils, of Lactothiozine - then you too will be dependent upon me.
BAIN : You addicted Nicole, didn't you?
SAVARY : My addiction to Nicole is more painful, I promise you.
BAIN : She's one of them, isn't she?
SAVARY : Curiously, she seems to be immune to the side-effects - she's just as beautiful as ever. She gives her dreams away, doesn't she? And I sometimes wonder how real she could make those dreams if she put her mind to it. She gives me hope that there's some future for this drug.

Transcript as filmed, by Clive Barker (?) and James Caplin - 103 minute version, 1985

"'Underworld' started with George Pavlou, the director. He asked me to write a screenplay with him, and that's what I came up with. My inspiration came from several different areas, from claustrophobia... film noir, which I love, and basically, a love of both monsters and villains. I was keen to create an environment at once identifiable, yet strange, and we have this labyrinth of sewers that act as a sort of no-man's-land: where someone from above may meet something from below. It's a bit like Dante's 'Inferno', in fact. I'm posing the question, what happens when our dreams go out of control? I have inverted the genre's conventions in that the surface characters, the representatives of society, who, in most horror films, are authoritarian figures, usually scientists or other figures of order and stability, are models of moral depravity. They are criminals, bastards of the first rank. As I've said before, I'm on the monsters' side."

Meet Clive Barker

By Philip Nutman & Stefan Jaworzyn, (i) Fangoria, No 51, January 1986 (ii) Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden

"My major inspiration here was film noir. There is no denying the outright horror elements, but the notions in Underworld are a bit more complicated than your usual fright story. This is 1,000 miles away from stalk and slash, which is an aspect of the exploitation market I can't bear.
"I like low-budget novies - they are usually my favourites, necessity being the mother of invention and all that. We always knew that the film would have a low price tag, so we've kept the special effects in tow, and structured it in such a way that we aren't forced to compromise. I'm constantly startled by what we are squeezing out, considering the financial parameters...
"I'm not a literati. I come at this from the perspective of liking good stories - and one place you get those is movies. Having someone like Ingrid Pitt in Underworld lends more weight to the fiction because of her iconographic qualities."


By Alan Jones, Cinefantastique, Vol 16 Nos 4 and 5, October 1986

"I had met George at a dinner party. All we talked about were movies. He wanted to direct them and I wanted to write them. It seemed a perfect match as we could learn the ropes together - the basis being the possibility of us both becoming a unit - so I said, let's do a gangster versus mutants horror picture...
"They had pitched Underworld to their backers as a one and a half hour rock video and in my view they had got their money under false pretences. There was clearly a misapprehension over what the movie was all about - they told me they wanted a horror movie and then took all the horror out!"

Blood And Cheap Thrills

By Alan Jones, Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden (Note: this is a complete 1991 rewrite/update of the Rawhead Rex article from Cinefantastique, Vol 17, No 2, March 1987)

"It came as a great shock, when I did my first screenplay, to find that, basically, once they got it, the studio cat was more important than I was. Then they (the producers) could go away and assume that even though they didn't write, and though their grasp of narrative was a good deal shakier than mine, that they could then go ahead and make considerable changes on a day-to-day basis. That's... that's irritating!"

Catching Up With Clive Barker

By Stanley Wiater, (i) Fangoria, No 55, June 1986 (ii) Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden

"My first encounter with movie-making was being approached by a friend of a friend who wanted to make a movie, a horror movie, and I was the only person he knew who was remotely literate. And I came up with an idea which I thought was rather good. It was very schlocky. It was monsters versus mobsters, the idea being that I would take a little bit of the Godfather and mix it up with some monsters and we would have a set-to.
"The movie manifested itself as Transmutations. About halfway through the second draft, I was called up by the producers who said, "You know, the trouble with your screenplay is that it's a horror movie...' And I said, 'Yes, that's it. That's what you hired me to write' and they said, 'Well, yes. But we've promised our producers a rock musical...' It was one of those moments when you realise this is the way everyone said the movies were going to be and now they are. And if you look at the movie, there's this horrible compromise where everything is suddenly turned into a bad, bad, bad MTV video."

The Art Of Horror

By Christopher Holland, video documentary The Art of Horror, 1992

"It was made for a very small amount of money with a great deal of style and a disco score... It was never seen! That's why it didn't end my career."

A Little Bit Of Hamlet

Barker at UCLA 25 February 1987, by Dennis Etchison, Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden

"I've said that I think there are seven lines of mine left in 'Underworld', and they actually killed different characters than I had killed in my script. They wanted a fantasy writer and they hired a horror writer."

No Apologies

By John Wooley, Bloody Best of Fangoria, No 7, 1988

"The thing about fantastic fiction is that it makes flesh of metaphor. I hope with 'Underworld' to embody that; here are people whose dreams are made flesh and are suffering for it. But we, the audience, desperately want them to survive because they teach us about ourselves - our dreams and hopes. Unfortunately, this subtext has been pared down due to the budget. In the original ending of the script, Bain returns from the underworld, and there was a sequence in which... he is visibly deteriorating because he wants to return there. He relinquishes all desire for life and eventually he does return there, to the place where his life has meaning, and Nicole, the strange girl he loves, is waiting for him. I've always wanted to do a film noir with monsters. To do something that was stylish, poetic and frightening, in which the morally deplorable characters had their act together in nice three-piece suits - in other words, they were respectable - and the creatures who were worthy of our attention are a lot like a quick trip to Hell. Our hero is stuck between the overworld and the underworld: between a world which is brutal and superficially, glossily attractive - a world of money and influence - and an underworld which is physically filthy and repulsive but which contains the one woman he has ever loved. It's a fundamental noir problem - how do you distinguish the monsters with the smiles from the creatures who are worthy? I was intrigued by that element and I also find the idea that we have a world beneath which another life exists fascinating. The rational encounters the absurd, its distorted mirror image, in the imaginative process. The drug theme of the movie makes that explicit and we are asking what happens when our dreams go out of control, thus we have characters caught between both worlds. Personally, I find something very satisfying about a metaphorical structure like that."

Gangsters vs. Mutants

By Philip Nutman, (i) Fangoria, No [ ], 19[87] (ii) Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden (EDITED)

"They [the producers] were making these movies ['Rawhead Rex' and 'Underworld'] promising me the world and delivering nothing. They were cutting the scripts left, right and centre. Everything that could have been wrong with the way that they handled the stuff was wrong. Later on I discovered that the producers, one of the producers in particular, thought that the stuff I had written was just sick and depraved. They basically scorned the whole idea of even being in business with me. They just didn't get the movies. They didn't understand the point I was trying to make. It was just a nightmare. They had no passion for the material. They had no desire to make anything that was fresh or original or good or classy."

Lord Of Illusions - Filming The Books Of Blood

By Michael Beeler, Cinefantastique, Vol 26 No 2, February 1995

"There was a company in England that, this is before the Books of Blood were even published, came to me and said, 'we know you write these horror stories, we hear they're really good.' I had an idea for a movie which was going to be mobsters meet monsters, that was the whole idea, what would happen if you got a gang of monsters who were mutants of various kinds meeting mobsters. I thought that was a kind of neat idea. Then I wanted to make a kind of hard-nosed, kind of stylised, noirish piece of work. They called it Underworld and it got turned into a movie which is now known in America as Transmutations. It was directed by a guy who had no flair whatsoever for either monster-making or gangster stuff. It was sold by its producers to the money men as a kind of rock video, I think. And the result was this terrible movie called Transmutations.
"I said to them, 'look, this is not a good movie,' and they said, 'well, we know we didn't get it right but we'll get it more right next time. Write a screenplay of Rawhead Rex for us.'"

Rawhead Rex - The Creator

By [ ], Dread, No 6, 1992

"I thought it would be really great to have guys in really nice three-piece suits packing Uzis up against creatures from the depths who happen to be malformed only because they were using a drug which these gangs have put out in the first place. Their dreams were manifesting themselves as physical things, so I wanted real surrealism. I wanted a guy who dreamed he was a tree and was growing into a tree, all kinds of weird stuff... I finished the screenplay; they said it needed tits and car chases. I did one rewrite, then they took it off me and they wrote in tits and car chases. There were seven of my lines left; they even killed different people. One thing I'm proud of - I plot well, I plot tightly. If a character appears on page three he has a purpose on page ninety-three, otherwise he isn't on page three. So it's really irritating when they kill a different villain. I had a great scene where the villain of the piece has these dreams and nightmares manifest themselves through him physically. He was forced by the monsters to take some of his own drug - he was a doctor, and all the way through we'd seen him using hypodermics on people. These pricks appeared on his face one by one and hypodermics pushed through so his face became a mass of needles - an image I finally used in Hellraiser, of course."


By Brigid Cherry, Brian Robb and Andrew Wilson, Nexus, No 4, November-December 1987

...other comments

NICOLE : Where am I?
NYGAARD : Welcome to the Underworld
NICOLE : Who are you?
NYGAARD : I'm Nygaard.
ORIEL : I'm Oriel.
NYGAARD : This is Dudu.
DUDU : But my friends call me Shitface.

Transcript as filmed, by Clive Barker (?) and James Caplin - 103 minute version, 1985

Kevin Attew : "Even before Barker's books had been published, Pavlou had brought us a 15-page synopsis of Underworld which crystallised our faith in his potential."

Rawhead Rex

By Alan Jones, Cinefantastique, Vol 17, No 2, March 1987

George Pavlou : "In Underworld, you'll find elements of Joe Dante's work, Spielberg, Italian cinema - especially Dario Argento's Suspiria and Inferno - and, of course, David Cronenberg. The lighting, for example, is very Argento influenced...
"Clive wrote this especially for me as a film project, and right from the start we paid great attention to the visual aspects. I told him, as he was preparing to write the screenplay, to think of highly stylised films like Chinatown and Inferno, because I really wanted to try to control as many creative elements as possible. We would like to go further with some aspects, such as the costumes and makeups, but the budget and schedule are too restrictive in that respect. Still, I think we are achieving something different."

Gangsters vs. Mutants

By Philip Nutman, (i) Fangoria, No [ ], 19[87] (ii) Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden (EDITED)

Steven Berkoff : "I think it's going to be one of the masterpieces of British cinema. I have the greatest hopes for it - I think it's going to be a box-office bonanza. It employs fantasy, reality and topical topics - a touchy, truculently testing and titillating tip of a tectonic society. Sometimes I get hooked on one letter, and then I make a whole sentence out of that one letter.
"I think Underworld is going to be great, as it's a very unusual kind of gangster-science fiction-fantasy film - I think the combinations of things are what make things successful. When people dare to juxtapose opposites. Mostly they don't dare: sf is sf, gangster fiction is gangster fiction, documentary is North country poor kid gets a girl in trouble. Everything is very simple-minded. Here the guy has mixed everything up...
"Motherskille is a gross, ugly, barbarous, earthy, bulbous bucolic bastard basking banally in his brothels. He's your typical East End villain, but more manic, you know?"

He Ain't Heavy

By Neil Gaiman, Knave, Vol 17 No 6, [June] 1985

Pavlou's 'bonsai' or Barker's 'That Which 
Can Be Imagined Need Never Be Lost'?

Peter Litten (Make-up FX) : "Initially, George Pavlou came to us with a selection of artwork depicting some of his ideas. But they were very weird and would have taken far too long to do. They were great, quite fascinating, but not really practical. There was one illustration of a man with a bonsai tree growing out of his face. It looked great on paper, but it would have been too unbelievable on screen. You must start with an element of realism because audiences will only relate to somethng with a basis in reality. Even so, we had to soften and change some diseases we used as inspiration since they're often totally revolting in real life and the audience would be overwhelmed with disgust and would have had problems sympathising with the characters, who aren't villains."

Coast-to-Coast Gore

By Philip Nutman, Fangoria, No 53, May 1986

Denholm Elliot : "The film is called Underworld and it's about these people called the Underworlders who live in the sewers of London. They've all been turned on by this awful Dr Savary (which is the part I play) to this serum called 'White Man', which allows people to live out their fantasies. However, some people's fantasies aren't all that hot, and they take on physiologically - outside - what in fact is their interior fantasy world. These underworlders are the most grotesque people - covered in foam rubber - popping out everywhere. All of them except this girl who is turned on to the drug but is untouched by it because she is so pure.
"She lures him down to the Underworld, and she says to him, 'Okay Dr Savary, let's have a look at your inner world, shall we?' and she puts the - uh - vibes, the 'fluence, the furies on him. And he starts to disintegrate - first he becomes a human porcupine, with thousands of hypodermic needles popping out, finally he just disintegrates, like Dracula in the sunshine.
"I was three hours in make-up for that scene. I had to wear two masks - one revealing all these facial muscles, like those awful charts you see in doctors' offices. On top of that was stuck another mask, which was me, you see, so the face just looked slightly bigger. When the girl put the 'fluence on me... my hand was wired with bloodpipes, and I had to find the little gap separating the outer mask from the inner one. He's just disintegrating, his flesh is falling off and everything... isn't it lovely to talk about this over lunch? When we did it people were fainting in handfuls.
"It was a heavy scene. It's going to be very frightening. Very frightening. This is a whole new genre for me, horror. It's marvellous to reach a different audience, to play the game with new people. This character, Dr Savary, had to be seedy (as usual) and very scary. That's the card I'm given - 'You've got to scare them' - but you have to scare yourself to do it... After I played that final scene I went home and I had my clothes dry-cleaned and I took a jacuzzi. I felt defiled. I felt dirty. I felt unclean."

The Face Fits

By Neil Gaiman, Knave, Vol 17 No 7, [July] 1985

Pete Atkins : "I've just seen Underworld... it's full of fabulous ideas - mutants under the city vs gangsters, designer drugs that give you dreams and dreams that are made flesh, all good Barkerian stuff. But it was so very badly served. There were plenty of shots in the movie that were good, but... I don't know George Pavlou's background but it looked like a guy who made rock videos and commercials, he was more concerned with lighting people than with telling the story. I'd say this was my main complaint - it was leaden!"


By John Martin, Samhain, N0.10, August / September 1988

Neil Gaiman : "Underworld is a great concept that doesn't work. While it's a good idea to mix genres and extend the bounds of the probable on screen, you need humour, pacing and excellent acting to do it well. With two notable exceptions (Elliott and Berkoff), the cast of Underworld move around like dummies, underplaying like mad, which contrasts oddly with the over-the-top performances of the aforementioned twosome. With better acting, more jokes, purposeful direction and an unemasculated final sequence, it could have been wonderful. Instead, it's a stylish failure, and - perhaps - an indication of something better to come."

Underworld (review)

By Neil Gaiman, Shock Xpress, Issue 3, January/February, 1986

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