Published as the cover in The Music (WA, NSW, VIC, QLD) and on theMusic.com.au, Feb 2015
WALRUS AT HEART
Only actor/director Kevin Smith could have you laughing while consumed by suffocating horror. Daniel Cribb dissects his latest comedy horror offering, Tusk, its two planned sequels and the pending Clerks finale.
Although it’s a fairly basic concept, few have nailed the dialogue-heavy film format like Kevin Smith has, and since he burst onto the scene with his debut, Clerks, back in 1994, he’s honed the skill to perfection.
With a cult following keeping a close eye on his every move since that black and white classic was released, it’s no surprise feature film, Tusk, the first in a trilogy of comedy horrors, came to fruition through a sea of Twitter encouragement following an episode of Smith’s podcast, SModcast, in June 2013. In the episode, titled The Walrus And The Carpenter, he discussed with co-host Scott Mosier an article on Gumtree where a homeowner was offering free accommodation to anyone willing to dress up and act as a walrus every day for a period of time. “Tusk, you know, went from a podcast to a movie in six months – a dopey conversation with my friend to me standing on a set going, ‘Action!’, and there’s Justin Long dressed like a fucking walrus,” a spritely Smith tells.
“This was a stupid idea that came out of a podcast and we literally could’ve let it die like so many conversations you have with your friends, but instead we took it all the way, motherfucker! All the way to a movie theatre. To a legit fucking cinematic release and shit.”
Tusk tells the story of podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) heading to Canada to interview a kid made famous after he cut his own leg off making a Kill Bill video. Bryton arrives to discover his interviewee has taken his own life and then sets out to find another interestingly weird and marvellous story for his show. He stumbles across a handwritten flyer that offers free accommodation from a gentleman named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who has a lifetime of worldly stories on offer. Howe, however, is an insane psychopath who has spent years trying to turn people into walruses to fulfill a sick fantasy, and Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) has been hunting him for the majority of his killing spree.
“It’s a weird fucking movie,” Smith admits. “It’s a stupid movie that shouldn’t exist, but it’s fucking fascinating to watch, either ‘cause you’re rooting for it or because you see it as a train wreck. But it’s just bat shit, and that makes me so happy.
“Tusk was a real fucking educational experience. It felt like I didn’t really have the college experience. I didn’t really do the whole school thing, I dropped out, never really had an experimental period to figure out who I was as an artist, just hit the ground running with Clerks and all of a sudden I had a job. So now, later in life, it’s nice to be middle-aged and fucking shake it up. It’s the shit I might’ve done as a stupid kid, and now I get to do it as a stupid middle-aged guy.”
But a solid cast didn’t quite yield a box office success. “Tusk didn’t do well over here theatrically,” Smith admits, surprisingly proud. “A lot of people were like, ‘Who did you make this movie for?’ And that’s the weird thing, like, you’re making a movie for an audience that doesn’t exist… Tusk, to me, never seemed like much of a big theatrical proposition, I didn’t think it was going to reinvent cinema, but the fact that we got into a movie theatre is the fucking triumph.
“The home video aspect of this is way more exciting to me than theatrical, ‘cause theatrical, I never score big at. I didn’t think it was going to be it. But now, an audience will get to see it – far more people than who saw it theatrically.”
Tusk is only the first instalment in the True North trilogy, with its follow-up, Yoga Hosers, currently in production and the finale, Moose Jaws, set for release in 2016. “With Yoga Hosers we’re basing it on two little girls in a convenience store – one’s my kid [Harley Quinn Smith], one is Johnny Depp’s kid [Lily-Rose Depp] – and Johnny Depp is playing Guy Lapointe again, and I’m in it too.
“Originally it was going to be Jason Mewes playing all the little rubber villains, but he couldn’t wear the rubber. When they put the prosthetics on, he freaked out and tore them off, so after a couple of hours it was kind of clear that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. He’s got claustrophobia issues and whatnot, because when he was a kid, his mum would go to the heroin house and lock him in a closet while she’d go off and dose, so he has real claustrophobia issues… I was all, ‘Alright, I’ll do it!’ So there’s rubber in that movie, and I’m buried in it; it looks fucked up. I look so weird in it, it looks so funny.”
Despite never being a hit at the box office, Smith’s got a steady career and is married with a daughter, obviously, which is great, but as he points out, it also means he’ll never be able to produce another film like classics Chasing Amy or Dogma. “Happy people don’t make great art, it’s just that simple. They can make weird art, though, and so that’s where I was like, ‘Fuck, maybe I’ll start making weird art.’ I can’t make the kind of movies I used to make when I was a kid, I’ll never be able to make another Chasing Amy… Fuck, I hope not; Chasing Amy came from a place of terrible pain and trying to come to grips with relationships and whatnot, and I hope to God I don’t make another one because that would mean that something happened in my marriage.”
Turning away from personal experiences for inspiration allowed Smith a new sense of creativity to surface and experiment with different special effects. “I realised at a certain point that not every director works like I do, they don’t just sit there and coast on shit from their real life and change all the names. Some people make things up, like George Lucas didn’t go to high school with a bunch of Wookies – he made them up.
“One of the things I always wanted to fuck around with a lot was rubber. I loved prosthetics and stuff like that – rubber special effects. We did a little bit in Dogma but I never got to do as much as I wanted to.”
Love or hate the direction of the True North trilogy, it’s what’s funded the third and final Clerk film, which is set to begin filming mid-2015 and deviates from the first two films’ themes, finding a darker anchor around which to revolve. “Clerks III is about middle age and how dreams don’t always come true and the ones that do don’t always wind up being what you want… The aspect of Clerks that I now find most interesting is Dante and Randal ageing and trying to fucking maintain their identity as they get middle-aged and closer to the end.
“Just as Clerks and Clerks II were snapshots of who I was and my life – those two Clerks being me in my 20s and me in my 30s – this one is definitely me in my 40s, kind of getting to the point where the fun is over. How do you maintain who you are in the face of a world that changes so fast that it left you behind a long time ago?”