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Steven Seagal: AGAINST THE DARK

Feb 27th, 2009
An Exclusive Interview With Screenwriter Mathew Klickstein

Reading the synopsis for Against the Dark, one gets the impression that this sort of balls-out, post-apocalyptic gore-fest was a tailor-made vehicle for sneering action-film legend Steven Seagal. I mean, if you close your eyes and imagine that a Katana master named Tao has to lead a ragtag band of young folks through a groady hospital chock-full of virus-rabid vampires, you can almost see Steven right there, sputtering out deep-grumble dialogue fragments and slashing the undead with an above-the-law ferocity.

Yet when we sat down with Against the Dark screenwriter Mathew Klickstein, we learned that there just might be more to this midnight-rental B movie than meets the eye. Well, either that or the venom from Seagal’s vampire bites had already spread to our circulatory system.

I can’t resist: How does it feel to have written a Steven Seagal movie?

I’m ambivalent about it, truthfully. I’ve never been a huge fan of his. As it is for most people, the appeal I found in him lies in the realm of kitsch. I mean, there was definitely a period after college where I got really into Marked for Death and Above the Law. In fact, for a while, they became part of my life. Pee-Wee from The Kids of Widney High [a group Klickstein has been involved with for years: Check them out here] became obsessed with these movies, so they were on all the time.

Did you actually set out to write a Steven Seagal movie?

No. That was never my intention.

What was your original vision for Against the Dark?

It was twofold, really. The movie’s co-producer, Tore Knos, really enjoyed an early screenplay of mine, but when he and I met about it, he realized that it would have been too difficult for a young producer to make. Not long after that, though, he came to me with the intent to collaborate on a low-budget horror film that would be both easy to make and sell: No big special effects, not a lot of characters, one location on one night.

The concept was born – our original title was Last Night.

We noodled around ideas for a while, then came to the concept of a movie featuring ‘realistic vampires’. You know, a post-apocalyptic world, a group of survivors stuck in a hospital…

I really wanted to keep it tense and frightening. I was interested in the psychology of people in a situation like this: What kind of nightmares they’d have, what a set of characters like this do when they’re too afraid to commit suicide. I was interested in their existential fear rather than their fear of the events at hand, and that was something that I hadn’t seen developed in a long time.

Basically, I wanted to make an extended Twilight Zone episode.

What kind of movies did you draw inspiration from while you put the script together?

I’ve been intrigued by movies like this forever. Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight was a big influence on the first draft of Last Night. And Night of the Living Dead, obviously.

Another big influence was the novella I am Legend by Richard Matheson, in the way it dealt with the reality and psychology of the world it describes. That’s what I like about Philip K. Dick stories: They’re less about action than they are about the psychological tendencies involved with a story’s situations. I thought that was something lacking in modern horror – especially horror movies.

How does the final film compare to your original screenplay?

It was completely rewritten. Steven Seagal and his military entourage as they are in the film were never part of my original version. It’s three movies, actually: There’s my movie, there’s Steven’s movie and there’s the typical do-we-bomb-or-do-we-not military stand-off movie.

Would you ever write another movie for Steven Seagal?

Well, it would depend on the paycheck. I was being bicameral in writing Against the Dark - I wanted to make something interesting, unique and fun, but [Tore and I] needed to put something together that would sell. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very thankful – even though they could have injected Seagal’s presence into the film in a much more seamless fashion, had he not be on the cover of the DVD, the movie wouldn’t have been released the way it has. The movie is a success because of him.

What’s it like to read so much fanboy hubbub about the film online?

It brings up a kaleidoscope of emotions, really. Truthfully, from day one, it has inspired a bolstering sense of excitement in me. Whether these people are bashing the movie or not, they’re talking about a movie I wrote, and that’s exciting.

How do you feel about the film’s less-than-stellar critical reception?

Actually, I had been told by so many people – from those who were high up in the production of the film to friends of mine - who had seen it said it was unwatchable. I thought it wasn’t that bad. I’ve definitely seen worse.

What are the best and worst reviews you’ve read for the movie so far?

There are two or three reviews that were passionately elated by the gore and violence and blood and guts of Against the Dark, which I agree with. I was impressed with the blood and guts. They went for it, and I was excited to see that. That was a large part of my original vision.

Obviously, the people who don’t like the movie seem to be disappointed that Steven would be involved with ‘a movie like this’, and that is simply an oxymoron. Most Steven Seagal movies are just poorly made films. He hasn’t made a Rocky, he hasn’t made a Terminator. Steven has never even seemed to try to act – he’s never really had to. It has always been about being the badass in the beret and ponytail – he has always been a cliché.

Do you consider Against the Dark to be Seagal’s best film?

Absolutely. He’s never made a movie like this before. Since day one, he’s made the same movie over and over. Here, though, he’s not only a martial arts expert with a big sword, but the movie presents something different for him. And the fact that he’s expanding his repertoire speaks volumes about the movie.

The most important thing for me is that I’m proud it was made and that people are watching it, even if they’re not enjoying it. I’m hopeful that it’s not the apogee of my career, that it’s my Piranha 2, my Roger Corman film. I have a lot more to offer, but we’ll see.

For Against the Dark Trailers, Clips and More, Visit the Film's Page at:

Shock Till You Drop

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daniel carr February 16, 2010
daniel carr
19 millenium place
cahir
co.tipperary
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