Horror fans are a passionate and loyal fanbase. They know their movie history and they love to champion new voices who breathe life into the genre. But many fans might be surprised to know who stands among them spotlighting the nastiest and gnarliest works of terror: a fellow by the name of Mel Brooks.
Everyone regards Brooks as a legend of comedy cinema, and deservedly so, but he is also responsible for kick-starting the careers of two of the most unique (and often times creepy) voices in filmmaking: David Lynch and David Cronenberg. With his BrooksFilm production company, the jokester who gave us 'Blazing Saddles' and 'The Producers' has also exposed audiences to the Gothic freakshow 'The Elephant Man' and the gross-out classic 'The Fly,' along with a variety of sci-fi and horror-themed movies. And most remarkably, he does it without credit.
Moviefone talked with Mel Brooks to discuss the making of 'The Elephant Man' and 'The Fly' -- which just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. But when Mel Brooks talks, you just sit back and listen; he took us on a hour-long conversation about his movies, his love of horror and the off-beat projects he still intends to make.
[Editor's note: For maximum enjoyment, make sure to read Brooks' comments in his unmistakable voice.]
Mel Brooks: Okay. So what do you wanna know?
Moviefone: We have lots to talk about. What prompted you to develop the Brooksfilm production company?
Brooksfilms started with a movie called 'Fatso,' that my late wife Anne Bancroft, wrote and directed. It was just natural for me to support it. I kept my name away from it so that we wouldn't have that Pavlovian issue of saying "Mel Brooks" and expecting a Mel Brooks wacky comedy. So that's where it started.
I got this script for 'The Elephant Man' and I loved it. It was dangerous, but we went ahead and it was very difficult to find somebody. Movie executives read it and said, "You're crazy." A lot of people thought it was tongue-in-cheek, and it would be a comedy about this hapless creature. Michael Eisner who was running Paramount at the time with Jeffrey Katzenberg, called me in for a meeting and said "You're serious?" I said "Yeah, I'm a serious person, you know."
So Eisner and Paramount came up with some money, and I got some foreign money from EMI. [Producer] Stuart Conrnfeld was wonderful in helping me organize Brooksfilms, especially 'Elephant Man' and 'The Fly.' He took me to the NuArt, a crazy movie house on Santa Monica Boulevard. I didn't wanna see it, but 'Pink Flamingos,' we had to see that 20 times. We saw David Lynch's uh...
Was it 'Eraserhead'?
Oh yeah, you know it! We saw his crazy black-and-white, brilliant student film. He really understood the concept of how a baby could destroy a human being through a mother and father. I thought it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
What was your first encounter with David Lynch like?
When I met him, I had to meet him at Bob's Big Boy. It was somewhere in the Valley and I walk in: "Hi Mel!" -- he looked like Lindbergh wearing a leather flying jacket. I just kept thinking "this guy is a very artistic and creative Charles Lindbergh."
He wanted to build the Elephant Man face and head, and he started to, when I said "I'm not gonna let you do that. I want you to concentrate on writing the screenplay and work on your shots." We worked a long time.
The subject matter was just ridiculous, nobody wanted to do it and secondly, they said, "Well who's this guy? David Lynch? What are you crazy?" [Laughs] "You want us to get involved in this movie and you don't even have a director we can trust or even know."
So it was very, very difficult but we did it and along came 'The Fly' further down the line.
What drew you to this new interpretation of 'The Fly'?
There was a guy called George Langelaan, I'll never forget, with two A's. He wrote a short story about a different concept of 'The Fly,' more based on metamorphosis than the really funny "Vincent Price steps into the chamber and half of him becomes a fly."
That's what excited Stuart; he loved the idea of metamorphosis. He kept talking about "instead of the normal compliment of sugar that people would put in, it would be bizarre and weird that this character puts 15 sugars in his coffee." I said, "Is that bordering on funny?" and Stuart said "No, no, no."
We really worked on a concept and got [screenwriter] Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg himself. When I saw 'The Dead Zone,' I said "who the hell is this guy?" He was remarkable; that was my first exposure to him and I continued to follow his work. Cronenberg and Lynch are two of my favorite filmmakers of all time.
A lot of their fans may not realize this, but you are very instrumental in the success of both Lynch and Cronenberg's careers.
Well if their name is David I usually hired them. I like Davids. Cronenberg was very much like David Lynch in that he could be very entertaining, and superbly artistic at the same time. He was a pleasure to work with... the only thing was we had to go up to Toronto. I lived in Toronto for awhile shooting up there, and I'm not a big... they don't have a lot of crazy food up in Toronto, but they're nice.
How did you go about assembling the talent involved in 'The Fly'?
I couldn't sell Fox on Jeff Goldblum. First of all, they thought it's a leading character, and I said, "Yeah, but he's a great character actor, you don't want a leading man." I offered it to a few people when Fox said "you got to get a bit of a star" -- but nobody would do it.
When Jeff jumped at it, he understood immediately that this was great stuff. He turns out to be the very best one in the world who could play this part because of his insane, crazy nonstop telegraphic reading. Nobody could think and talk as fast as Jeff Goldblum.
Geena Davis hadn't done much. She had done 'Transylvania 65000,' by Rudy De Luca -- he was in a lot of my movies; he played the stainless steel mouth guy in 'High Anxiety.' He recommended her when we were putting 'The Fly' together as being really talented. In the dialogue, there's a line where Geena says, "No, be afraid, be very afraid" and I thought, "What a great line." We used that line in the poster and the advertising, "Be afraid, be very afraid."
Stuart and I worked without credit to make sure that it made sense and it was eerie and fascinating, but possible. David's a little like Hitchcock. He knew what he wanted to shoot, he wasn't getting lucky on the set. He had a very good beginning, middle, and end in his head of how to shoot it. I think it was Cronenberg's best movie. He has a very small bit in it actually. He's on camera, he plays a gynecologist.
Yeah, he delivers the maggot in the dream sequence.
Good for you that you knew that. Chris Walas did the creature effects. Guy doesn't just step into this transference chamber and get the head of a fly. Slowly but surely you see him, his physical stature is amazing as he moves along until it becomes truly horrible. Chris is a brilliant, brilliant make-up guy. He won an Academy Award.
And don't forget Howard Shore! We helped kick off his big, big career. David discovered Shore; he did 'Scanners' and 'Videodrome' and Shore was there just trying his wings. He was really moody and brooding and strange. Dissonant and very melodic. Now he's has gone on to be a superstar.
Howard was nominated for a Saturn award and I won a Saturn award. With the nerds and geeks and wackos and sci-fi maniacs, they're a great, great group. We had 'Young Frankenstein' touring out here and they gave me a Saturn award and I was very moved. I had won many awards, but this was good because I know how crazy and sharp you guys are, and about what you care about.
Click here forpart two of our interview with Mel Brooks, and hear his thoughts on how to properly kill a zombie, getting 'The Fly' back in theaters and the surprising dream project he still wants to make.
Follow Moviefone on Twitter
Like Moviefone on Facebook