FILM / Cut from the scenes of the crime: John McNaughton makes movies about murderers. It's enough to make you sick, says Sheila Johnston

You wouldn't exactly say that John McNaughton's films were sleazy but . . . The Borrower was a sci-fi thriller about an alien whose head keeps exploding and who has to 'borrow' a series of new ones from his human hosts. The Chicago Tribune wrote of it, 'McNaughton has emerged as the most spectacularly pessimistic film- maker to come along since the heyday of the film noir masters in the Fifties.' Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll showcased Eric Bogosian (he of Talk Radio fame) and his glorious cavalcade of scumbags.

Then there was his notorious first film, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a dank, deadpan, provocatively unmoralistic piece about an everyday psychopath. Its chequered history is well- known - unable to get a rating, it languished unseen in America for three years. Eventually a cassette was sent to Martin Scorsese, who thought it was the best debut film he'd seen for 10 years and hired McNaughton to direct Mad Dog and Glory.

And even this, a dollars 22m budget studio picture starring Robert De Niro, Bill Murray and Uma Thurman, lingers in the rancid world of Chicago homicide (De Niro plays a nerdy crime-scene photographer). 'I see the stories as entirely different, but the world they take place in is fairly similar - it's the modern, urban, American world, which is a pretty bad place,' says McNaughton, who grew up on Chicago's working-class South Side, and retains a base in the Windy City, at a safe remove, geographically and artistically, from Hollywood. Richard Price, the writer of Mad Dog (and Sea of Love) has described him as 'very committed to being an artistic outsider, to being on the edge as much as he can'.

Researching Mad Dog was not an edifying experience. 'I went out with the cops four or five times. They only respond to homicide, so there would always be a corpse or two involved. You'd have to turn off to it real quickly, which is what they do. One time there was this guy lying on the bed in this apartment with his head hanging off the edge of the mattress. It had been beaten in with a hammer which was lying on the floor. And then he'd been strangled with the phone cord.

'Whoever had killed him had taken a little ashtray and put it under his head to protect the carpet from the drippings. He'd been there three days, they estimated, and it was a very hot summer in Chicago and the air conditioning wasn't on . . . I think there's no smell as repulsive as a rotting human corpse. The TV had been left on and Patrick Swayze was doing Dirty Dancing and on the night table was a copy of The Silence of the Lambs. Strange contrasts, but the strangest was standing in a room with one of the biggest movie stars in the world and a dead guy.'

The cops were used to touring film crews and would put on a little dog and pony show. 'They have books of 'The Best of' and take you through them. We saw a picture of a young woman who jumped out of a skyscraper in Manhattan and half-way down she struck a railing and her intestines snagged, and there's another 20 storeys of intestines. They'll stand around and watch you looking at the photographs and if you don't gag or throw up after about five minutes, they'd go Aw] and walk away.

'Having done so many special effects, for us it's like looking through an issue of Fangoria - 'Wonder how they did that one?' We probably have a more macabre fascination with it than a lot of people. But it was different to go on an actual scene and see a human being with a bullet through his head.'

There isn't too much congealed blood in Mad Dog; it's more of a quirky character comedy. And it has garnered very divided reviews. The film certainly has its supporters - Variety called it 'a pleasurably offbeat picture that manages the rare trick of being both charming and edgy'. But you get the definite feeling that McNaughton has toned down his oddness, as with the murder which opens the film. 'People at crime scenes never get to see the actual crime, they always see the aftermath. So for them it happens 'in the dark', some other place, some other time. Our initial intent was to have it happen in total black with audio only. But the film was too big to do that.' (They settled for monochrome instead.)

And they've had a spot of bother with the ending, which had to be reshot after the film tested badly at previews. Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the music, suggested in the Chicago Tribune that they weren't comfortable with a big Hollywood movie. 'Left on their own I suspect they would have made a harder-edged picture.'

But the film still has something of a bite to it - it has annoyed some people mightily for its central plot device: De Niro saves the life of Bill Murray's crazy mixed-up gangster and, in return, is sent Uma Thurman ('I'm like a seven-day singing telegram) as a gift for a week. It's a (vastly more sophisticated) variant on the Indecent Proposal / Honeymoon in Vegas / Pretty Woman riff.

'We knew there would be some flak, but unfortunately the world is not a politically correct place. And we should think: what is a film, what is dramatic? Murder, incest, rape: these are subjects that film deals with and perhaps defuses. It depends how you deal with the material.

'The whole idea of political correctness, to me, is the equivalent of the thought police. Even with A River Runs through It, there were complaints because it showed people smoking cigarettes. I have no patience with that. Some of John Hughes' pictures I've liked, and Spielberg's. This is where they choose to work because this is where their sensibility lies. But, as Martin Scorsese says, 'I love Steven's pictures, but we shouldn't all have to make them.' '

'Mad Dog and Glory' opens on 2 July. 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' is released on video by Electric Pictures.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?