Reviving Terror: Inside Lawrie Brewster’s Vision for Amicus Productions

Lawrie Brewster

The United Kingdom was once regarded as a global capital for horror cinema. This golden age was spearheaded by two studios — Amicus Productions and Hammer Films — whose frightening spectacles dazzled and terrified viewers. Hammer became primarily associated with Gothic horror, while Amicus was synonymous with portmanteau features with a moral message. Sadly, all good things must end, but to paraphrase the great Princess Leia, nothing is ever really gone.

The golden age of British horror seemingly died in the 1970s after Amicus and Hammer closed their doors. Granted, there have been many great films to emerge from our little island since then, but gone are the days of the United Kingdom being regarded as a leader in the world of macabre entertainment. However, that might be set to change, as the country’s two most popular studios have been resurrected in 2023, determined to bring back the glory days.

Amicus’s new President, Lawrie Brewster, aims to usher in a new golden age for British horror. Since 2010, he and business partner Sarah Daly have been writing, directing, producing, and distributing ambitious genre features that transcend their budget constraints. From the chilling folk horror of Lord of Tears to the upcoming 1980s-inspired fantasy The Slave and the Sorcerer, their Hex Studios output is a shining beacon of hope in a British horror landscape that sometimes feels devoid of imagination. And now that they’ve brought Amicus back from the dead, the quest to restore the halcyon days of British horror has gained more momentum.

In the Grip of Terror is Amicus Productions’ first film in over 40 years, and it promises to be a throwback to the anthology classics put out by the original iteration of the studio, albeit with a fresh modern sheen. With that in mind, Brewster sat down with our website to share his hopes, ambitions, and plans for the studio moving forward. 

Can you tell us about your relationship with Amicus and classic British horror?

From a young age, I was always captivated by history, and I did indeed study that subject alongside Theology at St. Andrews University. That’s not to say I came from a privileged background like my fellow alumnus, Prince William. Quite the opposite: I hail from Leven and Kirkcaldy in Fife. The former is a bold yet eerie attempt at creating a Scottish version of Blackpool, while the latter is historically known as the Victorian hub of linoleum. These were places where one’s worth was often judged by proficiency with a hammer and a quiet tongue rather than any prowess in Latin or a penchant for reminiscing about the past.

That past was regularly torn down in Kirkcaldy, replaced by cold concrete blocks set against the muted greys of the North Sea. Now, against this backdrop, imagine a child’s wonder when introduced to the vibrant colours and Gothic allure of Hammer or Amicus Productions. The worlds of seductive vampires, the allure of the supernatural, and the stark contrast to the drab reality of Thatcher’s Scotland were mesmerising.

The aristocratic presence of Christopher Lee, the kind-hearted intelligence of Peter Cushing, and the delightful humour and chilling mastery of Vincent Price offered role models far different from those I grew up with. The portrayal of romantic and feminine traits in both male and female characters equally ignited my imagination, influencing my own romantic and artistic inclinations. In these films, I found a universe where my heart could exist freely, without judgment or regret – a world boundless and vibrant yet tinged with the thrill of horror.

I would often reflect on these films as I accompanied my father during his summer shifts as a street cleaner, wondering how I could intertwine them into my own future. It was only in my teenage years that I realised such a world had already ceased to exist in British film long before my time.

What prompted you to resurrect Amicus Productions?

My partner in crime, Sarah Daly, had run a modest horror production company called Hex Studios for many years. It saw a fair level of success, with creative works premiering at festivals globally. We even garnered shiny accolades from some of them, though they occasionally fell short of covering rent or sating my decadent craving for chocolate oranges.

Both Sarah and I held a deep appreciation for the past. Drawing inspiration from her Irish roots, Sarah imparted a folkloric twist to our art, juxtaposed with my distinctively British Gothic lens. Our films, notably Lord of Tears and the sinister Owlman character, solidified our reputation in such a way that the notion of reviving another studio seemed an ambitious leap.

My affection always lay with the films of both Hammer and Amicus Productions. However, while Hammer floundered with its multiple attempts at revival, my thoughts drifted to the unassuming Amicus Productions, spearheaded by the artist Milton Subotsky and businessman Max Rosenberg.

While Hammer mapped out its films in the grandeur of Brae House, Milton found himself encircled by trade paperbacks in a compact porta-cabin outside Shepperton Studios. Hammer undeniably wore the crown of glamour, but Amicus wasn’t without its own shining moments. One only has to gaze upon the likes of Stephanie Beacham in And Now the Screaming Starts! or Charlotte Rampling in Asylum. But there was something inherently gritty about Amicus, a sort of underdog charm. Their films, despite their modest budgets, stood out, often through the sheer strength of their scripts.

If it sounds like I’m flying the flag for the underdog, well, you’ve hit the nail on the head. This underdog appeal drew me to Amicus, the Kirkcaldy of Horror: a robust concrete structure adorned by a crimson sash.

Another driving force was my yearning to resurrect a piece of the past, an element now obscured and deeply missed in today’s horror landscape. Modern horror may wave the banner of hashtags and fleeting trends, but there’s an eternal resonance to well-crafted horror tales. It’s found in horror literature and films rooted in that age-old storytelling tradition, far removed from the capricious nature of current pop culture.

Amicus seemed poised to champion this timeless ethos in a manner that Hex Studios couldn’t. And as each year added another grey strand to my locks, this endeavor felt all the more pressing.

How did you go about reviving Amicus Productions?

Amicus Productions belongs to the Subotsky Family and is a registered trademark. I am working closely with them, particularly with Milton Subotsky’s son, Sergei, whom I consider a dear friend. Together, we share a serene vision for restoring Amicus, grounded in the creative and artistic principles that steered its venture into Horror. As President of Amicus Productions — a title that cheekily suggests I should don the uniform of a 1970s banana-republic autocrat — I am striving to establish a vibrant film studio capable of producing multiple feature films each year. Additionally, we’re focused on distribution strategies that prioritise the passion and interests of fans who adore Amicus and the classic era of British Horror.

Of course, this isn’t a solo venture. My Vice President is the remarkable Sarah Daly. But the talent doesn’t end there. We’re backed by the expertise of Michael Brewster, a genuine technical maestro, and Megan Tremethick, our esteemed Amicus ‘It Girl’, who’s already endeared our revival to thousands of fans. Quite inexplicably, she appears far more fetching in a nightie, wielding a candlestick, than I ever could — and she’s also a promising filmmaker in her own right. We boast a medley of skills, ages, and backgrounds, rejuvenating Amicus with fresh vigour, while staying true to its core essence.

Can we elevate Amicus Productions beyond the confines of a portacabin? We can. However, the real challenge isn’t logistics. Today’s filmmaking landscape might be more accommodating for low-budget endeavours, but enduring in the industry remains a formidable task. But I digress! Our main goal is to produce films that uphold and cherish the heritage of Amicus. We’re not trying to surpass the iconic Amicus masterpieces; that’s not our intention. We’re committed to creating films that commemorate the golden age of British Horror, giving due reverence to the esteemed traditions of the past.

Can you explain the financial difficulties in producing a feature film?

Producing a film is no trivial expense, and breathing life back into a film studio, particularly one aiming to handle its own distribution, demands an even heftier financial commitment. So, to answer your question about how much money we need: More than what we have! And, I suspect it shall remain that way until I’m pushing daisies somewhere under a council-managed graveyard, next to a Kirkcaldy chip shop. 

Crowdfunding is the cornerstone of our financial strategy, emblematic of the heart behind our project. Nobody is bringing Amicus Productions back as a quick-rich scheme; it’s a heartfelt mission. That might sound a little maudlin, but it’s a perspective formed from my working as a film producer for over 15 years. Just look at how major studios’ iconoclasm has ruined the value of many intellectual properties, alienating their once passionate fan bases.

Besides crowdfunding, we’re fortunate to have the backing of investors — or, more aptly, match-funding investors. They’ve pledged to bolster our expansion plans in proportion to the grassroots support we rally, an arrangement I deem both fair and prudent.

Given our current trajectory, we’re on course to secure financing for our first film. However, the loftier hurdle lies in procuring a studio space. That’ll keep me busy, right? 

What can viewers expect from the first Amicus film in over 40 years?

The first Amicus Productions horror film in a long while will be titled In the Grip of Terror. This name originated on Milton Subotsky’s own typewriter years ago as a potential title for a portmanteau horror film. It’s a fantastic name, and where better to draw inspiration than from the creative grandfather of Amicus himself?

Additionally, we’ve gleaned invaluable creative input from Milton’s esteemed widow, Fiona Subotsky. Fiona, a Doctor of Child Psychiatry, is also an expert in Gothic Literature, having penned Dracula for Doctors: Medical Facts and Gothic Fantasies. Three of the four tales in our film are based on her suggestions: E.F. Benson’s classic And the Dead Spake, and two stories by Ambrose Bierce, A Diagnosis of Death and A Watcher by the Dead. Naturally, as a newer generation aficionado, I felt compelled to incorporate an H.P. Lovecraft tale, Cool Air. Our adaptations will be inspired by the original stories but won’t adhere too strictly to them, especially since the originals are set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Our films, in contrast, will exist in a whimsical, anachronistic world. This setting will meld elements from the late ‘60s and early ’70s with select modern components, producing a feel that’s nostalgic but, say, wouldn’t refute the existence of a computer. Although the computer prop we might opt for could be an Amstrad CPC 464, but I digress.

As the director, I will serve as our modern-day inferior version of Roy Ward Baker, primarily so that if anything goes wrong, Sergei can help me sky-dive over the North Sea without a parachute. Also, with my dual roles as director and co-producer with Sarah Daly, combined with our talented crew at Hex Studios, we’ve fostered a harmonious film-making family over the years. While I’d love to cameo, I’ll refrain from gracing the first film with my presence. However, you can catch my spirited impression of Orson Welles savouring French Champagne in a skit for our Amicus Kickstarter Video. 

Where will the new Amicus stand in the current horror landscape?

The current mainstream horror landscape seems dominated by corporate fetishisation. It lacks genuine eccentricity, often resembles a shallow imitation of past art house triumphs, and largely churns out formulaic products. Today’s independent horror is largely shaped by a somewhat eclectic group of LA-based trendsetters who, for some reason, never send me a party invite.

If AMC’s Shudder weren’t acting as a sort of LA-based welfare, they might be peeling potatoes with me in Kirkcaldy. But, speaking of Kirkcaldy and the broader UK, we’ve somewhat relinquished the rich legacy of British horror, rooted deeply in our history and literature. There’s a prevailing lack of confidence in real artistry today. British horror films often veer towards the sarcastic, leaning so heavily into self-deprecating humour that it feels like self-flagellation. I yearn for the days when we didn’t have to sit through another plot about ‘Average Joe Jack, stuck in a mundane office role, only to find his colleagues morphing into werewolves during a team-building trip – with nothing but a broom and his mum’s slippers for defence.’ 

I’m blaming Edgar Wright for producing a supposed panacea that consumed the insecure souls of indie British filmmakers. Lots of people love those films, and I’m just a Scottish curmudgeon, to be honest. Still, I feel there’s enough of us rambling outside public libraries in wool coats to sustain the existence of a traditional British Horror Studio. The time is right, and the time is now. It’s time for the past to present a future.

What can you tell us about the new stretch goal?

With regard to our new stretch campaign for Amicus Productions’ In the Grip of Terror, the objectives are two-fold. Firstly, it will help us secure additional funds for the movie, the creation of rewards, and the associated general overheads. However, our more specific and crucial goal is to establish our own fully independent distribution and marketing model. This means that we need extra funds and resources to promote In the Grip of Terror and to create a replicable model that doesn’t involve unfruitful ties with predatory sales agents and distributors. The distribution industry, especially for independent films, is in decline. Those companies that previously profited from physical media aren’t finding their revenues matched by Video on Demand, and they’re shifting the burden, often unfairly, onto filmmakers.

There’s no viable future for Amicus, or Hex Studios for that matter, if their destinies are linked to a business model and market that is increasingly unstable. Therefore, we aim to forge our own path, and to achieve this, we need the full support of the horror community.

To support Amicus Productions’ revival, please consider supporting our latest stretch goal campaign on Kickstarter.