The Eliminator

(Originally published in Boston Magazine, November 1996)

And if you see vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme…

The Boston Film Festival has left town, but the words “The Eliminator” can still be seen, spray-painted and stencilled in bright green paint on the sidewalks of Newbury Street. These are the mysterious traces left by three brilliant young Irishmen, who came to Boston for a few days in September with their first film: the 22-year old director, Enda Hughes; the star, Michael Hughes; and their publicist, Peter Johnson. “Street marketing, street theater,” says Peter, who is wearing a Druid Theater T-shirt when we all meet for dinner at the Cottonwood Cafe after the screening of The Eliminator, their first film. “It’s a participation sport.”

The movie, which was a big hit this summer at the Galway Film Fleadh and is now making the rounds of international film festivals, seems well on its way to becoming a cult classic. It begins as a cop thriller, then turns into a spy movie, then a horror movie with flesh-eating zombies, then a mythical epic, and finally achieves transcendence with an ironic evocation of William Butler Yeats‘ great line of poetry, “A terrible beauty is born.”

And all this on a budget of 8,000 pounds (about 12,000 dollars)!

Indeed, one of the charms of The Eliminator is watching it achieve the effects of multi-million dollar Hollywood movies on a shoestring. “If you don’t have the budget, you have to be very creative,” says director Enda Hughes, who worked as a nightclub DJ to raise his half of the 8,000 pounds. “The movie was shot in ten weeks, but it took two years to make because we had no money. We came back and edited it for ten weeks during down-time in the Windmill Lane studios in Dublin. It’s U2’s post-production studio, so there’s fan graffiti all over it, and they let us use it during down-time.”

The Hughes brothers come from Keady, in South Armagh. “It was a rough area in the troubles,” says Enda. “It was called Bandit Country. We got into movies to escape. In Galway, the movie theater is called the Cameo; the design is very 1950’s. It’s my own little La Scala. I think about movies from the minute I wake up until the minute I sleep.”

The movie was a family affair. The star is Enda’s brother, Michael, and the production design, visual effects, and stunts were all done by their cousin Dennis O’Hare, who couldn’t come to Boston for the event. “My first movie was a super-8 half-hour remake of Indiana Jones,” says Enda. “Dennis and Michael and I — there were three of us involved, and there’d be two of us in any given shot, and one behind the camera.” It was Michael, who acted in Shakespearean dramas while he was a student at Oxford and studied theater in Paris, who came up with the idea of reading from Leabharna Marbhwith, the Celtic Book of Necromancy, to raise the ghosts of Finn MacCuhal, St. Patrick, and the legendary Cuchullain at the end of the movie. “In Northern Ireland, everything is referenced to the past,” says Michael. “We consider ourselves art terrorists,” says Enda. “Because Northern Ireland is a pretty crazy place.”

One name that appears often in the closing credits is Rosemary Hughes.

“Our Mom,” says Enda proudly. “She’s lovely. She’s great. She’s very supportive of our movie-making. And she helped with the catering. The special effects. She made all the gory stuff that the zombies are eating. She made it from strings of red licorice, and bananas mushed up with cream and yogurt and red food coloring. And I understand from the zombies that it was very tasty.”

by Rebecca Nemser for

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