Horror Heroes Unite! Part One
What could be scarier than getting Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, the Tall Man and the Djinn all in one room?
By: Anthony C. Ferrante
Published in Fanorgia #200.
If we were still in the Famous Monsters of Filmland generation, the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Vincent Price might have been assembled for a roundtable session discussing their importance as horror icons and how they influenced a generation with their instantly identifiable roles.
But for the FANGORIA generation—those who grew up in the late ’70s and ’80s—Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolf Man have been replaced by the likes of Freddy, Jason, the Tall Man, Pinhead and the Djinn. And what better occasion than Fango #200 to gather the actors who have portrayed these modern monsters—Robert (A Nightmare on Elm Street) Englund, Kane (Friday the 13th) Hodder, Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm, Doug (Hellraiser) Bradley and Andrew (Wishmaster) Divoff—for a panel conversing about their roles in shaping current horror? Gathered at the KNB EFX company’s new supershop in Van Nuys, CA last November, the actors talked candidly about how their careers have been affected by their roles, how the characters have changed over the years and the tricks of not losing what it takes to truly scare an audience. (The Britain-based Bradley was interviewed separately during an LA visit a month earlier, and his answers incorporated into the following piece.)
FANGORIA: Phantasm was really the first of the modern wave of horror movies in which an actor was identified for a lead villain role. I’m sure when you made this movie, you never thought that 20 years later, we’d still be talking about it.
ANGUS SCRIMM: I don’t think any of us did. Avco Embassy was extremely smart about publicity, and they did 36 prints initially and sent us on five or six different trips for local releases around the country. I remember saying to [director] Don [Coscarelli] one time on a plane, “Kids are going to see this, and 20 years from now they will be coming up to us saying how much they were scared by it, just as I remember Karloff and Lugosi when I was 12 or 13.” The first time I really felt like “Gosh, even I’m going to get some recognition” was when I was coming out of a theater in Washington D.C., and some kid came up who had the first still picture I had ever seen from the movie and asked us to autograph it as we were climbing into a limo to go on to the next engagement. Well, obviously it’s the one thing I am known for, so I’m very grateful for it. The other films I’ve done have had far less impact.
FANG: A Nightmare on Elm Street, in some ways, was the next step for the horror genre in 1984. Did you realize you were doing something unique at the time?
ROBERT ENGLUND: When we did the film, I had no idea it was going to be special. We ran out of money just before the end of it. It was extremely low-budget, and I knew we were on to something, but I didn’t know if anyone would see it. What people forget is that it had a limited release – it was [initially] only released on the East Coast. Thank God for Fango and the college kids and the punk rock/heavy metal/speed metal hybrid moment of time that was happening on the East Coast, because they all found this movie on their own. It was a totally grassroots phenomenon. You have to remember that the original two Nightmare movies were not forced down people’s throats. They were not oversold and the public was not browbeaten into appreciating them. Like Phantasm, they were discovered by an audience.
FANG: Kane, your identification with the part of Jason is different, since you came into Friday the 13th on its seventh film. There were other Jasons before you, so how did you take a character who had been around for six movies—and covered by a mask—and make him your own?
KANE HODDER: It’s very difficult to take over a role that’s already long-established. It’s much harder than you think, and I’m the only person in this whole group who did not originate the character they’re known for. I always thought it was a great character to play. When I got the job, I decided to really invest myself in the role, because I didn’t think anyone who had previously played the part really tried to do anything with the character. They just thought he was a big zombie walking around killing people. I tried to bring some character traits to him, and evidently it worked, because I was the only one they asked to do a second one—and now I’ve done four of them.
FANG: With that in mind, when did you realize you were first being identified for the role?
HODDER: The single most amazing incident was at a Fango convention. [Friday Part VII director John] Buechler was holding a panel, and I went there for my first horror con. Though I had been a fan, I had never gone to one before. I just walked into the auditorium to listen to Buechler talk about his new film. He showed some trailers, had some props and things and he saw me come in. I don’t think it was planned, but he saw me sit down and said, “By the way, the guy who plays Jason in this film is sitting right out there.” He had me stand up and wave, and I sat back down. He talked some more and I decided to go out and look at the dealers’ room, but as I was heading out the door, half the people in the auditorium listening to him were following me. I was like, “What?” They all swarmed. That was the incident that showed me how much of a life change this would be.
FANG: Doug, you must have been the one person least expecting your character to take off, since Pinhead is hardly in the first Hellraiser and isn’t even referred to by name.
DOUG BRADLEY: I was paid union medium wage to do the first one. I had resigned myself to being a monster in a horror movie and that was it. I was really playing a bit part covered in latex when it all came down to it. My character didn’t even have a name, and I’m buried there at the foot of the credits. My name wasn’t on any of the posters. So on that first movie, I was way down on the pecking order. In retrospect, I can’t see how, with that image which is so extraordinary and those wonderful lines Clive gave me in the first movie, we could not think the fans would respond as they did to Pinhead. That’s what happened, though; they were like, “Wait a minute, whoa, what is that? Him we like, and we want more of.”
FANG: Are you grateful for Pinhead?
BRADLEY: If I could change anything, it’s that it would have come 10 years earlier. I wish that the Hellraiser series could have stayed on like the Nightmare on Elm Street films did. The Hellraiser films have had quite a bumpy ride. They started at New World for two movies, and then New World went belly-up. Then there was the hiatus while that got sorted out. Hellraiser III was a Transatlantic Pictures production, and Dimension muscled in to release it. They then got the franchise for Bloodline and Inferno, so that was for Miramax, which is [run by] Disney. So Pinhead works for the Mouse guys. I wish, with the first two films being commercial and critical successes, and there was clearly a big audience for these films, that they would have matched it with a financial commitment. The very nature of horror films is that you can’t spend $50 or $100 million on a picture. I understand that; what I’m talking about is spending more than $5 million. I’m talking about spending between $10 and $15 million, and I’m not saying that from the point of view of my wallet. I’ve gotten really fed up as the series has gone along when they always say, “We can’t do this, we can’t afford that because of the budget.” After a while, you go, “For Chrissakes, if you can’t prepare the money you need to do it right, why do it at all?”
FANG: Wishmaster was at the tail end of this “horror icon” cycle. Andrew, when you first donned the latex, what did you think you could do to make the character of the Djinn stand out?
ANDREW DIVOFF: The most important thing for me when reading the script was seeing how [screenwriter] Peter Atkins had done his homework with the Persian mythology of the genie. So I then had to find the way the Djinn would express himself and how he would sound. It was simply a lucky coincidence, what happened to me. I went through the whole gamut of accents and voices and not so much the mannerisms, but those came on the outset of the voices. I’m a real stickler for that. My background in collge was linguistics, so I speak several different languages. The funniest thing was that once I was in the makeup, I ended up eating jellybeans and drinking a lot of milkshakes, and they coated the throat with phlegm. I make the analogy to an exhaust pipe with holes in it as supposed to a brand new one. And that gave me the Djinn’s distinct deep voice. So I basically would spend the day on set without clearing my throat, and it gave my voice that gurgly quality.
FANG: What do you think is the key to a horror character’s longevity?
BRADLEY: I believe humanity is the key to it. I don’t think it’s an accident that monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and even Freddy and Pinhead and these others will survive where the Creature from the Black Lagoon and similar characters won’t. They have an impact that Godzilla doesn’t. Humanity is the important factor, because as I’ve said from the beginning, one of the reasons why horror works is that it’s a mirror. It throws us back at ourselves and makes us ask questions about ourselves. It’s the monster born into the world he didn’t choose. It’s the pity within the monster.
FANG: Many times, these movies have forgotten their mythology as they progressed into sequels. One of the problems with Nightmare 2 in particular was that they brought Freddy into the real world.
FANG: So, as actors, how do you react when they don’t use the previous movies as a bible and begin to violate their rules?
HODDER: I think it was Jason Takes Manhattan where someone said, “Well, this is where Jason runs.” And I said, “Guys, for me, Jason never runs and he will never run.” Even though it’s ridiculous that he never runs and always catches up with everyone, but that is the mystique. I will never have Jason run; it totally breaks the character I have strived to develop.
ENGLUND: I didn’t complain enough. Kane was smart. I was a little more trusting. I was working with some gifted people over the years, and I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to do another Freddy, but I should have complained about the stories. Here’s a thing that has always happened—so much has been set up, and eventually they have me wrestling around with a girl. And part of that is a sexual thing. He can do all this other stuff, but I think it renders him a little impotent every time he drops the ball when he’s up against the heroine and we know he isn’t going to win. That’s the classic ingredient. She should outsmart him, but they shouldn’t be wrestling around. Inevitably, I got something like that and I regret not drawing a line in the sand.
HODDER: There was another thing in Jason Takes Manhattan. It was written, but I don’t know if they ever really intended on shooting this: There was a dog in the film, and at one point in the script it said, “This is where Jason kicks the dog off the pier.” And I said, “He’s a violent motherfucker, but I don’t see him kicking a dog. I don’t mind if he’s pulling somebody’s head off and shitting down their neck, but he doesn’t have to kick a dog. It’s not necessary.”
FANG: In Phantasm, was there more continuity since you worked with Coscarelli on all four films?
SCRIMM: We have one bustup on almost every movie, but there are two things I insist on. One, I won’t smoke or have cigarettes in any scene I’m involved in. If I can possibly talk anybody out of it, I will, because I’ve had too many friends die horribly because of tobacco. I also don’t want to do anything obscene. We worked hard to establish an unassailable stature and dignity for the Tall Man.
FANG: Do you ever feel you’ve lost control of the character when new creative teams are brought on board?
BRADLEY: The real irony here is that if, on the last Hellraiser movie [Inferno], they had come to me and said, “How are you feeling about the character?” I would have said, “I’m a little nervous and anxious about him.” In the first movie he had this powerful image and was central to the story. As the movies have gone on, inevitably, he’s become much more exposed as a character. I believe he’s gotten a little cleaner. We need to push him darker, dirtier and nastier and remind people that he isn’t a cuddly character at all.
FANG: Do you think the studios are sort of apologizing for creating these monsters when the characters are diluted and over-exposed over the years?
DIVOFF: The studios, in a way, have built their business and gotten to where they are today by doing these movies, but then all of sudden they want to be legitimate. So they’ve forgotten the Nightmare films or the movies that bought the building.
ENGLUND: I remember in the late ’70s, Paramount had just spent a ton of money for King of the Gypsies; I saw billboards for a year and a half before it was made. Then along came Friday the 13th and saved the studio. There’s an undercurrent here that’s a little unfortunate; when they all show up on one of these big-studio horror films, the first thing they say at the read-through is, “This isn’t a horror movie.” When they do that, they’ve already got a flop on their hands. I’ll see these actors I love and respect and I am a fan of, but they’re so apologetic about the genre. They always have some euphemism for it, and that very fact and attitude prevents them from getting to the marrow of a very celebrated genre that we’ve all worked in and made a good living in. It offends me a little bit that they’re so apologetic about it, yet they can do abysmal, boring romantic comedies and they never apologize for that. Or they do a miscast Western or a thriller that lies there or a really misconceived science fiction film—yet they are so afraid of doing a horror movie.
When I directed 976-EVIL, all I did was fight memos. They wanted it action-movie length, to come in at 88 to 90 minutes. I said, “It’s not an action movie, it’s a horror movie, you have to buy into these characters. You have to care about them before I kill them.” Part of it is that a lot of gifted young directors are so in love with the technology—God love them, I’m not putting them down, and some of them are masters—but they’re so in love with the tricks of the trade that they’re forgetting the story and beats. I think everyone here has had an experience where you have a line you’re sure is really significant and moves the story, and it’s neglected in terms of coverage. Then you have some moment where you ask somebody to pass the butter, and you get a fullscreen close-up and they light you for an hour and half. “Why didn’t I get a close-up when I did that line where I reveal I love my mother?”
FANG: As the sequels progressed, and people got used to you in makeup, did they still get frightened by you on set?
ENGLUND: Since Freddy is such a wise-ass and jokester, I had to keep the energy going. I couldn’t read a book on set. So I would shoot the shit with the guys and bet on football games and tell dirty jokes with the Teamsters, but what would happen was that I wouldn’t trust that I was scary anymore. So occasionally I would sneak around behind the flats in the dark and walk up to some gaffer smoking a joint or something, and I would come up behind him and say “Fuck you” just to see if I still had it.
HODDER: I have a bit of a mean streak and I tend to exploit the fact, especially when I have the mask on. In fact, I specifically try not to get too friendly with the actors. It’s a Method thing for me, but I like to keep them a little off guard. I noticed early on that if they become too familiar with the character, maybe it’s because of their inexperience, but their performances seem to suffer when it comes to their death scene and they’re really not afraid of me.
SCRIMM: On the first Phantasm, I was just another one of the guys. Then after people saw me on that big screen—and Coscarelli has a way of picking Phantasm fans when he picks his crew—all of sudden on the second picture, I was treated with great respect, and this has been consistent throughout. I find one of the great joys of making pictures is the crew. Those people are wonderfully supportive and helpful all the time. I have great affection for them.
FANG: Let’s talk about wearing the makeup—do you ever say, “I never want to have this stuff on my face again”?
SCRIMM: I don’t ever want to grow that long hair again. I have to wear it for almost a year. I have to let it grow for months, and you have to keep it afterward in case there are retakes and publicity things. I’m so sick of it. I dread the thought of Phantasm 5.
ENGLUND: Angus, you can still grow it long, be grateful.
SCRIMM: Well, on certain areas of my head I can grow it.
FANG: Couldn’t you get extensions or wear a wig?
SCRIMM: I would hope so. I’m going to suggest that next time, but it doesn’t look quite the same.
BRADLEY: For me, the worst part is having the makeup removed—I hate that. It’s very messy and smelly and everybody else is going home and I’m not. I don’t enjoy it.
ENGLUND: I was smart; after about the second movie, I got something in my contract where they treat me to a good facial. If they don’t, you treat yourself to one. Back when I started, it was a kind of a girly thing to do. Now I love it. It’s great. They cleanse you and get all that gunk out. You can’t clean as thoroughly as you’d like, because your skin is so tender after you pull all that stuff off, especially around the eyes.
HODDER: The first Friday I did, I had a full prosthetic piece on my whole head underneath my mask. One eye was completely covered with makeup because the eye had been missing in previous films, and a lens was on the other eye, so it was like tunnel vision—it severely constricted my field of vision. So that one was the hardest one for me. In successive films, I’ve had just a big headpiece with my face open, which is much easier than having glue on my face. The difficult thing for me now is the body suit, because it’s all latex all the way to my ankles, and on every film it’s a different design. That kills me—it’s so incredibly hot.
FANG: Andrew, you also had a full body costume on the Wishmaster movies. How difficult was it for you?
DIVOFF: I think that whole suit weighed 60 pounds. I tell you, those eight weeks were a great workout—I’ve never been in better shape.
FANG: Has being identified for these specific roles been a help or a hindrance to your careers?
SCRIMM: There is no career for me except the Tall Man at this point. I do other movies and they don’t go anywhere. And I would love, before I retire, to do a family movie—something that sends the audience out ennobled or singing and with the reaffirmation of what it is to be human. I love to make scary movies and I love seeing them, but I would like to do a family film—though I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance, because I’m just too typed.
HODDER: Unquestionably, it has been a tremendous help for me, I think partly because of the mask. So my face isn’t typecast, for lack of a better term. I’m known for playing the character, and offers for other roles comes based on that. If anything, I’m always cast as bad guys because of my appearance. So I play villains almost exclusively. But I’m fine with that. I would love to do comedy, and like Angus said, I may never have the chance.
BRADLEY: It’s been a double-edged sword. It hasn’t brought offers for many other horror movies, which I would have liked, but having said that, I did get to do Nightbreed and Proteus. There have been other things, like doing Killer Tongue with Robert. So I sat down in a tattered makeup chair in London 14 years ago, and here I am in sunny downtown Burbank with a beer in my hand doing this interview, having just flown in from doing appearances in Phoenix. Then I’m off to Rhode Island, then to Massachusetts and Ohio. Then when I get back to England I fly over to Paris, and I wouldn’t be doing any of these things if I hadn’t played Pinhead.
FANG: You’ve got Pinhead, Freddy, Jason, the Djinn and the Tall Man in one room—who’s going to win if you get them all fighting each other?
ENGLUND: It’s like that game Dungeons & Dragons—everyone here has the potential to destroy everybody else. If the Djinn gets Freddy to make a wish, he can kick my ass, but if I can enter their dreams, I can get to him or Jason.
HODDER: I think I’m OK against the Djinn because I can’t wish. How am I ever going to fuck myself?
DIVOFF: I’ll see it in your eyes.
FANG: And the Tall Man can go after Jason, because he’s technically dead.
ENGLUND: So is Freddy.
FANG: He can harvest both of you, then.
DIVOFF: As opposed to sort of pitting us against each other, I think it should be a team like the Fantastic Four—”The Gruesome Five.” Make what they do teamwork.
…continue on to Cutting Remarks! Part Two.