Son Of Monsterpalooza Wrap-Up
Cinema Junkie / September 25, 2015
A wrap-up from last weekend's Son of Monsterpalooza Convention in Burbank with a trio of interviews.
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I am Beth Accomando and I am here at Son of Monsterpalooza in Burbank and today I want to share my love of movie monsters with you. The first movie monster I fell in love with King Kong. I remember my dad telling me stories about the movie and about the majesty of Kong and I think before I even saw the film I was in love with the giant ape. Monsterpalooza and its smaller offshoot convention Son of Monsterpalooza provide a celebration of movie monsters and creature effects. Each convention features panels on classic movie monster films such as Fright Night, American Werewolf in London, and the Japanese Godzilla. There are displays of props and masks, booths demonstrating make up effects, and fans that love talking about their favorite creature features. To give you a taste of what the Monsterpalooza conventions offer, here are a trio of interviews. First off the founder and show organizer of Monsterpalooza is Eliot Brodsky. I believe it’s his mom who gives the convention its colorful PA announcements that make me think of being back in New York.
Clip Playing: The early bird catches the worm, we only have a few T-shirts and hats left, so all those that are interested in getting memories to remember us by please, please come here now before there are very, very few left. Remember the early bird catches the worm.
Beth Accomando: Alright, so now here is my interview with Eliot Brodsky. This is your eleventh show how does it feel and how much bigger has this become?
Eliot Brodsky: Each year it seems like we get a good 15% more for traffic communion which tells me that the word is out there that is a good show that you can see really great displays that you’re never going to see anywhere else so people want to see something that looks real but isn’t real.
Beth Accomando: So tell me how you got the inspiration to start this up in the first place?
Eliot Brodsky: I’ve always been a horror fan and as a child I actually tried to sculpt things not knowing how to cast them but with talking to people, artists in the industry, they gave me little pointers here and there. So even as a preteen I was trying to make spooky masks and always drawing, sitting down drawing characters of my own designs, of course as you get older your interest drift a little bit and I have a prop rental company on the East Coast that I work with movies and television shows in helping them create sets and I don’t know all of a sudden I decided I’m going to sit down and try to make a monster design again. I think Halloween was coming up. I started talking to a lot of artists who were giving me tips on how to do things in a professional manner from start to finish and forged a lot of great friendships with people in the movie industry. And after a few years of making things on my own and filling swaps with other artists I said to them do you think the Burbank area would like to see a show that really focuses on that. Not necessarily actors signing autographs tied into the movies although that is an element but more of meeting the people behind the scenes and they were like yes please, please, please do that and it gives them an opportunity to shine a little and make some money on the work they’ve done in on their own time.
Beth Accomando: This is really a celebration of the crafts people who make monsters and creatures in movies.
Eliot Brodsky: Monsters, creatures, props that are used that if you think it’s a chopping block and it’s got a real blade on it, it’s not real, and they are making the illusion of reality and again people aren’t of the fact that what they see on screen isn’t even close to the real deal.
Beth Accomando: And what do you think is feeling the success of the show?
Eliot Brodsky: I think it’s a combination of things, it’s really a paid one price get in see the whole thing. You get an opportunity to see art work that you don’t get to see. We also pulled together presentations all weekend that also discuss how things are created and then we’ll do a walk through exhibit that is a atmospheric setting with stage lighting and curtains and trees and so you don’t feel like you are in convention center for a few minutes, so people feel like its not following a cookie cutter process of doing the typical comic con type show.
Beth Accomando: And one of the things I always look forward to seeing here is Mike Hill’s work. How did you end up hooking up with him and having him create these beautiful sculpts feature.
Eliot Brodsky: Again the power of the internet, you know I probably became intimate friend acquaintance with Mike Hill got to be you know 12 to 15 years ago. And he is a one of the high end very hyper realistic sculptors out there. We let him have an area to display stuff because his stuff is mostly commissioned work. And he is been with us ever since and it gives him as well as everybody else a great opportunity I have their work seen by so many people at one time and the audience appreciates what he is doing.
Beth Accomando: Now the years that you have been running this how have you seen kind of the quality of the work that is on display in the booths. It seems like there has been a real marked increase in the quality.
Eliot Brodsky: I have always had a high end artist participating in show and that was always intentional and the truth of the matter is my audience some of them can afford that kind of work and some of them can so I also make sure to have artists and vendors that are bringing things that can be point of purchase items where they don’t have to put you know a major thought into will this affect my you know bills at the end of the month? So but I also want those point of purchase opportunities to sort of not be the normal vendor that you might see elsewhere. I want it to feel like oh wow this is new and different, I must have this.
Beth Accomando: It sounds like you are really curating this convention.
Eliot Brodsky: It is in a way you know because I am when somebody emails me to say, I want to do your show, I want to hard good things, I then the next question I ask is what is your name? Do you have a website? If not can you send me photos? And if I have too many of one thing, I would have to unfortunately say to them that I feel we’ve have covered that base for the upcoming show and we need to find something else or it is just going to be too top loaded or favor one side to another.
Beth Accomando: I’ve been going for few years to the show, it has been at Burbank the whole time so you are, you have gotten too big here.
Eliot Brodsky: We are doing the big move for spring last spring was a little complicated and that our museum by bring in a lot of affect shops and artists who are really bring in very high odd things in and in the past people would walk through the exhibit and you know take a picture of an item and keep moving. Now with the advent of selfies people are now taking five or six pictures, checking to see which one they like before they leave the room which means the line to get in is taking six times as long to walk through. Meaning we need to have the line literally feeding through the entire convention center causing a human blockade and I don’t want to affect my artists salability so by moving to Pasadena we are tripling the show in size.
Beth Accomando: So how do you feel about that? That is kind of a big move.
Eliot Brodsky: Very excited, I started, I signed the agreement in July, I started selling space in August and we have 70, 10 x 10 vendor spaces that are all sold out. And then we have 300 artist tables’ spaces that I have added the 300 I only have 15 left. The show will go on, it will be bigger and better and I have other ideas that will give it even another kick up the ladder in quality.
Beth Accomando: Now are you planning to move both Monsterpalooza and Son of Monsterpalooza?
Eliot Brodsky: I don’t intend doing that I would like to see Son of Monsterpalooza remain in Burbank and I like this location very much so it too might grow as the spring show has grown but we might have to follow the same blueprint that we’ve used in the spring show for this show in allowing growth.
Beth Accomando: Now is there a panel that you have dreamt of having here that you still have not secured yet. Something that you really would like to see happen?
Eliot Brodsky: Again you know we’ve done some many panels are iconic horror films like American Werewolf in London, Fright Night was also another one we covered, Predator, you know these are iconic character driven practical affects films. There is still a few and I also like to cover the old classic black and white films, especially since a lot of the people involved in those films are not necessarily around this day and age. So whenever I can hook up with a, somebody who literally worked on a film from the classic sliver screen days I would immediately try to plug that in and show we are interested in all decades of horror film. So I have some ideas for April. We’ll also be doing a lot of how to instructional classes.
Beth Accomando: Do you find that there are a lot more people coming who are either into home horns or into like creating more elaborate costuming. You can see an increase in that that also driving the popularity of the convention?
Eliot Brodsky: I would say that the angle we do which is always been involved in the equation from the get go was how do you do these makeup’s and we have at every show at least eight or nine locations doing very a professional makeup applications where people can watch. And I find that the casual attendee will look and then kind of check it out for a few seconds and move on. You can tell when somebody is standing there for 10 or 15 minutes watching that they have a genuine curiosity or thinking about the makeup industry as a direction for their life to take. Again the causal person is enjoying the sight, they might pick up some tips for a Halloween makeup that they might need. We do sell products here that help them accomplish those makeups and you are not going to necessarily get that little tutorial at a Halloween store. And they are picking up tips here but they are also seeing people from the TV show face off who are now considered when you are a contestant or judge they are like celebrities now and they want to meet these people just based on the fact that they are in their living room each weekend, a week and showing in the process so there has been a renaissance in a way of people wanting to go and how to do it and apply it. We just had a costume contest yesterday, we had about 45 people participate in it and I have to admit out of the 45 makeup’s and costumes that I did see I would say out of the 45 at least 38 were top notch ready to be put in front of a camera, so people learning how to do this and have an interest in inspiring and really entertain somebody and showing what the possibilities are.
Beth Accomando: Your show is also a celebration very much of the practical affects you had suit actors from Godzilla come out here and be on panels. And do you see that there is kind of been a little bit of return to that in the movies and that’s also been popular?
Eliot Brodsky: I’ve seen plenty of CGI being done, some of it honestly doesn’t really feel right to me but I have to admit there are some CGI films where I say, hey that’s the way it has got to be. You know if you got to build a 75 foot gorilla and CGI is probably the way to go. But I do appreciate the films that can mix the two because my eye maybe because of my age I can tell when CGI is being used and when practical effects have been used. I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was very well done. The foreground characters for the most part were in makeup and the background characters for budgetary reasons were CGI. I believe JJ Abrams’s, his new Star Wars film, his intention was to do the same. A lot of practical effects being incorporated, I would like to see a mix of that because there was a few years they were really pushing the practical to the side because it gave the creators, the producer, the director, the opportunity to change the character at the last minute or take them out completely where as in practical you are really committed to that design, the minute it’s on film, you know, they and that’s how it was done in the old days, so I see the organic needs of practical. I don’t know why I find CGI so and in its ability to convey weight is not a 100% if I am watching a Rise of the Planet of the Apes or whatever the name of the film is, where a gorilla or something is jumping from point A to point B, its a little Peter Pany to me. There is no thump to the landing or weight to pulling on something and truthfully it will be down the road where they will master it and you won’t be able to tell the difference but still the actor I think also wants to be in makeup. It gets them into character better so I am hoping it will be around but CGI is definitely sitting in the passenger seat with it.
Beth Accomando: And do you have a favorite panel that you had over the years?
Eliot Brodsky: Many, many panels have been my favorite I had, as I mentioned before the American Werewolf panel where I had the stars of the movie, the director, the makeup artist, Rick Baker participated in it. He is multiple Emmy academy award winner and so that was a strong one and we did a great Godzilla panel number of years ago. And the fellow who played Godzilla for the first 20 years he was here and we had an interpreter and he showed him everybody how to do the Godzilla walk and that was a lot of fun and we showed clips and it has been at least every show there is a panel that I enjoy where you get to hear the actual people who worked on iconic films.
Beth Accomando: Alright I want to thank you very much.
Eliot Brodsky: Thank you, enjoy the show.
Beth Accomando: Next I spoke with Mike Hill. Anyone who has been going to Monsterpalooza or Son of Monsterpalooza reveres his name because for each convention he makes a magnificent monster themed sculpt that drops people’s jaws and makes them just stare in awe. My favorite was a life-size sculpture of make up artist Jack Pierce working on Boris Karloff’s makeup as Frankenstein’s monster. It was like you were in the make up room with these two horror legends and it was breathtaking. These sculptures are so lifelike that you expect them to move at any moment. Here’s Mike Hill describing the piece he brought to last weekend’s Son of Monsterpalooza Convention.
Mike Hill: And this was standing next life size recreation of Bela Lugosi as Bram Stoker’s infamous Count Dracula.
Beth Accomando: So tell me about your connection with Monsterpalooza, every year I come out here and I get to see these gorgeous sculptures, so how did you get started doing this?
Mike Hill: Well for Monsterpalooza itself you know Eliot, the gentleman who runs the show he is also a sculptor too, so it makes a lot ahead. So we kind of knew each other of line of work as a mutual monster making community. So as soon as you know he opened the show, he asked me if I want to get involved which I did and it’s a great way for me to, because as artist we want to show people our work, you know, no point putting a closet. So Eliot gives you the chance to display and basically show off our work so everybody can enjoy it because the biggest sin of all is to keep it locked away.
Beth Accomando: So the pieces that you bring out here are these ones that you create specifically for the show or they commission works, where do they go after?
Mike Hill: You know everything I do is very rarely commissioned, lot of times it is something I want to make something myself because you know I am an artist and I have to sell my work but if doesn’t sell it has to be some I want to keep in my house. So I normally do the classic characters I grew up with as a child into adult. So the time was right to do that and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula which is very challenging because unlike the wolf man or the Frankenstein monster, those guys you can’t hide behind the make, you know if you see a square head and bolt you say hey it’s Frankenstein. But we Count Dracula there is no fear hidings, there is a little bit of pale makeup on his face, some eyeliner but apart from that it is just Bela Lugosi, his face, you know I held up for the longest time to actually, I didn’t want to do just a head, I was never happy with it, so it was finally the time.
Beth Accomando: The pieces, once they are done here do they then go back to your storage and then you try to sell them?
Mike Hill: No I don’t, if people don’t, if nobody buys them I then yeah they just go to my house. Good things I don’t have many at my house. So that’s good you know but again it’s a win-win these pieces have a children to coin a phrase, so again you know if no one is interested want to buy as part of their collection, its fine because it stays in my collection, I am happy with it you know. So again its win-win I don’t lose.
Beth Accomando: I think the one that impressed me the most was the one where you had Jack Pierce putting on the makeup to Frankenstein, so it was two actual figures.
Mike Hill: Yes that’s right yeah. Well Jack Pierce is you know the legend behind all these characters a lot of the monsters we know today every werewolf, every Frankenstein monster pairs in comparison to Jack Pierce and even if you see an advancement on it, it’s all based off the spring board is Jack Pierce, the man who was a genius. Monster making community just owes him a lot. He is one of our idols.
Beth Accomando: For a piece like this of Dracula how much time did it take you to put this together and what is kind of the craft that’s involved because I don’t know even know what it is made out of?
Mike Hill: Well, I start off by sculpting in clay, a water based clay that’s the most lengthiest time to sit and, I think I spent like a week on this one trying to get the pottery correct you know. You never really get it correct so I guess you just give it your best shot. Yes so the pottery takes like a week and then you got to mould, cast, steam, paint, hair. So I actually done pretty fast in the sense that I already knew what I was going to do so it wasn’t like something I was figuring out, I knew exactly how I did, I scooped out a model kit, a very, a license model kit, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula many years ago. And he was like the small version of it. So I knew the pose, I knew the clothing, I knew the likeness that I wanted to get, so it’s about three weeks this one. That’s too fast, actually I wanted to get it done for the show.
Beth Accomando: When I looked at him, the eyes look real, it looks like if I touched him I would feel flesh but what is he actually made of?
Mike Hill: He is now, he is cast up in silicone, it’s a silicone [indiscernible] [00:19:41] we are in Silicon Valley so it’s the best place for it, yeah its silicone which is, the reason that we use silicone is that it has a translucent to see a flesh. And obviously you have to color it, pigment it and to get that you know that not too translucent, not too opaque just the right tone of skin. So silicone is the one and the good thing about silicone as opposed to wax which is being used for centuries is this thing can’t break. You know the head can fall off or bounce whereas wax every time used in the past it’s very brittle and you can scratch the paint off this. Even when you paint it, you paint it with silicone so you have painted with same material that it is made from so it’s a mechanical bond is the paint will never come off. Yeah it’s a real nature material to use.
Beth Accomando: So if somebody walking through the convention said I want to take Bela home with me, how much would it cost him?
Mike Hill: I will never tell you that. Okay.
Beth Accomando: It’s a lot though.
Mike Hill: It’s a lot of work and it’s a piece of art work and you can’t judge it on the time it took. You got to judge it on the 45 years you took to train yourself to make it you know look like this. So, yeah, you know, I am going to keep my lips sealed on that one okay.
Beth Accomando: Alright what if I wanted to take it home? I am refinancing my house right now, you know.
Mike Hill: Alright I get it.
Beth Accomando: So what other kind of, is this the only kind of art work you do with these sculpts or what else do you do?
Mike Hill: I am just not just an artist per se you know and I make these guys I love these guys and I just make them all the time that’s what I, I work on some TV shows, I have some movies, but occasionally I don’t really like to do a whole lot because after my own shop as well so it is not cost effective for me. But yeah mainly I just scoop what I like and hopefully I can keep making a living from it.
Beth Accomando: How did you get into horror?
Mike Hill: How did I get into horror?
Beth Accomando: Yeah, I mean were you always fascinated as a kid with watching horror film?
Mike Hill: Yeah, I mean as a child one of my earliest memories is King Kong. I just, I don’t know when I first discovered King Kong, it has to be my earliest memories, I was just in love with King Kong. I’m still am. So then you buy the book, so I have books about King Kong and you find all the other monsters in there as well. And then I was four years old I saw a scene from a movie called The Curse of the Werewolf all of us read it, which is my favorite movie and favorite character of all time and to my grand I am like what time she said he is a werewolf I was like what is a werewolf? And it came from there and so I became fascinated with dual personalities, I like these guys, Dracula doesn’t want to be a vampire. And the line to the movie is “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious.” Thinking what he is but he is what he is. We don’t really know his background, people will speculate what Dracula’s background was but no one, Bram Stoker never mentioned what it really was this guy. Obviously werewolves dual personalities, Jekyll and Hyde, you know even down to superheroes, Spiderman and all these guys I just always be fascinated by somebody who becomes somebody else you know. I am not a schizophrenic in any way, I don’t believe but I just I don’t know this all appeal to me, especially if it’s for no faults alone I look the wolf man and characters like that because its no fault alone. Even the Frankenstein monster look at him, he is a child really, he didn’t wanted to be born, real thing they put that brain in his head because they would have put a good brain, he will be like why the hell is my head square. What have you done to me? Anyway yeah so everyone, these guys are cursed that is why I love.
Beth Accomando: And how did you get in to the art aspect of this and actually like putting your love of horror into artwork?
Mike Hill: I think its just back in the early 1970’s when I was a little child that was my toys were just to draw monsters and my past time was to trying to sculpt monsters, you couldn’t get monsters action figures, that’s clearly not in England that I know of and certainly not from, couldn’t afford to buy monsters. You can sell them so I started to make them and I guess it is, it has stuck with me now for you know 45 years.
Beth Accomando: And you actually trained as an artist or you have been self taught?
Mike Hill: No I didn’t train as an artist just me in my bedroom and whatever I could find. I think you can train some kind of technique what materials about that, I don’t need you got to train, an artist is an artist, and it’s not about the hand, its all about the brain. Anyone can move a piece of clay from A to B, but its knowing where B is and that’s what an artist does.
Beth Accomando: And so what do you do about Monsterpalooza in the sense that your art work is out here, people are coming by taking tons of photos, what it is like for you to experience you know them appreciating your work?
Mike Hill: You know its wonderful you know I get a big kick out of people saying great job, this looks great and its not to pat myself on the back it is just that you know when are we going to see Bela Lugosi in the flesh, we are not going to see him. So I like to say that it is like meeting an old friend for the first time you know you have read about them you just stand back just to Jack Pierce. You can stand next to Oliver Reed, Bela Lugosi I think that’s you know that’s wonderful and I look people taking pictures I like people getting close to it because again why you want to add that to the closet, you want to let everyone see it, that is why we make it. It is an expression and that it is you know so Monsterpalooza is an avenue to do that and that is why I appreciate the show so much.
Beth Accomando: Is there a creature or monster that you are just dying to do that you haven’t done yet?
Mike Hill: There is a ton of them, the one I really want to do is not a monster, I want to do Fay Wray in King Kong’s hands. I really, I want to do that and it is just such a big project that I am going to do it, I am just not round to it yet. I scoop into the pottery already. But I just got to tackle the time and the expense of making a full body in a giant King Kong’s hand. I actually already did the hand so. So maybe this time next year will see Fay Wray so I think people are going to be taking back because they expect to see these monsters but they are going to see a beautiful woman who is terrified of a gigantic monkey.
Beth Accomando: Alright thank you very much for your time.
Mike Hill: Welcome thank you.
Beth Accomando: And finally, I spoke with veteran director and actor Tom Holland. If you don’t know his name perhaps you will remember the films he has directed.
Male Speaker: Everyone has a birthday they’ll always remember.
Female Speaker: Can we all see my presents now mommy? A good guy I knew it.
Chucky: Hi, I’m Chucky.
Female Speaker: He is something isn’t he?
Andy: This is Andy.
Female Speaker: Time for bed Andy.
Female Speaker: Goodnight.
Female Speaker: Good night. Good night Chucky.
Beth Accomando: That’s right he directed Child’s Play and gave us Chucky, but he is probably best remembered and most loved was affection and homage to horror, the original Fright Night.
Speaker 6: What would you do if you accidentally discovered the house next door was occupied by something not human, something horrifying, and something unspeakably evil. No one believes you.
Speaker 7: Mom I didn’t have a nightmare.
Speaker 6: Not your mom.
Speaker 7: They did kill a girl over there.
Speaker 6: Not your girlfriend.
Speaker 8: Charlie is this some sort of a trick to get me back?
Speaker 6: Not even the police.
Speaker 7: Look I know it’s crazy, I know that, but look.
Speaker 6: It knows that you know. You do anything to protect yourself. But it will do anything to protect its secret. Fright Night if you love being scared this could be the night of your life.
Beth Accomando: As I was settling down to speak with Holland he began talking about Wes Craven because there will be a tribute to the late horror master coming up in LA. I wasn’t quite ready for the interview to start yet but I turned on the recorder because he was recalling some fun facts about Wes Craven. So let’s just jump in as Holland is recalling how Last House on the Left had scared him.
Tom Holland: While we were shot here because the first time I ever saw girl pee your pants. And I have never seen, I have never thought about it you know and the other one was he did very, very long takes. Later on he told me his biggest was Wes Craven. He told me was because he didn’t know enough about getting different angles to cut something together. So he has put the camera down and what we call a master shot and let the action run, but that made it more disturbing in some ways. So you know by the time Last House on the Left Wes Craven. And the other thing that was just so unusual about him was that he had a personality that was diametrically opposite his movies. He was the nicest, quietist, most polite man, sweet and I found out when I went to his memorial at the directors guild that he was a birder, he was a ornithologist, how do you pronounce that. I mean whoever heard of a horror director that went out watching birds. But that’s what he did to relax. So he was this very odd fellow for somebody who had written and directed Nightmare on Elm Street.
Beth Accomando: So why don’t you tell me, what are you going to be doing as a tribute to him?
Tom Holland: I am going with a panel. I think Mick Garris and a couple of the younger guys [indiscernible] [00:28:43] was there. You know to talk about him you know because I have known him since 86 or 87. They asked me to do one of the sequels to Nightmare on Elm Street. I went and talked to him, I didn’t do it.
Beth Accomando: How did get into this career of doing horror, because I read that you were actually passed the bar.
Tom Holland: Yeah and the first time and I graduated at UCLA law school. But then I suppose that’s the strangest Wes Craven. It was always very professorial. I went to Law School at UCLA because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what to do and I got to the end of the first year and I realized that I made a horrible mistake, I mean, I can hardly stay awake you know and I started writing, started writing screen plays. And I graduated, I passed the bar and then while I was waiting to know I took the bar and while I was waiting to hear, whether or not I passed I had my first screen play option. I got my first money for writing which was just a huge deal to me. And I been so used to being poor as a student I figured that I better keep on writing because I as I started practicing law I would make money and as you may have noticed whatever you make you live up to that standard and it becomes a trap. You know, it is very, very difficult to make some money and go back to being poor. So I kept on writing and stayed poor and then I still hadn’t had a great deal of success at the first five year reunion. And everybody was buying their starter house you know. And I thought well I have made a horrible mistake but you know I kept on with it and then you know by the time between 5 and 10 years out my career started to move.
Beth Accomando: You went to law school did you ever go to film school or you were kind of self taught in terms of film making?
Tom Holland: No I will, I am not, this is little out of phase because I started Northwestern Theatre School and I became an actor because I wanted to do film and there were no film schools and no way into film at that time and acting was the only thing I had. I went to Northwestern and after a year I left. In the summer of my first year I got an agent in New York City and I got a seven year contract to Warner Brothers. And I came in at the end of what they now call the classical movie system and saw that in the death roles. They still had the set standing to the escort races at the My Fair Lady was on the biggest stage, because it was an enormous set and at the back lot they still had Camelot, to set for Camelot the musical. And I was just trilled, I was enthralled and but they were dying, it was Warner Brothers. And their TV business was falling apart because in the late 50’s and into the early mid 60’s, the studios made their money off of television series because television cut so badly into theatrical process and so I did Temple Lea Houston, I did the last season of 77 sunset strip. And some, whatever television they had I did. And then the contract ended, they let me out because they had no business and Jack Warner was trying to sell the studio, he eventually did to a Steve Ross. And I went back to New York and I started to work as an actor but I had fallen love with film. And I just learned by acting about directing and about writing. Sounds odd I suppose I was a soap opera star for three years, so I did live television for three years, was live in those days the tape delayed the west coast and I learned all about the blocking and then I was in the actors studio out here, and I started to direct in the playwrights wing for playwrights and then I met a lot of Hollywood writers that were trying to become directors. And by this time we are in 1969, 1970, and so the way to get in that moment in time was writing an original screenplays and I did that but I also started to work at assignment a lot. And then I became a very successful screenwriter and from that I was able to learn to leverage myself. The Beast Within was the first film, but Psycho II the second one was an enormous hit and that propelled my career.
Beth Accomando: And what attracted you to doing horror?
Tom Holland: Well I wasn’t, they were the entry level jobs it wasn’t that I was, wasn’t that I wanted to be a horror film maker because everybody has surrounded me. Horror was the least of the red haired bastard step child of the movies and you always will look down on and everybody told me after Fright Night that I had to get out of it because if I did another one I would be in it forever. And so I went and I did Fatal Beauty and I guess that got me out of that was action. But my interest and my taste is in suspense and suspense in those days was psychological suspense/horror. Rosemary’s Baby is a suspense piece. People think of it as horror because you have a two second, three second cut up the devil baby at the end but that’s a suspense piece. And that’s always been my taste in the genre was that consistently gave me that was horror and then I had another huge success with Child’s Play in creating Chucky. And so you know now I am trapped, now at that point you are trapped.
Beth Accomando: Well, suspense you used to take more craft to create.
Tom Holland: Well thank you very much. Yes it does. Suspense’s, well I learned so much when doing Psycho II because I studied Hitchcock. I ran every film that Hitchcock did starting with style of movies looking at his visual set pieces which are really that’s a graduate seminar in how to create visual suspense. I can go on for an hour about it.
Beth Accomando: It hasn’t surprised you how popular Fright Night and Child’s Play has remained over the decades?
Tom Holland: Yes, I am very grateful I want to thank everybody out who is listening. The Fright Night has become the classic, you know, I mean so love letter I think is because it has heart. I think it is because it is a love letter to fans but I mean I started to be approached by people over three generations in the same family. People would have seen it when it first came out, who are now grandparents. They bring out their sons and then their grandchildren and that’s when I finally realized that that’s what you know the Chucky you know of Child’ Play became Chucky and that was enormous, enormous hit. And you know whenever they have a hit of course they do sequels and the sequels have just further and bettered it and they had make Chucky travel as up, then even Child’s Play sort of forgotten which was the name of the movie, but the character of Chucky you know has become a world wide horror icon. And maybe almost the last, last horror character has become iconic I don’t know because that has ended too you know. Yeah, so Child’s Play wasn’t a surprise because that was set you can sit with the test audience and you knew you had a huge hit. Fright Night was something else because I wrote Fright Night you know that was my experience as a teenage horror fan. That’s what it is like, we had horror host you know in the 60’s, it would be in the local channel doing the Friday night frights, they couldn’t get horror movie on until 11 AM. You know in your local channel then I of course I watch them and they would always have a terrible tacky host. You know introducing the movie, Stagger Lee or [indiscernible] [00:37:08] any, every regional area had their own. And they were always did them for no money, you know, you will see a bat fly through the set and you see the wire that was on you know and they were terribly hammy in everything. So that was what it was like growing up and in that time I was a horror fan but I was horror fan along with sci-fi fantasy couldn’t even find fantasy then but there were great sci-fi movies like them, you know, they were terrific, the Creature from the Black Lagoon was one of my favorite creature movie. So what I did is I wrote about my childhood but I got the idea because I wrote Cloak & Dagger of the Universal with Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman and that was supposedly a remake of the Window which is a Cornell Woolrich’s short story but that’s juvenile version of real window. Cornell Woolrich wrote both and that was too thin a story to remake in 1983 or 1984 I forgot and while I was sitting there because this is a boy looks out the window and sees a murder in the house next door. Then I dropped that and I went out and wrote an original screen play Cloak & Dagger but when I was trying to figure out how to remake that I thought wouldn’t it be hysterically funny if a teenage horror fan became convinced that his next door neighbor was a vampire. And that gave me the idea of Fright Night and I had a concept in that but I didn’t have the story. And I kept asking myself, well what would I do if were Charlie Brewster. And then I finally realized of course I go to the host of the local horror movie in the independent channel and I ask him for help and I created the character of Peter Vincent, vampire killer. And Roddy McDowall did such a wonderful job, Will Ragsdale, Charlie Brewster is the machine that makes it go. He is the one that is motivated but the heart of it is Peter Vincent. And Roddy nailed that, Roddy had been in another movie that I wrote called Class of 1984 and he had been able to get the pathos of that character. So I knew he could play Peter Vincent and everything went right with that movie and it was a success but what happened is it just growing over the years and over the generations and it is very gratifying and thankful, thank you all out there for that but I mean it has been, it caught me totally by surprise. I figured it out about 10 or 12 years ago because I was getting so much mail. You know now just this is my second horror convention ever done but I am doing it because of Fright Night that was what motivated me because it gets such love and I mean it just sort of grew, snuck up on me because you know you do something. It is a hit or miss or whatever and then it seems like it is forgotten for 10 years or whatever but they and you can’t find the blue ray of Fright Night, they have only done a limited release only. Finally it’s the audience who makes the decision and its word of mouth and that’s what made Fright Night you know now a multi generational hit and I mean it is just amazing. I am as shocked as anybody by it and not by Child’s Play because you could tell and by the time I did Child’s Play late 80’s the studios were squealing anything that made a $95 so I knew that would was worth two or three terrible sequence, you know, and they drained the money out of it and but Fright Night never really had a successful squeal, the remake wasn’t a success, but that movie itself from 1985 just keeps going. And if you talk to the people here you know they re-watch it, they share it with their friends, their family and that was an horror when it came out and now it would be like a PG or PG13. So it is something, Fright Night is something if you want to share hard classic horror you can show it to your 10-year-old and I think that is part of it because kids come in here and know the lines, you are so cool Brewster, welcome to Fright Night for real, you know I mean its you know it’s amazing.
Beth Accomando: Talk a little bit about working with Chris Sarandon, I like the story you told about he is the one who came up with eating fruit.
Tom Holland: Oh yeah, Chris was I needed, when I did Fright Night it was my first directorial effort and I needed a name actor to give the credibility beyond Rodney [phonetic] [00:42:12] and I had to go and convince Chris who was you know an Academy Award nominee for Dog Day Afternoon, who knows how it works out but Chris and I always gotten along and he brought what he is, he is a character actor in the body of the leading man. That’s really what he is and he made character choices for Jerry including you know because he found fruit bats was the dominant bat, he decided that he asked what I thought about you know using eating an apple to clean his fangs and I thought great and that’s how you know you have the half chewed apple with the fangs in Fright Night. And then we went on I put him, I cast him as the cop in Child’s Play and he did a great job for me and a terrific TV movie called the Stranger Within that got Rick Schroder up a Golden Globe nomination and anytime I can then I can work with Chris I do.
Beth Accomando: And talk about working with the practical affects in the film because I think that is part of what also makes it last, I mean CGI seems to get dated but the effects are still brilliant.
Tom Holland: What happens with CGI is that lays on top of the film so whatever you shoot, whatever the play is you shoot a green screen and they take CGI video and they merry video. Video games are so huge that there is an awareness among the public, especially the younger public of the game, the people will play games that they are looking at CGI and that pulls you out of the reality and it is never really three dimensional that always stays two dimensional. Now it gets better, better and better, but it is, my eyes still reads but I am a professional too but when you have in camera effects, practical effects, real effects when the Charlie, when Stephen Geoffrey’s Evil Ed transitions where he is a werewolf, that’s a real model werewolf had the bat, when it attacks at the bottom of the stairs it attacks Charlie and it attacks Peter Vincent, that’s a real bat with a five and a half foot wingspan and that’s three dimensional on screen and your eye can tell it and it gives a greater reality but also its huge fun because somebody has the sculpt it, they haven’t photo shopped it in CGI. They haven’t used a matrix of numbers to create you know a creature when you do real creature effects or whatever you are doing it is just three dimensional. It is like when you try to look at the smoke in CGI, it always seems like a lays on top. Smoke really gives it away, hair gives it away, fine because it is very hard for them to do separate strands of hair but you know real monsters, even if it a guy zippered up in a suit, it reads, it reads more real.
Beth Accomando: Do you have a favorite film of your own that you are most proud of or happiest with?
Tom Holland: Well, I guess Fright Night you know I mean I think my ability to do visual set pieces probably the best example is Child’s Play because you know you go watch it in your building, watching me building suspense and I get better at it with each one, but Fright Night because it is a heart and humanity. It is my favorite film and because it was a joyful experience and the actors were all, everything was right about that. It was a little throw away film you know nobody paid attention to it, nobody expected any thing out of it. That was when Columbia thought are perfect and they Slugger’s wife where their two big films you know and now, so you never know do you?
Beth Accomando: And what do you think about the state of horror films right now, are you still interested in contributing to that, you think that there is interesting stuff going on or has it stagnated a bit?
Tom Holland: No I think it is getting interesting again, six months ago I worked on masters of horror dinner, everybody was talking about doing television because that’s where the writing, the good writing was. We went about a week ago and had a dinner, there were 35 of us and there was Wes Craven, but everybody I talked to was doing an independent film, they was making money. But you know because the money is in the studio system but they were a lot of interesting films being done and being done by people who knew what they were doing. So I think horror will get interesting again. It has gone through a sort of a down period of torture point you know which is when all else fails, shocker, or when all else breaks that taboos you know that became among the younger people you know what they thought was the road to success so it is getting more interesting again I think. And you have some good films that have come out too. It follows would be you know I can’t remember the one about the vampire from Iran, the foreign film.
Beth Accomando: A Girl Walks Home Alone?
Tom Holland: Yes and what about a girl that Swedish film that they remade it here.
Beth Accomando: Got the right one in.
Tom Holland: Yes, terrific, yeah but they are real people, I mean, it is an old song but the more you care about the people in the film the more emotionally affecting the stronger the horror. In other words it is scary only to the extent, that you invested in the character you like coming out alive at the other end.
Beth Accomando: And do you have a project in the works right now?
Tom Holland: I have what I have got it, I’ve got my own website which I am building called TH Terror Time or Tom Holland’s Terror Time and I have also have an extremely active Facebook page. And I have finished my first novel I am about ready to read it over again and I am working on a novelization of a sequel to Fright Night.
Beth Accomando: Keeping busy?
Tom Holland: I’ve been very busy and I have Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales which is an internet series I did, and I am ready to put those up for downloads on my terror time website. And but the website has been just exploded. That is interesting too.
Beth Accomando: What you say is really keeping up with the times too it is not like you are just making convention film?
Tom Holland: Well I was forced into it by all the younger guys because I am pre-digital. I started writing on a manual typewriter and when I got an electric typewriter IBM I thought I had died and gone to heaven. You know, but I mean it is when you hang around younger by younger I mean probably anybody 45 or under. They all grew up digital and so they know social media but social media has become such an embedded part of you know the way people get the word out. So much now is marketing, you market your own films to some extent as long as you are in the digital has crushed the cost of production. Nobody has an excuse for not making any filmmaker says they can’t make a film today something is wrong with him. You can go out with your iPhone and make a film today. You can get pro tools and cut it on your Apple. I mean, so the cost of making a film has fallen to nothing when I was starting out I couldn’t even find a film school and you know I mean the first one I shot a 16 minutes at Northwestern in my first year and the film format was one room and they had one introductory class and that was it. So you know I mean it is gotten to lot easier to learn the craft it has gotten a lot harder right now to way to make a living at it, it is difficult.
Beth Accomando: So I want to thank you for taking some time to speak with me.
Tom Holland: My pleasure and I hope everybody in San Diego enjoys this and any filmmakers out there get out there and make a film, it’s the only way you are going to get better, every time you work you get better and your skill and your craft will grow. The other thing I will say is that kids coming out today, their ability with CGI is amazing. What they can do to create a world that I can only dream about 30 years ago it’s amazing you know. Of course they are all doing post apocalyptic stories but you know dead worlds but so there the grasp of digital talent now is enormous among younger people.
Beth Accomando: What would you advice these young filmmakers who are using CGI because, CGI when used properly like in the new planet apes movie and Guardian of the Galaxy, but what would you advice them if they are planning to use CGI what’s the caution to make sure that it works well in a story.
Tom Holland: Oh boy, well I don’t know I can’t tell you about CGI because the skill levels are so high. The beating heart of any story are the people and it has to be character driven. I don’t care how much they are surrounded by you know by a world by a great you know digital world, they have to be motivated by humanity, by something we all understand and the higher the stakes, the stronger the motivation, the more involvement with the audience will have with the movie. And really success in story telling is an audience that loves your characters and I thank you all very much out there, God bless.
Beth Accomando: Thanks for listening to the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Remember to check back each Thursday for reviews and each Friday for interviews. So till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie signing off from Son of Monsterpalooza in Burbank.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place