29 July 2014

[continued from Part II]

TT: There are some memorable setpieces and excellent setups in Killer Bees. The ending with Kate Jackson taking over the 'duties' for Swanson...the sequence in which the telephone repairman is killed...those are great scenes.

CH: Well, thank you...

TT: What do you recall about working with the young Jackson?

CH: She hated the bees. And she especially hated the scene where we put some bees on her. She was shuddering and had a totally different attitude than Gloria.

TT: Gloria looks really comfortable with them. It's actually a beautiful scene where she's wearing the large hat and talking to them.

CH: Her character sees them as some of God's creatures. Whereas Kate just found it repellant and horrible to feel them on her skin...even though she didn't have very many in that scene in the tower room which is filled with bees.

TT: We've talked a lot about the women you worked with. How about Ray Milland and Reggie Nalder in your next TV project, 1975's The Dead Don't Die?

CH: Ray was another sweetheart...a very lovely person. So I enjoyed working with him very much. He's a wonderful actor.

And Reggie Nalder...I don't think he was a great actor of course but he had this sort of 'built in face.' I felt sorry for him. I certainly wouldn't call him a good-looking man and he would say things to me like, "Oh...I wish I could be a leading man for a change."

TT: That's terrible.

CH: Yes, I felt so sorry for him.

TT: He obviously was always cast for his unique face.

CH: He'd been in movies all over the world, not just in American pictures...although he lived here in Hollywood. He showed up in a Fellini film and various European productions.

TT: Nalder was always going to be cast as the creepy man at your doorstep (ala The Man Who Knew Too Much) or as a sadistic type (ala Mark of the Devil).

CH: Right.

TT: Joan Blondell was in The Dead Don't Die as well.

CH: I was thrilled to work with her. That was another person we dragged out of the 1930s and she was a doll. She was everything you could imagine she would be. I really enjoyed the experience very much.

TT: Considering the success of the Romero zombie films, do you have any idea why your film is one of the few television movies to deal with the subject?

CH: I have no theory about that. I go back after all to 1932's White Zombie. I was just a little baby kid when it was made but through the years, White Zombie was revived quite often. That's one of the earliest horror films I ever saw.

Zombies showed up again in the 1943 Val Lewton film (I Walked with a Zombie) which was made long before my film.

TT: Do you want to relate anything about Robert Bloch, with whom you worked on The Cat Creature and The Dead Don't Die?

CH: Well, he went back to the early thirties in his career as a writer. He used to write frequently for "Weird Tales Magazine." He was an adorable man. Now, I didn't hire him...the producer did that. But I just loved him.

TT: We like the subplot in The Dead about the grueling dance marathons of the 1930s. Did that theme interest you?

CH: Oh yes. I wanted desperately for years to make a film of They Shoot Horses Don't They? but finally, Sydney Pollack got to make it and I did not.

TT: That 1969 film came to mind as we watched your movie.

CH: It was a book I loved and I wanted to make a picture when nobody had an option on it. But I could never get the backing to proceed.

TT: Did you like what Pollack did with it?

CH: I thought it was pretty good.

TT: Any recollections of filming the meat locker/morgue finale to The Dead Don't Die?

CH: Well, at the climax of that sequence, I wanted Ray Milland to appear to be a completely insane megalomaniac and I kept asking for more from him as an actor...more madness. And he suddenly stopped and looked at me and said, "Curtis...I am NOT Vincent Price." That was the end of that. He did the best he could.

TT: Do you want to add anything about working with Milland?

CH: I loved working with Ray...he was a very sweet man. He told me something about Jimmy Stewart during the shoot...

TT: Do tell.

CH: Ray said he had talked to his friend Jimmy while he was making my film and Jimmy was complaining that nobody ever offered him any work.

TT: Interesting...although it's hard to imagine him in some of the roles that Ray Milland was doing at the time. Can you really picture Stewart in The Thing with Two Heads?

CH: I don't think so, no. (Laughs.)

TT: Let's move on to Ruby (1977). You've stated that you enjoyed making a film in the late seventies set in the fifties with a flashback to the thirties.

CH: Yes.

TT: You've always shown such a respect for nostalgia and the past. What is your first recollection of that picture?

CH: Ruby is such an ill-fated film from my point of view because of the horrible producer. I loved working with Piper Laurie but I had so many frustrations. Part of it is about the character of Jake, the blind gangster that she was in love with when she was younger and he's sitting in a wheelchair...

If you can imagine my frustration...guess who I could have gotten from the past for that part?

TT: Who?

CH: Jack LaRue. I talked to Jack on the phone and he said he'd love to do it. The producer would have had to pay twice as much so he said no.

TT: The producer being Steve Krantz?

CH: Yeah, the most dreadful person I've ever worked with. Just a horrible man.

TT: You not only had problems with Krantz...you also had problems with cinematographer William Mendenhall, correct?

CH: Yes, he was a friend of Krantz's. I had seen a small amount of footage of his that looked okay, so I agreed to have him do Ruby. But he was a big pain in the ass. Very untalented. Some of his shots came out underexposed if you can imagine. Not even a minimum of professionalism.

TT: Would you say he was a lackey of Krantz?

CH: Oh, totally.

TT: Besides the obvious tacked-on ending filmed by Krantz himself (in which Piper's character is pulled under the lake by a skeleton) were there other changes that he made?

CH: I can't even remember all of them. Yes, he made changes throughout the film. He just cut the hell out of it. He cut into the middle of very important moving camera shots. He just arbitrarily hacked up the film. Piper Laurie was appalled when she saw it.

TT: That's terrible.

CH: I don't think the picture would have been great but it would have been pretty good. He really hacked it up.

TT: Is VCI's DVD release at least close to what you wanted in the first place?

CH: Well, they did the best they could to get back to the first cut of it that was shown in theaters. But that's still after a lot of fussing around by Krantz.

What he did later on that which was so horrifying...was that he submitted RUBY to be shown as a late night movie on CBS and their Standards and Practices made him cut out all the violence.

So then you didn't have a film long enough to play. So Krantz made up a lot of scenes with extras that had appeared very briefly in the original film and had these incredibly boring and uninteresting scenes where they just kept talking to each other to fill in the time. And that was put in on the CBS Late Night Show and that's when I had my name taken off of it.

TT: Back to the ending, the original was just Piper and her ghost lover going into the lake?

CH: That's right.

TT: Which would have been such a beautiful conclusion.

CH: Yes, it would have been...

TT: Was the one name title and the casting of Piper Laurie as the mother to a troubled girl a direct result of the success of Carrie?

CH: The script was not influenced by Carrie at all. It just happened that way. She played the ex-gangster's moll with the daughter who had the stigmata of her father's death. And a scene of hysteria would produce it.

TT: With shades of The Exorcist?

CH: Yeah, that's right.

TT: We've heard that Piper had some problems with an assistant director.

CH: A very amusing story. This was during the period when women were talking about the "male chauvinist pig" and how awful they are. The feminist movement was in full swing. So the first assistant director said, "Would you mind if we brought in a second assistant that is a female?" And I said no, as long as she can do the job. So we brought in this girl.

And part of the job of an assistant director is to tell everyone what to do and to boss them around. So she did that...and it was nothing more than any assistant would do. With great authority. I thought she was just fine.

But then Piper called me in one day and said, "Who is the star of the picture? Me or this assistant director?"

TT: Did she resent the fact that it was a woman?

CH: It was like a female rivalry. For the first time, I became aware that females feel differently about each other than males do. If you've ever watched a room full of women and then another woman enters the room...you can see them all turn and look at her and start evaluating her. As a potential rival and all that.

TT: Sure. Have you stayed in contact with Piper over the years?

CH: Yes, we're still very friendly although I don't see her very often.

TT: Did you enjoy doing the commentary with her for VCI?

CH: Yes I did.

TT: It's very informative and entertaining.

CH: We both hated Krantz!

TT: Piper has a fantastic laugh.

CH: Oh yes! A wonderful low, rich voice.

TT: You seem to have enjoyed working with some of the same actors across several of your films. Stuart Whitman had a role in Ruby and he was in The Cat Creature. Similarly, Ruby featured Roger Davis, who also appeared in Killer Bees. Likewise, Luana Anders appeared in two of your projects.

CH: They were all actors that I felt a rapport with and whom I liked personally.

TT: Financially, what was your most successful feature film?

CH: I have no idea. I'm not financially oriented and I've never been given a straight accounting sheet of any of my films.

TT: We were under the impression that it was RUBY...

CH: It apparently was quite successful. It played mostly in drive-ins. But I don't really know. That's just what I've heard.

TT: What can you tell us about your next film, which would be the television feature Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell?

CH: It was just pathetic.

TT: Any thoughts for the record?

CH: It was an impossible project. I just took it because I probably needed some money at the time and it was offered to me.

But you can't make a perfectly sweet animal look evil. That's impossible. I did every trick in the book to try and make that lovely dog look evil. Even the puppies in it were supposed to look evil. It was just absurd!

The script was lousy and the producer was determined to make the film within the budget he was given by the network. You see, in the heyday of TV movies there was something called "deficit financing."

TT: What did that mean?

CH: You might put your own company's money into the film to make it better, hoping that it would recoup all that by being released in theaters overseas.

And the producer of Devil Dog was absolutely determined not to go into deficit financing. So when it came to the special effects, it was a joke. I had nothing to do with the big confrontation at the end. I had nothing to do with any of that. I was off the picture by then when they were doing the post-production work.

TT: What did you think when you saw the final product?

CH: I could hardly believe it...it was terrible.

TT: Do you think the able cast, including Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux, did okay with what they had?

CH: I did. I loved Yvette. I really loved working with her. She's one of the most beautiful actresses I've ever worked with.

TT: Looking back at your career, how do you feel about the fact that you've worked with some of the great grande dames of the stage and screen?

CH: I just feel that it has been a privilege and an honor to work with so many great actresses. I've enjoyed it tremendously.

TT: The Terror Trap thinks of you as the "George Cukor of the horror genre" because you have such a respect for the women you directed. Anyone that you wish you had worked with?

CH: Well, I think it would have been fun to work with Bette Davis. And Marlene Dietrich...that would have been a big thrill.

Of course, as I said earlier...Bette couldn't make Killer Bees but I lucked out and I was very fortunate and extremely happy to work with the legendary Swanson.

TT: Would you have wanted to direct Joan Crawford?

CH: Actually, James Mason and I were supposed to do a film together where he played a detective investigating a murder. The murder was of a call girl and he had to see the Madame who manages the call girl ring.

I suggested Joan Crawford for the part because she had a certain hardness about her.

I had lunch with James and I made the suggestion because I was trying to boost the marquee power for the picture. He said, "Curtis...I made one promise to myself when I first came to Hollywood and that is that I would never work with Joan Crawford."

TT: Did he give a reason?

CH: No.

TT: What was that project called?

CH: Well, it was finally made and it was called The Pyx.

TT: Wasn't that the Canadian film with Karen Black directed by Harvey Hart?

CH: Yes, very badly made. It was nothing like I would have done with the material. It was based on a Canadian novel. Do you know what a pyx is?

TT: Not offhand...

CH: I had to learn this myself...a pyx is a container in which the priest carries the sacred wafer to the sick and dying.

TT: Of course!

You used to write your own screenplays at first.

CH: Well, I wrote Night Tide...every word of it. But I was a writer for lack of anything better. In other words, I wanted to collaborate with a real writer. I don't consider that I write good dialogue for instance.

That's why in some older films (and French movies) you'll see "scenario by so and so" and "dialogue by so and so." The scenes are structured by (ostensibly) the director or whoever...but the actual dialogue is written by someone who specializes in writing credible dialogue.

TT: In the past, producers forced actors on you that you didn't necessarily want for various roles. When push comes to shove, is casting best when it's a joint decision that both the producer and director can agree upon?

CH: I would say it's a combination hybrid. Yes, it's very much that. But I feel there's less leeway in television. That's why I ended up with Meredith Baxter in The Cat Creature, despite the fact that she was still entirely wrong for the role. But at least not ludicrous like Patty Duke would have been.

TT: So basically, in the best case scenario...you work together with the producer(s) to find the right person for the role?

CH: Yes, although when I was working for the networks...it was very much a ratings thing. If anyone happened to be in a film that got a high rating the week before...like in the case of Patty Duke...they'd want to cast them whether they were suitable or not.

TT: We're one of the very few sites that has a respect for television movies and shows. Any thoughts on why TV work has been so disparaged over the years?

CH: Well, for example...I did episodes of various series for Aaron Spelling. At the time, it was the bottom line in terms of drama for television. It's all very cut and dry. You're handed the script and there's very little room for any creative freedom.

I think I did very well with Made-for-Television movies, considering. I got some lovely casting...people like Tony Perkins and Julie Harris. You can't get better than that. It was a pleasure working with those people. You're just very restricted in TV because the budget is very tight and you have to shoot very fast.

TT: Did the burgeoning slasher cycle that was ignited in 1978 with Halloween hold no appeal for you?

CH: It never did. It held very little interest for me.

TT: Is that why you stopped making feature horror films at that point?

CH: There were other projects that I tried to get off the ground. I was still working in TV and earning enough money to make a living. There was one project that I wanted to do with Charlotte Rampling...a feature film.

TT: What was it called?

CH: That was called "The Unicorn."

TT: We're big fans of several TV series you directed. We know there were restraints but were they at least fun to work on?

CH: Not particularly. I did enjoy working with Bobbie Blake on Baretta. He's a tough old bird but we got along mainly because I had been a friend of his wife before I ever worked with him.

TT: Sondra Blake...who's terrific in 1976's Helter Skelter...

CH: Right. I had directed her in a short-lived series called Jesse James. As I've told many people, I've never considered any of those TV shows to be an example of my artistry...just my craft.

TT: Did you keep in touch with Robert Blake over the years? Any thoughts on his acquittal?

CH: I'm just very happy that he was found not guilty. Knowing him the way I did, I would never have believed he'd murder someone in cold blood...although I don't really know because that was obviously a very fraught psychological situation between him and that woman. I'm very happy that he was released and I wish him well. I really like Bobbie very much.

TT: Who are the directors that influenced you most?

CH: The directors I most admire are those who have made films that are filled with their own personality. I have no interest in mass produced films...of which the vast majority are. They have no heart, no soul. The number one director is Josef von Sternberg. And then there's Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Federico Fellini, Erich von Stroheim...they were all extremely creative directors.

TT: How do you feel about Roman Polanski's work?

CH: The one I like best is Repulsion. More a psychological study of a madness. I'm a friend of Roman's...

TT: Will he ever come back to the States?

CH: I don't think so. It's too dangerous for him and he's very happy in Paris. You know, the day he got out of prison and he fled to Europe...I was giving a party in his honor at my house and he never showed up. He went right to the airport and got on a plane.

TT: That's fascinating...

Do you have any horror films that are particular favorites of yours?

CH: I love Carl Theodore Dreyer's Vampyr (1932) very much. That's the most mystical of all horror films. I love The Bride of Frankenstein because of its humor and cleverness and I'm a great admirer of the classics of James Whale. I liked Cat People of course.

I thought The Exorcist was clever and well done. And I did like ALIEN, which was very similar to my Queen of Blood. Generally, the films that I like have a bit of soul to them. I don't like any of the gore films at all like Friday the 13th. They're just for teenagers.

TT: You've spoken out on the declining literacy of today's movies, as well as suggested there's an obviousness to modern horror...care to elaborate?

CH: Well, it's because it has become pure, pure exploitation. It mirrors the decline of all commercial filmmaking. It's controlled by the suits. They know nothing about filmmaking and they could care less.

TT: When do you think that started to happen?

CH: It's been coming on for years. For years. I'd have to sit down and write a book about it, which I won't do.

Personally, I think it began with all those slasher films. It's like what happened with the Frankenstein series. It began with the wonderful artistry of James Whale and ended up with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It's the same kind of decline that's happening currently. And now there are parodies of all the slasher films. I won't be seeing or renting any of them!

TT: Recently, you completed a short film called Usher.

CH: Yes, Usher is my latest film. I made it on my own. It lasts forty minutes. I appear in it as the eponymous character Roderick Usher. It's an intensely personal film. I've loved Poe as part of my whole interest in the macabre since childhood. So I've made this film within the last three years and I'm very happy about it. I've been showing it a lot in Europe at film festivals.

TT: How can your fans see it?

CH: Well, it's not available commercially. What I'm trying to do at the present time is I'm trying to write a script for a companion piece based on Poe's work that would give me enough footage to put out a DVD. "Two by Poe" or "Poe Back to Back" - something like that..." as seen or interpreted by Curtis Harrington." That's what I'm trying to do because there's no way anybody is going to release a forty minute video.

TT: Didn't Roger Corman help you with an insurance issue on Usher?

CH: We had very little money to make the film with. I had a scene in a cemetery and the people at the cemetery said they couldn't allow us to shoot there unless we had insurance for the day. That's fairly expensive. But I had heard that any working company has insurance and all they have to do is send a fax naming that insurance. It doesn't cost them anything. So the one person I thought of with a working company was Roger Corman.

And I wrote him a letter and told him I need insurance to shoot one day in a cemetery. For a while, I didn't hear from him and I thought that wasn't surprising because I'm currently not active with him. But out of the blue, his secretary called me and said, "Mr. Corman wants you to know that he will give you the insurance that you need." I just had to call so and so at his office to arrange it.

TT: That's a nice story.

CH: Yes, it's actually a lovely story.

TT: Looking back, which of your own films are you most proud of?

CH: My personal favorite of my feature films is What's the Matter with Helen? because it has the most of me in it. I had a lot of influence on the development of the script. So that's the closest to my own heart of my feature films.

TT: Mr. Harrington, how would you like to best be remembered?

CH: (Long pause)...just as someone who made a few good films...or interesting films. I think that's the most I can expect.

TT: Well, you've given fans of the horror genre some outstanding movies and memories over the years - and for that, we're grateful. Thanks so much for talking to us.

CH: Thank you.

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