24 April 2014

[continued from Part I]

The Terror Trap: That might be a good segue into talking a little about your 1977 film Hitch Hike, also known as The Naked Prey.

Here's a brutal, uncompromising thriller about a bickering married couple on a road trip who pick up a psychotic hitchhiker...and pay the ultimate price for it.

In particular, we want to ask you about the scene where you rape Eve (played by Corinne Clery). It's a moment of sheer realistic horror that has nothing to do with blood. Or boogeymen. Or monsters. It's the kind of real horror moment that could happen anywhere, anytime. Full of pathos and very sad.

David Hess: Yes. If you look at the scene again, the question is whether it was rape or not. It may be rape and perhaps in her mind, she wanted to be raped. But she sure was enjoying it. So is that rape?

TT: Thereís a lot going on in that scene - horror-wise, and emotionally - because it's fairly clear Eve wasnít getting what she wanted from her husband.

DH: Correct. That was the whole setup. And my character Adam knows it too.

TT: Corinne, who is so beautiful, described you as such a kind and gentle man off the set that it was very hard for her to visualize you as Adam, the hitchhiking sociopath. Was it difficult for you to return to that psyche of Krug?

DH: First off, I donít think Krug was anywhere near as intelligent as Adam. I think Krug probably had a tenth grade education and Adam probably went through college. (Laughs.)

Itís never hard as an actor to return to a place that youíve been. The difficulty is in once going to that place, what do you do thatís new? You canít just keep repeating over and over the same old stuff.

TT: Thereís a lot of humor in Adam thatís refreshing, as opposed to Krug.

DH: Well, heís more intelligent. He can laugh at himself. Krug could not.

TT: Youíve spoken about what a positive experience it is working on Italian films, and with Pasquale Festa Campanile in particular - the writer turned director of Hitch Hike. Tell us why theyíre so much fun.

DH: First off, the Italians are more fun anyway. They donít take themselves seriously. Itís all about what are you going to eat that night?, where are you going to dinner?Öwhoís fucking who?, whoís not. (Laughs.) What play are we gonna see? etc. With them, the filming process is intertwined with living life. And then the next morning, you go back to the set and you do your thing.

Itís not quite the same in the United States. You get a lot of downward pressure. Producers are always on the set, looking at their watches and that kind of thing. Not all of them. But it does seem like when they shoot in Los Angeles or any of the big cities here, itís a whole different setup.

When they get out of the States, they act differently. But I think thatís also the case for whenever we travel too. We become different people.

TT: We get the sense you had a great time with CorinneÖ

DH: We love each other. Thereís no other way to explain it. She could have been the love of my life, no question about it. Sheís just a very, very special lady.

She did a couple of films before that, one of which was really, really famous called The Story of O.

TT: The soft-core 1975 filmÖ

DH: Right. The sado-masochistic film before anybody even looked into it.

She was a really good actress. We clicked because we had the same sensibilities. Namely that this IS acting after all, and that we're LUCKY to be doing this. Weíre able to get out there and fantasize and get paid for it. How many people can say that's their job?

TT: And what was Pasquale like?

DH: He was a wonderful man. Just a wonderful, intellectual man who had a really good command of English and who wanted to take that professorial writing background that he had and translate it to the screen. He was really easy to work with because if youíre in a teaching environment, itís not just you talkingÖyou listen to what other people have to say too by definition. So he brought that to the set with him.

Thatís also what made it a happy and upbeat set.

TT: You had worked with Franco Nero the year before in 21 Hours at Munich. Tell us about him.

DH: Franco was a producer on the film as well. Heís a good friend. Heís actually a farm boy. He grew up on a farm so heís very simple. Heís a soccer player. Heís a really good businessman. We just hit it off.

TT: You've called Nero an underrated actor, and we couldnít agree more.

DH: Francoís totally underrated. But then again, I think Iím underrated too. If I really think about it - and I donít get melancholy about it or anything - but I donít know that Iíve gotten the credit that I should get. I think Iím a pretty good actor.

TT: In 1980, you directed the Christmas slasher To All a Goodnight. Let's talk a little about this one. How did the project come your way?

DH: Well, Sandy Cobe was a distributor and foreign sales guy who was also a big fan of Last House and he asked me if I wanted to direct it.

TT: Yeah, Sandy Cobe also produced another slasher, Terror on Tour (1980), the one about the rock group?

DH: Yes, I believe so. Anyway, Sandy contacted me through a life long fellow actor buddy, Jay Rasumni. And it just felt right, so I signed on as the director.

We had about $70K to play with and a 10 shooting schedule. It was just an overall great experience...

TT: What did you think of your lead Jennifer Runyon?

DH: Jen was young, but she was obviously on her way to stardom. One could see it even then. Surprisingly she hasn't done that much and I've always wondered why. She had all the elements of a really fine actress.

TT: What was shooting like?

DH: It was such a blur because we were living in the same house that we were shooting in. It was this big mansion owned by a druglord who kept it as a hideaway in Santa Barbara! We ate, slept, and worked continuously for 10 days straight.

I remember Herb Stryker (aka Harry Reems of porno fame) playing the pilot who got cut up in the props of his plane. We used cloth rags with bits of plastic mold to simulate the body parts - and it worked!

My sister Judy Hess played the old lady in the end who comes into the house...I forget the character's name, but she was a riot. We had to cut much of the scene because we were laughing so hard doing the takes.

TT: Were you asked to appear in it, or was it understood from the beginning that you were going to direct it only?

DH: (Laughs). No, there was no way I was going to be in the film. No Alfred Hitchcock for me. I had so much on my plate anyway it just wasn't going to happen. We scraped by with the $70K because we used an old Mitchell that we borrowed from one of the studios that Sandy was in touch with.

Later we found out that the camera had been used on all these Academy Award winning productions. Unfortunately, that was not a prediction of things to be! The buck stopped with us. (Laughs).

The lenses were something special, I'll never forget. And the DP, who was totally alcoholic, couldn't lift the camera to move it because it weighed close to 100lbs and he was this skinny little guy. So I found myself playing grip in between the scenes.

The dolly shots and the crane shots are all faked. We did have some tracks to use, but they were limited.

TT: What are your thoughts on To All a Goodnight all these years later?

DH: Not sure...I haven't seen it in years. Maybe not since it came out. But in general? I think for what we had to work with, and the time restrictions we were put under, it's not half bad for what it was.

Horror is horror, I suppose. I think the uniqueness of the film is that it's the first Santa Claus slasher. So that says something.

TT: Yup, it definitely predates Don't Open Til Christmas (1984) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). And possibly Christmas Evil (1980), too...

How would you feel about directing again?

DH: Well, I'd love to...but I'm not going to chase it at this stage of my career. My music is most important for me at the moment. But I do have some projects in development and pre-production and if they get off the ground, you'll see me behind the camera again.

TT: In watching your films, those performances are very gritty and memorable. You canít get them out of your head.

DH: I have to laugh at the Academy Awards. Not so much the SAG Awards because I think those are pretty good. I see the Academy give awards to people that are goodÖbut I donít see them really giving awards to people that are great. People that arenít necessarily mainstream.

TT: It seems like itís always been like that.

DH: I guess. But it doesnít mean that it should be.

TT: There are no Ingrid Bergman or Bette Davis type people these days. There are no stars who are as good as the hype they get. Sorry, thatís a digressionÖ

DH: Actually, itís not at all! As people who run a website, I think itís very important for you to write about it. To make it known to the general public that we are not doing what we should be doing.

When you go back to the studio days - and I was never a fan of the big studio days - but look who they produced. And you think anybody ever gave a fiddlerís fuck about whether they got an Academy Award or not? No! Because that just happened once a year and it was an award from your peers. The important thing being that it was a great way to advertise product.

TT: Thatís a good point.

You worked with Mark Robson on Avalanche Express (1979). He was a classic horror director who had helmed films for Val Lewton in the forties such as Isle of the Dead and The Seventh Victim.

What are your memories of working with Robson?

DH: One of the funniest memories was when I went in there to read. (Laughs.)

TT: What happened?

DH: He was kind of sitting there and I read. He looked at me and he said, ďYou live here now?Ē I said, ďYeah, I live in Munich.Ē He asked me why I wanted to do the film and I told him I didnít knowÖit just looked like a fun movie.

He said, ďWell, we canít pay you very much.Ē I replied, ďWait a minute, I thought you were the director!Ē And he laughed at me. He said, ďYou got the role. Iíll get in touch with your agent. But weíre gonna pay you German scale.Ē

I said, ďWhat? What are you talking about? Iím an American!Ē So we went back and forth like that. And he had this kind of twinkle. He didnít know me from Adam. Not because he couldnít have. He hadnít done his research and didnít do his homework. Eventually he did and he figured that I knew what the fuck I was doing. But I didnít. I didnít know what I was doing. I was still a neophyte.

For me, knowing that Lee Marvin and Robert Shaw were in the filmÖand that there was a big $12 million dollar budget, which was a lot of money in those days - that stuff motivated me more than anything. And Iíd always wanted to do a terrorist kind of a role. I mean, I played Carlos the Jackal in that movie.

TT: We would imagine Robson was a consummate professional on the set.

DH: Completely. He gave very little direction though. After all, you donít have to give direction to Robert Shaw. If you look at that cast, there wasnít much direction for him to give. Everybody knew what they were doing. He ran a very tight ship, thatís all I can say.

TT: Now, you've worked twice with Ruggero DeodatoÖ

DH: Actually, Deodato and I have worked together five times.

TT: Oh?

DH: Yes, I did the two theatrical films with him. And then three mini-series with him (for Italian TV).

TT: Do you consider him a good friend?

DH: Yeah, heís a really good friend.

TT: Letís talk about House on the Edge of the Park (1980), aka La casa sperduta nel parco.

Here, a pair of working class thugs get invited to a party hosted by some fashionable, upscale hipsters, who are then terrorized by said hoods. Of course, things don't turn out the way they expected..

There are some similarities to Last House here. It's got a slicker story, but it's got that same exploitative charm. It's also got a pretty wild frivolity to it.

Your thoughts on this one?

DH: Well, first off, itís Italian. Thatís the way Italians make films. There again, it goes back to how seriously you want to take yourself. Theyíll be serious and then all of a sudden, theyíll just start laughing because they realize theyíre taking themselves too seriously. We havenít quite learned that yet.

Thatís really the difference between those two films, other than the different settings and characters. They could have done another Last House on the Left, in other wordsÖmade it grittier and darker. Thereís a certain likeness between the two, but House on the Edge is a good example of how Italians make films.

TT: That said, what did you think about the plot revelation at the end - in which itís revealed that the whole thing has been a setup to get revenge on Alex and Ricky (played by Giovanni Lombardo Radice)?

DH: I think it worked. I wouldnít have done it that way because it went a little too far into the fantasy world. But I give credit to Ruggero for making it work. It was like a joke. ďScherzoĒ in Italian. The jokeís on you because we set this whole thing up.

TT: Earlier, you referred to Last House, Hitch Hike and House on the Edge of the Park as a trilogy. How does the character of Alex in House on the Edge differ from the other two?

DH: Heís a legitimate working class stiff.

TT: Working at the garage in the cityÖ

DH: Yeah. So thereís a legitimacy to him which you donít really see with the other two. Heís all urban. And yet heís conservative, in a way. Think about his reactions during the film. There are things that affect him, where people go overboard.

TT: Would you say heís a little more reserved than the other two?

DH: Right. Heís got his life in front of him. So heís more dangerous in that respect, I think...because he really borders on possibly becoming a serial killer without any hesitancy. There are intimations during the setup of the film that he might be. Ruggero didnít go that way with it, obviously because he didnít want to. But I think that Alex, if he had been allowed to live, might become a serial killer.

TT: Tell us about Giovanni.

DH: Oh, I see him all the time! He lives in London and we just laugh. I always kid him about his smoking. Heís a smokestack. One cigarette after the other!

TT: You're good friends?

DH: Yeah. Heís great. Whenever Iím in London or Rome, we always get together. Heís very much an intellectual who directs and writes plays, and does translations.

TT: Radice is interesting in House on the Edge because he kind of has this whole "little brother" thing going on with you. But we'd be remiss if we didn't mention a sort of sexual vibe we also felt going on between Alex and Ricky, that they're lovers in some way...

DH: Well, yes, that was there. Itís meant to be that. You donít know. You donít know whether Alex is bisexual or not.

TT: That makes the whole thing more intriguing.

DH: I thought so. We didnít really go into it, but I definitely played him that way. Enigmatic in a way. Ambiguous. There could have been that.

TT: Out of the other cast members, who really sticks out in your head?

DH: Annie Belle, who played Lisa. She was just this crazy, little, young and wonderful kind of actress that had no predispositions about what to do or what not to do. As long as thereís a sheet, letís fuck! Literally. (Laughs.)

TT: She was a feisty one?

DH: Very feisty. Anything that went on between Annie Belle and I, even on the screen, was real. I donít think she was anywhere near the talent that Corinne was but thereís something special about her.

TT: Thereís an icy detachment about Annie Belle in House on the Edge thatís very cool.

DH: I agree.

TT: In 1982, you worked with Adrienne Barbeau - and with Wes Craven (once again) - on Swamp Thing.

You got to terrorize Barbeau in a bigger budget, comic book kind of thing. What was she like to work with?

DH: You know, all of my leading ladies have been good.

TT: What did you think of working with Craven this second time around?

DH: He was certainly more professional. Unlike Last House, he was working for a big studio. I think he did better, given what he had to work with.

You never know what your contract reads. There are a lot of clauses sometimes for a director, not the least of which is if you donít get it done on time or fall too far behind, you can be fired on two weeks notice.

TT: Was that in danger of happening to Craven?

DH: Yes. He almost got fired.

TT: Because he was off schedule?

DH: Over budget. A little bit off schedule. I donít know. Iíve always felt that people who possess money and who are would-be producers want somehow to take part in the creative aspect of making a film when they really shouldnít. So they interfere. It was more or less of an interference that went wrong.

TT: So it wasn't any shortcoming on Cravenís part - but rather ďsuitsĒ got involved where they shouldnít have been?

DH: Right, thatís a good way of putting it. Yeah.

TT: Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane) and you seem quite different in terms of acting styles. What was he like to work with?

DH: We didnít work that much together but he was suffering at the time because his son had just committed suicide.

TT: Thatís horrible.

DH: The thing that struck me more about him than anything was that he probably wanted to get away from it. I certainly canít imagine what would happen if my son ever committed suicide. Iíd probably want to get away from it too and just immerse myself in some kind of a role to forget about it. But it takes a lot of strength and courage to follow-up on your commitments.

TT: Did he seem depressed?

DH: Oh yeah, he was definitely down. He really stayed by himself. We went to dinner a couple of times but it was hard for him. It was absolutely hard.

TT: Moving on to the next Deodato film, Body Count (1987), AKA Camping del terrore.

We think itís a lot of fun because Italians were effectively able to keep the slasher trend going much longer than the Americans. What do you recall about that one?

DH: I did most of the English dialogue directing on it.

Ruggero and I kind of shared the scene directing on that film. Thatís what Ruggero wanted me to do. They were very clear about that when we came to the agreement that I would do the film. One of my roles would be to direct the English-speaking actors. Ruggero just wasnít that secure with his English. All the scenes in the camper, I kind of directed.

TT: What was your impression of Mimsy Farmer, who played your wife Julia?

DH: None, really. Sheís okay. Nothing exceptional. Sheís a working actress and she did what she had to do. She didnít really integrate. Then again, Iím probably the wrong person to make any kind of judgment on that because it was a dual function for me. I was often behind the camera, literally directing.

TT: Body Count is a slasher so it doesnít have the meat of your earlier trilogy. Whatís your opinion of the film looking back on it?

DH: Oh, it was fun to make, I guess. Bruce Penhall (Dave) was a big star at the time so we kind of rode his coattails. But essentially, I think itís a lightweight movie.

TT: What did you think of the open ending in Body Count? Did you think it was silly?

DH: The whole thing was silly. (Laughs.) It was like, why make this film? A lot of films are made just to make a film.

TT: What are you thoughts about the horror genre these days?

DH: I think itís struggling for an identity. But that comes with well-written scripts. Horror is another way of putting sociological problems to the public. And if we forget that, it becomes gratuitous.

TT: And there any horror or suspense films that are favorites of yours?

DH: When I was a kid, I loved monsters, Dracula, etc. They scared the shit out of me. I just loved them. Saturday afternoon was the BEST fucking time of my life because not only did we get to see monster movies but we also saw serials, which were great.

What I really like are John Garfield film noir movies. He was one of my mentors, even though we didnít know each other.

TT: Tell us about meeting your fans at conventions. Do you enjoy that interaction?

DH: I love doing it. Maybe other people donít. I just think that if youíre not in touch with your fans, why bother? I mean, it's a job but itís not a job. Itís part of life. I donít do that many of them though. I try to limit my appearances to maybe four or five a year if it sounds right.

When youíre on the screen and youíre depicting something, youíre influencing a lot of people. So itís very important if youíre influencing them in a way that can be negative, that you get out there and show the positive side of you. The convention circuit is a good way to get out there and meet and greet your fans and say thank you. And at the same time, pick up a little pocket money if youíre not working. So it works on both ends.

TT: What kind of role in horror would turn you on now?

DH: Iím always interested in exploring the good/bad. Something thatís got both elements would appeal to me.

TT: Whenever youíve turned down a role, is it because the script is lacking?

DH: Theyíre just not very good. Yeah.

I would love to play the Devil. I think thatís the greatest role of all time. Iíve only seen one script thatís come to me with the Devil in it and they didnít want to cast me in the part so I turned it down. For some reason, they didnít see the parallel between that role and the others Iíve played!

TT: What are you up to now and whatís in store for your future?

DH: Iím doing an album called Choices that Iím halfway finished with. I should have something in the way of an EP album (short form) by the time I get out to the next convention.

Iíve written a couple of scripts, one of which is in pre-production. And Iíve got offers for some films. Iím pretty busy.

TT: Thatís terrific. We look forward to your next ventures. Thanks again for shooting the breeze with us, David!

DH: Thanks. Take care.

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