02 September 2014

[continued from Part I]

TT: And so the original ending to Sorority Row is gone?

MR: I don't know if it's on a cassette somewhere. I don't know where that would be.

TT: The assumption being that the ending was too dark, you can't have the main girl be killed?

MR: Exactly. The head of Film Ventures thought it was too much of a downbeat ending.

TT: Reminds us, incidentally, of the ending in Bob Clark's Black Christmas...have you seen that one?

MR: I never have. People have mentioned that movie to me because it takes place in a sorority house.

TT: It's fairly unconventional in that there's no explained motive for the killings and the killer ends up living in the end. That's an example in which the director has said he regrets the open ending. We love them.

MR: I loved my original ending. In fact, in the script we went into shooting with, after the killer opens his eyes, it cuts to a hospital and Kathryn is being wheeled out in a wheelchair. The camera pulls up to the orderly and the orderly is Eric. And the wheelchair makes a quick turn down another corridor and that's the end of the film.

TT: That would have been terrific too...

MR: I wanted her dead! (Laughs.) I felt that in every movie, the last girl lives and I wondered why.

TT: It's worse nowadays. Everyone's got perfect hair and perfect teeth and almost no one dies.

MR: Right.

TT: We noticed that Richard Band's score is very Pino Donaggio. We love it.

MR: When I put a temp music track to the film, it was full of Bernard Herrmann music from Sisters and Pino stuff. It was there when I showed the film to Richard and his scores kind of sound like that anyway. That was the feel that I wanted. What was great was that we were able to go to England and have the London Philharmonic record it.

TT: Did you have any inspiration for the clown outfit? We find clowns in horror films, when it's done right, very scary. Your film is one of the few in which it works.

MR: I just find them scary myself. There wasn't any specific inspiration. It sort of went along with the innocence of Eric, the idea that he was really a young boy mentally. It fit the whole idea of the toys.

TT: Were you satisfied with Rob Holland's special effects?

MR: Not really. We kind of had to cut around stuff. It probably ended up helping the movie. We stayed very distant from Eric. To me, the best effect in it remains when you see one of the girls' heads in the toilet. It was really her in the fake toilet.

TT: There's not a lot of gore, so we're guessing that's linked to the editing?

MR: There was even less when I showed the film to the distributor. They felt it needed a little more gore. We actually added some shots in post production that brought up the gore level.

TT: As long as the cane going into Eileen's eye is in there, we're okay with everything else! You gotta have that in there!

MR: (Laughs.) Yeah, I know.

TT: We're wondering...the average shooting schedule for this type of film is something like six weeks, correct?

MR: This was I think about 28-30 days. Nowadays, that's long. Almost all my later movies have been twenty days. We had the luxury of not having to pay a lot of people so we could shoot longer and the location we had bought was this one house, so we could afford to hang out a bit.

TT: Upon the film's release, did you hear any feedback from De Palma?

MR: Not really. I don't think he ever saw the film. I bumped into him a couple of times and I think he had heard about it, but I never got a review from him.

TT: We've seen conflicting release dates.

MR: It was released (theatrically) in January of 1983.

TT: Was it a financial success?

MR: Yes, it did very well for Film Ventures. Unfortunately, the money never floated down to my investors or myself. The film was one of the highest rated independent films of that year.

I ran into people who worked at Film Ventures who said they made a lot of money...but we never saw any of it. It's one of those stories you hear about in which the investors never get their money back.

TT: Vestron first put it out on video in the early '80s and more recently, Elite Entertainment released the DVD. Are they both what audiences saw in theaters?

MR: Yes. No one ever approached me about any other versions or commentary or anything like that. So I'm sure there's really only one version.

TT: So you weren't involved with the Elite DVD release at all?

MR: No one ever called me about it.

TT: That's too bad because when people see it, they think it's one of the more underrated films from this period. It's unfortunate that the DVD doesn't have any extras besides the trailer. It looks good though. Have you watched it?

MR: I haven't, no. I don't even have a DVD player, but that's gonna be rectified soon.

TT: It would be great if it had your running commentary.

MR: Maybe the fans can call or write to Elite and tell them to reissue it with commentary. If there are enough people who would buy it, maybe they'd do it.

TT: Any other thoughts about House on Sorority Row?

MR: Yes. The whole ad campaign for that was something I was very opposed to. The artwork...

TT: It sort of looks like a soft porn flick.

MR: To me, it looks like a rape/revenge movie. The woman looks like she's been raped, which had nothing to do with the movie. I wanted to do an ad with a hand coming out of a swimming pool, kind of like Deliverence. They were much more interested in selling sex.

TT: The European artwork was much nicer.

MR: Yes, it was like a shattered mirror and it had the cane. I actually have that poster somewhere.

TT: In general, how do you feel about the film today?

MR: I haven't seen it for awhile. The thing I was going for that I'm proudest of in the movie is that it's not just innocent babes getting sliced up. The whole idea of it was that the girls were not only partially responsible...but they have a storyline that they are involved with during the movie. They're not just sitting around going, "Hey, lets make out in the basement."

That's what I was going for and I think I was successful. The appeal of the movie is that you're into these girls because you're following something that they're involved in and they bring it on themselves.

TT: By the way, the "girl/sorority" talk is realistic.

MR: I was in a fraternity for two years at UCLA before I went to NYU.

TT: What fraternity?

MR: It was called Sigma Pi.

TT: Even if the lines were totally scripted, it comes across really well.

Have you stayed in contact with anybody from that shoot?

MR: Not really. People just kind of part ways. Like I said earlier, I ran into Kathryn MacNeil a few years ago at an audition. Tim, the cinematographer, it was his first movie and he went on to do a bunch of other films. He did a TV series, Chicago Hope...and I ended up talking to him a few years ago. So I occasionally touch base with people.

TT: Your next project was Night Shadows. Didn't that turn out to be Mutant?

MR: Yes. I think it was retitled when it was released on video.

TT: We had some help finding you from Mike Jones, the guy who co-wrote the story. He told us you were originally going to direct it.

MR: That was sort of a little disaster. Film Ventures wanted me to direct something else. They had this script by Mike and I think a partner.

I decided to get involved with it but Ed Montora, the guy who owned the company, just wanted to turn it into whatever movie he saw. He was on the set directing and I just decided it wasn't going to be a good situation.

TT: That's too bad. We think it would have been a better film if you had done it.

MR: I actually started directing it. I directed like the first ten days and then left. It was the only time in my career that I've ever not finished a movie.

TT: What kinds of projects have you been involved with since?

MR: I've divided my work between suspense films and family films. After my first film, I did a Wonderful World of Disney movie called The Blue Yonder and went on from that to do some other family movies. I did two more films for Disney last year that were on ABC.

One was called Lifesize with Tyra Banks. The other was called Model Behavior. Lifesize I wrote and directed and Model Behavior I just directed.

TT: What are you currently doing?

MR: Recently, I've been directing two Disney channel comedy series, one called Lizzy McGuire and the other called Even Stevens.

TT: Are you interested in doing full out horror films in the future?

MR: It would have to be on the psychological end. Slasher movies don't interest me anymore. The Sixth Sense was a fantastic movie. I'd love to do something like that.

TT: What are other works you admire?

MR: Some of the Frankenheimer movies like Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate are favorites of mine. Early Hitchcock stuff like Strangers On a Train. The Twilight Zone did a lot of great stuff. Things that can happen to a normal person. That's what I really love.

TT: What project are you most proud of?

MR: I'd say my second film, The Blue Yonder. It was something closer to me personally. It was about a boy meeting his grandfather that he had never known.

TT: We'll have to check that one out. Is it hard to find?

MR: Someone told me you can get it on Ebay. It was nominated for best cable film of 1985. It was a pretty special film in many ways. I had a great crew. The editor was Paul Hirsh, who cut a lot of the De Palma movies and won an Academy Award for Star Wars. The composer was David Shire, Academy Award winner for Norma Rae and The Conversation. The cinematographer was Hiro Narita. And Peter Coyote and Art Carney starred in it.

TT: Norma Rae is such a wonderful movie and we really love The Conversation. It's powerful.

MR: That's a great movie. It's one of my favorite films.

TT: Is there a thriller in your immediate future?

MR: I just got a green light on something for TBS called Dead in a Heartbeat.

TT: What is it about?

MR: It's an action/thriller about a female heart surgeon and the head of a bomb squad who team up to stop a madman who has turned pacemakers into timebombs. It'll hopefully shoot this spring. I co-wrote it with another writer named Richard Ades.

TT: It sounds like an interesting premise!

Mark...thanks for taking the time to talk to us. It's been fun.

MR: Thanks a lot. Take care!

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