18 June 2024

[continued from Part I]

TT: Did you feel that Chuck was kind of a loner during the filming of Tourist Trap, that he was doing his own thing?

RS: Without a doubt. I thought, well here we all are…most of us are basically the same age. And there was Chuck. He was alone. Nobody was his age or had worked as much as he did. We were happy that we were doing a movie and he had already made so many. He had done so much work that I think he got irritable because we were all so new to the business.

So, I think he did feel like a loner, not only with age but because he was CHUCK CONNORS. He was well-known.

TT: How did you feel about your character’s demise so early on in the film? Did you wish you had survived longer and maybe been more of a “final girl”?

RS: Oh yes, definitely. But what I did like about it is that I had screen time. I think there’s ten minutes where it’s only me on the screen.

TT: That’s true.

RS: So I thought that was very unusual and I liked that.

TT: Are there any other tidbits you can recall about the filming?

RS: I remember one incident. We were out shooting at the façade of the house and all of a sudden, the generator shut down. We were in our trailers. Some bill had not been paid. The power just wasn’t going on and we were all sitting there. We were getting paid because it’s Screen Actors Guild but it was costing producer Charles Band a fortune.

From what I gather, he somehow got the cash in the middle of the night and made whatever payment was needed to turn the generator back on. We went back to work but we had sat for hours.

TT: Band always came through…

RS: Yes. He would bring money from the air. With a low-budget film, you have to get this investor and that investor…and it takes considerable skill. There were cash flow problems and the generator might have been shut off but he got it DONE. You do what it takes.

TT: He’s a businessman.

RS: Right. But he had a great eye. Roger Corman was the same way. He once said something like, “I didn’t invest in the stock market. I invested in talent.” He was always able to see talent and I think Charlie Band was like that. He gets it finished.

TT: Tourist Trap mixes together a bit of the rough-edged mood of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, tosses in a few slasher overtones, and throws in some supernatural themes reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s Carrie. What are your thoughts about how the film handles all those different thematic elements?

RS: It works well. I think there have been films that have copied Tourist Trap. I believe many films reference other films.

For instance, De Palma references Hitchcock. Perhaps Tourist Trap referenced De Palma, particularly with the score by Donaggio. But I only thought that helped the film. I’ve heard that Tourist Trap is studied in film school. I feel very positive about that.

TT: Do you remember when you first saw the film?

RS: Yes, I went to a screening of the first cut. And then I saw it in many different forms. I saw it quite a lot in transition, including two times before the cast and crew were added to the credits.

TT: The movie was shot in 24 days. How many days did you actually spend on set?

RS: I was on the set for all that time because as you probably know, not everything in film is shot in sequence. So they had to bring me back in many different locations.

TT: It received a surprising PG rating. But there are things such as the scene with Chuck suffocating the girl with the plaster…

RS: Oh, that was just horrible.

TT: PG seems very The Love Bug. It doesn’t seem like such a rating should apply to Tourist Trap.

RS: (Laughs.) I agree. But that’s why I have so many fans who are in their thirties and forties. Because they grew up watching the movie in the afternoon on TV.

TT: We did! It would often air in the afternoon during the weekend.

RS: Right!

TT: You have an amusing bit part in De Palma’s Blow Out. Tell us about that.

RS: I had always wanted to work with Brian. When my agent said, “Look, Robin…this is a small part and you’re an established actress already and you probably shouldn’t do this but…you still get to work with Brian and he’s doing the auditions. Do you want to do it?” I thought yeah, this would be fun.

TT: Did you secretly desire the Nancy Allen part?

RS: Yes. I secretly wanted Nancy’s part, but I didn’t get called for that. (Laughs.) However, I certainly wanted to work with Brian and I definitely wanted to work with John Travolta. So when I got the chance, I thought I could do something with it.

I didn’t have to go through a casting director. I just had to go meet Brian and that’s all it was. I went through a side room on the soundstage and they were shooting already. Another person was doing an improv and then Brian asked me to do one. He almost fell off the chair because he was laughing so much. It was so much fun and I obviously got the part. It was great.

TT: He was laughing at your scream?

RS: Yes, my scream and everything that I was doing. I was playing a very bad actress.

TT: Did you have any interaction with Travolta?

RS: Yes, briefly. He said, “Hi, Robin” and was very sweet. He said I could go to his trailer because he had a chef and if I wanted anything, he’d make it for me.

I can’t eat when I’m shooting but I had some lemonade. It was very nice.

TT: 1982’s Death Wish 2 had a good role for you and was a high profile project. Had you seen the first Death Wish (1974)?

RS: No - and I purposefully didn’t because I don’t like to be influenced by another actress’s performance.

TT: What appealed to you about the part of Charles Bronson’s grown-up (and ill-fated) daughter Carol?

RS: I really wanted to work with Charles. I just adored him. He was so down to earth and he was not at all like the characters he played…other than sometimes he was brooding and quiet. He was an amazing actor to work with and anything I gave, he knew exactly what I was doing and he would give something back.

There was no “I’m a star” attitude, nothing like that. If anything, he would go out of his way to make YOU look good. He was wonderful and Jill Ireland was terrific as well.

TT: What was your impression of Bronson when you first met him?

RS: I went through the audition process, which went on for a month and a half. Michael Winner, the director, would not make up his mind.

I never met Charlie through that entire process. I had had enough of waiting and so I went down to my father’s home in Miami Beach. I sat on the porch with my dad, who was elderly at the time, and I was crying and saying, “That’s it, it’s over….I didn’t get the part.” My father did his best to comfort me and just then, a call came in asking me to go back to Los Angeles because Mr. Winner had something to say to me. I went back and I got the part.

Michael said I’d meet Charlie on the set. I started the first day. They had cut my hair and I was in my outfit. We went to Charlie’s trailer and he was polishing his boots. Michael said, “Charles, I’d like to introduce your daughter to you.” And he just looked at me with that great grin of his, that Charles Bronson grin, and said, “She looks good.” That was it. That’s how I met him!

TT: That’s a great story.

Michael Winner must have had a good rapport with Bronson because he had directed several films with him, including Chato’s Land, The Mechanic, and the first Death Wish.

RS: He did. They worked very well together. I remember Charlie never, ever said anything to Michael about directing. That wasn’t his job and he didn’t get involved in it. I learned a lot from that. He trusted Michael, and Michael just took the helm and did it. If he wanted to, Charlie could probably have overridden him. But he always took direction. I never heard him say no.

TT: Did you feel you had developed and matured as an actress since your role in Tourist Trap?

RS: Definitely. With Carol, you see a smoother, more cohesive human being on screen...even though I was playing a younger woman than in Tourist Trap. I had more experience and sophistication. I wish I had been able to create a fuller character when I portrayed Eileen.

TT: How did you feel about the violence in the script?

RS: Well, I knew it had to be a very black and white film. Meaning there wasn’t going to be any gray. There would be good guys and bad guys - and that was it. What you can say about Charlie is that his character was an anti-hero.

I knew it was going to be a violent film. I didn’t think it would be as graphic as it was but I certainly knew it was going to be violent.

TT: It was a gritty message movie, basically saying that if the authorities can’t handle a situation….sometimes you have to take the law into your own hands. The story seems to justify a lot of the violence.

RS: Right, I think that’s true. At that time, people felt helpless to do something about what was going on. Audiences had a cathartic experience when they saw those movies like Death Wish and Dirty Harry. They felt that by watching Charles Bronson take care of the bad guys, that something was being done about the problem.

TT: Death Wish 2 was your third substantial feature role and again, your character dies!

RS: I know! I don’t know why. But I’m not going to die again! (Laughs.)

TT: Why do you think it was the highest grossing film in the series?

RS: I think many reasons, including the fact that we had Jill Ireland and certainly her relationship with Charles onscreen was wonderful. We had a soundtrack by Jimmy Page…

TT: Led Zeppelin!

RS: Right. Page was Michael Winner’s next-door neighbor. I was on the back of the album and it’s now become beloved by musicians. The score is gritty and disturbing but it really captures the underbelly of Los Angeles.

So there were many more elements than just the story that made the movie more attractive.

TT: Sure.

Your career took a different direction after the release and success of Death Wish 2. Was that by design or by accident?

RS: Well, the Death Wish sequel, as you pointed out, was a very high profile, BIG hit. It was a hit all over the world because Charles Bronson was an international star. So I became internationally known and I thought it would be a great time to go see other lands and live in other places.

TT: You moved to Paris…

RS: Yes. And at first, I got an agent…the same agent who represented Isabelle Adjani…and I started going on interviews. Meanwhile, I had to learn fluent French. But I just decided I didn’t want to do it at that time. I don’t know why. I just didn’t want to.

TT: Do you mean acting?

RS: Yes. Because I had been acting since I was fourteen.

TT: Did you do some more modeling?

RS: I did some over there. I was in a fashion magazine. I did some.

And I was in a very serious relationship. I was living with the CEO and president of Parafrance, which then was Paramount’s studio in France. I was around the film industry all the time so I didn’t feel like I missed it. I just didn’t want to be actively going out on auditions.

TT: How long did you live in Paris?

RS: I was there a few years.

TT: And then you returned to the States?

RS: Yes, I came home when my father passed away and I took over his restaurant business.

TT: What was that like?

RS: Well, I lived in Los Angeles and I would fly to Miami Beach back and forth.

TT: You oversaw the entire operation, the employees…everything?

RS: I did. I oversaw all the senior management. At that point, the restaurant had been very successful and had gone into the third generation. It had been broken up to tiny little parts so I had many, many partners. We eventually sold it to a public company.

TT: Is that when you launched a fashion and home catalogue?

RS: Yes. After I sold the restaurant, I decided I wanted to live on a farm. I had wanted to do that because I’ve always loved animals. So after selling the restaurant, I was able to buy a farm in Pennsylvania and I became a farm girl.

TT: Nice.

RS: It was great. It was a historic property with ruins from 1710.

TT: How did you settle on Pennsylvania?

RS: It was really the last place I looked. My mother’s family is from Johnstown. I had been looking in Virginia, Charleston…even the wine country in California. But I fell in love with this property and bought it and named it frecklefarm.

And then I came up with a catalogue all about it, that I also called frecklefarm. It was inspired by the lifestyle and I had things produced that would represent the aesthetic. With only a budget of $7,000 to do the whole thing, I made up 5,000 catalogues that I sent to editors and women who I thought would be interested. The response was unbelievable.

TT: It was a success...

RS: It was. Between being featured in Country Living, other publications, and three plugs in the Holiday Gift feature of The Associated Press, we reached at least 26 million worldwide.

TT: How many years did the catalogue last?

RS: I did it until about 2007.

TT: In retrospect, how do you feel about your work in horror films?

RS: To me, that’s like working in opera. I think it can be a very, very absurd genre and I do like it. It’s like working in a Pinter play. Or it’s like singing in a Benjamin Britten opera.

TT: So you see it as working in some kind of Pirandello play?

RS: Yes. Or Samuel Beckett.

I liked working in horror films and I enjoyed working with good directors.

TT: How do you feel about the attention you get from fans after all these years?

RS: Oh, I love it. I’ve loved all the emails and messages I get. I just do!

TT: Do you enjoy attending conventions and other events where you meet fans in person?

RS: I do. And I’m so amazed that people know me. I’m going, “Were people really watching me?” I like it. Chiller was a lot of fun.

TT: Aside from your own work in horror, how do you feel about the genre in general?

RS: I think some of them have gotten too bloody. I wish they would get off that trend. I can’t watch them. When I go to screenings and I know they’re going to be violent, I close my eyes and my ears. There’s no need to do that.

TT: You wrote about 1963's The Haunting for The Terror Trap’s "Reflections on Fear" piece. Is it safe to say that it’s a favorite fright film of yours?

RS: Yes. I like movies and stories that are like that. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, for example…which I just listened to. That’s more frightening than all this blood and guts and weird people.

TT: Tell us about your work with animal welfare.

RS: Well, as I talked about earlier, I love animals. I met a wonderful woman named Sue Kamell, who is the founder and president of Pet Rescue in Larchmont, New York. She does incredible work and I got involved with her organization.

My association with them started because someone had put a group of kittens into a box and left them out in the street. They were picked up by a high kill shelter but one of Sue’s volunteers had rescued them. They needed to be bottle fed and I knew how to do that because of my cats. That’s how I got involved. I was a foster parent. It was a great experience.

TT: That’s wonderful. We love animals ourselves. Where are the cats now?

RS: I’m happy to say they were all adopted.

TT: That's terrific!

And you said you have your own cats?

RS: Yes, I have three.

TT: In your career, were there any roles that you auditioned for that you didn’t get?

RS: When I was very young, I auditioned for the stage musical Grease. And I also didn’t get the part that went to Rebecca De Mornay in Risky Business. I was very upset about that one.

TT: Are you interested in returning to film - or the horror genre in some way?

RS: I would, but it would have to be a good script with a good budget, and Screen Actors Guild. My preference would be a leading role. I’m very particular about the type of part that I would play.

I would love to appear in a Steven Spielberg or James Cameron film. With regard to new and fresh filmmakers, I certainly would like to work with directors who have a strong aesthetic quality and who want to reach a broad audience. But one thing’s for sure…I’ll be alive in the last reel!

TT: We wouldn’t want it any other way.

RS: Let me ask you, isn’t horror one of the largest genres?

TT: We'd venture a guess and say yes. Because it appeals to so many different types of people, and especially people who may feel like they’re on the fringes, or marginalized. They feel like there’s a home in horror. Horror fans can often be some of the sweetest and kindest people. Of course, there's always exceptions. But there’s often a real camaraderie there. You don’t see conventions for 'romantic dramas' or 'comedies.'

RS: We’re talking about evil. Evil can be very beautiful and terrifying. Or it can just be horrible. And that runs through everybody’s life. I think people are open to that.

TT: True.

Is stage work something you’re also interested in?

RS: I’m very excited about doing stage work. That’s a good reason why I’m in New York. I’m starting to get everything together.

TT: You’ll be appearing at Fear Mongers: Fireside Chats about Horror Films, an event we’re co-sponsoring on December 21st at Manhattan’s Dixon Place and hosted by Clay McLeod Chapman.

RS: I’m excited about that, and looking forward to the evening. I have a dress that’s being loaned to me by Career Closet. They provide appropriate interview and office clothing for public assistance recipients moving from welfare back to the work place. I wanted to bring attention to the great work they do.

TT: Well, we know the night is going to be wonderful and we wish you much luck and success with your next adventures in life. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

RS: Thank you!

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