Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chuka (1967) review

CHUKA 1967

Rod Taylor (Chuka), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. Otto Hahnsbach), John Mills (Colonel Stuart Valois), Luciana Paluzzi (Veronica Kleitz), James Whitmore (Lou Trent), Victoria Vetri (Helena Chavez), Louis Hayward (Major Benson), Michael Cole (Spivey), Marco Antonio (Hanu)

Directed by Gordon Douglas

"I'm goin' down to the stable, I'm gonna get my horse and I'm gonna ride outa' here just like I came in! And I'll kill the first man who tries to stop me... and I'll get an even half dozen before you get me."

The Short Version: Rod Taylor is the title wanderer who ends up at a fort populated by misfit soldiers and a cadre of other characters awaiting their fate from hungry Arapahoes plotting an all-out assault. The picture could have been quite spectacular, but the cramped sets and what appears to have been a production starved budget keep CHUKA confined to the brig. Richard Jessup adapts his own novel, populating the limited space with errant, oftentimes less than honorable characterizations throughout his riveting script. An overzealous amount of testosterone keeps the film alive, though, and much of this man fuel comes from the rugged ambiance written and Taylored for Rod.

In 1876, Chuka, a well known gunman, and the occupants of a stagecoach are stranded at Fort Clendennon, a Calvary outpost maintained by a small number of outcast soldiers led by the displaced and drunken Colonel Stuart Valois. With an attack by an overwhelming number of starving Arapaho Indians inevitable, Chuka warns the Colonel to evacuate. However, the Colonel refuses, only revealing his reasons once it's too late.

CHUKA (pronounced Chuck-a) is the sort of movie where guys can beat the hell out of one another and bond over it; it's the kind of movie where guys can down a bottle of Tequila, kill a few attacking Arapaho's, then kick back and get liquored up on another bottle of Tequila knowing they will likely die a short time later; it's the type of movie where guys on opposing sides can have mutual respect for one another even if they're trying to kill each other. It's also a damn good western weak in some areas (not a lot of action) and heavily fortified in some others (a lot of exposition).

Rod Taylor makes his mark in macho movies with this gritty, sweaty siege western. Having played more relaxed, mannered heroes in past pictures, Taylor was swerving into new territory; and it was a direction the actor wished to go. Coming during a transitional period when the American oater was influenced by the dirtier machinations of the European west, CHUKA is an entertaining, if routine assimilation. It brings nothing new to the table that hasn't been done in hundreds of other westerns, but Taylor (acting as not only star, but co-producer, and uncredited scripter) makes the formula smoke and bubble with fervor; not only him, but the rest of the cast are a menagerie of stock characters who are given an unusual amount of personality to maintain interest considering a surprising lack of big action set pieces.

With so much exposition, it's like you're watching a stage play at times; and the limited, cramped, and unrealistic sets reinforce that notion. The bulk of the movie is shot on interiors with little variance in camera placement. For instance the camera rarely leaves the right side of the fort. Most westerns rely heavily on location shooting, and there's very little of it in CHUKA. An unusual move on the part of the producers, and possibly a budgetary one. Oddly, the opening credits manages to cram a number of shots showing Earth's natural wonders about to be draped in snow before switching to the films reliance on interiors.

Richard Jessup's screenplay (from his own 1961 novel) draws some remarkably interesting characters--all of which are flawed in some way. Virtually everyone has some sort of checkered past that's revealed just prior to the downbeat finale where the bulk of the action is reserved. For approximately 40 minutes the audience learns far more about the cast trapped inside Fort Clendennon than you would in a typical action picture. This is the films strongest suit.

Chuka is written like a grizzled, rough-hewn version of a John Wayne character. Incredibly fast with his gun, Chuka is something of a legend who gains the respect of the Arapaho, although this respect between he and the Indian chief Hanu doesn't mean neither man would lose it if they had to kill one another. A burly, quick-witted character, Rod Taylor wears the role comfortably; with the ease that he draws his sidearm. Taylor seems to have poured a lot of himself into the role. Unfortunately, his devotion to the project didn't translate in ticket sales.

Ernest Borgnine is equally magnetic as Hahnsbach, the doting, loyal sergeant to Colonel Valois. You don't learn just why he worships the Colonel the way he does till near the end. Meanwhile, the sarge takes great umbrage with the lack of respect shown Valois by Chuka. Warned not to prod him, Hahnsbach ignores warning and tests Chuka's constitution to the point you know the inner caveman of both men will eventually come to the surface. When it does, it's one of the films memorable moments....

After another heated conversation with the Colonel where Chuka intensely flaunts his superiority, Hahnsbach, in an attempt to save face for his Colonel, challenges Chuka to a brawl. He graciously obliges and the two engage in deep conversation where their fists do all the talking. The fight ends in both men--noticeably exhausted, bloodied and bruised--gaining respect for one another. This instance of male bonding is the same as if they'd been toasting over beer in a pub, only this ale is paid for with bruises and bloody lips. It's the sort of machoistic camaraderie you didn't often see in American actioners; and when you did see it, it was labeled homoerotic. There's nothing homoerotic about it. 

Male bonding is a big  part of CHUKA's script. You'll see it elsewhere between Chuka and Lou Trent (James Whitmore; see above), the alcoholic Clendennon scout who might be long in the tooth, but a gruff, elder Tough Guy just the same. He and Chuka share a moment by throwing knives at each other; then bonding over large bottles of Tequila. The theme of masculinity is strong with this one, and one strand of it takes a different approach.

It's a slow build, but by the mid point, Colonel Valois takes notice of Chuka in a way that, at times is one of frustration, and admiration at others ("you do intrigue me"). We're not really sure till approximately 85 minutes into the movie what curious secret(s) Valois carries with him. He reveals one of them to Chuka, but another, more devastating secret is unveiled by Hahnsbach when asked why he sticks with the Colonel like a puppy dog. Without revealing what that is, earlier in the picture, Valois takes immediate notice of Senorita Kleitz (Paluzzi). There's a palpable feeling that the Colonel, when not preoccupied with liquor, desires to be in the presence of this woman--which he does. The Colonel's face is, for a brief time, lit up like a young boy spying the new girl at school. But upon the realization that she and Chuka have shared a past together, he begins to see in Chuka what he can never, nor no longer be.

It's a man's world in CHUKA, but the women figure into it. The relationship between the title gunman and Luciana Paluzzi's elegant Senorita Kleitz is touching, if doomed to fail; she dropped him for a wealthier man years earlier, and this time, their future is impeded by an impending assault by the entire Arapaho nation. 

Victoria Vetri (as Angela Dorian) is likewise promised elsewhere, but shows Chuka she's certainly interested in his manhood. Vetri is almost unrecognizable with so many clothes on; she would strip them off in September '67 for Playboy (CHUKA came out in July), and become their Playmate of the Year in 1968. Following in the footsteps of Raquel Welch, she went to where the dinosaurs are in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970). She dropped off the celluloid radar in the early 1970s; and in 2010, was arrested for shooting her husband. She is currently serving a 9 years sentence for attempted voluntary manslaughter.

The only other woman in the movie is a captured Arapaho ("prettier than the last one"), a secret lover to Major Benson; a sex slave might be more accurate. Anyway, just before the siege begins, he tries to get her to leave, displaying some emotional attachment to her. Before she exits she leaves a knife in the Major's back, and sets fire to the fort to make things easier on the approaching Arapaho horde. Mistakes made by Fort Clendennon's gaggle of outcasts not only put them there, but proves to be their downfall.

Gordon Douglas, that THEM! (1954) guy, helmed two other macho westerns of interest with RIO CONCHOS (1964) and BARQUERO (1970). The former was Tough Guy Jim Brown's first movie role. The latter would pit two perennial hard bastards, Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oates against each other in a film that showed Americans could make as sweaty an oater as the Italians.

CHUKA would lose quite a lot of its scripted violence while retaining a stripped down version of the roll in the hay between Taylor and Paluzzi. Possibly the foreign releases yielded stronger footage if the racy production stills are anything to go by. The ending seems to have been the most problematic for censors, yet a few bits of gruesome business survive even if much of the brutality and harsh language was either toned down or removed entirely. Jessup's script was largely faithful to his novel, adding a past relationship between Chuka and Veronica Kleitz and eliminating the original ending, settling on a more ambiguous one. 

BONNIE & CLYDE (1967) hadn't riddled theater screens with its violent imagery, nor had THE WILD BUNCH (1969) rode into town for their bullet ballet. Hollywood was in a transitional stage influenced largely from real events of the time period. Like all genres, the western adapted to these changes and adopted some European flavor at the same time. CHUKA has no Italian seasoning in its recipe, but signs of a more violent edge simmered.

It's not that well known a movie, but a fantastic showcase for Rod Taylor whose Tough Guy persona would blossom in the macho masterpiece DARK OF THE SUN (1968) and continue its growth with the underrated crime thriller DARKER THAN AMBER (1970). Alamo-ish in its siege scenario, CHUKA is fairly dynamic in the way it utilizes its routine Cowboys and Indians aesthetic--by spending an unusual amount of time with its characters, making them flawed, sometimes deceptive individuals while presenting us with their grim prospects. 

This review is representative of the Paramount DVD. No extras. 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Creature (1985) review


Stan Ivar (Mike Davison), Wendy Schaal (Beth Sladen), Lyman Ward (David Perkins), Robert Jaffe (Jon Fennel), Diane Salinger (Melanie Bryce), Annette McCarthy (Dr. Wendy H. Oliver), Marie Laurin (Susan Delambre), Klaus Kinski (Hans Rudy Hofner), Jeff Solomon (Creature)

Directed by William Malone

The Short Version: Writer and director Bill Malone loves monsters and science fiction, and he lovingly, if derivatively combines them in this underrated SciFi-Horror from 1985. In it, space explorers discover an ancient alien lab on Titan, inadvertently disturbing a snake-like bipedal creature that uses parasites to turn its hosts--living or dead--into mind-controlled zombies. The monster moves awfully slow, but after sleeping for 2,000 centuries, it would likely take anyone or anything a while to get going again. Perpetual horndog Klaus Kinski enlivens things playing himself as an oversexed astronaut. Seen in its preferred directors cut and widescreen, THE TITAN FIND is certainly that.

A geological expedition from NTI, a US corporation, discovers a 200 thousand year old alien laboratory on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. After an accident occurs with that initial interplanetary trek, a seven man crew from NTI is sent to recover the supposedly fossilized specimens of the alien workshop. Meanwhile, a competing corporation, Richter Dynamics of West Germany attempt to procure the archeological discovery for themselves. What neither team realizes is that a particular species of the Titan Find is very much alive, and very hungry.

William Malone's second feature after SCARED TO DEATH (1981) is another monster movie, and a far more ambitious one. With 4.2 million dollars to play with, it's still a relatively low budget affair, but one with many assets to make it one of the more creative SciFi-Horror films to follow in the wake of Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979). 

ALIEN really changed the landscape for science fiction and horror by blending the two in a way that hadn't been done before. The timing was just perfect considering how STAR WARS (1977) had changed audience perception of what a movie could deliver. Technically speaking, ALIEN, as good as it is, was a glossier, more expensive clone of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958). THE TITAN FIND, or as it's more well known theatrically and on video as CREATURE, takes additional cues from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956), IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), and Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965); but more on that later.

The story of THE TITAN FIND, much like it's Creature in the movie, had been lying in wait to be produced prior to its filming in June of 1984. According to sources at the time, Malone was approached about doing a similar film to his first excursion into horror, but his initial offering wasn't grisly enough; so he pulled out a two page synopsis he'd written some seven years prior. The financiers at Trans World Entertainment loved the idea and Malone's movie was given the greenlight. 

Curiously enough, Malone was being advertised in a March, 1984 issue of Variety as director of SCARED TO DEATH II -- to have begun shooting in June for Helen Sarlui of Continental Motion Pictures, Inc., the same month THE TITAN FIND started filming. SCARED TO DEATH II never materialized, but a sequel of sorts did rear its ugly head in 1990 with the splattery monster opus, SYNGENOR.

Back to TITAN, with no money to rent out a studio, the filmmakers turned an abandoned warehouse into Saturn's largest moon. During the shoot, sets were consistently being built or torn down. In mimicking the landscape of Titan, the sets were filled with volcanic dust and lava rock, which made for a fairly arduous filming experience, and prompted the use of filter masks.

At the time it was in release, Bill Malone was asked about the similarities to Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979). His response was that his picture was more akin to 50s SciFi features; which is true, but CREATURE is certainly derivative in a few ways. The title, for instance. Presumably it was changed from THE TITAN FIND because moviegoers likely wouldn't know what that was, nor is that title much on promoting a films exploitation value. Some of the music cues of Thomas Chase's and Steve Rucker's otherwise fantastic score ever so slightly recall those of Jerry Goldsmith on a few occasions. Furthermore, the monster of the films title is where a hefty portion of the scrutiny is directed.

You never get a really good look at the Titan Find. Even in the scenes where it's plainly in view, it is shrouded somewhat in shadow. You do get a good look at the monsters elongated, snake-like head, though. Naturally, the Xenomorphic comparisons are unavoidable; particularly in two scenes where the monster rises behind one of the characters, and in another scene where the beast is literally right there in front of a potential victim, but is unnoticed till it's too late. 

Personally, we could all use more movies like ALIEN. If there's one disappointing aspect to this particular one, it's that the monster is overly lethargic. Either suit actor Jeff Solomon was having major difficulties maneuvering in that suit, or you could make the excuse that the monster--which is incredibly intelligent, by the way--prefers his secondary method of attack which only complements its cunning...

On the bright side, the monster of Malone's movie has a slight edge on the iconic Giger fiend. Aside from its unusual intelligence, it uses clawed parasitic organisms to control victims to lure additional human meals into its clutches. These smaller creatures replace the brain of a living, or even a dead host, literally eating away the individual till it decomposes. A similar biological device was used by the giant cucumber from space seen in Roger Corman's IT CONQUERED THE WORLD in 1956. Fans of vintage science fiction will spot quite a few homages and a noticeably high level of fan love that shows Malone and company were trying to deliver an entertaining and fun film.

The directors reverence for the classic FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) is on display in this picture. Malone owns some of the original props, a handful of which are seen in the alien laboratory. Some of the space suits are modeled on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Elsewhere, Wendy Schaal recalls the finale of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD when the last few survivors must find a way to kill the carnivorous creature -- "I saw a movie once where a group of people were trapped on an ice station by a carrot from another planet...". Harry Mathias's cinematography recalls the atmosphere of Bava's SciFi-Horror favorite, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) with the blue-tinted lighting, the fog, and impenetrable darkness lit only by perpetual lightning bolts. One particularly moody sequence wherein a zombiefied astronaut beckons one of the other crew members to come outside is reminiscent of Bava's 'Wurdulack' segment in BLACK SABBATH (1963).

Malone even indulges in some self-publicity of his earlier monster movie by featuring that films lead, John Stinson, as one of the two ill-fated astronauts seen at the beginning. If you're familiar with SCARED TO DEATH (1981), you'll notice Stinson is playing his character from that movie, Ted Lonergan! Early in the movie Wendy Schaal, the Shenandoah's spunky computer specialist, shows she's a SCARED fan, spotted reading the novelization--which was created specifically as an in-joke for this movie.

Robert Skotak (along with his brother Dennis), late of Roger Corman New World productions like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980), GALAXY OF TERROR (1981), and FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982) handled the SPX work along with the L.A. Effects Group, Inc. Skotak was also the production designer, handling storyboard duties, designing the miniatures, and the toothy critter hibernating on Titan. Michael McCracken worked on the monster from Skotak's design while Doug Beswick revised the suit at short notice. He reportedly rebuilt the neck and jaw, made the clawed appendages more menacing, and built a miniature of the final monster.

CREATURE has another asset that makes it worth watching, and that's the participation of Klaus Kinski as Hofner, the horny (not a stretch for the actor), and only surviving member of the German space crew. The acting is a little on the weak side at times, so Klaus raises the bar. Reportedly he was his usual unpredictable self, but his presence was welcome and helpful, and the film is better because of his participation. 

Originally, there were no parts written for any of the Richter Dynamics exploratory team. Around the time Malone was getting started writing the script, the backers alerted him they had obtained Klaus's services. 

To further throw a Kinski in the chain, the production could only afford him for a week. The most important sequence involving his character (highlighted by a Qint-styled horror story) was in the bag, but a scene where the "undead" Hofner confronts the remaining survivors is clearly a different actor (two different doubles subbed for Kinski). The makeup appliance tries to conceal this fact, but the facial features give away the illusion (see photo above).

In 2013, the director himself issued the picture on DVD in his preferred directors cut under its original title and in widescreen with a plethora of extras. This version contained approximately 6 minutes of additional footage (the theatrical ran 94 minutes; directors version runs 100 minutes) consisting mostly of exposition and some extended gore shots. A couple lines of dialog were omitted and the opening narration is also silenced. The disc was purchasable only through a single online store. However, a DVD company stepped in and made Malone an offer to obtain rights to the movie to give it a bigger release. Unfortunately, this never happened for reasons not officially specified. Whatever the case, this sole widescreen release was quickly canceled and goes for big bucks on ebay if you can find one.

With more positives than negatives, CREATURE has quite a bit going for it. It's sadly under-appreciated, but does have its share of fans. Malone has directed sporadically since, but has yet to make three times the charm in monster cinema. He's best known to mainstream audiences for helming the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake in 1999. Hopefully his CREATURE will surface again and not take 200,000 years for people to FIND it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Interview With Special Effects Makeup Artist, Jill Rockow

Jill Rockow and sculptor/makeup artist Nick Marra; Jill and Ed French turn LeVar Burton into an alien on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Photo at left courtesy of Jill Rockow.

Jill and THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003);photo courtesy Jill Rockow
When genre fans think of special effects makeup artists, some of the names that come to mind are guys like Dick Smith, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, and the KNB EFX Group (Robert Kurtzman [1988-2002], Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger). There are many more you could add to this list of SPX and creature creators in the vast spectrum of the all important special effects and makeup departments. A mostly male-dominated profession, there are women who have shown they can make monsters and decapitate heads as good as the next guy. One such personality is New Jersey born Jill Rockow. She has lent her talents to a number of productions on both the big and small screen; beginning in the burgeoning horror genre (BEYOND EVIL, GRADUATION DAY) that exploded in the early 80s, and carrying on into high-profile studio films (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series; THOR) and television (LA LAW; STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) of today. With over 30 years experience in her field, Rockow's work has paid off with not one, but two Primetime Emmy's for her work on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (1993) and THE SHINING (1997) miniseries. Ms. Rockow was kind enough to consent to an interview via email to discuss her varied career working in Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.

VENOMS5: How did you get into the makeup FX field and was there anything in particular that was your inspiration?

JILL ROCKOW: I've wanted to be a makeup artist since I went to the circus with my mother when I was 7. For whatever reason, the clown at the circus was fascinating to me. Not the slapstick, what I thought was so mean was the face!! The face that you couldn't tell who it was!! I was hooked.

V5: Was BEYOND EVIL (1980) your first job? If so, how was that experience?

JR: Yes, BEYOND EVIL was my first real job. I was offered a "furlough" program at my high school that offered me to attend a trade school instead of high school, but still receive high school credits. So, one of the trade school options was Cosmetology School. I figured that could only help in my makeup career to learn hair as well. I began Cosmetology School at 15 years old. After completing over a year there, at 17 I enrolled in Joe Blasco Makeup Academy. This was in 1979, and Mr. Blasco taught most of the classes himself. Shortly after graduating there, I got a very early phone call from Mr. Blasco saying, "Hi, Jill. Sometimes I receive phone calls from productions needing makeup artists. This is one of those times. A producer called and woke me up. It seems as though they are filming, and had to fire their makeup artist and hairstylist this morning. You need to get up now, get your ass down there within an hour. Oh yeah, the only way they will hire you is you need to do hair AND makeup, so go do it!!" I ended up staying on and finishing the whole film. I did mostly beauty makeup, but one night, they killed off a character and they needed a huge gash on his face. I packed every item I owned to bring it with me, and I completed my first effect that I did out of mortician's wax. How did it turn out?? That image of the actor hanging upside down with the wax gash? It was what was used for a version of the movie poster!! My first movie I did when I was 17 years old.

V5: You worked with director Herb Freed again on GRADUATION DAY (1981). What FX did you do on this shoot?

JR: This was the second film for the production company. This time they hired me as department head for the whole film. During this time, I was so lucky to meet Dick Smith while he was on a job in LA. MANY of the effects I had no clue how to do. He spent hours on the phone with me discussing full-head decapitations, stabbings, knife slits and others. I did every effect in this film, including a very complicated stabbing that shows the entrance of the knife, and the exit while the camera dollies, all in one shot!! Only a few people know this, but when I did my full head and upper body casting of Billy Hufsey (who gets decapitated in the film), Dick Smith volunteered and came over and helped me do the casting. It was an amazing time!!

V5: How did you come to work on DEADLY EYES (1982), the Canadian-Golden Harvest produced killer rat movie?

JR: After doing so much lab work on my own during GRADUATION DAY, I started going out to shops interviewing to get shop work, or as it was more commonly called then, "lab work". I found out what lab work was doing it, and I went over, showed my portfolio, and got a job!! I ran all the foam latex for that show. All the rat "masks" were foam rubber and some of the foot coverings were too. The giant rats in the movie were dachshund dogs wearing rat suits!! I ran something like 100 rat masks on that. I only did lab work, no set work on that film. The effects were done by Makeup Effects Lab that is still in operation today!!

V5: FRIGHTMARE (1983) was a bit different from the usual slasher type horror film. Was this a pleasant experience?

JR: I had worked with director Norman Vane before briefly, and he REALLY wanted me to work on this film. It was VERY low budget, and had very similar effects as GRADUATION DAY. I think EVERY horror in the 1980s had a decapitation. LOL! Anyhow, I reused the head and body parts for FRIGHTMARE, and just shot it... "creatively". They couldn't afford to have things made, so I just recycled things from before. The actor that starred in this, Ferdy Mayne, was a wonderful old-school theater actor whom I remember was fabulous. We shot most of it in a big old house in Los Angeles.

V5: What was the extent of your involvement on the short-lived 1983 TV series WIZARDS & WARRIORS (GREYSTONE'S ODYSSEY)?

JR: At best, I worked on one episode with the special effects department. They built some sort of armature, and the production could only afford a draped "skin" over the armature. It was like a rubber blanket. I tried to paint and slime it up, but it was really too silly; like Jeff Conaway with his 1980s hair in a medieval setting. I didn't do much, all I remember is working on a "cave set" and trying to make a blanketed armature scary.

V5: Which effects did you work on in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)?

JR: When I was hired by Reel Effects on this, I was hired with Greg Cannom. We were going to split the effects between us. Believe it or not, the great Alec Gillis of ADI was my assistant back then. Greg had a parting with the production, and the director had a previous relationship with Tom Savini, so Tom then became our boss. I was mainly referred to as "Jason's Wrangler". Jason needed someone full-time just for his injuries. He had so many cuts, hammers, knives, blood all the time? Continuity back and forth during shooting was quite a task to keep it all correct!! I don't think I made any continuity mistakes, which is nothing short of a miracle.

V5: Do you recall any memories of working with Tom Savini?

JR: The director, Joe Zito had worked with Tom before, and really liked him. By the time Tom came on, we were already working. I always thought it must have been hard for Tom to come onto a project with it already having a crew, and him not knowing any of us. After filming began, I left the lab, and did work on set with Jason, and I would assist Tom on some effects, and the "puppeteering" of the mechanical Jason body at the end.

V5: By this point in your career, what was your impression on slasher films, and would you have continued doing them?

JR: I was so blessed to have had the opportunity to work in films of the 1980s. Every era has its "thing". I was so lucky to have worked on slasher films, I would have continued, but for the most part, they just went away. In 1988, I had the dream of a lifetime working on DICK TRACY for six months!

V5: Were there many women working behind the scenes in special makeup effects back then? Outside of yourself, I can only think of Jennifer Aspinall. What was the general atmosphere working in a field made up primarily by men?

JR: I had heard about Jennifer, but never met her until the early 2000s. Her work was mostly in the East, I think? While I was in the West. I did work mainly with men. I had met Ve Neill on THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER in 1982. She was the department head for makeup on that show. I was doing blood effects for the special effects department on that. I was SO blessed to later work for Ve in the early 1990s on PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE (3 seasons), three BATMAN films, many other films and TV. Ve was always quite an inspiration to me.

V5: You've worked on a lot of other films you're not credited for. Can you discuss some of these and the extent of your contributions?

JR: I worked for Knott Limited Special Effects and Special Effects Unlimited. In between makeup opportunities, I was able to secure work with either of these two companies. I made an exploding toilet for CRITTERS (1986). Making molds and fabrication is the same for makeup stuff. I knew how to make some molds, and how to pour stuff up. I wasn't too proud to take work that was non-makeup. I had fun making that wax toilet, my first and last!! It was very interesting to do, but I'm sure I'd be bored if I did it all the time. WIZARDS & WARRIORS (1983) was the "slime monster", SUPER DAVE was various "break-away" props I made; THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982) was battle sequences that had knife and sword blood effects, and when the main character had a sword fight, it sparked. We did that with a welder, but the wires and such needed to be skin tone and affixed to his flesh, since Lee Horsley barely wore a loin cloth.  LOL If you watch that scene closely, you can see "odd lumps" as he moved. For CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984) I made an exploding Thoth Amon monster out of wax. I had nothing to do with any makeups in any of the above films.

V5: How did the job on CREATURE (1985) come about?

JR: Dick Smith had recommended me to the company making the prosthetics. They needed someone to do prosthetic application, so there I was!

V5: Do you have any interesting stories on working with Klaus Kinski on that picture?

JR: Klaus was QUITE a character. Everyone acted like they were walking on broken glass around him. He was just like a big spoiled kid. There were several times he didn't want to come into makeup, so several times I would go to get him, and a few times I clearly remember literally carrying him to the makeup room, telling him, "Oh no, you will not be making me late!!" I think he got a kick out of me, and I was one of the few people on that film that could make him get going. I KNOW there are many pictures out there--somewhere--of me carrying Klaus. I saw it once in a magazine! How I wished I took more photos during those years!!

Jill and Mike McCracken, Sr.; photo courtesy Jill Rockow
V5: You worked on SILVER BULLET (1985) for Dino De Laurentiis, which apparently had some problems with the werewolf design. What did your work entail and how was working for him? 

JR: I worked for Mike McCracken, Sr. on that. We did all the people turning into werewolves. There was a big church scene with the makeups we did, and Carlo Rambaldi made the priest's werewolf. We jokingly called the werewolf a "werebear", because it looked more like a bear. Oh well.

V5: In those early years, was working in special makeup effects a satisfying job financially, and was there ever a time you thought of doing something else? 

JR: I never wanted to do anything else. Being part of a makeup team to create effects for film and TV was the most fun a person can have going to work. My rent at that time was only $225 a month, and I averaged $300 a week in the early 80s. So, with everything being relative, I made enough to live on. I started making much better money with health benefits years later, after I got into the Union during the filming of THE DREAMER OF OZ (1990), which Craig Reardon hired me on.

V5: PROGRAMMED TO KILL (1987) is an obscure SciFi actioner starring Robert Ginty and Sandahl Bergman. You remember anything about this one?

JR: I love Bob (Robert) Ginty. I wonder what he's up to these days? I worked for Bob Short who directed this, and I worked for Bob a year later doing Howie Mandel for LITTLE MONSTERS (1989). Chris Biggs' effects shop made all the prosthetics for the movie. Sandahl played sort of a female terminator character, and I ended up doing the wigs as well for this one. I applied Sandahl's "robotic" prosthetic when they were called for.

Jill, John Caglione, Janna Phillips; photo courtesy Jill Rockow
V5: What types of makeup effects were the most challenging and is there a particular favorite effect(s) you did in your 80s works?

JR: First, when I was 19, I got to meet the A-MAZING Craig Reardon. I used to go to his house almost every day and watch him work. I got to watch him paint ET!! When he got POLTERGEIST (1982), I got to be a "corpse wrangler" when all those corpses worked. That was the COOLEST thing at the time, I remember. I couldn't sleep for days!! I guess technically 1989 is still the 80s. I got to work on the most incredible movie EVER. DICK TRACY (1989). The most challenging for sure was CHAPLIN (1992). Robert Downey, Jr. was an INCREDIBLE person, but whatever was in his saliva, or sweat, or both, would DESTROY the age makeups. OMG. I was in a panic most of that film.

V5: Was time and money always an obstacle in doing your best work or were there other factors involved, such as disagreeable actors, directors, etc.?

JR: Sure, I think time and money are always a factor. As far as actors I worked with, I was always pretty lucky in that department, I guess. On CHAPLIN, Robert Downey, Jr. was the most amazing person on the planet, and was so good and kind to the makeup and me. He was my most favorite actor. There was only one film I worked on where the lead actor was the biggest jerk. But, other than that, I've been very lucky and have worked with AMAZING people!!

V5: How did you and Lynn Redgrave meet? I see you worked with her on MIDNIGHT (1989) and again on the Made For TV version of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1991).

JR: MIDNIGHT (1989) was directed by FRIGHTMARE's Norman Vane. He called on me again to head up his makeup department. The makeups on Lynn were very fun. She was a TRUE professional, very rare these days. I loved her, she would invite me to her home to have dinner with her family, and I did a book tour with her, and she would do PSA commercials. I worked with her on all those too. When Lynn traveled to NYC, to work in theater, I never saw her again, sadly.

V5: For the bulk of your career from the 90s to the present, you've worked mostly in SciFi, fantasy, action, and more kid friendly films and TV. Do you prefer these to your earlier horror works?

JR: All we can do is "roll with the trends". Whatever is popular during that time period. I LOVED working (on and off) on STAR TREK for 12 years. I proudly won an Emmy for my work there for Michael Westmore, Sr. I LOVED working (on and off) on BUFFY. Vampires were REALLY popular during that time, and I worked a lot on Buffy's offspring, Angel. To keep a paycheck rolling in, in my opinion? I always accepted whatever was offered and went with it. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not as good.

Jill Rockow with Dick Smith at 2012 Governor's Awards Ceremony; photo courtesy Jill Rockow

V5: What was that feeling like when you won your first of two Primetime Emmy's?

JR: Funny question. I think everybody that has been on stage accepting an award or speaking, it's sort of all a blur. I could never see anybody up there, only shapes, and I don't remember anything anyone said. Again, I have to say it was a blur.

V5:  Looking back on your career is there anything you'd do different or not at all?

Jill & Ron Ely, LA LAW in '93; photo courtesy Jill Rockow
JR: I liked doing TV series mainly because it was comfortable. You get to sleep at home every night, and you really get to know people you work with since most TV (well it was then) works a 10-month year together. I was offered the whole last season of LA LAW, and it being all straight/beauty makeups, I thought it might be a relief, or regrouping for 10 months, and I accepted the position. I made a deal with myself -- in the beginining -- to show good character and never break a promise for a better opportunity. If people who hire you cannot count on you? I don't think I'd work for the same people over and over. With that said, Ve Neill called me AFTER I accepted LA LAW. She was gearing up for ED WOOD (1994) and asked me to join her as her 2nd. I even went down to the set and saw all the Rick Baker prosthetics, and met actors. I LOVED the whole idea of this movie; plus in 1979 I took a few makeup lessons from makeup artist Harry Thomas, who was Ed Wood's makeup artist for all his films. I decided to stay with LA LAW, because I accepted that first. I often wonder what would be today if I chose ED WOOD.

V5: What would you say is the biggest difference between your job in the 1980s and now?

JR: The very first word to come to mind, sorry to say, is RESPECT. There was a bond between people you worked with in the 1980s. You depended on each other. It's very hard to watch people getting treated badly, or replaced without a second thought. Also, CGI and the like have the ability to fix or change anybody's makeup. I think that is where the industry for makeup is going.

V5: Are there any additional funny, or memorable stories you'd like to share?

JR: My whole career I've been so lucky and truly blessed to work with wonderful people, honestly. Even though RDJ from CHAPLIN was my favorite actor to work with, my favorite job ever working for seven years for Kevin Haney on a traveling live show with an impersonator/comedian. His name is Steve Bridges. We would travel across the country a few times a week to the convention circuits. Filling halls of 1,000 or more, they were live shows. Steve wore disguise makeups of famous people. Kevin Haney truly demonstrated his genius in creating these makeups.

V5: What are you working on now?

JR: I am actually in between projects right now, and I am enjoying catching my breath for a while.

V5: Last question, do you have any advice for aspiring makeup artists-male or female--interested in working in show business?

Front row: Jill Rockow, Linda Blair, Stephen Lack, Greg Cannom, Craig Reardon. Back row: Kevin Haney, Todd Masters, Andrew Clement, Tom Woodruff Jr., Alex Gillis, Scott Essman. Monsterpalooza 2015, Dick Smith Tribute panel; photo courtesy Jill Rockow
JR: My #1 thing I tell young people today? LEARN THE COMPUTER. And sorry, I don't mean Facebook. LOL. Learn Z-Brush, and 3D printers, and animation programs, and Photoshop. That IS the future. Good or bad, that is the direction of films. Other than that? Move to Atlanta, Georgia. There are three HUGE studios there now, producing TONS of movies and TV and they hire locals!! There are cities being built around the studios there. GA is a "right to work state" and offers filmmakers enticing tax incentives. And it's a LOT less costly to live than in Los Angeles.

An enormous thanks to Ms. Rockow for taking time to answer questions about her lengthy, and very successful career.

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