Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: An Interview With Actor, Writer Eric Freeman

"....there was a method to the madness in why SNDN2 turned out the way it did."

Horror fans will always remember him as the unhinged Ricky Caldwell from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987), but Eric Freeman has many other experiences in his brief career as an actor. Mr. Freeman reveals a number of fascinating stories that will give you an idea not only what it was like making a cult 80s horror film, but what it was like being a young, struggling actor trying to make it in Hollywood. Only recently embracing the cult fan base surrounding his work via 'Finding Freeman'--a community of fans that began looking for him in 2013--Mr. Freeman goes into great detail about his sole starring role, discussing topics revealed for the first time. We had a 3 1/2 hour conversation and the following is the bulk of that talk. It was an extremely relaxed discussion, so hopefully that comes through in the following interview.

Venoms5: Where were you born and can you tell me how your interest in wanting to become an actor came about?

Eric Freeman: I was born in Berkeley, California but was raised in Minnesota. We moved there when I was very young. As far as acting, I was seven years old sitting at the dinner table and I just blurted out, "I wanna be an actor." My brother and parents laughed at me and I never brought it up again (laughs). My parents divorced when I was seven so I visited my mom in LA after I finished high school and I ended up staying and trying to make a life for myself. I dabbled in bodybuilding, improving myself and getting away from some of the bad elements I ended up in. I'm living in Manhattan Beach right near the ocean and I got in shape and wanted to realize my dream from that day at the dinner table. So I picked up this paper called The Drama Log and ended up finding work as an extra; which was kind of taboo since you don't do extra work if you wanna be an actor. For $35 a day I'd be on shows like CAGNEY & LACEY and various Movies of the Week. I eventually came across some ladies who were former models that put people in commercials. Every winter this Japanese company would come over and shoot commercials for a department store in Japan called Parco; this was for their summer line, bathing suits and things. It was a good gig that went on for a while and paid the bills. Going back to the extras work, I was doing all kinds of shows and if I did a feature it was sometimes $100 a day for that.

Eric in background shots from BACK TO SCHOOL (1986).
V5: What were some of the early television or film works you participated in?

ER: I was doing MOONLIGHTING as an extra. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. Bruce Willis was a clown on that show and Cybill, she hated him like nobody's business (laughs), but she's a pro, I used to watch her on set. The other extras would be in the green room waiting to be called and I'd always be watching the actors on the set to see how everything worked. Cybill Shepherd pulled me aside once and said some really kind things to me and gave me some great support and advice. Ironically and fortuitously I got some dialog on her show a year or so later. It was helpful being an extra and being seen or noticed because I was trying to be Taft-Hartleyed where they take a nobody and have them say a few lines and get your SAG card. It was very difficult trying to get that back then and it took me a few years of hoping I'd get picked for a scene with some dialog.

This happened to me on a Tom Hanks movie called NOTHING IN COMMON (1986) with Jackie Gleason and Garry Marshall directing. Initially I was just an extra as an orderly pushing Jackie Gleason around in a wheelchair; he was confined to a wheelchair at that point. So I'm pushing him down a hallway on a set and Gleason is holding onto a railing to prevent me from pushing him further. It didn't look right to Marshall that I wasn't saying anything. I think I said something like, "Let go, sir!" My scene got cut down quite a bit but it allowed me to get Taft-Hartleyed, which was fantastic because if I paid the dues I could get in SAG; I think at the time it was like $1,000. I was kind of a rebel back then. I was always one to speak up if I thought I could add something. 

This came in handy during one scene where a nurse comes in for Gleason. Marshall was co-directing with a guy named Alan Metter and they were mulling over what to have a nurse named Gina say. She was kind of a looker and they were wanting something humorous for Gleason to say. I was sitting a few feet away and I said, "Why don't you say, 'Gina gives good sponge'?" Hanks walks into the scene, raises his eyebrows and says something like, "Wow, she's a looker", and Gleason says, "Yeah, Gina gives good sponge"; and that's how that line was born. They cut a lot of this scene but it was a good day for me on that and that's how it all began for me.

V5: You told me in an earlier conversation that you weren't in CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984). Do you know how this happened?

ER: I've never seen the movie, so I can't say. I think there's somebody who looks similar to me so people might believe I am in it somewhere.

V5: Prior to getting the lead in SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY 2 (1987) had you been in any horror films as an extra or any other type of role?

ER: No, the only thing close was an episode of the 80s version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The name of the episode was 'Monsters!' and I played a monster in it. There's a funny story attached to this, actually. We had some really elaborate suits on that; some of them were hokey too. We even had some midgets on set who were playing baby monsters. We had these masks literally glued to our heads; we had to eat our food through straws or shove peanuts in through these little slits in our mouths. Ralph Bellamy, one of the SAG founders, was in that. He was in TRADING PLACES (1985). There was a scene we shot that got cut. In it, all the monsters converged on Bellamy at the end. There was an overhead crane shot of us closing in on him. A buddy of mine, a big guy named Rocky, was a monster too and we were clowning around the set dressed in these suits. Anyway, Rocky had been eating sweet potatoes and raisins all day and he had the most radical gas. So we're in this scene and it's 1am, we're tired, sweaty, on this hot set. Rocky says to me, "Hey bro, I'm gonna fart while we're clenched in this circle" (laughs). I said, "Rocky, you don't understand, this is Ralph Bellamy!" And he's like, "No, it'll be perfect!" It's horrible, I know, but he farted and the midgets--they were a 45-50 year old married couple--weren't happy about it at all saying, "This is highly unprofessional! Highly unprofessional (laughs)!" You remember this silly stuff since you're sweating your butt off under all that rubber. The appeal for me was being in the scene with Ralph Bellamy. He should've gotten more respect. That marked the end of my extras work.

Eric and Randy Post in the movie theater scene from SNDN2
On a side note, Randy Post was one of the monsters on that episode as well. Randy and I became friends on that shoot and I got him the job as the loudmouth in the theater in SNDN2. We were both broke and I went to Larry Applebaum to get him paid for the day. 

V5: When you went to your audition for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2, did you know you were going in for a sequel to a controversial horror film?

ER: All it listed was 'Unknown Horror Film'. In Burbank, I believe; up at the editing studio where Lee and Joe worked. I was doing one of the cops who tells Caldwell not to kill himself. I asked about the lead and I was told by Joe Earl, the co-writer, it was already locked up. Lee was looking at me and said the same thing. Lee did call me back a couple days later to read again, but didn't elaborate as to what role it was; it ended up being for the lead. Joe had told me three times they had the lead locked up, that this other guy was doing great things but they wanted me to read for the part. We videotaped it and I left. It was a day or two later that Lee called me and told me he'd like me to play the lead role. I was told I wasn't giving enough, that I was too subdued and not what they were looking for that the other guy, David Heavener, was doing in his audition. Apparently he was doing some crazy things, facial expressions, very physical. I didn't really know how to do crazy all that well, but it ended up as it did. It's important to note that Lee and Joe were acting out the scenes that they wrote. They wanted me to get a flavor for what they wanted. They were laughing and having a great time through this process. So I took it this was going to be a comedic horror film. If I had seen the original prior to acting in this one I wouldn't of done the type of work I did. This might sound strange, but I didn't take the job seriously. It was a few days of work and I think a $1,500 paycheck. I didn't think this was going to be some big break for me. My life at that time was to stay in great shape and eat healthy and I was shooting for a different life in the business. 

I had spent a lot of time as an extra on soap operas and they were written quite well back in the day. There was a ton of dialog and I liked the idea of having substantial pieces of work everyday. I wanted to be on a soap opera and I was trying like a madman to get on one. I just wanted 30 pages a day, the stress of memorizing and getting it down. I was on the set of these shows and watching these actors... watching them get new pages--pink pages, blue pages--at the last minute... for me it was like live theater with a 3-camera shoot. That was what I wanted. Maybe it sounds strange to others, but it was an enormous responsibility I wanted to undertake and I thought I would've been good at that back then. So when this movie came along, I was like, "Well, we're just tacking on new scenes to an original movie". It may have worked out for the best that I didn't take it too seriously; and don't get me wrong, being an unknown actor I was always appreciative to get anything. Kicking around for as long as I had and trying to get auditions it's nice when something works. I've never been full of myself, but it really wasn't the direction I wanted to go.

V5: Do you recall what it was you did in your second audition that clinched the role for you?

ER: I recall I was reading the lines from the psychiatrist scenes at the beginning. David Heavener might of been doing some physical actions and mannerisms they were looking for that I wasn't doing. I was built like a brick house back then and I probably looked a lot like the younger Ricky so there were some positives in the ledger for picking me that the other guy didn't have. The character had to be stronger than the average man so I think that helped me. I liked working out and it was a challenge for me everyday to surpass my last workout. I wasn't the best looking guy going to auditions so my angle was to be in the best shape. I worked hard at it and sacrificed a lot since a young guy wasn't getting a role in anything as a neurosurgeon. I think I got that role because I had assets that Mr. Heavener didn't have. I think he probably would've been a better actor in it, but ultimately it worked out or we wouldn't still be talking about the film. I can't say if there'd be any life to the movie if someone else did it; maybe it would be more well known or maybe not at all.

V5: Going back to what you said about liking the feeling of working under pressure, did you ever feel stressed due to the short shooting schedule? Do you recall the number of days you worked on it?

ER: I understood it was a $100,000 budget and one week and I got called in for five days; the other two days being for scenes that didn't involve me. I can't say I had any stress at all; if there was any it was because I wasn't getting any feedback. I couldn't talk to the director. Nothing against Lee, I felt bad for him because he was doing like eight jobs. Lee was always checking everyone's work to tweak it to what he wanted. He knew a lot of trick shots from being an editor on other people's work. Imagine you're editing the work of a hundred different directors; you learn new tricks from cleaning up their work. Lee knew exactly what he wanted and used every minute of the day to get the job done. He was more like Hitchcock in getting the shots as opposed to thinking about moving on to the next shot before you've gotten the first one. I appreciate what Lee did with the picture only I wasn't getting much feedback from him other than general direction. I didn't know what we were doing from a day-to-day basis so after the first day I spoke up that I needed to know what we're doing tomorrow so I can be ready with the dialog. I always like being prepared; so to answer your question, any stress was due to having to learn the dialog on the spot. We didn't have dallies or videotape playback to see what we were doing.

V5: Could you explain what a day on set was like to give fans an idea of the atmosphere of working on a low budget production?

ER: Oh, yeah... long days, and if I got cut loose earlier than normal it was only because they were going to go shoot something else that didn't pertain to me; extremely long days for Lee and the crew. It wasn't any different than anything else I'd ever been on. They didn't spend a lot of money on wardrobe (laughs). The wardrobe girl and I went to Kmart the day before shooting and found the blue sweaters and black slip-on shoes in the bluelight bin (laughs). It really had no budget in that respect. There was a lot of 'hurry up and wait'... that's when actors learn how to eat, hanging around the catering and craft services. There's a lot of waiting around. David DeCoteau for example, he will be non-stop getting the shot but Lee labors over every frame. He had a vision and was going to get it. The nicest guy in the world, I just didn't get to talk to him much.

I do recall trying to talk to him on two occasions. I said, "Hey, Lee, you got a minute?" And he says, "Really I don't, Eric." It was nothing against me he just didn't have a minute. I wanted to know how he wanted me to flesh out the character but we never got there. Ironically, I learned a lot from that, and it was good, because David DeCoteau wasn't that guy either. He expected you to know your stuff. There wasn't any two takes, it was one take. In the early days he was all about getting the shot as quickly as possible. He's relaxed a bit these days as I've worked with him recently. Guerilla filmmaking is like a trial by fire. You better know your stuff and be ready to do whatever is asked of you.

V5: How long was the average day on the set?

ER: You're looking at around a 12 hour day. If you're called at 7 or 8am or even 9am we'd be going to at least 9 at night. If you're getting late to the set, it's gonna be a late day; if you're early to the set they want to capture as much light as they can and you may get cut loose at 6pm if you're there at 7am. It all depends if they have interiors and exteriors; that would be like the day we shot 'the rampage' when we had both. We were into the wee hours of the night on that particular day. The guy who played Chip, he worked at a pizzeria just down the block from the editing shop and we got permission to shoot behind the pizzeria. We shot some things there that they seamed into the rampage sequence.

V5: Were there multiple takes?

EF: Certainly one take on the interior scenes in the hospital setting. There were a lot of little shots and closeups to get for coverage. Unless something went wrong there wasn't a lot of multiple takes at least from what I recall. We did rehearse the scene where I strangle Liz. It was a single take as well.

V5: You were so over-the-top as Ricky was there any time during the filming that you felt you got carried away in your performance?

ER: That's the kind of feedback I wish I could've gotten. The well known parts that people love are over the top and completely berserk. There were parts of a subtle nature I just wish there was more of it in the beginning. It would've given later scenes like the rampage sequence even more of a dramatic edge. I wish I was more cognizant of having a more multi-layered performance. I never thought it all as so crazy yet the craziness is a good part of what I did (laughs). I know Lee probably wishes he would have said something to me in the day; and it's got a life of its own because of this over-the-top quality. I'm not trying to sound like I'm passing the buck but seeds were planted for me to be kinda nuts. 

I remember being told three times I was not nutty enough during the audition process. I was going home to this house I was restoring thinking to myself, and I'm speaking about Joe in particular; and I like him, he was a nice guy and I will always like him, but he was irritating me; and I was thinking to myself, "If this guy says to me one more time about what this other guy was doing I'm going to walk." It was the equivalent of your wife constantly reminding you she could've married the blonde, blue-eyed guy with the big house and wallet. At some point, you might snap and bury an axe in her head. I just didn't wanna keep hearing about the other guy. Then on the day of the rampage sequence Joe says it again and I was seething. I just wish somebody could have told me to pull it back here or cut loose there because whatever opinions people have it's going to always fall on me whether they call me a bad actor or love what I did. That was said to me four times and I just did not care for it. At some point once I got the job that should have ended but it didn't. 

There was so much on the plate to get the shots and the producer, Larry Applebaum, was overlord on the set standing next to Lee with his arms crossed. Lee looked like he hadn't slept in a week. He was working too hard and I wasn't getting any feedback. It was like he wasn't looking through the viewfinder at the performance but rather the shot itself. I think that's what happened. Had he been looking at what I was doing he would have pulled me aside and told me to dial it down. But had he done so, the performance would not have been what it is and the film likely wouldn't have had any legs had I not done what I did. I was out there on my own. That's what it felt like. I was doing what I felt was right from what instruction I would get.

V5: Would you say some of that pent-up frustration you felt from being repeatedly reminded of what Mr. Heavener had done in his audition had, in some way, influenced your performance?

ER: I think about it now. 'Finding Freeman' and everything else, I do a bad horror film and disappear. Is that a reason for people to start a website looking for me? No. There has to be something else there for people to be looking for me; clearly they love the movie. I'm thinking that had I not done such a bad job back then, where it's so bad it's good, we wouldn't be talking today and the film wouldn't have survived. I personally think the second one has kept the franchise alive. Fans have told me that and some from the most unlikely of places. I've had Mexican kids from Hispanic areas where I go sometimes to shop have recognized me for years. How is that? Well, it's because they love that movie. How does an obscure movie from the 80s still have relevance today? Because I did what I did; good or awful. To me, I feel like I was awful in many ways but some things I did were subtle and decent, working with Liz... there was certainly passable work. Lee never said things to me about the other guy and Joe had a lot of affection for this gentleman and he let me know it. It stuck with me. I was an impressionable young man. I just played it subtle in my audition.

I was told that afterward in other casting auditions, too. I learned later in the casting process of trying to get a job you have to play it big; I'm not saying Caldwell big. I learned later in life the casting director couldn't see ten feet of front of themselves what you were doing. I would do auditions as if I were being filmed in close-up; and I learned from that they weren't seeing it. I would be told by the agent I wasn't giving them enough. So for me, I learned I needed to play an audition broadly; as if I were on stage--large, bigger than life. When you do the work, play it down; less is more. More to get it and less when you're doing it. I learned that later in my short career. In this case, I played it down and they wanted more. Lee was always very subtle and very kind. There was definitely a direction I was being pushed by one of the two. I'm not blaming anything on him but there was obviously something worthy of David Heavener that Joe thought I was not giving. That was where the seed was planted and I almost walked away over it.

V5: What was your experience like working with Elizabeth Kaitan?

ER: It was great. She was a pro. I think the first scene we did wasn't the sidewalk pre-rampage bit, but the love scene. We met just a minute or two prior and I didn't know what to expect. It was supposed to be a closed set with minimal personnel. We shot it in a tiny bungalow with a very small half-bathroom off to the side. Everyone's in there; Lee's in there, Joe's in there, Harry Genkins is in there, um.... they're all in there! (laughs) So I'm in the bathroom thinking to myself, "Christ, I'm gonna be naked in front of these people all day." I knew we were doing the love scene the day before so I brought a pint of vodka in my bag. I was nervous and I probably drank 3 or 4 good shots. In the end, they used a lot less of what was filmed. They weren't looking for anything too salacious but both of us were totally naked. I remember coming out of that bathroom completely naked and Harvey Jenkins, who's very loud and boisterous, goes, "Hey, the kid's not half bad!" (laughs) It's funny talking about it now. 

But Liz was really very nice and pretty. I was intrigued by Liz because she showed herself to be quite a normal girl. I was impressed with her humility and not giving a damn about being a big movie star. I knew she had done a number of movies beforehand and she was driving this old car, wearing her T-shirt and blue jeans. I could imagine her growing up back East or in the Midwest because she had those kind of values. She didn't care about the image nor was she affected by stardom... a good girl.

V5: Regarding the rampage sequence, had you ever shot a gun before?

ER: No, that was the first time I had a gun in my hands. The part where I spin the gun and blow the end of the barrel was ad-libbed. The prop guys were on the ball about handling the gun to ensure nobody got hurt. Even with blanks you can do severe damage. There was this one actor, a real handsome guy, Jon-Erik Hexum, was playing around and shot himself in the head with a gun loaded with blanks back in the 1980s working on that TV show COVER UP.  Even with blanks it was enough to give him a Subderal Hematoma and he died. He had a real good career ahead of himself.

V5: How did it feel taking those blood squibs at the end?

ER: Oh, that was fun. There was a cloth and a Velcro thing around my midsection that was loaded with squibs. I gotta say those effects on that movie weren't cheap, they looked good. I remember that being done in a single take. I didn't feel anything. They're miniature explosions and there's a chance you can get burned but there was a lot of care setting that up. I think wearing the Santa suit helped out compared to if I was just wearing a T-shirt. Spiro Razatos did the stunt going through the window. I would've gladly done it but they weren't going to allow me to do something like that.

V5: The finale of SNDN2 is really good, in my opinion. You reminded me of Jack Nicholson at times. Can you elaborate on the filming of your confrontation with the Mother Superior?

ER: There was a long hallway on the other side of that door. They took the door off and replaced it with a cheaper one to break through. I do recall speaking up to Lee about that. I didn't really wanna do the whole Nicholson hacking through the door with the axe from THE SHINING (1980); so I suggested something different since I was rampaging off the charts at this point. I asked Lee if I could run down the hallway and with the hinges off the door I will jump onto the door with axe in hand and it would come slamming down with me standing on top of it like on a surfboard. I thought it would be a dramatic entrance. Lee disagreed and was worried we'd damage the floor since we were shooting in somebody else's house. I suggested putting a black rug down on the floor or removing the door knob; at least trying both ways to see which one looked the best. We ended up just doing it the way it's in the movie. It's a good sequence, though. We had some other things prior to this where I am chasing her down the hallway and she falls down the stairs. That was Spiro doing the fall, by the way. I think I was craziest in the scene where Lee told me to go in this back room and swing the axe and be nuts. And that wasn't a prop I was holding, it was a real axe.

We shot the whole of  'the rampage' in sequence, too. Beginning with the sidewalk run-in with Chip, strangling Liz, the Barney Fife bit with Kenneth McCabe... and then we broke to shoot the car stunt because of the light. We wanted to make sure we got that before we lost too much of the light. From there we went straight to 'Garbage Day'.

V5: So many like the "Garbage Day" line but my favorite is when you're chasing the Mother Superior and you go, "Mother Superiorrrrrr! I've got a present for youuuuu!"

EF: (laughs) I was looking at the film recently and realized there's some really funny stuff in it. I'm thinking to myself, "This is funny!" I have a new appreciation for it; but yeah, I never got the appeal of the 'Garbage Day' line. I look at it now and think I did an awful job saying it but people seem to love that line. There's definitely some funny dialog in there.

V5: Did you ever visit the SPX trailer and watch the makeup effects being made?

EF: Oh yeah, Chris Biggs had his little shop and I got to talk to him, Greg Cannom and Jill Rockow. I used to train Greg at his gym at his shop in the late 80s-early 90s. Jill opened up a lot of avenues for me to go down. She showed me how a lot of FX was done, with facial impressions and things like that. Chris Biggs made the Chip head for the battery charger death scene. I remember friends of Jill's got employed on that movie. It was fascinating seeing that world and learning how they built things. There was a ton of that type of work going on at the studios back then. It was where the money was. In fact, two guys that worked for Cannom, the Chiodo Brothers, had written a script called KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988). I was at Cannom's makeup shop one day and they were telling me about it and I was like, "What the fuck?" I didn't think that thing was goin' anywhere (laughs). I'm not kidding you, it was like six weeks later and they're makin' the movie! That day they were telling me about their script they were building an elaborate body that gets split in half with an axe or something.

V5: When did you see the original movie and what did you think of it?

EF: I only ever saw parts of the original movie that were inserted in the sequel. It sounds odd, but I didn't see the original SNDN till 2014. If I had seen it back in the day, Caldwell would've been a very different character for me. I would've looked at what Robert did and noted how dark it was. Lee wanted to go in a very different direction, lighten it up so it wouldn't get a bad rap like before. He and Joe were enjoying themselves acting the scenes out prior to filming. So there was a method to the madness in why SNDN2 turned out the way it did.

V5: When did you first see your own movie on the big screen?

EF: I saw it in an urban theater in Culver City. There was a lot of talking and yelling at the screen. When I was leaving the theater I saw the poster for my movie hanging up in the lobby; so I took it down, rolled it up and took it with me. Some kid saw me do it and he yelled out at me, "Hey! Hey, you're the..." and I said, "Yeah, that's me." He walked out with me and I answered a few questions... There was no money for a big premiere so that's how I first saw it. I told the kid this will be my souvenir for making the movie. At that point, I pretty much assumed it would be forgotten. Thank God, right? (laughs) I found out later I could've went and saw it at Grauman's Chinese Theater where people put their hands in cement. That's where David DeCoteau saw it. I didn't know any better and I saw it where I saw it.

V5: Your next movie was MURDER WEAPON (1989) for David DeCoteau. Can you talk about how you came to be involved in that one and how did that experience compare to SNDN2?

EF: David had seen SNDN2 and liked what I did. Lenny Rose, the guy in the alley in SNDN2, gave him my number. A casting director called me and said David wanted me for a movie. I asked where to come in to read and I was told it wasn't necessary that the director was settled on me doing the film. I insisted on coming in to read so there was some back-and-forth for a bit since I learned Casting Directors like to have some level of control over the actors. I got a job on another show once and I had worked with the guy previously and the Casting Director was irked like I had went around her to get the job; so I had to explain that I would gladly come in to read for the part, but I had worked for that gentleman before and he remembered me.

David has a style about him, he just wants to get it done. He'll shoot a movie in five days or less and do one take. I had a longer scene by a pool with Linnea Quigley that I didn't know was coming up. I was told, "Eric, get familiar with this section of the script."; so there was a lot of hustling to learn lines which was good. David doesn't mess around. For any young actor working for him or who wants to work for him, be on your toes. There was another scene we did with a bunch of guys in it that didn't go so well. I thought for sure we'd do another take. I asked David about it and he said, "No, no, I'll just cut to something else." And I kept thinking in my head, "Cut to what?" (laughs) The point is I learned early on to get it down, get it done, and hope no one screws up because he's going to move on.

Another example is this scene with Linnea and I in a garage. We're supposed to be going to a store and we're making out in a convertible. The way the scene went I was supposed to ejaculate in my pants. (laughs) I'm not diggin' that so I tell David I'm trying to build a career and I don't wanna be this guy. So David asks me what would I suggest. So I say to him, "What if I say, 'hey baby, I can't make love to you in your car, I respect you too much; how about a blowjob instead?'" He kinda laughed and didn't say yes or no. So we go to shoot the scene and I'm in the car, we're kissing and I'm supposed to come before my time; but then David goes, "Okay, give the line." I didn't think we were gonna do it. I gave it to him off the top of my head so I'm suddenly put on the spot and I went blank. It was poorly executed but funny at the same time. That scene was my scene like the 'Gina gives good sponge' in NOTHING IN COMMON. It came out better other times I did it, but totally last minute. I wasn't about to be Mr. Premature! (laughs)

V5: You've done many TV shows. Is there something you've done in that medium you're particularly proud of?

EF: I did an episode of DIVORCE COURT after SNDN2 I am particularly fond of. I got called at the last minute, actually. I was replacing another actor who was in a car accident. My agent called me late one Wednesday afternoon to go up to the CBS studios in Studio City to get the script and then an early call in Valencia at 7am the next day. This was with no preparation so I had to pour over the dialog all night when these people normally get the lines a week in advance. They would shoot three shows a day. John O'Hurley from SEINFELD was doing an episode just before me. They made up my face with a big bandage over my eye. I'd been in a car accident and my wife left me over money since my looks were gone. They were supposed to make up my face with some scars but they ended up just covering it up instead. Then they switched the dialog on me because the guy playing the prosecuting attorney didn't wanna say racy things. If ever there was a monkey wrench thrown into a job of mine that was it! I pulled it off against adversity and I played everything the opposite of Caldwell. I thought I did a good piece of work on that and I was glad to get it.

Eric on the TV series DANGEROUS CURVES (92-93)
V5: Can you talk about your new script that continues the Ricky Caldwell character from SNDN2?

EF: The logline goes something like, 'After 25 years, a criminally insane inmate learns he will soon be released from the asylum, but is forced to escape and seek revenge for a murder he did not commit.' It's a comprehensive script that loosely continues the Caldwell character from SNDN2. It's Ricky Caldwell, but a different type of story. The script isn't all about craziness. He knows what he did but he has to go in deeper than before to right some wrongs he has gotten involved in after being set up. It's its own thing, though; a more human story. Lots of violence, obviously, but more there. It's not horror but an action-thriller. I couldn't get the rights to the property as the guy who owns it wants an outrageous amount of money for it. I've had to change the name of the Caldwell character, which may hurt me, but it's a slight change but those who've seen the other movie will know who it is.

V5: Looking back at SNDN2 what are your feelings about it today? Was there ever a time you wished you hadn't done it?

EF: I've probably entertained that thought long before the 'Finding Freeman' thing. To say I wish I had never done it is kinda strong. It's more like I have thought about what it would've been like had I done some things differently. After I'd done the movie I'd all but forgotten about it. I assumed it would be forgotten about too. There wasn't much money in it, but it was good money for someone just starting. If I had my brain today in my head back then we might not be talking today. The nuttiness is what's carried it and I am aware of that.

V5: Last question: What would you like to say to your fans, and fans of SNDN2 in particular?

EF: Thank you. I get it. They're just looking at it as pure entertainment. They know it's so bad it's good. I'm happy to make some people smile. I never understood it all that much till I went to a screening of SNDN2 after Lee Harry asked me to come along. At the end of the movie this lady came up to me and said every year she and her family get together and watch my movie. She was gushing and being very kind. I was very appreciative. These people were fans. People brought boxes of my work for me to sign and nobody even knew I was gonna be there. I've only gotten a taste of the fandom but it's humbling. I feel a little embarrassed in these situations but I need to embrace them a little better. I never much liked my work but a lot of people see something in it they like which is really cool and for that I am extremely grateful.

Eric Freeman will be making his first convention appearance at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA on January 29th, 2017. You can find more information by clicking HERE.

To get a signed poster of SNDN2, and to see Eric's guitar skills, click HERE.

Listen to the Pizowell podcast with Eric Freeman HERE

Listen to the Shock Waves podcast with Robert Brian Wilson (of SNDN1) and Eric Freeman HERE.

You can read an interview with Lee Harry, the director of SNDN2, by clicking HERE

I would like to extend immense thanks to Eric Freeman for giving a great deal of time for this interview. I wish him nothing but the best in all his future endeavors.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cool Ass Cinema Presents: An Interview With the Director of Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, Lee Harry

Primarily an editor, Lee Harry has directed several movies over the course of his Hollywood career, often doing other jobs on those films as well. A multi-talented filmmaker, Lee's most famous work will always be the cult favorite SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987). In this interview, Lee discusses how he got interested in making movies; his career from the beginning up to today; the making of SNDN2 and working with Kung Fu film favorite Hwang Jang Lee among many other things.

CAC would like to thank him for taking the time to answer questions about his career.

Harryhausen with 7 VOYAGE OF SINBAD creatures
Venoms5: Tell me about yourself and how your interest in movies came about. Were you a fan of SciFi, horror and monster movies as a kid?

Lee Harry: Like most future "geeks" at my young age, I loved Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Every few weekends my parents would drive us to Winchester, VA, where they grew up, to visit our grandparents. I would head directly to the local newsstand where I would find FM, Alfred Hitchcock Magazine and various comics that I couldn't find in my home town. Interestingly, I was very squeamish as a kid, and FM showed me behind-the-scenes pix of make-up and gore, so I was able to work through some of my bloody phobias. It's also where I learned about Ray Harryhausen who, like so many of my contemporaries, was a big influence. I made a lot of 8mm movies trying my hand at stop-motion.

V5: How did your stop-motion experimentation go and what did your parents think of your interest in the genre?
LH: I used my dad's Kodak Brownie 8mm camera at first, trying to flick the shutter a frame or two at a time, with clay dinosaurs. I got a few good grades in school by making films, so my parents were very supportive. The school bought a brand new Bolex Super 8 camera and I started filming the football games. And since the games were on Friday, I took the camera home for the weekend and made movies. Win win.

V5: Was there a film, or films, that influenced you to get into the movie industry?

LH: I remember the night I first saw Spielberg's DUEL (1971) on television. I was in high school. It was on the ABC Movie of the Week and I had a small B/W TV in my bedroom at home. Even on a 12" screen, I couldn't believe what Steven Spielberg did with just a car and truck for 90 minutes. I think something went "ding" in my head. I started to look at colleges with film programs.

V5: Do you recall anything about working on either FADE TO BLACK or WITHOUT WARNING (both 1980)? How did those jobs come about?

LH: I was a production assistant on both of those movies; on FADE TO BLACK I was Dennis Christopher's Winnebago driver and gopher, and on WITHOUT WARNING (called ALIEN WARNING when it was shooting) I drove Martin Landau to and from set in my Mercury Bobcat. I'm sure he expected a limo, but low budget is low budget. He was a very nice man; this was years before he won an Oscar for ED WOOD. I actually wrecked my car working on that show and they wouldn't reimburse me. I did meet a lot of good people who loved movies and just wanted to work on them.

V5: In the early 1980s, you were an editor on several low budget SciFi movies including the TV movie comedy THE PERFECT WOMAN (1981) starring Fred Willard and Cameron Mitchell as an alien; some of these had Steven Spielberg's sister, Anne, as producer. Could you comment on these early works?

LH: I was hired by Sandler Institutional Films, which was known for UFO "what-if" documentaries, several starring Rod Serling.  They had been contracted to make 10 made-for-cable sci-fi movies back when cable was just getting popular. I cut five of them. They were shot on 16mm for almost no money, but they gave me a Moviola flatbed editing machine to cut on, which was quite a luxury at the time. I also met people there who I still considers good friends. Anne Spielberg was a great lady and fun to work with.

V5: Editing on low budget movies, do you often have multiple angles to play around with or are there frequently very few set-ups to work from?

LH: If the production was lucky enough to afford two cameras, they usually rolled both whenever they could, but film was expensive unlike the endless capacity of digital now. I remember only having a couple takes of each angle on most projects. The best part of productions like that is that since they have no money, you have to do everything. I cut picture, sound effects, dialogue and music. I got to work with the visual effects guys and go to mixes. Pretty cool learning experience for a novice.
V5: You're listed as doing 'additional editing' on HELLHOLE (1985). Was there problems on that film? It has quite a cast.

LH: Hoo boy. At the time I was co-owner of a struggling post production company. An editor friend had been offered the HELLHOLE job, but considered it beneath him. I met with the post supervisor, Lawrence Appelbaum, and he offered me more money than I had seen in years. I closed the company and took the job. A week later I got my ex-co-owner buddy on the picture. It "starred" the late Ray Sharkey, who appeared to be in his heroin phase, Marjoe Gortner, Edy Williams, the Russ Meyer bombshell, and the great Robert Zdar. I was hired to cut the reshoots which were basically sex and violence scenes. It didn't offend my sensibilities because I had a baby on the way and needed the money.
V5: You're billed as supervising editor on THUNDER RUN (1986). I noticed you kept the action sequences tightly cut. The train jump by the weapons-laden big rig was especially impressive. What was it like working on a Cannon production?

LH: It was only a Cannon production after they bought the finished film.  During production it was a Cliff Wenger movie directed by Rod Amateau with the post being done at Mr. Appelbaum's company. I was only made editor after the original editor was fired.  I ended up re-cutting the whole thing, but again, the fun part was doing everything with my buddies. Can you imagine; they sold that movie on the strength of that truck jump, which was a practical stunt! You could do it in After Effects now and have dinosaurs driving it. We had a bunch of great late nights cutting that movie.
V5: This brings us to SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 2 (1987). 

LH: I was working full time at Mr. Appelbaum's company along with my buddy Dennis Patterson and Joe Earle. We were editors; we cut anything that came in the door-trailers, commercials, industrials. SNDN2 was just going to be another job. The existing SNDN had bombed badly and a new group of producers bought the rights from Tristar and wanted to make some $$$, so they came to Larry and asked us to re-cut it, re-score it and call it a sequel. Joe, Dennis and I wrote a quick treatment and convinced everyone that we could do what they wanted AND add new material to truly make it a new movie.
V5: What was your opinion of the original at that time?

LH: I was still pretty squeamish and was, frankly, kind of appalled at the first movie. Santa Claus as a murderer? And it is pretty gnarly; cutting the young mom's throat? Yeesh. At least our victims deserved it. Except for maybe Garbage Day guy.

Lee Harry (left) in the movie theater sequence seated next to Randy Post
V5: Did you have any reservations about making the movie knowing roughly 30 minutes of the film was footage from Part 1?

LH: That was the assignment. And being an editor, all we do is try to make footage cut together. So it was a puzzle, a challenge and an opportunity.

V5: Do you recall the budget for this picture? 

LH: I've been quoted as saying it was $100,000, but I could be off. We did have a full crew and equipment. We had a periscope cam rig for the opening shot, I had a dolly on set at all times, we had Chris Biggs doing make-up and Spiro Razatos as stunt co-ordinator. Spiro was the guy standing in the street for the car gag.

V5: What can you say about Eric Freeman in the lead role as Ricky? He was great... over the top, but that's what makes his performance so memorable, in my opinion.

LH: I just listened to a podcast with Eric where he says I didn't give him a lot of actor-ly direction, and that sounds about right. For better or worse, I'm more about the shot. I've always wanted to make a silent version of SNDN2 to showcase the camerawork. It's not easy doing tracking shots when the producers are yelling to wrap it up, we're headed for overtime. Initially I was more a fan of David Heavener, a popular low-budget actor who was intense and more Charles Manson-y. Joe and I were big Stephen King fans and we saw Ricky as one of Mr. King's bigger than life villains from THE STAND. And it's funny, because in my opinion, no one has ever put that literary badass character-type on screen as King wrote and continues to write it. Not until Jeffery Dean Morgan's Negan on WALKING DEAD. Imagine Ricky like that 30 years ago.

V5: What happened with Mr. Heavener not doing the picture, and were you ultimately satisfied with Mr. Freeman's performance?

EF: Eric's performance is legendary. I think it’s been clearly stated (by Eric and others) that I was all about the shots and getting something that would cut together. I like to cast actors who fit the part, then let them go with it. For better or worse, I think most of my actors would tell you the only specific direction they ever got from me was, "Make sure to hit your mark so you’ll be in focus after the dolly stops." I’m sure that’s frustrating to many. I'd like to think I would get better with practice, like I have with editing for 30+ years, but my films are few and far between.

As for David Heavener, he came in and did a really intense, creepy audition. I liked him, but I think he spooked producer Larry Appelbaum, who chose Eric. It was all fine with me. I just wanted to make a movie.

V5: Was there an attempt to get Lilyan Chauvin to reprise her Mother Superior role? She was great in the first movie; one of that film's strongest assets.

LH: As I recall, Larry told us she wanted more money than we had. I can't blame her for trying. 

V5: Was the classic line "Garbage Day!" ad-libbed or was that in the original script?

LH: It was always in there. And we shot a dog in that first draft, too! Yikes. Joe and I thought it would be cool to put a total gun massacre into the middle of a horror movie, because that's an ultimate suburban horror, right?  Unfortunately, now it is.

V5: Aside from the schlockiness, there's some impressive shots in this movie. The stunt where the red car flips and narrowly misses the stuntman being one instance... was that a single take?

LH: Yes, that was the first take. We only had the one car and the sun was almost set; and we almost killed the stuntman getting that single take.

V5: SPX Makeup Artist Chris Biggs had worked on some high-profile genre work at this time. How did he come aboard? Both the umbrella and battery charger scene are impressive. 

LH: Chris had a break in his schedule and had heard about the movie and reached out to our production manager. The umbrella death is my favorite. It was much more graphic but I had to cut it (and all the violence) down because the MPAA wanted to give us an X rating.

V5: Do you recall the film's premiere? What was the reaction from patrons and critics at that time? Did you get a lot of slack for the abundance of stock footage?

LH: It wasn't much of a premiere; just me, my wife and a few friends at the Egyptian in Hollywood watching with the other paying customers. Beforehand, we had a drink at Musso & Frank and I met Curtis Hanson (director of THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, LA CONFIDENTIAL 8 MILE, etc) at the bar. He wished me good luck!

V5: Did you ever meet the original film's director, Charles E. Sellier, Jr.?

LH: No, never met him.

V5: Can you talk about STREET SOLDIERS (1991)? Was that film a pleasant experience for you?

LH: Yes and no. I certainly enjoyed making the movie; we trained our actors with the stunt coordinator, Kim Kahana, for a week before shooting so the fights would look realistic. I'm happy with the look of the film and the shots we got. There was a problem with the financing halfway through shooting, so we took time off while the producers regrouped. It was financed by Korean "businessmen" and the executive producer, Mr. Kim was pretty threatening. At one point I had to hold the film hostage in my garage until the crew got paid. That being said, once Curb/Esquire picked it up we got a primo stereo mix at Todd-AO--which isn't cheap--and a dozen visual effects from Fantasy II.

V5: How was it working with Jun Chong? 

LH: Jun was great. Very supportive and a nice guy. We had met when I was a re-recording mixer on SILENT ASSASSINS. Most of the "good gang" were his students, some with acting experience, some not. The 'JP's' were stunt guys who trained under Kim Kahana before the project existed. Jun's students were respectful and took direction well.

V5: Were you aware Hwang Jang Lee (billed as Jason Hwang) was a huge martial arts film star in Hong Kong and Korea in the 70s and 80s? Do you recall how he got hired on this picture and what was he like to work with?

LH: I was not a big follower of martial art films at the time, and since there was no internet I really had no way of knowing how big "Jason" ,as we called him, was. He was a friend of Jun's and the producers, so he ended up as Tok. The whole snake thing was a disaster.

V5: Can you explain the problems with the snake?

LH: In the original script that I adapted, Tok (Hwang Jang Lee) carried around a cobra snake, using it to spray his victims with venom. We hired a guy to make a functional snake puppet, but he got a "studio" job before our shoot and could only make a stiff rubber version.  It’s kind of laughable and I tried to talk Jun Chong out of using it, but it stayed in the movie.

V5: As for editing, do you find it more satisfying editing an action sequence or a horror scene? 

LH: I love editing period, it's what most of my career has been. Regardless of genre or type of project, I just find it fascinating the way you can cut things together to create an emotional reaction. And then when you don't have the footage you want or need, you have to figure out how to make it work.

V5: Which do you prefer--editing or directing, and would you want to direct a feature again?

LH: I think I'm a much better editor than director, if only because I've edited hundreds of pieces but only directed several films. I'd direct again in an instant, though.

Lee directing THE WHISTLER
V5: What are you doing today? You recently completed a short film titled THE WHISTLER.

LH: Right after I sold my interest in our trailer company, BUDDHA JONES, my father passed away and left my brother and I each a small amount of money. I used mine to finance THE WHISTLER, which was a story I wrote years ago that my Dad had liked. We were both Twilight Zone fans.

V5: Whether film-related or otherwise, what accomplishment are you most proud of and what do you have planned for the future?

LH: Other than my family, my proudest achievement was winning a Student Academy Award in 1978 for my short BUTTON, BUTTON.  The Academy flew us to LA from Connecticut. My parents joined us. The award for Best Dramatic Film was presented to me by Steven Spielberg and his new protege´ Robert Zemekis. It was quite a weekend. We returned to CT, packed our bags and drove out to California. As to the future; I'm making an animated short to showcase the musical I've been writing for years. I love learning new 3D software and animation apps. Gotta keep up with the technology.

I would like to once more extend thanks to Lee Harry for taking the time to do this interview. I wish him all the best in future endeavors and continued success.

You can read a review of THE WHISTLER and also find a link to watch it HERE.

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