chats with Curt Rector - Bob from HOUSE OF DEATH (1982)]
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved with the film and when it was filmed?
The film was shot in 1981, I think. I got involved through EO Studios, the studio where the film was shot. I had done one other film for EO Studios and had made friends with Earl Owensby who owned the studio and L. Worth Keeter III, his number one director. Worth and I had worked closely on a previous film and gotten to be good friends. In fact we continue to be friends to this day, staying in touch via Facebook and occasional phone calls and visits. When Death Screams (the shooting title of the film) was casting, Worth and EO Studios suggested the producer look at me for the role I was ultimately cast in. I can’t remember if I actually auditioned or if they simply looked at one of the many audition tapes they had of me from the previous film. I was acting professionally in those days and being paid to work was very welcome.
Q: The movie kind of bounces between characters from time to time; they toy with making you and your love interest, Kathy (Andrea Savio), this sort of hero/heroine couple of the film, before you both ultimately become background fodder so that Lily (Susan Kiger) can take center stage as the heroine. Was it always supposed to be this way, or were there script changes? It just seems like they had one general idea and then abandoned it midway through.
So far as I know, the film was always intended to be a vehicle for Susan Kiger and the rest of us were just there to dress out the story. At least that seemed to be the way the producer saw it. I don’t recall ever seeing the entire script, just the scenes and sides that I was working on. One thing that mitigated against my seeing a lot of the script was that I was a really quick study, and they’d often give me new scenes in the make-up chair and I’d memorize them and trot out and do them. Andrea Savio must have been an equally quick study because most of our scenes were together so she must have been getting sides too. I always felt that the entire story was intended to revolve around Susan Kiger, but the character as they wrote it for her just wasn’t all that interesting, really. The whole business with she and the “coach” becoming interested in each other just never seemed to work particularly, and I think that may have made it seem like it was less important to the main plot line then it was supposed to be. I can’t remember why the killer was a killer but I don’t recall that it was an especially compelling reason. The script wasn’t ever Pulitzer material anyway, and however direct the story line may have been in the original script, which I never saw, it definitely got watered down in the shooting. It sometimes seemed like the script was being altered and scenes added as different female members of the cast caught the producer’s eye. In general, the producer was a lot more interested in the ladies of the cast then he was in any of us boys. The girls got lots of attention and the guys were pretty much left to figure out whatever we could as we went along. Some of us, like Bill Gribble who played one of the older students were a bit higher in the pecking order and seemed to have a better idea about what was going on with the story than I did. I confess that I didn’t much care, I’d pegged the story as non-Oscar material and was mostly concerned with trying my best to be a believable high-school senior when in reality I was 26 years old and on my second marriage. As a matter of fact, Andrea, who played my love interest, was in fact a recently graduated high school senior and was in reality only about 17, so in the more intense love scenes I was always keeping an eye out for the cops or child services or somebody in case they came to bust me for making out with a minor or something.
Q: Do you have any idea what became of the rest of the cast? Particularly Jennifer Chase, who played Ramona? Do you keep in touch with anyone from the cast/crew?
Jennifer Chase fell off my radar the moment the film was over, although I liked her and she seemed like she might have talent. She could certainly scream. I stayed in touch with John Kohler for a while, but haven’t seen or heard from him in forever. I know that as of last year (2010), Bill Gribble was living in CA, outside of LA. I’ve stayed in touch with more of the crew members than any of the cast members as I went on to work with most of the crew on two other films as both an actor and a grip. In addition to Worth Keeter who did special effects and makeup for the film, I’m also Facebook pals with Talmadge Peace, who was an electrician and grip, Fritz Goforth, key grip, and I occasionally hear from Earl Owensby, the studio owner.
Q: Back to possible script changes, do you know of any in particular (if there were any), or can you recall if there were sequences that were shot and left out of the finished film?
My memory is that there were constant script changes, both additions and deletions. What got shot and left on the edit room floor I don’t know, we shot a lot of stuff and it’s been a long time, 30 years, since I worked on that film and nearly that long since I’ve seen it, so I couldn’t really answer that question accurately.
Q: Do you know if the film ever got a cinema release, or was it sent straight to video?
Dunno, EO Studios was really into 4-Walling back then; they’d make a film and then distribute it themselves by renting out a theater and showing the film themselves and splitting the take with the theater owners. Earl Owensby had developed quite a little following of his own starring in a series of action films as Seabo and some other characters. I have no idea if the producer of Death Screams, or whatever they eventually called it, had any kind of distribution deal with EO Studios or not.
Q: This is a long shot question, but do you know who owns the rights to the film as of today? I have tried finding the answer but no luck, as I am trying to champion a proper DVD release.
Long question, sadly, short answer, not a clue.
Q: Last but not least, can you tell me some general behind the scenes stories about the film? You don't have to go into explicit detail; maybe just a few anecdotes (if you recall any) that you think the reader might find amusing.
I have a couple. One off the top of my head: We were filming at night outside the shack where the final scenes take place. John Kohler’s character, the name escapes me, goes into an outhouse to relieve himself. While he’s in there, the killer gets to him, slices him up and hangs him by his feet from the ceiling of the outhouse. I guess the idea was that he was bleeding him like a hog or something. Anyway, the crew rigged up a stout hook and came up with some padded ropes to tie John’s feet together and the idea was they’d string him up inside the outhouse, drench him in blood, and then in the scene the rest of our little Scooby Doo gang would come looking for John, creep up on the outhouse door as the suspense mounted and then whip open the door to find John hanging there upside down drenched in blood and dead. Very creepy. There was also some sort of business with a raccoon that was supposed to run through the sequence somewhere as a red herring, but I don’t remember if that actually made it into the scene, or if so, where. Worth Keeter, who was doing the special effects, had a proprietary mixture for fake blood, I don’t know what all was in it but at least two of the components were red dye and corn syrup.
The syrup was to make it flow slower, I think. So, the crew gets John all trussed up, hangs him from the hook in the outhouse, Worth slathers him in the fake blood, so now the goop is all running down to drip off his face and head, and of course John isn’t supposed to move because he’s supposed to be hanging stock still when the rest of us whip open the door.
We do what seems like dozens of takes of this and something is always wrong - the raccoon doesn’t run through, or the door sticks, or the girls aren’t satisfied with the quality of their screams, someone falls down when they aren’t supposed to or something. By now, we aren’t even making it all the way to opening the door of the outhouse. It’s getting late, everyone is hungry we’ve been working a long time, and although it’s a non-union shoot so no meal penalties or anything, the director, David Nelson, wants to get us fed so we’re short circuiting the turn-around time between takes to try and get a good one before we go eat. Over and over we go skittering across the grass, slipping around in the dew and trying not to knock each other down, but we never manage to get a take. Finally, David says “Screw it, let’s go eat.” So, we all troop off to dinner, served on site but some distance from the set, and sit down and start eating. We’re probably a half-hour into the meal when someone looks around and says, “Hey, where the hell is Kohler?” We all look at each other and with dawning comprehension realize that no one ever got him out of the outhouse. We all jump up and haul ass back over there and as we get close we can hear John howling in there, “Hey, HEY, is there anybody out there?!? What the hell are we doing?!?” We pop open the door and start getting John down from the hook. By now, his feet are numb and the goopy fake blood has glued his eyes shut, filled up his nose and sinuses, cemented his shirt to his chest, and his hair is standing straight up, glued by gravity into an extravagant Mohawk. We were all, except John, laughing so hard we can hardly get him down from the hook.
They got John cleaned up and although he sneezed and coughed up red syrup for the next two weeks, he later agreed to go through the suspension again to get the shot. The crew unanimously conferred upon him the title, “John Kohler – Stunt Jew.” John delighted in that title and actually had business cards made up with that name on them.
review of HOUSE OF DEATH.
Listen to an audio interview with Curt Rector with Joseph of The Bodycount Continues.