[Lunchmeat chats with Stephanie Leigh Steele]

''The blade would stop at nothing.'' I guess SATAN'S BLADE incidently cut up all the vhs copies of itself and buried itself at the bottom of Big Bear lake back in the mid 80's. SATAN'S BLADE is one of those ultra rare obscurities from the 80's that's cool to have just because it's so damn rare. I recently got to ask Stephanie Leigh Steele (The final girl in SATAN'S BLADE) a few questions about the shoot, and just what it's like to have starred in one of the rarest slashers in the genre. SATAN'S BLADE is a slasher attempt that had truckloads of hope behind it and a genuine eye for the genre. The finished product (by some) may seem a little tedious, and rough around the edges, but for the cheesy genre fan, it's as close to Swiss heaven as you can get.

LUNCHMEAT: How did you become involved with Satan's Blade? Were you an aspiring actress who thought this was your big break?

STEPHANIE: Hey, I will do my best to answer the questions accurately, but I have to tell you this was a loooong time ago and the ol' gray matter ain't what she used to be, so specific dates are going to be guessed at, but should be pretty close.
I became involved with Satan's Blade when I read an ad in the paper about an open casting call for the movie. I had just finished up a year at Mesa City College in San Diego (majoring in drama) and knew I wanted to pursue acting as a career (I was 19 years old at the time). I don't remember being naive enough to think that this was going to be a big break for my career, but I do remember being excited about actually being paid cash for working on a movie- excited and guarded. I was unwilling to do any nude scenes for said cash.
I'm not sure who spotted the ad first, but a bunch of my friends from the drama department at Mesa City College auditioned and ended up being cast in the movie as well. Some of the techies were also from Mesa.

LUNCHMEAT: When you first got the script, what were your thoughts? Was it originally called 'Satan's Blade'?

STEPHANIE: I do believe the film was always called Satan's Blade, at least I don't remember any other working title. I was excited about the script, after all, I had a pretty big part, and it was my first experience working in film. We were going to film on location for about three weeks up in Big Bear (a skiing resort north-east of Los Angeles). And while there was some promise of some cash, all of our lodging expenses were paid for, so it was an affordable little adventure for most of us. We were all pretty excited about it. It's a little sad that I have to think so hard about the specific time when we shot this movie, but it must've been in the winter of 1981. With the exception of the opening scene, it was all shot up at Big Bear Lake, a skiing, boating resort north-east of Los Angeles.

LUNCHMEAT: Was the finished product any different than the original script? If so, how?

STEPHANIE: There was some minor reworking of the script as we shot each scene, but for the most part the story stayed the same.

LUNCHMEAT: Scott Costillo Jr.(director) had a modicum of talent in regards to certain scenes. (Actually, I think the simple 'point and roll' camera-work is what gives the film its depressing tone) What was he like...this Scott Costillo guy?

STEPHANIE: Scott was a little eccentric. Over all he was a very nice guy, but a little quirky. He was very focused on the film. He knew exactly what he wanted for each scene. I remember being uncomfortable with the extraneous nudity (being unfamiliar with the Slasher genre at the time). Scott had most of the women who auditioned for the movie take off their tops as the first order of business. You could tell he was into it, but not exclusively. He was genuinely interested in the art and craft of putting a film together. And while it doesn't really show, because we were all so green, he cared about the acting and writing just as much as he cared about the placement of fake blood on a nice rack.

LUNCHMEAT: I thought you and Tom Bongiorno did a good job with what you had to work with. I'm sure the cold and snowy location was a tad uncomfortable at times (for everyone). Did the weather influence the filmmaking process as a whole, you think?

STEPHANIE: Thanks for being so kind. As I mentioned above, we were so young. I watched the movie for the first time about a year ago (with my 3 children!) and cringed the entire time, well, cringed and laughed. The location was actually brilliant. It was gorgeous up there. We were all working on a movie. It was romantic. Tom Cue (the guy who wrote the screen play) and I ended up falling in love during the shoot (we lived together for several years after, but have since lost touch). I do remember the scene we had to shoot in our night gowns out in the snow. Terry and Scott were great about getting us inside and warm as quickly as possible during these scenes. Terry might have different memories about filming in the snow, but for me it just made it more beautiful up there.I don't remember the shoot being tough at all. Sure, there were some late nights (most of them), but we were all young and into the process. Scott was definitely on a budget, so we were pretty much working with the bare minimum regarding equipment, but that's what makes it a B movie. I've lived in Minnesota for the last 16 years and I can tell you that sauntering through the snowy woods in Southern California is not quite the same as trekking through the katabatic winds of St. Paul in January. It's all relative.

LUNCHMEAT: Were you familiar with the slasher genre (or horror in general) before Satan's Blade?

STEPHANIE:Horror genre, yes, but Slasher no.

LUNCHMEAT: Stephanie (also the name of your character) and Tony (Tom Bongiorno - The sensible hero of the film)) had quiet a few scenes together. What was Tom like during production? The rest of the cast/crew?

STEPHANIE: Tom and I knew each other from the drama department at Mesa City College. We were good friends and had a lot of fun with our scenes. I knew a lot of the other people working on the film from Mesa as well (Mona was my roommate at the time, and had never acted before). Everybody got along for the most part. We were all there for the experience and the adventure and ready for a good time.

LUNCHMEAT: I noticed that your character had absolutely no regard for the fact that Tony was married. Usually, there's a virginal overtone in regards to that 'final girl' we see in all horror movies. I thought your character was a step aside from such pure characters as Laurie Strode from 'Halloween'. What films do you think helped influence Scott Costillo and 'Satan's Blade'?

STEPHANIE: I never chatted much with Scott about what influenced him, but certainly the popularity of horror movies at the time inspired him to try his hand at this genre. Personally I was glad I got to keep my clothes on and was offered dialogue that made sense for the most part.

LUNCHMEAT: What was the biggest production mistake in your opinion?

STEPHANIE: Hmm, other than the fact that the writing, directing and acting were the scariest aspects of this film, I thought overall it was very well done.

LUNCHMEAT: What about the budget? Have any idea about what this film was shot for?

STEPHANIE: Sorry, no. I do know there was a pretty tight budget. We did, some of us, actually get paid a couple hundred dollars. They paid for our lodging. I don't know what Scott put up for the movie or how he got it released.

LUNCHMEAT: Were you on location during most of the shoot?

STEPHANIE: Yes, all of my scenes were shot on location in Big Bear.

LUNCHMEAT: Were you aware that 'Satan's Blade' ever got a release? It was released in the U.S under the PRISM label circa '84. It was later released in the UK under the defunct Mogul label. It also got a release in Japan.

STEPHANIE: Had NO idea. We did go see a screening of it in San Diego, I think, a couple of years after it was made. I don't remember that very well though, other than thinking it looked a lot rougher than it felt when we were making it. After that, we all just carried on with our lives, many of us going our separate ways. It wasn't until last year (26 years later!) that I was searching for something on Google and the movie title Satan's Blade came up in my search. I laughed when I saw it, and thought to myself, "No way." It was on the IMDB site, and I was blown away to see that not only was this the movie I had made so long ago, but I could buy a copy of it through Amazon.com (which I did, of course- I bought two copies).

LUNCHMEAT: Have you acted in any thing else since those Satan's Blade' days?

STEPHANIE: Oh, yah. I attended the Theater Academy at Los Angeles City College and then tread the boards in L.A. until I turned 25 and decided I didn't want to be waiting on tables for the rest of my life (I went back to college and got a BA in English Lit. at Occidental College, and upon my graduation from Oxy almost immediately moved to Minnesota to be with my husband). I did a lot of theater (non-equity stuff) and a few voice-overs and one commercial, nothing big though. I got to the point where I resented working so hard on my craft to find myself fighting like crazy to get a tampon commercial. And a lot of the work seemed so self-serving. I thought I would get a PhD and teach at a teaching college somewhere, but I ended up getting married and starting a family. I'm home full time with my 3 kids now, which isn't ever what I thought I would be doing with my life, but I'm pretty happy. I did get involved in a theater project a couple of years ago which involved a group of actors teaming up with a group of homeless people to put on a play about homelessness. I got involved with that project more for the process than the end production, and was surprised to find myself feeling so happy during rehearsals. I do miss the acting, and maybe when the kids get older I will have time to get involved in some community theater around here, but for now it's all about piano lessons and history projects, which is okay.

LUNCHMEAT: So, it's been over twenty-something years since you appeared in 'Satan's Blade'. What are you up to THESE days?

STEPHANIE: When I'm not making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or schlepping 3-paneled display boards to the Jr. high I play and teach tournament Scrabble. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. I'm also a good cook and I love to cook these ginormous dinners and feed all my friends on a pretty regular basis. My daughter and I take English riding lessons twice a week. Before my third child came along I was writing some and painting a little, and now as the kids are getting older, I'm working on carving out some more creative time for myself, but it's not easy. It's a momentum thing, and a question of balance, and also probably has something to do with the fact that I've just gotten lazy. A bottle of Chardonnay and a DVD from Netflix are a bit of a party for me these days.

LUNCHMEAT: If someone got in touch with you and decided to 'continue the legend', would you do it? (Well, since you and Tony both bit the dust in the first one, it may have to be a prequel-(laughs)

STEPHANIE: Oh God, hell yes. That would be a riot, as long as there are plenty of other women willing to take their tops off, I'm in.

LUNCHMEAT: For any of the cast and crew who may read this interview, is there anything you would like to say?

STEPHANIE: If any of the cast or crew are reading this, drop me a line. I've bumped into one or two of you over the years, but would love to know what everybody else is doing these days. And I'd like to thank all of them for a great time on the mountain all those years ago. We did have some fun.

LUNCHMEAT: BTW, I just want to say that Steph was smart hiding under the bed while Tony's wife got the 'blade'. Usually, the character ends up standing there while the killer just walks up to them - Good thinking there. Are you sure you aren't connected with another Steel, Amy Steel from Friday 13th part 2? She also hid under the bed.

STEPHANIE: You know, they actually spelled my name wrong in the credits. My name is Stephanie Leigh Steele, with an E on the end of Steel, which only adds to the sloppiness charm, I suppose. But no, sorry, no relation.

LUNCHMEAT: Last but not least: What's your favorite memory from the shoot?

STEPHANIE: Nothing specific sticks out in my mind at this time, but what I do remember is how beautiful it was up there and how much fun we all had. There was a lot of partying and silliness, and also, I guess, this unspoken hope that we all shared, that maybe something good will come out of this work. We have the movie now, which of course is awful, but it's also perfect in so many ways. I think of Tim Burton's movie about Ed Wood and Wood's sloppy, eccentric passion is the type of energy that kept most of the cast and crew going during those few weeks we shot 'Satan's Blade'. As we get older it's easy to lose that edgy drive. So that's my best memory of that time, how we all dove into the project hungry and willing to take a chance.

LUNCHMEAT: Stephanie, I'd just like to thank you for taking time to answer these questions. Sue me, but Satan's Blade is not nearly as bad as some other low budget horror films I've sat through. It is twice better than anything released DTV these days...trust me. Satan's Blade is a film with a little mystique behind it - Absolutely nothing to be found until this interview. I'm glad we can finally uncover some of the circumstances behind the film. It's certainly a true treat for the obscure genre fan. Thanks again!

STEPHANIE: Okay, hey, it's just funny that I'm sitting here answering these questions after all this time.

Relevant Links

Read the review of SATAN'S BLADE.