[Lunchmeat chats with Tom Bongiorno]

'Lunchmeat has already spoken with Stephanie Leigh Steele - the final girl in rare early 80s slasher - SATAN'S BLADE. Now he gets the chance to delve deeper into the film's mysteries with the film's leading man Tom Bongiorno. Find out just why Tom scoured all of Las Vegas in an effort to track down and destroy every copy of the film he could find ...

Lunchmeat: Hey Tom, how's it going?

It's going well. Life is good (when the meds kick in). LOL.

Lunchmeat: Did you ever think you would be talking about 'Satan's Blade' almost twenty seven years later?

Tom: Not really. I rarely spoke about it 27 years ago! I am shocked ANYONE is talking about it 27 years later LOL.

Lunchmeat: When did the acting bug hit you?

Tom: Ever since I can remember I wanted to be loved by strangers. Wasn't getting much at home I guess. I liked the idea of being in someone else's skin.

Lunchmeat: Were you familiar with the 'Slasher' genre before you stepped into your role as 'Tony'?

Tom: Yeah actually I was. I saw Halloween and some other "Drive in" beauties.

Lunchmeat: The universal question: How did you get involved with 'Satan's Blade? Lead us through the audition process if you would.

Tom: I was in College in San Diego when I believe the film makers came to the instructors and asked to send some students down and audition. They recommended me and Stephanie. Once I found out it was a 35mm shoot I was excited about it. I felt anyone NOT shooting in 16mm would know their stuff. Who filmed low budget in 35mm in those days? In any day? 35mm and low budget was an oxymoron. Once the word got out many more went. At he audition everything looked good. I had done a film with Terry the Cinematographer before I think it was a Dungeons and Dragon thesis piece. I asked to do my audition reading with Stephanie because we knew each other and had been in school together. Any "chemistry" would help. After a few days we found out we were both cast in "major" roles. NO CALL BACKS.....That should have been my first clue. I had just finished doing an 8mm film that was directed by one of out instructors that we shot on weekends and built a whole western set outdoors for. The only thing unprofessional about it was the medium it was shot on. It took nearly a year of weekends to finish that hour film. I knew how a film should be shot. Also did a few for graduate students that were done very well had had all the ducks in order.

Lunchmeat: BTW, as you know, I did an interview with your co-star (or as slasher fans like to call them, 'The Final Girl') Stephanie Leigh Steele back in October. She said that the director, Scott Costillo Jr. was a little ''eccentric''. What were/are you feelings on Mr Costillo? Where did he get the money to make the movie?

Tom: Yeah I read that. I stumbled on it while looking for a few old friends as I do once in a great while. Scott was a fun guy but he was not a very particular film maker. I really felt bad for the kid who gave up his inheritance to make this film. I also believe he asked for and got some post production money from cast members. to complete it. I do not think Scott had ever made a film before. I enjoyed his company but yes he was rather eccentric. He was an opportunist and a great salesman. There were scenes shot where Scott was not even on set. The "Drunk scene" was one of them. We just did that ourselves to set up the "dream sequence" (to kill the same girls twice in the film). He seemed to really care about the violence scenes which I can understand. However I thought if you are going to make an exploitation film GO ALL OUT. Lots of Blood effects. I thought he was too cautious. Even the back story which really Steph and I were a large part needs the same attention and unless you are killing every 5-10 minutes those scenes need to be interesting and prime the slasher scenes. The better they are written the more one feels for the characters the more horrifying the gore is. There is far too much "nothing" in the flick. Really did not know where I was or coming from except that for the most part the film was shot as it happened. We did not economize set and lighting as one would do with a complete script. Shoot ALL the indoor scenes in the living room while the lighting was done to give a sense of continuity. That was done to a point but the lighting was very uneven and at times looked home movieish.

Lunchmeat: I was informed that the script was constantly being changed. Also, in cases with low budget films, the distributor will change the working title to whatever they think will draw the biggest 'renters'. - now, there's an 80's quote if I ever heard one. If the script was being changed, what were the reasons, and ultimately, what were the consequences in regards to the movie as a whole?

Tom: Changed? LOL You have to have something to change. I never saw 100 pages of script at one time. LOL. Tom was writing scenes as we went along. I never saw more than a page of completed script. I remember being handed pages everyday of what was to be shot that day. It was very loose. No story boards. There was an "idea" of what Scott wanted to do. The story was written as we went along pretty much. Maybe there was a completed script somewhere. I don't know. I never saw it. I would have kept it as I did all scripts I worked on at the time.

Lunchmeat: Big Bear, California in the Winter Time looks as if it's quite the Wonderland. I asked Mrs Steele about her experiences of shooting in the cold. She seemed to have fond memories of it. What was it like working in the cold? And, if by some chance you would know, why did Scot Scostillo decide to shoot 'Satan's Blade' there?

Tom: Good question to ask Stephanie. They had one scene (just after the dream sequence I think) where they had to tackle us in the snow in lingerie. I don't remember being cold at all!! I could see some of the girls were. I think Scott chose Big Bear because he could rent two cabins and shoot without permits and interference from municipalities as well as the economics of all of us staying in those cabins as well. It was a great economical choice for a set. Scott was a smart guy. You have to be smart to get someone to give you their inheritance to make a film without any previous credits!!! We prepared our own food and it was like a vacation for those of us who were there the whole time. I believe there were 5 or 6 cast members who were there the entire shoot as well as the crew. Most of the movie was pretty much shot "day for night" outdoors. There were not too many actual night scenes shot at night outdoors.

Lunchmeat: One scene that adds some much needed comic relief is when you and Al (Tom Cue) get drunk on Jack Daniels. I've watched the movie twice and still get a kick of of it. Was this scene in the script, or was it improvised?

Tom: This is one of the scenes where there was no director on set. Just Tom,Terry and I and the crew. They needed a way to get out of the dream sequence back to "reality" so we set the scene up where we go scare the girls awake. It was pretty much improvised. Tom did not even know I was going to throw the Jack on him. I hoped he would not break in the scene. I can tell you this. The Jack was indeed real but we used tea and saved the real stuff for "later" LOL. It seemed we had a purpose for every scene but how to achieve it was made up on the spot in many scenes. Most of the film was shot in one or two takes per setup.

Lunchmeat: 'AL' (Tom Cue) was the absolute fucking king of one liners (pardon my french). Were those in the script or did he just roll them from the tip of his tongue? Also, when you 'accidentally' poured the liquor all over Mr Cue, was that on purpose?

Tom: Tom was a hoot. I thought he should have been used more. I don't think Tom had ever acted before though. We had a great time off camera. Tom, Ski, Steph and I hung out a lot. I would love to see what he is up to today. He reminded me of a Tom Selleck type so opposite to me. Tom was Tom on and off camera. Most of his quips were adlibbed. He would say something that was missed on film and they would do a set up to capture the line.

He had no idea I was going dump the drink on him. I really had no idea until about part way into shooting that scene. I felt we needed to go from 0-60 in 5 minutes of shooting and playing progressively drunk is not easy in a few minutes of shooting and nor having any physical issues like walking. The who idea of playing drunk is to "Try to appear sober" LOL. I thought something physical would bring that home. (Besides I really did not want to drink any more warm tea). LOL.

Luncmeat: Since you were on location all the time, what did you do when you weren't shooting?

Tom: Oh the typical stuff we did lines and had orgies..........Actually I don't remember. We baked cookies, played Go Fish. Had prayer circles. I have to say you will have to use your imagination on those goings on.

Lunchmeat: Was 'Satan's Blade' shot on 16mm or 35mm? If you happen to know, what were the reasons?

Tom: 35MM................................. and I have no idea why with that low a budget they would chose 35mm. Made absolutely no sense to me. Especially for the gritty genre that was being shot.They could have saved a ton of money had they shot in 16mm. The film might have looked better as well. I think you get a pass as far as lighting goes as well with the smaller medium. But the fact that is was 35mm made me really want to do it in the beginning because a 35mm shoot had the appearance to be a big time project.

Lunchmeat: Scott Costillo truly had an eye for the genre. Some of the simple 'point and roll' shots seemed to work well. In regards to the cinematographer, how did Costillo work with him? Was there any struggle to get the right shots, or did he and the 'camera guy' work well together?

Tom: Terry was a savior in my opinion. He knew his stuff and was very mild mannered. I think Scott respected and deferred to Terry. Terry actually had made some films before. I had worked with him on a School Project before. Terry did the very best with what he had to work with. Lighting was an issue. There weren't enough lights to get a consistent look scene to scene.

Lunchmeat: 'Satan's Blade' probably has the highest mark on how many topless women you can fit into one film. In the interview with Stephanie Steele, she said something to the effect that most of the female actresses had to take off their tops as first order of the audition (she refused, however). Why do you think Costillo chose to go that route?

Tom: This was a huge issue with some of the girls and not with others. I don't think some were told up front of the requirements. There were some issues there.

Actually there were not too many that went topless if you count the girls, then count the breasts seen! There's that one scene.......LOL. Another area I think Scott should have done more of. It's an exploitation film. Find topless dancers who can act a little and use them. More slash and gash as well. I don't blame the girls at all. But there are those out there who are freer with their bodies and would have jumped at the chance to go topless.

However Stephanie made a good choice in keeping her character covered as did others in the back story. I think the male audience should WANT to see the girls they "know" topless and tease them with that but keep the girl "wholesome" as it were. I respect that choice and I think it worked for the movie in some ways.

Lunchmeat: I just gotta say...no matter how rough 'Satan's Blade' is, the bank heist and double cross was exceptionally well done. Was this scene originally in the script, or was this shot and added post production?

Tom: We have opposing opinions on that one. I think that scene was shot many months after principle Photography. I did not buy "bank" with cash register trays and the lighting was harsh and made it look like a home movie with a movie light on the camera. The idea was great but I really don't think Terry shot that. It doesn't "look" the same as the rest of the film. It looks like what it was to me, an afterthought.

Lunchmeat: Ski Mak Ford - The guy who played the Deputy - reminded me of 'Dewy' from Wes Craven's 'Scream'. Was he the man wielding the knife during the actual death scenes in the movie, or was there a stand in?

Tom: Actually during the dream sequence it was the Asst Camera man (and son of Lodge owner) who played the "evil doer" Ski did all the other scenes. Ski was a long time friend of mine we had done some films together and partied allot. He is a great guy I lost touch with. I'm not really good about keeping up with people. My bad.

Lunchmeat: How heart broken were the producer(s) after the final cut?

Tom: After principle photography and some dubbing I never saw anyone who produced the film. I really thought they squandered a great opportunity and should have done much more preparation and shot in 16mm. They had the bodies to do something far more worthy in my opinion. I don't know if they ever made their money back. I hope so. My heart break came after I realized the "35MM feature shoot" was really an 8mm shoot in disguise! LOL. After I saw how it was being made I just sat back and enjoyed our time together. Any illusions of grandeur were squashed the first time I heard "action". LOL.

Lunchmeat: Another thing that made me laugh was 'Al's' appetite. The man simply loved to eat. Morning. Noon. Night. Directly after a hangover, by god Al was ready to eat. Was this a ploy to place him out the way so the plot could roll along? OR, was the appetite thrown in for comic relief?

Tom: LOL I don't know. Tom was pretty fit. I think it was just to make him appear "less than" his stature. The girl who played his wife I thought did a fantastic job of being natural. She was a wonderful actress and person. It became a running joke the whole eating thing. Hence the pizza improv at the table.

Lunchmeat: Btw, What was it like working with Stephanie Steele and Thomas Cue, your on-screen wife...the whole gang?

Tom: Stephanie,Tom and I knew each other before the shoot so we had the best time on and off the screen. My on screen wife? Don't remember much except there was zero chemistry between us. I think that is pretty obvious in our scenes which seemed strained. That's a shame because originally I read with Steph as the wife. But Steph deserved a better role. I think that role would have been beefed up if it were Steph. I did not think my screen wife was a sympathetic character. A really nice person in person but she really did not get the proper direction to make her likeable and sympathetic. I could hear the audience groan when my character turns down Stephanie's character's advances. "Like duuude WTF? You have a whiner wife and this babe is hitting on you and".....well there ya go.

Lunchmeat: When was the film actually shot?

Tom: Spring 1980 I think. They were worried about snow melt.

Lunchmeat: I mentioned pre-production earlier, but do you have any idea what went on in regards to editing, adding the score, and simply cutting the film? Who had control over the editing and score department?

Tom: Not a clue. I was done with the film after principle photography. I did not see it going anywhere or being saved by a cut. I was disappointed. When we are young we have all our big dreams ahead of us. I placed far more importance on the movie BEFORE we stated shooting and had high hopes. Then again I thought if it was bad no one would see it anyway.

Lunchmeat: When did you become aware that Prism, and a couple other distributors released 'Satan's Blade' on vhs? Were you surprised? (I saw a Japanese vhs version sometime back. Weird, eh?)

Tom: One night I get a call. I hear nothing but people laughing on the other side of the phone. Seems my cousin found the film at a 7-11 when they were doing rentals and had a party at his house in Jersey. That's how I found out. I went to every video store could find in Vegas and rented the film and "lost" it. Paid for them all LOL. I was working for Xerox at the time and did not want the entire company calling me Tony for the rest of my life LOL.

Lunchmeat: Have any idea where any of the cast members are today?

Tom: Well I know where Steph is. We recently spoke. That's about it. I moved on rather quickly from that great experience. I did see the film at a Cinema in San Diego and left before the final credits, There were huge editing mistakes, the test shots were used in the film which my character's wife had to be naked in. Imagine hiring an actress then telling her she has to be naked her FIRST SCENE with the cast and crew JUST FOR TEST SHOTS before principle photography. Well it was not a pleasant place to be. I knew right there Mr. Castillo had no clue. You don't do those kinds of shots until everyone is very familiar with each other well into the shoot. Then they USED THOSE shots in the film.....Amazing.

Lunchmeat: I did an IMDB search as a little prep session before deriving the questions and noticed that Ski Mark Ford (Rookie deputy) had another movie credit sometime in the late 90's. There's also another credit from one of the other cast members. Did you get to work with Ford during the shoot?

Tom: I saw Ski allot after the shoot we had worked on a few film projects together. I lived with Ski during the shoot LOL. We partied hearty.

I did one scene with him. We "danced in the dark". Nice foot work.

Lunchmeat: Did you do any acting after the shoot?

Tom: A partner and I wrote a screenplay and started a film company. We raised nearly a Million dollars for a script we wrote. We had six partners and a company in place a budget to to a Union shoot. But the budget was going up faster than we could raise money. One of the Partners was an IATSE member and he insisted the movie be union made. That killed us. Most if not all first outs by film makers are non union and low budget. We had commitments for about $600,000 but we were not going to role one frame until we had ALL the money through to distribution as well as distribution commitments. After three years we gave it up and optioned the script a few times to various companies in LA. Only one company picked up a second option and it died on the shelf. I spent three years trying to make that film and a couple years after trying to get it made. I soured on the whole process and went on to live in reality concentrating on music. Worked for a company in Las Vegas, Legends in Koncert as a Neil Diamond act for 12 years and traveled extensively doing that. I guess that was an acting job LOL. I wasn't great but good enough to earn a living!

Lunchmeat: Out of all the many reasons, what 'one' reason do you consider the biggest culprit in turning 'Satan's Blade' from one of the great ones, to a forgotten obscure film in the early '80s?

Tom: There are far more then one. If I had to pick one I would say lack of proper preparation, as well as lack of screenplay, lack of directorial experience squandering good talent, lack of proper budget for a 35mm shoot. The whole thing seemed rushed and unfinished at every turn.

Lunchmeat: Have you any idea who owns the rights to the film at the present time?

Tom: Not at all.

Lunchmeat: The second universal question: What is Mr. Tom Bongiorno up to these days?

Tom: I am semi-retired enjoying Myrtle Beach and the slow life after years of traveling with The Legend's show. I recently married and built a house here selling my Las Vegas at the peak of the market rush a couple years ago. I'm settling down writing music and working part time at a local music store where we bought a grand piano. LOL Enjoying the s l o w lifestyle away from the lights.

Lunchmeat: If someone came up to you today and offered you a reoccurring role as Tony in a prequel, would you take the bull by the horns? (It would have to be a prequel since you had a fire poker shoved through your torso. LOL)

Tom: Depends on who that "someone" is. I enjoy the process despite the results. That's the way life SHOULD be lived. I learned that too late to make a difference but early enough to enjoy the time left!!

Lunchmeat: What's your favorite movie?

Tom: Very Bad Things,,,,,,,,,,,,,comes to mind. I enjoy dark dark comedy.

Lunchmeat: And, last but not least, in three words, describe your experience during the shoot?

Tom: Fantastic, hopeful and humbled.

The experience was great. I enjoyed every minute. I wished it could have been better.

Lunchmeat: Tom, I'd like to thank you on behalf of Justin Kerswell (the owner and webmaster of Hysteria-Lives) for taking time out of your day to answer our very lengthy list of questions. We wish you the best in all endeavors.

Tom: Thanks guys. Someday I will have to find a copy of that movie and relive some great memories with some wonderful people.

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Read the review of SATAN'S BLADE.