[Lunchmeat chats with Richard Taecker]

Lunchmeat has already spoken with two of the stars of neglected early 80's slasher SATAN'S BLADE, Stephanie Leigh Steele and Tom Bongiorno. Now, in his admirable endeavour to talk to everyone involved with the movie, he now talks to Richard Taecker who came onto the project as crew and ended playing a killer!

Q: So, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Let me start by saying I was amazed that anyone was even aware that Satan's Blade existed other than the people who worked on it.

I have owned my photography business, "Enchanted Images" since 1982. I shoot and sell costumed photo portraits at Renaissance Festivals as my bread and butter but I love all kinds of photography and it has been my passion forever. Renaissance Festivals have given me the opportunity to travel all around the U.S. where, over the years, I have made great friends who are wonderful artists and performers. I have always been a big fan of movies and look back at the experience of working on Satan's Blade with real fondness.

Q: Of course, the 'universal' question: How did you get involved in the making of Satan's Blade?

Terry Kempf, who was the cinematographer (and much more), on Satan's Blade had been my friend for some time and asked me if I would be his assistant. He introduced me to Scott Castillo, the producer/director and I was hired as assistant cinematographer and still photographer. I wasn't hired as an actor at all. I recall that an older guy was cast to be the "lodge keeper" and got sick and wasn't available. I had done some acting in college and was asked to take the role after shooting had begun.

Q: Were you aware of the slasher craze, or the slasher film in general before Satan's Blade?

I must admit I have never been a fan of horror/slasher films but I figured it would be great fun to work on one. I was right.

Q: Both Stephanie Steele and Tom Bongiorno had pretty much the same feelings towards Scott Castillo Jr. (director). What's your personal take on the guy? Is it true that Scott wasn't even on set during some scenes? I also heard that he insisted on shooting in 35mm.

The story I remember is Scott had the hobby of making 8mm slasher films and had dreamt of making a real movie one day (like Spielberg, sort of). He had a friend, since grammar school, who had recently inherited a considerable sum of money. Scott convinced the guy that he should return his just-purchased Corvette and invest his inheritance into a movie. We all felt sorry for the kid but were delighted at the opportunity to work on the film.

Scott was definitely an odd guy. I have to give him props for the moxie to put the whole thing together. I'm sure he had a pretty clear notion of the movie he wanted to make but it became immediately apparent he didn't know how. Now, I had been a professional photographer for quite awhile but I was, at best, an enthusiastic novice who followed Terry's capable lead on the set.

This is really Terry's story to tell: On the first day on the first set-up, we shot the master shot at a corner of the lodge with a fireplace of an intimate conversation between Tom's character and his wife played by Elisa. (The master shot is with the camera way back viewing the whole set.) After the dialogue was spoken for the scene Scott shouted "Cut" and indicated he was ready to set up and shoot the next scene. Terry looked at him, dumbfounded, and asked him if he wanted close-ups on the characters to be edited in later to illustrate those intimate moments in the story. Scott replied that Terry could shoot them if he wanted. From that beginning moment we knew, if the movie was going to be made, he was going to need a lot of help. Scott came to rely a great deal on Terry's experience. So, it's safe to say Scott wasn't on set for lots of scenes unless there was blood or nudity.

Q: What were the general age of the cast and crew? I understand Paul Batson was seasoned in the effects business.

Most of the girls were all still in college or very recently graduated. Reading Stephanie's interview, she was 19 and I'm pretty sure almost everybody in the cast was no older than their early 20's. Terry (the cinematographer) was in his 20's and I was in my early 30's. Paul Batson was in his 40's and was actually younger than his make-up made him look as the "fisherman down by the lake".

Paul Batson was my dear friend. I had stayed in touch with him after we had graduated from the theatre dept. at San Diego State College. He, sadly, passed away suddenly several years later. He founded and owned his own make-up company (Woochie Industries) and made lots of prosthetic rubber noses and scars and such. I'm sure his products have been used in lots of low-budget slasher films over the years.

I recall it was decided after production had begun at Big Bear Lake to include the scene with the monster in the dream sequence. As I am a big guy, I was cast as the "dream monster" using one of Paul's stock (Troll) make-ups that he had on hand. I think it looked great.

Q: I wasn't aware that you were the 'masked killer' during the dream sequence in the film until the interview with Bongiorno. Very disturbing. That scene (and this is hard to do to a jaded fan) made me turn on the living room light. No matter the obscurity of the film, that's one of the better shot slasher sequences that I've ever seen. And, I've seen a lot ... Can you give me a general idea of how that scene was set-up? How did the cinematographer get that 'dreamy/hazy' look?

The dream sequence allowed us to get some action into the movie before the climactic final scenes. It also essentially doubled the body count if you can kill 'em first in a dream and then later too.

I must say I'm pretty proud of how that sequence worked. Janeen and I choreographed chasing her down and "cutting her throat" (she sold it very well). Stabbing Stephanie on the bed in shadow was set up with me stabbing a pillow right next to her. It looked pretty cool. You would need to ask Terry how he set it up but I think it was just lit with blue gels and shot with a wide-angle lens...but it did look dang spooky.

Q: What other jobs did you perform behind the scenes?

I initially was hired as assistant cinematographer and still photographer. I soon discovered that with my other tasks I didn't shoot very many slides. What I shot, I gave to Scott and I've never seen them since. Terry generously allowed me to set up and shoot a few shots and I got to to carry the huge 35mm Arriflex camera several times when we needed hand-held shots from the "point-of-view" of the monster. Oh yeah, it was my bloody-gloved hands and feet which we used as close-up inserts in the pick-up shots after principal photography was done.

Q: Was the shoot a tough one? I'd imagine that it got a little cold at times. What was a typical day of shooting like?

We certainly worked long hours. I understood there was a lot of re-writing the script through the night. I recall Meg and Mary (the bank robber girls) were waiting and waiting to get called on set for their big scenes in the cabin and by the time we got to them it was about 3 AM. They were troopers and did great. The scene with the girls in negligees in the snow was shot one very cold late night. I know they were really freezing barefoot in the snow but they were having a great time (so were we). Speaking of cold and snow, as the shoot in Big Bear went on, the snow began to melt and we had to do some serious shoveling of snow to get enough white into some of the exteriors.

Q: True is true, Satan's Blade is a little rough around the edges and is relatively obscure in regards to the slasher film. I've seen some copies go for close to $100. When did you finally realize that Satan's Blade might not ever get released? When did you first become aware that Prism Entertainment finally picked it up? Were you surprised? (Actually, there's at least three distributors for the movie)

I had the interesting opportunity, after the film was finished, to travel to Los Angeles a couple of times with Scott to meet with several film distributors. My clear recollection was Scott exclaiming to the buyers that the film was not very good and he just made it for the money. The distributors were amazingly courteous but there were no buyers on the trips I went on. I remember them explaining that horror movies were a thing of the past and there was no market for them! We all know they were sorely mistaken.

I heard some time later that Satan's Blade had a very limited release to a drive-in movie exhibitor somewhere in an eastern bloc nation (no kidding). Remember, there was no such thing as a corner video store at that time, so I figured I would never hear about it again. At least 15 years later I was browsing in a video rental store and there was the Prism video on the shelf! I was amazed to see it. I talked the clerk into selling it to me for $20 and I'm pleased to have it right now. Since you've contacted me and I became aware of your fun website I've done some searches and have found a fair amount including a youtube.com film trailer and a slide show.

Q: There's a little conflicting information when it comes to the bank robbery scenes. Was this scene added post-production, or was it part of the script? Also, a couple of the cast members say it was filmed in 1980 and another says it was filmed in the Winter of 1981. Can you clear this up for us?

I think those scenes in the bank were always intended to be shot in the earliest drafts of the script. It was shot at an empty storefront in El Cajon, CA which we re-dressed as the bank. I am a little shaky on when it was shot. By the way, the guy leaving the bank before the robbers come is Martin Jaquish. He edited the film and wrote and recorded the score which I think was very effective. He worked, in San Diego, as a composer of the music and sounds for a video game company. The scenes of the girls and couples checking into the lodge was shot after principal photography in Julian, California, another mountain resort area, nearer San Diego.

Q: What genre of film do you prefer and why?

As I mentioned earlier I don't care for "slasher films" at all. Having worked on this one, I'll bet they're all pretty fun to make but I must say I'm not into glorifying violence. Sorry gore fans. A pretty gory film that I loved because of the amazing artistry was Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth".

Q: I understand that you have remained close friends with Terry Kempf who was the general camera guy. Have you ran into any other Satan's Blade crew members over the years?

Terry has remained my good friend and we have stayed in close touch over the years. By the way, he is still in the movie industry and has had a great career working on many films. He has a very impressive filmography on IMBD.com. I have had the thrill of visiting him on several movie sets over the years. You will find Terry's memory of some names and moments on Satan's Blade to be better than mine.

I mentioned my friendship with Paul for a precious few years after Satan's Blade, but I've had no contact with anyone else. I was particularly pleased to read your interviews with Tom and Stephanie. I'm glad they are well. I remember Terry mentioning he had run into Tom Cue in Los Angeles working in the movie industry a few years later.

Q: There are some absolutely wonderful pictures on your site, http://www.rttart.com - Do most of your photo's emerge from spontaneity, or do you have a general idea in mind before you decide to go out 'shooting'?

Thanks for the compliment. My pictures reflect my appreciation of make-believe of a gentler sort. I've gotten very excited about the possibilities of "Photoshop". All the separate elements that make my pictures are pre-planned in what hopes to not look contrived.

Q: In three words, describe what it was like to work on Satan's Blade?

A wonderful experience.

Q: Would you do it all over again?

In a heartbeat.

Q: Richard, I'd like to thank you again for taking time to sit down and answer some of our questions. I hope all is well and that you'll keep in touch.

Thank you Rhyan for giving me a me a reason to remember the of making Satan's Blade.

Relevant Links

Read the review of SATAN'S BLADE.