Posted by Richard Harland Smith on December 14, 2012
It always feels like Christmas when a new issue of Shock Cinema comes out… and when one hits the stands just weeks before the Yuletide, well fa la la la la!
I’ve beat this drum before and I’ll continue to beat it because a.) drums are what Christmas is all about and 2.) it’s true. Where else can you read an undamable river of interviews with veteran Hollywood and Off-Hollywood character actors but in Shock Cinema? Over the years editors/publishers Steve and Anna Puchalski have brought us into the private lives of such public faces as Andrew Prine, William Atherton, William Smith, Julius Harris, Sig Haig, James Remar, Don Gordon, Joe Turkel, William Sanderson, Powers Booth, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Bo Svenson, Richard Lynch, Dick Anthony Williams, Nigel Davenport, Luke Askew, Bradford Dillman, M. Emmet Walsh, Brad Dourif, Barry Primus, Isela Vega, Linda Haynes, Tony Musante, Paul Koslo, Don Stroud, Jon Finch, Gregg Henry, William Forsyth, Fred Ward, David Carradine, Clint Howard and Clint Walker! (To name but a few.) Plus, my good friend Victor Argo, who like many of the above-mentioned has sadly passed away since sitting down for a career-spanning interview, making these talks highly valuable as well as highly entertaining. In many cases — I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again — these are the only interviews these people have granted or been asked to give, despite the fact that they are professional actors who have worked for decades, who have, in some cases, made over 1oo films and countless appearances on television. It’s unconscionable how little the entertainment industry cares for its own actors (and writers and directors) or how little regard moviegoers have for the wealth of faces who made those imagined worlds come alive on the big screen. Why people would rather follow the lives of Snooki and Honey Boo-boo than people who have made the most incredible movies ever is beyond my ken. Beyond my Barbie and Major Matt Mason, too. I just don’t get the fascination with horrible, purposeless, non-contributing people. But that’s okay… because I get Shock Cinema.
I have to admit that I groaned a bit when I saw Chris Elliott’s mug at the top of the pile on the cover of SC no. 43. Not because I don’t like Chris — I do! He used to make me laugh on the Letterman show and I never missed an episode of GET A LIFE. But he just isn’t who I think of when I think of veteran character actor. I would have preferred to see Ian Ogilvy’s picture instead of his, especially when laid out against the likes of Steve Railsback and Bruce Davison, two of my favorite latter day Hollywood character actors ever. As I handled the issue, but before I cracked it open, I began to fear that Shock Cinema may be reaching the bottom of the well… and then I read Mike Sullivan’s interview. I’d forgotten that Elliot did his due diligence as a working actor during the mid-to-late 80s and that he actually turns up in such non-comic films as MANHUNTER (1986) and THE ABYSS (1988). He’s even in John Sayles’ LIANNA (1983), which I saw theatrically back in the day, before Chris Elliott was a name. Elliott turns in a great, loose, insightful interview that spans almost 30 years and includes an incident in which the inveterate jokester earned the undying enmity of James Cameron… so he’s not only a tenable character actor in my book but a humanitarian as well.
My family is staunchly anti-rat so I’ve still never seen WILLARD (1971), which pretty much launched the film career of actor Bruce Davison. (Davison had previously made a big splash in Frank Perry’s LAST SUMMER, though he sort of had to chill in the shadows of rising stars Richard Thomas and Barbara Hershey.) I think I probably first saw Davison as the greenhorn cavalry lieutenant who partners with Burt Lancaster in Robert Aldrich’s ULZANA’S RAID (1972) and he’s been on my radar ever since, popping up in the 1974 TV movie THE LAST SURVIVORS (a remake of ABANDON SHIP), in MOTHER, JUGS AND SPEED (1975), SHORT EYES (1977), THE BRASS TARGET (1978), THE LATHE OF HEAVEN (1980), Ken Russell’s CRIMES OF PASSION (1984), SPIES LIKE US (1985), LONGTIME COMPANION (1989) and the classic Christmas telefilm THE GATHERING (1977). And this is all just distant past — the Academy Award-nominated actor has continued to expand his resume with films big (SHORT CUTS, THE CRUCIBLE, X-MEN, RUNAWAY JURY) and small (DAHMER, 8MM 2, TITANIC 2, CAMP HELL), with lots of television (LOST, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, DROP DEAD DIVA, GENERAL HOSPITAL) and experimental stuff like the Dogme 95-inspired THE KING IS ALIVE (2000, pictured left). A lifelong horror fan (one of us! one of us!), Davison also just made his directorial debut with BIGFOOT (2012) and his chat with Justin Bozung is reliably informative (the actor made a measly $500 a week for shooting LONGTIME COMPANION) and often funny (even at age 65, Davison was still being called “kid” by his 95 year-old WILLARD costar Ernest Borgnine). Good stuff and much appreciated.
Thanks to Monte Hellman’s THE COCKFIGHTER (1974), my default memory of Steve Railsback is as The Guy Who Puts His Finger Up a Rooster’s Ass rather than as Charles Manson, the Worst Person Ever Born (America)… and I appreciate that. Having grown up in the shade of the August 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders engineered by Manson and chronicled in the book Helter Skelter, I am programmed to go right for the 1977 TV movie adaptation starring Railsback (doing a very good job) but happily my brain goes where it wants to go. I guess Railsback himself would probably prefer that I flash on THE STUNTMAN (1980), a rare bid for him at mainstream film stardom but, really, when you look at these three in context you get a great sense of what a wild ride Railsback’s career has been. A protege of Elia Kazan, the Texas native had a prominent role in the controversial director’s underseeen THE VISITORS (1972), played the Montgomery Clift part in the 1979 miniseries of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and was ED GEIN (2000) in a low budget biopic of the Wisconsin handyman turned cannibal killer who inspired both PSYCHO (1960) and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974). Anthony Petkovich puts Railsback in an introspective mood for this interview, in which the actor recounts how he studied with Lee Strasberg in New York at a cost of $30 a month, worked with fellow actor Richard Lynch as a furniture mover, shot THE VISITORS on Elia Kazan’s Connecticut estate, and locked himself in a closet to prepare for the role of Charles Manson in HELTER SKELTER. Railsback spends more time talking about ED GEIN than the cult favorite LIFE FORCE (1986) but it’s another great interview that adds layers to an intriguing public figure about whom I’d known next to nothing for the almost 40 years I’ve been watching him.
The interviews with Ian Ogilvy and O-Lan Jones are also top-drawer (Ogilvy’s recollection of his stepdaughter sitting on Boris Karloff’s knee during the filming of THE SORCERERS, for which Karloff was covered in hideous burn make-up, is by itself worth the cover price of $5 — seriously, five bucks for all of this?) Knitting these interviews together is a boat and/or butt-load of film reviews, of such diverse titles as WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971) starring an impossibly young Anthony Hopkins as a thinking man of action, Burt Lancaster’s college town noir THE MIDNIGHT MAN (1974) with Cameron Mitchell and Robert Quarry in supporting roles, John Avildsen’s pre-ROCKY (1976) character study THE STOOLIE (1972) with Jackie Mason and Marcia Jean Kurtz, the Dean Martin-Brian Keith Gatling gun hook-up SOMETHING BIG (1971), THE MOVIE MURDERER (1970) with Warren Oates and Arthur Kennedy, THE CLONING OF CLIFFORD SWIMMER (1974) with the sadly departed Peter Haskell (who I lament never had a Shock Cinema walk in the sun), THE LAST MATCH (1990) with Ernest Borgnine and Oliver Tobias, the Richard Boone movie-of-the-week THE GREAT NIAGARA (1974), the faith-based (“Gentle Ben meets Jesus malarkey”) A STRANGER IN MY FOREST (1976) starring Susan JAWS Backlinie, and Damon Packard’s recent FOXFUR (2012). And more. So much fun and I’m having it!
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