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Texas Frightmare Weekend Day 3 Exclusive: The Epic Interview with Sid Haig!

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Sig Haig Interview

In the early morning hours before Day 3 of Texas Frightmare Weekend, Frank’s Reel Reviews caught up with actor – no, scratch that – the silver screen icon of all things badass and beautiful and bald, Sid Haig.  In an empty bar we sat and discussed Haig’s beginnings with the craft of acting and where it has led him as he celebrates his 50th anniversary in the business.

 

Q: Thank you for sitting down with Frank’s Reel Reviews this morning.  It is certainly an honor for the site and for me.  Can you explain this Frightmare madness that happens – this festival circuit of all things horror.  Do you have an explanation for it?

A: It’s pretty crazy, man.  The first one I ever attended I couldn’t believe what was going on.  Mass people, everybody excited, costumes going on.  It was like a feeding frenzy, you know?  I’ve gotten used to it.  The bloom is still on the rose, if you will.  I enjoy it.  It’s a good time.  People are having a good time and it’s a chance for me to connect with the fans and keep everybody up-to-date on what’s going on.

 

Q: And we’re going to get into that with a couple of questions about Blood Is Blood, your latest.

A: Now called Creature.

 

Q:  Oh, the title’s changed?

A: Right.

 

Q:  Cool.  Let’s put you in the Wayback Machine for a minute or two.

A:  Sounds fun.  Okay.

 

Q:  Talk about your time at the Pasadena Playhouse.

A:  Wow.  That is the Wayback Machine.

 

Q:  Hey, at least I’m not asking you to show off your tap dancing skills!

A:  (laughs) That’s true!  Good thing, though.  We’re on carpet and it wouldn’t work.  Um, I didn’t even know what the Pasadena Playhouse was.  A friend of mine and I were out in front of my parent’s house talking about what we were going to do with our miserable lives.  He said to me, “you know, you ought to go out to the Pasadena Playhouse.”  I said, “what’s that?”  It’s a theatre college.  It’s an accredited college.  Wow.  So, I got a brochure, put in an application, sent in my letters of recommendation and all that business and I was enrolled.  Everybody at the Pasadena Playhouse was always on probation, okay?  You started on probation.  After six weeks, you had to present to a panel of directors a modern piece, a classical piece, and a humorous piece.  Each two minutes long.  And then it was decided on whether you got to stay or go back home.  Well, I was able to stay.  That was pretty much the situation.  Each semester you either got a letter inviting you to stay or, if you got no letter, you just packed your shit and went home.

Q:  Do you remember some of the pieces you performed?

A:  No.  Too long ago.  This is my 50th anniversary in the business, okay?  I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.  It was basically two years of boot camp.  My first class was at 7:30 in the morning and you never got out of there until 11 or 11:30 at night.

 

Q:  Oh, wow.

A:  Yeah, and then you got to do homework and then start the whole thing over again.  Six days a week.  It was pretty intense.  We actually did 4 years of college in 2 years.

 

Q:  That’s pretty rigorous.  What skills did that type of study set you up with for the career that you have?

A:  Well, like any good and creative educational experience, it taught you what to expect in the real world.  Its curriculum was exactly what it was like in real life, okay?  You know, as an actor you work fourteen and sixteen hour days.  Nonstop.  It prepared you from that standpoint.  Also, it gave you the tools that you needed to be able to do your craft.  It was an amazing experience.  We started with a class of 150.  We graduated at the end of two years with 32 and of the 32 only two of us became working actors.

 

Q:  I suspect the wittiness of your characters comes from you, but did the Pasadena Playhouse prepare you for the amount of adlibbing involved with making a movie?

A:  We did have a lot of improvisational work where they would just set up situations and say “go!”, so it prepared me for that sort of thing.  And, yeah, there was a lot of improvisation in The House of 1,000 Corpses.  Not so much in The Devil’s Rejects.

Q:  Yeah.  I can tell.  The Devil’s Rejects is, as written, a phenomenal beast of a film.

A:  Yeah.  I liken it to The Wild Bunch.

 

Q:  Definitely.  So, from Pasadena Playhouse it’s not too long until The Host, directed by Jack Hill, happens.  Talk about your relationship with Jack Hill.

A:  A month after I graduated from The Playhouse, I got a call from one of my former dance teachers at the Pasadena Playhouse.  She told me there was this guy, Jack Hill, who was trying to get his student film at UCLA done and he wasn’t happy with anybody he had to work with and she told me to get my ass on down to UCLA and audition.  I did.  Jack hired me and we’ve been friends and associates for the past 50 years.

 

Q:  After The Host there was Blood Bath, Spider Baby, and then Pit Stop.

A:  Yeah, and then The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage.

 

Q:  So what is Jack Hill like as a director?  I mean, Tarantino has declared him as the greatest American director.  And that’s of all time, you know?

A:  For an actor like myself, he and Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino all fall into the same style of director in that they make their vision clear to you and then just get the hell out of the way and let you do your job as an actor.  That’s the best kind there is, man.

 

Q:  The history with Blood Bath makes little sense.  Corman tried to salvage a spy thriller film with interesting locales by giving the film to Hill who added you and beatniks and hatchets and then was unhappy with that result so another director was brought on and it changed again and, hell, I’m still not sure we’ve ever seen Hill’s cut of the film.  Can you make any sense of its history?

A:  Okay, the review for Blood Bath said it looked like three different films.  And it was.  Roger Corman made his usual trip to Europe.  He would visit the labs and view portions of films that were made but couldn’t pay their fees and he would buy them up.  He saw this Yugoslavian film with gorgeous exteriors, okay?  He bought it, brought it back and had Jack write a script using those exteriors.  Huge savings in cost.  So, that’s what happened.  Then, later on, Stefanie Rothman got together with Roger – based on her success with The Student Nurses – he gave the script to her to shot some additional scenes.  So, it actually was three different films.  Crazy.

 

Q:  Pit Stop.  What can you remember from the shoot?  I mean, it’s a film that is still held in high regard for its realism.

A:  That film, the production costs – we’re not talking about post-production or advertising and all that stuff – were $35,000 which meant that you had a lot of scrambling to do.  Well, we shot it at Ascot Park which was a raceway.  We gave the owner of Ascot Park the part of the announcer so we got to use the location for free.  The bar across the street where everybody went to after the races we got for free because we gave the owner of the bar the role of the bartender.  We got George Barris’ custom car shop because we used that location free, okay?  And then a call was made to Coors – which was the popular beer at the time – and we said we’re doing this film and it has five party scenes and the reply was, “where do you want the beer?”   Because of that we were able to keep all of those drivers and their cars on the set all the time, so, by 1964 standards, the film looked like the budget was a million bucks.  And we shot it for only $35,000.

 

Q:  And that’s probably one of the many reasons people still talk about the realism of that film.

A:  Yeah, because there was no stock footage.  Jack shot all the race car footage himself.  As a matter of fact, in one of the scenes you can see him with a camera down on the field, okay?  But it just looked like a news reporter shooting the race.

 

Q:  Yeah, why wouldn’t that be happening?  It adds authenticity.

A:  Yes.

 

Q:  Which brings us to my favorite, the one and only Spider Baby, a film which took only twelve days to shoot?

A:  Eleven days!

 

Q:  Eleven?!  That’s insane!

A:  Yeah!  And there’s a scene in the very early portion of the film where Mantan Moreland - who played Charlie Chan’s driver in all the Charlie Chan films – is supposed to be looking inside the house.  We see him poking his head in through an exterior shot, but now we need an inside shot.  No big deal except we had no power.  So, Al Taylor – a photographic genius – bounced light off of six different reflectors from the exterior of the porch through the hallway through another room and from that room through yet another and the film didn’t have a look that was indicative of shiny boards.  Amazing.  And, we still filmed it in 11 days!

 

Q:  Do you think the restrictions of a low budget film produces phenomenal uses of creativity?  Like how are we going to achieve this effect with this much money and so on?  Maybe that’s why a film like Spider Baby gets rediscovered and appreciated?

A:  Oh, yeah.  Every five years.  Spider Baby gets rediscovered every five years.  A whole new audience comes around, okay?  Of course, we never knew that was going to happen.  We just wanted to make this little film.  It was 11 years before The Rocky Horror Picture Show and 13 years before Texas Chainsaw Massacre and on and on and on with the same kind of premise of an insane family living and eating people, okay?  It’s just one of those things.  It’s a quirky film, not a lot of blood involved, but it has a creepy feeling.  It has that scare factor to it.  Who knows?  It’s just one of those things that people latched on to and it’s living on.

 

Q:  The first time I saw it, I was 11 or 12 and, I have to tell you, I’ve never been able to look normally at a dumb waiter.  Never.  I simply don’t care for them.  I blame you.

A:  (laughs) You are most welcome.

 

Q:  Take us from this mute in Spider Baby to another mute part in Galaxy of Terror…except for one line!!

A:  And I didn’t want to say that line!

 

Q:  Yeah, talk about that.  I heard Corman was on board with you being a mute, but the director wanted that line in the script.

A:  That was all on Bruce Clark.  He said I had to say that line.  I was like, “Hey, we agreed that I wouldn’t say anything” and he said “no”.  I’m ‘old school’, okay?  And ‘old school’ says the director is always right.  That’s rule number one.  Rule number two is if the director is ever wrong, refer to rule number one.  So, okay, I don’t want to but I’ll say it.

 

Q:  It’s a great character and, with the mute factor, he’s so unbelievably mysterious.  And as much as I love the “I live and I die by the crystals” line, well, it’s just cheese.

A:  Dripping.

 

Q:  And when he finally speaks, the magic of the mystery in his character is gone.

A:  Yeah, it just broke the character.

 

Q:  But talk a bit about your death scene in that movie.

A:  The one where the crystal creeps up my arm and then I realize where it’s going and cut off my own arm?

 

Q:  That’s the one.

A:  They made three prosthetic arms for that shoot.  They strung monofilament wire through the arm and attached it to the crystal and just pulled it slowly through the skin and up the arm.  The blood effect with it looked good and credible.

 

Q:  Still does.  Were you on the set the day that scene was filmed?

A:  I was there.  Jim Cameron was the second unit director and he directed all of the death scenes for Galaxy of Terror.  When it came time to do mine, he indicated that I would have to film a realistic death scene without making a noise because they were shooting on the other end of the set.  I’m like, “Sorry, pal, but I don’t know how to die without noise.  Why don’t we wait until they get done with theirs and then we can get going?”  I don’t think he liked that very much, but there are times when you just have to stick up for what you are doing and what’s going to make things work or not work and doing it silently would not have made my death scene work.

 

Q:  So what is the difference between Roger Corman and Jack Hill?  Stylistically, how are they different?

A:  Well, Jack Hill was in the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, if you will.  The ‘learn while you earn’ school, okay?  He learned a lot from Roger.  He kind of mirrored what was happening with Roger’s career as a director and went on to do his own thing.  But the basics were there.  Corman is an amazing guy.  I mean, look at the careers he has started: Jack Nicholson all the way through to Ron Howard and on.

 

Q:  And he’s still doing it.

A:  Yeah, still.

 

Q:  Diamonds Are Forever.  How did that come about?

A:  It was just a deal where they needed this guy and my agent submitted me and I got the job.  Sean Connery is so cool, okay?  A very funny guy.  He’s easy to work with and just somebody you want to drink a beer with.

 

Q:  After awhile you stopped playing the heavies in movies.  You turned roles down.

A:  Yes.

 

Q:  And along came Pulp Fiction.  What happened there?

A:  An unfortunate event.  I went in for the audition.  Quentin wanted me.  I wanted to do the role of Marsalis.  The deal came down and it was to be shot in one day.  There were four different locations and I said “this is like a TV shooting schedule and there’s a lot of stuff going on with this guy in every scene he’s in.  You know, it’s just not going to be good.”  My agents never let me know that that is not the way Quentin works.  Truth is, with him, if it takes a day it takes a day.  If it takes two weeks, then it takes two weeks even though your contract is for a day.  Nobody told me about that so I turned it down.  And, that was unfortunate, because we both wanted to work together and miscommunication just got in the way and things didn’t happen right.

 

Q:  But you made up for that miscommunication with the role of Judge in Jackie Brown?

A:  Yeah!  Quentin called me at home.  I still don’t know how he got my home number, but he did.  He said, “I know you don’t want to do anymore stupid heavies, but I’ve written this role for you and you have to do it.”  Okay, boss, so I went in and did it.

 

Q:  Rumor has it that Tarantino might be doing a western next.  How are you going to get in on that if it happens?

A:  (laughs) I don’t know.  Hollywood is a weird place.  As a matter of fact, with the invention of the internet, Hollywood and the internet are coupled by one thing: if you don’t hear a rumor by noon…start one.

 

Q:  Which brings us to Rob Zombie.  You have performed as Captain Spaulding three times.

A:  Including the animated feature.  Yes.

 

Q:  And you were Chester Chesterfield in Halloween.  What’s it like working with Zombie?

A:  He’s a very straightforward guy.  Easy to work with.  Once again, he tells you what he wants and lets you do your thing.

 

Q:  A lot of critics just went off the rails berating his films.  Yet, he definitely has a vision for his films.  They are epic and epically violent and I feel they are borderline genius.

A:  It’s funny.  Everybody hated all of his films until they made money.  And then everybody loved them.  It is nuts.  I know, from the beginning with House of 1000 Corpses, they said it was stupid, it was cartoonish; that it looked like a music video, blah, blah, blah, blah.  Okay?  And then, when it became a success, it was the new age film success they changed tune.  Suddenly, it’s fantastic and very intellectual.  They just try to find a way to cover up their shit, you know?  Everybody talks crap about people until the dollar signs hit the bank account and then they are just oh so wonderful.

 

Q:  During the first day of the conference, I asked you about the film you were all set to direct and you indicated that it fell through.  What happened?

A:  I’ve been slated to direct three films.  They never came off.  One was through a whole ego thing with the writer of the film wanting more money.  Another situation happened where they just didn’t know how to raise the money to get the film going.  And the third one was basically the same.  They just don’t know how to get the money.  It’s a shame.  I’ve been ready to direct a film for a long time, but it’s just getting people educated in the financing of film.  I’ve talked to young independent filmmakers until I’m blue in the face.  This is what you have to do and if you do those things you’ll get your money.  My words fall on deaf ears, okay?

 

Q:  There’s still hope though?  One day you will direct a film?

A:  Oh yeah.  I think I am a good director.  I mean I’ve directed a lot of stage plays and, knock on wood, I’ve never received a bad review.  I’ve spent so much time in front of the camera that I know what has to happen behind it.  You can’t bullshit me when it comes to being on the set and knowing what has to be done when it has to be done.

 

Q:  Talk about your newest film, Creature.

A:  Yeah, it’s a scary film.  Fred Andrews wrote and directed it.  He’s been a production designer for years, but this is his first directorial effort.  It’s about this wacky religious zealot group in the bayou that has this creature that they have set up as a God and they make sure he is always well-fed.

 

Q:  Sounds mysterious.  And when can we expect to see it?

A:  They are talking sometime around September or October or something like that.  And then I’m filming a zombie film tomorrow.

 

Q:  Thank you for taking the time with me to discuss your career.

A:  I’m fortunate, okay?  Not many people have a 50 year career in this business.  I thank my lucky stars on a daily basis that I get to do this.

 

Q:  It’s been an awesome time, man.

A:  Cool.  Thanks!

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