Grab Your Chainsaws, Ladies.

A decent horror film will have me cowering under the blanket hours after a viewing. I still love the genre, though. This is why I was so excited by the recent article on George Romero, John Carpenter, et al, in Vanity Fair’s latest “Hollywood issue.” The article, “Killer Instincts,” was written by Jason Zinoman.

It was a good piece, but I was extremely disappointed to read about what went on on the set of Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left” (1972). The movie deals with mindlessly horrific events, and it’s natural to be both disgusted and fascinated by it. However, here’s how one of its stars, David Hess (he plays the main killer dude, Krug), described acting alongside his co-star, Sandra Cassell:

“I was very mean to the girls, so when it came to the rape scene, [Sandra Cassell] didn’t have to act… I told her, ‘I’m really going to fuck you up if you don’t behave yourself. They’ll just let the camera run. I’m going to devastate you.’ I don’t think she was too happy about that.”

Jason Zinoman describes Hess’ approach as “a Method actor’s intensity.” Jason! That’s not method-acting! That’s barbarism. Hess goes on to engage in seriously pathetic bragging about his conquests with co-stars and groupies (he might be a loser, but he got laiiiiiid!!!), and it is very clear that this guy is not some raw-edged heir to Stanislavsky. He is a misogynist using an actor’s persona to camouflage his serious issues, and, in the article, the masks obviously slips. That is, unless, Zinoman is deliberately mis-representing him with this piece. Zinoman, however, has an impressive resume and reputation – one does not attain such heights with blatant fibbing. [Update: David Hess is in the comments section of this post, saying that he was misquoted. I’ve gone ahead and changed the title of this post. Having been misquoted by a journalist before, I don’t  take these issues lightly.  Now the picture would be complete if Jason Zinoman showed up to talk as well, but I’m not holding my breath. Are you out there, Mr. Zinoman?] [Update 2: Mr. Zinoman is indeed out there, and says that no one was misquoted about anything. So there.]

I really like Wes Craven, but I wish he hadn’t allowed that to happen on set. I understand that he was a young director struggling to break free from his parents’ (particularly, his mother’s, as Zinoman darkly notes) expectations. I understand that things can get crazy in such a peculiar atmosphere. Nevertheless, there are lines you do not allow people to cross.

Zinoman does not go to Craven for a response on Hess’ “method.” And I wish he had.

I don’t think that Zinoman should have reached across the coffee-table and smacked Hess across the face. As a fellow writer, I get to speak to a lot of people, not all of them particularly cuddly. What Hess reveals about himself in this article is just as fascinating as the thematic elements of any good horror film. In order for revelations to take place, the writer must rein in his or her judgment. However, I do think that Zinoman’s characterization of Hess’ behaviour was way off the mark.

While I’m at it, here’s another disturbing quote from Zinoman’s piece, describing what happened on the set of the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”:

Exhausted, overheated, and frustrated by a tube of fake blood that wouldn’t spurt, Hansen [in his role as killer] decided to cut Burns [in her role as victim] for real, just to get the scene over with. “That was hardly the worst of it,” remembers Burns… I got a black eye that day… and I remember getting beat up by everyone while Tobe [the director] was standing nearby saying, ‘Hit her harder! Harder!’ “

I’ve always wanted to see the original “Massacre” film, but now, I don’t think I will. Obviously, Burns is a tough woman. I salute her for soldiering on. But I’m not going to salute the glaring un-professionalism of Gunnar Hansen and Tobe Hooper, and what it ultimately implies about them. Where any male actors injured on set? Zinoman does not say.

I’d like to see more women feature prominently the horror genre, and not just as pretty girls being chased/tortured by maniacs, but as both the maniacs and the creators of maniacs. Of course, many women have been working behind the scenes in the horror genre for years. The Pretty/Scary site is a good resource on some of them (as well as to many, many horror actresses).

As a fan, I think that horror has a great future, especially wherein women are concerned (and no, I’m not one of those puritan types who thinks that we should fight sexism by completely cutting out any instances of female victimization, and portraying women as All Powerful, All the Time – but more balance doesn’t hurt. Certainly, the fact that Neve Campbell’s character had sex and survived “Scream” is a good thing; John Carpenter may not think that killing sexually involved characters is prudery and sexism, but I sure do).

Now, I’d love to see Diablo Cody do a horror film, now that she’s bagged an Oscar for “Juno.” Why the hell not? I imagine something both hilarious and disturbing.

Long live the dead.

23 thoughts on “Grab Your Chainsaws, Ladies.

  1. Do a little bit of research before you start jumping to conclusions. And more importantly get rid of your daddy hang up. You sound like someone who thinks they’re important…you are decidedly not. If you had any thing in mind other than mindless babble about someone you don’t know and an incredible desire for your Andy Warhol 15 mins. of fame perhaps you’d do your research and find out something about the people you vilify. I don’t rape women I stay in my role and if it’s too much for you then get in another business. When I walk off the set I can sit down with the best of them and talk philosophy. You, on the other hand, probably took a writing course in High School and consider yourself an artist. Get over it and get smart. Know your subject before you start writing…and more importantly learn how to write. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put some one down. It takes a woman/man to say something intelligent. Which are you?

  2. David, if you were being misrepresented in that piece, that’s one thing. A lot of times journalists will take one aspect of a person’s personality, and magnify it until one really does come off as a scumbag, or worse. I did mention the possibility that Jason Zinoman had somehow done that – whether intentionally or unintentionally.

    I was interviewed once as part of a long piece on higher education, and while I came out looking alright, someone I care about was made to look bad as the result of my words. I had to own that.

    That piece was full of plummy discussions of violence against women – and no real discussion of violence and men (though as we know, more men die as the result of violence every year in the States – and male horror characters are rarely spared). There was not an examination of that, and it made me feel, overall, that the women were just represented as (eroticized) cannon fodder.

    If you ever want to do an interview on the horror genre with me, we can talk like adults.

  3. Natalia- check out a flick called “Ginger Snaps”, I think you’ll dig it.

    D. Hess- Were you and your words misrepresented in the article Natalia cited? And as much as you just put her down here…insulting her writing, her intelligence, accused her of having daddy issues, and being a fame-seeker…so, if your advice for being a intelligent man does not include putting some one down, why do it? Or do different rules apply to you?

    Now, did you actually say “I was very mean to the girls, so when it came to the rape scene, [Sandra Cassell] didn’t have to act… I told her, ‘I’m really going to fuck you up if you don’t behave yourself. They’ll just let the camera run. I’m going to devastate you.’ I don’t think she was too happy about that.” ? If not, I can see why you’d be pissed. If so? I wouldn’t be suggesting other people have issues. Hell, that sort of attitude isn’t professional, and men who exhibit it even in my industry will be called out and scorned for it. Hollywood actresses probably do not show up on set to be threatened with rape and violence, no matter what the script says is supposed to happen to the character they are playing.

  4. Mr. Hess: If those were not your words, you’ve a right to be furious at seeing them. However, aiming your fury at Natalia makes no sense; your fury is better off aimed at the person who misquoted you.

    If they are your words, Natalia has every reason to be deeply bothered by them. As Ren said above, acting is supposed to be fake/staged. Telling your co-star that you really will harm her takes away the stagedness and, at least potentially, creates real fear. That’s just not something you ought to do.

    Now, if your co-star was okay with this (though I can’t imagine she would be), that might be something else again. But all the article says — which is all Natalia has to go on — is that you threatened someone. And that’s not appropriate behavior.

    Honestly, if you really were misrepresented in the quote, your comment full of personal attacks and invective against Natalia hardly helps your case any.

  5. Natalia, kudos. If those words were actually spoken as quoted, and you certainly allowed for the possibility that they weren’t, then your characterization seems dead on.

    “I don’t think she was too happy about that” basically answers the question as to whether this is sadism/misogyny (pick one) or a sophisticated acting methodology the rest of us just don’t get. Method acting typically involves getting inside the character’s emotions so that one will be able to perform more realistically. It does not require that a method actor in a horror or otherwise violent film begin threatenting his/her co-stars.

  6. ““I don’t think she was too happy about that” basically answers the question as to whether this is sadism/misogyny (pick one) or a sophisticated acting methodology the rest of us just don’t get.”

    Yep.

  7. I told her, ‘I’m really going to fuck you up if you don’t behave yourself. They’ll just let the camera run. I’m going to devastate you.’

    Hess goes on to engage in seriously pathetic bragging about his conquests with co-stars and groupies

    Well, just goes to show the textbook type of bad boys that women get wet for. Why can’t womyn just admit this?

    The real litmus test at the end of the day is who womyn actually spread their legs for. All the rest is cheap BS talk.

  8. Oh please. Bragging is now scientific proof of what women like? This is beside the fact that the desire to have casual sex with someone isn’t always the same as liking someone. Men have sex with women they don’t really like or respect all the time. Guess what? A lot of women feel the same way too. We’re just not supposed to talk about it, because that’s so unladylike and awful, getting with some guy purely for the sake of sex.

  9. Natalia,
    I’m terribly sorry for the misunderstanding. I thought that the interpretations came from you and not from another writer. I’d love to do an interview. I’ll be home until mid-august when I’m off to N.Y. for a film. Keep in mind that ‘Last House’ was made in 1972 and regardless of what you’ve heard it has stood the test of time. As to my remarks, yes I remained in character throughout the filming process, no I didn’t say those comments. Yes, I think I probably frightened Sandra by my general attitude, which helped the scene. Would that you could see the film again, or for the first time if you’ve not seen it to date. There are many things about the film that I feel are out of place for today, but that is ‘today’. The feelings back then were directed towards the ‘Viet Nam’ war and the consensus was to do an anti-war/violence film by over loading the synapses. My own exploration was that of ‘sociopathology’ and how it effects society. I’m pretty easy to reach if you decide to follow up. Looking forward to hearing from you.
    David

  10. Oh Byrd, your devil-may-care, treat ’em mean bad boy attitude is getting me sooooo hot.

    No wait, you’re an arse.

  11. Hi David & welcome back. I’ve gone ahead and changed the title of this post. I don’t want it showing up on Google searches especially now that you’re saying that the picture painted in VF was incomplete.

    I’m based in the Middle East at present, and I doubt I’ll be in the States this summer, but if you ever want to do a phone interview/e-mail interview, let me know, and we’ll arrange for a time:

    natalia [at] globalcomment [dot] com

  12. “Gee look, women commenting here who are so not getting all wet over Mr. Hess”

    Like I said, chick talk is cheap and meaningless…

    Girls love acting like they’re above the same bozos they later can’t help fucking.

    “desire to have casual sex with someone isn’t always the same as liking someone. Men have sex with women they don’t really like or respect all the time. Guess what? A lot of women feel the same way too. We’re just not supposed to talk about it, because that’s so unladylike and awful, getting with some guy purely for the sake of sex.”

    EXACTLY. Thank you for simply admitting that. And guys will take casual sex over liking ANY DAY. I’d much rather get laid than liked (if she’s hot), than liked but not laid (friendzone).

    I mean, oh look at this now:

    “if you ever want to do a phone interview/e-mail interview/(rape fantasy sex), let me know, and we’ll arrange for a time”

    IOW – call me you hot stud.

    I rest my case. Have at it you 2. I expect a blog post on your angry make-up sex in 2 weeks. Hustle now.

  13. Em, it’s sadly true. Yes, any work-related proposal from a woman to a man is simply a desire for angry sex. I mean, let’s look at it. I’ve made, say, 500 proposals for business arrangements with guys this year and I’ve had… sex with only my husband, a non-sexist non-badboy, plus some business interactions with some of those guys. Obviously, I am completely unable to communicate that my true desire is for angry insults rather than to close deals. Who knew?

    I wonder, though, as Byrd is the lucky guy who’s hit the motherlode in figuring out what women really want and how to give it to them, why he spends so much time trolling feminist-sympathetic blogs rather than actually, oh I don’t know, getting laid?

  14. Oh you’re so right octo. I was so wrong about female logic.

    Anyone who posts on blogs in the daytime must not have time to get laid at night and weekends.

    For example, yourself or Ren. Ren posts a lot – so there’s NO WAY she could be having much sex, right?

  15. Let me spell it out for you, Byrd. I was not focusing on time of day. I was in fact focusing on trolling feminist-sympathetic blogs (how does one know this? cuz that’s what I actually said).

    Ren and I are on feminist-sympathetic blogs because we are either feminst or feminist-sympathetic. We are not on feminist-sympathetic blogs being defensive about how we’re getting so much action because we’re assholes. (I in fact am an asshole but I imagine any action I get is despite rather than because of this).

    Being a fish out of water, trying to suck the water out of the ocean, usually makes a statement about exactly how peaceful and successful the local waters are.

    Just sayin’.

  16. “if you ever want to do a phone interview/e-mail interview/(rape fantasy sex), let me know, and we’ll arrange for a time”

    You’re exactly one more asshole comment away from getting banned.

  17. “There are many things about the film that I feel are out of place for today, but that is ‘today’. The feelings back then were directed towards the ‘Viet Nam’ war and the consensus was to do an anti-war/violence film by over loading the synapses.”

    David,

    Can you explain what you mean by this? (In case my tone comes off wrong, I mean this with curiosity, not malice.) Did everyone involved in the project stay in character in the same way? Did you all consider doing this risky, or just part of the project, or both? I ask because it seems to me that could really be rough on anyone playing the victims in a way it wouldn’t be on people playing the attackers. Did you all think about that at all, or not?

  18. Ah, you have come up to the eternal adolescent question, “why don’t all the nice girls like me?” Well done, you.

    Indeed that *is* what women want. 51% of the population really do only want one kind of man. This is why mild-mannered accountants never have sex or get married.

    I’ll be throwing my lovely girlfriend over for a bad boy ANY DAY NOW.

  19. Natalia,
    I see that i have come very late to this comment thread, so late in fact that your wish for Diablo Cody to make a horror film has already come true. Did you like Jennifer’s Body? I appreciate the smart, thoughtful comments and i think you have a sound point about the way these women were treated and i would add that the line between low budget horror in the early seventies and pornography was often pretty blurry. I also think that horror has a great future in part because the directors are now aiming to entertain female audiences as much as male audience (see Jennifer’s Body).

    I would just make two points: 1) Writing that Hess displayed “method actor’s intensity” is an aesthetic, not a moral, judgement 2) Mr. Hess was quoted correctly and on the record. Thanks for your interest in the story and apologies for taking so long to respond. best, jason

  20. Thank you so much for your comment, Jason. I haven’t seen Jennifer’s Body yet, as I am in Ukraine right now, where most people think that Diablo Cody is a new type of frilly underwear. I’m hoping to see it soon, though. 😉

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