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.