At what age did you see yourself as an entertainer?
When I was about 10 years old (maybe younger) I saw a movie called Oliver. It was a musical version of the Dickens classic starring a kid named Mark Lester as Oliver and Jack Wild (or also did HR Puff n Stuff). I wanted to be them. Both of them. I wanted to be in movies. I had always been a loner kid up till then, introverted. This experience sort of opened me up. I became more of a class clown/entertainer. This brought me lots of positive attention. I found that while not good at sports, not particualry good at school subjects, I had a vivid and active imagination and excelled at that. In 3rd grade I wrote a play with a classmate for a school project. It was called “The Funny Murder”. It was a big hit and we were asked to perform it for the entire school. I soon found myself with some friends that I could never expect to have otherwise. Jocks, stuff guys, those sort of people. At home, I would put on records of famous musicals (do any of your readers know what records are?) and perform and lip sync the show for my family. I had also fallen in love with the art of puppetry. I had many hand puppets and would put on shows for my sister and her friends. Sometimes, I would put on shows just for myself. I was a true ham.
Interestingly enough though, it would not be until my college years before I would actually venture into trying out for parts in plays. I started out by auditioning for a small part in Flowers for Algernon and within 2 semesters I was directing. I left college in 1978 for NYC.
Did you see yourself acting in horror films?
No. Never thought in terms of horror films specifically. As an actor in NY I was initially focused more on theatre. I had gone to Circle in the Square theatre school after leaving college. It was very intense and focused. “Method” style acting. Theatre was the holy grail. Many actors looked down on commercials, television and to some degree film.. Don’t get me wrong, I would have taken just about any job that came my way at the time, particularly in film, but I kind of got into the “artist” mindset which precluded you from doing “sell-out” work. Besides, Horror films hadn’t really hit it big yet, it wouldn’t be until Halloween that the teenage slasher films would make themselves popular.
What was your first acting gig?
Paid or “no pay but good exposure”? That was the term used back then. Most jobs in the acting field were for free. Sometimes you even had to pay them! My very first job however was with puppets. I had auditioned for this company that toured schools in the Midwest and South. I can’t recall the name of the show but it was loosely based upon a science fiction classic about a space trip to Mars. All those days of playing with my puppets as a kid paid off. I got the job! I was paid $150 a week plus 10.00 a day (for expenses) which was supposed to pay for my lodging and food. Me and these two girls were on the road for 10 weeks. We traveled in a van with all the equipment (sound, lights, stage, puppets) packed into the back. We would go from town, to town, school to school setting up ourselves, do several shows, strike, pack it back up and head for the next town. Sometimes we had to travel several hundred miles between gigs. To save money, we all shared a hotel room. To save even more money we did not order a cot for the third person. Instead each night, one of us would have to share a bed with the other. The net result was that every 3rd night…you got your own bed. It was hard work but a lot of fun. Got to see parts of the country I never would have thought to travel to.
What did Joe Giannone ask you to do in at the audition for the part of
Richie in 'Madman'?
I never had to audition for the part of Ritchie. It was written with me in mind. I had worked with both Joe (writer/director) and Gary (writer/producer) in an actor’s/writer’s workshop in New York. The group met once a week at a theatre called The Courtyard Playhouse in Greenwich Village. It was composed of, well, writers, directors and actors. The director would pick one of the writer’s works to direct and cast it out of the pool of actors. We would rehearse it for several weeks and perform it at special performance showcases, say once a month or so. I was cast in many of the productions. Although already in my 20’s I was very young looking so was able to play various teens and young hoodlums. I was sort of type cast as a wise-ass in a number of the productions. I worked with Joe several times. He liked me not only for my work but because I took direction well. Joe was very particular as to what he wanted and I never argued with him or gave him a hard time. He respected hard work and professionalism. Eventually Joe directed an off-off-way—off Broadway show called A Search for Love. I was cast in it and Gary produced it. At some point during this time, Joe started on the script for Madman (which wasn’t called Madman at that time). A Search for Love was one of those “no pay but good exposure” jobs I previously mentioned. We spent a lot of time developing and rehearsing it. As a reward, Joe told me that he would put me in the movie if and when it was done. That is how the business is done by the way. You work with people, network, do things for free. One day, one of those people make good. If they like you, and you have proven yourself, they can take you along with them.
Did you try out for other roles?
No. There really wasn’t any other role that I was right for me in that film. Besides, as I mentioned, Ritchie was written with me in mind. There was really no other choice.
What was it like being on set of the film?
We shot the film on a location on Long Island. It was a real camp that was closed down for the season so it was perfect for the needs of the film. The cast and crew lived on the set in some of the same cabins you see in the movie. Since all of the scenes were at night, we shot during the evenings and slept in the daytime. For most of us, this was our first feature film so it was a very exciting experience. Just to be in front of a camera (and have lines) was a big thrill. Everyone was very cool and got along well. We worked, ate lived together. There was a big hot tub (seen in the film) and a sauna which we could enjoy in our off times. The set was somewhat secluded so there wasn’t much else you could do when you weren’t working. Keep in mind that there was no cable, no smart phones, no computers or internet at the time so there was not much else you could do in a cabin in the woods at night. If I wasn’t working, I was in my room reading a book. Since my part was smaller, I was lucking enough to be able to go back home a few days at a time. Each morning, after the night’s shoot a production assistant would drive the film cannisters back into NYC for developing (oh yeah, there was no digital film either). I would sometimes hitch a ride back into the city and come back when it was my time to shoot.
The film crew got to view the dallies each night. Joe made this off limits to any of the actors, thinking that seeming themselves might cause them to alter their performcances. I remember trying to sneak in a couple of times but was rebuffed by one of the PA’s.
What memorable experiences would you like to share with us being on set?
The most memorable thing I have had nothing to do with the film itself. I remember waking up one “morning” to learn that John Lennon had been shot. A good number of the film crew and actors were in their late 20’s and 30’s at the time. They had grown up with the Beatles and John Lennon so it was a very sad and morose day on the set.
In retrospect, I have to say that there were many things I now think back on that were “memorable.” But to be honest with you, after the film was released and went away, I sort of forgot about it. I didn’t see it again until about 5 years ago when I found it on Netflix. I rented it to show to my wife (who didn’t know me when I was an actor). Watching it with the commentary turned on was particularly fun as it brought back lots of memories. I was able to find Gary using an internet search and made contact with him. We hadn’t spoken in around 20 years by that time. He put me in touch with Joe and another friend of ours, Tony. Even then I had no idea of how popular the film had become – a “cult classic” as I’ve been told.
What scene did you enjoy doing the most?
It was a scene that never made it into the finished film. It was a scene intended to come after the one where Ritchie discovers all the bodies in the basement and before Betsy goes back to the house to confront Marz. Betsy finds Ritchie wondering in the woods basically in shock. She tries to find out what happened to him…where everyone else is…but Ritchie can do nothing more than babble about what he has seen. I had intended it to be a scene filled with emotion and worked very hard in preparation. The night of the shoot I spent hours walking around in a circle on the set trying to physically and mentally exhaust myself (I told you I was a method trained actor) so that it would appear real. I was also able to stir up some personal turmoil soas to really cry for the scene. The first few times we shot the scene it really worked the way I wanted it to. However, after shooting it multiple times from several different angles…I was spent. You see, I was trained on how to get myself to that place but did not have the training or resources to sustain it. I had shot my load after a couple of takes apparently. In the editing process the various shots did not match so it was cut. I was very disappointed when I learned of it because it was “my moment”. The truth of the matter was that I was just not good enough to pull it off. Instead the viewer gets that last scene of Richie’s face with the dead bodies superimposed….”He’s reeeallllllll.”
How could you relate to your character Richie being the hyper kid he was?
Well it was very much what I was like at the time. A kid filled with energy. Inquisitive to the point of obnoxious. I liked to joke around and be an A-hole. Playing a wiseass kid was not a challenge for me. I did not have to method act for it.
What year and month was the movie shot as it looked pretty cold?
It was October/December of 1980 and it was indeed cold. In certain scenes you can see the moisture of the actor’s breath when they speak. Now remember, it was supposed to be the end of summer. The campers were the last few kids left prior to going home. At this time of the year there are little, if any leaves on the trees. The art decoration crew had to paint leaves and tape them to trees to make it appear as if it were the right time of year. Under our costumes we had warm clothing, Long Johns, etc. Behind the cameras the crew wore parkas.
Were there alot of struggling incidents you'd like to tell us about shooting
To be honest, no. I mean there were the standard challenges consistent with making a movie set in the out of doors, you know lighting the woods, racing to finish scenes before the sun rose. But other than that, at least in my scenes, I don’t recall any major problems. One interesting note. In the scene where Richie re-enters the house and goes down to the basement to make the grisly discovery, the door that he opens off the kitchen was actually a closet. That house had a basement but we never even went in it. Joe was going to cut the scene just as I opened the door. However, I told him that I could make it look like I was going down stairs (I was a trained mime) by using a simple trick. He said something like “let’s see what you would do.” I did it and the entire crew broke up with laughter. “Let’s shoot it!”, Joe said. The actual scene down in the basement was shot in another location. I believe it was the basement of the main house in the camp.
Who did you enjoy working with the most?
Keep in mind that most of my scenes were by myself in the woods. However, I did enjoy joking around with Tony Fish. Even though we were making a low budget horror film, he took his work very seriously, and I appreciated that as an actor. Paul Ehlers was a lot of fun too. If I remember right, at the time he was really into spiritual stuff (not religious, more Witches and Warlock). I remember that when we were in the house he told me that he had a bad feeling about it. That he could feel that something bad had happened in it at one time. I don’t know if he was joking or just trying to get me to feel creeped out in preparation for my scenes there. Either way, it did make me kind of scared and worked for the scenes.
Did you see this when it hit theatre's? What was the feedback you got in it?
The film opened in New York at the Rivolli Theatre on 49th and Broadway. I forget the date. Most of the cast were in attendance. I mean it was no Hollywood red carpet event or anything close, but it did have a premier atmosphere to it. In those days the multiplex theatres were not yet in existence. Movie screens were huge and the theatre had several hundred seats, many of which were filled by the general public. It was the first time I had seen the finished film AND the first time seeing myself on the big screen so it was quite a thrill. I was surprised at how it had turned out. I mean, I didn’t think it was going to rocket my career forward or anything, but I was proud of it. People in the audience recognized us and asked for our autographs. For a brief moment in time, I felt like a star.
Will a sequel ever arise for this cult slasher flick?
I’m sure you have heard that there is a remake of sorts slated to shoot this summer. I don’t think it is an actual sequel, but I really don’t know. Interestingly, the script was penned by the son of Paul Ehlers, who is also involved in some capacity. Gary Sales is producing it. Not sure who is directing but I know they have been looking for a star wrestler to play the part of Madman.
I would love to play a cameo in it. Actually, if a sequel, they should have Ritchie come back as some druken, overweight, psychologicaly damaged crackpot still reeling from that night in the woods. I would enjoy that and it would make sense that the only character to survive Madman’s rampage. Maybe the whole premise could start with the 'Madman' finally catching up with Ritchie! But this is just a pipedream. Still, I’m hoping that they will at least allow me the cameo
Were you approached to acting in other horror flicks after the release of
Nope. Did not make another horror film after that. I did however, appear in a main-stream movie, 'Night Shift'. It starred Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton and was directed by Ron Howard. I had the role of “Sailor #1” and I appear somewhere in the middle of the film within a montage of various scenes. In the film, the character played by Michael Keeton is out on the streets of NY trying to drum up business for a whore house he runs out of a morgue. I and another actor appear as a couple of sailors out on the town. When we shot it we ad-libbed the dialogue. Evenutally, the dialogue was replaced with a song for the montage. Several hours of shooting was reduced to seconds in the finished film and if you blink you might miss me. However, I’m credited at the end of the film (with my real name, Tom Candela) AND I still get residual checks to this date! It is hard to believe it, I know, but any actor with a speaking part in a union film is secured with a payment whenever it is sold for TV, cable, etc. Now the checks only amount to a few bucks every 6 months or so, but still, that was shot almost 30 years ago!
As I mentioned above I did appear in other films. I played in many as an extra, a few times coming close to getting cast in parts. However, I made most of my income later in my career as a puppeteer. Eventually, I left acting. Currently, I am a registered nurse.
What kinds of work did you do afterwards?
Now you did return in a film that you were billed with me in the Grindhouse
horror-comedy 'Midnight Matinee Psycho' as Danny. How did Derek Young contact
you to play in this flick?
I had read somewhere that there was going to be a release of the 30 year anniversary edition of 'Madman'. I easily found Gary Sales through a web search and made contact with him. Unfortunately, I made contact too late to appear in the documentary found on the DVD as some of the other actors had done. Anyway, Gary told me that he was in the process of attempting to raise funding for remake or a redo, of the original. Naturally, he was promoting the idea of the film to everyone and everywhere. Somehow, he made contact with Derek who asked Gary to do an interview on his podcast. Gary asked me if I would be interested in attending the podcast and I gladly complied. It was fun because it was the first time in 30 years that I had even discussed the film with anyone. So we did the podcast and Derek asked me if I would ever be interested in acting again. I said that I would of course. Shortly thereafter he pitched me the idea of his film. The rest is history, as they say.
Now you shot your scene's in your area. What was it like doing them?
Less involved than you might have guessed. Derek sent me a copy of my scenes. He asked me if I had a video camera. I said yes. He asked me to film my scenes myself. Which I did. No camera man, no sound or lighting…just me and my Sony HD camera on a tripod. I shot all the scenes in my home in PA.
Do you hope to work with Derek Young in his future film projects?
Sure. Why not. Maybe I’ll even get to meet him next time.
Do you have other acting gigs coming up that you'd like to share with us?
No. However, I’m still hopeful that I will get to appear in the remake of 'Madman'. That would be a lot of fun
What are you up to these days?
I’m a registered nurse. I live in PA with my wife and 6 year old daughter.
What are your favourite horror films?
The film which scarred the hell out of me as a child is an oldie but goodie… House on a Haunted Hill. It starred Vincent Price. In those days (1940’s 50’s 60s’), horror films were not what they are today. They were based more on the supernatural or had monsters from other planets. There was none of the shock slasher films of this generation. I guess the first “slasher” film of this era would be Psycho. Which is another film which absolutely scarred the hell out of me when I was a kid. Still does. I also loved a movie called Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not the remake, the original starring Kevin McCarthy. There was also a movie called Invasion from Mars that I really enjoyed and which frightened me. All of these movies can be found on Netflix by the way for those of your fans who might be interested.