MICHELE MORROW LOOKS TO THE FUTURE by Owen Keehnen

Michele Morrow is lighting up the horror horizon like a comet. Relatively new on the scare scene she has nonetheless managed to appear in a slew of deliciously twisted fright flicks such as playing the lead Michael Shelton's slasher opus 'Basement Jack' (costarring horror icons & racks and razors interviewees Tiffany Shepis and Lynn Lowry). She is also starring in the upcoming vampire bloodbath 'Bled' by the producer of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', the Italian creepy surreal horror flick 'The Seer' by Luigi Desole which garnered attention at the Estepona Film Festival, also starring as Jenny in 'The Silo', 'Purgatory House', as well as the comedy/horror outing 'Slaughter of the Rising Sun', and several others as well as some non-horror titles. She was even September's Scream Queen of the Month by the popular site. Those guys know a good thing. This is one in-demand actress but she still managed to give us a few minutes for this exclusive www.racksandrazors.com interview.


 
Hi Michele. How are you doing?

Can't complain! How are you?

No complaints. First off I am curious about what exactly made you decide to become an actress in the first place and who do you consider to be your biggest acting influences?

We were pretty creative growing up - our neighborhood was called Camelot and all the streets were named after the knights of the roundtable. So as a kid, everything seemed kinda lofty and magical. My best friend's parents owned a small movie theatre called The Magic Lantern and we would have sleep overs on the stage under the screen. My parents loved going to the movies and we saw everything that came out. My Mother was theatre actress when she was younger, and later worked as a movie reviewer, so we would often see many movies more than once. I think I saw Labyrinth like three or four times on the big screen. My Mom was also a storyteller at our schools and local library - she has an undeniable ability to capture the attention of others and bring them into another world. So I guess I learned from her. I have a major interest in the stories of other people - their histories, influences, and motivations. And filmmaking in particular meshes those interests with the technological ability to turn an imaginative world into a visual reality. Being really into computers and gadgets, this seemed like a good fit for me. I made the decision in college after my first filmmaking course.

You have an improv background. Can you give me an example of how that has come in useful when acting in horror films?

Horror films, in particular, often operate on the element of surprise. Being able to react accordingly, without anticipation, is vitally necessary for the believability of fear. Improv is great for everything though. It has trained me to be comfortable with exploring new scenarios. It's a common problem among actors to get stuck in one way of doing something. Improv training allows you to let go of resistance and not feel "wrong" about your previous decision. I highly suggest everyone take a course in it.

I want to hear all about your work in the Italian horror flick Luigi Desole's 'THE SEER'. Give us a teaser that will make seeing the movie irresistible.

First of all, I can't tell you how beautiful this film is! The story takes place on the island of Sardinia which is the most picturesque place I've ever seen. The visuals are outstanding. The movie centers around cult and legend and tradition and evil - an evil that patiently lies in wait for the innocent to stumble upon. My character sees visions of violent deaths and goes to Sardinia to recover the body of her brother, but in the process, uncovers a series of disemboweled tourists that will lead her to her prophetic fate. How's that?

You play the lead as Claire in that. So how did that work? With dubbing? Do you speak Italian? A bilingual crew?

The movie is actually spoken in English. I speak very broken Italian, although I did get quite conversational during my time there. The locals didn't speak much english on the island so I tried to pick up the language as much as I could. I was only one of two Americans on set. Our cast and crew was a mixture of a lot of different countries: Italy, Spain, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, Romania, Holland, Mexico, and Brazil. It was an unforgettable experience, especially because we shot during the World Cup - the year that Italy won! I'd never seen anything quite so spirited and prideful and united as when the Italians were marching down the streets singing and laughing and drinking and cheering - bodies painted, piled on the tops of moving cars through the streets, honking horns and waving flags. I've never seen anything remotely close to that in America. During the quarterfinals, we were shooting in this broken-down, abandoned castle sitting way up on top of a hill. Underneath us, surrounding us, were the houses down below, and during the shoot we would have to stop for sound because the cheering and screaming was so loud that it would interfere with our takes.

I always love the wonderful visuals and operatic view of the macabre that seems a staple of Italian horror. Is that true of 'THE SEER'? Is it all very colorful and over the top?

Well, there was a lot of REAL animal bodily organs and innards, hows that for macabre? You can just buy that stuff at butchers in Italy. Can I get a super bloody pig's heart? No problem! How bout some intestines? Of course! So, yes, very colorful, very bloody, very over the top. In the vein of true Italian horror, some of the story line will not be outright explained or easily understood at all times - but that's what Italian horror is all about!

So have you personally ever had disturbing visions, dreams, or nightmares?

Definitely. I think working in horror movies can be a dangerous job for an actor, being that we have to envision a lot of really horrific things. I mean, imagine thinking about finding your family bludgeoned to death and piled up in your living room....now because movies aren't shot in sequence, imagine having to do that over and over in the course of a month or two. Bad dreams and nightmares creep up, its part and parcel of the job. The trick is to imagine it as your character and not as your real life self. I've had four "visions" in my life - two that occurred during a dream and two that happened while I was awake. The most unusual one was the freak out i experienced at the airport on September 9th, 2001. I was going home to Spokane, Washington to see my family. The night before I was laying on my bed staring at my ceiling fan when the shadows seemed to be getting longer and bigger - as if it was falling on me. I was mesmerized by it and at the moment it became too frightening, a car crash happened right outside of my window. I shot up out of bed and was convinced my plane was going to crash. I called a friend and asked him to come over - I'd never been so afraid in my life. It was a strange feeling, like the air around me was thick and I couldn't move. I told him I didn't want to get on my plane and I said, "If it isn't my plane, something really bad is going to happen with an airplane". I ended up flying and I cried like an idiot the entire flight. The stewardess was so worried about me she kept "reassuring" me by saying, "Don't worry, flying is the safest way to travel" - which only made it worse and drove me to order several Bloody Mary's. I finally convinced myself that I'd watched too much Sci-Fi as a kid and it was only my imagination. When I woke up on the morning of Sept. 11th, I shared disbelief with the entire world. I read somewhere that there was a unique phenomena of reported "visions" the week prior to 9/11 -- that there was an unusual amount of persons across the globe who had experienced something similar. I guess there is some truth to catching onto "energies", either that or its just a crazy coincidence. Either way, it was disturbing.

You also play Kerra in the modern day vampire flick 'BLED' directed by Christopher Hutson. What was that experience like?

Kerra is one of four artistic friends who are introduced to a strange substance called "strigois", a rare bark from a forgotten tree. When it's sap is smoked, it sends them into another dimension ruled by an evil incubus that preys upon the blood of mortals, providing everlasting life to its real life master, Reinfeld. Christopher Hutson is an actor's dream -- he used to be an actor himself, so he provides a very safe space when necessary. That may sound strange to people not in this industry, but when you have to cry a bunch, especially if its loud and everyone's havin' fun - it can be challenging! Not sayin' I can't do it, but Chris certainly alleviates unnecessary obstacles - not just for actors, but for all the crew as well. His sets operate like a well-oiled machine. Everyone has fun while doing a kick-ass job. I've now worked on two productions with Fat Kid Films and he uses many of the same people multiple times. We shot Bled in 13 days, which is mostly unheard of. I'm not sure how long their pre-production was, but they built an entire forest inside a 5,000 sq. ft. studio. We also have Jeffrey Allard producing, who was one of the executive producers on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Lionsgate is distributing Bled, so look for it in Spring of 2009.

And what served as blood on the set?

I don't know what you mean! We really killed those people.

Vampires are so popular. Does the number of people into vampires shock you and what do you think is the appeal?

You're so right, vampires ARE popular! They're definitely the cool kids of horror. I think its because they're so mysterious and alluring, as well as being classic and timeless. Their lore is based in fantasy, so their worlds create more of an escape for an audience, whereas an axe murderer is actually something that could happen in the world we live in. Plus, death by vampire way sexier and sophisticated than getting your head chopped off.

You also play the lead role, Karen Cook, in the slasher movie 'BASEMENT JACK' with Tiffany Shepis and Lynn Lowry. Any tales from the set you would care to share?

Basement Jack is one of my best films to date. I trained for a month with our stunt coordinator, Jeri Kalvan, and she helped get me into incredible shape. I have two major fight sequences that involve a variety of crazy weapons. It's written by the Brian O'Toole (Dog Soldiers), who used his love of video games by incorporating the concept of "leveling up" weapons. Beyond that, his sick, twisted, genius mind came up with a insanely heinous new serial killer. Jack Riley hides in the basements of unsuspecting families, watching their everyday lives, until he snaps, kills them, and poses them like department store mannequins in "happy home displays". Talk about creepy. He does this to my family when I'm 17 and I narrowly escape. Now, about a decade later, he accidently gets let out of the insane asylum and we are both hunting each other down, as I was the lone survivor of his last killing. Lynn Lowry plays Jack's mother in flashbacks, and she is just wicked!! We never got to work together but have met several times and I am a big fan of her work. I had a few scenes with Tiffany Shepis, who plays a much different role than she usually does. This girl has range, and is one of the hardest working women in the horror industry -- I look up to her a great deal. I loved my experience on this set, so many wonderful people were involved. Billy Morrison, known for his rockstar status in The Cult, was a pleasure to be around. Being that he started out as a musician, he has a natural talent for being in the spotlight. He has a lot of fun with his character and I was impressed at how easy it was to be around him. Eric Peter-Kaiser plays the titular character, and, in my opinion, he's just as scary as Jason and Freddy.

'BASEMENT JACK' is directed by Michael Shelton (The FX man behind 'The Passion of Christ' and 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'). Given his background is there extra attention paid to the gore in that one?

Michael Shelton is one of the best directors I've ever worked with. He had a very clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish and the excitement to match. This guy was always so positive and grateful, and being at the helm of the production, the director sets the standard for behavior on set. We all had a lot of fun doing our jobs, and Michael Shelton gets top credit for that. He has a contagious enthusiasm for horror movies and story telling in general. He took the character's dialogue as seriously as he took the visuals, which is his expertise. This movie has a high body count and a lot of well placed blood and gore.

What's the most gruesome make-up or effect you have ever witnessed or been involved with in your films?

That award goes to Tiffany Shepis' guts spilling out of her stomach from 'Basement Jack'. It's gnarly.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you would care to let The Racks and Razors readers know about?

Sure! I just finished Ashley's Ashes, a dark comedy by Fat Kid Films (Bled), directed by Christopher Hutson and Chris Kazmier. It stars Daniel Baldwin, Willy Garson, Scott Michael Foster, Clint Howard, and Orson Bean, to name a few. I get to play a gypsy pickpocket chick, which was a lot of fun. I also have a kid's movie coming out called Charm Bracelet. It was kinda surreal to be in a movie where no one horribly dies. I even work in a muffin shop!

On the horror front I co-wrote a supernatural screenplay called 'APERTURE', which centers a cursed camera that steals souls. We are planning to film in 2009, I am set to star.

Okay, we're pulling the car into the Michele Morrow Drive-In. What three horror films are on the triple bill for tonight and what goodies are they going to be serving up at the concession stand?

Tonight is a tribute to Stephen King. I love the way he writes and thinks and recently I've gotten into him all over again. In this last year, I fell on my head during a stunt accident from about 10 feet after being vaulted into the air. I was lucky I didn't die or become paralyzed. For six months I sat in a neck brace, was in and out of hospitals, unable to move or do much of anything, and endured a great deal of pain. I am mostly recovered now, and back to work, and I've developed a sort of fascination with people who have survived terrible injuries. The car accident Stephen King experienced was far worse than mine, which is terrifying for me to even imagine. He was slow to start writing again, but his resilience pushed him through. I would love to meet him or work with him one day and tell him that the first novel I ever read was in the 4th grade, and it was his The Eyes of the Dragon - a fantasy book that I read twice in a row at ten years old. So, the triple feature is all Mr. King. Feel free to order up some Bloody Mary's and bottomless popcorn with real butter - all the classic movie theatre treats will be served.

1. Carrie - It was his first published novel as well as an industry classic. It was after Rosemary's Baby and before The Exorcist, so women + telekinesis was strong groundwork for what was to come next. It's the one that made him a star.
2. Pet Semetary - Because this movie scared the shit outta me at a sleepover in the 7th grade. The concept of the Undead is really frightening and totally cool, especially when you combine it with the lore of an ancient burial ground. It's also directed by a female, Mary Lambert, and their aren't a ton of truly successful females in her profession. She did an excellent job making the movie feel personal and dramatic - which pushes it beyond the constraints of normal horror movies by making us really care about the Father and Son. I am still weary of gray cats to this day.
3. Creepshow - well, because it's awesome.

The Scream Queen site officially named you as Scream Queen for September 2008. What exactly do you consider a scream queen? Any definition you would care to offer?

Yea, I'm really excited about that! It's a cool honor. I think the definition has changed throughout the years, but the vintage definition usually referred to the starring female trying to escape the clutches of the bad guy. I think over the years this definition has been bastardized to include "any" female trying to escape the clutches of the bad guy - especially if she's super hot and has a bloodcurdling scream. And that's okay, because those women are awesome too. But the definition I care to identify with is one where a scream queen is someone the audience relates to. Usually the one who survives, but not always. Someone who is resourceful, capable, and intelligent as well as being clever. She is someone who can be manipulative, and sometimes insidious, to elude the monster at hand. Its truly one of the most exciting labels to have as an actress, so yea I'm stoked.

So since it is October I have to ask. Any costume plans for Halloween yet?

No costume yet...it's still early for me. Its hard for me to plan ahead, my emotions change too much. Ask me in another couple weeks. I'm known to chose right before.

What's the best costume you ever had?

Oh man, "best" costume? I tried to go as a sexy hobo once to make fun of the "sexy anything" costume for girls, but i ended up just looking like a hot mess.

What scares you in real life?

Bugs. I have a true phobia.