Janet Tracy Keijser: First, House on Haunted Hill – Now, the World! by Brian Kirst

Janet Tracy Keijser is quickly becoming one of my favorite new screen presences. At first glance, she reminds me of those fabulous 70’s fatales who used to turn up, once or twice a year, as different trouble ridden chanteuses on that alternative feministic classic Charlie’s Angels. She has that sweet milky sensuality, but with a distinctly modern edge. But her true take no shit beauty comes out on screen, whether in her minor role in the exhilarating remake of House on Haunted Hill or her larger roles in low budget fright-mares such as Dead 7 and The Zombie Chronicles. Keijser, also, a hot rod enthusiast and spectacular still photographer, took some time out of her busy schedule, recently, to answer a few questions for me.


Brian: It is noted on your bio on IMDB that you are often billed under different names. Janet Tracey, Tracey Keijser, Janet Tracy Keijser. Even the Dead 7 DVD has you listed on the box, which you appear, beautifully, on the cover of- under one name and in the film, itself, under another. Is there any specific reason for the different names used?

Janet: Step aside Kevin Bacon, they’ve invented a new name game for Janet Tracy Keijser. The correct spelling of my last name and my middle name has reached epic proportions of scrabble. Numerous times growing up I switched to Tracy, my middle name. There was always another Janet in school and ever being the “actress”, I needed to be original. In the Keijser family tradition my brother went by his middle name Todd, but my folks didn’t add the III part and I was a Janet Keijser II named after my Dutch grandfather’s sister. But Canadian’s don’t give a hoot about that stuff. So my grandfather changed the spelling of the last name to homogenize it when he naturalized. I tried to correct the IMDB and they added my correction to the growing list of names. So now I’m starting a name game, where anyone who can show a verifiably wrong spelling of my name that has not been used yet, can e-mail me off my website and I’ll ship ‘em a free tee shirt or screening copy of “The Halfway House”. It has to be used as the official billing on a movie or something that I’ve been in. I know there are more versions out there that the IMDB hasn’t listed yet.

Brian: Did you have any idea how powerful the images of you in House on Haunted Hill would be? They are really hauntingly beautiful. Also, how long did the shots take and how physically taxing was the whole affair? 

Janet: Dangling stark naked off wires (sans a small strip of cloth over you know what) as a pendant in a rented storage unit as center stage to a half dozen FX guys taping, swinging and racking you, is always a fun filled afternoon for me. I was born to be eccentric. And as Bill likes to comment, "you haven’t blossomed into your full strangeness yet". In complete agreement with him, we both absolutely love bizarre, haunting imagery. So to work with the master himself, is an added bonus that I knew would have a powerful outcome. House on Haunted Hill was way too much fun in every way. Bill is such an arresting director whose cognizance of camera’s, lenses and lighting, not to mention the imaginative, indelible, cinematic reverie that comes from his brain makes him pure pleasure to work with. Bill’s mind, brilliance and experience level with cameras and art has barely been tapped into. Look out Hollywood, when he truly takes the reins on a film and the moneymen don’t quash his aesthetic vision or pasteurize his edge! A kind, considerate and even-tempered man as well. All stroking aside, I mean that. He recently sold a script and is working pre-pre post to direct it. I hope to work with him on it in a big way.

Brian: I am assuming your character, Girl on the Wire(s), in House on Haunted Hill was one of the former mental patients of the crazed asylum. Even though your screen time was brief, did you come up with a background story for your character?

Janet: In the opening black and white sequence where I get dragged out of the operating room by the crazies, I remember Bill trying to find me on the set to do that scene at the last minute. And forgive me Stella Adler, but I went “Strasberg” that day. I was later bumped to stunt pay status for getting dragged sideways while kicking and screaming, to the other end of the set for oh, about 20 takes. In the process, I got fairly scraped. And that was when I was an amateur at stunt work. The whole scenario on set was real, right down to the extra’s production found for that scene. I’ve always wanted to ask Gil Adler where he found such wonderfully real, psychotic folks. It was pretty intense while filming. Scott Cameron, our 1st AD, had to scream cut into a blow horn at least 4 or 5 times to get the mayhem to begin quieting. It’s such a blessing, from an acting point of view, if people naturally have their front teeth missing and on the drop of a dime go off the deep end, half-baked, for you. I have to admit I was a little unnerved for my first time. But it was crazy great!  

Brian: Speaking of characters, you play a tough talking crystal meth pusher’s girlfriend, Karen, in Brain Damage*s Dead 7. Did you do any background research for that role?

Janet: Had lunch with a couple of the extras on the set of House On Haunted Hill, and spoke at length with them. Ahhh, I love filmmaking. Joke. - I cruised the corner of Sunset and Vine in beautiful downtown Hollywood. Talked to a couple hookers, then chatted up a couple drug dealers. Bought a bag of oranges from the Latino on the other corner and called it a day. Gotta love LA. Everything you ever need is right there.  

Brian: How difficult was it to keep Karen’s "guts" on your lap, during your death scene in Dead 7? I imagine that there must have been some pretty funny/awkward moments keeping everything together. 

Janet: You speak so detailed and lovingly of my favorite “bloody me up” scenes. I had a digital camcorder and tried to film some behind the scenes that day. But unfortunately that camera got dropped in the dirt so I couldn’t add to my library of bootlegged, unauthorized videos. I did a strip tease at the end of shooting that scene. Covered in blood, using the length of a cow intestine as my feather boa. It could have been my magnum opus of behind the scenes action but it just didn’t make it out of Simi Valley alive. I do have some pretty funny video that I’m working to get on my web site as a gratis downloadable. What else? Where else? Is it time to plug my site? janettracykeijser.com. So our lovely readers can keep checking my site for all sorts of different crap that I dream up. I mean, hu, fun stuff to offer. That’s the beauty of doing low budget. The cash flow to "fake it" just isn’t there, so sometimes the real thing is faster and ultimately better. But we don’t fuss with release forms, OSHA or Big Brother. Believe me everything is by the book, the only one hurt was me, but no forms to fill out or extra dues to pay. I’m sure that’s one more reason producer’s keep coming up with yet another Reality Show, it’s just cheaper to make. So, those guts are real intestine that come out of me when I fall from the truck, in Dead 7. One, maybe two takes and you’d better get your shot or they get mixed up with dirt. I really had to hit my mark then trust that Matt would catch me as I fell, while he was in the throws of discovering my ugly, gross, predicament. Did I mention no time for a rehearsal? It was 110 degrees, the flies where buzzing me and there was no trailer or shower standing by. Adult playtime at it’s finest!!!! If Garrett’s directing wasn’t concise, we’d be in big trouble with no fresh guts to slop around. Shows you how ineluctable and knowledgeable Garrett is with his vision. I’ve been lucky working with this new rising generation of gifted passionate artists.

Brian: Tanya Dempsey, another rising horror movie actress- is your co-star in Dead 7. I heard that she is a real sweetheart. Do you have any fond memories of working with her? (By the way, you two definitely steal the show with your mutual screen presences and committed performances.)

Janet: Tanya and I had a mutual, evil sense of humor, so no problem playing off each other. Tanya was very into it all and gave me lots to work off. I think you’re only as good as your partner in a scene. We would each come onto the set trying to out do each other with our white trash outfits and attitude. We did a lot of laughing between takes.

Brian: You were Alicia Silverstone’s body double in The Crush, one of my favorite little twisted thrillers. Did you have any contact with her or B-movie screen siren, Jennifer Ruben, who, also, appeared in that film?

Janet: My unadorned and chaste arse, did grace that movie. Thus I met and hung with Alicia on set. Alicia is a doll and a great actress. She was not yet emancipated, so they used me for her nekkid butt shot, walking down the hallway. Becoming the first time to bare my lilly white unspeakables to the lens. I also talked a bit with Cary who is more gorgeous in person and a class act. Didn’t end up meeting Jennifer, unfortunately.

Brian: You seem to have a "take it as it comes" attitude from previous interviews I have read. But, in those career introspective moments, do the ups and downs of someone like Silverstone’s career give you a hopeful pause? As in, "Hey, she’s been up and down and all around and still kicking. Maybe my time at the top-" whatever that may mean to you "-might come"?

Janet: “Take it as it flies or bring it on baby”, could be my motto. I’ve learned to go where life takes me and not fight it or try to force a direction you think it should be going instead of where it’s actually leading. The old Zen master is right in that it’s just not meant to be if it has to be forced. Life will show you why. I’m having a splendidly good time with where I’m at now. I think it shows by the jobs that just keep falling in my lap. It’s a nice place to be, knowing that you’ve gone down the road you were supposed to go because it’s all working so great. I’m peaceful, happy, and fulfilled in what I do. And best of all, I love what I do and do what I love. The super stardom and Life Magazine covers may come or it may not. I’m a private person so to be in a public profession can be hard for me. To not be able to walk down the street or have dinner out as a Jane Doe, would be a big trade off to the power you’d get from commercial success. I was watching Jerry Springer the other day on spouses that won’t get dressed during the day. Women who live in their pajamas. I laughed so hard, I fell on the floor, because that’s me. I’m a bit of a gym rat and keeping it all tight is important to me. It’s fun glamming it up to go to an audition or play a role. But cruising out in my boxer shorts and holy tee shirt to polish the chrome on my truck with zit cream on my cheek is back to the basics of life. The National Enquirer will have a field day with me when I become something they want to catch pictures of, all raggedy. Luckily it will end there, as my misbehaving days got worked out in high school. Well,,,,,, mostly???

Brian: It seems like you, also, worked with many of the Brain Damage people on Zombie Chronicles, also. How did you get involved with them? And * are there any funny stories about the making of that movie?

Janet: My good friend Garrett Clancy wrote the script for Zombie Chronicles then blackmailed Brad Sykes into using me as one of the leads. Later, Brad willingly used me in some of his other projects, as I love working with him. I’ve since blackmailed Garrett into using me in more of his movies. Then Dave Sterling the executive producer, stepped in and coerced me into doing more work with him and his company Sterling Entertainment. It’s all a twisted web I’ve woven with Brain Damage and Darren Ramage. I love working with them all and would happily do it again. I liken it to the early days with Roger Corman. There’s a quiet independent DV revolution going on here that brazenly floats under the big, Hollywood studio, radar. The likes of which we will not totally appreciate until years later. Just like the Corman flicks and their campy originality. I just met the good people from Full Moon Entertainment at the Fangoria convention and am doing my best to get into one of their projects. My evil web tendrils spawn deep, as the Janet Empire grows. Did I mention that I’m selling tee shirts for my Blood Babe, not your regular Martha Stewart action figure, online? Shamelessly promote, is the other thing I’m learning. Tho’ I try to remember humility, now that I’m a grown up.

Brian: What is it like being a part of a long running horror film series like the Witchcraft series? I think that it would be a hoot just to say that you were in Witchcraft 12! (Hell, I might just start saying that and see how far that gets me!!) Now Witchcraft 13 should be the creme da la creme. Don’t you think?

Janet: I did the Witchcraft series to work with Brad, more than anything. I really didn’t know much about the series or it’s legend. But because it’s not mainstream Hollywood, I remember this big casting director, whom shall remain anonymous, mock that there were so many when I went in for an audition with her, coming from the Witchcraft set. I get reminded of the pecking order of Hollywood once in a while, and it makes me smile. People are people wherever you go.

Brian: Speaking of more recent projects, you just worked with Mary Woronov in The Halfway House. Was she intimidating, at first? I once directed a Chicago theater diva in a professional production. She scared the shit out of me at first. But she turned out to be wonderful, eccentric and fun. Was your experience with Woronov similar?

Janet: Mary has a stone cold gaze that comes down at you, that I love. Strong women make me proud. And, of course, my first scene with her was a fight scene - so, thank goddess for that! But her still gorgeous, six foot frame is rather intimidating at first. Mary was down to earth and cool. She loves animals, and of course I brought my dog to the set most of the shoot days. She’d lay out on her lawn chair (she refused a trailer offer from Ken) and spoil my dog. Then when Kelsey bit Brad one night, she laughed and encouraged freedom for the animals. Yeah, those divas are the best, hu? I bought 5 of her books and had her bring them to the set to sign each one for me and some of my friends. 

Brian: The Halfway House seems to be your most challenging role to date. Has it been your favorite part so far or does that claim belong to another character? And - Do you have any clue as it when it will be released? I can’t wait to see it!

Janet: Ahhhh, so many movies so little time. That’s like asking me to pick my favorite sweets. Is it cookies or pie, cherries or blueberries? How could I choose? I love them all for their own uniqueness but I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into the next little delectable. We did pick up shots recently to tone it down for TV. And I believe they just did the official release date for this August to Blockbuster and beyond.

Brian: Lastly, do your have any projects coming down the pike that you would like us to know about or any parting words in general? And - thanks so much for your time. It’s truly been a thrill!

Janet: I will have all release dates and links posted on my web site janettracykeijser.com as well as I try to update and add appearances or bad girl photography. I’ve been working on an animated action Janet figure, aka Blood Babe as I mentioned. I have a couple friends who are very talented artists, Leah Biggs and Brain Lazar working on sketches. I’ve fallen in love with Japanese anime and have decided to teach myself Flash and some 3D Maya. I want to integrate it into animation that incorporates my photography. I’m sure it’s been done already, but I haven’t found any yet. I may be the pioneer. My primal painting urges have been taken over with photography and a mean computer addiction/fixation. I’m a total computer wannabe geek. I may be indoctrinated into full-fledged geek and don’t know it. The beginnings of Blood Babe can be found in an article I wrote for Independent Film Quarterly that was featured at the American Film Market in November. You can still order a copy online or pick one up at select magazine stands around the country. And of course you can now buy that tee shirt at my site or if you were at the Fangoria convention I was signing them. I may attend the Rue Morgue convention in Toronto. I don’t know yet as Mary and I will be signing covers at Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles the same month. Also in association with The Halfway House is Terror Cards. Yes, what fun, my own terror trading card of Larrissa Morgan the heroine who saves the damsel in distress and slays the woman eating beast in the basement of the Catholic Church. You can order those online at terrorcards.com or go threw my website. They are random, so you have to order a set to be sure of getting Larrisa. Some of the comic book stores are selling them, but call first because they were sold out when I went looking. Garrett Clancy’s Killer Story did the New York Independent Film Festival among others and should be released early next year. I play a desperate housewife who is blatantly fooling around on her husband who is a struggling writer. The nice Indie twist in this movie is I’m having an affair with a sexy and gorgeous woman named Doris, played by Calvi Morales-Pabon. This is the last castrating straw, to a tyranny of paybacks of giving up my life and career for his. He does get the last word, in the end. Garrett knows how to tell a great story and it was a really fun role for me. Joe Estevez and William Smith also star in this thriller.