Hall of Infamy: A Talk With Kenneth Hall by Owen Keehnen

Kenneth Hall has worn many hats in the independent horror film business. He has written, directed, produced, acted, done FX, and worked as a make-up artist. Some of his better known endeavors include the writing the scripts for such films as ‘The Clown at Midnight’, ‘The Tomb’, ‘Die Watching’, ‘Dr. Alien’, ‘Terror Night’, and ‘Nightmare Sisters’. He wrote the original script for the ‘Puppet Master’ for Charles Band’s Full Moon, thereby creating the seed of that prolific film series. He was the writer/director of the cult favorite ‘Evil Spawn’ as well as ‘Ghost Writer’ (with the Landers sisters!). He has numerous credits on the FX side of things -- he was effects coordinator for ‘Tales from the Hood’, he created the ‘Carnosaur’, the octopus prop from Tim Burton’s ‘Ed Wood’, and was even responsible for the killer snowman ‘Jack Frost’. His expertise in the field of special effects led to the creation of his own company in 1995 called Total Fabrication. Another credit, which seals his place as a genre fave, was as executive producer/writer/director of ‘Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout’. His latest opus looks to be his horror masterpiece. He has written/directed/and produced ‘The Halfway House’. Hall describes it as “A homage to the horror/exploitation films of the 60s and 70s that still delivers large doses of sex, violence, and creature effects”. It stars Mary Woronov as Sister Cecilia, a crazed nun with a unique ways of dealing with wayward girls – which sounds like a shoo-in for cult status to me. The film also stars Racks and Razors favorites Janet Tracy Keijser and Athena Demos. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Hall about his fascinating career as well as his newest project ‘The Halfway House’.



  Owen: Your latest project 'The Halfway House' sounds awesome.  All you needed to hook me were those magic words, "Mary Woronov as a crazed nun".  How did the project come about?

Kenneth: I really hope everyone will respond to it that way.  I had taken a vacation from screenwriting and an even longer one from directing.  I always planned to return to it if I could finance it myself.  The recent innovations in digital technology made it possible to do so.  I knew if I agonized too long over what would be the perfect comeback project, I’d never get it written.  So, I started with a simple concept I had many years ago called GUT-EATING MONSTERS FROM HELL and it grew from that.  Originally, it didn’t have religious angle but I wanted it to have some edgy, controversial elements.  I also knew too many directors had already pushed the envelope with violence and gore (even though it has its fair share) so I decided to go more extreme with the sex and nudity.  I think it’s the only horror film coming out this year to have an interracial lesbian-fisting scene.

Owen: You've been quite critical in the past of having your work and vision compromised.  Were the multi-hats of producer/director/writer so you would have the utmost control over the project as you saw it?

Kenneth: Yes, that was the reason I the reason I hadn’t made a movie for so long.  It’s one thing if they don’t listen to you and the movie doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to.  It’s another thing when they don’t and the movie virtually goes unseen.  The reason I had to finance it myself is I didn’t have enough of a “track record” after all those years to get outside funding.  So, this was truly a case of me putting my money where my mouth was.  It’s the first feature produced by my own company, written and directed by me... with no one else telling me what to do.  From the critical response and the DVD deal I got, it looks like it’s going to pay off.  I already have people interested in financing my next project.

Owen: Did your Catholic background make writing and filming this extra fun?

Kenneth: Yes, it did.  Some people will no doubt misunderstand and think I have an axe to grind against the Church.  Though I don’t practice any religion these days (unless you count hedonism), I have mostly fond memories of going to Catholic school.  All the ritualism was very theatrical.  I certainly don’t condone all the priest molestation I read about but that has nothing to do with my personal experience.  I just believe that nothing is sacred when it comes to satire.

Owen: Is Mary Woronov as formidable a presence off screen as she is before the cameras?

Kenneth: Mary does come off as intimidating to people meeting her for the first but we hit it off right away.  She is very wary of people as a whole but when she gets to know you, she is a hell of a lot of fun.  I just went out for sushi with her last week!  She’s extremely intelligent and has a good grasp on her status as a cult icon.  She’s also a true professional.  I could not have asked for a better star for my film.  What a pleasure to work with!

Owen: What inspired you to form your own production company BV Entertainment?  And what sort of goals and direction do you hope to see the company take?

Kenneth: Apart from the reasons I mentioned before, I have never been happy with the quality of the B movies that have been made in the 25 years I’ve been in Hollywood.  There has been nothing like HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, (the original) PIRANHA, or ROCK N’ROLL HIGH SCHOOL.  There certainly isn’t anything like the old AIP or Hammer films that I grew up with!  The down side of digital video enabling films to be made cheaper for the direct-to-DVD market is the quality is getting even worse.  I hope the care I put into THE HALFWAY HOUSE and all the future films I intend to make will be recognized by the fans and make a difference.  The new label I’ve created “The Fright Film Factory” will hopefully become a brand name in the genre that viewers will seek out.

Owen: Tell me about your directing debut with 'Evil Spawn'.

Kenneth: God, I’ve probably said more about that over the years than I probably should have.  I was brought in by Fred Olen Ray to finish a movie he had shot one day on.  There was no script so I had to write one around a handful of scenes and some existing John Carradine footage he had.  It had some horrible technical problems that were largely due to poor producing but with the limited resources I had, I still managed to cram in a lot of effects and nudity.  I am always surprised how many people regard that film fondly.

Owen: Was 'Nightmare Sisters' as much fun to make as it looks?

Kenneth: That was a lot of fun.  I had been friends with Dave DeCoteau for some time but it was the first picture we did together.  His original idea was called SORORITY SUCCUBUS SISTERS and it was to star Brinke, Linnea, and Michelle (who he’d worked with before) as girls who get possessed by demons and go around orally castrating guys!  I always thought oral castration was a real knee-slapper so I wrote the script in 7 days.  It was pre-produced in 11 and shot in 4!  I came up with the idea of having the girls start out as nerds.  As associate producer, I wore many hats and one of them was coming up with a way to make these three sexy scream queens look unattractive.   I also built and puppeteered the succubus.  I did the voice and Linnea played its hands.  I knew Dukey Flyswatter had a prop replica of his own head, which he used in his band, the Haunted Garage.  So, I conveniently wrote in his decapitation and David later had them record a number of songs for the film.  

Owen: You were rather closely associated with Charles Band and Full Moon Pictures for a bit.  How did that professional union come about?

Kenneth: I got involved with them when they were still Empire Pictures.  My first meeting with Charlie was as a writer on a fix-up for CEMETERY HIGH.  Dave DeCoteau had hired me to do the script for DR. ALIEN (aka I WAS A TEENAGE SEX MUTANT), which went over big with their head of development and this was my next assignment.  My problem was coming up with something to make a film that had no sex or violence in it work.  My solution was to add a gimmick and pitched the idea of the “Gore Gong” and the “Hooter Honk” as a humorous warning against the shocking content that didn’t really exist.  (I borrowed the idea from CHAMBER OF HORRORS, an old movie that featured a “Fear Flasher” and “Horror Horn”)  Charlie loved the concept and the meeting was over within minutes.

Owen: Where did you get the idea for your original script of 'Puppet Master'?

Kenneth: The title was Charlie’s but it was supposed to be a rehash of GHOULIES and DOLLS.  I came up with the origin and tried to make it something more original.  A lot of my script got toned down and other things were cut for budgetary reasons, including a couple of the puppets.  Six-Shooter and Cyclops were in my first draft but didn’t turn up until the sequels.

Owen: I really enjoyed 'The Clown at Midnight' as well.  A very satisfying film.  Were you happy with the finished product?  If you could have done something differently what would it have been?

Kenneth: I thought the picture looked very good.  It had a wonderful cast and great production values.  If I could change anything, I would have directed it myself and made it scary.  I was originally supposed to but it was financed as a Canadian content picture, which precluded me from doing it.  The rest of the crew was great but the director had no experience making a horror film, which shows.  I also would not have sold the picture to Artisan, who dumped it out on VHS only with no fanfare and never sold it to cable.  No wonder they got bought out by Lion’s Gate.

Owen: You have also done make-up effects on several films and been responsible for several film creatures.  How did you go about making the creature for 'Carnosaur'?

Kenneth: I’ve done creature effects on dozens of movies and TV shows.  That’s how I got started in Hollywood and I opened my own company, Total Fabrication, in 1995 when I took time off from being a filmmaker.  I had been the shop supervisor at John Buechler’s effects shop in the past and was asked back to help them on some dinosaur suits for that movie.  I have a technique of fabricating dimensional objects by cutting and gluing pieces of flat sheet foam.  It’s not something I originated.  It was used by the Kroffts and the Muppets to make cartoony characters and the Japanese on the early Godzilla movies.  Not many people know how to do it and it usually isn’t used to make realistic creatures.  Once I was there, John confided in me he had promised Roger Corman he would make a 16-foot T-Rex.   Sculpting and molding something that large on the tight budget and schedule was out of the question so he asked me if it was possible to fabricate it.  I knew it was theoretically possible but I had never made anything that big!  I managed to pull it off in about 6 weeks with the help off a talented mechanical engineer named John Crawford.  Corman beamed when he first laid eyes on it and personally thanked me for the good work.  He’s used that dinosaur now in 4 or 5 films!  I have since used refinements of the same process to make other large creatures, including the octopus prop from Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, the giant crocodile from BLOOD SURF, and, recently, Yog Sothoth, the tentacles Lovecraftian monster from THE HALFWAY HOUSE.

Owen: Tell me about your upcoming project 'Preggers'.

Kenneth: It’s going to be a horror film that really delivers!  At least, I hope it will be. Actually, I won’t be doing that one until next year sometime.  The reason is my writing partner on it has been busy with other things, which have delayed the script.  I just completed the first draft for a new project.  I’m not saying what the title is yet but I can tell you it’s a sci-fi/action/horror.  I hope to get it into production this fall.

Owen: What's something that makes you scream in real life?

Kenneth: LA drivers!  For real!  If you’ve ever driven here, you know I speak the truth. That’s really an interesting question since I don’t think many people ever find themselves in real-life situations that frighten them enough to make them scream.  Even things like thrill rides and spook houses don’t qualify because there isn’t any real danger there.  Which is okay by me.  There is a lot of real danger out there in the world but I prefer my scares to be safe ones, like the kind you get in a good horror movie.