I love the interviewing process. No, I should clarify — more than anything, I love the act of “pulling back the curtain,” so to speak, and learning what went on behind the scenes or in filmmaker’s heads in regards my favorite movies. And interviews are a great way to achieve that. And as for “my favorite movies”…you know me, readers. I go for the weird and old obscurities that maybe no one else cares about, the more esoteric, the more delight I feel in tracking them down and learning as much as I can — in essence, making them a part of me. And the Blood Sprayer not only allows my devotion to cinematic obscurities, but encourages it. Which brings us to today, and an interview with writer/director/sometimes-actor Greydon Clark, whose film career stretches for close to 40 years.
First of all, Mr. Clark, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to an interview with The Bloodsprayer. We’re not the biggest site out there, but we’re pretty fiercely loyal to the media we love and I think we have a greater love for some of the more obscure and unusual films out there than some of the bigger sites do.
Your film debut as an actor was 1969’s THE MIGHTY GORGA. What were your experiences like on the set?
Actually, the dates on pictures can be misleading – production verses distribution. My first acting job was working for Al Adamson on THE FAKERS – later to become HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS. I’d never been on a movie set before. I’d become friends with Al Adamson and he gave me a small role in that film. David Hewitt was preparing THE MIGHTY GORGA at the same sound stage where we were filming THE FAKERS. I met Dave and convinced him to give me the role of Anthony Eisley’s brother. I love the movie making process and give great thanks to the director’s I worked with in those early years.
And can you put my suspicions to rest – was there a full ape suit, or just a head, arms and chest?
Combinations of all three were used along with stop motion puppetry. Most of the gorilla was filmed after production. The actor’s were long gone. I continued to work with David Hewitt over the years as a special effects expert.
You worked with the notorious (some might say infamous) Al Adamson on SATAN’S SADISTS, HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS and DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. What was Adamson like to work with?
Al was an interesting fellow. He was the first to give me a break in show business. I learned a great deal from Al. He directed for many years and created a huge number of films. I worked with him for just a few years at the very beginning of my career. We lost contact with one another over the years. I was shocked and saddened at his brutal murder.
In 1973, you wrote (with Alvin Fast), directed, and starred in JOE, aka THE BAD BUNCH, a blaxploitation film dealing with Vietnam and race issues in America. How did that film come about? What inspired its creation?
Actually, the alternate title was TOM. I have always been very interested and active in politics. Unlike most in Southwest Michigan where I was raised I was a strong supporter of liberal causes. The civil rights struggles of the 1950’s and 60’s dominated the news when I was in school. One of the proudest moments of my life was in the fall of 1963 when I participated in a parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King in South Bend, Indiana. Friends of mine asked, “How could I do that?” My response, “How could you not?” When I began to make films my personal views of life became part of my movies. In the fall of 1972 I was able to make “The Bad Bunch”. “The Bad Bunch” is a very explosive, political film with offensive situations and dialogue. It is a sincere look at the times during which it was made and a sincere desire to expose conditions and a plea to make them better.
You followed THE BAD BUNCH with BLACK SHAMPOO, a film about a hairstylist who is something of a male prostitute and who gets tangled up with gangsters. What inspired this film?
My previous picture, “The Bad Bunch”, was quite successful. This was the era of Blaxsploitation pictures. I wanted to do another picture that would appeal to a similar audience. However, I did not want to make a film using a pimp, cop, detective, or gang member as the lead. I wanted to have the African American in the lead to be a successful Beverly Hills businessman. Warren Beatty, a film maker I greatly admire, was making “Shampoo” and I thought I’d capitalize on the publicity his film was bound to generate. I combined the Blaxsploitation genre with Beatty’s film.
It seems like the 1970s were the time for Satanist movies – was SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS a cashing-in on this trend?
I got the idea to combine the two genres – horror movies with cheerleader movies in 1976. I’d had some success with “Black Shampoo” and was able to raise production funds for my next film. The “Exorcist” and a whole group of cheerleader movies were hot at the time. My first thought is always toward comedy and it seemed that I could make a low budget picture with my tongue firmly in my cheek that might appeal to lovers of both genres. The appeal of cheerleaders seems natural to me. Who among us did not fantasize about cheerleaders when we were in school and some long after graduation? The picture works pretty well on both levels, but like all my pictures I see countless mistakes… I’d love to do them all again.
With THE RETURN and WITHOUT WARNING, you entered the 1980s with a turn towards science fiction. Was this a conscious decision, or a case of things just turning out that way?
Mike Macfarland, a good friend who I’d worked with on “Satan’s Cheerleaders” and “Hi Riders”, was developing “Without Warning”. He decided not to proceed with the project and suggested I take a look at the script. I liked it, but felt it was not quite right. The concept of the Alien hunter coming to this world to hunt humans was interesting. At that time the Alien used a bow and arrow. I came up with the idea to have the hunter use the live little “Frisbees” to hunt his prey. With that I decided to move forward with the film. I’d worked with Jack Palance on “Angels Brigade”. I got him the script and he agreed to do “Without Warning”. I saw Martin Landau interviewed on a cable access show and thought he’d be perfect for Sergeant Fred Dobbs – I often named characters after ones in my favorite movies. You decide where Fred C. Dobbs comes from. Both veteran actors were wonderful to work with. Experienced actors are usually easy to direct. You say a few words to them and they understand immediately. I had Cameron Mitchell for one day… actually a half day. The Larry Storch character was filmed in the same day. Both guys were eager to help and get the scene.
With JOYSTICKS you explored the 1980s raunchy sex comedy and also looked at the growing trend in video games. What were your experiences like on the set?
I was in San Antonio, Texas attending a “sneak preview” of “Wacko” when the idea for “Joysticks” came to me. I saw a group of young people standing in line to play a video arcade game in the lobby of the theatre. It was the first video arcade game I’d seen and I realized I could create a movie based around an arcade. Most of my movies come from an idea that somehow snuck into my consciousness. Often I’d have an idea, work on it for a few months find it didn’t work and walk away from it. Sometimes the story would work out and I’d be able to raise the financing and make the movie. We had difficulty finding an arcade to film in. They were doing big business and wouldn’t close for us to film. Eventually, I had to create the arcade on the sound stage. During filming the cast and crew would be playing the games between takes. Even sometimes the director had to be pulled away from a game.
FINAL JUSTICE features a Texas lawman escorting prisoners to Italy, with a largely Italian cast and shot in Malta. Was that your first international film? How did shooting overseas compare to working in America?
I’ve found that the crews whether in Los Angeles, Europe, or Russia have one thing in common; they all want to make the best film possible. Making a low budget film can be stressful on all involved; long hours and fast paced. I was lucky to have Nick Von Sternberg, my long time director of photography, with me in Malta. Nick worked smoothly with the Maltese crew.
You wrote and directed THE UNINVITED, a film about a mutant cat hiding inside another cat. What can you tell me about your experiences making that film?
Malta has a famous water tank used for filming. When I was there making FINAL JUSTICE I conceived the idea of using it for a film. I returned to Los Angeles and began writing UNINVITED. After finishing the script I returned to Malta to begin looking for locations. However, I was unable to find a boat. I came back to LA and looked into actually filming on the water. I’d heard horror stories of how difficult it would be to film in the ocean. I was lucky to come across an available boat and decided to go ahead. Each morning we would meet in the seaport of San Pedro, Ca and head out in the Pacific to film. It was difficult and several of the crew and actors would become sea sick. The first day I told the Capitan to head out to sea so we could not see land. After filming all day I went to him and asked him how long it would take to get back to port. I thought he’d say a half an hour or so…. It took almost two hours. He’d headed straight west and kept going. The following days I had him go out a few miles and turn in slow circles. I’ve enjoyed making all my films. Each has its fond memories. UNINVITED is one of the more memorable ones.
Clu Galager appeared in THE UNINVITED. I’ve heard from some of his costars that on the set of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, he had difficulty with his lines. Any difficulties with that on THE UNINVITED?
Clu was great to work with; very inventive and prepared. I’ve been very lucky on my films. I’ve never had problems with actors. Clu was spot on in all details.
You’ve worked with some big stars – John Carradine, Neville Brand, Raymond Burr, Joe Don Baker and George Kennedy, just to name a few. What was it like working with them? John Carradine especially, I’d imagine, would be a font of stories of classic Hollywood.
When you have a short shooting schedule – two weeks on SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS – one day with John Carradine – there’s little time to listen to stories. I wish I had more time on each of my films. John showed up on the set very prepared and eager to help me anyway he could. These guys are professional – a pleasure to work with.
You’ll be appearing at Horrorhound Weekend convention March 25th-27th, 2011 in Indianapolis. Have convention screenings and appearances introduced your work to a new generation of fans, do you think?
I enjoy conventions. It’s a chance to meet fans – old and new. I like saying hello and answering questions they may have.
Mr. Clark, I’d like to thank you again for agreeing to this interview. We’re big fans here at The Blood Sprayer and really appreciate it.
I have to admit, interviewing someone with a filmography as long as Greydon Clark’s is something of an intimidating task. I don’t want to bog an interviewee down with too many questions, but at the same time, I want to be able to try and cover as much of their body of work as possible. A challenging little conundrum. If you think I missed anything major, feel free to head down to Horrorhound Weekend in Indianapolis between March 25th and March 27th, 2011 and ask Mr. Clark yourself!