Gavin Schmitt Interviews Caroline Williams
Caroline Williams needs no introduction. She has been identified as a horror “iconess” (which is probably not even a real word), and indeed she is one of the few who could really wear such a badge without debate. Beyond being a “scream queen”, she has been a champion of the horror genre for three decades (and counting). Although perhaps best known for playing “Stretch” in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise, she has made many other appearances as well ,working with such current notables as Rob Zombie and Adam Green.
On July 26, 2017, Caroline was gracious enough to chat with me about her latest film, “Blood Feast”. (affiliate link) If that title sounds familiar, it is probably because it is the horror classic best associated with Herschell Gordon Lewis (whom Caroline calls “Heshy”). This new film is an authorized remake of the 1963 film, going above and beyond even what the Godfather of Gore could have imagined. Without further ado…
GS: So, last night was the red carpet premiere. How did it go?
CW: We had our red carpet release… though we ran into a bit of trouble with the MPAA. That trouble is going to delay the wider, public release. Originally we had a deal with Regal Cinemas and they gave us a very heavy commitment. I believe it was 500 theaters, though I’m not positive. Anyway, it was a considerable commitment, especially for a horror film. Director Marcel Walz had already edited the film three times to bring the film into conformity with Regal standards. But even after that, the MPAA gave us five pages of proposed edits. It might as well have been a phone book! Regal basically lost their exclusive because of it. I’m not sure where that leaves us, but according to Eric Parkinson (the distributor) there have already been multiple offers from theater chains to book the NC-17 version. I’ve been in an NC-17 film before, and it did really well in 1986! [Editor’s note: Caroline is, of course, referring to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”. In fact, the film was given the dreaded X rating because NC-17 was not yet created.]
I give Eric Parkinson a lot of credit for having Marcel Walz’s back and believing in our film. Eric’s one hell of a guy. He has brass balls. They love our film, and it operates on so many levels. The premiere last night was primarily “industry” people, but they loved it and gave us positive reviews. What, I’m sure, will be the first of many. We’re all really high on it. I think the film is going to get a wide release under NC-17. You don’t see many horror film of any rating get wide release unless they’re Blumhouse, Dark Sky or Lionsgate. I’m fairly positive that our distributor, Hannover House, is going to be competitive with those bigger distributors.
GS: (sarcastic) Without giving too much away, what could possibly be objectionable to the MPAA?
CW: (laughs) Oh, the MPAA! This is just my personal belief and it may or may not be true. The MPAA has always been very, very harsh with horror. They do not like horror. It’s a taste thing. It’s a class thing. And they just don’t like us. Marcel is basically known for going over the edge, and making very experimental films, quite frankly. If you want to get an idea of his work, watch “La Petite Mort” (2009). It was shot in a Berlin sex club, so it will give you an idea about where Marcel likes to go. Five pages of edits is not something I’ve ever even heard of. We watched the uncut version last night, and there were maybe a dozen moments where I nodded my head and thought, yeah, this might be something the MPAA would want cut to achieve an R.
But if I compare “Blood Feast” (affiliate link) to the “Saw” films or “Final Destination”, I think the MPAA was really targeting the sexuality more than the gore. Marcel dives into sexual themes with enthusiasm. That is probably where the MPAA freaked out. It is, as the title says, a blood feast. You can’t have a blood feast without blood and the feast. Fans are expecting it. They know what Heshy’s movie was like in 1963 and they want to see it exponentially brought up to 2017. I actually had a couple people from the premiere last night text me this morning and say they were going to see it in the theater just to support it financially. I’m excited, can you tell? The MPAA is a recurring factor in the horror world. When Adam Green was making his “Hatchet” (affiliate link) series, he had to fight like a son of a bitch. That’s a story in itself – the MPAA and horror.
The other thing I think people will appreciate is that there aren’t just characters but relationships and storylines. There are people living their lives in the center of the blood feast. There is a wonderful group of European actors on this film. We have French, German, English, Austrian… and our illustrious Australian beauty, Sophie Monk, whom we all adored. The sound design is epic. The technical aspects are superb and professional in every way. The music and score are terrific. Robert Rusler is the monster man at the center of the film. He has to pull this shit off, and he does it in high style. I think the film delivers an 80s style that has definitely come roaring back. Great practical effects from Ryan and Megan Nicholson.
GS: I’m a long-time Ryan Nicholson fan. That makes me more excited…
CW: Yeah, I just can’t say enough about how wonderful he and Megan were. They brought buckets and buckets and truckloads of blood. The guy’s artistry hearkens back to Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Rick Baker, Dick Smith and all those guys. Ryan has all the best of special effects artistry. It’s a skill and an art, and they bring it with this movie.
GS: With Robert Rusler leading the way, I’m curious on the tone. I think his strength is really in his sense of humor. Does he bring the scares, too?
CW: That’s one of the great freedoms we got from Marcel. There are some humorous, campy, fun moments that punctuate the action. It doesn’t take away from the movie, but actually adds. I think people were pleasantly surprised with how much subversive humor they got out of the film last night. I think the humor enhances the movie.
An interesting note about Robert. I had been in “Tales of Halloween” (affiliate link) (2015) with him. Marcel was in negotiations with another actor to play the lead, but they ran into problems with that actor’s management. Marcel called me up and he said, “We’re only a couple weeks out from shooting. We need our lead. Do you know anyone?” And I had such a great time with Robert. He’s a one-man band. He’s such a pro. He gives himself over to the experience completely. So, of course, I thought of Robert immediately. Also, it’s good casting because Fuad Ramses is part Egyptian. I don’t think Robert is Egyptian, but he does have a darker complexion and he has a darkness deep within when he needs it. So Marcel called Robert and next thing you know we were on a plane to Europe. And what a joy. I would shoot with Robert any time.
GS: Robert plays the lead. You also play a member of the Ramses family, yes?
CW: Yes. My role was not in the original film. The writers identified a family who experience the degradation of Fuad Ramses. Much of the film is really from the point of view of his wife and his daughter, which would be me and Sophie Monk. She’s incredibly remarkable, by the way, and was so much fun to work with. The addition of the family gives a better vehicle, a better form for experiencing the story over the two hours of “Blood Feast”. (affiliate link)
GS: As part of the film’s media blitz, they’ve identified you as a horror icon, or “iconess” in their words. Is that something you’ve embraced?
CW: You know, I call it fan shorthand. I am very firmly established within the genre. Although I’ve done television and big studio films, creating a broad diversity of work… I keep coming back to horror. Tobe Hooper said that horror is simply the new western. It’s the only genre that openly, honestly tackles the idea of good and evil within the human soul or its place within the wider world. That’s the source of every mythology than humankind has ever invented. And I’m proud to be a part of that. People can call me anything they want. I live out my work scene by scene, moment by moment. I get to do a lot of action. I get to tackle psychological themes that you only find in the horror genre. I’d say you wouldn’t find such things on TV, but actually now you do. Horror has influenced every part of our culture.
GS: The marginal has become the mainstream.
CW: Yeah. There’s horror in metal. Ghost. Wednesday 13. Gwar. Slipknot. Horror is expanding and influencing culture. Some people might still have a tough time with horror, but ultimately they will come around to us and understand and experience what we are all about. I don’t mind being a part of that.
GS: Obviously, the original “Blood Feast” is a classic in its own way. Are there any winks or nods in your film to honor the older version?
CW: Herschell Gordon Lewis gave his personal permission to Marcel Walz to re-imagine “Blood Feast” (affiliate link) for the present day. Heshy makes a cameo in the film and it was the last thing he ever did just before he turned 101. [Editor’s note: Lewis was 90, not 101. Caroline is being hyperbolic.]
He passed before he could see the film, but I think he’d be pleased. His presence in the film is so warm, and he had a real belief in Marcel and in us for what we hoped to accomplish. It’s an homage to him and his creative life, and all that he accomplished. He was there at the very beginning. “Blood Feast” wasn’t just before “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, it was before “Night of the Living Dead”. (affiliate link) He’s the real father of modern American horror. Fans are going to come away with a very warm feeling. It’s one of the brighter and more amusing parts of the film.
GS: Caroline, I appreciate your time and your enthusiasm. Looking forward to this movie!
CW: Thank you, Gavin. We’ll be talking again soon, because it’s almost time to promote the next film… “Greenlight”! (affiliate link)