Terry gets the scoop from author David Grove about his latest book On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th and his book Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen
Terry Wickham: Where and when did you first see John Carpenter’s Halloween?
David Grove: I first saw Halloween on Halloween night 1984, when I was eleven years old. I returned home from trick r’ treating and caught the ending of the film – just the last ten minutes or so, which I recorded on the old Beta machine we kept upstairs. That was significant because recording horror films off television was something I did throughout the eighties, creating my own little video store of Beta tapes, which I watched over and over again. Those memories, and films, burn themselves into you. You can’t forget them, but what’s really weird about those kinds of memories – and this has to do with everything in life – is that they always seem like they just happened yesterday. They still seem so real, even as years and decades go by.
To finish answering your question, I saw the entire film – Halloween – soon after, in 1985, and watched it over and over again, particularly throughout junior high, through the end of the eighties.
“The Boogeyman”, Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween
TW: What kind of lasting affect did Halloween have on you? I distinctly remember playing baseball with a friend the next day and just couldn’t get the images of Michael Myers out of my head.
DG: You know, it didn’t have the psychic effect that Friday the 13th had had on me years earlier. Halloween was the first horror film I saw from an artistic point of view, in terms of actual technique and strategy being employed to create a truly powerful experience. I used to read movie guides all the time, before I’d seen most of the movies. Horror movies carried such a taboo growing up, and watching an R rated movie, either at home or in a theater, was a badge of honor. I remember reading reviews of Halloween and being struck by the level of critical acclaim it received and I was blown away that a horror film could be considered so “good” in a critical sense. Likewise, my appreciation of Halloween deepened in comparison to the gore-filed Halloween II (don’t get me wrong, I watched Halloween II countless times as well – throughout senior high even), which was seen as a “fall from greatness” compared to the first film. My reaction was like, “Okay, why is Halloween seen as this masterpiece while Halloween II is regarded as being a gore-filled, uninspired sequel.” I was intrigued by this, on a critical level. What is suspense, and how is it created?
TW: The time period you focus on in your book where Jamie Lee Curtis made all those horror films was special. I remember that time with great fondness. We’ve never experienced anything like that with an actress the same. Why do you think we haven’t?
Laurie Strode spots “The Boogeyman” in Halloween
DG: I don’t think the climate’s ever been the same as it was during that golden period between 1978 and 1981 to allow an actress to assume that mantle again, but I also think Jamie was special and no one else has ever matched her, in terms of the qualities she brought to the horror genre, and what she meant – and continues to mean – to the genre. Halloween was a classic that – along with the success of Friday the 13th – brought the horror and slasher genres into mainstream Hollywood, and as the star of Halloween, Jamie became the flag-bearer for the genre in that time period. Halloween is the most highly-regarded genre film since the mid 1970s, certainly by me, and as the star of that film – as the scream queen – Jamie really set a standard, but she also crossed the entire trajectory between 1978 and 1981, starring in slasher staples – and blatant Halloween knockoffs – like Prom Night and Terror Train, being the “star” of the most productive period in John Carpenter’s career – with her roles in Halloween and The Fog – and really closing out the era with Halloween II, just as she walked away from the scream queen title and moved onto other roles.
I refer to the period between 1978 and 1981 as a “golden age” because, for someone my age, the genre films made during that period serve as the benchmark for everything that’s happened in my life as a moviegoer. That’s true for many people, judging from all of the remakes of those films.
TW: What was your favorite Jamie Lee Curtis film post Halloween (of course I’m referring to her genre films) and why?
DG: Wow. That’s a tough question. Jamie’s worked in almost every genre and proved herself capable in all of them, but she’s only been in one truly great film and that’s Halloween. I don’t like most of the horror films she did after Halloween, even though I find them endlessly fascinating as a journalist in terms of her career and the context they fit into. I loved her performance in Blue Steel, but I had mixed feelings about the movie overall.
TW: Where and when did you first see Friday The 13th? It obviously left an impression on you, talk about it.
DG: I saw Friday the 13th at home on television when I was about eight and, yes, it had a huge effect on me. I’ve never been so scared watching a film since. I remember the sequence near the end of the film where Alice is back in the main cabin, after discovering Bill, and then the bodies start flying out at her (Brenda and Steve) and you don’t know where – or who – the killer is, and she’s trying to hide and barricade herself, and it’s just pure terror.
Bill (Harry Crosby) in Friday The 13th
TW: I’ve got my own thoughts but why do you think the remakes of Halloween & Friday The 13th were so bad (I don’t think they should have even been made) in comparison to the originals?
DG: I don’t think they were remakes. Halloween was a Rob Zombie film – in the worst sense – and was full of his own peculiar touches, and it was padded with back-story that only serves to demystify the legend, and the Michael Myers character. The 2009 version of Friday the 13th isn’t a remake of the 1980 film, but rather similar to the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, in terms of style, tone and execution.
TW: Pinpoint the Top-5 things about Friday The 13th that make it the classic that it is.
Tom Savini’s Special-Make-up Effects stood out in Friday The 13th
DG: The unseen identity of the killer. The concept of such gruesome bloodshed set against such a remote, apple pie setting. Tom Savini’s effects and the way they were executed. Betsy Palmer’s appearance and her terrifying performance. The lake scene at the end.
This scene made many, including this writer, to jump out of their chair in Friday The 13th
TW: I never read your previous book about Friday The 13th that was published by Fab Press. What’s the difference between On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday The 13th versus that book? Is it possible for me to get a copy of that first book to review?
DG: The first book covered the entire series (and the TV series) with about a quarter devoted to the first film. The new book is full of new information about the first film – and the planning and the people involved with the film – as well as lots of new information about old information, such as the casting, financing, what went on in Blairstown, and especially the people. I have one pristine copy left and they’ve become collector items, having sold out completely, and they’re expensive. Maybe someone will reprint it one day. I’m flattered that the first film has become a classic film book for fans, but I know On Location in Blairstown will that take to a completely different level. This book takes the reader back in 1979 – before, during and after the making of the film.
TW: Have you ever visited Blairstown, NJ and Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco? I had the chance about ten years ago and really enjoyed seeing those locations in person. It wasn’t easy getting clearance from the Boy Scouts of America but I eventually got the Ok.
Sign to Camp Crystal Lake (actual location Camp-No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey) in Friday The 13th
DG: No, I haven’t, and I heard they don’t welcome unwanted visitors. In the book, I relied on the memories of the cast and crew, as well as pictures (including pictures taken in 1979) from visitors. I’d like to go there. They requested a book.
TW: How’d you like the character (Elizabeth Solley) that Jamie Lee played in The Fog? It’s one of my friend’s favorite parts she’s done. He told me he wished he could find a girlfriend like that character.
DG: I found out way too much about Jamie’s films, and her work in the films, to be able to simply watch and enjoy the films anymore. Her role, much like her mother’s role in the film, was really a patchwork on the part of Carpenter and Hill, just so they could squeeze Jamie and her mother into the film. I like her too, but I don’t think there’s much of a role there. I’ve always felt The Fog plays much better on television, a format in which the film’s flaws are less apparent.
Left to right: Adrienne Barbeau, John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh on the set of The Fog
TW: Do you ever wish that John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Jamie Lee Curtis would have made more films together?
DG: Yes, absolutely, and I really got into that in the book. Carpenter and Hill were like surrogate parents to Jamie – career-wise – and they had a special bond, although they weren’t joined at the hip or anything like that. I don’t think either Jamie or John ever imagined that they’d never work together again, as director and actress, but they went their separate ways, as did Debra Hill. I don’t think Carpenter was ever the same again. The success of The Fog and Escape from New York seemed to foretell mainstream Hollywood success for Carpenter in the big studio system, but it was a nightmare for him, while everyone around him – everyone who started out with him – seemingly went onto bigger and better things, including Jamie. Carpenter and Hill needed Jamie in that early period, but there came a point where Jamie didn’t need them anymore.
The unbeatable team of Debra Hill and John Carpenter
TW: It’s a real shame that Dimension didn’t pony up enough money to have those three work together on Halloween H20. They were a winning combination together and I can only imagine the film we might have got out of the situation. I actually liked the job Steve Miner on that film, but would have preferred the original people again. How do you feel about it?
DG: I didn’t like the film, but it was harmless, and I think Jamie deserves credit for putting the pieces of that project together and making it a financial success, at least.
TW: What made you want to write another book on Friday The 13th? Were you unsatisfied with your first attempt? Did you uncover more information after the first book was published? I believe Crystal Lake Memories came out after your first book was published, right?
DG: I liked the idea of writing a book on the making of a single film and since I’ve spent over a decade covering Friday the 13th, it seemed like the perfect choice – if I had enough new information, which I quickly discovered I did. If that hadn’t been the case, I wouldn’t have finished the book. I was unsatisfied with the first book only in the sense that I have no real passion for any of the films except the first one, which I felt warranted a book of its own. I think even the most diehard fans of the film – and the readers of my first book – will be surprised by this new book, and they’ll enjoy it very much.
Crew of Friday The 13th, DP Barry Abrams front bottom left & Director Sean S. Cunningham center in white shirt
TW: Do you have that big Friday The 13th soundtrack box set that was released a few years back? I really wanted a copy of that but it was sold out too fast.
DG: No, but I desperately wanted a copy of the sheet music to put in the appendix section of my book, and it was simply unavailable. There’s a detailed section on the music in the book, including the “Sail Away, Tiny Sparrow” song, which is so disarming to hear in the film.
TW: Before you found out what Harry Manfredini’s echoed voice said in Friday The 13th, what did you think it said? I always thought it was saying “Get Out.”
DG: When I was a kid, I thought it was ha-ha-ha.
TW: What are your favorite Jamie Lee Curtis moments/scenes in the following movies and why?
DG: One favorite moment is when Laurie and Annie are driving in the car and Laurie mentions her crush on Ben Tramer, and just the scared, nervous look on her face. A second moment is when Laurie walks out of the kitchen with the pumpkin and then she just flops down on the couch, as if she’s exhausted from running around with the kids and just needs a rest. She has your sympathy.
Jamie Lee Curtis & Tom Atkins in John Carpenter’s The Fog
DG: I like the banter between Jamie and Tom Atkins when he picks her up. I like it when she asks him, “Are you weird?”
DG: I like the trembling emotion she shows at the end of the film when she’s looking down at her dead brother.
Kenny Hampson (Derek McKinnon) and Alana Maxwell (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Terror Train
DG: I like the moment at the end when Kenny forces Alana to kiss him and just the disgusted, snarled expression on Jamie’s face when he pulls away from her. It plays into Jamie’s own androgynous sex appeal.
DG: Jamie doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the film, so I’d say the dialogue between her and Stacy Keach. I thought they had good chemistry together, not in a romantic sense, but a comic sense.
DG: Jamie probably says less than 100 words in that film. I’d say the scene where she shoots Michael in the eyes.
Laurie Strode defends herself against Michael Myers in Halloween II
DG: There’s one moment in the film where Laurie references her murdered friends and that was the only moment in the film where I felt a connection between H20 and the first film.
TW: If you could have had your choice, which story direction would you have taken Laurie Strode in Halloween II? It’s pretty much agreed that she was kind of wasted in Halloween II confined to a hospital bed, though I still like the film.
DG: Wow. I would’ve liked to have seen Laurie become a psychiatrist – to take over the Sam Loomis role – and either be confronted by Michael Myers, or another child in Haddonfield who is, in essence, the reincarnation of Michael Myers and the evil he represents.
“The Boogeyman” comes out of nowhere to get Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween
TW: In my opinion, Terror Train is one of the Top-10 Slashers of All-time. Claustrophobic train setting, the opening scene is terrific. Jamie Lee looks great and David Copperfield brought a mysterious touch to the table. How would you comparably rate it?
DG: I loved that movie as a kid, but it didn’t hold up when I watched it later on, in terms of logic and story. It’s a well-made film – a well-made slasher film – and makes good use of its location, and the reveal of the killer is very effective, although a cheat. Yes, I’d probably pick Terror Train as my favorite of the rest of her scream queen films, although I always find Prom Night compelling to watch, not in terms of character and story – because the film isn’t very good – but in terms of being a time capsule of the era in terms of teenage life and the film business and especially in terms of what was going on in Jamie’s life and career during that period, which I detail in the book.
TW: It’s been a long time since I saw Road Games on VHS back in the early 80s. What are your thoughts on Richard Franklin’s film and Jamie Lee’s performance in particular?
DG: It’s clever, it’s a work of craftsmanship, but I don’t really care for it. I don’t think it’s particularly scary, and I don’t think it plays fair with the audience in terms of how the killer is always able to move around. That takes away the suspense. It’s not bad. It certainly has its fans. I spoke to Richard Franklin just a few weeks before he died. I don’t think Jamie is used very well in the film. She’s under-used, and there’s a whole story about that, in relation to her being cast in favor of an Australian actress, which was very unpleasant for Jamie.
TW: What’s your Top-5 moments in Friday The 13th and why?
Jack Barrell (Kevin Bacon) gets it via Tom Savini’s amazing work in Friday The 13th
DG: Bill on the door. Bill was so nice and the effect was so grisly. The Kevin Bacon scene because of the effect’s execution. The lake scene was a real chair-jumper. I love the scene in the cabin where Marcie and Jack are having sex and the camera reveals Ned on the top bunk. I love the way the camera stalks Brenda as she moves around the archery range.
Brenda (Laurie Betram) is in the wrong place at the wrong time in Friday The 13th
TW: What book was more difficult to write out of the two books we are talking about?
DG: They’re all tough, but the Jamie Lee Curtis required an investment of time and energy that I probably wouldn’t be able to do again. Sitting in “the room” all day, week after week, going over everything, putting it all together. Those aren’t good memories.
TW: What’s your next book about and/or what’s in the pipeline?
DG: One thing that I’ve learned about myself is that when I have an idea for a book, I make it happen. I do it. I finish. You know, with the Jamie Lee book, I remember it was the spring of 2002 and I was watching one of the Halloween DVDs in my basement at night and it was the one with Mark Cerulli’s excellent featurette. I remember thinking about Jamie Lee’s work in the Halloween, and the other films she appeared in, and how she really dominated that era – an era that made a big impact on me growing up.
Michael Myers (Nick Castle) is coming to get you in John Carpenter’s Halloween
When the Jamie Lee book came out in 2010, I did an interview and casually mentioned that I was going to do another Friday the 13th book. Word spread and so I kind of had to do it. I started writing in the summer of 2011 and here we are now, so you can see the investment of time that goes into these projects.
I’d like to do a biography on Jan Michael Vincent. Maybe I’ll do that next, because it would be easier than the other two projects I have in mind. One is a book on the teen/college sex comedies from the early to mid 1980s. I have a title for that: Horny Teenagers: The Rise and Fall of the Teen Sex Comedy Film, 1981-1985. The other book I’d like to do is a book on Frank and Eleanor Perry, the legendary husband and wife filmmaking team who made such great films as David and Lisa, The Swimmer, Last Summer. Now that would be a big project. You know, I’d have to travel to Los Angeles and Connecticut where each of their papers are. They’re both dead, and most of their colleagues are dead or are very old, which is much the same story with Jan Michael Vincent, who I find to be a very intriguing person.
TW: Do you have a website where people can follow your work?
DG: No, but if you Google me, you’ll find everything you need to know.
TW: Thank you for all your dedicated work on these two brilliant books. I think I can speak for most horror fans by saying that your books have made our world of horror undoubtedly better.
Thank you very much for your support.