Crimson Celluloid: Firstly on an entirely self-indulgent note I have to say a hearty thank you for all the great film entertainment you have provided over your career. You have worked with a veritable who’s who of actors and you always deliver. Is this common of the fan reaction to your films?
Greydon Clark: Thank you for the kind words. I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my career. I’ve worked with many wonderful actors. I’ve found that those names you’d recognize were always most helpful, creative, and involved in our production. Many people are eager for me to discuss working with particular actors they know. Film production is a complicated process. The actors are a very important part. Casting a film correctly can make or break a film. Again, I’ve been very lucky in that area.
For me the holy trio of my all-time favourite films are Patrick G Donahue’s Kill Squad, Jonathan Kaplan’s Truck Turner and your masterpiece Without Warning. What kind of memories do you have when you look back upon making this marvellous monster film?
Without Warning is one of my films that I’m asked most about. I’m in the process of setting a remake of the film. I think a modern audience would respond positively. We made the film way back in 1980. At the time of theatrical release we received a good response from the audience and some critical acclaim. The filming was done in the Los Angeles area, mostly at night in December – long, cold nights.
We used to watch Without Warning regularly during party nights, dubbing the film “the flying pizza” movie because of the alien weapons therein. Your special fx team really delivered the goods on that film. Were there any particular difficulties dealing with the “pizzas” or the fx in general?
When the script first came to my attention the alien hunter used a bow and arrow. I wanted to make it more unique. I came up with the idea that he would ‘throw” some sort of live creature at his prey. As I worked out just what these creatures might look like I came upon the idea of throwing them like a Frisbee. They needed to be flat (like a pizza) so they could fly threw the air with tentacles to grab onto their prey. Filming them was not an easy task. We made the film on a very low budget. This was way before all the computer generated effects. The creatures were all “practical” – real things that would fly through the air and hit their target. Lots of takes, small wires, etc. were necessary. Without Warning was my seventh film so I’d had some experience. Many of the close shots of the pizza creatures were done after principle photography was completed.
What an amazing cast that film had. Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Neville Brand, Cameron Mitchell (sorry, I have to stop here and have some oxygen and calm down), Larry Storch, Ralph Meeker…even a young David Caruso in his first film. As a filmmaker was it as great to work with these people as we on the outside imagine it would be? Any star egos to contend with?
No star egos, just the opposite. I’d worked with Palance, Meeker and Brand before and knew they’d be great. I wasn’t disappointed. The new guys, along with Sue Ane Langdon, were all very cooperative. Casting the young people is always more difficult. Budget limitations generally eliminate casting young people with much experience. David Caruso came into my office for an interview. He’d never worked on a film before, but I was immediately impressed and cast him. He was very creative and eager to learn. I think his being on the set with Palance showed him how a real professional works. As I’ve said, I’ve been very lucky with my casting. Guys like Palance and Landau were not only great to work with but were always willing to help those cast members that were less experienced.
There has been talk over the years of a possible remake or sequel to the film. How close has this come to fruition?
I’m getting closer. I think it’ll work out.
Since the start of your career you have worked in many genres. Ranging from horror, to biker, blacksploitation, dance crazes, sci-fi, current issues (Skinheads) etc. As a filmmaker were you always checking out what was big at the time and trying to capitalise on that? Which films would you credit with succeeding and failing in this venture?
I’ve always been interested in world events, politics, etc. (who isn’t?). I guess it would be fair to say I’ve capitalized on those interests. I’m a liberal capitalist who has found a way to express myself through my films. I like the experience of making all my films; some more than others. Some didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Those that worked better are still far from what I’d hoped. If I had my way I’d re-do all of them. If I just had one more day of filming… a few more setups… a few bucks more for actors… bigger crews… more editing time… I could go on, but were limiting this interview – right?
On the satanic front you delivered a great performance as Acid in Al Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists and directed Satan’s Cheerleaders. Do you derive as much pleasure acting in films as you do directing them? How did you and Adamson differ as directors? How do you think actors who work with you would classify you as a director?
Thanks for the comment on my acting. I began as an actor and Al Adamson gave me a wonderful opportunity early in my career. I wrote the script for Satan’s Sadists under the name Dennis Wayne. Al agreed that I’d do the role of Acid. I enjoyed acting, but quickly realized directing was where I wanted to be. I think I prepare a bit more that Al did. He liked to be more inspired on the set. I like a more detailed road map and then I am willing to go off the road when I feel it’s warranted. I try to give as much latitude to actor’s as possible. Some like that, others don’t. You’d have to ask the actors directly. I’ve worked with three Academy Award winning actors (Palance, Landau, and George Kennedy) each twice. I’m certain they’ve each had directors who were far more talented than I, but they agreed to work with me the second time which I’m proud of.
You also worked again with Al Adamson in Dracula vs. Frankenstein . This film featured the legendary Lon Chaney Jnr, what was he like to work with?
I also wrote the original script for that film. It was changed greatly, but when we filmed the original Lon was in it. He was a friendly fellow who liked his “iced tea” directly from his own thermos. By the end of the day he was even friendlier. By the way, Lon was the first actor I ever directed. Al was making a film a few months after Dracula in Utah. I think it was released under the title Female Bunch. Once again I’d worked on the script for Al. I was on the set helping him. During our lunch break I asked Lon to do an anti-smoking spot. He had his larynx removed and could only speak in a rough whisper. He agreed. I set up the camera, gave him his lines about not smoking… talking to his young fans… he looked into the camera and delivered on cue… I cut, thanked him and he lit up!
Black Shampoo came on the heels of the highly-successful (though horribly dated and boring) Warren Beatty vehicle Shampoo. Was this film a success for you? One can imagine it playing on 42nd street and receiving a rousing welcome. You deserve credit for having a character called “Jack Meoff”!!
Black Shampoo was quite a success, playing throughout the world. A while back I attended a screening in Los Angeles. I was amazed at the audience response. Their enthusiasm was obvious. It seems to still play well. This was my only film to be non- Screen Actor’s Guild. Many of the actors belonged to SAG and had to use fake names. Bill Bonner chose his own name and I approved it.
One thing you should take great pride in, and isn’t discussed much usually, is the fact that all your films have incredible ad campaigns. The posters and catch phrases are all lurid and thrilling. How much of a hand do you have in the production? Out of all your films, which do you think had the best ad campaigns?
Thanks again. I always was very involved with my ad campaigns. Once again budget was a problem, but we did the best we could. It’s impossible for me to choose one film or one campaign that I liked the better than the others. I tried to make each campaign be as honest as possible regarding what the picture was about. I never believed in “cheater” ads. If the ad interested a person I hoped the picture would deliver what they were expecting.
Your last film, to date, was Stargames. Since 1998 you have been quiet, are you still endeavoring to make films? You’re a young man still (relatively speaking, Ted V Mikels is 80 and still churning them out) and we’d hate to think that we have seen the last of Greydon Clark. We’re also worried that working with Tony Curtis’s toupee in that film might have drained the life from you.
Since Stargames I’ve done a couple of TV things. Currently, as I mentioned, I’m trying to get a remake of Without Warning scheduled. Tony Curtis was wonderful to work with; very upbeat, professional and especially good with the kids in the cast. At one time Tony was the biggest star in Hollywood. After we were finished I said to him, “Tony, now you can say you’ve been directed by Kubrick, Wilder, and….- my voice trailed off…” He, along with me and the rest of the cast and crew got a good laugh. Tony Curtis, one of the nicest guys I ever had the pleasure to direct.
How do you see the current state of the film business? As an outsider I can honestly say that I weep for the days when filmmakers like you were at their prime and releasing honest, good value and damned enjoyable films. Hollywood seems to be totally bereft of originality these days and doesn’t take any risks.
The major studios make the exploitation type films that I use to make. The difference is they spend 50 million on a “low budget” film. I spent $150,000 making Without Warning . The studios dominate the industry as never before. There use to be small independent producers and distributors who could take a chance on a small film. I’m trying to convince a major studio right now to take a small risk on Without Warning . People tell me I should ask for twenty times what it could actually be made for. The studio would feel more comfortable spending more money than less… Sounds crazy doesn’t it?
I notice that people can order stills, posters and the like from your films through your official website. What can you tell us about this site and the goods you offer? Hopefully some enterprising Australian will read this and bring you out here. It’d be cool to see you in person talking about and presenting your films. Do you have plans to release the films in your back catalog on DVD? I’m sure there would be a great market for a good number of them.
I opened www.GreydonClark.com just a few months ago and the response has been gratifying. I don’t control many of the DVD rights to my films and they are available on various websites. I do have stills, posters, etc. that I’ve saved over the years available. I also make personal appearances at conventions, screenings, etc.
You’ve lead such a fascinating and full life. Is it too much to hope that you have been working feverishly on your autobiography?
I get that question quite often. Once I get Without Warning set I may get down to it.
Thank you for your time. Any final words for you Aussie fans?
I’ve never visited Australia, but would love to. Many of my films have done well in your area. I always appreciate it when anyone likes my work. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find a production entity in Australia to make Without Warning . Thanks for your interest.