(Part 1/2: click
here for part 2/2)
Tenney was a name I knew well when I was a younger, bratty horror
fan. Film's like
the Demons , Peacemaker and Witchtrap are all
staples of my teen years. I've always felt that Kevin Tenney's contribution to the genre has been
shamefully overlooked so I hunted the man down,
pinned him against a wall and tossed these questions his way. Enter
the world of Kevin Tenney.
A: What’s your favorite
pick just one.
Horror: THE EXORCIST and/or THE OMEN.
Adventure Horror: JAWS.
Horror: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.
These are all big
studio films, but I am also a fan of many low budget efforts like:
MR. FROST, THE UGLY, EVIL
DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD, RE-ANIMATOR, and
the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
And growing up, I
was a tremendous Hitchcock fan, especially, REAR WINDOW, NORTH BY
NORTHWEST, SABOTEUR, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and PSYCHO. I never really
thought THE BIRDS was scary. I just couldn’t be afraid of the
Colonel’s eleven different herbs and spices.
Now this is going
to sound like blasphemy, but most of my favorite movies do not even
fall into the horror category. Before writing and directing
WITCHBOARD, I had probably only seen a handful of horror films, and
then they were either the big, studio films or the Hammer Films I’d
seen as a child. I didn’t get into films like EVIL DEAD or
RE-ANIMATOR until after I’d made WITCHBOARD and NIGHT OF THE
However, I was a huge fan of anything Ray Harryhausen made when I
was growing up.
A: You’ve come up with some pretty grisly ideas
through the years in your
genre efforts. Night of the Demons in particular is filled with sick
goodies that made my genre friendly self very happy (lipstick scene
anyone?). The question is...how did you come up with this stuff???
precursor to the “lipstick scene” was already in Joe Augustyne’s
script. He had the possessed Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) cough up some
bile, which landed on her chest and burned a hole through her skin.
Then she shoved the lipstick through the hole. I
felt the scene didn’t really accomplish anything and was only there
for shock value. That would have been okay, but everyone had
already seen Regan throw up bile and phlegm and everything else in
THE EXORCIST, so I didn’t think Joe’s scene even worked on the shock
level. The character was
supposed to be sexy and alluring, so I started with that. What if
she were topless and drawing on her own breasts with a tube of
lipstick? Then you have a sexy, titillating scene that suddenly
turns into a creepy, oh-my-God scene when she shoves the lipstick
right through her nipple. Actually, I thought it was such a creepy
idea, I had second thoughts and tried to withdraw it a few days
after I’d suggested it, but by then the producers, Joe, the F.X.
make-up people, and everybody else loved it.
I had Steve Johnson
(F.X. make-up) build an entire front plate for Linnea, from her neck
to her waist, rather than just one fake breast. I didn’t want to do
a cut away from a topless Linnea to a close-up of the fake breast
when she pushed in the lipstick. Steve didn’t want to do it at
first, because he was afraid the effect would not be seen clearly in
a wide shot that showed Linnea’s entire body. I explained that I would
start wide and then push into a close-up at the last moment so that
nobody would see it coming. A cut lets the audience know you’ve
gone from the real girl to the fake breast. But a single shot
surprises them, because they think they’ve been looking at her real
breasts when in fact they‘ve been looking at the fake breasts the
Just look at the
breasts-turning-into-hands-gag in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2. They were
trying to top the “lipstick scene” from the first film, but they did
it in a cut, and it didn’t have the same shock value.
A: How would you describe your
writing process in terms of screenwriting? Do you listen to music, drink
Scotch, isolate yourself from the outside world? Can we get a hint
of what Kevin Tenney does to put himself in “screenwriting” mode?
K: I am
not as disciplined as I should be when it comes to writing. I have
to make sure there is nothing around to distract me, or I will
be distracted. A famous writer, whose name I can’t remember at the
moment, said it best, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”
I, too, hate the actual writing process; it’s like giving birth to a
Sumo wrestler. I just finished
Stephen King’s book, ON WRITING, and I am going to try to follow the
routine that he has used all these years. Although I know I will
never be as prolific as he’s been. By the way, I highly recommend
his book to anyone who wants to be a writer. A lot of
critics belittle his talent because of the genre in which he writes,
and I’ll admit I haven’t loved every one of his books that I’ve
read. But his actual writing, his storytelling talents, always grab
me on page one and hold me until the end. I believe he could write
a phone book and make it a compelling read.
Specific Film questions
A: What was
the initial jolt that inspired you to write the gem that is
Witchboard? I hope you know that to this day, it is the “definite”
picture in terms of Ouija boards. Congrats on that!
that it’s the ONLY film in terms of Ouija Boards. And
speaking of Stephen King, he said some very nice things about the
film during an interview in BILLBOARD MAGAZINE. I actually lived in
an old Victorian house that had been converted into apartments, like
the characters in the film, and a friend brought a Ouija Board to
one of my parties. The incident with his car getting a flat tire
because someone else had made fun of the spirit actually happened to
him. When I was in film
school at U.S.C. years later, we had to write a feature script for
one of our classes, and the incident with the Ouija stuck with me.
I realized that although Ouija Boards had appeared in various horror
films, I’d never seen a film that actually featured a Ouija Board as
the center of the story. Granted, I hadn’t seen a lot of horror
films at that point, but even now, I can’t think of another Ouija
oriented movie. Once I had the
idea, I started doing research on Ouijas to see what the rules and
history were, and I found out about “Progressive Entrapment,” the
stage you go through before full-blown Possession. I thought it
would make a good story, and the rest, as they say, is history.
visual style in the picture was very reminiscent of Hitchcock.
Would you say that the master was an inspiration?
consciously, but at that point in my life, I had seen almost every
film Hitchcock had directed, including his first “talkie.” And I
was always a big fan of his fancy camera shots. One low-budget
distributor actually passed on the film when we showed it too him,
because it wasn’t a slasher film, which were very popular at the
time. He said, “You call this a horror film?! This is Hitchcock,
for Christ’s sake!” And he meant it as an insult. Go figure.
A: How did
the casting of Tawny Kitaen come about? Was she the first choice for
my first choice was Deborah Foreman, the girl from VALLEY GIRL. Her
reading completely blew me away. But she wanted top billing, and we
had already signed Todd Allen and given him top billing. He was
willing to share it with her, but not to go down to second billing.
So we couldn’t make it work. I had not seen
BACHELOR PARTY or THE PERILS OF GWENDOLINE, so I had no idea who
Tawny was when she came in. She gave an excellent reading though,
and had a very likable quality, which was necessary for the
character. Personally, I didn’t find her prettier or sexier than
the scores of other pretty, sexy girls who read for the part, but I
noticed that almost every guy in the office was drooling over her,
more than they had any of the other girls. That was good enough for
me, so we cast her.
A: Night of the
Demons is a personal favorite of mine. I heard that it was once
called “Halloween Party”. Why the change in title?
sure, but I think the people who made the HALLOWEEN films threatened
to sue the producers for using “Halloween” in the title, so they
asked everybody to come up with new titles, almost like an in-house
contest. Or maybe they just hated the original title, who knows? In any event, I came up with NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, and everyone liked
it. So again, as they say, the rest is history.
An interesting note:
While we were still trying to come up with a new title, the
distributor proposed calling it DEMON BOOGIE. And for a while, it
looked like they might go with it. That very night, I sat down at
the typewriter and came up with 50 alternatives, because I hated
DEMON BOOGIE so much. Years later, when I had Dennis, the
composer, do a blues/rap song at the end of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 3,
he titled the song DEMON BOOGIE as a joke.
back, what was the hardest scene to shoot in that jamboree of crazy
K: The hardest
scene to shoot was Cathy Podewell hanging on the barbed-wire wall
while all the zombie kids tried to pull her back down. The finished
scene may be frightening, but it looked so comical while shooting
it, that the actors kept ruining the takes by laughing. Then the
D.P. and I kept laughing, because they all looked so silly. Plus it
was late, and we were all punchy.
are two sequels to the film, one of which you wrote (Part 3).
How do you feel about them? Do you think they hold up to the amazing
actually think the script to Part 2 is better, probably because Joe
was a more experienced writer by then, and I thought the cast was
stronger over-all than in part 1. I’ve heard it criticized for
being a lame imitation of the first one, or just more of the same as
the first one, but I really enjoyed it. I thought the director,
Brian Trenchard-Smith made a fun film. My only criticism
would be that it had too many jokes and not enough scares, and it
didn’t have the same visual flare. As for Part
everyone was excited because they thought it was the best script of
the three, including Amelia Kinkade, who’s played Angela, the
she-demon, in all three. I wasn’t on the set, but obviously some
bad decisions were made by those who were, and many of the
screenplay’s best scenes ended up on the editing room floor, in an
attempt to fix things that had gone awry during production.
A: If you had to
change one thing about Witchtrap, what would it be?
K: My name.
your favorite scene from that film?
K: Linnea naked is
always worth the price of admission. It’s funny how the showerhead
impalement from WITCHTRAP and the lipstick scene from NIGHT OF THE
DEMONS are the most memorable scenes, and they both involve Linnea.
Of course, the most famous scene from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD also
includes Linnea. So here’s the formula for all of you aspiring
horror filmmakers: Linnea nudity weirdness = memorable scene.
funny set stories you can recollect from the shoot that you’d like
to share with us?
Duncan, a friend of mine from film school, has cut almost all of my
films since the original WITCHBOARD. We were commiserating with one
another about how making professional films wasn’t as much fun as
the down-and-dirty, guerilla-style student films of our youth, so we
decided to make a down-and-dirty horror film on our own. No unions,
no job descriptions, just people we liked working with. I wrote the
script in a week, and we shot it in 17 days on a budget of
$420,000.00. That included salaries, equipment, special effects,
and even delivery items, like an answer print, an inter-negative and
inter-positive, M&E sound reels, etc.
It was probably one
of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had on a set, but the sound
recorder was inexperienced and accidentally ruined all of our Nagra
audio tapes. That meant we had to dub the entire film in less than
a week, and all of the sound F.X. had to be created in the studio.
There’s not a single piece of actual production sound in the entire
film.When we shot the
film, it was called THE PRESENCE or THE HAUNTED, I can’t remember
which. We honestly thought it would maybe play on late-night cable
and nowhere else. But the distributor changed the title to WITCHTRAP to cash in on WITCHBOARD’s popularity, and it ended up
being the biggest seller they’d ever had. I was afraid it would end
my short career, but it actually got some good reviews. Dan and I
were both appropriately stunned. But then, I didn’t expect anyone
to like NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, either, so what do I know? I still
think SAVING PRIVATE RYAN should have won the Oscar for best film.
I guess that wasn’t really a “funny“ story, was it?. Sorry.
bears a striking resemblance to “The Hidden” in terms of concept.
Was the flick an inspiration when you wrote Peacemaker or did they
wind up being similar by fluke?
K: Actually, I
wrote PEACEMAKER before THE HIDDEN came out. Everyone who read it
liked it, but they said it was too similar to THE TERMINATOR. An
executive at FOX almost bought it, but they were already in
production on a film called OUTER HEAT, which eventually became
ALIEN NATION. When
THE HIDDEN came out later and was compared to THE TERMINATOR, I
thought, “Here’s a good film that critics are comparing to THE
TERMINATOR in a positive way. Maybe now, someone will make
PEACEMAKER.” Unfortunately, THE HIDDEN didn’t do that well at the
box office, so it was a few more years before anyone was willing to
take a chance on PEACEMAKER. It was great when the finished film
got rave reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. And Joe Bob
Briggs listed it as one of his Top 10 Films Of The Year.
Peacemaker was your first foray into a more action-inclined type of
picture. Did you find it problematic to direct bigger physical
K: Not really.
When I was a kid, making Super-8 films with the other kids in the
neighborhood, they were almost always action films. We would
actually devise stunts that we wanted to perform, and then I would
incorporate them into the script. First they were just fight
sequences and high falls, i.e., falling off the roof of our house
onto a mattress and box springs. When we got old enough to drive,
we shot car chases and crashes. In retrospect, I’m amazed that no
one was killed or even seriously injured. I jumped from a car that
was doing 35 M.P.H. and tumbled across a dirt field with absolutely
no padding or protection of any kind. God really must watch out for
fools and children.
A: How was
it directing a veteran the likes of Robert Forster?
K: He invited my
wife and I to the Premiere Screening of JACKIE BROWN, years after
PEACEMAKER, and he still claims it is one of his favorites of all
his films. We’re friends to this day. My wife and I had dinner
with him just a few weeks ago. I would work with him anytime,
anywhere. He is a solid professional and a genuinely nice guy.
A: I’ve always
been confused about who was behind The Cellar? Rumor has it that
writer John Woodward did some considerable re-shoots on the picture.
Care to set the record straight?
K: I’ve never met
John, so I can’t tell you what kind of person he is. He was the
writer and a first-time director. After eight days of a twenty-day
shoot, the film was three or four days behind schedule. The
production company fired him and hired me to take over. They
couldn’t afford to shut down, so I wasn’t able to do re-writes,
which I felt were absolutely necessary, and I couldn’t have any time
Friday: John was
fired, and I was sent a copy of the script the same day.
Saturday: I met
with the producers, and they hired me on the spot.
Sunday: I was on a
plane to Tucson, Arizona, which is where the film was shot.
Monday: I was on
the set with a cast and crew I’d never met, calling “action!”
Plus, they could not
afford to let me re-shoot the footage John had already shot, even
though most of it was extremely problematic when inter-cut with what
I was doing.
type of picture did you want to put out when you took The Cellar
on? Horror? Drama? Both?
what I kept asking the producers. When I agreed to do the film, the
script read as an “R” rated horror film, but the family dynamics of
the characters was what appealed to me. I even pulled aside the
actress, Suzanne Savoy, to discuss her nude scene before we shot
it. She asked, “What nude scene?” I said, “The one in the
script.” Turns out nobody had discussed it with her. I asked the
producers, and they said they were shooting for a PG-13. I knew
right then we were in trouble. The story was too mature to appeal
to kids but too tame to appeal to adults. Whenever I was asked what
kind of horror film we were making, I’d say, “It’s the kind of
horror film Disney would make, if they made horror films. And
there’s a very good reason why they don’t make horror films.”
back, how do you feel about the film as a whole?
K: “As a hole,”
is a good way to describe it. But it was a good learning
experience. I got to work with children and all sorts of animals
and insects for the first time, and I got to see if I could think
quickly on my feet. It made me confident enough in my own abilities
to tackle later things that might have seemed too difficult had I
not already made THE CELLAR.
A: "Witchboard 2"
came out of the horror oven looking good and visually exceeding its
budget production value wise. Why the shoddy marketing angle? It
could’ve done so much better at the box-office with the right push behind it!
K: You’d have to
ask the distributor. Was that not the tackiest, cheesiest one
sheet/cover art you’ve ever seen? How do you make a beautiful young
woman like Ami Dolenz look that bad? You have to work at it, trust
the film, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the
sequel and the original. Was that a conscious decision of yours to
make them similar? Or was it a production company induced choice?
K: What do you
think? I had originally written a sequel that was drastically
different in style and story to the first one, but nobody wanted to
mess with the original WITCHBOARD’s formula for success. My
brother, Dennis, composed the scores for both films, and we used to
joke with each other that we were getting a chance to remake the
original with a bigger budget.
A: You had
written another script for "Witchboard 2" that was eventually rejected
by the Prod Company. Why wasn’t it to their liking? Do you like the
first “Witchboard 2” screenplay more than the one you wound up
they rejected it because it was too different from its predecessor.
But honestly, I can never figure out why a producer or a production
company makes the choices they make. They’re almost always exactly
opposite of the choices I would have made. I don’t know whether or
not I like the first WITCHBOARD 2 script better, but I know it
wasn’t written by committee, and the characters are more personal to
me, like they were in the original WITCHBOARD. Maybe that’s your
answer right there.
END OF PART 1: CLICK
HERE TO READ PART2
WITCHBOARD REVIEW HERE
ARROW'S NIGHT OF THE DEMONS REVIEW HERE