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(Part 1/2: click here for part 2/2)

Arrow in the HeadKevin Tenney was a name I knew well when I was a younger, bratty horror fan. Film's like Witchboard, Night of 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 horror movie?

K: Hard to pick just one.

Supernatural Horror: THE EXORCIST and/or THE OMEN.

Science Fiction Horror: ALIEN.

Adventure Horror: JAWS.

Serial Killer Horror: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Gut-wrenching Horror: BENJI.

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 DEMONS.  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???

K: The 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 entire time. 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!

K: It helps 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.

A: Your visual style in the picture was very reminiscent of Hitchcock. Would you say that the master was an inspiration?

K: Not 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 the role?

K: Actually, 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.

Night of the Demons:

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?

K: I’m not 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.

A: Looking back, what was the hardest scene to shoot in that jamboree of crazy horror fun?

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.

A: There 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 original?

K: I 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 3, 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.

A: What's 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.

A: Any funny set stories you can recollect from the shoot that you’d like to share with us?

K: Dan 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.


A: Peacemaker 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.

A: Peacemaker was your first foray into a more action-inclined type of picture. Did you find it problematic to direct bigger physical oriented sequences?

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.

The Cellar:

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 to prepare. 

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.

A: What type of picture did you want to put out when you took The Cellar on? Horror? Drama? Both?

K: That’s 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.”

A: Looking 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. 

Witchboard 2:

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 me.

A: Watching 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 using?

K: I think 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.





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