The Arrow interviews Daryl Haney
Genre-friendly screenwriter and actor Daryl Haney aka The Duke had a hand in writing "Friday the 13th: Part 7", "Lords of the Deep", "Xtro 3" and "Masque of the Red Death" while also having acted in "Watchers 2", "The Unborn" and "Thrill Kill". I had the opportunity to probe The Duke on his many adventures and misadventures within the insane biz that is showbiz and here's what he shared with me.
ARROW: What’s your favorite horror movie?
THE DUKE: Well, if ’horror’ includes “Psycho” that would certainly be at the top of the list and “Rosemary’s Baby” even higher. And I like both the "Nosferatu" movies -- the one by Murnau and the later remake by Herzog -- and also some of the earlier Cronenberg movies like "The Brood" and "Rabid" and some Italian films from the 60s like "Black Sabbath" and "Nightmare Castle" and "Bloody Pit of Horror," which has just got to be one of the most eccentric movies ever made! And then there’s Roger Corman's "House of Usher," which I think is one of the great adaptations of 19th Century Decadent literature, and Hammer‘s "Twins of Evil" gets high marks just because you get to see those stunning twin Playmates from the early 70s, Mary and Madeline Collinson, rolling around naked every other reel. And I would also have to say that, over time, I've come to admire the ideas of George Romero quite a bit -- the ideas more than the filmmaking. Certainly, zombies are a great metaphor for the kind of brainwashed robots Americans have come to be, and the opening scene in “Martin” is about as disturbing a thing as I’ve ever seen. But I really don’t like horror films for their sensational content all that much. I prefer it when the horror components are used to explore the weirder aspects of the human psyche.
ARROW: Your earliest genre penning gig was Friday the 13th: Part 7? How did you wind up getting the job?
THE DUKE: It really all started when I flew out to LA to do a movie for Roger Corman. I was just an actor living in New York and a director named Joe Minion, who’d written “After Hours” for Martin Scorsese, called me up while I was coming down off an acid trip and asked if I could come to California right away to star in this Corman movie. It didn’t even have a name yet. Eventually, other people called it “Daddy’s Boys” but, anyway, I hopped a plane and when I got there learned we didn’t have a script -- we were supposed to shoot the whole thing on existing sets for “Big Bad Momma II”! -- and since Joe was a union writer and this was a non-union project it fell to me to write it. So we shot it and, a few weeks later, one of the producers got a call asking if she knew any young writers who could “revitalize” the “Friday the 13th" series. I’d never even seen a “Friday” movie! I knew what they were, of course, but I was a very arty kid who lived on the Lower East Side and liked Cassavetes and Fellini and that kind of thing, so I went out and rented all six of them and about halfway through the second I thought, ‘Oh, I see how it’s done.
It’s a kind of rotating murder dial and then, for the finale, there’s a battle between the sole surviving chick and Jason.’ So I came up with some ideas and walked up the street to a payphone and called up this woman named Barbara, who was the development person over at Hometown Films, and pitched them to her right there outside the Beachwood Market in Hollywood. I didn’t even have a phone at that point! I didn’t have a car, either. So I had to walk when it came time to meet her and her office was a very F. Scott Fitgerald sort of setting on the Paramount lot and, again, being this sort of hipster kid, I felt very out of place there. In fact, I never thought it would work out, so to me the whole thing was kind of a joke. But then I flew back to New York and, literally, only a few minutes after I’d walked in the door the phone rang and there was Barbara telling me I had the job. And I had an agent over at APA who I knew would ask for a lot of money so there was no question I’d take it. I did have some reservations since it felt like selling a piece of my brain but I was so broke those were easily overcome.
ARROW: Was it your idea to have Friday the 13th meet a Carrie “clone” for this seventh installment of the franchise or was that a studio imposed premise?
THE DUKE: Well, one of the first things I was told when I got approached about this job was the producers had really wanted to make a Freddy versus Jason thing and that had recently fallen through after the Freddy people had broken off talks. They didn’t need Jason because Freddy was much more popular -- in fact, he may still be, I really don’t know. So that idea goes way, way back, obviously, and I definitely had it mind when I started coming up with pitches. I did not think ‘Let’s just do a ‘Carrie’ clone,‘ but, again, I knew there was always a sole survivor who’d battle Jason at the end of the movie and I thought, ‘Why not give her some special powers?’ Well, as soon as Barbara heard that she went, “Oh, Jason versus Carrie!,” but fair enough. I mean if there’d never been “Carrie,” I would never have known about telekinesis, but I certainly wasn’t looking to rip anybody off. It was just one of several ideas I pitched and that’s the one they liked.
ARROW: I heard through the grapevine that your experience with Friday the 13th: Part 7 wound up being a very sour one. Care to elaborate as to what happened?
THE DUKE: Well, any writer who’s been through the development process will know just what I’m talking about. Barbara wanted something “classier” than the typical “Friday” movie (to use a word she never actually used herself) so I kept having to rewrite the script again and again to try and give to her. And, unfortunately, I’d tipped her off as to how fast a writer I could be so she’d call up my house in Silver Lake -- I was living on the porch of a place already filled with AFI students and punk rockers! -- and she’d say, ‘Daryl, would you please come over here? We’ve got more notes for you.’ And I didn’t have a computer at that point so I knew as soon as I got there I’d be sent off to a trailer with a computer in it and, by dawn, I’d be expected to have a whole new draft of the screenplay. And I would, too.
Like I say, I was really fast back then. And then I’d turn it in and a couple of days later the phone would ring with, ‘Daryl, could you come over here? We’ve got some more notes.’ It went on for months like this! And, meanwhile, I was writing another script for Roger -- “Crime Zone,” which ended up starring Sherilyn Fenn: maybe the hottest girl I’d ever laid eyes on! -- and also, that whole time, Barbara never once showed the script to the producer, who was off working on another movie with Keanu Reeves -- “Permanent Record,“ I think it was called -- and he was also trying to set up “Internal Affairs” with Richard Gere and I think he was just embarrassed by his “Friday” association, period, so he wasn’t exactly eager to see a script in the first place. And then he finally did and sort of went, “What the hell is this?!” We’d deviated so much from the “Friday” formula and I always knew was a big mistake but my hands were tied and the producer -- Frank Mancuso, Jr. -- just sort of told me to go take another look at Part IV and basically knock off its structure. So that’s what I did, even though you may not be able to tell, and basically there was draft after draft of that.
And I was only supposed to do four drafts so my agent sent a letter asking for more money and at that point they all just hit the roof, like it was my fault we’d gone through fifteen drafts, and just to retaliate, they gave the final polishes to some union writer who didn’t even use his own name. See, I was supposed to get a bonus when the movie went into production if mine was the only name on the script. So they got this other guy and his pseudonym took a credit and he was paid with half my bonus and the other half went back into the movie. It was a very, very bitter lesson in the ways of Hollywood but I guess that’s how we get wiser.
ARROW: I have to ask...was the ending found in Friday the 13th: Part 7, with the father popping out of the lake, yours? If not, what was your written ending?
THE DUKE: Yeah, I think that was my idea. Why? Does it suck? You know, frankly, it’s really hard to remember what I came up with and what was proposed to me, I went through so many rewrites. For instance, it recently came to my attention the “sleeping bag death” was voted most popular in the series in some poll someplace and this girl I know asked if I’d written it and I really couldn’t remember if I had anymore! But I’m pretty sure I did since I know I once had a fantasy of killing my kid sister the same way. I mean haven’t we all thought about killing our kid sisters at some point?
ARROW: Have you seen Friday the 13th: Part 7? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
THE DUKE: I only saw the last twenty minutes or so. A few months after I finished “Friday” I flew off to Europe to do another movie as an actor and then I came back and was walking down Times Square when I saw it was playing on a triple bill with two other movies. This was Times Square before Disney got hold of it, obviously. Anyway, I went in and there were all these drunken black guys yelling at the screen, which is just about the ideal circumstance for seeing a movie like that, but even so I was pretty disgruntled. I thought the movie looked bad to start with, they obviously hadn’t gotten a very talented DP so the whole thing had a sort of bluish-white tint to it. And the actors were pretty poor, except for the lead girl, and you could tell some of the guys were gay when they were supposed to be hooking up with chicks, and maybe the worst thing of all, the writer they’d brought in for the final polish had inserted these awful lines I was just cringing over -- stuff about “personal penis enlargers” and that kind of thing. So, yeah, I was pretty horrified. I never did bother seeing the rest of it -- I’d walked in toward the end -- but now I might be a little curious for nostalgia’s sake.
ARROW: You went on to write other genre films such as Masque of the Red Death and X-TRO 3 (which you also co-produced) Which one would you say was the most pleasant and fulfilling professional experience? Why?
THE DUKE: Well, virtually no movie is ever “pleasant” to make, just because you’re constantly dealing with set disasters -- often, including the director! And “fulfilling“ -- that’s not a word I’d choose either. But every movie I’ve ever done is a part of my past and when I think about them now I’ll remember funny things like, for instance, on the set of “Masque,” hanging out with all these surfers who were working as extras to pick up a little cash -- just about the most California experience you could possibly have! And “Lords of the Deep” -- that was fun just because every morning I’d sit in the makeup chair beside Bradford Dillman and he’d tell me all these great stories about the famous people he’d worked with -- for instance, Raquel Welch getting shot at by a Blackfoot Indian she’d rankled on the set of “The Legend of Walks Far Woman” and that sort of thing. And “Xtro” -- I really didn’t do much “producing” on that, all I did was help with the casting and a little with the location-scouting, but Harry, the director, gave me a co-producing credit as a kind of goodwill gesture. But I do remember that movie fondly because there was a whole little clique I was part of that used to get drunk every night after shooting and one them drove a dune buggy and I took quite a wild ride in that thing, boy! And, also, that particular “Xtro” reminds me of a drive-in movie from the 1950s, so I’m fond of it for that reason too.
I think movies like that age a lot better than most big studio things. I mean all those A-movies from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood -- nobody bothers seeing those anymore, except for the true masterpieces, “Citizen Kane“ and so on. The rest are all forgotten. But B-movies like “Blood Feast” or “Queen of Outer Space” -- there’s always going to be an audience for those and part of the reason, I think, is, watching them, you get a much better feeling for the way things you used to be, the way they used to look. They’re sort of naked somehow, whereas big studio movies tend to be cleaned-up and highly artificial. And, certainly, that’s still very true all these years later. This is a very, very bad period for movies! I don’t think one thing people are currently flocking to see will still be around in fifty years, except for maybe “Star Wars“ and “Lord of the Rings,” and I think the audiences for those will dramatically shrink, too. Eventually, they’ll be replaced by contemporary versions of the same thing whereas B-movies are weirdly irreplaceable. As a kind of literary corollary, “serious” books that were incredibly popular back in the fifties like “By Love Possessed” are no longer read but to this day hipsters still collect cheap paperbacks with titles like “Wanton Woman” and Bettie Page types posing on their covers. They may not be read but they’re at least still around. nd, again, most of the big bestsellers from that time have long since disappeared. But to get back to your question -- one movie you didn’t mention is “Life Among the Cannibals,” also directed by Harry, and that’s probably my favorite, assuming that meets genre requirements. It’s a black comedy about a kid living next door to a serial killer -- never released in the U.S., unfortunately, but there’s reason to think it may finally be later this year on DVD.
ARROW: You also wrote within the “erotic” genre with titles like Emmanuelle: Queen of the Galaxy, the Kama Sutra TV show and the Best Sex Ever TV series under your belt. I was always curious about this...how does a writer get himself in the proper mind frame when having to deliver some “hot stuff” material? What’s your process?
THE DUKE: You mean do I get turned on when I write these things? No, never. They’re not really about sex. Usually, all the writer does is write a first scene where the main couple has a fight and then a couple of middle scenes where they fool around with other people and, finally, a reconciliation scene where the main couple gets back together again. You’re not graphically describing the sex or anything. For that, you’re usually instructed to write “They make love,“ nothing more and nothing less, because it’s really hard to cast actors if they think they’re going to be covered with honey and handcuffed naked to the bedposts. And I’ve got my own regrets about doing these things but I’ve also got this foible: I like to eat. But since I did do them I should’ve used a pseudonym and with “Emmanuelle,” for instance -- that predated the Internet Movie Database and, even later, it didn’t occur to me how damaging it could be. You know, people see a credit like that and assume you’re some idiot hack and, once that happens, you’re in this ghetto that’s very hard to climb out of. I mean it’s to the point where, for my serious work, I’ll probably have adopt a pseudonym! And, eventually, I did adopt one for my not-serious work, but even then -- with “The Best Sex Ever” people, for instance -- they used my real name, anyway. And they’d actually fired me, the only time that’s ever happened, so sticking my real name on there -- that was like adding insult to injury.
But none of this means I’m against erotic movies. I’d be very proud of those things if I actually found them erotic, but people taking their clothes off and simulating sex can be just as dull as anything else. To get something good, it can’t be generic, it has to be felt, and most porn, soft- and hardcore alike, is cranked out by cynics who couldn’t care less. Like I say, I was never able to really write about sex in any of those things! Even the execs on “The Best Sex Ever,” those chicks who complained my stuff wasn’t ’sexy’ enough -- they had no real suggestions on how to improve it beyond lame motifs you’ve already seen in countless magazines. Sex is very tricky to capture, anyway. You can take all your clothes off and never show a thing; strippers do that all the time. The real hurdle is getting people on camera who can actually be private in public and how’s that going to happen if you don’t have filmmakers who care about it?
I’ll tell you, I can’t even remember the last time I saw a really arousing scene in an American movie! Now the Spanish, on the other hand -- they can make anything sexy! One of the sexiest scenes I ever saw was in Spanish movie called “Jamon, Jamon” and all it showed was a woman fanning herself beside a freaking parrot! Fully dressed! Yeah, just try pitching that to the American producer of an “erotic” TV show! I think the entire porn industry should be left in the hands of the Spanish; I’d love that. I’d move to Spain myself and write “Jamon, Jamon II” and “Sex and Lucia VI” and “Live Flesh XII” and never once apologize! Plus, I’m sure I’d finally have lots to say on the subject of “process.”
ARROW: I heard you worked on a project called Siege aka Self-Defense that was shot in Nova Scotia (Canada). What were your duties on that show? Has the project been distributed?
Yeah, it was distributed -- just barely. I was just a kid when I did that thing. I’d just moved to New York from my hometown in Virginia and one of the producers saw my headshot in a pile someplace and asked me to audition. They were really hoping to cast Mickey Rourke but they couldn’t get him and, of course, I didn’t and don’t look a thing like Mickey Rourke but my headshot was really rough-looking, shot outside with my hair all messed up and my eyes kind of squinting, and every single agent I sent it to told me it was all wrong and would never bring me a lick of work. But these Canadians saw it and I went up to their hotel and did a monologue from Eugene O’Neill, of all things, from “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and that was pretty much it: they told me next day I had the job.
And then I flew up and shot it -- my first plane ride! -- and, unfortunately, I’d been taking all these Method classes so every time I got in front of the camera I’d try and “become” the character and all that. I think I drove those poor people crazy! I mean it was basically just a low-budget action thing and here I was, trying to be Robert DeNiro! So I wasn’t very good but I did learn a lot from the whole experience. And one of the producers, Michael Donovan, later went on to win an Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine.” He’s Michael Moore’s producer now. Which leaves me to wonder, now that he’s got gold in the house, if he still leaves his doors unlocked.
ARROW: Lastly, you’re also an actor, having appeared in films like "Watchers 2", "Lord of the Deep" and "The Unborn". What part does acting take within your professional life? Is it something you studied? Is it a main goal or solely a side thing?
THE DUKE: It started off as the main goal and then it got pushed to the side as time went on. I always knew I could write but I was reluctant to do it because people have such a hard time accepting you can actually do more than one thing. But I could make a living as a writer whereas it’s much more precarious, trying to do that as an actor. It was never a fly-by-night thing, I took acting very, very seriously and studied with first-rate people like Mira Rostova, this old Russian lady who used to coach Montgomery Clift, and Frank Corsaro, who used to be Artistic Director at the Actors Studio. It’s quite a leap from there to “Friday the 13th"! Not that I’m complaining. It just strikes me as funny I’m best known for that when it’s got so little to do with me.
ARROW: What would you say to date was your favorite role to play? Why?
THE DUKE: I don’t think I’ve played it yet. But of the ones I have done I’d have to cite, again, “Life Among the Cannibals” and also a part in a Serbian movie called “Rat Uzivo” -- “War Live” in English. It’s weird: all the English-language reviews I’ve ever seen of that performance have torn me to pieces when I don’t think I’m bad at all! I don’t look that great -- I was overweight, for one thing -- and the role wasn’t well-written and the director barely spoke a word of English but I think, given the circumstances, I’m actually pretty good! And the movie itself is just okay but I really have a tremendous affection for it since it changed my life. I loved living in Serbia to the point where I moved back for half a year and I also got to work with some fantastic actors like Srdjan Todorovich, who was in Emir Kusterica’s “Underground,” and, also, I had very strong convictions about some of the political matters raised by the movie. It’s about the 1999 NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, except “War Live” treated it lightly, for the most part, and I think that’s a good way to go when you’re dealing with such grave subject matter. It’s not so expected. But the Serbs, have a great, dark sense of humor, which is one thing I really like about them. It’s strange how so much of the world still views them as monsters when they’re some of the most human people I’ve ever met.
ARROW: What’s next for you as a writer, a producer or an actor?
THE DUKE: Well, again, I never did much producing and, as for acting, I’d still like to do it but, lately, I haven’t been feeling so confident in the looks department. That’s the trouble with starting out as a pretty boy: once it starts to go it can be a pretty hard adjustment. But I’m sure I’ll recover and, in the meantime, I’m writing another “Xtro” sequel and a ghost movie with the working title of “Supernatural,” and there’s also a novel I’ve been trying to finish -- which basically is finished but still needs a polish. It’s not a genre piece. It’s about punk rock and I’ve got two others planned on different subjects if I can ever buy the time to write them. I had such huge ambitions for my film career and none of those have really panned out so I’d like to devote more time to writing fiction. I think, there, I could really have an impact -- or as much of an impact as a novelist can really expect in these post-literate times.
ARROW: Any advice for the aspiring genre screenwriters of the world?
THE DUKE: Well, you know, it’s hard to believe anybody wants to be a screenwriter per se. It’s almost always a means to an end -- usually, directing or, like me, creating parts to play. I’ve sort of passed that now since, most times, people won’t give you the parts even if they’ve told you beforehand they’ll consider it. There’s often an issue of ‘ownership’ on a movie almost akin to paternity: whose child is it, anyway? So, as long as the writer is on the set , it sort of raises those paternity anxieties whereas, if he’s not, the director can think it’s his child and not that useless sperm donor’s. At any fate, the advice I’d have for anybody who wants to get involved in film in any way is to get a good education. I’m not talking about going to college, necessarily -- in fact, these days a college education doesn’t mean much, it’s been watered down so badly. But I think you should read as much as you can possibly lay hands on, and not just how-to books but real literature, for God’s sake! That’s one of the main reasons movies are so poor these days: the people who make them have no real foundation to stand on. They don’t know what a great character really is since they’ve got no familiarity with Don Quixote or Lord Jim or Madame Bovary, just like they don’t know a thing about how the masters pulled off these incredible feats of storytelling.
And I think that knowledge really does apply when it comes to sitting down and writing a screenplay and, beyond that, in just knowing how to think! Hopefully, I don’t sound like William Bennett but I swear it’s the key to everything. Even if all you want to make is horror movies and nothing but, I still think you should know great writers and also great films by Peckinpah and Tarkovsky and Godard and Ford. And you should know something about painting and music and architecture since film is a synthesis of all those things and much else besides. I mean I’m friends with a lot of musicians and even if they’re just punk rock people -- “just” in the sense that punk’s so simple -- I’m consistently surprised at how much they know about musical forms having nothing to do with their own -- about jazz and soul and swing and symphonic -- and, sometimes, they know more about movies than the people aspiring to make them! Now, granted, just knowing these things is no guarantee of greatness, but at least that way you know what greatness is or, in any case, you’ll have a qualified opinion. And like the Romans said: Vita tempa, ars longa. Life’s short, art’s forever. And some people have argued art is nothing more than a scratch on the wall to prove we once existed but, if that’s the case, let’s make that scratch so deep and unique future generations wouldn’t even think of painting over it!
I'd like to thank The Duke for his time and for talking so openly and extensively about his experiences. Keep on trucking Cowboy and best of luck with your future projects.