Jeffrey Combs is one of the coolest guys in Hollywood and one of the biggest icons in horror. We caught up with him in 2003, just before the DVD release of "Beyond Reanimator."
I think the most frustrating part was that this project was planned, this project was taken to film markets where movies are sold, and it was sold with my name attached and yet I didn't have a deal.
Well first off I've got to say thanks for doing the interview with me. It's an honor!
It's my pleasure.
I'm a huge "Reanimator" fan.
Great... you've seen the new one then right? So what did you think?
I liked it alright, I think "Bride of Reanimator" is still my favorite though.
Bride is your favorite ?!
Yup... that seems to be the uncommon answer to that question.
You're a rare breed my friend.
(laughs)... Well do you like Bride?
I think that Bride is... well I know the inner workings of it. It was kind of made in haste. It was not the original script. I like the central theme of the whole kind of Frankenstein thing going on, and the metaphor that it's all sort of being built around Meg's heart, with all the various parts and all of that. But I think overall that there are some weaknesses to the structure of the script.
I also felt that some of the tone for Herbert (West) was a little more cutsie, and they were trying real hard to go for like... clever one-liners. You know, "don't let the big head rule the little head." It was just sort of a little too forced I thought.
So how would you compare Bride to Beyond as far as those weaknesses go?
I think "Beyond Reanimator" is a much more "gritty" sort of movie. I think that structurally it's interesting. I felt that in the first movie Herbert had a real sort of scientific mission going on, and then in the second one it was kind of like, well what's he doing really? He's kind of mixing body parts, and kind of doodling around, mixing an arm and a leg together, and that's not really fulfilling his purpose. So I sort of felt like with "Beyond" we're sort of getting back to Herbert's sort of hard science and he will not let anything get in his way... furthering his work. That's always been my purpose on all this, is making sure that there's a progression in Herbert's work with every installment that comes along. To make sure that we're not just repeating what we did before.
So now that Beyond is finally out on DVD, how does it feel to be out promoting a Reanimator film after all these years?
Wierd, surreal, it's been like 13 years since I even did "Bride"... it's wierd. Then again, I'm in rare company as far as how many actors can say that they're reprising a role that they did almost 20 years ago? Me and James Bond and Jamie Lee Curtis. Those are the only ones that I can think of.
I was reading an interview with you the other day and you seemed to indicate that the negotiation process to get you involved with this latest sequel was a long and frustrating one for you. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Well you know, negotiations can often be long and frustrating. This one was especially long. I think the most frustrating part was that this project was planned, this project was taken to film markets where movies are sold, and it was sold with my name attached and yet I didn't have a deal. Needless to say that wasn't too pleasing.
So you eventually overcame your differences on that?
Ya we eventually... you know that's just not the way it should be done. My biggest frustration also is that I always wanted to be part of the creative process... coming up with the story and being in on the writing. Not necessarily me doing the writing, but me being part of that creative process, and that didn't come to pass.
So in the end are you happy with the finished product?
In the end I am... uh... yes, I guess I would say that I'm happy with it. Considering that I was... well I was worried that it would be low quality. Simply because we were shooting in Spain and we had real concerns about a movie that is supposed to take place in Massachusetts being shot in Spain. How's that going to be sold? How's that going to be accepted? But I was real happy with the way that it was edited. I thought the music was pretty good for the most part. The sound is good, the Special FX turned out a lot better than I thought they would, considering some of the days on the set and some of the physical stuff that was going on.
You know, I also had real reservations when we were shooting because some of those actors that you saw were Spaniards who were speaking English with quite thick accents, and a couple of them have been dubbed completely. Or... I shouldn't say completely. They've been... augmented. In fact, the warden and the girl are both sort of actually "blends." Like their voice is there sometimes, but a lot of the time it's somebody elses voice.
So she was Spanish then?
Oh yeah (laughs)...definitely Spanish... really good dubs. If you notice when she goes through her transition, all of a sudden she begins speaking in a Spanish accent, and that's her real voice. The reason that they did that is that they kept the warden for most of the film having a flavor of an accent. So when he is implanted into her, then his accent comes out. It was kind of a clever way of solving a complex problem. So I had my worries about that all adding up to an acceptable film world. So all those hurdles, for the most part, were solved.
Bruce was never approached frankly because I think Brian, just sheerly from a business sense figured that the budget couldn't handle both of us... Something had to give.
I know the version that I saw was the Uncut version. I saw that the DVD has been given an "R" by the MPAA. Do you know if they had to cut anything to get that 'R' rating?
Very little. My understanding was that very little was cut, which I was sort of frankly surprised by with all the... all the "penile" stuff going on... if you know what I mean (laughs). They pretty much gave that a free ride. They were more concerned with like when the warden is electrocuted and his face bubbles and smokes. That was bothersome to them. So there was a little bit cut, but I wouldn't even be able to point it out to you. Let's put it this way, the version that comes out with an 'R' is not the version that was on Sci-fi channel.
So how would you compare working with Jason Barry as a partner compared to Bruce Abbot?
Bruce is a great pal of mine, although I haven't talked to him in a couple of months. He lives not too far from me, and he's a good pal and I was sorry that he wasn't in the third one. Because I felt that the story should have finished off that trilogy with him. So, that was unfortunate, but I really enjoyed working with Jason. We became real good friends, and when you're in a situation like that you want someone that you have comraderie and repoire with and I certainly got along famously with Jason. The most frustrating thing being in Spain was basically just communication breakdown. Everybody's standing there talking in Spanish and we're just sitting there like "what?" So it was good to have Jason there, but I was sad that Bruce wasn't there, so I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place on that one.
I've heard Brian Yuzna say that it was just his choice not to bring back Bruce's character (Dan Cain), do you know if that is true or if it was because Bruce wasn't interested?
Well Bruce was never approached, and Bruce was never approached frankly because I think Brian, just sheerly from a business sense figured that the budget couldn't handle both of us... Something had to give.
The film definitely left the door open for a sequel. I know that you spoke earlier about the "Trilogy," do you think that there is another decent entry left in the "Reanimator" series?
Ya I think definitely. I've already been sort of brainstorming with little pearls of ideas as to where it might go, and I know that probably Brian has too but, absolutely nothing that I have heard has occurred along those lines. I mean I guess that would depend upon how well this DVD does. It obviously isn't going to be dependent upon it's theatrical release because it didn't have one (laughs)... Although it had a very little tiny one, our distribution company basically purchased this movie for straight-to-video. So I don't know what DVD sales determine.
So you would be interested in the role, if it came up again?
Like I said with the third one, I would be interested only if all the ducks are in a row. There are a lot of different things that have to be in place before I would be interested. Business wise, but also creatively. There's a lot of ways that I want it to go. I'm really not interested in just signing on for the sake of singing on. It's a little more complicated than that.
So out of all three of the films which Reanimator would you say is your favorite?
Oh... I would say the first one. It was the most groundbreaking. There wouldn't be the other two without it. It was also the freshest and the least self concious about what it was, because when we were making it it was just a low budget sort of 4-week quickie. Luckily I got the role, but at the time I didn't really think that it was going to be this huge cult classic that it has become. The "Iconic-ness" of it was just not there. We were all just first timers a lot of us... I'd done a few things but I didn't even envision that it would be what it is and that's probably good, because you can't be thinking about things like that while you're trying to create a character.
Shooting the movie was very fast, very quick. 18 days I think. It definitely flew, and it is a bit of a blur, but I had a great time working on it with Bruce and with Stuart. People seem to forget that when the movie came out it wasn't the huge cult classic that it is now. It came out, it actually had a theatrical release of sorts because it came out unrated. There was a great controversy with the critics about the movie. They either adored it or they were appalled by it. So it got talked about critically. Pauline Kael put it on her Top 10 list that year.
My point is though that not a lot of people saw it when it was out in the theatres. Then when it came out on video, there was no DVD at the time, and video was really still sort of in it's infancy, it got a whole nother round of people. It got a much wider group of people interested in it, but there was no internet or anything to sort of get things frothy. So at the time it was really sort of a grass roots kind of "have you seen this!" kind of thing. I don't know how many people over the years have said, "oh man, I saw that movie when I was 14 and my parents got so mad!" So it went like that, and then it seemed like over the years it really got a real groundswell and got bigger and bigger, then it kind of went a way for a while and then it just came back with a vengeance.
I think that the internet has done that for alot of movies. All of a sudden people realized that there was a ton of people out there that are into the same stuff.
Ya, ya... and so hopefully all of that will draw people to this third one, and they'll like it enough to garner enough interest for a fourth one.
Now you worked with Stuart Gordon on the first Reanimator, and obviously with Brian Yuzna on the last two. Can you compare the two for me. How do they differ in the way they work?
Ya, they're really really different. Stuart is a gifted madman. He comes from a sort of renegade-theatre background and he really brought kind of a raucous, kind of authentic but sort of radical, whacked point of view to the material. But also with a real strong sort of theatre ethic behind it too. We rehearsed a lot and really got it down, which was wise because we had such a short shooting schedule that there was no time to rehearse on set. He's real clear about what he wants and he's real intent, and he really knows actors in a lot of ways.
Brian came to directing late, only after he had been a producer. But he did his homework and he's really sort of technical. He really knows where to put the camera to shoot a scene, and get all that across.
So what's the difference? It's really apples and oranges. I've worked with both of them a number of times you know, and I get along with both of them really well, but in completely different ways. It's just different.
You've worked on a handfull of films that were inspired by H.P. Lovecraft stories. "From Beyond," "Reanimator" and "Necronomicon." Are you a fan of Lovecraft? Do you think his stories make for good adaptations?
I don't think that they make themselves great for adaptations. The vast majority of H.P. Lovecraft is much more about mood, essence, fear, a sense of dread, but he's not very plot driven. The stories don't really go from point A to point B. So a lot of the time in people's adaptations of them they have to sort of create that. "From Beyond" is a good example of that. It's a fairly short story, and it has really none of the things that the movie had. Just this general notion that there's things in the air. "Necronomicon"... well even "Reanimator," there's probably a little bit more of plot drive there than some of his other stories, but even our movie is updated and it doesn't... there is no character named Dan Cain, there's no Meg. There is a Herbert West and there is a Dr. Carl Hill, but he's not in the manifestation that he is in the movie. So there's elements and bits and pieces that you can maybe use to climb the mountain, but it's not all out there for you to easily follow the path.
I had vaguely heard of H.P. Lovecraft before I went in to audition for "Reanimator." Stuart said, "hey, this is based on H.P. Lovecraft," and I said (sarcastically) "wow great!." He could have been a dentist for all I knew. I had no idea. I've since read some of his material. A little bit of it, he's an interesting guy. He had a real gift and he certainly has his following.
Have you seen any good horror films lately?
Good horror films lately? They can be sort of hard to come by. I liked a lot of "28 Days Later," although I wouldn't really say that's a horror film. I honestly am not a guy who goes out and tries to find horror films. I enjoy them when they're done well and I despise them when they're done badly. And a lot of them are just done badly.