Were you always a fan of horror movies growing up and how did you first develop an interest in special effects?
“Always. I loved watching the old Universal Monster Movies on television and enjoy all the new hammer films when I was growing up in Oklahoma.”
How did you become involved with Just Before Dawn and were you hesitant about working on what could have become just another slasher?
“At that time in my career I was eager to take any work I could get. I was referred by Joe Blasco, went for the interview and got the job. It was 1980 and I had been in Hollywood for only two years. I jumped into the job with both feet and did the best job I could.”
What was your initial thoughts when you first read the script and what kind of directions were you given from the director?
“A Deliverance type, backwoods slasher film. The director wanted to make the arm down the throat scene pretty graphic, gave me the parameters and he let me ride with it.”
The movie seemed more in the vein of Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes than the likes of Friday the 13th, was this a conscious decision of the filmmakers and how did you approach your FX in a way that made them differ from the standard stalk and slash movies of the era?
“More in the vein of the first two films. They didn’t put as much gore into this film.”
What was your favourite effect in the movie and why?
“The arm down the throat gag. I’d never accomplished anything like that at that time and it was really great working out the logistics of the effect.”
How did you achieve this effect and were you pleased with the result?
“It was achieved in two stages. The first was with an appliance applied to the actor’s face which the actress could fit her fist/arm down into. The second was with a fake arm, attached to the actress, with the hand cut off. This was inserted into the actor’s mouth when the camera was rolling. I remember this well because we didn’t get to shoot it in Oregon during principal photography and production had to fly the actor and myself to New York in September of 1980 to shoot the insert shots. This is when I went to meet Dick Smith at his then Larchmont, New York home on my day off.”
Just Before Dawn differed from many slashers in that the killers are not superhuman and do not come back at the end for one last Carrie-style jump. Do you think that the killers being more human added to the fear, as apposed to an unstoppable killer like JasonVoorhees?
“Absolutely. There’s something about the primal fear of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.”
Looking back almost thirty years later, are you proud of your work and how well do you feel Just Before Dawn has aged?
“Very proud. I think it’s held it’s own in that genre of films.”
INTERVIEW: Christian Sellers