David Hess has enjoyed a long career behind and in front of the camera, having starred in films directed by Wes Craven (the original classic Last House on the Left) and Ruggero Deodato, and worked as a writer and composer with everyone from Elvis Presley to Rainer Fassbinder to Eli Roth (contributing several songs to the latter's Cabin Fever). After over four decades in film and music, Hess shows little sign of slowing down. He'll soon star in Smash Cut, The Beautiful Outsiders, The Driller Killer and a thriller he'll direct, the name of which he reveals in the following interview. Hit the jump now to learn about Hess's new projects, and what he thought of this year's Last House on the Left remake.
I have to ask you what you thought of the recent Last House on the Left remake. Have you seen the film?
I absolutely did. The opening night it came out I saw it. I honestly have no fucking idea, Joe, why I saw it. It wasn't really something that I had planned on doing. I don't know. But I saw it and my first impression was, "This isn't Last House on the Left." They made another movie where they used a lot of elements but they left out, for me, a lot of the critical elements that made the original what it was. There was no real ensemble work, no camaraderie work. They made the doctor and his wife almost like the bad guys. They let Junior escape with Mary; they cut out the rape scene – she became a swimmer, so she's swimming across this thousand-mile lake constantly. [Laughs.] I thought it was a slick Hollywood piece of garbage; and when I looked at it, I thought the director did a good job with the material that he had, and it was interesting to watch physically, from a professional point of view, from a director's point of view. I liked the camera work a lot. I thought that was interesting. But come on – you get to the end of a fucking film and you fry somebody's head in a microwave oven and you blow up their head… where did that come from?! How do we make the bridge from The Virgin Spring [on which the original Last House was based] to blowing up someone's head in a microwave? You tell me. So no, my answer is that I would not have used the title Last House on the Left. I would have changed it and just said, "This is a new movie based on it." They do plenty of that. But that was not a remake by any stretch of the imagination.
Have you found that since the film's release young fans have discovered the original? Have you gotten a sense of that?
Rediscovered perhaps. I think that there is always an ongoing process of discovering Last House, because each generation looks at it in terms of it being one of those seminal horror films – maybe there are five or six that have been made over a period of a hundred years that have changed the footprint of the genre. So in that respect, it's very seminal and it gets rediscovered all the time. Have I noticed more younger people? A lot of what we're experiencing is due to the internet and the i-phone and texting and all the things we are able to do now in this day and age that make the information highway so much easier to access. So in that respect, yes, there are probably more people who have recognized that and recognized me, certainly over the internet. I get a lot of traffic going to my Facebook site, or my MySpace or even to my website – which has been up and down like a roller coaster, but finally we have it right. I try and stay on top of it, and I try and answer as many queries as I can. I can't do it all by myself, but I do as much as I can.
In Smash Cut you'll play a horror film director, who kills for his films. Having directed in real life, did you find you could relate especially well to this role?
When I met [producer] Rob [Menzies] and [director] Lee [Demarbre], they presented the idea to me. It was still in… not its formative state, but a little bit past its first draft. So at that point they started to include my image, if that makes sense to you, because they had no image of what the role was all about; that was just the role. So we worked a lot discussion-wise. I am a director, although I don't pursue it probably as much as I should, because of the music and the acting being more important or taking over or however you want to put it, but in answer to your question, [playing] a director was not that big a leap for me.
Smash Cut sounds like a fun love letter to horror filmmaking. Did you find it particularly enjoyable to make?
I want to say, "Yes," but I think there's a caveat there, because I'm in the film, and I get a kick out of my own performance. So if people have the same sensibilities as I do in terms of watching films, then they'll get a kick out of my performance. The actual making of it was a blast. It was hard work, because we were working twelve, sixteen hours a day, non-stop. I maybe got one day off in twenty-three, twenty-four or twenty-two shooting days. It was hard. It was a difficult shoot, because we were really limited in time and in space and in budget more than anything. The film should have been shot with much more money, but we shot for what was there. A lot of films that I see are good just because of that challenge that is placed on you. How do we make this film work with the amount of money with our budgetary allowances? What do we do? In terms of whether it was a positive or negative experience, it was incredibly positive.
It's got an interesting cast. Sasha Grey's kind of hot right now, having just come off The Girlfriend Experience with Steven Soderbergh. And you're working with Michael Berryman, another Wes Craven alum.
What was your on-set relationship like?
Well, Michael and I are good friends. We live close together. I suggested Michael for the role. Actually the DP, Armand, was supposed to be played by Marty Kove, only it's Canadian content, so because of that you can only bring in a certain amount of people outside of Canada to get that deferral from the government. So they're always working on that. They were able to get Michael in, which was amazing. They had Sasha and myself, and Herschell [Gordon Lewis] was there. He's an American too. They got a lot of people into the show that otherwise wouldn't have been in, but everything else was Canadian content… To answer your question – Michael and I go back a long way. We've done a couple of films together already. Michael was there for a day. He gets paid a shithouse amount of money for a film, at least in terms of a low-budget film, so we had to get him done in a day. There wasn't a whole bunch of stuff written for him. Ian wrote with the idea in mind that we would take the ideas and a few of the lines and just run with them. That's what we did, so what you see on the screen is Michael and I riffing back and forth, what you will see.
Because you two are so well known amongst genre film lovers, do you ever find yourselves comparing the experiences you've had with fans?
Not really. I think we're a part of that cult film clique, the elite cult film clique – although I say that with all humility. We mostly feel very close to the fans. I personally feel much closer to the cult film genre than I do other fans, although I don't poo poo the other fans, but I think they're less engaged and more reactive. Cult film fans are really filmgoers, and as such, as an actor or participant – movie-maker, musician, however you want to qualify that – your standards are set pretty high. Even before you make a film, you're always trying to go that one step further in terms of your standards.
Another film that you have in development is Driller Killer [a remake of Abel Ferrara's original film]. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The director is Andrew Jones, and he's [from] Swansea, which is a city southwest of Cardiff. He's Welsh. I think he wants to do it as an homage more than anything else to Abel Ferrara. I love the role, because he's a bad guy who's an art collector, so it takes on a different energy for me. Is he gay? Is he not gay? Who is this guy? That was one of the first questions I asked myself – "What do I do? Do I play him with gay overtones, or not patently gay, or play him as a slime ball – a European with a lot of class but underneath it is this rusty degenerating person who isn't what he seems to be?" That much I've established. Someone who doesn't seem to be who he is. That's always part of the role that you're playing, isn't it?
You mentioned Abel Ferrara – the [remake] apparently began as something he might produce, and that Asia Argento might direct. At what point did you become involved in the project?
When Asia decided she didn't want to do it or couldn't fit it in with her schedule, Andrew came to me. He did his first film, called The Feral Generation, which was just being released at the time, but I think it's been out for a couple of years now. The star of The Feral Generation committed to do the Abel Ferrara film, The Driller Killer, so he brought that package to the table. I guess he was having difficulty with the guy who owned the rights – although I think it was Abel who owned the rights anyway – and it was kind of a long, drawn-out process to sort it out. Now it's sorted out and he's thinking about filming it next year. But I came through when the lead guy who was going to play the Driller Killer, the artist, dropped out for whatever reason. Things like that always happen.
I'm curious as to how you feel about the state of horror films today. Have you found yourself watching anything recently?
I'm so remiss. There are so many films I need to catch up on. I like the some of the stuff that Milla Jovovich does. I try and follow her because I think that she's incredibly sexy and just does a really good job in picking that character. I don't watch a whole lot of movies because I'm so determined to find new projects. This is remiss of me; I really should stay on top of it, but I just don't. When I'm not involved in the film, I'm putting together my own horror film right now that will shoot next spring. We're fleshing out the script and we've got the treatment, and I've got a lot of interest in it. And the music… I'm involved in a new album because I've got a lot of songs that I've been writing over a period of years lately and I just want to do another album before too long. Those things are at the top of my list, so to go out and watch a horror film per say… I do watch them occasionally because there are people who I like and want to see what the cutting edge is like. If Rob Zombie comes, I'll watch his film. I'll go see Inglorious Bastards, but that's not a horror film is it? It's a genre film, so I'll do that. But to go out and watch a horror movie per say, the answer is no. I do it but it's not something I do on a daily basis.
You mentioned the film you'll direct. Can you talk a little bit about the story, or is that top secret?
Well, it is top secret, but I can tell you that it's about bi-polarism and how it affects the individual and how we are affected by our environment and the media and by a whole bunch of things; and one person can go the heart of darkness throughout and become serial killer-like while another person can deal with the bi-polarism and live, if not just a normal life, a very productive life. But it's a horror film, remember that. I don't want to give it away.
Can you give us the title?
I could, I don't know if I should. You tell me! [Laughs.]
By all means! We're more than happy to report it.
The title is As Evil Does.
Is this a film that you'll act in as well as direct?
Yep, I'll direct it and act in one of the major roles. It won't be the lead – I don't want to do the lead. It wasn't written for me, and I'm certainly not going to play the female. Although I guess I could try, if I were co-opted to do something like that.
One last question – in real life, what's your greatest fear?
If it ever happened, watching my faculties deteriorate. I don't want to be a vegetable. I don't want to be non-productive. I don't mind aging graciously, but if I lose my faculties, that would frighten me; that would really fucking frighten me. I don't mind being taken care of, that's okay. I've taken care of a lot of people in my life, so turning it around is fair play, but not to have my faculties, not to be able to… I mean I'm a voracious reader, I love to read. I have books all over the house. I love to read. It's really my one favorite thing to do. I probably do more of that than watching sports or news or movies on television. Or the outdoors – I wouldn't want to climb the hill in front of my house using a stroller. So yeah, you could say that watching my faculties deteriorate would be my one big fear. I'm not afraid of anything, if that's what you're saying. I'm not afraid to get in anyone's face or anything like that, or afraid of protecting what I feel is right to protect or stepping up in front of a bullet for my kids. They'd do it for me too. I wouldn't want them to, but we have no control over that, and that's not something that you do consciously. It's just something we do as an immediate reaction. To see and to feel deteriorate… I talk about it and it scares the shit out of me when I talk about it. I would think that would be a question that would be hard for a lot of people… a lot of people would just bypass. They wouldn't want to think about it.