Dee Wallace is well known in genre circles. Perhaps best known as “E.T.’s mom” (actually Elliot’s mom, but when you are a kid, everything revolves around E.T.) she has starred in well over 100 films, including Cujo, The Hills Have Eyes, Critters, Popcorn, The Frighteners, The Howling, and Halloween (2007). Her two most recent genre outings are Hansel and Gretel (no relation to the Jeremy Renner version) and Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem. She opened up to us about low-budget filmmaking and working with Rob Zombie.
How did you get involved in Hansel and Gretel?
Anthony Ferrante, the director, called me up and said, “Please, will you do this?” I loved the take on this story that they had come up with. I thought it was very true to the original story, and yet very creative, bringing it into the 2013 horror genre. Most of all, I just really respect Anthony. I think he’s got a lot of integrity and a lot of creativity. We both said that we didn’t want to go in there and play her like the typical witch. We wanted to go in and play her in a way that people can somehow understand who she is and make her more real. I think we did that. The first time I see anything I do, I tend to want to run out of the room in horror. I watched this the first time and thought, “Dang, we did a good movie here.” It was a very low budget, and there wasn’t a lot of time. I really liked this film! It’s weird and all over the place, there is comedy in it, but you really do understand the characters - even the witch. You get to understand what propels her. There is a great arc to play, and I love to play a great arc.
You said it was a really hard shoot. Was that just because of the time and the budget?
Yes, let’s start with that. Every day for the week and a half that I was on, it was over 100 degrees and not one place we shot in had air conditioning. That makes it really hard - just to keep your energy up. Unlike most horror films and action/sci-fi films, this one had a lot of scenes and a lot of lines. We were shooting incredibly fast and there was a lot of studying that had to go down. I loved working with Stephanie Greco [Gretel] and that was what I loved when I read the script. It wasn’t “Here is this character, let’s watch how we are going to kill him.” There were real scenes to play and an arc to build. It was challenging. We had a limited - but awesome - crew. We were trying to do special effects with less budget than we needed.
When you started shooting this film, did you know that there would be another, bigger-budgeted Hansel and Gretel coming out around the same time?
No. When we finally saw the final cut of this film, everyone thought this needed to be a feature film [with a theatrical release.] Then they found out that the big-budget one was coming out. I think it would have been interesting to see what happened if both came out at the same time and people could compare them. Money doesn’t make a film. E.T. was Steven Spielberg’s “little” film. He had a fifth of the budget he normally has. It’s not the money; it’s the script and the performances and people who know what they are doing with the money they have.
Lords of Salem feels like it has been shrouded in secrecy, but that may just be because we have been hearing about it for years. What can you tell us about your role in it?
I think part of that is who Rob is. He’s a great showman; he’s a private person. He knows that the power of his films is not to give everything away before you see it, because then you don’t experience it fully.
It’s about the witches of Salem. We follow the bloodline and the curse into current day. I play one of the witches - there are three of us - that have been given the job of helping deliver payback to all of the ancestors of the original people who burned the witches in the first place. Rob wrote the part for me. Initially, I am a self-help guru, but I get to play a very big arc. Of course, the person who helps us access all that we have to do is Sherri Moon Zombie.
You’ve worked with Rob on several pictures. He seems to like working with the same actors. Does that help foster a family feel on set?
He loves bringing back and honoring horror icons. He’s very faithful to some people, then reaches out to other people who fall into that category. For example, Patricia Quinn is from Rocky Horror Picture Show. She plays one of the witches. What I love about working with Rob, and with Anthony Ferrante, is that they have a very clear vision and they give you an amazing amount of freedom to come in and create what you want. For me, that is the best of the creative worlds: when everyone comes in and says, “This is the goal we have to get to, now let’s hear all your ideas of how we do it. If I don’t like it, I will pull you back, but if I do, I will give you all the rope in the world.”
Do you frequently get pulled back?
I don’t, though I crossed over this in Hansel and Gretel. I take pride in always keeping everything real. Everything. So whatever response or reaction I have, no matter how far out it is, whether it is as a mother or a witch, it has to be hooked in reality. So I’m not pulled back very often. I am actually encouraged to go further more often than I am asked to pull back.
Do you consider yourself a Scream Queen?
Absolutely - and proud of it! I am a good screamer, I am a good crier, and not just in a horror film. To take these films and make them real, and give people the opportunity to explore their fears through my performance... I’m happy with that.
Hansel and Gretel is out now on DVD. Lords of Salem is due in theaters April 19th.