Sweetback: I just want to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your experience making – and living with the legacy of – Forever Evil. For anyone reading, I just want to direct them to your enlightening series of articles about the making of the film, and your own involvement. It’s eye-opening stuff for anyone interested in low-budget films and their creation.
You obviously have an enduring love for horror. When did this start developing, and who were some of your early creative influences?
Freeman Williams: It goes back as far as I can remember. When I was a kid, most TV stations ran afternoon movies, and the Universal horror flicks of the 30s cropped up often. I was around for the first iterations of Famous Monsters magazine, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. There was a monster fad in the early 60s, and it was a fad that I never outgrew. Now that I think about it, my Mom always liked horror movies too – that helped. I pored through every horror anthology my local library possessed – some several times – and every issue of Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella I could get my hands on. So, though I fell in love with H.P Lovecraft early on when I found “The Colour Out of Space” in a thick book simply titled A Science Fiction Anthology, I was probably most influenced by comics. Born too late for EC, but the Warren Publications were a fair substitute.
Ha! Somewhere I’ve got a rejection letter from Warren stashed away! My 12 year-old heart was broken!
SB: You mention your negative response to the Friday The 13th series, and the derivative films that followed in the wake of Carpenter’s Halloween, I was surprised to read that the tedium with stalk-and-slash formula had already set in when you first developed the concept for (what became) Forever Evil. What do you find tiresome in the slasher genre, and how did you originally hope to subvert it?
FW: Well, I found it tedious, but the damned things kept getting made for a fair part of the next decade, so somebody was watching them. Slashers are so damned mechanical and repetitive – I always like to recall whoever it was in the Fango interview, who worked on Friday the 13th Part Two, and said that they had it down to a murder every four and a half minutes. GUH!
The mixture of sex and violence has always been a central part of horror, that contrast of beauty and vulnerability with blood and horror. In the hands of a good filmmaker, that pays off. Most of the slashers, though, were done so quickly and so cheaply, and with so little understanding of what makes movies like that tick, that mixture usually comes across as misogyny – and it often was. I remember Tom Savini in Scream Greats talking about fan letters he got from kids saying, “I like seeing women get cut up.” That’s not horror. That’s a snuff film.
Confronted with a continuous flood of psychos wearing masks and raiding the knife drawer, I wanted to bring the fantastic back into the mix. The first 20-30 minutes of FE was always intended to be a full horror movie, but then I wanted to show what comes after – which in the world of sequels usually means you die in the first five minutes. But I come from a heavy comics background, so no, you become Batman and eventually find a Robin. You work to stop being a victim. I also wanted the only nude scene to be dead Holly in the shower. “Okay, you wanted nudity? Here it is! NOW CHOKE ON IT!”
FW: Well, I don’t like ’em, so I don’t watch many of ’em. Some, though, are unavoidable. John Carpenter’s Halloween, certainly. I thought April Fool’s Day played with the conventions nicely. The original Nightmare on Elm Street brought back the fantastic, but I liked the sequels only fitfully. Freddy vs Jason was kinda fun. I really liked Scream and Scream 2, though the genre self-awareness those spawned has also gotten kinda toxic. I’m probably the only person in the world who likes Shocker, but then, that’s also because the protagonist works really hard at not being a victim (and even then I really hate movies where the bad guy can jump from body to body. Shocker‘s a love/hate choice for me).
SB: What’s your personal favorite scene in Forever Evil? Is there a moment where you think, “We almost had it. This was almost something special.”?
FW: Hm. The reveal of second-stage Alfie (the zombie) in the hotel room. That was everything I had wanted and imagined.
SB: Forever Evil was part of the first wave of straight-to-video horror films, which included some pretty awful examples – your articles mentioned Blood Cult (aka Slasher) and The Ripper as being early examples. What were your thoughts on this distribution method at the time? Do you think this method ended up serving the film well?
FW: Well, it was pretty much the only reason FE got made, much less seen by anybody. The VHS boom became the second coming of the drive-in. There was a lot of stuff that might have ended up on the bottom half of a drive-in double feature, if there were anymore drive-ins. I watched a good many of them, and most were various flavors of dreadful. I don’t have to tell you, it was like panning for gold. For every pleasant surprise like Redneck Zombies or The Video Dead, you had a hundred others that were really good at pouring stage blood on a chainsaw, and not much else. But they got seen, and that is great.
FW: Well, that script remains unproduced, which is a shame – FE was a tremendous learning experience and I put it to good use. There was a vampire flick which was off and on for years and came this close to production – then that decade’s stock market crash happened, and the money went away. The last screenplay I ever wrote was/is a tough sell, involving retired superheroes – brothers who hunt monsters for a living, and alien invaders. Basically, in the fifteen years since I wrote it, every single facet has hit TV or the movies in one way or another. Oh well.
I returned to theater for a while, wrote several children’s shows. They were produced, but no publishers were interested. In this century, I’ve written the scripts for three educational video games – none of which are available for folks to play, unless they’re in the federally-funded studies – and an ethics training course which is written as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel.
These days, when I’m not writing, I’m using what I learned in my days of making industrial training films as a “Media Videographer” – I produce a weekly local interest story, five minutes, for our municipal station. Sometimes fun, often terribly mundane.
SB: You’ve done your share of both writing and acting. Which do you find to be the most creatively satisfying?
FW: That’s a good question. I’m one of those people that hates writing, but enjoys having written, if you know what I mean. I enjoy coming back to something I’ve written and being surprised at the quality. And then I start re-writing it. Acting, though, is a stone rush. I don’t get the satisfaction from film acting that I do on the stage. There is very much a parasitic relationship between an actor and the audience, and my God, when everything is working right, when the audience is hanging on your every word, when you hear the gasp of surprise or the laughter… well. That’s a bewildering amount of power you have in that instant.
Unfortunately, it’s also ephemeral. Audiences get a different show every night. All you have is your memories, really, of those magic moments. Or the times you’ve come offstage muttering, “Well, at least they have no idea of how badly I just fucked up.”
So it depends on what you want: the permanence of paper, or the illusion of power. Me, I’m afraid I go for the power.
SB: Tell me a little bit about what led to the eventual two-disc special edition DVD of Forever Evil? Was it rewarding to revisit it, knowing that it could be properly re-evaluated – and include your input via commentary?
FW: I like to think it was the little hints I dropped on Internet forums and the like. “Well, I couldn’t really stop anybody if they wanted to launch a letter-writing campaign…” But really, it was coming up on the 15th anniversary of the VHS release, and VCI was gussying up a lot of their old war horses. They’d kept in touch with me and Roger Evans, the director – so they asked, and we delivered on the commentary track. Doing the commentary track on a DVD had been on my bucket list, and I was able to tick that one off, at least. I showed up with print-outs and notes, and I think I got 90% of what I wanted to say, said. I’ve read reviews that said the track was refreshingly honest. I’ll take that.
SB: I’ve been a big fan of The Bad Movie Report and the B-Masters Cabal for years now. In the days before everyone and their grandmother had a review blog, I considered those sites to be the crème de la crème of online genre movie criticism. When did you go from writing films to writing about films, and how did your website first develop?
FW: After I left the world of theater (for the umpteenth time), I was making my living running a teleprompter for video shoots, which is, I’m sure you can guess, singularly lacking in creativity. This was about the time that this Internet thing was finally starting to take off. I was actually writing a book about B-movies, and I was experimenting with various ways to put it out as an e-book with embedded video. That was way beyond my skills, but in the course of that project I had learned HTML. I had all this writing saved up, and there was this place called Fortune City offering free web sites…
So that was my creative outlet for the next few years. Those were fun times, meeting and hob-nobbing with my fellow wizards at B-Fest and the New Orleans Worst Film Festival. Man, I look at the BMR today and that homepage is a sad, sad callback to the year 1998. But I’ve got too much work elsewhere to WordPress-ify it, or whatever it is you young’uns do today.
FW: I’m inclined to say more forgiving. I can generally tell when the people involved are at least trying, or when there is something novel bubbling under the surface that’s just going sadly unexploited. I’m still a fanboy, though. Disappoint me badly enough and I’ll savage you. It’s seems harder to be forgiving these days when any yutz can rent a Red camera and have a full computer suite of editors and effects generators for under a grand. If you’re ineptly shot on some grainy medium, I’m more than willing to cut you some slack. If you spent more on the mini-DV-Steadicam than you did on the script, I’m going to doubt your dedication to your vision.
SB: If someone reading this was interested in checking out Forever Evil, what would be the best way to do so?
FW: Well, VCI and Amazon are still selling the basic, no-frills disc; that two-disc set appears to be consigned to eBay and Half.com these days. I doubt it will ever be on Netflix Streaming, but they do also have the basic disc for rental. I keep hearing stories of it cropping up on basic cable or low-rent closed circuit channels of even lower-rent motels, which is a little frightening. I still remember the bottom dropping out of my stomach when I saw it was going to be on the USA Network’s Up All Night.
SB: And for those interested in following you and your work, what are some of the ways of doing so?
FW: I do keep a blog, though it’s usually only updated once a week, if that. If I don’t have anything to say, I prefer not to say it. It’s Yes, I Know at http://drfreex.wordpress.com/ I also hang out on Twitter as @drfreex – though that’s largely posts to my movie poster Tumblr.
SB: Anything else to plug?
FW: Wow, I wish I did. After all this ethics and educational nonsense, Roger is pressing me to finally write a novel. Given that my average blog post is 1000-1500 words, he’s quite right in pointing out that 80 of those equals a novel. Who knows, the world might finally get that sequel to Forever Evil I plotted out 24 years ago.
SB: Well, I would definitely love to see it. Thanks for your time, Freeman!
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016