Sweetback (SB): I guess the obvious question is – where did your fascination with scream queens, and Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer in particular, come from?
Jason Paul Collum (JC): I was just the right age at the right time. I was OBSESSED with Fangoria magazine at the time (I’d just discovered it, about age 15) and the girls were frequently talked about in their pages. I knew Linnea’s face because it seemed like she was in every issue of that and GOREZONE. Michelle wasn’t shown as much, but I think pix of her from THE TOMB and HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS kept popping up – it honestly could have been in ads that were running and I was just fixated on HCH (although it wasn’t until well into my college years that I finally got to see it). Brinke was the illusive one, and I think that’s how it officially began. Fango always talked about her, but never showed pix of her. I knew she was in THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, so once I’d seen it and figured out who she was, and then kept seeing her, Linnea and Michelle in other movies time and again in movie after movie I just fell in love (figuratively) with them. I knew their movies weren’t the pinnacle of entertainment for everyone, but just liked them. I always found them entertaining. And as I’m sure the bulk of your readers can attest, being a teenager sucks. So at an emotionally rough time in my life they were bringing me joy. And I think THAT is why they’ve “stuck” with me for so many years, just like Debbie Gibson, Julie Brown (EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY) and crazy hairstyles.
SB: One of the things that most struck me about the documentary was the massive difference in personalities between the three stars. What do you think distinguished these three women from the dozens of other similar actresses of the time?
JC: Well, I keep saying it’s because they were the first to do it. Everyone else followed, regardless of talent. There really were a lot of great ladies who came along in that era: Melissa Moore, Debbie Dutch, Debra Lamb, Maria Ford, Monique Parent, JJ North, Robyn Harris (aka Gail Harris), Jewel Shepard… that list could keep going.
Still, both first on the scene and the sheer amount of work Linnea, Brinke and Michelle were doing at the time in comparison to the others. You have to remember this was before any Joe Schmoe could pick up a camera and make a movie. In 1989 you still needed to have an actual budget to make a movie. So that Linnea could have starred in 11 movies in 1989 was a huge deal! It scored her notice in The Hollywood Reporter and People and Premiere magazines – not an easy feat by any means. Then she and Brinke and Michelle started getting invited onto MTV, Entertainment Tonight, various talk shows – Brinke even became the subject of a Jeopardy question… JEOPARDY!!! Think of how historically and pop culturally significant you need to be in order to be the question on that show.
The other actresses just didn’t receive that kind of publicity. Plus Linnea, Brinke and Michelle for whatever reason – fate or advertising – seemed linked as a trio in the media. Notice every time I mention them their names are listed in a specific order. Linnea is always first, Brinke second, Michelle third. I still do this because it was ingrained in me by box covers, poster art and Fangoria that it’s how it was “SUPPOSED” to be. And they each unknowingly had a persona/role: Linnea was the perky cheerleader who could become a punk rocker at the snap of a finger; Brinke was the nerdy goddess – smart and sexy; Michelle the everyday girl. Pretty enough to be the homecoming queen, but grounded enough to be friends with the nerds and the jocks.
And most importantly, they could all be sluts in a moment (i.e. NIGHTMARE SISTERS and SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA). So they each played to a stereotype of men’s fantasies.
SB: The film has a slew of incredible film clips – many from films rarely celebrated, but beloved by genre fans. How difficult was it to pick proper clips, and do you have a particular favorite “scream queen” film?
JC: Well my favorite scream queen film is NIGHTMARE SISTERS. I just find it so charming. Cheap, low-budget… but it’s one of those flicks where you can tell the cast and crew loved coming to work everyday. They really don’t even seem to take it all that seriously. It’s just… fun.
As for the film clips, I have to thank my editor Derrick Carey for some very loooong hours watching more b-movies than I think he ever expected to watch in his life. I basically handed him a list of specific moments/clips I felt dire to tell the story, then handed him a huge laundry basket of VHS and DVDs and said, “Go for it! Good luck!” for the remainder of the clips. I may have ruined his brain a little.
SB: What was the ultra low-budget horror landscape like when you moved to West Hollywood in 1998? Tell us a little about meeting no-budget luminaries like J.R. Bookwalter and David DeCoteau for the first time.
JC: It was a dying breed already when I got there… but THAT’s why I became so passionate about saving it. Oddly, though, that’s when J.R. Bookwalter and his Tempe Video were really becoming popular and started working for Full Moon and DeCoteau.
I knew who Bookwalter was and was a fan, so it was pretty awesome when I met him at one of Brinke’s famous backyard BBQs. He was very humble and there was – I think – an instant connection. I’m sure it was the fan-boy thing… we just “got” each other. I’m sure I bent his ear A LOT at that party. I want to say that same party was the first time I met Fred Olen Ray, Ted Newsom, Debbie Dutch and Jim Wynorski. But I was very fixated on meeting DeCoteau because I was both a fan and had just figured out that he was gay, so I was sure he’d be my go-to guy to truly get me into the business… and he was (thanks entirely to Bookwalter and Brinke). I still give most of my film-making credit and knowledge to DeCoteau. He took me right in after our first meeting and I just studied his every move on those film sets. Whatever your thoughts on his films, DeCoteau knows HOW to make a movie. I mean, the man can knock out a 35mm anamorphic 80 minute movie in 4 days. There’s something to be said for that. The sets were tight, occasionally stressful, but more often were fun experiences. His crews tended to carry over from film to film, so everyone knew everyone else’s routine and work ethic.
Bookwalter’s films were actually more intense because he was trying to do so much with so little. But the sets were fun and his crews really were a family for quite a while. His home was ALWAYS filled with other filmmakers. All day, every day. I think he was the oldest of the group at 30 years old. Most of us were in our mid-20s and still hungry to make “art.” And nobody was from LA, so this group really was a unit. DeCoteau’s crews came in, did their job, then went home to their families at night. Bookwalter’s crews were family. They knew each other on such personal levels – and sometimes fought like it. Unfortunately I kind of came in at the end of it, just as people were beginning to move back their home states. You could always feel the genuine kinship of that group.
SB: You’ve worked as a Associate Lecturer of film studies at the University of Wisconsin. As someone who has written critical work on cult and genre films, do you have trouble reconciling your love for the material with the sometimes questionable view many of these films take towards women?
JC: Oooh. A heavy question. Well, yes, but damnit do I enjoy it. I admit it’s much more entertaining and involving to watch a women in terror than a guy. Maybe it’s the sexuality. Maybe it’t the intonation of the screams that heighten the senses. Maybe I just relate to them more. I’m the kind of horror fan who roots for the victim, not the killer. Let’s face it, far more people line up at Kane Hodder’s table than any of the ladies who played his victims. Personally, I’d rather go hang out with Dana Kimmell, Adrienne King and Amy Steel. (Yeah yeah… he wasn’t the Jason in their installments… I’m just trying to make a point here.)
I don’t mind the violence so much as I mind the pointless nudity. THAT’s more exploitational to me. If it serves a purpose, as in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, then I’m better with it. But needless and endless shower scenes and sex scene bore me – A LOT. I’m of the mind to get on with it. And I’m so over the standard of sex = death. Really? That’s a 35 year old concept. Are we really so unambitious as writer’s that we have to stop the story progressing several times to watch someone take a 10 minute shower? Especially today when YouTube makes nudity so accessible. Let’s pack our 90 minutes with something actually happening.
SB: What’s coming up next for Jason Paul Collum? More documentaries in the pipeline, or looking to move back into features?
JC: I moved right back into features. I’m deep in post-production on SAFE INSIDE, a possible-monster-in-the-house thriller starring Chris Harder (EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES) as a guy who’s inherited a house from his mother (Judith O’Dea – NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) and while spending his first night alone there while his wife (Darcey Vanderhoef – OCTOBER MOON) is out of town, he begins to suspect something is inside with him. His best friend (Brinke Stevens) comes on the scene to determine if there really is something to worry about, or if he’s just repeating a previous mental breakdown. It’s a slow burn thriller/horror film. If you liked the style and pace of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), you’ll like this. It’s a b-movie that knows it’s a b-movie, but not to the extent of SCREAM. There are a lot of winks to horror fans, but they’re pretty subtle.
I’m also releasing a 15th Anniversary new-edit of my video-film 5 DARK SOULS on DVD through Tempe Video. Derrick Carey went in and really chopped out a lot of fat, re-worked the sound and score. It’s got some fun special features as well. It technically doesn’t come out until November 13th, but I think you can pre-order it now at Amazon and other online retailers. People have continuously asked me for it, so I figured it’s now or never.
I’ve also just completed writing my first children’s book, ROBYN’S EGG (under the pseudonym J.P. Campeau), which I began shopping around to publishers this past month. It’s meant to help children cope with death at a young age. I’m hoping it’ll see print in 2013.
THEN – I’m taking a break from film making for possibly two years. I’m returning to my passion to teach, so I’ve just returned to college for a post-baccalaureate in early childhood. It’s completely consuming my life, so I just don’t see where I can fit time in for another feature film. We’ll see how I feel come next summer, but it’s a two-year program I’m trying to tear through so I can get on with life – and film making.
SB: For those who loved SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS who want to check out your other work, or keep up on what you’re working on in the future, what would be the best way to do so?
JC: I update my Facebook page almost daily. My IMDB page is another good source. It’s pretty accurate. SCREAMING IN HIGH HEELS is available pretty much everywhere online. Amazon, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, F.Y.E., all the major online sites. Prices seem to be averaging around $15, although I have seen it as cheap as $12 and as expensive as $25. If you order direct from Breaking Glass. I think there’s a discount code: “High Heels” which gives you $5 off. I would say that if folks enjoy HIGH HEELS then they should check out my 2004 documentary SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT, which is a broader look at scream queens in general and features a wider variety of faces. That’s also available through most major online sources, and also direct through tempevideo.com. It’s SUPER CHEAP right now – $6.99!
SB: Speaking as someone who had a front row seat for the evolution (or devolution) of no-budget film-making, what advice would you give to directors looking to tackle their first low-budget feature?
JC: That’s such a hard call. The market is REALLY bad. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but unless you have a good shot at both distribution and getting exposure at film festivals, I just don’t know how people at this end of the genre experience are able to make money. There is SO much dishonesty, and so little money coming in regardless, I’m not quite sure where to tell my fellow filmmakers to go. Make it cable ready, I guess? Try to get a big sale to television (which really won’t net you a lot of money like you’d think). I guess, do your research and be realistic about what you’re getting yourself into. I understand the passion. I understand the dream of fame and fortune. I also know that with each passing year the access to the public as a money-making venture just decreases more and more. DVD is fading away and thanks to the internet THE DAY your movie is released some dildo is guaranteed to upload to a torrent site. Yes, someone WILL steal it. It’s not a maybe; it’s a definite. You will only make money on pre-orders, so make sure you publicize it to death. Whore the title out as much as possible. Advertise in hard copy magazines.
I hate to end the interview this way, but it’s simply the world we live in. Every time you watch a movie for free on the internet, especially an indie movie, you’re putting someone like me – and Brinke and Linnea and Michelle – out of business.
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