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It all started with SYBIL DANNING’S ADVENTURE VIDEO. There were five or six ADVENTURE VIDEO titles in my video store but there were 26 released in all, and when I was rocking the VHS on a nightly basis back in the 80′s, it was a Friday night tradition. I had no idea who she was, no clue she had worked with some of the greatest actors of all-time. I just knew there was a tall, sexed up lady talking to me about some kind of rough and tough film and after the said film was over she was back to give me one last glimpse of goodness before some previews of other videos I could watch if my video store got their shit together and ordered them. But then came HOWLING II.
It was then that I realized that the same lady who was working the weapons at the beginning of my unknown action fests was in other films. That realization took me down a path that in a lot of ways brought me to where I am now: Typing about my years of puberty at 11:30pm and launching a horror and exploitation film site to give an audience to tough films for the rough crowd. Sybil’s films (I can call her Sybil becuase she said so, you call her Ms. Danning) represented a type of film that introduced me to other actors and directors. Other work that I may not know about unless I had that first hit of HOWLING II back in the day. So it was kind of a surreal experience talking to her last week. I am not someone who gets punched in the gut with a case of star-struck but god-damn I was star struck. Anyway I hope you dig the interview.
Sybil Danning: Great to speak to you, I got a peak at your website.
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: Yeah we are pretty excited, we launch on Monday.
DG: Thank you very much; we are really excited about it.
SD: Well, I get to be a part of your big grand opening. Thank you for having me. Are you doing an interview a week?
DG: Yeah, we are going to try and talk to some cool people just about every week in fact we are going to be talking to Bill Mosley soon hopefully, and I know you are friends with Ken Foree and would like to speak with him as well.
SD: Oh, Ken, I adore Ken. I want to tell you too, Bill Mosley, as you know, we worked together in GRINDHOUSE.
SD: He was wonderful in that movie. It was the only movie I ever did with Bill. I see him every once in a while. It was really incredible working with him because the scene where I have to hit him with my riding crop, I really hit him hard and he was so surprised, he didn’t really think I was going to hit him. And he had such a great reaction. He said, “that hurts!” and I said, “yeah, I wanted it to”. And he had a great reaction, so he said “yeah, I guess that worked really well.” After that we went out to try and take a picture and he kind of stands there beaten up, like “I’ve just been whipped and oh by the way may I have a picture with you”. The only thing missing would be the hunched back, you know?
DG: Yeah, exactly.
SD: He is incredible and he is a sweet guy and I loved him and let me get to Ken Foley because you mentioned him too. Before you get into your questions. I don’t want to forget, I want to give a special thanks to Ken, who is another, well he is a very, very close and dear friend of mine. And he is responsible for me being in GRINDHOUSE
DG: How did that work?
SD: Well we have known each other for years and I saw him in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS and I called him up and I said, I really loved you in that movie, as always. I love Rob Zombie’s work. I think it is great what he does and it’s great that he can carry such a strong female role. I am happy that Sheri is carrying the torch. You know, I have been accused of pioneering that in the ‘80s, when not many women were doing it. During that very macho, Reagan era, where it was COMMANDO and RAMBO and all those macho movies. So, I am very happy that I basically found that niche to do my thing and that is playing these strong women.
I was so happy when I saw especially that movie (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS) because I love the meanness of her character. She is very fortunate to have a husband that can write her those roles and direct her and make sure she looks good. So I had never met him and I called Ken and I said, “Ken, you got to give me Rob’s number, I want to work with him. “ And he said “I can’t do that but I’ll call around and let him know that you would like to work with him.” Well, it was within the week I get a call from Rob’s office and before I knew it I was in the office, not just saying hello, a meet and greet but it was ok try these wigs on because you and Sheri need to look alike and we and to see how you look and we think the two of you would be great as sisters. So, that was that.
DG: Wow, not a bad way to win a role.
SD: I just love Rob so much. I mean he is just so easy going and he is so not Hollywood. Which is really wonderful you know. Forget all the bullshit. Anyhow, this was around Rob’s birthday, so what I did was I know that he collects memorabilia. I didn’t know what to bring him, I thought he probably has anything I would give him but it was my very last HOWLING II poster and I had a wonderful DVD and I thought it he has it fine, if he doesn’t all the merrier.
So, I brought it in and just laid it on his desk and we did the hello and I was actually there already trying on wigs and getting measurements and talking about wardrobe. So that was just so incredible and I was ready to leave the office and one of the PAs comes and says , “Miss Danning, Rob would like to see you in his office”. I was thinking what could this be? So I go into his office. He says, “Sybil, you just made my day, I don’t have the poster, I don’t have the DVD and I am a fan but I am not going to let you go until you sign this poster.” So I signed it and I was out the door. So I owe Ken and I am just very grateful to him.
DG: You have been in the business for over 4 decades. You have worked both in front of the camera, you have produced, you have written screenplays, but here at DG we like to go back to the roots, what was the first film you saw that changed your life?
SD: Well I actually got into the movie business by mistake. So unlike some actors who have wanted it all there life, I was asked to be in a film and so it just kind of hit me in the face and snowballed from there. I was born in Austria like our ex-governor here in California and growing up there was very hard. And my early years where very, very serious. I had to drop out of school, I had to work. So in Europe it wasn’t like here in America. Over there movies were expensive and it just wasn’t the thing to do and plus the theater we had there was cold in the winter and hot in the summer so it just wasn’t the thing to do. I was really into music, I was an Elvis fan and so I wasn’t really into movies. There’s not really one movie I saw where I thought I want to do this.
DG: And you made something like 13 films before your first really big film BLUEBEARD.
SD: Yes in the 60’s and early 70’s it was the sexy movies I was in. Then I started to do a couple of movies for the Americans when they were over there so the big movies I did were CROSSED SWORDS with Ernie Borgnine where I play his wife. BLUEBEARD with Richard Burton where I played the prostitute, the THREE and FOUR MUSKATEERS where I played the lady in waiting for the queen who was Geraldine Chaplin. So those are the roles I played because I spoke pretty perfect English and I really enjoyed those roles but they were kind of like little roles so I said I have to go to Hollywood cause this is what I want to do so I came to Hollywood and did a movie called Cat in the Cage.. and then came along BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.
DG: And that really gave you a big audience.
SD: Yes, and that film I can say changed my life. It was a classic based on a classic, Akira Kurisawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI and it had been remade a couple of times and this happened to be the outer space version. I just enjoyed that movie so much. It was a chance to go along with the guys as the only female and fly a spaceship. You know I was out on the town a lot when I was young and this brought out the tomboy in me, and I kind of…she… she was a fighter, she commits Hari-kari and we just had so much fun promoting the movie and it just keeps on coming back and now it’s kind of like my calling card in Hollywood. It has a life all it’s own.
John Saxon and I were just at ComiCon, the main bad-girl and the main bad-boy were invited and we went there and did a lot of interviews and we always laugh because I said my favorite line of his is when I am in the spaceship and I am flying to jam his stellar converter and blow up his ship and he says “Blast her out of space.” And of course my famous line where I say to Shad “You’ve never seen a Valkyrie go down.”
DG: Are BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and HOWLING II the films that your fans want to talk to you about the most?
SD: BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is definitely number one and HOWLING II is definitely number 2. And you know HOWLING II has been really downed in the press as one of the worst movies ever but I disagree. And this movie, I have to say, we can’t compete with Joe Dante’s film. They had Rob Bottin we didn’t, he was in Hollywood and we were in the Czech Republic which was still behind the Iron Curtain. Instead of getting the werewolf costumes we asked for we got monkey outfits and there was nothing we could do. The Director (Philippe Mora) called Hollywood and they said “hey, deal with it. We can’t send anything else” I said “we’re not making Planet of the Apes.”
So, Philippe said “well, we will use these when we can but Sybil, we have to glue hair on you.” So that’s what they did from head to toe. Imagine eyelashes, gluing one on top of the other until you’re hairy. So that one full werewolf scene I had was 8 hours. But that wasn’t the worst thing, the worst thing was taking it off. If you’ve ever had a fake mustache with spirit gum, the stuff they use to take that off is just terrible. It stings, it burns, and that was all over your body. But hey, that’s what you have to do.
DG: You have to really look at that film as a stand-alone.
SD: Exactly, it is what it is you can’t compare it to the first. It’s entertaining, it’s fun, I like the Czech setting and hey you can’t down my costume which are always over the top anyhow.
EDITORS NOTE: Sybil is auctioning off that costume at Comikaze (http://comikazeexpo.com/celebrities-and-guests/) Nov. 5 and 6th.
DG: You were having a screenplay written at some point for another Howling film but it sounds like that has since turned into it’s own film.
SD: Yes it’s still out there, the rights for the Howling are all kind of mucked up and you know Gary (Bradner, author of The Howling novels) said you know there are enough Howling movies, lets team together and start our own franchise so that’s what we did. We really put our heads together and it’s really a combination of Philippe’s , Gary’s, , and my ideas. What we have coming now and what we intend on doing is called NIGHT HUNTERS. It will be a combination of things, of course it will have werewolves but it will be a combination of things. We just got the screenplay that Gary wrote so that’s where we are on that.
DG: @T_Lawson is one of our Twitter followers and he is going to win a Blu-ray of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS for this next question: He wants to know what it’s like working with a cast that is as powerful as THREE MUSKATEERS. You had Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlin, Christopher Lee, Charlton Heston, Geraldine Chaplin. Not an inexperienced cast.
SD: Well Christopher and I have done five movies together. I admire and love Christopher because he, like me, takes all of his roles very seriously. Whether it’s him playing my brother, the kiss of death in HOWLING II, or any of his other roles he always takes them seriously. It doesn’t matter whether you have hair all over you or a mask on your face I always feel, and he too, if you’re going to commit to something give it your all or don’t do it. There are those actors that want to get the check and go home but you really owe it to your fans and that’s my attitude and Christopher’s as well. He is one of the most professional people I have ever met.
And well Oliver Reed, what can I say? He is one of the greatest actors and I was really sorry he wasn’t able to really finish his role in GLADIATORS but he was just amazing. He was also crazier than hell though. He lived in The Ritz and I think they had just moved him from another hotel because he came home one night and peed in the potted plants in the middle of the grand entrance of the hotel so they threw him out. So here he was in The Ritz and he invited me to dinner and there he was in the foyer and he just gestured to give him a minute. He was sitting next to two old ladies close to an aquarium, and he gave me this wicked look, looked at the old ladies, put his arm in the aquarium, pulled out a goldfish, and bit it’s head off. One lady screamed, the other almost had a heart attack. Then he showed them, it was a carrot. He had put it in there, just one of his pranks. So he had planned that. He thought somebody is going to sit there and it just happened to be these two old ladies and that’s him. That’s Oliver Reed.
DG: So jumping ahead a little bit in your career, Adventure Video is how I first discovered you. My video store had a lot of the Adventure Video titles and I remember seeing HOWLING II, which I wasn’t supposed to be watching, and realizing you were the person hosting these videos that I had been watching for over a year.
SD: That happens to me with BLUEBEARD, I have these young men coming up and saying “I really liked you in BLUEBEARD” because I played the prostitute and I look at them and say “You must have been in diapers when you saw that.” So Geoff where you in diapers when you saw that? (Laughs)
DG: I was not.
SD: Puberty right?
DG: Yeah exactly, so I was old enough to know what I was doing.
SD: Okay, good.
G: But yeah, I have most of those Adventure Videos: RUSH, THE BRAVE BRUNCH, DAWN OF VICTORY, THE KILLING MACHINE.
SD: Do you have MEAN FRANK, CRAZY TONY? That’s one of my favorites.
DG: I do yeah, with Lee Van Cleef. So how did you get involved in that?
SD: My dear manager, god bless his soul he is no longer with us, he was talking to the company I.V.E. (International Video Entertainment) who had done the Elvira wrap-around videos. And he actually went to the company and said wouldn’t you like to do something like that? What Elvira does for horror, Sybil Danning would do for action movies. And they said we’ll get back to you. That was right around the time that Sylvester Stallone had become a partner in the company and they had bought up the rights to all of these titles that didn’t have big names in there and they were trying to figure out how to sell them. They were Italian movies, and movies made in the Philippines, and movies made in the states, you name it. And they said we would love Sybil to do the wrap-around. My manager wrote the screenplays and was the consultant for the weaponry and the costumes and everything and I ended up having 26 of those videos.
DG: Do you know if there are any plans to re-release those?
SD: Well there is a big problem. I own the wrap-arounds, but I don’t own the movies. I tried once to get ahold of some of the distributors and it’s very hard because some of the people have died and the rights have been passed on or the rights are just mucked up and un-clear and it’s been very hard to do that. So I thought what I would do, nobody has really asked me but since you brought it up, is put the wrap-arounds out on DVD. Just as a Sybil Danning Wrap-Around Collection. I know we had a lot of video stores who had some unhappy customers with people saying that Sybil was all over the box but she is only at the beginning and the end of the movie. So that was a problem but that was the reason for L.A. Bounty. Because I.V.E. said we do so well with the sales of movies you’re not in, would you like to play the lead? And I said yeah! This is something that’s really important to me right now. In L.A. Bounty I play a character called Ruger. I own the character, not the movie. Thanks again to my manager, he said you retain the rights to the character. So Ruger is now in development as a video game.
DG: Oh wow, so are you going to be doing voice work for that?
SD: Probably, we are just now setting it up actually. My partner is Les Thomas and he is the one who brought me into this idea. He is an avid gamer himself and a video game journalist for Nintendo World Report and Critical Gamer and an analyst. He is the one who came to me and is making this happen and he presented Ruger this past January at CES in Las Vegas. He got a lot of very, very interested parties and it looks like now it is going to be cloud based. We also have a completed screenplay that is going to be made either as a movie and/or as a backdoor pilot.
(Lee Thomas is going to be at Gamescon in Germany. Click here for details: http://www.gamescom-cologne.com/en/gamescom/home/index.php)
DG: I know we are coming up against the clock here and I would be shot if I didn’t ask some of these questions.
SD: The only person allowed to shoot you is me.
DG: In the clouds though.
SD: Right, in the clouds.
DG: Tell me about the production of CHAINED HEAT, I know Linda Blair wasn’t really happy with how that turned out.
SD: Oh what can I say. I bump into Linda Blair from time to time. I actually have a movie I want to direct and it’s a WIP movie and it’s the first one I have liked since CHAINED HEAT and REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS. I got a lot of those scripts after those films and they were all cheap rip-offs but I have the right one now. I asked Linda if she would do it and she’s not too keen on being in another WIP movie. But I loved working with Linda.
I know it didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to but I enjoyed it. Stella Stevens and I are still friends. I enjoyed working with her. Linda was just wonderful to work and I think it’s one of… no it’s probably the best WIP film ever made. I just think the characters were great, the story was great, it all tied in. The music was great, the editing was great. It had a real kind of documentary look to it. I stand-by that movie. I went out and promoted and I remember going on CNN when Ted Turner still owned it and saying the the whole family should come see this. And they said “the Manson family?”
DG: Then you came back to the WIP genre for REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS.
SD: Oh Wendy bless her soul. We worked together at the same gym and with her, what you saw is what you got. She was crazy but that was her, there was no acting to it. I think that’s another film that works really well. I was a little less happy with that than I was with CHAINED HEAT but I still like it.
I was happy to play the warden because when I did Chained Heat the press said “wow she is really tough, she should be the warden” and that caught on with somebody thanks to my manager. But Tom DeSimone who directed it, I think he was under a lot of pressure to do the movie as it was because my manager and I actually went to him and said that my character and Wendy’s character were such great rivals, why don’t you have them do a cat-fight at the end. We didn’t think Wendy would mind because she was the tough one and she would be fighting with the authorities and it would be great to kind of wind that up. Tom loved the idea but he talked to Wendy and she didn’t want to do it and I don’t know why. It’s not like she was afraid to have a fight, that’s for sure. You know I always think what’s best for the movie and I know the fans would have loved it.
The WIP movie that I have a script for I actually took to Tom DeSimone to direct and he said “Sybil, I have been there done that, I am really happy now and I really don’t want to work in movies anymore. But you’ve done two classics, why don’t you direct it” and I never thought of that, so I think I will. Good idea.
DG: Why does that genre work so well?
SD: WIP movies are just entertaining, they work in every country. I have tried to get this made but everyone is making either horror or comic book movies and that’s what being done right now. Hollywood never… it’s like they don’t have filmmakers anymore they just have attorneys. WIP movies always make money, they’re not the most expensive to do but they just aren’t being done right now.
DG: How about WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS, when are going to see that made into a full length feature?
SD: Oh, I will tell you something, Rob has something like 30 minutes of film because he was shooting day and night. The scenes we had which didn’t make it into the trailer are beautiful, he showed them to us. You know we shot in the mountains, he had snow brought out with night lighting, he had scenes at night where soldiers are marching and there are cars from the 40’s driving around and you would think you were in a WW2 movie somewhere in Germany, just beautiful. So he has 30 minutes shot and rumor has it that it could be the next one to go full length theatrical. And I see no reason why it shouldn’t, it has so many fans it’s very, very popular.
Rob is just amazing because I told you about the brief encounter when I met him in his office, and I saw the pictures on his wall and I asked him “Are these people all in in the Halloween cast?” and he said “oh yeah it’s already all cast” and I just said “schucks, I want to be in that.” So when we were making WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS I said “you know I really want to be in Halloween” cause that was the film he was making next and he said “well, let me think about that.” And later that day he came and knocked on my trailer and said “Sybil, I have the perfect role for you, it’s not big, but you’re going to be the last person killed by Mike Meyers. Very important. “ So he made me Nurse Wynn. You can’t wait for opportunities to happen, you have to go get them.
To keep up with Sybil hit the links below:
See you on forty deuce,