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Kenneth J. Hall
(Director, The Halfway House)
 
- Kenneth, Thank you Sir for taking the time to answer these questions for the fans and also us here at Terrorhook.com!

It's my pleasure, Rick.

- Kenneth J. Hall, You have been involved with such well known films (to us horror fans anyway) such as PUPPET MASTERS and CARNOSAUR and one of my favorites, a little lesser known flick called THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT.... Now your newest exploitation film entitled THE HALFWAY HOUSE has just been released on DVD... How was this project different from your previous ones and how were they the same, if at all? can you tell us?

I've worked both above and below the line on a lot of other people's movies.

I've done countless jobs as an effects artist/creature creator on shows like CRITTERS, GHOULIES II, ED WOOD, and CARNOSAUR. I got to combine my FX work with my filmmaking on TALES FROM THE HOOD, where I served as both Special Effects Coordinator and Second Unit Director.

As a writer and director in the 80s and 90s, I did a lot of assignment work, which meant most of those movies started out as someone else's idea and I was hired to make it happen. In many cases, especially my work with David DeCoteau, I was given a lot of freedom. When I wrote for him, I was always welcome on set and my input was welcome. That's why I got Associate Producer credit on a lot of those pictures. THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT was the only project that I developed and sold it to a production company. I was supposed to direct that one but it was financed as a Canadian content picture, which meant I couldn't.

In all those early pictures, regardless of whether I was writing or directing or doing the effects, I was working for someone else. Not so in the case of THE HALFWAY HOUSE. I financed it myself and produced it through my own company, so I had no one else to answer to. It is the only project where I've ever had that kind of control so naturally I'm extremely excited about it.

- I have seen THE HALFWAY HOUSE of course and I loved it! The film had the feel of the Drive-In features of old. It is obvious that you must be a huge fan of that particular genre, what were some of the best influences on this film?

This was definitely a labor of love. There are so many things I drew from but it is primarily an homage to the films of Roger Corman. It encompasses his juvenile delinquent pictures from the 50s, his gothic Poe/Lovecraft adaptations from the 60s, his women-in-prison films fro the 70s, and the 80s slasher flicks. Roger is the real godfather of independent film. He's been making movies for over five decades, started the careers of some of the biggest names in the business, and is still in the game.

PIT AND THE PENDULUM and THE HAUNTED PALACE gave us the look of the dungeon scenes, to name some specific titles, and there are lines straight out of mainstream movies like ALIENS and JAWS.

- In THE HALFWAY HOUSE. there is quite the offering of nude women, was it difficult to get the females to discard of their clothing on camera....and whom happened to be the most willing? I'm sure the Male visitors would sure like to know!

This was a big concern of mine after I'd written the script and was faced with casting so many roles requiring nudity. After all, I couldn't use the same scream queens I worked with back in the 80s. I was surprised and delighted to find all these talented women who not only looked great naked but who could act.

Janet Tracy Keijser, Athena Demos, and even Stephanie Leighs had all worked for directors I knew so they came highly recommended. Interestingly, they had never been given a chance to do much onscreen besides take off their clothes and die. They were all very appreciative of the fact they were given substantial roles, which they handled beautifully. (Any aspiring filmmakers out there should take note of this.)

Steffi and Monica Shere should get special kudos for going the distance on the lesbian scene, which is unlike anything you'll see on late-night cable. I explained to them we weren't going for a typical soft-core sex scene. I wanted it to be outrageous and shocking. I think we succeeded. It's the only interracial girl/girl fisting I've ever heard of being in a horror film. They were real troopers during the filming, especially since they were both totally nude. That scene is only intact in the unrated cut, by the way.

- B Horror Legend, Mary Woronov was cast in this film, just how difficult was it to get her signed on as Sister Cecelia, and was she your first choice for the role? And how was her overall attitude on set, as she was the veteran?

There were a few other "name" actors we discussed for the role of Sister Cecelia and even looked into a few of them, but Mary was always at the top of my list. I was introduced to Mary by Del and Sue Howison, who own Dark Delicacies, a bookstore in Burbank. She had done some signings for them and they let her know I had a role for her. We had a power lunch at Musso and Franks, which is one of those old Hollywood institutions. It was classic. She showed up wearing a big hat and sunglasses, looking every bit the movie star. We ate steak, drank martinis, and got know one another a bit. Shortly after, she agreed to do the movie. On set, she was a total pro and very gracious to the younger actors. She's really a shy person, which some people donít get at first. She's six feet tall and looks very intimidating, especially in her nun's habit, so she can be very disarming when she suddenly does something goofy. You don't expect her to walk onto the set wearing a viking helmet but that's exactly the kind of thing she would do. Her presence definitely raised the bar for the whole cast and everyone loved working with her.

- I understand that Janet Tracy Keijser was not originally cast as Larissa, as you lost your original actress prior to shooting, how much time did you have left to fill the role and did you have to make any script modifications to accommodate Janet?

The role of Larissa was going to be played by an old friend of mine, who had to drop out when she had a schedule conflict with another project. I had just auditioned Janet, who was so cool and wanting to work with us. Before the lead dropped out, the only part I had for Janet was the jogger, the sister who gets kidnapped and killed at the beginning of the picture. That was definitely a get-naked-and-die part! Still, she was willing to do it.

Ironically, the first choice was not willing to do nudity but I figured we had plenty already. When I put Janet in the lead, I actually added it to her role. After all, you can never have too much nudity. This was two or three weeks before filming began.

- In the film the girls are eaten alive by a huge one eyed monster, that I admit looks really cool. Just how in the hell does one like a Kenneth J. Hall... come up with such wacky but highly effective creatures such as this one? And how was the creature operated, it looks like quite a task....

I drew the inspiration from things Iíd seen as a kid. Itís a design sensibility that you donít see anymore. My first pass looked too much like the monster from THE CRAWLING EYE, which is a big favorite of mine. It was little more than a huge brain with an eye and tentacles. The final version came to me in a flash and had more of a Lovecraftian feelÖ a one-eyed skull with a protruding bony plate, like a triceratops.

Executing a beast with a head nearly six feet across that was capable of picking up an actor in its mouth would be daunting for most low-budget independents, but I have my own effects studio, where we built the monster as well as the dungeon set. We used a technique of fabricating it out of sheets of dense foam, cut into intricate pattern pieces and glued together. The head was light enough to be worn on a shoulder harness by Nick Bauman, who also devised the mechanics to articulate the jaw. The tentacles were fourteen feet long and took up to three puppeteers to operate each one.

The end result will look old-school to audiences who are used to seeing CGI instead of a full-scale rubber monster. Apart from some digital wire removal, everything you see was actually there on the set. I think itís way cooler than something created on a computer. Itís as if Toho studios had brought an H.P. Lovecraft creation to life.

- Now I know this, but just how AWESOME is Mike Gaglio?, I swear I noticed an 'S' on his chest at some point in the film (just kidding) Care to fill anyone in on Mr. Gaglio?

Iím sick of talking about that guy! Seriously, Mike was our Most Valuable Player on the film. I had met him shortly before working on TALES FROM THE HOOD and primarily knew him as an actor. Over the years, he helped me out a lot at Total Fabrication (my FX company) doing a wide variety of things from simple carpentry to electronics.

I wrote the part of Inspector Hinds for him but also had him build the dungeon set. He did the basic construction almost single-handed. He also made the rig to support the monster for certain shots, provided us with truck and one of the cameras, recorded instrumentals and vocals for the church hymn along with all the ADRÖ the list keeps going. He racked up so many jobs, I gave him an associate producer credit.

- In the movie, your own brother Cleve Hall, offers a great performance as a sinister Janitor named Lutkus. I was just wondering, was a voice dub used, or was that Cleve's true voice? The voice is rather deep and sound's nothing like him at all! Was he your first choice and is he anything similar to Lutkus in real life?

He did that voice live on set but youíre right, itís not the way he normally sounds. He had played a variety of weird, creepy bad guys in a bunch of B movies in the 80s, including ROLLERBLADE WARRIORS, KUNG FU RASCALS, and TWISTED NIGHTMARE. I never considered anyone else besides him and he definitely made the part his own. Many people have told me he steals every scene heís in. He did hate the makeup and teeth because his normal look is totally goth. I donít know if he peeps in showers or sniffs panties in his personal life. As brothers, weíre close but not that close!

- Ken Now, you seem like a very quiet guy, yet there are a lot of sacrilegious occurrences in THE HALFWAY HOUSE, wasn't one of the premieres protested by Nuns? Can you tell me what happened with that? The Nuns and Churches fail to realize that they are actually HELPING your film in doing such!

I went to Catholic school for twelve years and was even an altar boy, so people assume I have an axe to grind about the Church. I really donít. I do believe theyíve been covering up a lot of scandals lately and organized religion in general has way too much power. I felt was ripe a little satire so fuck Ďem if they canít take a joke. As for the protest, I cannot tell a lie. I staged it! We had just had our big LA premiere at the Hollywood Film Festival and the Valley Festival wanted to screen it a month later. I knew I needed to liven it up somehow and thought ďWhat would William Castle do?Ē Castle is another guy who influenced me a lot, as much by his shameless publicity stunts as his actual films. We never intended the picketing nuns to fool anybody. They even did a striptease on Lankershim Boulevard at the end of the evening!

-"Cherry Pie" Polowsky/Stephanie Leighs is one of the hottest characters/actresses in the film, how did you find her? We are glad that you did as we feel that she just may very well be on her way...

Steffi had done a short film for my friend Scott Phillips in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they both lived. He introduced me to her at a convention out here, presenting her as a girl who would do just about anything on camera. Even though I barely spoke to her, I had her in mind when I wrote the character. The thing I did not know is whether she could act. She couldnít make it out for auditions so Scott taped one and sent it to me. By the time she came out to be in my movie, she had already shot THE STINK OF FLESH, where she has a small but memorable role as a naked zombie one of the leads keeps chained in a shed as a sex toy. If you havenít seen this movie, you should check it out.

I hope her role in THE HALFWAY HOUSE will lead to some good offers for her. Iíve heard sheís gone back to college but sheís an amazing talent who I hope will continue her acting.

- The DVD is now available through Ventura distribution, I have always wondered this but have never asked anyone. How long did it take you to land a distribution deal? I would imagine it to be a long and grueling process....a lot of searching! And what is your reaction to all of the press? Your film has gained quite the buzz in a relatively short amount of time!

Thanks to my other associate producer, Sam Park, who had relationships with a number of prominent movie sites, we started getting coverage within a day or two after our website went up. This, in turn, led to immediate offers from festivals and distributors. Ventura was one of the first to make an offer. The cool thing about them was they werenít pushy and let me hear back from a lot of other places before I decided to go with them. Once I did, my attorney started dealing with theirs and seven months went by! After the deal was signed, we still had to get an MPAA rating and that took more time. Suddenly, they needed everything ready for an August 23 release and then we were scrambling to get some of the special features together. Though the movie had its world premiere at the San Francisco Indie Fest in 2004, we shot it September of 2003, so itís been almost two years!

- Ok, I ask this one a lot when asking Directors but what is your overall impression of sites such as TerrorHook.com? Do you take what we say into consideration, and do we hurt or help your career?

The last time I directed a movie, the internet as we know it did not exist. The abundance of horror fan sites today is great. They are the perfect forum to spread the word about an independent film that does not have the advantage of having a big studio publicity machine behind it. I do have to stay on my toes to keep up with all of them but I have been fortunate that the response to my film has been so positive.

My concern is that anyone covering the film gets what I did with it. Its not just another horror movie that's trying to be like everything else out there. If someone criticizes it because it's not what they wanted it to be, they're missing the point. Worse, they're doing me and their readers a disservice. Thankfully, you and most of the other reviewers do get it.

I don't know how much critics really affect my work or my career. They report their opinions about it and some viewers will listen to them while others will make up their own minds. Ultimately, it's my responsibility to make films that both critics and audiences like. Sometimes, you only appeal to one group or the other. I hope I can satisfy both.

- Mr. Hall, if you had to choose just one film, what would you say your favorite Horror film of ALL TIME is?

That is an impossible question to answer! I like so many movies for so many different reasons. I did recently go to an anniversary screening of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which still gets a tremendous audience reaction. That movie, along with THE HOWLING, RE-ANIMATOR, and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON that deftly blended humor and horror in the 80s, which appeals to me a lot. All of those filmmakers had a genuine love for the genre and found a way to take things from the past and put a spin on them that contemporary viewers found fresh and fun. If I can do that with my films, I'd be both happy and successful.

- What's next for Kenneth J. Hall and company, will there be more feature films in the future....will you be writing more? Any plans?

You will definitely be seeing a whole lot more from me and BV Entertainment's Fright Film Factory. I announced a couple of titles last year that I will be doing eventually. I was writing them with a partner whose schedule got so impossible that I had to put those projects on hold. People heard about them and continue to ask me about them. I do have a new script that we're doing a budget on and hope to get financed soon. I won't be announcing that one until I have a definite start date this time. When I do, you guys will be among the first to know

- Kenneth I thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us at TerrorHook.com, it has been a pleasure to have you answer these questions for us....we wish you continued success!

You are very welcome. Thanks for asking.
 


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