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Friday, November 27, 2009

THE TOM WEAVER INTERVIEW


[NOTE: This interview originally appeared in October 2005.]

If you watch a lot of horror and sci-fi movies on DVD, chances are you've listened to a Tom Weaver commentary track. You may also have read some of his many celebrity interviews in magazines such as "Fangoria", "Starlog", and "Video Watchdog." He has penned several books of interest to genre fans, including ATTACK OF THE MONSTER MOVIE MAKERS, SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FILM FLASHBACKS, and THEY FOUGHT IN THE CREATURE FEATURES.


Tom lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York, which is a pretty good place for a noted horror film historian to live. Recently he was nice enough to offer his responses to some some questions that I'm sure a lot of horror fans would like to ask.

porfle: Thanks very much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Can you give us a preview of any current projects you may be working on?

Tom: For better or worse, my attention span has gotten so short that, to keep my enthusiasm way up, it helps to have a bunch of projects going at once, so that when one gets to be a bit of a drag, I can jump to something else. I'm still pumping out the interviews--I just did one that I really enjoyed, talking to Lee Meriwether about playing Catwoman in the old BATMAN movie. The Brunases and I are updating and slightly expanding UNIVERSAL HORRORS, and my friend Steve Kronenberg and I are doing a sequel, UNIVERSAL HORRORS--THE 1950S.

I've also just finished helping an actor named Paul Picerni--he was the hero in HOUSE OF WAX, he was the number two man on THE UNTOUCHABLES with Robert Stack--write his autobiography.

porfle: Who were your best interview subjects? Most fascinating, most cooperative, most informative, etc.

Tom: Well, I consider ALL of them cooperative--the ones who WEREN'T cooperative, didn't talk to me at all! The Donnie Dunagan [young Peter von Frankenstein in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN] interview I did last year was very well-received--he had fabulous stories, and that's certainly ONE of my favorites right now. But one that got less attention, but which I thought was just as good, was the one I did with Arch Hall Jr.
No, his movies, EEGAH and THE SADIST, don't have the number of fans SON OF FRANKENSTEIN does, but for a guy who supposedly won't GIVE interviews, I found him to be fabulously forthcoming. He answered every question--and I had SCORES of 'em!--in detail, and I don't get the impression he held ANYthing back. There was so little behind-the-scenes info "out there" about some of his movies that I really felt like the interview he gave was really something special. Well, for fans of Fairway Films, anyway!

porfle: And now I have to ask -- who was the worst?
(No names necessary, but it would be nice.)

Tom: The worst are the ones who you call up...who say, grudgingly, "Okay, okay, I'll give you an interview, call me next week." So you re-watch some of the movies and you hit the library and you prepare a list of questions, you put a lot of time into it, and then when you call back, they say, "Y'know what? I've thought about it some more, and...no thanks." Dan Haller did that to me, Bert I. Gordon, Arthur Franz--there've been a bunch, I'm afraid.

porfle: You've met a lot of celebrities associated with the genre. Who would you say was generally the nicest one? Who was the biggest jerk? (No names necessary, but...)

Tom: Well, the nicest ones are UNBELIEVABLY nice--after the interview, THEY do half of the work involved in maintaining contact and maintaining a FRIENDSHIP, even. Some have even, out of the blue, encouraged me to stay at their HOUSE whenever I come to California! Robert Shayne, who was Inspector Henderson on SUPERMAN [the TV series], was the first to make that offer, I think--I didn't take him up on it, but he was obviously sincere. Robert Clarke, THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, and Paul Picerni were both that way too.
William Alland remembered me in his WILL, he left me a lot of his photos--which I since gave back to the family, but...wow.

A lot of them, after I've interviewed them, say, "Hey, you know who I'm friendly with? So-and-so. Do you want to interview HIM/HER?" It's amazing how one contact, one interview, will lead to another and another and another.

As for the biggest jerks ... well, Arthur Franz wasn't very nice. I'd ask him if he wanted copies of some of his horror/sci-fi movies, and he'd bark, "What would I wanna watch THAT (bleep) for??" The whole conversation was like that. Yeah, he was a real charmer!

porfle: Who do you most regret never getting the chance to interview?

Tom: Well, the "standard" answer, naturally, would be Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney Jr., etc. But the "ones that got away" that piss ME off are the ones I contacted, and said yes to an interview, and then **I** stupidly dragged my feet, and they died within a few weeks.

Every time I watch MIGHTY JOE YOUNG I remember that I called up Ben Johnson and he seemed so nice and said yes to an interview, and I blew it by diddling around. Same for Kay Aldridge from the Republic serials, and...you know what?, I'm don't even like to think about those [laughs]!

porfle: Do you recall one particular horror, fantasy, or sci-fi movie you saw as a child that first sparked your interest?

Tom: Honestly, no. I can tell you, though, that here in New York, I started watching the old horror/sci-fi stuff at a time when the real classics weren't on TV much or at all. In the mid- to late '60s, I grew up watching on TV the 1950s movies, good and bad, and the old '40s Monograms and THAT stuff. It wasn't until I was about 12, around 1970, that the GOOD stuff, the classic Universals and movies like that, started playing in New York again, after having been off TV throughout my childhood. So I have to admit, it was some good but mostly BAD movies that got me into this hobby!


porfle: Is there a genre film that is loved by fans and revered by critics, and you can't for the life of you figure out why?

Tom: I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. I've probably seen it eight, ten times but except for a couple key scenes, it all goes in one eye and out the other, and I can't remember sitting here now which brother walks into the ocean at the end and which one survives!

porfle: What do you feel is the most underrated genre film ever made?

Tom: ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN. Sheer perfection!

porfle: If you could choose any previously-unfilmed novel to bring to the screen, what would it be?

Tom: I'd love to see some more of Lovecraft done. I've always been such a sucker for his stuff that even the NOT-so-good Lovecraft movie adaptations float my boat.

porfle: Which film would you totally erase from existence if you had the power to do so?

Tom: Well, about 95 percent of the horror movies made in the last 25 years could vanish off the face of the Earth and I could go to bed tonight and sleep like a baby!

porfle: You're well known for your DVD commentaries. Which one(s) did you have the most fun doing?

Tom: Well, for "fun," it would have to be the ones I did with Bob Burns for the two Creature sequels, with Lori Nelson sitting in on the REVENGE OF THE CREATURE one also. And to be doing it AT Universal, in the Henry Mancini Building -- Henry Mancini having done some of the music for those movies -- and walking distance from the sets where they were shot ... well, for a guy who grew up, and STILL lives, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, where there are farms on the other side of town ... it felt kinda strange.

porfle: Is there a film that has yet to be released on DVD that you would jump at the chance to do the commentary for?

Tom: Oh, gosh, dozens. Especially if I could drag some of the people who MADE those movies in the room with me too. I'd love to think that the early, black-and-white AIP monster movies will start coming out soon, while the guys and gals who made 'em are still with us. And THOSE I'd love to be a part of.

porfle: For those of us who have never done one, what is the process? Do you view the film on a television monitor? How much of the commentary is done in real-time?

Tom: It's done in real time until you get TOO tongue-tied, or you've screwed up and started missing some of your cues. Then you ask 'em to stop recording while you get your wits about you again. Yes, in most cases you sit in front of a TV, and you've got your script that you've written with the help of a tape of the movie with a time-code on it. Or, better yet, you're sitting there with one of the people who MADE the movie and then you don't even NEED a script, you just have a list of questions for him or her, and some general notes in front of you, and you just enjoy yourself.

porfle: There are a lot of remakes being done these days. Do any of them surpass the original films?

Tom: The only one I ever saw that I liked better than the original was the 1988 THE BLOB. Most of the rest--just about ALL of the rest, that I can think of off the top of my head, sitting here today -- I wouldn't want free DVDs of, I wouldn't know what to DO with them. Certainly not WATCH 'em again -- that'd be the LAST thing I'd ever do with 'em!


porfle: What do you feel is the general state of the horror film today?

Tom: I think I've given you clues to that a COUPLE times already [laughs]!

porfle: Are young people losing interest in the classic horror films of the past? Or will there always be an audience for them?

Tom: Yeeeeesh. I hope so, but I doubt it. When I was a kid, I was interested in "current" stuff, of course -- TV shows, movies, music -- but I also liked the older stuff on TV, and the old-time music my parents had on the radio, and so on. Today, just every young person I know -- not that I know that many, but most of the young people I know, or am exposed to, just turn up their nose at anything that isn't up-to-the-minute. And I love that they call two-year-old movies "old," and something that's like FIVE years old they call "OLD old." When they get to be older, are they going to change their ways and start sitting around watching WHITE ZOMBIE? In a word, "Pfffffffffft!!" So, yeah, I'm afraid I do have a bad feeling that, once we're gone, a lot of these movies are gonna be headed for Boot Hill.

porfle: Any subjects you haven't covered yet in book-form, but would like to?

Tom: I won't lie to ya, I'd have had more fun writing a FILMS OF LON CHANEY JR. than I did writing a FILMS OF JOHN CARRADINE. But there's a perfectly good Chaney Jr. book already out there -- and of course Lugosi and Karloff and Price have been written about to death, and VERY well. Sooooo...I got "stuck" with Carradine. But I would get a kick out of going into an alternate universe library and seeing what "my" FILMS OF LON CHANEY JR. would have been like. I bet it would have been fun to do.

porfle: If you could interview Edward D. Wood, Jr. (PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, GLEN OR GLENDA?), what would you most like to ask him?

Tom: When Richard Bojarski interviewed you, did you really go after him with a broken bottle [laughs]?

porfle: Being such an experienced interviewer, what question would you have asked yourself that I neglected to ask?

Tom: [Laughs] It's funny, I often end interviews with "What great observation, what fun story do you like to tell, and I haven't asked you to tell?" -- and the interviewee usually dries up at that point, and CAN'T give me one more. And I always think to myself, "Oh, COME on, there must be one more good one. Come on, THINK!" Well, guess what? Now you've pulled that one on ME, and I can't think of a freakin'
thing!
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