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John Schneider creates a horror-themed "Expendables" with "Smothered"

The cast of "Smothered"
The cast of "Smothered"
John Schneider's Fairlight Films

When working on “Smothered,” John Schneider said he didn’t realize what a coup the storyline really was. As one reviewer pointed out, the film can easily be compared to “The Expendables,” but with horror icons instead of action heroes.

“Some people have seen the movie, and I’ve been to some horror conventions since then,” Schneider explained when reached by phone for an interview. “And they say ‘Of all the stories in the world, and all of the ideas in the world, how come nobody has done this before?’”

Schneider wrote and directed this tale of horror stars who agree to haunt a trailer park---excuse me, an RV park---for a weekend. The cast includes Kane Hodder, who played Jason Voorhees, and Michael Berryman of “The Hills Have Eyes” fame.

“I happen to know a lot of the horror guys because a lot of them were stunt men. Kane was on ‘Dukes’; Richard Brooker, who the film is dedicated to, was on ‘Dukes.’ He was the first man to put on the Jason mask,” Schneider said. “When you jump into an arena that is protected by the fans like the horror genre, you can get your head handed to you if you screw that up.”

A horror fan steps behind the camera

The “Dukes of Hazard” and “Smallville” star also said he was a fan of horror films, especially the work of Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

“Later on, as things progressed, ‘Last House on the Left.’ There was a Don Stroud movie that used to be called ‘The House by the Lake’; it’s now called something else, like ‘Horror Weekend.’ The movie did not stand up, but Don’s performance did; he was amazing in that movie,” he explained. “I think I saw the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ with Gunnar [Hansen], the first one, at a drive-in movie in Cape Cod.”

The actor/director/writer points out that horror films make you feel something, just not necessarily a good thing. They involve an audience, and audience participation is really a part of what he is supposed to do as a filmmaker.

“We are supposed to make something that feels and smells and tastes and makes you a little happy and a little sad and grossed out,” Schneider explained. “Horror films are certainly a medium where you can do that. I won’t say the easiest because you can screw that up as well. Everyone has been scared; not everyone has fallen in love on top of the Empire State Building after getting an email. Everyone has wondered what’s in the closet or under the bed, at some point or another.”

Putting the humanity back in horror film

As a writer, Schneider admits that he covers topics that tend to be uncomfortable.

“I write about hospice and dementia. At least I think I do, I think I write about dementia. I write about justifiable homicide, and hopefully with ‘Smothered,’ I manage to put the Frankenstein monster and the little girl back by the pond looking at the flower petals again,” he said.

Schneider added that if the audience doesn’t care about who’s being killed or losing a limb, a very important part of the visceral experience is lost. With “Smothered,” he hopes to put that back, hopefully on the big screen.

“It works really, really great big. The heart is expanded when you get to see it big, when you get to see the expression on Trixie’s face,” Schneider said about seeing the film in theaters. “And you get a good look at Rachel [Rachel Alana Handler], who plays Chunks. And you really get to look in Kane’s eyes, which are usually filled with hate. And they are filled with love and adoration for his newfound love at the gas station,” he said.