The fun classics from our childhood are usually just as fun for the filmmakers as they are for the fans. Iconic 80's horror fun flicks "Witchboard" and "Night of the Demons" have recently been released on Blu-Ray and I got the chance to talk to writer/director Kevin Tenney as he relived his experiences on his first two films and how it feels to be revisiting it all well over 25 years later.
Dave Voigt: Over the years it is common place for production companies to fold and rights ownership to change from studio to studio. Walk me through the first phone calls that you got when you found out that both "Witchboard" & "Night of the Demons" were being rereleased on Blu-Ray?
Kevin Tenney: Actually what ended up happening was that the rights for both "Night of the Demons" and "Witchboard" ended up reverting back to the original production company and ultimately one of the two partners in the production company is a buddy that I went to film school with. He just called me on day and said now that we have the rights back we are getting some interest about a Blu-Ray, and I said great, just let me know when you decide to go with somebody and a few weeks later they called back and said we've decided to go with Shout Factory. So I kind of knew something was in the works, and a similar situation had unfolded a few years with Anchor Bay when we did the initial DVD release, and once the rights reverted back to producers Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten they were smart enough to start shopping it around and have always been pretty good businessmen and to be honest, I am really surprised that anybody actually gives a damn about these movies some 25+ years later (Laughs). Obviously I'm thrilled about it, but we had a screening the other night of "Night of the Demons" with the cast and crew and they were just as stunned as I am that we were all back together again watching with an absolutely packed house, it's really been great and more than a little surreal. (Laughs)
DV: Were the original materials in good shape?
KT: Luckily because they were shot on 35 mm and everything was still in storage at PhotoKem so they were able to make a good print, plus for "Witchboard" since it played on HBO they made their own master video of it and when we made the DVD we just used their master to strike the initial DVD version.
DV: "Witchboard" was your first feature out of film school, how did you ultimately come up with the idea?
KT: I had lived in a an old Victorian home that had been converted into apartments when I lived up in Northern California and a friend of mine had brought a Ouija board and we started playing with. My friend was a big Ouija board fanatic and was basically the Brandon character in the movie explaining about the board and taking all about them. And while he was doing it and even though I wasn't a big horror fan, I was thinking to myself that I had never seen a film that centered on a Ouija board and that it might be something worth considering. While I was at USC we had one class where we had to write a feature screenplay and at the time the only thing I could come up with was my Ouija board idea. So I did my research about the mythology of it all and just drew from my own experiences because I used to work construction before I went back to school at USC and my girlfriend at the time who is now my wife was studying pre-law and that's why Linda and all her friends are law students. Just drew from my own background, my dad was an alcoholic, so Jim's was an alcoholic and I just formed these three dimensional characters and then just stuck them in this situation and had things happen to them that came up in my research surrounding Ouija boards which included the red herring in the film of it not being the little boy that they thought they were talking to.
DV: How are you able to set up that infrastructure to be able to have people come in and read and start making a movie, especially considering that this was your first feature straight out of school?
KT: Well the nice thing was that my undergraduate film had won a student Emmy and my graduate picture which had been a comedy had gotten such a great response when they screened it for the industry that I had gotten a three picture deal with Ivan Reitman and I was still a student at this time and I had an office on the lot working on this script for Ivan Reitman while Walter, my producer was raising the money for "Witchboard" and one day he called and said the money is raised, let's go right when I was getting ready to make my thesis picture that summer but I left to go make "Witchboard" instead and I left 4 units short of my Master's degree. Also with the Ivan Reitman deal I was fortunate enough that all the major agencies knew who I was so it wasn't hard to get them to send us people. Not any name actors obviously because we were a low budget film, but mostly the kids that these agencies hold on to for pilot season who they think MIGHT be big stars.
DV: And while "Witchboard" wasn't a straight up horror film, more of a thriller with Hitchcockian elements...
KT: Oh yeah, I was a big fan and had probably seen about 90% of everything that he had ever done.
DV: So I guess my question is, since you weren't necessarily the biggest horror fan, what inspired the shift to a straight up horror film like "Night of the Demons" for your follow up?
KT: Well, the guys who produced "Witchboard" we are also producing "Night of the Demons" and they had another director on board who had quit while they were in prep and had left them in the lurch. They called me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested, so I asked them to send me the script and I read it. I fully admit that it wasn't necessarily my cup of tea, I just found the dialogue to be really funny and thought that I could work with this. So I said yes, because to be honest it did take them over a year to find a distribution deal so I didn't really have any money coming in at the time either and I was just getting ready to sell my car so that I could pay my rent, so I happily said yes. But once I agreed to direct it I was thinking because there really was 45 minutes of dialogue before the action starts and I had to find away to keep people interested and I had all this funky equipment that I just didn't have access to in film school so I started to design all of these neat shots to at least keep the film visually interesting until the blood started to flow.
DV: Obviously you all have a lot to talk about, since I mean "Night of the Demons" is 90 minutes long but the making of documentary is 71min...
KT: I know it's almost as long as the movie! (Laughs)
DV: How have you ultimately found the experience of going back over everything and reliving it all?
KT: It's actually been kind of cool because, there's just stuff that I didn't remember that someone else would mention that would ring a bell as well as things that I didn't know had taken place because I wasn't directly involved. Even for me, it was still kind of cool to still be able to get some fan moments out of these films.
DV: You mentioned how amazed you are that people are still embracing these movies, is there anything that makes you cringe and you wish you had changed?
KT: It's amazing because as I watch them both again, in my mind I keep going "Cut, Cut, Cut" (Laughs). The editor on these films Dan Duncan and I talk about this all the time, since in many ways it is a little painful for us to watch because we see all the places where we let a shot linger just a little too long and should have made a cut. Granted I did with my last film too, I always say that I'm finally ready to shoot a movie...after I've actually shot it and know exactly where I screwed up and that's when I am ready to shoot the sucker! If I had the time and the money, I would actually get my cast together and just shoot a handheld video version of the whole film and then just cut down as much as I needed until I found the actual movie...and then go shoot it.
DV: You know even after all these years, I was kind of amazed how well "Witchboard" has held up considering that I hadn't seen it since the actual release.
KT: Oh thanks man, and you know it's funny because I always say this about "Night of the Demons" because the hair styles and costumes don't jump out at you because I costume is just a costume and it just exists in this little bubble, it's great.