Welcome to the Hell Night Interview with Tom DeSimone by Greg Tiderington

I had the honor to interview cult director Tom DeSimone who started working in adult films in the 60's and 70's which had plots back then.
He then moved on to directing legit films and was famous for his work in the cult classic 'Hell Night' which starred Linda Blair and was made by some of the makers of 'Halloween'.
He then worked in low budget action films like 'Concrete Jungle', 'Reform School Girls' and 'Angel III: The Final Chapter'
Then he worked on TV shows like the spin off from the 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' flicks 'Freddy's Nightmares' by directing 11 episodes (Which is now available on DVD) as well as working in another spinoff titled 'Swamp Thing'.
Tom has retired from the business but it was great I had a chance to interview him with his work on 'Hell Night' and 'Freddy's Nightmare's'


 
First off you started working in pornography, were you hoping to work in legit films?

That was always my goal, even as a child. I started making 8mm films when I was ten and continued on all through high school. Mostly using friends, family and table-top models for my projects. It was always my intention, if I would be so lucky, to go to California and work in movies.

What was your first mainstream one you worked on?

First real mainstream movie was 'CHATTERBOX'. I had an old story outline for an X-rated comedy called 'LIPS'. A producer saw it, liked it and we joined forces and it became 'CHATTERBOX'. American International did the theatrical releases

What inspired you to direct 'Hell Night'?

The same producer who did 'CHATTERBOX', Bruce Curtis, was a friend of Linda Blair. They worked together on 'BORN INNOCENT', a TV movie she did for him about girls in the lock up. He came across the script for 'HELL NIGHT', talked her into doing it and then contacted me. We always said we wanted to work together again after 'Chatterbox'.

Was there any familiar faces that came to audition but weren't right for the parts?

None that I can remember. We had Linda locked in and agents sent out other players. Bruce, the producer, wanted to work with Vince Van Patten so he called him in. Peter Barton was suggested by his agent and we read him and liked him as well. All the others were auditioned and got their parts based on their ability.

What was your reaction when Linda Blair auditioned since she was a big name in horror films back then?

There was NO audition for Linda. She came with the deal. If she wasn’t in it, there wouldn’t have been a film.

Were you a fan of any of her films?

Of course, I loved the 'EXORCIST'.

What was she like to work with?

She was very professional, fun to be around and was always very generous to everyone. She threw a big Christmas party at her home since we were all required to work over the holidays.

You also had some other people involved who worked in 'Halloween II'. Were you a fan of Carpenters work and wanted this film to have a similar feeling to it?

I never saw any of the 'Halloween' series, believe it or not. The producer, IRWIN YABLANS, had produced the original 'HALLOWEEN' and he was one of the producers on 'HELL NIGHT'.

Were you aware after all these years this flick became a cult classic?

It still surprises me.

What time of the year did you shoot the film and where?

We shot in November and December and all the night exteriors around the mansion were done in Redlands CA. It was a long tedious four weeks of cold, damp nights. Work was slow because of the weather and the actors were wearing fairly skimpy costumes and not well dressed for damp nights.

The interiors of the mansion were done somewhere else, in Pasadena in an old home we stripped bare and filled with cobwebs and candles. The tunnels under the house and the rooftop were sets on a soundstage in Hollywood at Raleigh studios. We ended up shooting four weeks in Redlands all night exteriors. Then two weeks in the house for all the mansion interiors and the final two weeks on the stage doing the tunnels, the roof and one bedroom where the monster comes up through the floor.

What was the experience like doing the whole film?

It was hard work. We had many problems with the weather, the location and during the first week of the shoot, some bystander stole my director’s script and all my directing notes, etc. were gone. I had to work each night at the hotel to try to redo all my notes and diagrams and charts and stuff.

After that happened we closed the sets to all bystanders. No one was allowed to get near the working area after that. Then the town began to get annoyed with the commotion and the crowds that came each night and we were pretty much asked to get done and get out of there.

Do you have any memorable experiences you'd like to share with us?

In spite of all the tedium and sweat…every film is like a family and the hard times are balanced out by the good memories. I recall we were shooting over the holidays and on Thanksgiving night, we stopped shooting around midnight to break for meals and the producers had a big Thanksgiving dinner prepared with all the trimmings and some entertainment. I recall sitting across a long table out in the cold, eating off of paper plates and looking at Linda who was also enjoying the meal and we said to each other. “The glamour of Show business…if people only knew”

What was the toughest scene to shoot?

The scene where Jenny gets her head chopped off. It was supposed to play as follows:

The monster was to grab her hair, pull her up against the wall, swing the blade and cut her head off…but instead of her head falling off, as in most horror films, I wanted the body to drop out of frame and see her head still in his hand, with here eyes open and her mouth screaming. We rigged a special wall where she could put her head through a hole and then we put a fake body up under it. We attached her neck to the dummy using mortician’s wax to look real and to make it easy to cut.

She had to lay on her stomach on a long board behind the wall with her head sticking out. But she had to hold her head up, through that hole, for a long time while we rigged the body and made the neck. She was very uncomfortable. Then we had to practice the blade swing to be sure her face wouldn’t get hit. It was a long, slow process and very painful for her. Finally we got it done perfectly and it played just great. I was a shocking scene. Unfortunately, when the censors saw it they said it was just too gruesome and it may have lost us the ratings… so we had to cut it. Now in the film, as soon as the blade hits her neck, the scene cuts away and you never see the body fall and her living head still screaming. It was a big disappointment to me.

I understand that Peter Barton was injured when he had a scene with his character Jeff Reed was thrown down a flight of stairs and in reality he was limping like his character. When this incident happened did you stop shooting for a few days and how did you cope with this issue?

Yes, Peter hurt his ankle on the long stone stairs he fell down during his struggle with the monster. He was able to work OK but we had to be careful on what he was expected to do each day after that.

Before this film Peter wanted to retire from acting but Linda encouraged him to do this one which made him successful for future work like 'Friday the 13th The Final Chapter'. Could you see this film helping him rise to a successful career in future work?

I thought Peter was very good and easy to work with. He was disappointed when he came on the film because he had just lost out on a big film with Zefferelli and was depressed over losing it. Linda and the producer convinced him to stay on and he did.

I found Peter resembled very much to Donny Osmond and he did briefly have a teen idol status in his show 'The Powers of Matthew Star'. Have others commented to him of that resemblance that youre aware of?

No idea

I also enjoyed the performance by Vincent Van Patten as Seth. His death scene was never shown on film. Did you ever shoot his death scene but was too graphic for its theatrical release and will we ever see a special edition of the film?

No, it was decided to kill him off camera, in the dark so that we wouldn’t know if there was another monster or not waiting at the bottom of the stairs when Linda goes for the gun. We wanted people to wonder who grabbed him and what actually happened. When Linda gets to the gun and the monster jumps out at her it’s one of the biggest screams in the film each time I watch it with an audience. We made the right choice I think.

Another great actor was Kevin Brophy as the head sorority of Alpha Sigma Rho named Peter Bennett. How did you enjoy working with him?

He was a lot of fun and we became great friends after the picture wrapped.

Have you ever thought of casting him in your future projects?

If I had one I might have. Sometimes even though an actor is good and you like them, they’re just not right for a part. He did work again for Bruce, the producer, on 'THE SEDUCTION'

Alot of these films are coming back as sequels like 'Sleepaway Camp' and 'My Bloody Valentine' due to the fame they had. Will Hell Night ever see a sequel with another psychotic sibling from the Garth Manor that was never discovered to wreck havoc? This would be totally exciting if it is.

The producer is working on a sequel at present. Not sure when or if it will ever get done.

You directed a ton of other shows afterwards including two episodes of the TV series 'Freddys Nightmares' titled "Photo Finish" and "Judy Miller, Come on Down". How were you approached to direct these two episodes?

I did many more Freddy’s besides those two. I did eleven in fact. Some of them are out on DVD. One is "DREAMS THAT KILL" and another is, "IT’S MY PARTY AND YOU’LL DIE IF I WANT YOU TO". My agent submitted me to the producers after I did 'REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS' and they liked me and we got along well. I did several shows over two seasons and mostly did the shows that involved FREDDY in the actual script, not just in the wrap ups and intros.

I loved doing the Freddy series. It was tons of fun…lots of blood and body parts on the set every day…bursting blood bags, broken bones, heads getting lopped off. It was a laugh a minute every day.

What is Robert Englund like to work with?

He was easy but the make up process was grueling for him and it took hours so he was often grumpy and anxious to get going and get done so he could get that crap off of his face. We had to schedule all of his scenes into only two working days a week because of it and because of the budget. So when he was there, all his scenes had to be done, back to back, and then we would allow him to go.

Do tell us which episodes were about and what they were like to shoot them as the series was always a fun show to watch even if it didnt meet up to the film series?

My favorite show, actually, there were two. "PHOTO FINISH" was one and "IT’S MY PARTY…" is the other. Both have Freddy IN the plot and both had some really fun effects and moments. I think the script for "IT’S MY PARTY" is really good because it goes back to where Freddy came from, how he was created and how the NIGHTMARE STORIES actually began. It’s all fiction, of course, but very cleverly written.

Were you ever approached to direct any other horror films or TV shows after this?

Well, no more horror films but I certainly did lots of TV shows after that… about 100 more, to be exact. Check out my web site if you haven’t.

http://www.tomdesimone.com

Of course you were behind the cult action teen film 'Reform School Girls'. Although it was not a horror film it was still loved by the same types of fans and it featured people like Sybil Danning who worked regularly in horror films and a supporting role by Darci Demoss who was well remembered in 'Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives' and 'Night Life'. Did most of the people (Cast & crew) have fun working on this project?

This was by far my most favorite project. I loved going to work every day.

I always wondered what the late supporting cult film actress Pat Ast was like to work with especially with the actors too as her role as the evil jail matron Edna was convincingly scary and could easily do terrific playing a madwoman in a horror flick after seeing this film as apparently in person she had a great sense of humor and enjoyed life not worrying about issues?

Pat was fun but had a lot of personal problems I won’t go into. Working with her was very difficult but we got through the days as best we could. She couldn’t ever ever ever remember lines. She was always off on her blocking and was sometimes temperamental…but, as always, the show went on and in the end she’s what makes the film work.

Did you ever attend her funeral?

No, I learned about her death after the fact.

Now it said Linda Carol was 16 when she did this film but she must've been a bit older as she had to perform nudity since it's illegal to do nudity with teens?

Linda was well over 16 at the time

Will you be working in future horror films as we speak?

I’m retired now.

Now heres some fun stuff:
Whats your favourite horror film?

'The EXORCIST'. It’s probably the only one, besides 'PSYCHO' that ever made me nervous in a theater.

If you were a top horror movie director for one day whether he was alive or not who would he be?

Hitchcock

What movie project do you cherish the most?

'REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS'

If there was a project you'd like to change what would it be?

ALL OF THEM FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That I’m at the end of this interview. LOL It was a long one!