Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Before overcautious parents started worrying about what their kids were viewing on the Net, they were all uptight about horror movies on videotape. This 20/20 segment hosted by Barbara Walters and her hair is a perfect example of the media's penchant for igniting controversy. The U.S. didn't have it that bad considering what happened in the U.K. in the 80s, but this documentary is straight up bad journalism. The producers filmed a group of kids watching a horror comedy like Evil Dead II and then they sat the parents down in another room, put on Make Them Die Slowly (!), and told them this was what their kids were watching. It's entirely misleading, but unless you're a horror fan who has already seen these movies you probably wouldn't know the difference. To non-horror fans, it's all the same whether lighthearted in tone or not.
That said, I am always fascinated by these old news pieces. You get to see a ton of video stores, VHS boxes, and big hairdos – what's not to love? Well, I don't love the conservative attitude against horror films, but hey, that's part of what made them so irresistible to watch in the first place, right?
While we're on the subject of horror movies on VHS, you all should check out the amazing three-disc set released in the U.K. called Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide. It has trailers for all of the movies on the official video nasties list, as well as a wonderful documentary about the phenomenon, other goodies, and bitchin' cover art.
Friday, May 11, 2012
By Ryan Clark
Beverly Bonner is a character. In fact, she specializes in characters, having written and performed Beverly Bonner’s Laugh Track for New York public access TV and later for Time Warner Cable, and the plays The Gloria Glitter Show and Casey – 30 Years Later, a continuation of her supporting role in Frank Henenlotter’s 1982 cult film Basket Case. I got in touch with Beverly on Facebook and then I was finally able to meet her at the 2010 Horror Realm Convention in Pittsburgh, PA. We hung out a lot that weekend – we had dinner, and I saw her stand-up routine in a special performance for the convention – and now she’s a very good friend of mine. Beverly graciously agreed to a phone interview about her career in films and on the stage.
“Once I got out of the corporate world, working with entertainment companies like CBS, ABC, NBC, Motown, and Viacom, including fifteen years at all of their networks like MTV, Nickelodeon, and VH1, I did my first convention,” she explains. “Seeing how people responded to my character in Basket Case immediately made me want to write a play about what Casey’s doing thirty years later, because clearly that’s what they want to know. I had a sneaking suspicion that many wanted to see how badly I had fallen apart after thirty years, and I had no problem showing them as long as they paid to see it,” she laughs. “I went right to Frank Henenlotter and told him what I wanted to do, and he told me to go with it. And he’s allowing me to screen the film before the show, too.”
In Basket Case, Casey is a prostitute staying at the same sleazy hotel as Duane and his twin brother Belial. She befriends Duane, but makes the mistake of asking too many questions (“What’s in the basket?”) and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The last time we see her, she’s screaming her head off after seeing Duane and Belial hanging from the neon Hotel Broslin sign, so it’s little wonder that fans of the cult classic are curious about what lovable Casey’s been up to in the years since her traumatic experience. “She’s running a senior citizen’s facility for old hookers,” Bonner laughs. “It’s really funny, because it allows me to talk about age and the Baby Boomers, and why people think when you get to a certain age you don’t have sex and your life is over.”
Beverly has appeared in over forty-five plays, as well as being a playwright and a stand-up comedian. “My late aunt said that I always was performing, even at two years old. She would ask me to perform for her friends, and I’d say, because I had that little foghorn voice, ‘Okay, but you better not laugh at me.’ They put me up on the table and I would parade around in my white, high-top shoes like a ballerina. I was always putting on shows and dragging my cousins into shows. I performed in plays in school, too. I integrated my grade school in Oakley, Michigan and my high school in Chesaning, Michigan, so if I got a part I had to be really good. You know, I’d play the kid’s relative, and they’d say, ‘Oh, they’re gonna have an ‘N-word’ play that? Wow!’”
Before she starred in Basket Case, Bonner appeared as Jo-Jo “The Bounce” Washington in Tom Eyen’s play Women Behind Bars, a spoof of 1950s women-in-prison films, with the late actor Divine. “The ad in Back Stage Magazine described Jo-Jo as a character that looked like Edward G. Robinson! I didn’t think I looked that way, so I didn’t audition for it. One of my best friends, who is a beautiful woman, got the part in the Equity production and it was a hit. When I saw the play, I was really kicking myself, but then I met the director, Ron Link, who said he would be interested in me playing the role the next time they did it, so I got the part. Ron used to tell me that I wasn’t ‘black enough’ – I never know what the hell that means. You’re either black or you’re not black. If you’re black, you gotta be really, really black and you’ve gotta act a certain black way, which is such a racist stereotype. ‘Cause black people come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, and all kinds of backgrounds, just like any other group of people. But he used to torture me and say, ‘Beverly, my Harlem friends said you’re just not being black enough.’ And I just wanted to kick everybody’s ass and really be black on ‘em,” she says with a deep, raspy laugh.
About her character in Women Behind Bars, she states, “It was a pretty good part. I don’t consider it one of the major parts, but I stood out because I was the only black character. There was a Latino character, too. There was, of course, Divine’s part as the matron, and there was another tough girl part, and then there was the Marilyn Monroe-type part that was larger than mine. We were all on the stage together, so it was definitely a group effort.”
She speaks fondly of the late actor who became a cult superstar due to his roles in John Waters’ films. “Divine was great. He was Divine off stage, and he was the Divine on stage and in movies. And I found him to be a very shy, caring, but funny person. We used to have great parties – he’d be sitting in the corner, quietly watching the goings-on. We had a lot of laughs, and he loved my barbecue chicken. He loved food and loved to cook. And he had the most beautiful eyes you’ve ever seen, like light blue diamonds. He could certainly compete with his idol Elizabeth Taylor in that area. I’m not gonna say I was Divine’s best friend, because I wasn’t, but one of the many reasons we got along so well was he complained about some of the unprofessional actresses who did the show. I totally understood, because I’m that way, too. Show business is fun, and comedy is fun, but it’s work. And you should know your lines, take care of business, and quit bullshitting around. I don’t like actors in the dressing room distracting everybody ‘cause they’re acting like buffoons – get your fucking act together. Divine was like that, too.”
Finally, we arrive at role she is best known for – Casey in Basket Case. Bonner was discovered by director Frank Henenlotter as a result of appearing in Women Behind Bars. “There were so many people and celebrities like Rudolf Nureyev, Warren Beatty, Elton John, and Julie Harris coming to see the show, so it wasn’t strange that you’d have somebody to talk to after the show and you’d get a lot of characters. Frank came to see Women Behind Bars and that’s when he told me he was a filmmaker. When I met Frank, at that time he looked like Opie from The Andy Griffith Show. Little red cheeks, freckles, and a great smile – just Mr. Wholesome. To be so much involved in the macabre and horror, you know, it just didn’t match up. He was very nice, but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I feel blessed that he’s my friend. He’s very supportive, and he’s always there to help, right down to wearing my t-shirts during interviews and telling people where to buy them.”
The atmosphere on the set of Basket Case was pleasant, but the budget was limited. “Frank has an easy-going approach, but he can get uptight and crack the whip – that’s what happens when the money is short and you can’t be wasting time. When I first started doing Basket Case, I had a white sheet hanging over a rope with my name on a piece of paper, and that was my dressing room. We didn’t have any money, so we had to rehearse, and those lines, we had to get ‘em. We didn’t have fourteen takes and all that kind of stuff, but Frank and [producer] Edgar Ievins always treated me wonderfully. He’d see that we got the script, we had maybe one rehearsal before the shoot where we’d work on the lines, and then we’d shoot with a dozen people there. He made us shoot the same scene twice at the most. If he saw some direction I was going in, he’d let me go with it.”
“When I started Basket Case, it was just a small bit part,” she continues. “Frank liked what I was doing, so he kept writing more stuff for me, which is why I ended up getting the third lead. And not only that, he was nice enough to actually give me some points in the film. Who does that? For a number of years I was getting money from it. That was a very nice thing to do, and it’s not common. By the time we got to Basket Case 3 they were flying me in, and I was staying at the hotel. It was a whole different thing. I may have had a smaller part, but the budget was much better. I'm in every one of his films, so when they do all these things on Frank I’m always involved. The Anthology Film Archives in downtown New York City did a retrospective on his films for three days, so he’s really become an icon all over the world.”
The star of the Basket Case series is a tall, curly-haired actor named Kevin Van Hentenryck. He lends the films a quirky quality that is part of their appeal. “Kevin’s the same as he was then. He hasn’t grown up, and you can tell him I said that,” she laughs. “Working with him was a dream, and he was a professional. We had a lot of fun and a lot of chemistry. Our scenes were short, but we worked on them until we were confident they were right. But working together was easy and there were never any problems. We just had a good time.”
Kevin and Beverly share an amusing scene in which New York’s infamous Hellfire Club stood in for a bar. “To me, our best scene was in the bar when we were laughing. We went to the Hellfire Club in the morning, and I saw the different stuff they used when they were turning them on. But did I go on my own some other night? No, I didn’t have to do that, ‘cause I had it set up in my closet at home,” she laughs. Her outfits were from her closet, too. “The gold, busty top thing? I used to be a go-go dancer, so that came from one of my costumes.”
My favorite scene in Basket Case is when Beverly finds Belial in her room and runs outside, screaming. I’ve always been impressed with her acting in that scene, and I tell her so. “That was a looong day. I lost my voice, I cut my finger on something in that bedroom, and it was hot in there. That scream has made my career,” she says, chuckling. “Some actors have to go back to, ‘Oh god, remember when my mother said she hated me’ so they can cry, but that’s not me. I’m not a method actor. When I look at Basket Case, I cringe at some of the things I did, because some are just very artificial – at least it seemed that way to this anal Virgo. We didn’t have a lot of takes to pick from.”
I’m fascinated by cult movie stars and how they respond to all of this attention, so I ask what it’s like to be remembered for an unexpected classic all these years later. “It’s fantastic to have done a film thirty years ago and have people of all ages looking at Basket Case. Mothers and fathers saw it and showed it to their kids, and the kids grow up and show their kids, and when you go to those conventions it is really heavy stuff. They love your character, they just can’t believe you’re there, and it’s awe-inspiring. People respect what we did, the fact that we didn’t have any money, and that it wasn’t just blood and killing people – it actually had a story and some heart and some laughs, and I think they liked the main characters. If I drop dead tomorrow, I have done something that left a mark for people to identify with me.”
But Basket Case was in the past, and now Beverly is taking Casey on the road to offer fans a much-needed update on her story. The first production of the play Casey – 30 Years Later was in Pittsburgh, PA at the Hollywood Theater in August 2011. “The reception of the show in Pittsburgh was very good. I thought it went over very well and the audience loved it. It’s only going to get bigger. Are people going to be lined up the street? No, but we are already booked on May 19th, 2012 for a return visit to the Hollywood Theater in Pittsburgh, and we’re making a second appearance at the Broadway Comedy Club in New York City on June 21st. Then we’re working on going to Charlotte, North Carolina, Dallas, Texas, and the Roxy in London.”
To buy tickets for Casey – 30 Years Later, please visit http://casey30.com. A portion of the show's proceeds are donated to "Scares That Care".