Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Confessions of a Monster Kid: C Courtney Joyner Interview! Talks From a Whisper to a Scream, Prison and More!! Part 1

When I got in touch with Mr.Joyner I was already a huge fan of his work both in screenwriting as well as his novels. I also shared his love and passion for Universal horror and B-films. But I gotta say he is a hell of a nice guy and he really knows his stuff. Many people have seen him before being interviewed for various documentaries. Recently he has taken the time out of his hectic schedule to talk to me about his work on such cult classics as Prison, Class of 1999 and From a Whisper to a Scream which was just re-released from Scream Factory with mind blowing extras that are sure to put it on the short list for a Rondo for best release of the year.

Confessions of a Monster Kid Part 1

GM: Always been a monster kid?

CJ: Well you know I was bitten by the bug, I was always just a movie person. That was also when the monster boom was going on and alot of fantastic stuff so going on like the Universal Horror movies were on television and Hammer films were coming out, Aurora model kits and Famous Monsters of Film land etc Everything was coming up monsters and I was lucky to be at the right age to be totally swallowed alive by all that so it was wonderful. So it was right from the get go that I loved these kind of movies.

GM: You worked with Virgil Vogel (The Mole People, Land Unknown etc) What was it like working with such a legend?

CJ: He was terrific! A friend of mine back in college turned me on to a really interesting article about Rondo Hatton. I didn't know about Hattons life before the movies and the disease he had, which was a result  from mustard gas attack in World World I. I was fascinated by this and the Elephant man was big at that time and he was like the Hollywood Elephant man and thought it would be a great thing to write a screenplay about about Hattons life. So I was doing a lot of research on Hattons life and I got ahold of some interesting personal items such as his death certificate and I wanted to contact someone who had contact with. David Del Valle got me in touch with Gale Sondergaard (she worked with him on Spider Woman Strikes Back) I talked to her, very lovely and elderly by this time. It was shortly before she passed away. She said something very interesting, she thought that his face was a Jack Pierce makeup and she had no idea this was how he really looked. She felt dismissive of him and thought that was telling.

So i was gearing up for this and I thought it would be great to contact one of the guys that worked with Jack Pierce like a makeup assistant so I called up the head of Universal Makeup department and he couldn't have been nicer. The first thing out of his mouth was are you working on this thing with Virgil Vogel and I was like oh my god are they actually doing this, he said just call him. I was like oh my god the director of The Mole People and The Big Valley etc. I got up my courage and called him, told him who I was and what I was doing and I had Hattons death certificate etc and he couldn't have been nicer. He said "What are you doing tomorrow come here and lets have lunch!" so I went out to Universal and had lunch with Virgil that day and there was a writer who was working on this project it was called "Hollywoods Strangest Love Story" and his name was Robert Heverly. Bob Heverly had been Sam Peckinpals writing partner on television show "The Westerner" and he had worked with Virgil alot on "The FBI" etc. I had a few finished screenplays and Virgil read one of those and passed it on to Bob and he generously asked me to collaborate with him, I was still in college and suddenly I was writing with these guys. Virgil was primarily directing "Magnum P.I" at the time jumping back and forth from "Miami Vice"and I worked with Bob Heverly and we wrote this script it never that never went anywhere but thats how Virgil and I got together. When I graduated from college he brought me over to Universal and I worked with him on assessing scripts and when he was doing episodic s we would bat ideas around  and pitch to producers and we sold a few things such as a spec "Air Wolf" and "Magnum P.I" to Universal.

GM: And did he talk much about making "The Mole People" etc

CJ: Oh god yes I bugged him all the time about everything (laugh) At the time Virgil was Universals top editor. He did such films as "Touch of Evil" "This Island Earth" etc but he really wanted to direct. They (Universal) wanted some new guys and Virgil always thought he got the chance  to do "The Mole People" because he knew a good portion of the movie would be stock footage. They wanted someone that not only knew how to assemble that footage but to shoot the building scenes between that footage and make it all seamless. Hammer films was starting to make an impact and Universal was going through a lot of management changes and the division of those kind of programmer pictures were slowing down and the budgets were being reduced so he found his chance to jump on and direct this, later going on to do "The Land Unknown"

GM: You worked with another legend Vincent Price on the film "From A Whisper to a Scream" How much interaction did you have with Mr.Price on that shoot?

Also I heard he was not a big fan of the film.

CJ: (Laugh) well that's your answer. Quiet abit actually. When Jeff Burr, Darren and I approached him originally, Jeff had gotten his address from a mail order outfit that provided address of people for a fee. Jeff really wanted Vincent Price for the movie and he couldn't have been nicer and more gracious, we were two knuckleheads at his door. He let us in and we talked about the film and discussed the film. But he was really not into doing it, he just did a mystery series with Diane Rigg and did "The Monster Club" with John Carradine in the connecting devices and he wasn't a big fan of that movie, I think it was just tiresome for him because he had done plenty of those kinds of movies.

We got him to agree to let us go head and do the stories and then see if he wanted to do the connecting device. So we went to Dalton Georgia and shoot the movie, Jeff did a great job directing it and Darren produced it and pulled it in for the cash, it was really remarkable. When we got back to L.A we arranged a screening for Price and his agent at the time Walter Coner. We struck a deal with Vincent and we shoot his stuff over at Venice. What had happened was (we were young guys, inexperienced) once Vincent had agreed to do the movie he went away and while we were busy building sets and he off on one of his art cruises. We decided to re write the script thinking Oh my gosh we got Vincent Price lets really take advantage of it and we came up with all these ideas that were pretty wild and frankly beyond our budget. He was sent that new material and he got pretty upset.We weren't trying to do anything (to upset him) we were just inexperienced and he was most upset was besides the content was the fact he hadn't been consulted. I think he thought we were trying to pull a fast one on him.

We got him to agree to come down to Venice lumber yard to see what we were doing and to come and talk to us in person it was fine, he agreed to do script as it was written. David Del Valle who was doing our publicity did something really wonderful. We were shooting at Roger Cormans studio so David had Roger and Hazel both come down on the set while we were filming. So they had a mini reunion it was just wonderful.I remember Roger standing there looking at the old decaying library set (where Vincent sits and has all his scenes) he goes "You know I believe I made this movie about forty times" (Laugh) It wasnt his favorite film but ultimately he was very nice to us. One thing that was very specific was at the end of the movie Susan Tyrrell stabs him in the throat with a switchblade knife. We were being a little cautious or at least I was, the way we had it written was he was poisoned so he can just slump over his chair and die and that was it. He didn't want to do that, the knife in the throat was actually his idea. I was really glad he got into the spirit of it. I recall him saying "Oh she should stab me in the throat, that's much nastier." Again it wasn't his favorite project, we weren't Tim Burton or any of those things he crowned his amazing career with we were alittle hiccup in the road. It was our first movie star and he schooled us a little bit and we needed to be schooled. It was Vincent Price, the big leagues but it worked out very well.

GM: Your second feature was the cult hit "Prison" Originally they wanted it to be slasher correct?

CJ: That's correct. I was hired to do Prison because I had already written a treatment for a friend of mine named Michael Barkus whom I went to UFC. Mikes dad had been an investor in a movie that Irwin Yablans produced called "Hell Night" starring Linda Blair and Mike was working for Irwin and Bruce and Irwin had a project that they tried to develop called "Horror in the Big house" it was a haunted prison movie and of course he had already done "Halloween" (1978) etc. He had this property and they were trying to make it fly and Mike recommended me, I had written a spec script called "The Night Crawlers" that I had written for Jeff (Burr) to direct and nothing really happened with it. But I used that as my writing demo piece Bruce had read it and passed it onto Irwin and he said lets give it a shot. I went in there and Irwin told me the history of "Horror in the Big house" and he gave me the script and I read it right away. Renny Harlin had already been hired, I had never met him yet.

After I read the script Renny and I got together for a hamburger or something and we were talking about it. Irwin had given me instructions that he wanted to do "Halloween" in prison and i`ve said this many times it was ridiculous you got a guy with a knife killing prisoners and everyone has a knife you know thats no threat. So I said it has to be supernatural like "Poltergeist" in jail.  Thats what put i through the hoop. Bruce hired me and I wrote the script and it took awhile before it actual found its home because the company split up and we ended up going to Empire Pictures with Charlie Band.

GM: You kept in touch with Mr. Yablans?

CJ: Irwin and I are still really good friends he was my mentor and had a huge impact on what I was doing. He really want to the floor for me many times. He was directly responsible Mark Lester hiring me for "Class of 1999" and going to TWE and working on there action projects there. He had a big big impact on my life.

GM: Tell me about the casting of character actor Lane Smith

CJ: He was wonderful in the movie but we went through quiet a casting process to get him. John Casstavettes came in to talk to us but he had some health issues and he was not considered insurable.So unfortunately that didn't happen. Lane had just done the Richard Nixon mini series and Irwin got him to come in. Boy was he a nice man, I think hes wonderful in the movie.

GM: Speaking of casting I find it interesting that Viggo did "Prison" and later went on to do Jeff Burr's film (Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) was it pure consequence or was it through your connection having worked with him previously?

CJ: Just a consequence. Viggo was bouncing from independent movies and then he went in for "Chainsaw" (Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) and Jeff called me and said "Guess what Viggo came in and were going to hire him." he was really getting bigger and bigger. He just done doing "Fresh Horses" and other movies and he was really gaining his reputation. I think hes wonderful in Jeff's film. For all his good looks I think hes always considered himself a character actor, not some preening leading man. I went out on the set and Viggo and I had a lovely reunion, hes really a nice fellow.

GM: Still keep in touch with him?

CJ: A ran into him a couple years ago in a restaurant, in fact he flagged me down, it was great like no time had past.

GM: Prior to the blu release"Prison" sadly became hard to find, why is that?

CJ: We were very lucky because Charlie had done Re-Animator and had a good foot hold theatrically. We planned in theaters but than Empire was absorbed by another company and "Prison" ended up getting another theatrical release from "New World Pictures" so it was weird it was put into theaters by two different companies and the video rights were sold and re-sold so we were out there and then gone. Our big bench mark achievement was Jay Leno whose kind of a horror movie nut actually showed the one sheet on the  "Tonight Show" The tag line was "Horror has a new home" and Jay Leno holds up the poster and yes (in Joyners best Leno voice) "Yeah I`ve always considered prison home."(laugh) Charlie was really good with the movie and pushed on it. We had the cover of International Box Office Magazine that year, the movie had a huge presents but then it kinda came and went very quickly. Because the rights were constantly being sold and re sold it didn't have a big life on cable though one afternoon it ended up on the channel five Afternoon Movie here in L.A which I don't know how that happened but it was kinda fun. Prison has always had a great reputation and of course Renny went onto amazing success and he did a beautiful job on the film. What we accomplished with the amount of money we had, i`m very proud of that movie and i`m proud of the fact that people have really given it some credit and due and seem to really enjoy it and i`m very pleased about that. At the time we were writing it Renny and I were house mates.  

GM: You worked around actual prisons, correct?

CJ: Well we did and we didn't. The real prisoners that were extra's from the actual Rowling's State Pen. that was down the road. Most of the those guys were trustees and they were fine, they didn't misbehave they were they and got a kick out of it. The guy who played Mickey's cellmate, big man with a beard and ends up getting a pick axe through his back through a door, he was in jail for murder. But the interesting thing about him was his was a prisoner there but he had his SAG card. He had been working on the mini series "Centennial" ironically directed by Virgin Vogel, he had gotten into a fight in a bar and the guy ended up dying from his injuries and ends up going to jail. We hired him and I thought he was great in the movie but when the cameras stopped rolling he was in cuffs and shackles and there were guards with sniper rifles at all times.

GM: It must have been beyond surreal.

CJ: It was, it really was. It was definitely added a whole new dimension to that film.

This was Part 1 of the interview. Stay Tuned for the final part next week.

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