Freddy, Jason and Michael may get the lion’s share of horror loving, but the thing that I have always loved about the terror genre is how it has given women such a fertile ground to explore multiple characters. Even when the odds are against them and extremely exploitative elements present themselves as hindrances, strong portrayals can emerge.
Such is the case of Hard to Die which, if the world is fair, will one day be acknowledged as the Queen Mother of All B-Movies. Featuring a bevy of beauties who lit up the screens in a plethora of grindhouse projects, this Roger Corman produced quickie allows the (admittedly) scantily clad heroines to exert themselves in Amazonian manners. Here Deborah Dutch (Graduation Day, Sorority Babes and the Creature from Hell), Melissa Moore (Sorority House Massacre 2, Repossessed, The Invisible Maniac), Toni Naples (Death Stalker 2, Dinosaur Island), Karen Mayo Chandler (Stripped to Kill 2, Out of the Dark), Gail Harris (Curse of the Komodo, Forbidden Games), Monique Gabrielle (The Return of the Swamp Thing, Transylvania Twist) and Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall) are featured in tale about a group of hard working retail princesses whose late night inventory shift turns into a deadly game of survival. After opening up an ancient text, the beauties soon find themselves either being possessed by an evil spirit or finding Rambo-like sensibilities within themselves as they take down their out of control colleagues. This gives the actresses plenty of emotions to play with – fear, rage and, finally, exhausted triumph. Tying into Slumber Party Massacre, another Corman property, through flashback sequences and the reuse of the Sorority House Massacre 2 character of Orville Ketchum, a scary looking yet sympathetic foil played with beleaguered dignity by Peter Spellos, adds many levels of genre joy to the film, as well.
Nicely, Midwest residents will get to catch a free screening of this micro epic on Saturday, August 5th at AlleyCat Comics, 5304 N. Clark, in Chicago. Dutch, who will be in town filming scenes for the sequel to her beloved The Hollywood Warrioressproject, will be in attendance, talking about the film and taking photos and signing memorabilia for fans. Therefore, if you haven’t seen the film before, this will be a truly unique way to experience it for the first time.
Tina-Desiree Berg is a delightful breath of fresh air. Honest, loyal and true, Berg came to prominence in the (highly delightful) Golden Age of Femme Fatales magazine, often being associated with such video screen beauties as Julie Strain, JJ North and many others of that era. Perhaps best known for her effervescent work in the cult classic Bikini Hotel, her credits include such exploitation wonders as Merchant of Evil (with William Smith), Run Like Hell (starring Robert Z’Dar) and Reptilicant (with famed martial artist Gary Daniel). Daytime television lovers may, also, recognize her from a two year stint, partying with the younger set at the Bikini Bar, on The Bold and the Beautiful. Still busy as ever, this glorious lady has, also, honed her skills as a devoted humanitarian. Despite her bevy of hectic activities, Berg recently took a moment to chat with Big Gay Horror Fan about the glorious days of the video boom and her exciting upcoming ventures, all while sharing her overall charming worldview.
BGHF: Hey, Tina! So, what first got you interested in performing… a tuba playing, tap dancing aunt…that English teacher with the flair for the dramatic? Tell all!
Tina: I guess I was born with it! When I was in first grade I got my first real taste though. My class was on the local news singing “I’m a little tea pot” during the closing credits. I kept trying to step out in front of the rest of the class. I sang the loudest because I thought that was best. After that it was all over. It was in my blood.
BGHF: I love that! Show business is such a treacherous (occasionally back-stabbing) business. What has been the most valuable lesson that you have learned throughout your journey down its (sometimes) crooked, yellow brick roads?
Tina: (laughing) Isn’t that the truth! I have certainly come across my fair share of treachery in this industry- its actually pretty amazing what some people are willing to do in the pursuit of fame. But if you are of the non-treacherous variety, like I am, you can certainly find some good souls out there as well. In addition to the back stabbing types- the arts also attracts a fair amount of humanitarians. So- I have found that the best thing to do is insulate yourself from the narcissists while surrounding yourself with like-minded artists who possess some empathy. Avoid the nut jobs- no matter how well connected- they will only sap your strength. Instead- build a network of people whom with support is reciprocated.
BGHF: Perfect! You came into prominence during the tail-end of the high powered video age. This period of Femme Fatales glory was recently documented in Jason Paul Collum’s fine documentary Screaming in High Heels. Do you have a favorite remembrance (or overall feeling) from that period of time?
Tina in “Bikini Hotel”
Tina: Such a great time period in my life with so many amazing memories and experiences! One of the highlights was definitely sitting down with Roger Corman in his office for an interview. Another was being the centerfold in the Pam Anderson issue of Femme Fatales. Then there was interviewing the MST3K guys at NAPTE- who were really quite funny and had me in stitches. And since this was the high-powered video age- the VSDA convention never disappointed. The year I was there promoting Bikini Hotel was particularly crazy. I will never forget looking down the long line of guys waiting to get the one sheet autographed and seeing a woman. It was very curious. When she got to the front of the table she presented me with her business card. She worked for Pay Per View and she wanted to know if we were making Bikini Hotel 2. I said that I was unaware- then inquired as to why she was asking. She replied that it was her highest grossing film the previous quarter. I was stunned. STUNNED! Really? Bikini Hotel?? Who knew?!
BGHF: Bikini Hotel is just one of the cult classics that dot your resume, but it seems to be a fan favorite. Do you have any fun, specific memories about working on that set?
Tina: Ha! Several! We had a lot of fun shooting that film. Julie Strain and JJ North were great. Stella Stevens was excellent to work with. She was someone I looked up to as an actress. The guys were all quite funny. So, the long hours on the set seemed shorter because it was a solid group of fun individuals. Having said that – this film was made long before the digital age. So it was shot entirely on short ends. Meaning, you had only one take to get it right! So, not only did it have to be timed perfectly to fit the length of the short end- it also had to be your best performance. You didn’t have the luxury of multiple takes back then. You were shooting film and it was simply too expensive. At the same time, I think that is also what has given us some of the best comedic moments in a lot of these low budget cult classics. Anyway, on Bikini Hotel we ended up improvising a lot of the filler shots in the miniature gulf sequences. JJ had just done Attack of the 60 Ft Centerfold– so we did a parody of that with a section of the golf course that was houses. They used force perspective to make it look like she was trampling them. And then there was the infamous cat fight, which was not in the original script, but was really funny. JJ and I had some fun with the utter ridiculousness of it. It remains one of my favorite bits. Another fun fact: The montage sequences of the women in the Hotel Lingerie hotel rooms were all me wearing different wigs and costumes.
BGHF: Fun! You bring a nice natural quality to such fun yet outlandish projects like Magma: Earth’s Molten Core and Reptilicant. Do you find it difficult have to react to special effects that (seemingly) aren’t in place yet – or is that just part of the joy of it for you?
Tina: Interestingly enough- no! I don’t find the internal emotional work to be that much different. You just have to keep focused on the internal. It’s about transferring the emotions from a real life experience into whatever it is you are doing in the film. Of course that can get tough on a low budget film when you are shooting 15 hour days. I can always see the difference in the scenes shot late into the night.
Tina in “Reptilicant”
There was one scene in Reptilicant like this. It had to have been 2 in the morning and it was the last shot for that day. I had a line that was supposed to be “armor piercing bullets” but I kept saying “body piercing bullets”. I was so tired that I didn’t even realize I was saying that until the other actor, on the 5th take, responded “Danny, I believe that all bullets are body piercing”. (Laughing) It was quite funny. Gary Daniels is an amazing martial artist and it was great to do a film with him.
Magma was unique for me because it was a family film. I played a mother who was a scientist. In fact, it is the one film I have done in which I am more “homely” looking and never wearing a sexy outfit. So I appreciated the opportunity of that. The green screen sequences in this film mainly involved the volcano erupting. We had several young teens in the cast so I really enjoyed mentoring them on the set.
Tina and Gary Daniels
BGHF: Speaking of mentoring, let’s slip into our Deborah Kerr shoes and play a bit of “Getting to Know You”! Is there an activity that you love to do that may surprise or delight your fans. (Like, say, gardening in green shorts to Pavarotti videos or the like!)
Tina: I love slipping into my Deborah Kerr shoes! Dance was one of my first loves, actually. My BA is in drama and dance. As an aside- I actually do love gardening- although I prefer Prince to Pavarotti while doing it. My big hobby the last few years has been restoring my 1920’s Spanish Casita. I have refinished all the plaster, floors and frescoes. In particular I have really gotten into working on the mosaic tile. It appeals to the artist in me. I think I’ve covered almost all of outside surfaces with mosaics!
BGHF: That sounds simply beautiful. Now, we connected on Twitter over your passion for Gay Rights issues. Have you always been a humanitarian or was there an incident that stands out in your mind as a turning point for you?
On the set of “Deer Crossing”
Tina: My second love has always been humanitarian issues. I have done a lot of volunteer work, served on non-profit boards and have also worked as an unpaid public policy director. I have never been afraid to speak my mind on these issues and I was born with a particular passion for justness. I think that the turning point for me was witnessing a gay high school friend being bullied. It just didn’t feel right to me or make any sense. My parents were quite open-minded- I even had lesbian babysitters when I was young- so I had not been exposed to any set of prejudicial notions. I had never been in an environment where it was OK to dislike someone simply because of their sexual orientation or skin color. So, I was puzzled by this unfounded hatred and it made me emboldened to join the fight for equality. All men are created equal should mean ALL men.
I am also pretty outspoken on racism. Hate it. In fact, I wrote my MA thesis paper on race eliminativsm. I have also done advocacy for Microbicides and worked on human trafficking legislation.
BGHF: Wonderful! Two fisted question time!!! Is there a past project that you feel hasn’t gotten enough attention or something that you are especially proud of that you would like to talk about? And – are there any future projects that you would like to push or words of wisdom (IE: Never film a scene in a swimsuit when it’s only 30 degrees out) that you would like to leave us with?
Tina: Yes- I am just starting a short film titled The Long and Short Of Ringo Speck that I’m pretty excited about. It should be out by the end of the year. It is a well-written dramatic piece.
I also started a genre movie streaming website 2 years ago and I have been working on expanding it: http://www.bcinema.tv ! We have a lot of the horror and SCI FI classics on there, coupled with some fun new stuff. One of the coolest collections we stream is Fangovision. These are the 3D film version of various genre classics. My partner -Jason Liquori of Hocus Focus Prods- has developed a great analogue 3D treatment. I invite everyone to check them out as the site is free.
I will leave you with my words of wisdom: If you embrace the skeletons in your closet, they are no longer skeletons. They are only skeletons if you let others embrace them for you. I say this because everyone in a creative industry will at some point in time be associated with a project that ends up being not so good. I have done some good films- and I have done a lot of bad ones. But I regret none. I see some of my fellow thespians cower from films they are in that turn out to be not so good and I never quite understood this. You can’t erase your image or association. You can’t, especially now with the internet. It is what it is. Moreover, we- as humans- will all at some point make bad decisions. This is inevitable. It is also inevitable that many people are judgmental and will want to judge you. But, if you embrace these things instead of allowing others too, it will take the wind out of their sails, so to speak.
BGHF: Thanks, Tina!!! This has been better than riding in a helicopter with a shirtless hunk while the earth explodes below – any day of the week!!!
Tina: (laughing) You are SOOOO funny!!
BGHF: Only because I am trying match your awesomeness with humor, my friend! Only because of that!
As pink studded buildings collapse and the twisted spirals of despair clutch at his nightmare ridden feet, Big Gay Horror Fan reaches out, desperately, and always the ebony Rapunzel-like hair of stage goddess Patricia Morison comes floating past. Clutching at it, he is once again, pulled from his hideous dreams, waking up to a new morning.
Regal to the point of otherworldliness and always exquisitely beautiful, exotic Patricia Morison gained eternal fame as Cole Porter’s muse for his classic 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate. For many, this artistic opportunity saved her from appearances in a variety of low budget Hollywood programmers. But, for cinematic fetishists in the know, these cheap wonders always highlighted Morison’s eclectic grace.
In 1943’s Calling Dr. Death, Morison radiates with concern as Stella Madden, Dr. Mark Steel’s (Lon Chaney, Jr.) prized assistant. But Morison always allows a tone of mystery to pervade her actions – a grand move as Stella soon appears to know more about the death of Steel’s wife than she is letting on. Indeed, during a nightmarish sequence Morison finds herself running between shadowy, toppling set pieces in a brilliantly conceived dance of guilt. The presence of Chaney and J. Carrol Naish (The Monster Maker, House of Frankenstein) along with the moody direction of Reginald Le Borg (The Mummy’s Ghost, Weird Woman) makes this among Morison’s more fright based efforts. But, the dedicated Morison always gave up the exploitation gold in a number of other genre projects, as well.
As Mrs. Hilda Courtney in the 1946 Sherlock Holmes adventure Dressed to Kill, Morison truly gives distinguished Basil Rathbone (Tales of Terror, Queen of Blood, The Black Cat, The Mad Doctor, Tower of London) a run for his money. She excels at sophisticated villainy here, but she is obviously having the most fun when duplicitously disguised as a homely working class matron. But whether grand or downtrodden, Morison shows all her fabulous colors here making one marvel at the fact that the studio system never figured out a grand scheme for her.
In 1947’s Queen of the Amazons, Morison shows much spunk and zeal as Jean Preston. Determined to find her missing fiancé in the wilds of the jungle, Morison sparks immediately with Robert Lowery as experienced guide, Gary Lambert. The two are destined for romance in the Hepburn-Tracy variety, but only after it is discovered that Preston’s fiancé has fallen in love with the vicious and vengeful Zita, the queen of the jungle. Morison’s gritty elegance here is in direct contrast to the extremely awkward (thus thoroughly enjoyable) performance of Amira Moustafa as Zita.
Be sure to check back often as Big Gay Horror Fan (https://www.facebook.com/biggayhorrorfan ) frequently exposes the wondrous exploitation foibles of the most glorious femmes of entertainment.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!