During our Summer Of Fear earlier this year, we interviewed horror director Kevin Tenney about his films Night Of The Demons and Witchboard for a live streaming event. Since we’ve dedicated the entire month of Shocktober to celebrating the glories of horror, we wanted to bring you some highlights from the Kevin Tenney interview in case you missed it.
Witchboard‘s toughest scene to film wasn’t technically hard, but it presented other challenges.
In the scene where Tawny Kitaen’s character digs the Ouija board from the trash and walks upstairs into the house, the camera crane was acting up. “We were shooting in a residential area, which meant we had to be done at 10 pm,” Tenney remembers. “The clock was ticking and the police were there, ready to shut us down. When we finally did get [the crane] working, the shot was so rushed that I wasn’t sure we got it. To give the shot some depth we used a very short lens, so there’s always a danger that you’re catching something you don’t notice on the side. I was very worried. Until we got the dailies back, I wasn’t convinced we had it. Luckily, we did.”
He once was very happy to yell at Todd Allen on theWitchboard set.
“We had the big seance scene, which is a 2-minute shot,” Tenney explains. “It’s a dolly that goes around the table twice, which means the camera has to be in the right spot at the right time, the focus has to be on the right actor at the right time, they have to say their lines at the right time and they have to get all their lines right. It was the last shot of the day, it had been a long night, and they would all start laughing. The crew was getting annoyed, I was getting annoyed. So we start again, we’re about at the 1:50 mark, and I realize I’m about to laugh for no particular reason. I’m trying to hold it in, but I’m gonna laugh and screw up the shot. Just before I lose it, Todd breaks out and starts laughing, and I jump in and yell ‘Damn it, Todd, you ruined the shot!’ We had to set it up again, so I was glad Todd laughed before me.”
If he could go back and change one thing about Witchboard, it would be—the whole thing.
“If I could, I would change the shot right after the title sequence, all the way to the end titles,” he jokes. “If I could change just that, everything would be perfect. I always feel like every shot I could do better now, because now I’ve worked on it. I always say the day I wrap a film is the day I’m really ready to start shooting it.”
When screening Witchboard for distributors, he was only hoping for three or four solid jumps from the audience.
Tenney remembers talking to a friend from film school who had come to a screening with a distributor. “I confided in him that I had been so concerned about making the drama work and that the acting performances were strong and the characters were well-developed that when the film was finished I thought,What if I forgot to make it scary?,” he says. “I told him if I got three or four really good jumps out of the audience, I’d be happy. As we’re watching the movie, 50 or 60 distributors are jumping and screaming at all the right places and laughing at all the jokes, so I felt really good. Afterwards my friend came up to me and said, ‘Well, you got a lot more than three or four! I’m sure we’ll be making an offer.'”
He’s not a Ouija board believer.
“I believe Ouija boards exist in the same way I believe Ikea furniture exists,” he says. “I’ll say the same thing about ghosts and UFOs that I say about religion: I don’t believe it, but I don’t disbelieve it, either. I’m open if you can prove it to me one way or the other.”
The infamous lipstick scene in Night Of The Demons had to be shot quickly.
“They now have silicone for prosthetics, but back then it was all foam rubber,” Tenney explains. “When our makeup guy Steve Johnson would make up their faces, he had to hand paint everything. If you get too close you can tell it’s foam, so for that scene he decided to use gelatin. The problem with gelatin is that once you take it out of the fridge, you’ve got about two hours before you’ve got liquid Jell-o floating around on the set. So he said, ‘I’ll make it look good, but we have to shoot it the day after I make it and we only have a couple hours.’ We did two takes and they both looked great.”
He had trouble getting actors to audition for Night Of The Demons, partly because it was pilot season.
Because he had recently won an Emmy, Tenney had no trouble finding actors forWitchboard. But the situation was different when he went to cast Night Of The Demons. “When we did Night Of The Demons, Witchboard hadn’t come out yet,” he says. “I was no longer the flavor of the month, I was the guy who made a film that hadn’t come out yet. And most of the agents didn’t appreciate the script, didn’t want their clients involved. We were very lucky to get the cast we got. Luckily, most of the kids themselves were at the age where they were horror fans and they wanted to do it.”
He didn’t realize that having two girls kissing in Night Of The Demons would cause such a stir.
“I’d have added a lot more of that if I had known it was gonna have that kind of impact!” [Laughing.]
He’s blown away by the lasting popularity of Night Of The Demons.
About a week before Scream Factory released the movie on Blu-ray, Tenney attended a screening in Hollywood. “They were turning people away from the door, they set up extra chairs in the aisles and they had three or four rows deep of people standing in the back,” he says. “About halfway through the film, Bill Gallo leaned back to me and said, ‘Could you ever imagine when we were making this that we’d be sitting in a theater 25 years later and watching it with a full house?’ I was so convinced that because of the way the actors’ agents had reacted to it, I figured all of Hollywood was gonna react like that. I called my agent after we wrapped and said, ‘You gotta find me another job before this comes out because I’ll probably be unhirable.'”
He might do a western if he had an unlimited budget.
“I would obviously do something big! It would be great to do a really good political thriller or a super hero film. I would love to do a western, a really good western like Unforgiven. Or a comedy… I can tell a joke or two here and there and maybe make a comedy.”