"Tales from the Cult Film Trenches: Interviews with 36 Actors from Horror, Science Fiction and Exploitation Cinema" Book Review
Written by Robert Gold
Published by McFarland
Written by Louis Paul
2007, 336 pages, Reference
Released on September 6th, 2007
Tales from the Cult Film Trenches is a collection of interviews with thirty-six character actors whose faces are more recognizable than their names. This book is a treasure trove of stories as told by performers of the 1970s and ‘80s, familiarly identified as “That Guy” or “Her.” Author Louis Paul presents a series of interviews conducted in person, over the phone or by email and he has gathered the best bits into this book. Fellow film historian Tom Weaver (A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde), whose writing focuses on Hollywood of the 1930s – ‘50s, starts the volume with a foreword in which he commends the author for covering the more recent past. For the most part, Paul’s interviewees are still alive and their movies have had better exposure on video and television, making them somewhat more accessible to readers.
The lineup is arranged alphabetically, each starting with a lengthy biography of the person and points to some career highlights before starting the questions. The interviews tend to cover a wide range of topics in a short amount of time, which occasionally leads to omissions or a lack of follow-up questions. It is best to read these pages as something more of a casual conversation. Christopher Lee (Horror Express) is a perfect example in which the author happened to talk with the legend before a book signing and the two hit it off immediately. Lee is relaxed and chatty and happy to discuss some of his more obscure titles, but fans may be disappointed to learn his time at Hammer Films is never mentioned.
Paul is really good at putting his subjects at ease and letting them reflect on their career while prompting them with simple and direct questions. Tom Atkins (Halloween III) talks about his theatre work and the early days transitioning to films. He has kind words for director John Carpenter, who cast him in multiple projects and points to Night of the Creeps as a personal favorite. He goes on to share some interesting stories from bigger pictures like Lethal Weapon and Striking Distance.
Some interviews are not as probing, with only one or two questions given to a particular topic. Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog) found early success on television and in theatre before switching to movies. She was at one time married to John Carpenter and reflects on the pictures they made together. She also holds George Romero (Creepshow) in high regard and says she would happily work for both directors at any time. Scream Queen Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons) is deeply appreciative of her fans and is instantly likeable as she points to career highlights like Return of the Living Dead. In order to cover as many movies possible in a short amount of time, the author delivers a lighting round of titles for the actress to provide a brief response for each.
Paul occasionally surprises readers with more in-depth discussions where he was likely sitting with the person for the interview. Some of the standouts include David Carradine (Q: The Winged Serpent), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes Part 2), William Smith (Conan the Barbarian) and Fred Williamson (Black Caesar). These guys are great storytellers and their chapters are a real highlight to the collection. There are too many participants to list individually, but readers will find a lot to like in these pages. I learned a lot about both the actors and their work and hope one day there will be a Volume II.
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