You may know him as Bo Duke or Jonathan Kent, but the prolific John Schneider has now started up his own studio. Writing and directing, this good ol’ country boy is looking to shake the clean-cut image and throw himself into the world of horror. With Smothered, Schneider has brought several genre veterans together for a humour-laden, sinister, gory and, most importantly, highly entertaining movie that can’t help but bring a smile to the face of long-time genre fans. Starburst was lucky enough to chat to Schneider about his latest foray into horror, potential legal issues with “Teddy” and “Mason”, sequels, and why Smallville is better than Man of Steel could ever be.
Starburst: How did the idea for Smothered come about?
John Schneider: Well a friend of mine, about 25 years ago, said wouldn’t it be fun to invert the horror/slasher model and have the large-breasted girl kill the serial killers. I said that’d be fun, but how in the world are you going to justify it – he was talking about real serial killers, like Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, and folks like that. Firstly, they’re dead, as they’d been killed by the state, and secondly, what reason would they have to go camping together. As a filmmaker, as a writer, I don’t think an audience ever gets over their first “Oh, come on!” And a lot of movies have a lot of “Oh, come ons!” The idea stayed in the back of my brain, until just over a year ago when I was in Dusseldorf, Germany with Richard Brooker . The horror icons were having a not-so-great show and the idea came back to me at the bar one night. I asked Richard and a couple of others guys, I said, “Hey, if somebody were to pay you $1,000 to leave this place right now and go haunt a trailer park for the weekend, would you do it?” They all said yes, so it was at that moment that the ‘writer guy’ inside my brain said that is the device that through a bunch of, not real serial killers, but a grouping of horror icons, that’s the reasons why they go camping. And I went up to the room and I started on page 1 of Smothered. I don’t think it was even 10 days later when I was done. Then it was 11 days later when we were financed!
In terms of the actors in it, was there anybody that you wanted be couldn’t get?
I went after Sid Haig. In the film there’s a big clown that looks like Sid, and Malcolm has Colonel Wilson, but when you’re making a movie at this budget, which we were fairly low, not low-low – we were at $1 million – people have to make quick decisions. Sid was busy and I couldn’t wait, so I turned around and got Malcolm. I’ve known Malcolm for years – we did a movie called The Curse together 20-something years ago – so I called him and asked if he wanted to do the Sid Haig role and he said, “Absolutely.” Originally Malcolm was slated to be Ranger Moochie because of Malcolm’s name in Christine. So that was the first one. The other one, I ran into a bit of a snag getting in touch with Robert Englund’s folks. Again, there wasn’t time to wait, plus my lawyer said to me, “You know, if you have Robert Englund playing someone called Teddy…” We managed to dodge a bullet many times with regards to copyright because many people played Jason, there were several Leatherfaces, there were several Michael Myers. My lawyers said that if you had Robert playing Teddy then you’ll just be getting yourself in trouble. So we had a snag as far as getting in touch with him and we had a snag as far as potential legal problems, so I dropped that. And Bill was wonderful; he did so great in it anyway, which added a layer to the very heart of the film. It added the sobriety layer, which is kinda cool. It adds heart to a film where you don’t necessarily expect it.
In terms of characters like “Mason” and “Teddy”, were there any sniffs of legal action at all?
We had to be careful in designing the mask for Kane Hodder . We had to be very careful there, so we took a hockey mask, we took a goalie hockey mask, and then we added the primate look to it. I didn’t want it to look anything like Jason’s mask and yet, at the same time, as soon as you see Kane Hodder holding a mask, I want you to go, “Oh my God, that’s so cool!”
By the end, when he ends up wearing a mask, you see his eyes and it just screams Jason…
Yeah, exactly! And you’re feeling sorry for him by that point, which is rather conflicting. The other design where I had to be careful was, you’ll notice that Bill’s gloves, he has two of them, they’re hockey gloves, and they have a .45 on them for their pointer finger. I’ve read a couple of reviews and that seemed to confuse people, but there’s a wonderful picture of Bill as Otis, looking very much like Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales, carrying two .45s. That’s why, as soon as I knew I had Bill, I had those gloves designed to encompass A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wolverine, and The Devil’s Rejects. So that’s why it’s got the guns, that’s why Bill was wearing them, and it’s also why Bill holds some Spanish moss to his chin at one point and says, “I’m here to do the Devil’s shit.”
Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects and House of 1,000 Corpses are some of the more notable horror films of the last decade or so…
I think Rob did great with those movies, and Diamond Dallas Page is a buddy of mine. He was gonna come in but he couldn’t come in, and Rowdy Roddy Piper was gonna have the role that Dane .
Growing up as wrestling and horror fans, Roddy Piper always gets our approval...
Oh yeah, of course. And he was at the convention in Dusseldorf, so he was part of the original plan. I wrote him into it and Richard into it before I wrote anyone else into it. Of course, Richard passed away. Kane and I, we have the same birthday – 8th April – and we both found out that Richard passed away. I think he passed away on the 6th or 7th, but we both found out about it on the 8th. But that was another unusual case of the curse of Smothered as I had every intention of Richard playing himself, playing the guy that first put on the mask, which is why we built in the classic horror icon salute.
That appears in the film, and we’re big horror fans at Starburst, but we were a little confused by that salute…
Well we all knew Richard. I left it in there as ‘classic horror icon salute’ and when we started filming Kane asked what I wanted this to be. I said that I wanted the guys to get together – they all knew Richard – and I wanted the salute to have multiple levels to it and it needs to be something that sticks to the Richard that the guys know. So that’s why it starts out with a drink and moves to the “honk-honk”… So they came up with that and it’s great, I think it’s just great. Like you said, nobody’s ever seen that before.
So how much creative leeway did you give the guys in general? Were you open to them having an input on the film?
Oh, absolutely. The speech I gave everybody when we started - we did a read through the day before we started principal photography – I said, “Look guys, I know the writer and the writer wrote a solid 6 here. But the movie needs to be a 10.” Of course, I’m the writer and the director so I’m talking about the same guy. I said, “Don’t be afraid. I know exactly what I want every day but that’s not good enough. So I want you to come to me and I want you to think about how you can make this better, how you can make this more yours. Come to me every day with an idea. However, know we are shooting a movie in 14 days. Know that it’s better to come to me the day before with something you’d like to try tomorrow. You do your homework, I’ll do my homework, I promise I will listen to you, I will incorporate everything I possibly can given the time constraints that we have.” And it was great. I knew most the guys already anyway; Don is a stuntman; Kane was on Dukes of Hazzard. So I’ve known a couple of them for quite a while.
After being an actor for so long and now directing films, how different an experience is that for you?
It’s wonderful. If you’re a creative person it’s really fantastic because as an actor you’re involved in your character, your character’s plot, your character’s perspective, your character’s clothes, car, swagger, and that’s it. The director, you’re involved in every character’s clothes, every character’s swagger, every character’s car, every character’s part. You have to be a bit of a freak of emotional nature in order to keep all those people separate in your head. And sadly or gladly I am a freak of emotional nature and can do that. So I find it very, very rewarding. Creatively, intellectually, I find it much more rewarding to be the director. And I happen to also be the guy that wrote the script. So I guess it is fairly narcissistic, but hey, if there wasn’t an element of that in me then why would I be in this business?
In terms of finding funding for the movie, how challenging has that been?
It’s challenging right now. My ultimate plans is that Smothered can be one of those annuities that keeps making money. The ultimate plan is to have Smothered pay for at least the next one or two movies that we do out of the studio, until we have our cash flow working. Obviously right now I’m out looking for money for the next one because Smothered isn’t out yet, but I’m hoping that it will be a self-efficient enterprise largely funded by the income from Smothered, then I won’t have to go out and look anymore. I don’t like the ‘going out and looking’ part – who does? I don’t know anyone who likes that; raising money is not a whole lot of fun. It’s absolutely necessary but it’s not a whole lot of fun. I’ve been doing this for nearly 45 years now…
And looking good for it…
Well if you’re involved on a daily basis in living your dream, your passion, I think it keeps you young. How good can you really be at a job you hate? The last thing I want is somebody working for me that hates their job. I’ll either let you go or help you find a job that you love.
Having been involved in the business for so many years, going right back to The Dukes of Hazzard, how is it to know that you have such a broad fanbase in terms of age and appeal?
It’s delightful. It’s a little scary but it’s delightful. It’s interesting to me when people see Smothered now, they hear about Anderson Bench – which is a very gruesome, twisted love story – people have an expectation because of Dukes or because of Smallville or because of different things I was involved with. They have a very squeaky clean expectation. However, there’s a show I’m doing here now, it’s not in the UK yet, on The Oprah Winfrey Network, where I play just a nasty, terrible person. That’s actually helped me. A lot of people have to clean up their image, but I’m going through the process of, I won’t say dirtying it down, but I will say making it more realistic. People are getting a bit more of a view of what really goes on in my head. Smothered is doing that because all of those things came out of my brain, all of those ways to die. But so did the notion of Trixie (Shanna Forrestall) and when she gets her comeuppance. I remember when we showed that. It’s so fascinating to me, the people who responded to that and wondered why she said thank you. It really feeds my soul when people understand that little moment ‘cos that’s a very important moment. That and Malcolm saying “Maybe they’ll like me now.” Finally just something worthy of admiration. On the strength of that, he’s taken out of the game. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s what dying on top means – someone finally recognising that you have value. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Whilst Kane Hodder takes the lead throughout most of the film, Trixie arguably has the best arc. After being told that she’s too old, her fate brings things back together in a really nice way.
She was wonderful. Shanna is from Louisiana here, and I have to give her credit for finding those moments. It was how she reacted to what was about to happen to her that made me think, “Oh my God, she just needs someone to pat her on the back here.” Like I said, the script was a 6 there, but Shanna made that scene an 11.
As well as Shanna doing wonders, Amy Brassette as Agness was great in her accent, appearance and sinister edge.
She’s wonderful. Oddly enough, Amy is a beautiful woman who is only, I think she’s a year older than Brea , and she just puts that character on like a dirty gym shirt.
And one horror name that appears in two brief moments with yourself is Michael Berryman. Was there any thought of having him play a larger part in the movie?
There was, but Michael’s condition – Michael does have a glandular and skin condition, I believe – so Michael can’t be out in the heat. So we would have had to have built a place, which I’d be happy to do as Michael Berryman is a delightful being who I’d love to work with, but that was not written for someone like him. I’ll ask Michael to be in another film where I can actually do films with him inside. And these are not demands he makes, these are the reality of things. Kane told me about that because I thought Michael could be in this. 400% humidity? Michael can’t do that. But what a delight?! He is so bad in The Hills Have Eyes! He’s a scary dude.
Going forward, are you going to be looking at purely horror films for you studio then?
The next one is Anderson Bench, then we have one called Musical People, which is a story about justifiable homicide among the elderly. When Smothered comes out and starts doing well, I have the outline for two other Smothereds. There’s Suffered, which is the prequel, and there’s Striper. Striper is the sequel with Kane. Ultimately his affliction, the stripes on his face, actually wind up making him famous. Those two are outlined. I haven’t written them yet but I’ll start when Smothered has come out and starts making headlines. I really believe it has the ability to do that because it’s so different. Then I’ll write those, we’ll come back and we’ll make some more movies.
Any particular people that you’d like to get involved in those films? With a prequel, we’re guessing you’d look to bring back some of the guys from the current movie?
For the prequel I’d have to have the guys back and more, because the reason that DeeDee has this issue is that her step-father, who you see at the beginning… the massaging that’s talked about… there’s issues with masks and horror because her dad was into that. So his sick part of the molestation with his daughter involved knives and masks and all that kind of stuff. I believe that humour is very important. I’ll find the humour, but there’s not a lot of humour in the outline so far.
The humour is such a big part of Smothered but it also makes the more serious moments more impactful, such as the arc with Trixie, and it’s something that fans of the genre will appreciate.
Thank you, I appreciate that. There was a review that came out after Mad Monster Party that was great. It said that Smothered is not a movie for everyone, it’s a movie for us.
And you give screen time to some of the big bodies who are usually behind masks. As well as Kane being great, it has to be said that Don Shanks is in ridiculously good shape…
Yeah, and he got in better shape after the movie because he competed in an over-60 Mr Olympia in Las Vegas about a month after we finished. He’s phenomenal!
In the film, he’s probably best described as being a loveable dick…
I like that . I love that. That’s one I’m gonna call him the next time I see him. He’s like James Bond, he’s wonderful.
Considering the audience we have, it would be majorly remiss of us not to talk about Smallville. How was that to be involved with for you?
It was great. Smallville, I think, is the best part of the Superman legacy. I just saw Man of Steel and I thought, “Oh really?!” It was beautiful but unfollowable, I thought. I’m a big nut for story structure, which may sound funny from somebody who put Smothered together the way I did, but that was a result of when it was cut linearly people didn’t like the fact that R.A. was terrific, but I wish he didn’t look so much like Tom Welling. Of course, Tom Welling looks like Superman. I so enjoyed, on Smallville, the relationship between father and son that was so wonderful, so teaching, so loving.
We’re long-time fans of Smallville, and it was great to see the dynamic between Clark and Jonathan Kent. Initially Jonathan was full of life lessons but then he had to start to step away and let Clark forge his own path.
It was a wonderful parental arc. Miles wrote a great show. The lighting was impeccable, camera work was great. Like I said, I think it’s the shining jewel in the Superman crown but the more movies they make then the better it looks. To me, I don’t think any of the Mission: Impossible movies are as good as the worst episodes of the television show – that was a brilliant television show. Same thing with Smallville; I don’t think any of the movies they’ve made, or even the movies they made before, are as good as Smallville. I think Smallville just took the bar, gave it to Superman, and said, “Put this up in the sky somewhere and see if anyone can ever come near again.” And I don’t think they will.
The show seemed to get better from Season 3 or 4 onwards, when it became apparent that there was more chance of it being renewed each year. That along with the talent and writing involved, it felt as if a big screen outing would have been a perfect send-off for Smallville…
Sure! Star Trek is the only franchise that did that. They didn’t do that with the Dukes show either, but they should’ve. I promise you, I will never cast anyone as Kane Hodder other than Kane Hodder. Don Shanks will always play Don, and R.A. will always be R.A.
Smothered is currently awaiting a UK release date but you can find our review of the movie here.
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