Category: 1980’s

A Silver Lining

2020 has been the absolute worst year of my life.

I know, it probably has been for you as well. But my streak of bad started way before the corona virus and debating the usefulness of masks while hating each other. For me, the black cloud hovering over my head began last October when I lost my beloved dog, Doodle, three days before I turned 50. That single event set the wheels of gloom in motion.

It really began in early March of this year when my mother suffered a fatal stroke and, a week later, the Covid-19 lockdown officially began. I do writing on the side and was grateful to be able to continue to work from home with my real job in IT.

Unfortunately, one month after quarantine began, I was told that my position had been eliminated, effective immediately. My company offered to pay me until the end of the month. This was contingent upon them overnighting all the things at my desk along with a box for me to return my laptop and other company equipment.

I used those two weeks to secure a contract position at another company. The bummer of it was, the new job didn’t start for eighteen days and there would be no pay coming in. So, like thousands of other people, I applied for unemployment benefits to fill the gap and was accepted. I won’t go into great detail about my experience with the Department of Unemployment other than to say that as of this writing, I still have not received one single penny for the two-weeks unemployment they owe me. I tried calling, emailing, voicemails… all met with constant busy signals or completely ignored. I had to dig into savings in order to pay bills. The fact they still owe me for two-weeks unemployment is unsettling, but I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for others who are going through a similar process and still haven’t found a job.

Just when I thought there might be a break in the storm, this past week I had to say goodbye to another one of my dogs. Ginger Snap, a senior pup we adopted after she was rescued from a kill shelter in 2011, and who had spent the next four years living a life filled with love and luxury, told me it was time. She had been diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease a few weeks ago and I was giving her medication that was supposed to alleviate the symptoms that were ruining her quality of life. I came downstairs on Saturday morning to find her unable to get up. It will take me a long time to get over the thought that I failed her.

So, during a period of ten months, I’ve not only become mired in this pandemic but also lost my mother, two dogs and my job. Which kind of leads me to the title of this post – The Silver Lining.

The day after Ginger went to the rainbow bridge, I went to visit my brother, who had lived with my mom in the house we all grew up in. He had recently installed windows in places of the house where none previously existed. I marveled at the sun, gleaming through the new windows and showering the space that was once our childhood bedroom in bright, summer light.

As I admired his work, he mentioned how he should’ve installed the windows twenty-five years ago and how he wished our mom would’ve been alive to see them. I agreed.

After I left the house to go home, I walked past the huge blue spruce tree lumbering in the yard. Its towering branches reaching high to the heavens like it had always done even before I was born. I suddenly remembered how deathly afraid I was of that tree as a child, and how I would often have nightmares about it coming out of the ground at its roots to get me.

I decided I wanted to have a piece of that big tree to stick in my curio cabinet at home. It’s a place where I keep all of my childhood knickknacks of times gone by. I bravely reached for a low hanging limb and plucked off a tiny piece of branch. I held the small stem to my nose and breathed deeply, inhaling the faint scent of pine from something that forty-five years ago scared the living shit out of me.

That night as a lay in bed, I had a dream that I was back at my brother’s house. I can’t recall all the details, but I remember my brother and I were standing in the kitchen talking about something when in walked my mom. In the dream, she looked exactly as she did as when I was a boy, but in my heart, I knew she had died. You would think that I would be terrified at the sight of a ghost, but I wasn’t afraid to see her at all. Instead, there was something I wanted to know.

“Are you all right?” I asked. Meaning, is it ok when you die.

She nodded her head. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “Everything is ok.”

The dream quietly transitioned into something else I can’t remember, but that revelation of seeing her still haunts me. It’s been years since I’d dreamt about my mother, and even when I did there was never a conversation that felt so visceral.

I’m not sure if what I experienced was the culmination of visiting my brother and all the things that have been happening to me in 2020, or that my mother really was trying to tell me that everything is going to be all right.

But if I had to make a choice, I like to think that it was the latter.

Interview: Fee Waybill Returns With Guitar-Driven Solo Album, Shares Secrets Behind Tubes Classics

Fee Waybill Rides Again is the legendary Tubes frontman’s first album of solo material in nearly fourteen years and a compilation seven years in the making. Together with longtime collaborator and producer Richard Marx, the duo’s vision of creating a raucous, guitar-driven album has become one that’s both deep in variety and universal appeal.

Led off with the infectious lick of “Faker,” the album combines well-crafted songs and tight musicianship with Waybill’s ubiquitous vocal, which sounds better than ever.

Other standouts on Fee Waybill Rides Again include the hard-charging “Promise Land,” the groovy and hook-laden, “Meant To Be Alone”, and the crossover country vibe on the track, “Still You On The Inside.” A song written by Marx and Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger that was originally intended for Chris Daughtry. Featured guests on the new album include guitarists Michael Landau and Matt Scannell of Vertical Horizon along with bassists Jason Blynn and Whynot Jansveld.

For longtime fans of classic rock and The Tubes, this seven years in the making album was certainly worth the wait.

Fee Waybill Rides Again is available on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon.

I recently spoke with Waybill about his new album and more in this exclusive new interview.

Can you give me a little background of how this new album came about?

Fee Waybill: Richard [Marx] and I have been friends since 1983, when I met him at a Tubes session. Every summer he and I and his boys would take a vacation to his cabin in Wisconsin. About six years ago we decided to use that time to go into the studio and recorded the song “Faker.” That was when we first came up with the idea of doing another solo record. We wound up doing three other songs during that time, “Woulda Coulda Shoulda,” “Promise Land,” and “How Dare You.” Then life reared its ugly head and we didn’t do another track for almost six years.

Six years seems like a long time in between sessions.

FW: It was, but about a year and a half ago we decided to revisit the album and went back through the archives of songs we had written over the years. We found the track “Say Goodbye,” which we had originally intended to use for one of Richard’s albums. Every time I listened to it I realized what a great song it was and wanted to add it to the list.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Fee Waybill by Clicking Here.

The Go-Go’s: “If you think we’re sweet girls who wrote candy-flavored pop songs, our history is going to be a surprise”

Photo: Paul Natkin

The Go-Go’s Documentary, directed by Alison Ellwood, whose other work includes the Emmy-winning History of the Eagles, chronicles the band’s meteoric rise from the LA punk scene to the world of superstardom.

With rare photos, live footage and shocking revelations, fans will discover the grit and determination behind the band’s early years in the clubs as well as their tumultuous UK tour with The Specials and Madness before returning to the States and becoming the first, and only, all-female band to play their own instruments, write their own songs and have a number 1 album.

The new documentary, which also features candid interviews with both current and former members as well as management, also includes the new song, Club Zero, the first new Go-Go’s recording in nearly 20 years.

Guitar World recently spoke with The Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock about the new documentary in this new interview.

How did this documentary come to fruition?

Charlotte Caffey: “We were approached by Alison Ellwood about the idea of doing a documentary. At first, we were a bit nervous because we didn’t want it come across as a salacious ‘behind the music’ kind of thing. Alison did such a great job. It really puts perspective on things. ”

Kathy Valentine: “The documentary gave us a chance to get something out that was a more complete narrative than what was already in the public eye. The band coming out of the L.A. punk rock scene is something that not everyone is aware of.

“Alison and her team compiled all of this fabulous filmed footage. It was challenging but it’s a testament to her skills as a director in putting together an interesting and exciting story.”

Belinda Carlisle: “A documentary is a heavy thing to commit to because your story is cemented forever. It took a while for us to put our trust into Alison but we’re so glad that we did.

“For a person who thinks The Go-Go’s are these sweet girls who wrote candy flavored pop songs, our history is going to be a surprise.”

Read the rest of my
Interview with The Go-Go’s By Clicking Here!

33 Years of Employment

Me, June 11, 1987

Who would have thought how much could change in a thirty three years? To think that at the time since I received my high school diploma in June of 1987 the world has become such different place.

I’ll be honest, when this picture was taken I figured it would probably only be a year before I’d be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, talking about my band’s debut album and world tour with Def Leppard. I had high hopes and wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way.

Thirty-three years ago the only thing I wanted to do was rock. I’m serious. I mean that’s ALL I wanted to do. I really didn’t want to go to college, and I sure as hell had no interest in doing anything that resembled actual work.

On the contrary, my days were usually spent sleeping til around noon, noodling on my guitar and mooching money off of my mom and grandmother for such things as gas for my car and coffee and cheese fries at Perkins. After all, a man’s gotta eat, right?

“Borrowing” money from them soon began to get old and my options for disposable funds was starting to run out. I was worried that I might be completely broke before fame came knocking at the door.

What to do?

It wasn’t until I discovered that student loans were readily available that I began to have second thoughts about going to college. I mean, who wouldn’t want some free money? Money you wouldn’t have to pay back until after you graduated college!! Hell, that could take YEARS!! I quickly signed the first promissory note I saw and still have vivid memories of running down to the bursar’s office every day at Penn State Allentown to see if there was a big check for me. And what did I do with this windfall of cash you ask? The money I was supposed to use for books and tuition? I bought a guitar and amp and wound up dropping out.

This cycle inevitably repeated itself over the next few years as I applied to community college and eventually, West Chester University. I discovered that as long as I was enrolled in school I was “off the hook” as far as paying back the money. At least in the short-term. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning in my dorm, dug into my pockets and realized I had $1.37 to my name that I had an epiphany. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. Here I was, twenty years old with $1.37 to my name and nothing more. The friends I’d graduated with were now halfway done with college and most were well on their way to bigger and better things. It was my wake up call. Rock and Roll would have to wait.

On May 29th, 1990 (thirty years ago as of this writing), I started working full time on the 4-12:30 am shift as the head garbage man at Easton Hospital. That’s right, I literally started at the very bottom. Any gum wrapper, cigarette butt or operating room bio hazardous waste was handled by me. I hated it with a passion. They even fucked up and spelled my name wrong in the company newsletter. Despite all of my self-doubt and embarrassment of being a garbage man, something inside kept me going. I knew better days were ahead.

A year later, a position opened up in the pharmacy. It was a 2:30-11pm shift but was the perfect chance for me to get out of garbage. I worked that position for eight years.

Eventually, I made the decision to go back to school and get my degree in computers, married, bought a home and became the father of a beautiful daughter. It took me fifteen years but I eventually paid back every cent of my student loan debt.

Perhaps the best thing of all was that my own rock star dream didn’t die. I now live it vicariously through my writing. The point being, we can do anything we want to do. Be anything we want to be. We just need to make a plan and do what it takes to get there.

As I look back on this picture, three decades after it was taken, I see someone who had big dreams. And someone who, thirty-three years later, found a way to make them come true.

‘World Goes Round’: Frank Musker and Jeff Hull Discuss Rediscovered 80’s Musical Time Capsule

Back in 1989 a behind the scenes group of renowned songwriters and studio musicians, Frank Musker (Queen, The Babys, Air Supply), Elizabeth Lamers (John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Christopher Cross), Jeff Hull (Brenda Russell, Heart, Chaka Kahn) and Marty Walsh (Donna Summer, Eddie Money, Sheena Easton), decided to get together to record an album. The result was World Goes Round, a powerful collection of pop, inspiration and creativity.

As artists who, at the time, were also heavily involved on other projects, the album was eventually shelved and would reamin unheard for more than thirty years. It wasn’t until guitarist, Marty Walsh, found a cassette tape of the tracks in his basement that the music of World Goes Round is finally seeing the light of day.

The ten-track album, produced by Tommy Vicari (Prince, Billy Idol) and fueled by the infectious lead single, “Big House,” was digitally transferred using 21st century technology. A product of its era conceived in a pressure free setting, World Goes Round sounds as fresh and relevant now as it did more than three decades ago.

I recently spoke with Frank Musker and Jeff Hull about uncovering the World Goes Round time capsule and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did the music of World Goes Round finally see the light of day after all this time?

Jeff Hull: It was when our guitar player, Marty, found the cassette in his basement, listened to some of the tracks and then sent them to everyone. It’d been thirty years since any of us has heard it. What’s interesting is that we weren’t able to find the original multi-track of the recordings. So, we went in and remastered from cassette. We were amazed at how good it sounded.

How did World Goes Round originally come together?

Frank Rusker: I had a house and studio in Laurel Canyon where we would have sessions and worked with A-list players. I was in a relationship with Elizabeth at the time and we were always making music. Elizabeth had been working with Marty Walsh and we were always letting other people use the studio as well. One day, I heard Jeff playing and knew right away I wanted to put him in my orbit. We were all having a lot of success individually but not really making the records we wanted to make. We didn’t have an impetus of creating a working band. We just wanted to make an album that would satisfy our need of depth and personality. When I listen to these songs now, all these years later, they still sound amazing.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Frank Musker & Jeff Hull Here.

‘Blvds of Splendor’: Cherie Currie and Matt Sorum Discuss Infectious New Album

Photo by Robert Sebree

Legendary Runaways vocalist Cherie Currie describes her new album, Blvds of Splendor, as the record she wish she’d made when she was signed to Capitol Records in the early 1980’s, and for good reason. The album, nearly ten years in the making and produced by veteran drummer/author/ entrepreneur Matt Sorum (The Cult, Velvet Revolver, ex-Guns N’ Roses), is a pure cornucopia of musical goodness spotlighting Currie’s monstrous vocal prowess.

From the album’s high-energy opening track, “Mr. X,” a track originally slated for Velvet Revolver and featuring Slash and Duff McKagan, to the more haunting sounds of “Blvds of Splendor,” a song with a subtle vibe written as a duet and performed with Billy Corgan [Smashing Pumpkins]. Other tracks from the album, like the groove-ridden “Black Magic,” the bluesey “Roxy Roller,” and the apropos “Force To Be Reckoned With,” also demand repeated listenings.

One of the biggest highlights of Blvds of Splendor has got to be the modern remake of The Runaways hit, “Queens of Noise,” where Currie is joined on vocals by Brody Dalle, The Veronicas and Juliette Lewis. Drummer Matt Sorum also pays homage to the band’s late member, Sandy West, by contributing a masterful performance in West’s signature style.

Runaways fans have waited a long time to hear this rock icon do what she does best and will certainly find a lot to like with Blvds Of Splendor. But more importantly, the new album proves that forty-five years after she became the lead singer of the all-female teenage rock band, Currie is still at the top of her game.

I recently spoke with Cherie Currie and Matt Sorum about the new album and much more in this exclusive new interview.

This album has been many years in the making. Can you tell me a little bit about the journey of Blvds of Splendor?

Cherie Currie: About ten years ago Matt reached out about having me do some backgrounds on a project he was working on. I was busy at the time with the movie [“The Runaways”] but later reached out to him about putting together a band when I was opening for Joan [Jett] at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Matt told me he would do it and it was so well received that we wound up getting offered a contract by Joan’s record company. Over the years we thought about recording and releasing the album but something always came up. Now is the perfect time. This is the record I’ve always wanted to make.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Cherie Currie & Matt Sorum Here.

Interview: The Alarm’s Mike Peters Discusses New Album, ‘Sigma’, Touring and Living Life to the Fullest

Photo by: Andy LaBrow

Originally intended to be part of double-compilation called Blood Red Viral Black, The Alarm’s infectious new album, Sigma acts as the sequel to 2018’s critically-acclaimed Equals and features contributions from such musical giants as original Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp and Billy Duffy from The Cult.

Sigma, as well as its predecessor, mark a creative change for Peters, who crafted most of the songs from lyrics he’d written while he and his wife, Jules, were going through cancer treatment. The result is a second volume of material fueled by heartfelt emotion, angst, and revelation.

In addition to the new album The Alarm will soon embark on one of summer’s most highly-anticipated tours, where the alternative British rockers will join post-punk auteurs Modern English and the charismatic Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel on what’s being hailed as The Sigma LXXXV Tour.

Peters’ Love Hope Strength charity will also host bone marrow drives at each concert aimed at finding finding donors for people suffering from blood cancers. To date, the charity has registered in excess of 200,000 people, with more than 4,000 potentially lifesaving matches.

Sigma will be released on Friday, June 28.

I recently spoke with Mike Peters about the new Alarm album, touring and more in this exclusive new interview.

How does the new album compare with some of The Alarm’s previous work?

Mike Peters: It’s very much a sequel from our last record, Equals, which came out last year. The music of both albums was conceived at the same time. Originally, it was going to be a double-album called Blood Red Viral Black, but on the eve of release we decided to switch focus and release a single album, Equals, with the knowledge that a sequel would be released twelve months later. There’s a lot of connection between the two records.

The material for these two albums came about a little bit differently than what you’ve done in the past. Can you talk a little about the songwriting process?

In times gone by I’d usually start at the top of the mountain. Where you’d have that initial expression, phrase or chorus, and then you’d work your way down to find the bridge, verse and finally, the lyrics. With this set of music I started at the bottom of the mountain with lyrics first. A lot of songs came out of the turmoil of the situation when I found myself relapsed from the leukemia I’ve carried most of my adult life. At the same time my wife, Jules, was diagnosed with breast cancer, so it was a double whammy. I put everything on hold while we faced this challenge together. There were lot of places where I found myself threatened, emotionally, and I’d write down my feelings. It was only after we came through the worst of these times that I showed my wife all the things I’d written down. That’s when she said to me “This is the start of a new Alarm record. Then I printed all the lyrics out and laid them on the floor around me and started looking for the music in the lyrics to go back up the hill. These albums are very different from how I’ve worked in the past. It’s been quite liberating.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Mike Peters by Clicking Here.

Goodbye Palmer Elementary

It was the suddeness of the hypnagogic jerk that roused me from my sleep. It’s centrifugal force igniting every molecule of my brain back into consciousness. My eyes opened to the sight of the ceiling fan gently rotating above my head. Nearby, the metal vents on the floor rattled with a soothing clinking sound as cool, conditioned air made its way from the basement into the living room where I lay.

I’d been power napping on the couch for a little more than five minutes. Something I tend to do frequently on weekends these days, especially when I’m out late the night before. Although I do enjoy these afternoon breaks from reality they rarely last longer than fifteen minutes. What can I tell you, I’m old. Not “Hey you kids! Get off my f#cking lawn” old, but more of a “It’s Saturday afternoon and I feel like taking a nap” old. There’s a difference.

I gazed over at the clock and noticed the time: 2:00 p.m. I sat up quickly and pursed my lips. “There’s something I need to be doing today,” I thought to myself. “Somthing important and, if I don’t act quickly enough, something I’m going to miss.” I fished the cell phone from my pants pocket and glared at the calendar app, where I saw the overdue notification blaring on the screen:

“Walk Through.. Palmer School”

I rose from the sofa with all the energy of a grizzly bear that’d just woken from a winter hibernation. With cracking knees and slight disorientation I grabbed the keys from the kitchen counter and made my way to the car.

Palmer Elementary is part of the Easton Area School District and, if memory serves me correctly (remember, I said that I’m old), it’s the oldest one still being used under the same name. The school is unique because it’s actually two buildings in one. The original one is called The Cole building and the other attached structure, built a few years later, is referred to as The Auld building. About the only thing I remember about Palmer Elementary was its odd, sprawling shape, and the green-tiled walls and wooden stage that were now riddled with the ghosts of generations of students who’d spent kindergarten through fifth grade roaming it’s corridors from September until June each year.

The school is now scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new, state of the art strucuture, but the district was kind enough to let people walk through its hallowed halls one final time before it’s leveled into dust. I only attended Palmer for one year, fifth grade, back in 1979. A mind boggling thought to consider forty years later.

All Purpose Room

As a fifth grader, I was confined to The Auld building and as I entered the door to that part of the school again I felt a wave of emotion rush over me. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find the homeroom class where I’d spent most of my time. Heck, I couldn’t even remember the room number, even though I suddenly recalled it was something familiar that I could easily associate with.

As I trudged through the corridors I found myself walking in a certain direction. I passed something that was once called The All Purpose Room; a large room with filing cabinets, chairs and even a stage for talent shows. It was there that I recalled it’s significance. On June 5th, 1980 this room served as the location for Palmer’s Silent Spelling Bee where me and a bunch of my teammates came in second place.

It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me at school up to that point, because the entire Spelling Bee was being filmed live on this crazy new contraption called a video recorder. Our tiny little selves could actually watch our performances on the television screen almost instantly after it happened!

As I walked out of that room my thoughts raced back to the Second Place ribbon I’d kept from that day. One that, almost 40 years later, still resides in a curio cabniet is my office.

I exited the all-purpose room and into another winding corridor that led past the gym, where the smell of old wood and the blood, sweat and tears of youth still lingered heavily. It was then that my strides began to come more in earnest, as if I knew there was some place I needed to be. I walked past doors with signs printed on them that said “Janitor,” “Teachers” and “Boiler Room,” along with black, scuff-marked floors from decades of abuse by children’s boots and shoes. Each sign and scrape as oddly familiar as the nose on my face. Finally, I came to the beginning of a single long corridor, and my heart skipped a beat.

“It’s down here,” a youthful voice inside my head said. “Down here on the left! Take your time. It’s not the last room, but the one just before it.”

Room 409

I started doubting myself. Could it be possible that I’d actually remember the exact location of my homeroom? A school that I’d only spent one year of my life in? I trudged the corridor, peeking into each room on the way down as I slowly made my way toward the end.

Finally, with my heart still racing, I came to the second to last classroom on the left. I peered at the number that hung above the door and laughed out loud. It was Room 409. The same number as that f#cking cleaning product, Formula 409. THAT was how I’d always remembered my 5th grade classroom!! I stood there, staring at those three digits for the longest time, remembering the ten year old boy who regularly walked through it’s archway and into learning. Although I was hesitant about entering nearly forty years after I’d last walked out, I nonetheless forced myself inside.

Room 409, just like all the other classrooms in the building, was completely empty, but my mind quickly filled in the blanks. I could once again see the desks that were occupied by me and my classmates. I could see my teacher, Ms. Reiersen, with her dirty-blonde bob, standing at the blackboard near her desk lecturing. I remembered looking out the window at the monkey bars and longing for recess. I recalled the hottest of days in May when the open windows did little to relieve the unbearable heat. It was in this room where I learned about reading and social studies. It was also where me and my friend Steve came up with the idea of auditioning for the school talent show by wearing paper bags over our heads and doing a skit called “Unknown Comic News.”

If you don’t know who The Unknown Comic is, look him up on YouTube.

I walked the room very slowly taking it all in, running my fingers softly along the walls and reading the memories people had scrawled on the chalk board. I pushed on the closet doors to see where my childhood coat once hung. Yes, it still took a herculean effort to open them. I thought about all the kids that went to school with me at Palmer and how forty years had passed by in a blink of an eye. That’s when it hit me that all of us will be turning 50 this year

Well, they are, I can’t possibly be THAT old.

After what seemed like a lifetime (in reality, it was) it was time to say goodbye to Room 409, Palmer School, and that long ago part of my life. I’m not afraid to admit that I looked back several times through glassy eyes to see if time would stop. Of course, it didn’t.

I’d taken a lot of pictures to remember this day but something still felt missing, and then I realized what it was. I walked back to the board, grabbed a chunk of chalk from the tray and, the same way I would’ve done forty years ago, scribbled a final message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director Harrison Smith Talks ‘Death House,’ New Projects

When Harrison Smith agreed to co-write and direct the action/horror thriller, “Death House,” the filmmaker had one goal in mind: to make Gunnar Hansen’s intertwined vision of good and evil a consummate reality. The film’s premise, which brings many of the greatest horror icons together in one film, is a rollercoaster funhouse ride of scares and screams as well as a nod to the best of 80s horror.

In “Death House,” Agents Toria Boon (Cortney Palm) and Jae Novak (Cody Longo) are given a tour of a state of the art, government prison where medical and mental experiments are carried out on the worst of humanity by Drs. Eileen Fletcher (Dee Wallace) and Karen Redmane (Barbara Crampton). But when an unexpected power outage releases the monstrous inmates Boon and Novak, who are beginning to learn more about their own dark pasts, have to fight for survival through a labyrinth of horror. It all culminates in a final, violent showdown in the prison’s deepest level with a face to face encounter with The Five Evils.

In addition to a fun story and stellar cast, which includes Kane Hodder (“Friday The 13th”series), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Sid Haig (“House of 1,000 Corpses”), and Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), “Death House” also features a plethora of Easter eggs guaranteed to please even the most ardent horror fan.

I recently spoke with Harrison Smith about “Death House” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did this project come about?

Gunnar had brought the idea of creating a movie with a who’s who of horror names to his agent, Michael Eisenstadt. His original script, called “Death House,” was about a group of college kids who create a documentary about going into an abandoned asylum. But when they get down into the bowels of the building, they discover that the patients have never really left. Instead, they’ve been living there as subterranean beings. Michael eventually got the script into the hands of Rick Finkelstein from Entertainment Factory, who then brought it to me. 

Gunnar Hansen

How did the script evolve into what would become the final film?

I met with Gunnar and the two of us started going over it. The whole documentary idea had been done before, but the one thing Gunnar really wanted retained was his vision that good and evil are intertwined and need each other. He told me he had this Biblical concept of these “Four Horsemen” so I suggested we change it up by adding a woman to finish out the points of a pentagram and calling them The Five Evils. Around that same time, the Super Bowl was airing the world debut trailer for “Jurassic World.” That’s when it hit me: why not make “Jurassic Park” without the dinosaurs? And instead of it being an asylum, let’s make it a prison. We’ll have a young group going on a tour when the ride breaks down and the monsters get out. That appealed to Gunnar. I took even more inspiration from the film, “Escape from New York.” Now we were able to put horror names in as real characters.

The sad thing was that during all this time, Gunnar never let on that he was dying. No one actually knew until a few weeks before he passed [Hansen died in 2015]. That was why he was emphatic about getting it done. I wanted to make sure I preserved his vision, and after reading the final draft Gunnar gave Rick his blessing.

Was there ever any thought given to having the horror icons reprise their famous character roles for “Death House”?

Never. When that idea was first pitched I made it clear I didn’t want to make anything like that. Just look at “Freddy Vs. Jason” as an example. That film went through fourteen drafts and took ten years to make, and that’s what we got? Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you should.

What was the casting process like for “Death House?”

All of Gunnar’s friends had already told him they’d be on board, so it was a matter of finding a place for them. Robert Englund was also set to appear, and even went out of his way to try to make it happen, but by the time the money moved for filming he already had other commitments and just couldn’t do it.

What can you tell me about the addition of Cortney Palm to the project?

We originally had cast Bianca Bradey, from Wyrmwood, as Agent Toria Boon. She loved the script and we loved her. She’s Australian and we had everything set up with her visa, but it wasn’t going to carry over when it finally came time to shoot. I’ve always been a fan of Cortney’s work in “Sushi Girl” and it was also around the same time “Zombeavers” came out. She and I were Twitter friends so I reached out to her about it. She has charisma and a great look and delivery. She gave everything she had and is absolutely terrific in this film.

How would you describe the story of “Death House”?

I would describe it as a roller coaster ride through the fun house. It’s also a “flipping around cable in 1983 at 2 o’clock in the morning” kind of film. One where you come across it and you say to yourself, “Man, I’ve got to finish this!” That’s what I was going for. It’s very “Escape From New York” / John Carpenter-esque and a tip of the hat to that great 80s cheesy action horror. What’s interesting is that there’s also lot of stuff in the film that’s in the headlines again today, like Transhumanism, which is the idea that mental illness is contagious and can be spread through social media. It’s a smart script that ends with you asking questions, which is what every good film should do.

Are there plans to do a sequel?

“Death House 2: The Farm” is already written and in it we’ll start answering some questions. Like the shower scene where Agents Boon and Novak are asking about each other’s tattoos and the possibility of having memories erased. It all takes place on a farm that’s being used for human trafficking.

Are there any other projects you’re currently involved in?

Spilled Milk” is a screen play I wrote that’s based on the novel by K. L. Randis, which is her true account of surviving sexual abuse from her father. I was attracted to the story because of this woman’s plight and the whole #MeToo movement. I wanted to write it from the standpoint that it really is a horror movie because it’s real. The script is in the hands of a female director, which is where it should be. Most of all, I’m excited for Kelly to get her word out.

I’m also getting ready to shoot a quiet, horror film noire called “The Special,” which stars Damian Maffei [“The Strangers: Prey at Night”] and Sarah French playing the wife. It’s a story that was brought to me by Mark Streensland and James Newman. There’s dark elements, a little bit of revenge and some things you don’t see much of anymore. It also has some great practical make-up effects. I’m very excited about it. 

What would you like people to take away from watching “Death House?”

Gunnar wanted this film to be for his fans. He didn’t care about the critics or a Rotten Tomatoes score. What he wanted was for all the people who came to see him and paid money for his autograph to have something to be excited about. So, look at the crazy creatures that are in the freezer, enjoy Kane Hodder and watch for all the Easter eggs—especially the ending post credits sequence which features the best Easter egg ever. It’s Larry Zerner, who played Shelly in “Friday The 13th: Part 3.” And for people who may not know much about classic horror, hopefully watching “Death House” will make them want to go back and learn more. “Death House” is for the fans, so have fun and enjoy it.

Death House” is available now on Digital, Streaming, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Concert Review: REO Speedwagon Brings Memories, Hits to Sold Out Penn’s Peak Performance

(l to r): Bryan HItt, Kevin Cronin, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato

Friday, February 22nd, 1985. Musically speaking, it’s a day that’s cemented in my head, much like my wedding anniversary and the day my daughter was born. It’s one of those days where something magical happens, and for some reason known only to the musical gods, one that you remember forever. I’d recently turned fifteen, and my buddy Mike and I were eager to cash in our concert tickets at the local college gymnasium, Stabler Arena.

Acoustically, I’m sure a basketball court with a makeshift stage wasn’t the greatest of places to play, but for pimple-faced teens with little cash resources, it was a prime spot to catch a band in your hometown without having to fork over all of the lawn mowing money you made last summer just to get bus fare to the bigger cities like Philadelphia and New York.

February 22nd, 1985 was special because it was first time I ever saw REO Speedwagon, who were out in support of their recently released album, Wheels Are Turnin’. An album I had already worn out on my turntable. The first video from the album, “I Do’ Wanna Know” was already a hit on MTV, and a tasty ballad called “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was steadily making its way up the charts toward #1.

(l to r): Neal Doughty Bryan Hitt, Kevin Cronin

Since that fateful evening thirty-three years ago, I’ve seen REO Speedwagon more than thirty times. I’ve seen them perform at music festivals, in intimate theaters and as part of a two or three-band package at large arenas. I even traveled to Los Angeles last summer to catch them perform with Styx and Don Felder as part of their United We Rock tour. Yes, I’m one of those fans.

Although seeing them in a distant city is fun, it’s an even bigger treat whenever they come to my town, and last night it was at the beautiful Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.

On the calendar it was the final night of summer, and as I approached the box office I noticed a large sign prominently displayed in the window — “REO Speedwagon –  SOLD OUT”. That sign and what was to follow was a friendly reminder that just like fine wine the band, which consists of Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt, has only gotten better with age.

Walking on stage to the drum intro of the classic “Don’t Let Him Go”, a song that’s been the band’s staple concert opener for decades, REO launched into a blistering set of songs spanning the group’s 45-year career. Songs like “Music Man,” and “Keep Pushin’” were driving and powerful reminders of the band’s early club days, while the aforementioned “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” was both symbolic and sentimental.

Songs from the band’s monster album Hi Infidelity were also featured prominently during their hour and twenty-minute set. In addition to “Don’t Let Him Go,” REO performed “Tough Guys,” “In Your Letter,” and “Take it On The Run.”

At one point, Cronin took time out to pay homage to the band’s original guitarist, Gary Richrath, who passed away in 2015. Richrath left the band in 1989 but his memory lives on in the song “Son Of A Poor Man.” It was a song Richrath wrote about his life growing up and one which Cronin said summed it up perfectly.

“Time For Me To Fly”, another fan favorite and a song that I remember closed out the show in 1985, was featured midway into the set. It’s a classic rock staple that Cronin performs on an acoustic guitar with a unique tuning, and these days segues into Bruce Hall’s blistering bassline before the infectious “Back On The Road Again”. REO finished their main set with another round of classic rock heavy artillery – the thundering “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, complete with blaring sirens.

Bruce Hall and Dave Amato

After a short hiatus, the band returned for an encore, with Cronin sitting at the piano telling the sold out audience about how quickly lives can change if you choose a different path at the last minute. He then told the story of waking up one night back in 1980 with a song idea in his head. Instead of ignoring it and going back to sleep, Cronin got up and recorded the idea on his Walkman. The result would become the band’s first #1 song, “Keep On Loving You.”

The band then launched into one of their most recognizable songs, “Roll With The Changes,” which features Doughty’s iconic Hammond organ and guitarist Dave Amato’s fiery guitar prowess.

The one thing I’ve noticed during every REO Speedwagon show is that there’s always some sort of surprise, and this time was no different. Before leaving the stage for the final time the band performed an inspiring cover of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart”. Petty, another hero of mine and who, like Richrath, had recently passed away, reminded me of how far I’ve come in thirty-three years and just how fragile we all are.

As I strolled out of the venue and into the final hours of summer, the fog was as thick as pea soup. Time was still moving. Tomorrow, mother nature would officially begin her process of ushering in cool temperatures, crisp morning air and changing the leaves from green to bright red, orange and yellow.

It was then that something else occurred to me, and I found myself once again drifting back to that cold February night in 1985. It was something Cronin had said during tonight’s set to the die-hard fans who’ve been with the band from their earliest of days to tonight’s sold-out show at Penn’s Peak.

Rock and roll will keep us young forever.

REO Speedwagon Set List (Penn’s Peak – Jim Thorpe, PA)

Don’t Let Him Go
Music Man
In Your Letter
Keep Pushin’
Can’t Fight This Feeling
Tough Guys
Son of A Poor Man
Take It On the Run
Time For Me to Fly
Back On the Road Again
Ridin’ The Storm Out

Encore:

Keep On Loving You
Roll With The Changes
Listen To Her Heart (Tom Petty Cover)