Director-writer (and all around man about town) Tom McLoughlin may be best known for bringing a little humor to the Friday the 13th universe with his inventive take on Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. But, his career has encompassed everything from romantic comedies (Date with an Angel) to television films (Sometimes They Come Back) to stunt and creature work (Prophecy, The Black Hole). Here, on the eve of his appearance at Chicago’s much loved, annual Terror in the Aisles event, which will feature a 30th anniversary showing of Jason Lives, McLoughlin talks about his creative beginnings, the inspirations for his first horror feature (One Dark Night)and the wonderful, unstoppable legacy of the Friday empire.
BGHF: Were the arts something that you were always interested in pursuing, Tom? Or did you just fall into it? Tom McLoughlin: I kind of was… I hate to say…born in a trunk, that old show business saying. But, I was. My dad was a magician and a fire eater. He also went to film school. The whole thing of wanting to do things that astounded people, as well as wanting to make movies, which was his passion, kind of came in my life, almost instantly. By the time I was 7, I was living in Culver City. The MGM studios were there with the old back lots. I had an 8 millimeter camera and I’d climb under the fence with my friends and make films. As a young child on, I always wanted to make movies. It’s a passion that I have, fortunately, gotten to live out.
Many of your first jobs in the business were portraying creatures and robots in various projects. You were like the Doug Jones of your day. How did that come about? When the ‘60s hit, I got sucked into the wonderful rock and roll world. I was influenced by The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, all the English groups. I put together a group, myself, in Los Angeles. We opened for The Doors and all those groups who were huge then. At a certain point, I wanted to be a better lead singer and performer. I met Mercel Marceau. He invited me to Paris. He had a school there. So, at 19, I went to Paris and studied with Marceau and all these other teachers. I got different types of physical training…dance and acrobatics. When I got back to the states, I became a street performer. One thing led to another and I got a meeting with Woody Allen. I worked with Woody on the movie Sleeper on the robot stuff. I kind of became the person that you went to if you needed robots, humanoids or monsters. Part of that was meeting John Frankenheimer. He was doing this movie, Prophecy. They needed some crazy person to get inside this mutated bear costume. There were 150 lbs of hydraulics to move the head and all that. I had to run on all fours, as well. It was a great three or four month gig and an opportunity to be on a movie set and be around top of the line craftsmen. A lot of my film education came from working on movies in these weird capacities. I was Captain S.T.A.R. in Disney’s The Black Hole and the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland. It was a strange career that my mime training allowed me to do. I could do all these movements, had these different skills.
The bear suit must have been incredibly difficult to control. It was quite a few months of physical training to do that. I had to stay in shape, hitting the gym on a daily basis, just to get inside that thing.
I understand you shared those duties with Kevin Peter Hall, who you worked with on your first feature as a director, One Dark Night. Yes. That was how I met him. They needed one of us to be inside the more articulated bear costume. That was me. Then they built one that was as big as the bear was supposed to be. It was about 8 feet. It didn’t have the hydraulics in it, but it was a much larger costume. It was used for the scenes with the SWAT members or when they had a jeep going by the creature or what-have-you. That was what Kevin was in. We became good friends off of that.
Did working in that field help you in instructing CJ Graham in his portrayal of Jason on Friday 6? That and my whole background…with the mime training…studying pantomime…studying the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin…being a great lover of Frankenstein and Dracula, The Wolf Man…those are all very physical type roles. I wanted Jason, even though he didn’t speak, to still be able to express certain things. A tilt of the head when the motor home is bouncing, up and down, during the sex scene… Or the way that he would turn, quickly, to be a little more aggressive or the different pacing he would use when he would pursue someone…He could be slowly relentless or he could be quicker. I never wanted him to run. I wanted him to be like The Mummy, just unstoppable. He didn’t run to get you. You knew, eventually, he was going to get you. It played into the whole psychology. We showed it, physically.
We have Jason and Michael and Freddy. There have also been things like Sleepaway Camp and Night of the Demons with their powerful villainesses, but we’re never had a female monster grab the public’s interest like those characters. I’ve discussed this so much over the years. It is interesting. Technically, the alien in Aliens is a woman. She’s a mother. So, you’ve got that. But, part of what made her scary, too, is that she is protecting her own. It’s a big battle between the two women…Sigourney Weaver’s character and her. It’s the classic bitch fight. But, literary-wise and in society, males are more aggressive. Males are known as being much more violent. It’s a wife-beater not a husband-beater – although there are plenty of abused husbands out there. You just don’t hear about it. Overall, I think women are more subtle about evil. There is the classic image of the Black Widow, a beautiful creature that you don’t see coming. The male, meanwhile, is very clear. He comes lumbering along like Frankenstein or all aggressive like a wolf. In the terms of the more protective beings, though, the ones who will fight to the death – it’s the female.
Hence, the popularity of the final girls. There is a true psychology behind that. Yes. But, in reference to the other spectrum, I am working on something that I can’t talk about too much. It does deal with a female character. It deals with her being very much part of a specific culture. It hasn’t really been explored yet. But, I’m doing it because I felt the same way as you.
I’m thrilled about that. It’s always bugged me that, Mrs. Voorhees and a few others aside, we really haven’t had that iconic female monster. You normally go to a woman for mothering and such. But what happens when they are the ones that you can no longer trust? It really does shake you up.
Agreed! I also think it just a question of time, for the tides to turn.
Well, I, for one, am impatient for that to happen. Let’s go back a bit. What was your inspiration for One Dark Night, your first horror film which has a pretty strong cult following. It’s always amazing how one’s path connects. When I went to Paris to study mime, I went down into the catacombs of Paris. That probably had the greatest impact on my love of horror and the supernatural than anything else. I broke away from the tour group with the little candle that they gave you. Now, they have illumination down there. I wanted to see what it felt like to walk down those dusty tunnels. They were wall to wall bones and skulls from centuries of the dead. It really did raise the hairs on the back of my neck. That really had an impact. Wondering what it would be like if some of these things came to life or if something was in there with me that was supernatural. That combined with the circumstances of my work on Disney’s The Black Hole gave me the idea. When we were filming The Black Hole, we were right across from Forest Lawn. I was looking at the mausoleum. So, those two ideas come together. Someone being down there with the dead and someone being trapped inside a mausoleum, all night…I needed to find a story point to pull those two things together. Well, I also had a great love of the psychological as well as paranormal sciences. I, somehow, thought that I could get a psychic vampire in there, too. It was kind of pulling different inspirations into this one story – a girl pledging into a club and having to spend the night in a mausoleum, with all hell breaking loose, at the end.
It has such a great cast…Meg Tilly, Adam West, EG Daily. Then there’s the character of Kitty, brilliantly played by Leslie Speights. My friend Kirsten is fascinated by her. What was the impetus for her to be always chewing on a toothbrush? A friend of mine in the LA Mime Company had a girlfriend who used to carry a toothbrush in her mouth. It’s sort of the symbol of the girl with the sexy lollipop that you always see, but it was a toothbrush. At one point, I asked her why she did that. She said, “I don’t know, I guess I like the taste!” Who knows? It was sort of like a pacifier. I’m sure it also kept certain guys away from her because she looked crazy. She was a good looking girl. So, I just put that element into the Kitty character. When she’s asked about it in the film, I had her use pretty much the same response. “I don’t know. I like the way it tastes!”
I love that story! I’m working on a re-envisioning of that script. I’ve also felt, after making over 40 movies at this point, that the first one had things that I wasn’t able to do or didn’t know how to do…so, it’s not remaking it to remake it. I want to give it a prequel quality. You’ll met Rhamar at the beginning and see him trying to connect with his daughter. You’ll see how he actually does his psychic vampirism. It’ll actually connect the girls in the mausoleum and the character of his daughter a little more. There will be a deeper story, but it won’t lose the claustrophobic quality. I think there is so much more that I can do, now, with the corpses and some of the effects with a little bit better of a budget.
That movie is what got you noticed by the Friday the 13th team, correct? Frank Mancuso, Jr., who is the godfather behind all those things, was looking for a new director, along with the folks at Paramount. They weren’t happy with the results of Part 5. People were pissed that, at the end of the day, it wasn’t Jason. They wanted somebody who could come in and reinvent the series. Part of what I wanted to do was to add a dark sense of humor to it. I also wanted to make the characters likeable. Essentially, my marching orders were to find a way to bring back Jason from the dead. I, immediately, jumped into what I knew best. That was the Universal horror films, particularly Frankenstein. I decided to go with the old lightning bolt. I just had to figure out – A: How that actually could occur and B: How to pick up with the Tommy Jarvis character. I decided Tommy really needed, emotionally, to see that Jason was dead and in his coffin, but then he freaks out. One thing leads to another, he ends up electrifying Jason and then Jason has to go after the kid that brought him back and kill anything that gets in his way. Tommy, obviously, has a story there of having to try to tell everyone that Jason is back, but no one believes him. It had a little more of a plot and reminded people of the mythology. It reminded people of how Jason came to be, so we reset it at a camp. It also did something that none of the other films had done, at the point, and that was to actually have children there.
It also, amazingly, put Jason into another classification – that of being a zombie. You entered him into another category of monster. He truly went from being a strange psycho, an undefined and crazy character to something else. The first movie wasn’t Jason at all. It was his mother. The second movie made this sort of illogical jump. Does the story pick up, all these years later, when he’s completely grown up? Or was there never really a boy in the lake? There are all these different theories. That brings up something else… Coming out this month is Friday the 13th: The Game. I was hired to write more of a back story for Jason’s mom…and Jason’s father…and the mother-son relationship. There are aspects of the game where you will hear these interview conversations with Jason’s mom talking about the day after he died. She gives you insight to him as a child and their relationship. This is all before she went back to the camp and began killing. For the fans, it will be giving them even more background into the character. It’s funny. We were involved with this long before they announced the next Jason movie. That’s been postponed, it looks like, until later next year. But, it’s also going to revisit the early days of Jason.
It must be amazing to you that, after all these years, this particular Friday the 13th film still has such resonance with you. It’s the highest compliment that anyone can have for their work. Literally, it’s more popular now than it was at the time. I’m constantly getting sent these Jason things. There are beer openers and tennis shoes…you name it. He and Freddy and Michael Myers and Pinhead and Leatherface have become what Frankenstein and the Wolf Man and the Mummy were to us, growing up. This generation has grown up with them, so there is a great love for them. At the time, we never had a clue that this thing was going to survive. I thought, in particular, that the fans would be pissed that I took a sense of humor with it. I had no idea how it was going to be respected or thought about a year later – let alone 30 years later. It’s incredible. The response, just like Jason, keeps going. We can’t stop it. It’s a force.
Be sure to join the force by meeting McLoughlin this Saturday, October 22nd, at the historic Patio Theatre in Chicago, for Terror in the Aisles – 24 hours of horror films with incredible vendors, giveaways, charity auctions, free autographs and picture taking. More information is available at https://www.facebook.com/events/1330878270274537/ and https://www.facebook.com/terrorintheaisles.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!