Dear PTS reader,
In my brief period in writing for this site, I have enjoyed the privilege of interviewing a number of actors, directors, writers and a composer I admire. But this time out of the gate, I must tell you that I was completely star struck when at long last I was gifted the opportunity to sit down and interview my hero Jim Wynorski.
Not only that, but we talked about one of his many movies which is right up there with my favourites of all time, Deathstalker 2. Now, I know what you’re thinking. There are, I’m sure, those film lovers out there that will look at this and say: “Deathstalker 2, yeah that’s a milestone in the history cinema.” To those of you who are not true believers, I tell you this: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure . . . and Deathstalker 2, I treasure, in fact the only thing I treasure more than Deahtstalker 2 is my wife. Like my wife, Deathstalker 2 is truly one of a kind. I watched every cheap little sword and sorcery flick there was growing up, and Deathstalker 2 struck me as the first subversive sword and sorcery flick. It has all of the hallmarks of a sword and sorcery film, just as Jarmusch’s Dead Man has all the hallmarks of revenge westerns. But unlike the brilliant starkness of Jarmusch’s film, Wynorski (who completely reworked the script with star John Terlesky) takes off the brakes and lets the irreverence thunder as hard as fast as he can push it.
In the film’s commentary track (featuring Wynorski, Naples and Terlesky) John “Deathstalker” Terlesky makes a comment about how there are two guys down in Australia who watch the movie every Friday night. I don’t know about the other guy, but just as Back to Future 2 forecast the Cubs winning a World Series, Terlesky was half right, cause I don’t know the other guy, one Australian does kick back and watch this gloriously cheap little barbarian movie every Friday night. In fact, any chance I get.
I first got a hold of Jim when I saw he was on Facebook. I had just had my second book DeathMaster: Adventures in the 39th Uncharted Dimension come out, and it was dedicated to him. I was at first humbled when he accepted my friend request and two; he gave me his address, allowing me to send him a copy of DeathMaster. The second time I reached out was to have Jim’s input in my Straight to Video anthology series. He couldn’t make the first volume, but graciously wrote the blurb for the rear cover of The Sequel: Straight 2 Video. Sadly Jim’s mum passed away during this period, so the book is in part dedicated to her.
Now I’ve never been much of a gambler, but when I have put all the money on black, whatever I win, I leave the table soon after. I thought I’d reach out to Jim again, looking to him to write an introduction to my new book (and my tribute to Deathstalker 2) Sword Dude 2. Again he graciously worked something up and after this I asked, since by then I was writing for PTS, if I could do an interview with him. He sent me his number and we set a date.
If you have not seen Deathstalker 2, then I urge you to do so, if cheap little barbarian pictures tickle your fancy. You can read this beforehand; there is nothing here that will really spoil the experience for you. I also urge you to seek out the new Blu-Ray release of the film. But if you can’t get that, at least try for the Shout Factory release which has commentary and all of the scenes, including the tyre – if you watch it you’ll see what I mean.
KH: Jim you’ve done so many films, it would probably take us a while to cover them all?
JW: Oh my god, you can’t do that – you can’t do that, it would take too long.
KH: Yeah I know, so figured we’d talk about one that’s dear to my heart…
KH: That’s the one. You read my mind.
JW: Okay, what would you like to talk about?
KH: Well I figure best to start at the beginning. This was your third film, so how did the DS2 gig come your way?
JW: Well I had just finished Chopping Mall for Roger Corman and I think he had a four picture deal in Buenos Aires, to make four pictures there, or maybe it was five. I was the last one, and he wanted to make Deathstalker 2, and I said sure, I’ll go down there, you know, Buenos Aires. So, I flew to Argentina and I brought some good friends with me, John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, Toni Naples and I had hired John Lazar because he had been in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. So I got there, and the script was awful, I mean the script was by this guy Neil Ruttenberg and it was awful, it was just – it was bad, so I decided to start from scratch and rewrite it with John, and we kinda did our version of It Happened One Night which is a Frank Capra movie from the thirties that had won an Oscar. And, so I wrote two parts in for Monique because it gave me an extra person, I needed a lot of people who could speak English and, so by creating a dual role for Monique, I created yet another character and every night, John and I would go back to the hotel and rewrite new stuff and shoot it over the next couple of days – and that’s how it came to be.
KH: I noticed on the screenwriting credits there’s a name, R.J. Robertson . . .
JW: R.J. Robertson was a good friend of mine who . . .
KH: I notice he worked on some other scripts with you like Beastmaster 2, Think Big and movies like that?
JW: Yeah he wrote a lot of stuff, he’s passed on now but he was a very good guy and he helped me construct the plot line for Deathstalker 2. Cause I really had thrown away the script by Neil Ruttenberg, but he had to get credit, so that’s why that happened.
KH: Noticed when I’d watched DS2 for the thousandth time, I don’t know I’ve lost count, I noticed in your commentary of the film, you commented on the sets down there, and they do look very familiar, like a lot of those sword and sorcery pictures made at the time use and reuse those sets?
JW: Yeah same sets. I had them do new signage and you know, I think at the very beginning it says “Boobs for Food,” “Open 24 hours,” you know, all that stuff was added by John and I when we were doing the movie. But the sets were pretty much trashed, you know, the sets were pretty much trashed by the time I got there, cause I think I was the last guy to use them before they got torn down.
KH: Yeah, cause a lot of those pictures made at the time like Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Sorceress, which you had a hand in the script on that one didn’t you?
JW: Yeah I did, but that was not shot in Argentina, that was shot in Mexico.
KH: Okay Mexico hey. It just looked to me that some of the castle interiors looked vaguely familiar…
JW: Well they were used in a picture called Amazons, I think the original Deathstalker was also shot on those sets, Warrior and the Sorceress was shot on those sets, you know – there was quite an array of films made down there.
KH: Something I always been curious about – you obviously had the freedom to rewrite the script – did you enjoy the same freedom during the shooting, for instance, was there a producer around giving you a hard time?
JW: Well we had a producer and he was very upset that I kept changing stuff . . .
KH: Is this Mr Isaac, Frank Isaac?
JW: Yeah Frank Isaac, he was very upset because I kept – he had the original script translated, and we kept changing it and, finally he got so angry about it he called Roger Corman, and Roger Corman’s family came down and Roger watched dailies and said, “This is fine, keep going.” So when Roger got back to California, I called him one day and I said I want you to send down the biggest lady wrestler you can find, and he did, then we shot that great stuff with Queen Kong – and again, we were using sets that were just there – I saw that they had a small arena and I said I’m gonna write a scene for that okay, so that’s how it became the Queen Kong scene.
KH: You just looked at what was there and figured out how to make it work?
JW: That’s right.
KH: Because, as you have mentioned in other interviews and in your commentary, the original script was very heavy-handed – trying to be on par with the Conan movie?
JW: Yes it was, it was trying to be a Conan movie, and I just said, you know, not what I want to do and I want to be entertaining and I had John who was very, very personable, and I had Toni and Monique and John (Lazar) and Queen Kong, when she was there, and some of the Spanish actors spoke English very well, and they were very happy to do something different.
KH: After watching your films for so long, a lot of the actors you had in Deathstalker 2 have consistently worked with you on other films. Monique was in Return of Swamp Thing and Munchie, John was Chopping Mall and Hard Bounty and Little Miss Millions?
JW: Yep, I like to use the same people over and over again. Yeah and I was going out with Monique at the time so that’s why she did the film.
KH: She was very good in Deathstalker 2, didn’t have much dialogue in Return of Swamp Thing but again displayed a range?
JW: She was versatile. As I recall I was going out with her from 1985 till 1991, so that was like six years there, so she was in a lot of my movies during that period.
KH: She was a Penthouse Pet as well wasn’t she?
JW: Yes she was.
KH: In 1982 wasn’t it?
JW: You know I don’t recall. I met her in 85 just before I went to Argentina, and I had been going out with Toni Naples, and that relationship was kind of ending, so, you know, I took Toni, and I took Monique and John and we had a great time.
KH: I love how you open your commentary of the film and introducing Toni Naples by saying and introducing the beautifully big breasted Toni Naples wearing something very low-cut.
JW: (laughter) Well that’s what she was wearing that day and I said okay, look forward to doing this commentary with you.
KH: It was a great commentary. Another actress you had in Deathstalker 2, who also appeared in a number of these sword and sorcery movies was Maria Socas?
JW: Maria Socas was/is a very sweet person, she was trying to do the role serious and finally I just said play it serious and we’ll do comedy around you so, you know, it was a lot of fun to work with her, I’m still friends with her on Facebook, and she looks pretty good for her age.
KH: I remember John Terlesky in the commentary claiming she was a very heavy smoker; in fact something along the lines that all the Argentinians were on four packs a day?
JW: Yeah, everybody smoked four packs a day, I’m pretty sure I said, you people are gonna die quickly, because they were smoking a lot and, you know, I didn’t care, but they never had a moment without a cigarette in their hand so, you know, I didn’t want any cigarettes in the movie so, it worked out, we had fun, it was a good time.
KH: What was it like directing Arch Stanton?
JW: I don’t understand the question.
KH: I believe that was your part in the film, you are credited as Arch Stanton, the dying soldier?
JW: Oh. I’m the guy that was raping Monique that gets shot with an arrow, so that’s my role.
KH: Your little Hitchcockian cameo?
JW: Exactly, exactly.
KH: You’ve touched on it briefly in the past, we know the sets were trashed, but what were the rest of the conditions like, for instance, your lodgings during production?
JW: Well we stayed at a very nice hotel that was empty on weekdays. It was a big hotel that was very popular on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so everyone would come up from Buenos Aires to this hotel. They had a bowling alley, they had a swimming pool, they had everything you wanted, and they had good food on nights that, well, we were alone there too. Some nights we called it the Overlook because it was like The Shining hotel on weekdays.
KH: Obliviously it was a low budget film so were the choices you ended up making purely to facilitate that fact that there was no money for certain things?
JW: Well the Argentine people, producers, where out of money, they didn’t want to spend any money on this production, and it was difficult to get them to pony up a little money for extras or anything, but, you know, Roger kept calling up and saying, you owe me this, give it to the guy – and again, we were trying to be fun, without spending a lot of money and I think we got away with it, a lot of people enjoyed the movie because it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s a comedy with action.
KH: I noticed Roger is uncredited as a producer on a string of these sword and sorcery films but obliviously he had a soft spot for the genre?
JW: Yes he did, yes he did. He was upset that he didn’t do the first one, that he didn’t do Conan, he should have done Conan, but he didn’t, someone else did it and he said I’m gonna copy it, so that’s what he did.
KH: So the shoot, how long were you down there for?
JW: I think I was down there six weeks.
KH: That’s reasonably swift.
JW: And had a lot of fun, you know, on weekends we would take the girls into Buenos Aires, stay out all night and have a good old time. It was a lot of fun, LOT OF FUN. I’m still good friends with Toni but Monique has disappeared, don’t think she’s even on Facebook. So I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing.
KH: She worked pretty steadily though, not just on your films, but also television?
JW: She worked till about 91, and that’s when we broke up and she moved to Florida and then I don’t know where she is now. It’s very sad that she did that because she had a good career, she could have used it, you know, she could have done more. I was very sad when she disappeared.
KH: Her role in Deathstalker 2 really gives the impression that she could have gone on and been a great comedienne?
JW: She was very good, you know, she was very happy when the reviews came out and they said how funny she was and, cause it took a lot from me to get her to do that stuff. You know, she had more apogee for playing the evil queen, but I said you have to play yourself, which is very sweet and you have to play as a funny, you know, waif, and she did, she did a good job.
KH: You worked with Leonard Solis or Leonardo Rodriquez Solis on the picture. He filmed a number of these kinds of films including the first Deathstalker?
JW: Yes, he spoke very good English and he was a good DP. He had a guy that also shot for him, I forgot his name (the guy Jim is thinking of is Marcelo Pais), he had a guy that also shot for him and, you know, we had a good time. I mean, there was a point where we shooting and there was a tyre, a bald tyre, in the middle of some lake and they just recently put out a Blu-Ray, and they took that shot out.
KH: They took the tyre out hey?
JW: They took the tyre out. I laughed when I saw it. They pushed in on the shot so you wouldn’t see the tyre. (laughter)
KH: That’s a shame, kinda like that tyre in there.
JW: But I wanted that tyre right there and since you’re a fan of the movie you probably have the DVD with the extra scenes on it right?
KH: Sure do.
JW: All right, so you’ve got it all.
KH: I think the tyre should stay in the picture.
JW: I did too. But that’s not my doing. The Blu-Ray looks phenomenal by the way.
KH: Yeah I can’t wait to see it I’ve ordered mine.
JW: It’s sold out already.
JW: It’s sold out.
KH: I’ve ordered mine and it always takes a couple of weeks to get to the great southern land.
JW: I gotch ya, all right well I hope you enjoy it.
KH: Yes very much look forward to, anyway, that brings us to the edit – when you finally got to cutting, how much control over the shaping of the finished product?
JW: I had complete control.
KH: Final cut?
KH: So at what point – I know you’ve said in your commentary that scenes from the original were added for length?
JW: Well we cut everything, everything we had we cut. I mean, we made a long version of the picture, and then I went in and I took stuff out that I thought slowed the film down – and then they found the footage and put it back in for the DVD.
KH: So the version we’ve seen, that’s a cut your happy with?
JW: Yes, yes, the Blu-Ray version is the good version.
KH: Okay, I just heard you say on the commentary whenever they put in the shots from the original Deathstalker …
JW: No I put those in. I put those in.
KH: Just wondered…
JW: I put those in, cause I wanted to beef up the film – and in the USA, we shot the scene in the bar with the girls dancing naked, that was shot in the USA. I’m in that scene too, I think there’s a big bar fight and suddenly there’s two people trying to strangle each other and one of them is me, and we also shot the scene with Toni Naples, it’s not even Toni Naples it’s another girl doing the topless bit. So that was all shot in the USA after the fact.
KH: I was just curious that the cuts that exist, they are your director’s cuts?
JW: Yes. The version that came out on VHS originally and the version that came out on laserdisc, that’s my cut. And then the new Blu-Ray is also my cut.
KH: I was always curious to know of the various cuts I’ve see, which of those you were happy with?
JW: I happy with the one that’s out right now, the Blu-Ray, and there’s another version that’s just a DVD from Shout Factory and that’s also my version.
KH: All-righty, so after the cut, did you have a premiere somewhere?
JW: It came out on video, no premiere.
KH: No black tie affair?
JW: No, no. I’ve shown it in theatres because I have a 35mm print, and I’ve shown it to appreciative audiences that fell in love with the VHS years ago, but it never really had a theatrical release.
KH: The man who is credited with editing Deathstalker 2 is Steve Barnett?
JW: Yes, Steve Barnett.
KH: It is the only film he is credited as editor; most of his work seems to be that of a production supervisor and has gone on the work on some big movies since?
JW: Yep, he and I put that film together because the Spanish editor Silvia Ripoll had done such a shitty job that we had the original negative and everything sent back up to the US, and I sat with Steve for what must have been a month and a half recutting the picture because it was so badly cut by this woman in Argentina.
KH: Chuck Cirino, who you’ve also worked with quite a bit, wrote the score?
JW: Yeah Chuck Cirino has done a lot of scores for me over the years.
KH: So for him to write the score did he have to wait till the film was finished or was he looking at footage as you went through production?
JW: No, I sent him a script and he composed all the music before I started shooting.
KH: Wow, so it was a Leone/Morricone type deal?
JW: Yeah Leone. I wanted that score in the movie and that’s how it happened. He scored the music before I left for Argentina based on the script – and it was only when the film came back, he can back with a few more little versions like when the midget is playing the theme on the guitar or on the sitar or whatever that thing is – that is something that Chuck composed after the fact. But most of that music was done prior to shooting. It was very good.
KH: I don’t suppose you did like Leone did and play the music on the set?
JW: No, no, no, we didn’t play it on the set.
(At this point Jim shared a great anecdote, but dear reader; I regret to inform you that it was for this fan’s ears only.)
KH: Any other great anecdotes that haven’t surfaced?
JW: Oh, no, I guess all the really great ones I can’t tell you because they all involve . . . you know . . . too much revelation but, Kent, it’s been great talking with you, do you have one other question if you want, I can do one other question then I have to go.
KH: Okay, I guess, looking back on the film, which I know you have already done a number of times, what are your up-to-the-minute feelings looking back on Deathstalker 2?
JW: What are my up-to-the-minute feelings, I really don’t have that many up-to-the-minute-feelings – IT’S THIRTY YEARS AGO KENT! THIRTY YEARS AGO! But I remember it fondly okay, I remember it fondly, I was, you know, going crazy down there, I had a good time, I was, I was, I was just having a good old time – there was so many pretty girls around you didn’t know where to look next so, anyway – that’s what I remember.
KH: Well thank you Jim, it’s been a real pleasure, I have wanted to talk with for such a long time, it’s been a blast.
JW: It was nice talking to you, good luck with all your work and I’m glad you like Deathstalker 2 and I’ll be watching for you on Facebook, okay?
KH: No worries Jim, cheers.
Jim Wynorski, ladies and gentlemen, still the man I want to be when I grow up, and my favourite of the 101 movies that he has directed.
I found him to be every bit as courteous and exacting as I had imagined. I am so grateful to him for the films he has made which have in turn, inspired the stuff that I’ve written. I was also able to thank him for his contributions to my work as I again look forward to sending him a copy of my new book that I, having missed out like Corman did with Conan, in being able to make a picture like that myself . . . well like Roger I just thought I’d copy it, and do my own version of that cheap little barbarian movie that I love so very much…
COMING SOON: A SKY SO FULL OF SHARKS: AN INTERVIEW WITH THUNDER LEVIN BY KENT HILL