The horror genre is filled with icons. From the actors who play our favorite villains like Robert Englund and Kane Hodder to the scream queens like Danielle Harris and Linnea Quigley. But we also have icons who are known to us as actors first and icons second. They are the breed that we love to watch in our horror flicks, but regardless of what role they play or what the movie is about, they always represent class in the genre. One of the all-time greats in this category has to be Dee Wallace.
With almost 200 credits to her name on IMDB, to say she is prolific and versatile is an understatement. She has appeared on many of the most well-known television shows ever including The Streets of San Francisco, Starsky & Hutch, Barnaby Jones, Lou Grant, Hart to Hart, Trapper John M.D., CHiPs, Taxi, Simon & Simon, Ally McBeal, Bones, Without a Trace, Grey’s Anatomy, Saving Grace and Criminal Minds as well as starring in countless TV movies.
In film she has starred in many genres but it is her resume in horror that impresses the most. What started in 1975 with a role in The Stepford Wives continued on for almost 40 more years including films such as The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, a brief divergence in 1982 for a little film called E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, her phenomenal performance in Lewis Teague’s underrated Cujo, Critters, Popcorn, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, Headspace, Jack Ketchum’s The Lost, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, and Ty West’s House of the Devil.
Her new film, John Geddes’ Exit Humanity, is a zombie story set in Civil War era America. The film is a production of Foresight Pictures, an independent Canadian film company that is making films their way and succeeding at it. I talked with Dee about Exit Humanity, her fondness for the horror genre and her long career in acting.
Bill Howard: I just watched Exit Humanity last night, and it was very different from what I was expecting. The look of the film was gorgeous.
Dee Wallace: Just stunning, it’s visually stunning. And the original artwork and animation takes it and catapults in into a new category for a film of this type. I said to John when I read the script, I said Dude, I want to see some of the artwork and I wanna know you have enough money to do this right, because if you do it right, it could set the whole film apart and if you do it wrong it’s going to ruin it. And he sent me and showed me some of the stuff and I went Oh my God, it’s just brilliant. And what an innovative idea, a gutsy, creative idea to do in this kind of film. Also, I read the script, I loved the script. I know there’s zombies in it, but I don’t really think of it as a zombie movie. I think of it as a kind of relationship film of man with himself, of searching for himself and the meaning of life. Set against these metaphors of zombies, these fears that eat us up.
BH: It has so much more dialogue than we are used to in a genre film. It really seemed like more of a drama that just happened to have zombies in it.
DW: Yeah, and I really think that’s what’s going to make it and set it apart. And it’s just so frickin beautiful. And the amount of talent in front of and behind the camera, the artists, the set designers, the writers, the director, everything. It was a real honor for me to participate with all that talent out there. And it really was like, let’s put on a show! It was rainy, the mud was unbelievable, they were building sets the day before we had to shoot in them. And yet in the midst of all of that there was this knowledge that we had something really special and that it was really about the talent. And that’s really refreshing after being in the business for forty years.
BH: Two of your co-stars are two of my all-time favorite actors, Bill Moseley and Stephen McHattie.
DW: Yeah, they chewed up that scenery didn’t they? (laughs)
BH: McHattie in particular is drastically underused in films.
DW: Well, you could say that about a lot of us quite frankly. We have films with kids that have never acted before and somehow they become big stars in big movies and make big money. There’s no rhyme or reason to our business. There’s just not. And then you have people that are exceptionally talented who haven’t worked in five years. There’s no way to figure it out. It doesn’t make sense.
BH: I think that is one of the things I love about the horror genre. Unlike any other genre, horror embraces its actors and gives them opportunities over and over again whether it be in starring or supporting roles. It’s a very community based genre.
DW: That’s true, that’s very true. I’m coming out in Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie’s new film and that’s one thing I love about Rob is that he uses all of the horror icons all the time. He’s not afraid, in fact he embraces using the older actors that have proven themselves in this genre over and over and over. I really applaud him for that.
BH: I think he is smart to do that because he knows they are going to deliver.
DW: Boy, don’t miss Lords of Salem, it’s a pretty phenomenal film. As a matter of fact, I haven’t heard from him yet but I sent Rob a copy of Exit Humanity and I said look, I want you to see this and I want you to see what these young filmmakers did because he celebrates that a lot. So I am sure I will be hearing from him once he gets off tour and has time to watch it. I am really happy I could share the beauty of their work with Rob.
BH: I like that Rob is a champion for smaller budget filmmaking.
DW: I think if anything Rob is a champion for the guy who wants to do it himself and knows he can do it himself. And that’s exactly what this group of guys, John and Matt and all the boys that have been together for so long as friends since childhood. They want to do it their way; they are choosing to do it their way. That excited me. Especially because I could tell that they knew what they were doing. I think they’ve really got something here and I hope the sale of this DVD and everything will help them continue to do bigger and better films. I think Exit Humanity should have had a theatrical release.
BH: Nobody would have gone into a theatre and thought this film was made for video.
DW: No way! It looks way beyond the money they spent on it and that’s the sign of a good filmmaker, whether you’re Spielberg or doing your first film.
BH: A lot of your films are horror, with The Howling, Cujo, The Hills Have Eyes, The Frighteners and the Rob Zombie films, what keeps you returning to the horror genre?
DW: Well I think I’m kinda known for it now. But I’ve gotta tell you, I love playing emotion, I love playing an arc. Starting one place and going through a whole character development and ending up somewhere else. You know, I’m a great screamer, I can really truthfully get into those dramatic moments and that’s what I love to do as an actor. For me to do comedies for my whole career would bore me to death, not that I wouldn’t like to throw one or two in. Secret Admirer we had a great time doing that movie, it’s one of my favorite comedies that I have ever done. Jimmy the Kid too. But again, I had an arc to play, a developed character to play. That’s what I love about the character in Exit Humanity, she goes from this recluse, this fearful woman to opening her home up to these three younger people and then we find out why she has been so instrumental to the whole thing and the grief and the forgiveness that she is looking for. It was multi-level but had to be a subtle performance. So it wasn’t a screaming, crying, get me away from the werewolf role.
BH: What I really liked about your performance is that even before we find out what the characters involvement in the whole genesis of the story is, you could see guilt on her face from the first time you saw her.
DW: Really! Well, that’s a lovely compliment for an actor, thank you. I said to the guys you’ve got to get enough money to get me a black wig because there’s no way you’re going to buy this character with short perky blonde hair. So they did, and the minute I put the clothes on and the makeup and the hair, I couldn’t stand up straight. She was just bent over. The heaviness of what she was carrying just couldn’t allow her to stand up and own who she was. I found that really interesting. I started out as a dancer so my body just takes on things like that. Then after the scene where I bare my soul and tell the truth and everything, it was much easier for her to stand up and claim who she was. When things like that happen to me as an actress, it’s exciting because things like that don’t come from your head, they come because you literally are the character and it’s happening to the character and I love stuff like that. I just find it easier to access and more fun and exciting to access in horror and suspense films.
BH: And I am sure the setting with the rain and the mud didn’t hurt either.
DW: Oh my God. It was a tough shoot weather wise, yeah. That was a set that was built so there wasn’t any heat in it. We had some little heaters in it, but it was a challenging shoot physically and emotionally. But again, the knowledge and the respect that we all had for each other around the talent just kind of put the other stuff on the back burner.
BH: So lastly, do you have a dream project or role or person you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to work with?
DW: Oh yeah, Anthony Hopkins. I’ve always wanted to work with Anthony Hopkins. I just sent a script written for me to my agent that I really want to get done; we are trying to see how to get that done. You know, I want to be challenged more. I’ve been used in last few years as “Well, she’s Dee Wallace, she has a name that has a following here so here’s a little cameo and there’s a little cameo. I really want to be challenged again with a part like Cujo that I can really get my teeth into and challenge myself with. So that’s what I am looking for right now.
BH: Well I hope that comes along because you are great to watch on screen and I have always enjoyed your performances and I hope you get exactly what you are looking for.
DW: Thank you darling, I appreciate that. Thanks for all your kind comments.
Exit Humanity arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on June 19, 2012 from Anchor Bay Entertainment.