Not only an award winning effects/make up maestro but also the man that showed us "what’s in the basket?"; Kevin Haney takes some time out from his busy schedule to talk to Marc Lissenburg about his early pioneering work and career highlights…
Marc: Hi Kevin, I would like to start by firstly thanking you for granting us the privilege of this chat but also, on behalf of all UK horror fans, thank you for contributing to the "WHATS IN THE BASKET?" bonus material featured in the new BASKET CASE Trilogy release.
Kevin: Hey! You’re very welcome.
Marc: OK well, we’ll get into BASKET CASE in a minute but let’s start at the beginning if we can? What was the pivotal movie or TV show that inspired you to pursue use a career in movie makeup?
Kevin: Well when I was starting out, most of my formative years were spent watching PLANET OF THE APES movies, the classic FRANKENSTEIN and all of the Universal stuff really. We had several monster anthology series on television where they would show movies. Unfortunately they would cut them up, but at least it was an influence. I particularly remember Dr JEKYLL and Mr HYDE scaring the crap out of me! DARK SHADOWS was, you know, afternoon horror and the "creature feature" would be afterwards. I also share the love of Science Fiction, Ray Harryhausen stuff, that sort of thing. So no, there was no ‘one movie’ as such but anything back then that had a sense of wonder was an influence if that makes sense!
Marc: How did you get involved with the Basket Case project and what does the movie mean to you today?
Kevin: Oh well, to answer the second part of that question - You never forget your first! (Laughs) No, I was naturally grateful for the opportunity to actually work.
But how I got involved was through a gentleman called Steve Buck, who went to a rival high school. Bridgetown High, who was also a makeup nut. He made a gorilla suit… I never went that far I was more into making masks. But we knew of each other, and he had been in one of Frank Henenlotter’s films, an 8mm short called SLASH OF THE KNIFE I believe it was. I went on IMDB and it doesn’t seem to be acknowledged for some reason! (Laughs) . Anyway after that Steve and Frank were going to do a film about a kind of mutation of Legionnaires ‘disease called "OOZE".
Steve thought the makeup work might be out of his league so he recommended me. Frank’s image and selling point was; people would get this disease and it would go through the vascular system and eventually limbs would fall off or blow off and one of the images he really liked was of a strap hammer and all that’s left was the arms. So he talked to me about doing a maquette of the head and the arms which I agreed to and as a result, they flew me out to New York. I was only 18 as I was still at High School and doing monsters, we would do Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and all that. But I completed this maquette and it got some positive responses as they tried to raise some funding for "OOZE". A little while later however he changed his mind. They flew me back to New York, instead of doing OOZE; they talked to me talk about a new project, which turned out to be BASKET CASE. We now started talking about creating a monster, which didn’t have a name at that point. But he had a little book ‘Anomalies of Nature’ or something like that, and in it there was a parasitic twin which I knew I could put Kevin’s (Hentenryck) face on. Figuring some of the organs could be self contained but along with the fact he needed arms to get around. But Frank had no funding so I was recruited as lab assistant by Dick Smith to work on ALTERED STATES (AS) and it was that experience on AS that sort of defined Belial! You see, Dick had discovered I was terrible at making formulas but I was really good at sculpture. At one point on AS they were going to open the ape and in there would be a mechanical head so Dick showed me how to do a mechanical skull with eyes and jointed mouth.
Marc: Did that come in handy for your work on C.H.U.D.?
Kevin: Oh absolutely yes! So we decided we would make Belial kind of like a puppet and Frank was going to puppeteer it.
Marc: The effects in BASKET CASE stand up to this day. The post operation scar on Duane’s side; the various deaths; the operation sequence, is there anything you would have LIKED to have done but couldn’t due to lack of budget or indeed time restrictions?
Kevin: If I had to do it over again I would have cast Frank’s arms so he could move the arms because they were just kinda free sculpted and also when I made the gloves they were a little tight. But it was basically lack of experience on my part. This was the first solo big thing that I had ever done. In retrospect I would have, along with casting the arms, made a proper core for the body. But I didn’t have the money, time or inclination to make the core so what I did was put foam latex into the mould, let it gel and then compress it, against the plaster mould and then cook that.
Marc: There is one sequence in BASKET CASE that has been repeated in all three movies: The operation sequence. I can’t wait to see that in High Definition! How much input did you have into creating that sequence?
Kevin: Oh that scene! By that time, after working on AS, Carl Fullerton asked me to help him in the laboratory for WOLFEN. So I explained that to Frank and Edgar Ievins (Producer) and they weren’t thrilled, so that is when I got John Caglione to take over at that point. John was just supposed to make baby Belial, but he made a mistake on the mould and we ended up re-sculpturing it together and redoing the puppet. So it was John who did the model there - I worked the fake scalpels and wired it so it didn’t jiggle too much.
Marc: Kevin Van Hentenryck confirmed that the infamous ‘Sharons Death sequence’ at the end of BASKET CASE grossed out the crew to the extent they had to close the set. Were you aware when creating it the impact it might have?
Kevin: No, no I wasn’t! You know, for me it was the fact that I simply got to make a monster.. (Laughs)
Marc: Given the vast amount of awards that you have earned: An Oscar, numerous Emmy’s and so on, is there anything outside these accolades you are particular proud of from a purely creative perspective?
Kevin: I like doing monsters. I don’t get to do monsters that much, but I like the work that I did for Laurel Entertainment in the series MONSTERS which ran from 1988 to 1991 I believe. I worked on an episode called THE FEVERMAN which ironically put me in the hospital because I was doing too much for too little; Also VAMPIRE HUNTER, and THE MANDRAKE ROOT. But I enjoy doing that and I have done the monsters for commercials. As far as the career goes certainly, I have been very lucky, I got some nice credits, and I get to bring something to the party,
Marc: I understand you did some outstanding work in makeup effects for live shows also: The late comedian Steve Bridges getting transformed into the then President of the US George Bush.
Kevin: Yes, that was an 8 year project. It was taking one guy using one make up pretty much for 8 years, with just a couple of things in between. But the cool thing about that was when you do these live shows, he would walk out and people would think he WAS the President. Even senators were fooled at some shows! That kind of instant feedback is unique in my line of work so yes it was really gratifying for 8 years to do that kind of a transformation.
Marc: Classification boards, Censors, we have the BBFC, you guys have the MPAA, I always view these organisations as the nemesis horror fans. Have there been any instances of your work that has never been seen due to censorship reasons?
Kevin: (Laughs) well not for films funnily enough. But on Saturday Night Live, I ran into "Standards and Practices" once. I was doing a skit that Michael O’ Donahue had written and he wanted a really grotesque looking orifice called the ‘Blow Hole’. It was supposed to be a mutated orifice and the "Standards and Practice" people said it looked a little too much like genitalia! They made me change it into something we both hated, you know, put an eye in there, put an ear in there and that was something that Michael O Donahue did NOT want.
Marc: I have seen clips promoting your seminars and workshops and it’s so refreshing to see the concept of ‘experimentation’ so positively encouraged. Given your vast experience do you STILL experiment now?
Kevin: Well I try not to experiment too much. I was sort of infamous for a while there experimenting maybe too extensively, and if it doesn’t work it’s not much fun. But yeah I am still learning, still changing things. Still trying to figure out new ways to do stuff because I learn from the people I am working with a lot of the time. When I was at NBC there was a very talented make up guy there called Lee Baygan, who had worked under Dick (Smith). But there was a prevailing negative attitude which was when Dick left he took all the prosthetics with him. And I got to work with Lee because basically they were still doing stuff the way Dick was doing it back in the 50’s and they hadn’t moved into how everyone else was doing it in the 80s. I learned form that, you have to evolve, you have to change..
Marc: In the thoroughly enjoyable documentary NIGHTMARE FACTORY, Greg Nicotero alludes to the fact that a film set is a battlefield with the conflict being: the director, time is money deadline vs. makeup artist striving for perfection. Does that face off sound familiar? What can you tell us about any experiences in your career?
Kevin: Yeah personally I had only one experience which was on a commercial, where we were doing these young stunt ladies as old women and they were supposed to do jumps and flips etc. And the young producer came in and said "No, those spots don’t matter, just shine ‘em out" And I had to put my foot down and say NO those spots DO matter you gonna have to be patient. And too often that’s one of the reasons I feel why producers and directors like to go to CG. It takes no time of their day. They put someone in a grey suit with white balls all over it and it’s so much easier for them to schedule the live action shoot that way. Cos when you are waiting 3- 4 hours for a makeup, plus another 90 minutes to clean it off at the end of the day, it’s a constant fight.
Marc: What advice could you offer to any young person that perhaps wants to get involved and start on the path to a career in makeup?
Kevin: Well the first thing they need to do is to learn makeup history and see what’s gone before you. I studied Jack Pierce I studied Dick Smith, and I did as much research as I could on those makeup artists and their creations. Herman Buchman wrote a book which wasn’t great but at the end was this historical glossary that showed all these makeup’s throughout history. You have to get to know what came before, before you can move ahead.
The other side of it is you just need to DO! So many young artists that I meet nowadays just want to be like Athena you know? It’s a lot of hours; it’s a lot of dedication. Its hard work and it’s about understanding techniques and realising you’re not there to reinvent the wheel - you are there just to make the best wheel that you can.
Marc: Final question: you have had such a glittering career: What is there left to accomplish for Kevin Haney?
Kevin Haney: Oh wow, everyday is some new challenge. I would really love to do a really great ‘old age’ makeup. Like Dick got to do on Dustin Hoffman on LITTLE BIG MAN, that kind of thing. So much of it has been done but those opportunities are few and far between. And eventually, again, they will probably do it CG which is sad. For me personally I just want a challenge you know to be able to show up and just do some makeup because it’s really fun. I got to work with Howard Berger for the first time on the Wizard of Oz thing we did. It was a blast you know! I was doing background Winkies and Munchkins. It was just so gratifying and I am not above doing that and I am not above doing day to day work because I am a makeup artist and that’s what I do.
Marc: And an excellent one at that! Well it has been an absolute honour. Thank you so very much once again and please keep conjuring that incredible magic!
Kevin: Oh I’ll try. Thank you so much.
Special thanks to Kevin Haney, Second Sight and Debbie at Aim.
The Basket Case Trilogy is out on DVD and Blu-ray now from Second Sight Films.