To celebrate the release of classic zombie gem Return of the Living Dead on blu-ray by the fine folk at Second Sight, our very own brain-munching undead loving punk Stu Willis catches up with stars Brian "Scuz" Peck, Beverly "Tina" Randolph and John "Chuck" Philbin to discuss their role in the film and the impacts on their lives since…
Stu: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer a few questions. The Return Of The Living Dead is a firm favourite of ours, and it’s an honour to be chatting with you to mark the film’s release on blu-ray in the UK.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: Our pleasure!
Stu: What were you doing when you got the casting call for the film?
John "Chuck" Philbin: Getting ready to go on strike.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: Each day your agent calls in to give you your interview schedule for the next day. I was probably having dinner? Not sure, it was a long time ago.
Brian "Scuz" Peck: I was attending my junior year of college at the University of Southern California (USC) as a theater major. I had done my first lead role in a feature film in "The Last American Virgin" two years earlier and had also done a few small television roles. I was primarily trying to concentrate on school and was not really auditioning all that much for film and T.V. A very good friend that I had met while shooting "The Last American Virgin" had auditioned for the role of "Tina" in "Return"and passed along the script to me knowing I would love it, I was a big fan of horror films and of Dan O'Bannon because of "Alien". After reading it I thought that I could pull off playing "Scuz" given the proper haircut and costume so I immediately called my agent and asked him to please submit me for the part. After not hearing back for a few days I called to see if I could get in to audition and was told by my agent that there was no way I could play a gritty street punker with a mohawk and he wasn't going to embarrass me and himself by sending me in on a role I was totally wrong for and had absolutely no chance of getting. So I told my actress friend what had happened and she took my photo and resume' with her when she went in for a callback and gave it to Stanzi Stokes our casting director along with a recommendation. I got to audition and obviously after a couple of callbacks I got the job. I also still had to pay my agent 10% of my salary, needless to say not long after filming wrapped I fired my agent.
Stu: What was it that attracted you to the production?
John "Chuck" Philbin: The possibility of working that summer.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: I loved the part of "Tina." I loved the attic scene and the idea that everyone looked so unique, so punk.
Brian "Scuz" Peck: Honestly at that point I wasn't all that picky about my acting work, any lead role in a feature film would have attracted me, but as a huge fan of the horror film genre and George Romero's zombie films this particular script and film were like a dream come true project! Also "Alien" was one of my top 3 films of all time so the chance to work with Dan O'Bannon was a very exciting prospect for me.
Stu: Was there ever a point during the shoot where it became apparent that something special was indeed occurring?
John "Chuck" Philbin: Not from my limited perspective.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: No, because you never know how a film will turn out. Sometimes you're on a set and think "this is going to be great." And then, it's never released. And, we had so much turmoil on our set.
Brian "Scuz" Peck: Every moment of making the film for me was more special than I can ever describe, I was getting to do exactly the thing I had been dreaming about my entire childhood while sitting in a darkened movie theater. So the experience of making the film was just unbelievably special to me and still is to this day. As for knowing that the film we were making was going to be something special itself? I had no clue. You always hope what your doing is good and people will like it, but it's just so hard to tell while you are in the midst of making the film. Also it was a pretty low budget movie so I really didn't know how big of a release it would get or anything. Even when I saw the finished film I didn't ever think it would achieve the amazing cult classic status it has achieved now. I would love to say I knew it was a classic from the first time I saw the final product, but the truth is I was taken aback by how much humor was in the movie, and the punk music soundtrack was not what I was expecting, so my initial reaction was mixed. Of course it turns out all the elements that I wasn't sure about are the very things I now realize made the film special and stand out and endure.
Stu: Do you have any special memories that you can share from being on the set of the film?
John "Chuck" Philbin: Someone was always dumping a bucket of cold water on me.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: I remember when George Clooney and Jason Robards visited the set. Oh gosh, we had so many good times. It was really fun to be in a group with all of these people for such a long time. All the bonding the kids did because we were all in this odd situation together. I appreciated the times when I had a big crying moment and Dan (O'Bannon the director) would so graciously quiet the set and give me that moment to get into it. So many special memories. Oh and when the camera crew asked me to clap the scene in with the board and then had the film made into a picture for me because it was my birthday.
Brian "Scuz" Peck: I remember the first time I shot a scene where zombies were busting through the windows and I was swinging away at them with a sledgehammer and then an ax. That was the moment I really knew that I was in a real live zombie movie and my dreams of being in a horror film had come true. Actors will claim that they are looking for great parts, beautifully written and full of depth and meaning and the human experience, not me. I wanted to play dress up and do things that never really happened in the real world. I wanted everyday to be Halloween or like being at Disneyland, so filming "Return of the Living Dead" was heaven for me. Working with Dan O'Bannon and getting to know him as a friend and collaborator was very special too, having the opportunity to work with someone you had admired from afar and thought you would never meet was just so cool!
Stu: What’s your favourite scene in the film?
John "Chuck" Philbin: The cemetery party scene where Linnea Quigley dances on the gravestone with a vagina plug in.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: The attic scene was by far my favorite.
Brian "Scuz" Peck: My death scene of course...ha! Again it was the kind of thing I had always dreamed of doing, dying on camera in a big violent, bloody way. I hate that I'm dead and gone from the last quarter of the film, but I think my death scene is just so awesome that it makes up for it and soothes my ego.
Stu: What’s your take on the film’s enduring appeal? Why do you think it’s survived so well?
John "Chuck" Philbin: I believe Dan O’Bannon was a true genius with a vision and the energy to create a new genre in film. It was over my head at the time.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: I think that the film has endured for so long because of the unique look and feel of the film. Linnea dancing naked was quite a shocker and the music still today holds up. I think a lot of people recognize themselves in the different characters of the film too.
Brian "Scuz" Peck: If I really knew the answer I would bottle it and get rich selling it to Hollywood and then I would go out and make some more surefire enduring classic movies! You just never know what is going to catch that wave and ride it into the future. I had the very good fortune of becoming friends with another of my childhood acting idols, Roddy McDowall, and I asked him once if after starring in well over 100 films if he knew when he was working on a potential classic while shooting it. He said "Absolutely not, filming a classic feels just the same as filming a piece of crap". However If I had to venture a guess I would say the film's perfect blend of horror and laughs, the cool look of the punks and punk score, and the distinct zombie characters of Tarman and the Half Corpse. Also the movie was around at just the right time to play endlessly on cable movie channels where many of the hardcore fans first discovered it, and watched it over and over.
Stu: The film is renowned for its hardcore following. Can you give examples of how obsessive some of the fans you’ve met have been?
John "Chuck" Philbin: Full body tattoos with the cast of the film.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: LOL! Yes, We have some amazing fans that have tattooed us on to their bodies! This to me is something I just can't believe. They've written songs about us. Sometimes when they come to meet us they are crying. You've got to get up and give them a hug and thank them for all the kindness they feel for us in their hearts. Some people watch this film a lot! They know all the lines in the film. They dress like us when they come to meet us. We are so blessed!
Brian "Scuz" Peck: The fans are so awesome! It's incredibly cool meeting these folks at the various conventions and screenings and I'm blown away at all the love there is out there for "Return". Many of the really hardcore fans are not even as old as the film itself which just amazes me. The first few conventions I did I always asked why they loved this movie so much of all movies that exist and found myself almost trying to talk them out of thinking is was so good. Then I remembered I had a converted garage at my home to display my giant collection of "Planet of the Apes" costumes and props and toys and thought who am I to question their obsession, I'm a grown man who loves "Planet of the Apes" so much I have an "Apes" museum at home! The most obsessive thing I would have to say is the number of fans I've met with some kind of "Return of the Living Dead" tattoo on them. The poster art of the three zombie versions of "Trash", "Suicide" and "Scuz" is an extremely popular tattoo I've seen on a lot of the people at the conventions. While helping put together the "More Brains" documentary feature, which I'm thrilled is included on the UK Blu Ray, I got to meet Carl Ramsey the graphic artist who painted the original artwork for the one sheet movie poster. He still had the original painting at his studio which was fantastic to see in person after all these years. He hadn't really followed how popular the film had become and was shocked when I told him how many people had his artwork tattooed on their body. The next time I saw him a few weeks later he had googled and researched online all the people with that tattoo of his art and he seemed particularly tickled by how many there were, he had no idea anyone had done that, much less dozens of people.
Stu: How has the film impacted on your life since?
John "Chuck" Philbin: I get to answer these questions.
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: Well, not that much at first. I would go about my daily life. I put "Return" on the back burner for so many years while I was raising our son. Then about 7 years ago all heck broke loose. We went to a screening for "Return" at a big theater in Los Angeles and was absolutely floored. The screening was sold out and the line was down Hollywood Blvd. People were lined up to get autographs. After that we started doing conventions and appearances. Now it's impacted a lot with emails and trips! So fun...
Brian "Scuz" Peck: Up until about 2005 there wasn't much of a noticeable impact other than my fond memories of the experience and the privilege I felt of having worked with Dan O'Bannon and the other cast members. I became close friends with James Karen the wonderful actor who played "Frank" and conspired to find ways to work with him as often as possible in the following years, but other than that "Return" didn't come up much. It was in August of 2005 that a film preservation and education society here in Los Angeles called the The American Cinematheque hosted a 20th anniversary reunion screening at their headquarters, the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I was excited to go and see Dan and my cast mates that I hadn't seen in many years, but I didn't expect much of a turn out. Boy was I wrong, the event was sold out and when I arrived with my friends the courtyard was packed with fans and the other actors were mobbed, as soon as I was spotted dozens of people came up to me asking me to pose for a picture or sign their DVD, it was amazing and completely unexpected. That was the first inkling I had that the movie had become so popular, it was so flattering and humbling! Since then we have regularly travelled around to various conventions and had other screenings. Last year a fantastic book called "The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead" was released and we did some signings of that, and of course we all participated in the very impressive "More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead" documentary, I even got to narrate it. It's been wonderful becoming reacquainted with the other actors and we are all good friends again. It's quite cool that we are kept busy from time to time with various "ROTLD" functions which is just so much fun and mind boggling considering the film is coming up on being 30 years old. Just yesterday I was buying paint and spackle at a hardware store and when I handed the cashier my credit card he read my name out loud and said "Why does the name Brian Peck sound familiar?" I said I wasn't sure why and then without missing a beat he said "Wait, were you in Return of the Living Dead?" and this guy looked to be about 20, so that kind of thing is just pretty surreal to me, and very nice.
Stu: And finally … should any of our readers ever find themselves trapped in a crematorium that’s been surrounded by zombies, what’s the best piece of advice you can offer them?
John "Chuck" Philbin: Yell CUT!
Brian "Scuz" Peck: Cover their brains and kiss their arse good-bye!!!
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: Oh, you are so funny! Don't just stand there. Scream "Oh fudge!" and find a strong closet to lock yourself in. Make sure there aren't any winch's close by that a tar covered zombie would know how to work. : )
Stu: Thanks again for your time – and thanks for contributing to one of the best zombie films ever made!
Beverly "Tina" Randolph: You are very welcome. Thank you too!
Brian "Scuz" Peck: Thank you too, always happy to give return the love and do my best help keep the "ROTLD" flames burning!! :)
The special edition of Return of the Living Dead is released by Second Sight on blu-ray and DVD on June the 4th.
Special thanks to Beverly, Brian, Chuck, Second Sight Films and Debbie at Aim.