COLUMN: Aaron’s Backstage Pass: Kevin Tenney Interview

Updated: 02/18/2014 9:14 AM
Created: 02/05/2014 2:52 PM
By: Aaron Chalich

Kevin Tenney is the Director of the horror films “ Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons.”  Kevin also wrote the script for “Witchboard.”

I got the opportunity to interview Kevin about both films.  He was such a nice and friendly person and was a real pleasure to talk to.

(Aaron) Kevin, how did you get into the film business?
(Kevin) Well, I always enjoyed writing when I was very young, and I would write short stories if I was sitting around bored with nothing to do. They were stories for my own amusement.  I saw an advertisement for a Super 8 Camera by Bell and Howell that would plug it into a cassette tape recorder by Bell and Howell that would allow you to shoot sync sound films, and you could plug that same tape recorder into the projecto,r and you could watch your film with sync sound. The thing was that you couldn’t do multiple takes, you had to shoot everything in order and you had to do one take.  I don’t know why but that looked like fun so I convinced my parents that they should buy that for me for Christmas and I made my first detective film in the first grade with all of my friends and the neighborhood kids.  We would all put on our Sunday clothes and pretend to be adults, and it was awful.

(Aaron)On February 4th “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons” will be released on Blu-ray by Shout Factory.  You directed both films and also wrote the script for Witchboard. How did you come up with the story for “Witchboard?”
(Kevin) Before I moved to LA to go to USC I was living in Alameda which is like an island just off of San Francisco.  I was living in a Victorian home that had been turned into an apartment, and I had a party and a friend brought an Ouija board and started talking about it.  He was basically Brandon and knew all about Ouija boards and had stories of things that had happened to him before.  While they were playing with it, I thought, you know, I’m not a big horror fan, and I haven’t seen a lot of horror films, but I was aware of them, and I thought I had never heard of a horror film that centered on a Ouija board.  There could be something there.  Then when I went to USC, in a class you had to write a feature screen play, and the only thing I could come up with is the Ouija board idea. So, I researched Ouija boards and found out that there were all sorts of good stuff that I could use, and I could just start flushing out the characters based on people I knew in my own past.  You know the hero is a construction worker which is what I did before I decided to go back to college, because I can’t be a construction worker for the rest of my life. My wife now—at the time my girlfriend then—was  studying pre-law, so that’s why Tawny Kitaen’s character is studying pre-law or is a law student.  I just drew from stuff I knew to round out the characters and make them three dimensional.

(Aaron) How long did it take to make “Witchboard?”
(Kevin) That was so long ago. I think it was a thirty day shoot, but I’m not sure.  It was such a full script that in reality, the first cut of the film was over two hours.  It was like two hours and ten minutes.  We shot for thirty days, but if we had not shot the footage that ended up on the editing room floor we probably could have done it in twenty-four.

(Aaron) On “Night of the Demons” one of the things that really stood out for me was the art in the opening sequence.  Who did the art?
(Kevin) Kevin Kutchaver’s, which I can’t remember the name of it now, and then his girlfriend who is now his wife was an artist at Disney and she was a big horror fan. Our line producer Don Robinson hadn’t come from a background in animation, and he knew these people.  So when Joe came up with the idea that he wanted in the script an animated title sequence, Don Robinson did some checking around and found Kevin for us and we went out and met with him and told him what we were looking for.  He did some black and white tests, and once we saw the tests, we were like okay, this is going to be great.
(Aaron) It looks awesome!
(Kevin) And it sets the tone for the whole film.

(Aaron) What was the atmosphere like on the set of “Night of the Demons?” It seems like it was a fun cast to work with, and everyone seemed to be have a great time.
(Kevin)It was a lot of fun.  It was drastically different from “Witchboard” in that “Witchboard” was kind of a drama.  It was a ghost story, but it was a dramatic film. So when you got to those scenes where people where opening up, talking about their feelings, or arguing, everyone on the set had to be quiet and let the actors get to the place deep down and dark where they have to reach to perform those scenes.  But “Night of the Demons” was all just a big old rollercoaster ride, so we were always having fun.  We were laughing between takes and we actually ruined takes, because of it.  It’s so funny now when I  watch it now and people are horrified like the demons at the wall.  The DP and I couldn’t get through the shot we kept laughing with all the kids looking up at us going grrrrrr.  We would just start laughing.

(Aaron)Why do you think “Night of the Demons” because such a cult classic?
(Kevin)You know it’s funny.  People will tell you the three shots that they remember.  For one, everyone says it’s so bloody and gory, but Steve Johnson and I were just talking about it, and he said he probably used less blood on that than any other horror film he’s ever done.  We had the eye gouge, the razors through the throat.  I think when they talk about it, they think about it but it’s really the make-up.  The demons look great and they’re there throughout the film, so I think that’s what people really remember, even though they think they saw a lot more gore than they really did.  The three shots that people seem to mentions is the lipstick, Amelia’s dance, and everyone’s reflection in the shattered mirror.  All three of which have no blood or no gore.  So, I think it’s just a combination of everything.  I think there is blood and gore, but the film isn’t carried by it, but it’s got the great demon make-up.  It’s got a house that is genuinely creepy and that’s due to production designer Ken Aichele and DP Dave Lewis and they did a great job.  We gave everyone practical lights, so everyone had beams of light, flashlights,  going through the house.  It just created a great look and because of that the film is just genuinely creepy.  Even when nothing is really going on.  You just have this sense of dread, and that’s what appeals to people in a horror film that constantly had them tense.

(Aaron) Are there any projects that you are currently working on or will be working on that you can tell me about?
(Kevin) We are still trying to put the last bit of financing together to do a sequel to “Night of the Demons” re-make, which we already have the script.  It’s really funny, and I really like it.  I think it will make a great entry.  We have a great crew assembled.  We have Anthony Hickox to direct and Harry Manfredini doing the music and me producing and also Gabe Bartalos who did all the “Leprechaun” films, doing the make-up, so we just got to put it together.  In the meantime, I have a very small project that I’m writing that all takes place in one house with a couple of characters.  My wife and I are thinking of producing that together.  And on my off time, I have two books that I’m trying to write.  Writing books is so drastically different that writing screenplays. 

(Aaron) Kevin thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me.  I really enjoyed “Witchboard” and “Night of the Demons” and think they’re great.
(Kevin) You’re welcome, and thank you.

Aaron Chalich is a entertainment columnist.

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