A few weeks ago at Crypticon, I had the extreme pleasure of interviewing iconic actress Dee Wallace, star of SO many films including E.T., Cujo, The Howling, The Frighteners, Critters, and several Rob Zombie-directed films including the upcoming 3 From Hell.
Take a listen to it here; I’ve transcribed the first part before the Q&A below as well:
Hello, I’m Amie Simon. I have a blog called ILoveSplatter.com, where I talk about horror movies. And it is my pleasure to introduce the iconic, the amazing, the very, very nice Dee Wallace.
Amie: So I wanted to just jump in and talk about a few things from your filmography …
Dee Wallace: I will talk about anything! So, beware.
Amie: I wanted to start by talking about The Hills Have Eyes (1977). I listened to you on the She Kills podcast for Shudder and you said that The Hills Have Eyes was one that you don’t revisit very often, because it’s hard for you to watch.
Dee: Well, what does that mean? No, no – I don’t watch it. You know at the time, it was at the very beginning of my career and it was a lead role, and it was like … let’s put on a show! They did it with no money; we had no money. Everyone stayed in one motor home in the middle of the desert, and the bathroom broke. So I spent a lot of time in my car, because during the day it was SO hot, and during the night it got really cold. So, I got to know my car really well. But it was a big break for me at the time – who knew all these years later, it would be a cult film?
I told my daughter – I know lots of you follow her, Gabrielle Stone – I said, no matter what the film is, make sure you save stuff from it because you never know what’s gonna be a hit 30 years later.
Amie: Do you have any fun stories about Wes from working on that one?
Dee: No. I wouldn’t say I have any “fun” stories about that one. Wes is, you know he’s very quiet and very shy, and he was a college professor. So, no!
Dee: I mean we all had a good time …
Amie: … until the bathroom broke.
Dee: Yeah. Oh god. Well, and working with a tarantula – there were a lot of accidents on the set. The lady that played my mom; I was supposed to be up for my coverage but my makeup wasn’t done yet, so they took her for her scene and it was one of the ones where she got shot, and the guy hadn’t tied the squib down enough and so when it went off it moved and blew part of her breast off. I mean, little things — “fun” things like that. And the tarantula that should’ve been milked, but wasn’t. You know! FUN MOVIES. She was alright, by the way. They fixed it all up.
Amie: Maybe … maybe we could talk about The Howling?!?
Dee: I got lots of stories about The Howling. Well, first of all, Chris [Stone] and I were engaged, right? Well, everybody thinks I got him hired on it, but I didn’t. Dan Blatt called me after they hired me — which I went back to audition for twice – and he said, well Dee we have a really great cast for you, but we can’t find the guy to play your husband.
Now, I’m not a real blonde – but you would’ve thought I would have put this together. So I said, what are you looking for? And he said, well someone really virile but he needs to have a real vulnerability — and I’m going, I know somebody! But in 30 seconds, my brain went, you can’t say Chris because he’s your fiance and they’re never gonna hire your fiance. So I said, “You know there’s this guy I worked with, Christopher Smith, or Stone, or some S word.”
Well they found them on their own and he went in to audition and got the part, and a couple of days after the phone rang and I picked it up, and it was Dan our producer, and he went, “Dee?” and I said, “Hi Dan!” and he went, “Oh. Well you know that guy you suggested? We found him and we really liked him, and we hired him and I was calling to talk to him; I guess we got the wrong number.” And I said, “No, you got the right number.” And there was this long pause … and on the other end of the line I heard, “Oh shit.”
But ultimately Dan was really happy that Chris had come aboard because Chris knew how to handle Dee when she got a little “woooo” out there with all these parts.
Amie: One of things that I really love about The Howling is that it holds up and it’s definitely not just a werewolf film. There’s a lot going on there.
Dee: Yeah, thank you Joe Dante!
Amie: The scene where you’re in the movie theater, and he’s stalking you – that is SO terrifying to me.
Dee: It was kind of weird for me too. Well, you have to understand, I’m from Kansas. And I hadn’t been in Hollywood for very long and I didn’t know they were putting on that porno movie to watch. And I’m going, “ew. Is this gonna be in the film.” And Dan said, “Yup. Dee, I”ll talk to your Grandma first.” Because they were already talking about this big premiere and my Grandma and everybody was coming from Kansas and I thought, well she’s just gonna die right here. And then the whole scene where Chris has his love scene with the she-wolf …
So we’re in New York and we’re watching this screening, and it’s dead silence in that scene. And then you hear my grandmother say, “Well Christopher Stone, SHAME ON YOU!” I thought Chris was gonna die.
Amie: That’s a VERY good story.
Dee: I had a very good Grandma.
Amie: I know that E.T. is not a horror film, but we have to talk about it …
Dee: Really? I can’t tell you how many people come up to my table and tell me they’re scared to death of E.T. Whatever! Grow up. You? Wussy! Well I think it’s that scene where they see him and everybody goes, “Ahhh ahh ahh!” so if you see it too young, you know? You have that sense memory from it. So I understand it from a teaching point of view, but … wuss. So no, I would not call E.T. a horror film.
Amie: But we have to talk about it, because I’m sure there are a lot of fans in here.
Dee: Well one would hope so!
Amie: Your role as an amazing single mom, where you just doing your thing!
Dee: First single mom on screen, by the way.
Amie: What do you think it is about that movie that makes it so enduring and so beloved.
Dee: I think it’s like The Wizard of Oz — it tells you hard truth. And it tells you what we all need to remember and what we innately know that’s true about human nature. And it gives us hope, and we all are hungry for that right now, aren’t we? God knows. I won’t get into politics I promise …
Amie: Cujo, which you also said on that podcast, is your favorite one of your films to watch.
Dee: Yes. Well, Cujo is my favorite film. Because I think I went as far as I could go, as truthfully as I could do it. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done; Dear God, the hardest thing I’ve EVER done. They treated me for exhaustion, for three weeks after and I have stories!
There were 13 dogs that played Cujo; they were all trained to go after different toys. So, on “action” the trainer would go “Dig, dig for your toy!” and they would go … and their asses were going like this [miming tail wagging with hands] and they had to tie their tails down! A couple of shots – there are a couple of long shots where they allowed the tail wags to stay in. But it was really challenging between getting them in between the tail wags and before they ate the egg whites off. Because all their foam and everything were egg whites. But let me tell you, they had medics there for the dogs. The dogs were …. a lot easier than I was.
You know the scene where you think I’ve killed the dog and he’s on top of me? So I have to act this out … [Dee lays down on her back, and continues the story]. So here I am, and the medic’s there with this 120 pound dog. They picked the biggest friggin’ dog! So the director Lewis says, “It’s okay, Dee, he’s all sedated.” So they put this dog on top of me, and his head is right here [gestures near her face], and I hear, “Growwwwllll” …
Now, I’m already kinda like freaked out, and I go, “Lewis it doesn’t sound like he’s asleep.” And the medic goes, “No, no he’s out, Dee. It’s just sleeping noises”. So I hear ROLL and then Lewis says, “Can you lift him up and down like you’re fighting him?” And I’m going, shit. I’m gonna get eaten! So I’m bench pressing this dog, and I said, “Please get this in one take. PLEASE get this in one take.” But NO! We had to do it three times because the phone wasn’t right or the blood wasn’t right, or the camera – whatever. But I mean, if you knew what we went through to get some of the shots we got!
And that kid, Danny Pintauro. MY GOD. He was … I just woke up every morning and said, “Thank you god I got his kid.” It was like working with an adult. He was amazing. So you know I’m always a mother, whether we’re shooting or not. SO I go, “Hey Danny, we have to do this scene now where you have this seizure and everything and you know we’re just acting, right?” and he says, “Oh don’t worry Dee, I had one when I was little.” He’s like, what? Five? He said, “You wanna see?” and then just went right into it. I said, “Looks good to me!” That kid, he never got afraid of the dogs; he just always knew we were acting.
Drew, on the other hand …. not so much. We had the big scene where E.T. was dying, and we were on an adjoining soundstage and they were getting all the doctors ready and everything. So I said, “Ok Drew, we’re gonna go shoot the scene were E.T. is dying, but you know he’s not dying, he’s just acting like we are.” and she said, “I know, Dee. Do you think I’m stupid?” So I picked her up; we walked into the set, she took one look at E.T. and went, “DEE HE’S DYING!” Stephen’s going, “Roll it! ROLL IT!” Crazy. And I work with kids and dogs all the time!
Amie: And also, puppets. Let’s talk about Critters!
Dee: Yeah! I just did the new Critters [Critters Attack!]; it’s gonna be on SYFY. And the puppets are great; they did it all with puppets … when they offered it to me, I said, “Oh you guys aren’t doing this CGI shit, are you? Because the fans will not be happy.” And they said, oh no, we wouldn’t dare. So they brought in really, really good puppets and I get to play a bounty hunter. I’m the same character, and the Critters have eaten all my family over the years … don’t know when that happened. And I’m now going to make sure they don’t eat me.
Amie: Was the original Critters as much fun to film as it looked like?
Dee: Yeah, it was fun. It was a lot of fun. Our director was fun, all the actors – I mean it was just a great family. It really was a family. We didn’t work with a lot of the outlying characters. I mean, guys, seriously — they were just starting to really make the Critters professionally. The big Critter – you only see his eyes in the original one because they hadn’t finished him yet. The picture you see on my table, they had me come in later to take a picture with the big one. So for most of it, we’re all hysterical and we start the scene and we hear, “Okay, roll him in!” [mimes pushing] They just rolled them in like balls — hairy little balls!
Oh, that didn’t sound right. See, my Grandma would’ve not liked that.
Amie: Moving on from … hairy balls. Next to Karen in The Howling, Patricia Ann Bradley is my favorite Dee Wallace character, from The Frighteners.
Dee: I loved killing everybody!
Amie: Because you start out as very — sequestered and possibly abused by her mother. But actually no; you’ve actually been helping the bad guy out the whole time.
Dee: Yeah I loved doing that movie. I loved working in New Zealand, I loved Peter Jackson; Jake – crazy Jake. And — Jeffrey; I think it’s one of the most brilliant performances I’ve ever seen; Jeffrey Combs in The Frighteners. But, again, as much of my life is, there was a real yin and yang.
Most of you know I lost my husband Christopher during the shooting of The Frighteners; which was really surreal. I was back and forth – it really is like going across half the world — four times in three weeks. And I had his service, got in a plane, flew back to New Zealand, took my nanny and my little girl to the apartment, got in a car and went to work. Crazy, huh?
I just finished a movie called Await the Dawn, which is a really cool combination of Sci-Fi/Horror; my younger brother committed suicide two weeks ago. And my daughter came over to give me the news, and we cried and called my sister-in-law and talked to the family, and an hour later we were on the set shooting. You know, welcome to the life of an actor. You gotta go.
Well I suppose I didn’t have to, but I was raised in the midwest, and when you say you’re gonna do a job and you make a commitment, you follow through no matter what.
Amie: Thank you for sharing that. I want to talk about The Lords of Salem, and how upon its release, it wasn’t really very received but it’s been having a resurgence lately; people have been rewatching it and really appreciating it …
Dee: You know, I don’t think Rob cares. I’m serious. He does his thing, and he does his thing because he loves the thing he does. And that’s enough for him; it really is. I love working with him; he’s one of the most creative directors. He’s an actors director. He’ll go, “Ok, we’re gonna do how it’s written, and now everybody bring in their own stuff and we’re just gonna go with it. “
I mean, in Halloween – the whole scene in the kitchen with Scout and I screwing the bagel and the whole thing; not in the script! Believe me. And also in Halloween, I was supposed to die going down the bookcase. And three weeks later they called me back and I said, “I’ve already died!” and they said, “Rob wants to kill you better.” So we added going through all the hallway and through the glass table and all of that.
But Lords of Salem was CRAZY. On Halloween we worked with three steadicams, which was an actor’s dream. Because you don’t have to match so much, you don’t have to as many takes … so I thought oh boy! This is what Lords of Salem is gonna be like! No. Lords of Salem was all on sticks, and I was working with two very good English actresses [Judy Geeson & Patricia Quinn] who do not like to improv, at all. But Rob IS improv. So I had to adjust really quickly on that show — but in the first part of Lords of Salem, we’re all playing a role, right? That we’re these nice ladies who live in the apartment complex. And Rob also knows that I do healing work, so he patterned my character as kind of a parody of who I am.
So halfway through, we’ve already given her to Satan. And I’m sitting in my dressing room getting ready to the do the next shot, and I’m thinking something doesn’t feel right. And all the sudden, it occured to me that I don’t have to play her as that character anymore. That I just have to be “her” now – and when something’s not right in acting, I feel like I have bugs crawling all over me. So I ran to Rob, and I explained all that to him, and I said, “I can’t be that way anymore, because I have to drop the act – we’ve already given her to Satan. I have to look different.” And this is exactly what he did, he goes [looking down at her watch], “You’ve got 15 minutes.” That’s how much he trusts you. That was the extent of the conversation.
Amie: Can you tell us anything about 3 From Hell?
Dee: Muhahahaha! Well, it’s classic Rob Zombie. It’s Devil’s Rejects – and you will have to look very hard to recognize me in it. I get to do a lot of stuff with Sheri [Moon Zombie] which made me very happy, because I really like Sheri. And I LOVE Sheri and Rob together; they are so darling together. She brings him his vitamins and a health food shake every morning.
You know when we were shooting Halloween, we were standing and talking between scenes and I said, “So what’s your favorite movie this year?’ and he said, “Little Miss Sunshine. Don’t tell anybody!”
Amie: Oops! Literally everybody in this room is tweeting that right now.
Dee: I just love ‘em; I love both of them. I will always go back to work if he calls me. It’s ok – he knows how much I love him.
Amie: Speaking of your healing work; do you want to talk about that?
Dee: I don’t know; does anyone wanna hear about it? Well I’m a clairaudient channel. And literally, it started when Christopher died. And I dropped to my knees and said, I don’t wanna be pissed off, I don’t want to be angry, and I don’t want to be a victim. I want a way we can heal ourselves. And the first message came in within 10 seconds. And that just expanded.
I had the largest acting studio at the time where I taught four classes a week, and I went after that I would be able to pick up energy. I would have six auditors every class, and this one auditor got up to start a scene and he got about seven lines into it and I said, “Stop. What’s going on? You’re all fucked up with your life.” — and literally the blood drained out of his face, and he said he had been engaged six times. And so we did the work around it and I said, “This is the core – something happened, four years old and it involved your parents.” And what it was, was that he had witnessed his dad beating his mom up in front of him and he never wanted to ever be like his dad. And so he would get close to really committing and then he would have to break it off for his own fear; his own lack of control. And he wrote me a couple of years afterwards and said, “Miss Wallace, I didn’t come into your class because you really freaked me out. But I want you to know because of the work we did that I’m married now, very happily, and I just never knew it was all about them and not about me.”
So it’s really rewarding work. I have a call-in show on every Sunday morning where I take questions through the channel, and I do webinars once a month. Now it’s morphed into really combining the spiritual work with brain science. Because I am convinced that Christ was teaching brain science in the only language that they could understand back then. Because we’re all saying the same thing. And it’s all about love — if you just go back to the state of love, it’s the answer for everything. All the interviews that I do now, with all the politics, people say, “Well what do you think about politics?” and I say, “I’ve got one thing to say: if it doesn’t resonate with love, I don’t vote for it. That’s it.” Love as far as I know, creates everything and heals everything.
We just gotta get back to holding that state of love no matter what.
Dee shared many more incredible stories insights with us during the Q&A session following these questions. Listen to the audio above to hear more!