GORE IN THE STORE
Legendary grind house director William Grefe discusses filming in the swamp, snake attacks, signing William Shatner at the airport, and the truth about the Florida yeti.
FrightFest: Did you ever think your films would be given the Blu-ray treatment like this?
William Grefe: In all my emails and Facebook, people from all over the world love this Blu-ray edition. I’m hearing from strangers and people I’ve met over the years - it’s interesting how people love the old grind house movies. It’s a lost art. Arrow have called this box set He Came From The Swamp - they won’t let me out of the Everglades however hard I try!
FF: What was it like filming in the Everglades?
WG: I’ve been out in the Everglades ever since I was a kid, because I was born in Miami… The only film I made which was a nightmare, Sting of Death, the producer had never produced a movie, he was a building contractor. He wanted to go to a hunting camp out in the middle of the Everglades. To get there you had to take air boats. We got all the way out there, and the camera had a cord that goes to the battery, and the cord fell overboard… so we couldn’t film… so we had to send the air boat back, and go all the way back to Miami to the equipment house, so I didn’t start shooting until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. From that bad experience I knew areas I could drive to and not experience that, if I had an equipment problem. There’s a lot of areas you can drive to quite easily.
FF: Is it fair to say Sting of Death was your version of Florida classic The Creature From the Black Lagoon?
WG: Sting of Death was my third film - when you look at it today, the jellyfish monster, they’d laugh you out of the theatre… but back then they thought it was great, they loved the jellyfish monster! Anyway, Doug Hobart, he played the jellyfish monster, he also played Tartu in Death Curse of Tartu. He preferred playing Tartu as he created all the makeup - the jellyfish monster was just a big old balloon over his head.
FF: How did you manage to get Hollywood star Rita Hayworth for The Naked Zoo?
WG: I wanted Rita Hayworth for Naked Zoo so I went to Los Angeles. I made that film for $250k. I only had fifty thousand in the budget for the star. So I went to her agent. The agent wanted $250k for Rita. I said, I don’t have it, I only have fifty. He said ‘no deal, no deal’. We fought back and forth for a couple of days. So I called my investors in Miami and said, ‘look you’ve got to trust me on this, wire me fifty thousand dollars’. And so I got a cashiers cheque and walked into the agent and put down the cheque and said ‘I will put this in any bank in California in escrow, for Rita, but that’s all I can afford’, and the agent said ‘we’ve got a deal’. Money talks and you know what walks - BS walks!
FF: Hayworth looked like she was enjoying making the film
WG: Rita was from the old school and I knew that they did seven or eight takes. You see I only do one or two takes, so for the first couple of days I budgeted six or seven takes until she got confidence in me - even though I didn’t need six or seven takes. She was a very very shy person, not like you’d expect. There’s a famous statement I think she made, she said ‘everyone wanted to go to bed with Gilda and they woke up with Rita Hayworth’.
FF: You also worked with the great William Shatner on Impulse
WG: Socrates Ballis, he was in The Hooked Generation, he was one of the Cubans at the beginning that got shot with the speargun. He had worked with me on three or four movies and he wanted to produce a movie, so he went over to Tampa and raised the money then he hired me to direct. We were in the Miami airport, we were flying out to Los Angeles to try and locate a name actor, and Shatner comes walking by. I said ‘There’s William Shatner!’ so we stopped him and gave him our pitch. We never went to Los Angeles - we made a deal right in the airport.
FF: How did you get on with Shatner?
WG: I get along great with Shatner. Shatner is a funny funny guy in person. He has a big ranch in Kentucky - he loves horses - the last time I saw him I said ‘Hey Bill how are the horses?’ and he says ‘Let me tell you this Grefe - you never invest in something that eats while you're sleeping!’ You can imagine what it costs to feed 25 horses. Anyway he’s really got a great sense of humour.
FF: Are you still active in filmmaking?
WG: I was very active with young filmmakers. We did a lot of short films until this virus hit, and that’s sort of put a monkey wrench on filmmaking. If anybody wants to go on YouTube I did a little thing called Thumbs - a little 7 or 8 horror thing I did with a bunch of kids. And I did Consider Us Evil, a horror thing with two girls being held captive.
FF: What advice would you give budding filmmakers?
WG: Today it’s a no brainer, making a film - the cameras are so light, the editing process and sound mixing is so fast. Back in those days it was a nightmare to film - the cameras weighed two hundred pounds, the editing took months, the final mix took forever - now it’s beep, zap, on the computer, it takes no time at all. But I tell young filmmakers, technically it’s nothing to make a film today, but the only thing that hasn’t changed is dealing with actors and crew members - you’ve got to be an amateur psychiatrist. You’ve got to figure out everybody, their temperament and how to handle them. When I did Whisky Mountain, we were up in the mountains - and Christopher George had his own TV series called The Rat Patrol, and he was in three John Wayne movies. He comes up to the mountains and walks in the office and says “where’s my trailer?” and I say well uh you don’t have your own trailer, I have one Winnebago but it’s for you four actors, and for make-up and wardrobe. He said “on the John Wayne movies I had my own trailer!” and I said well I’m not John Wayne. You’re now on a Bill Grefe movie. So he was pretty good about it. He shared the Winnebago… now we’re going way out in the country, and we had to tow a generator, we only had one truck. The head grip came and said ‘Bill, you’ve got these two porta potties on a flat bed, how are we going to tow those out?’ I said, look the actor’s Winnebago has a trailer hitch, hook it to that. Chris George comes up to me and says, “Grefe I’ve put up with a lot of your… I won’t say the word… but if they ever find out in Hollywood I had to tow two shitters to the location I’ll never work again!” But anyway he was a good sport about it.
FF: So you have to be resourceful?
WG: In Hollywood they throw money at problems - on independent films you’ve got to use your brain in pre-production. The big mistake kids make is they fight to get the money to make a movie and they don’t prepare it properly. All the films except Death Curse and Stanley, I always took six to eight weeks prep. Where I knew everything and I had blocked the shots on paper. Kids just start right in and can’t figure out why they’re over budget or schedule. You’ll never hear this from anybody else - I’ve made way over 15 films, I’ve never been one day over schedule or one dollar over budget. I don’t think there’s a filmmaker in the world that can make that statement!
Thanks for your time Bill.
Thank you. Everybody stay safe and let’s get over this virus so we can get back to filmmaking!
He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection is available on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video and is available to stream on ARROW (www.ARROW_Player.com)