A Few Words With John Amplas (Martin, Day of the Dead)

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with John Amplas, famous for his work with director George A. Romero. John, in case you didn’t know, starred in Romero’s Martin (1977), a film which has been hailed as a clever deconstruction of the vampire myth. He’s also been in a bunch of other Romero movies, including Day of the Dead (1985) where he plays Fischer, a scientist caught between a mad doctor and a psychotic military commander (and zombies) in a Florida bunker. Not only is John a cool guy, he’s also a dramatist and director in his own right. I could have spent all day talking to him, but I held back, because I know he’s a busy man (and I’m a busy man too, kind of). This is the third interview in my “A Few Words” series, and it’s the third interview I wanted to not end. John, thank you again for talking to me. I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion.

 

Q: You’ve stated in past interviews that you knew pretty early on you wanted to be an actor. Are there any films, performances, actors maybe, who inspired that decision?

 

A: I was inspired certainly by other actors. There are a lot of actors I’ve been enamored of over the years and that I’ve tried to emulate in terms of discipline and doing the work. I can name a hundred or a thousand.

 

Q: I understand you served in the army during Vietnam.

 

A: I did.

 

Q: Well, first of all, thank you for your service

 

A: Thank you. I appreciate that.

 

Q: What was your position in the army?

 

A: When I got out of the army I was a spec 5; I worked in personnel and became a company clerk for several different engineering companies In Ben Thuy and Can Tho, both in the Mekong Delta. They were primarily trucking companies. I went in in January 1969 and got out in October 1971.

 

Q: Did you see any action over there?

 

A: Well, I wasn’t one of the guys who went out on patrol, but I saw and heard a lot of gunfire.

 

Q: How did you become associated with George Romero?

 

A: A year after I got out of the army I started college at Point Park University. In my senior year George came out and saw me in a play. I met him afterwards and he made mention of this movie he was going to be working on. The story that he told me was that he was thinking of Martin as an older character, but then, having seen my performance, decided to go and kind of rewrite it a little bit. A couple of months later he called me and asked me if I wanted the role.

 

Q: That’s a pretty big step up, going from community theater to cinema.

 

A: Yeah, pretty big.

 

Q: What was your impression on first reading the script?

 

A: I loved it. It was first and foremost an original idea, which I think is the most important thing. When you’re doing anything, be it theater or film, having that original idea is paramount. Martin is a vampire who is not Gothic, not Bela Lugosi. That’s what I appreciated most about it. And still do. Honestly, I can say about all of George’s work is that he always came up with a brand new idea. We wouldn’t have any of the walking dead or living dead if not for the creation of Night of the Living Dead.

 

Q: Now, no one seems to know whether Martin is an actual vampire or not. It was intentionally left up to the audience to interpret it however they would. Did you ever form any conclusions of your own regarding Martin’s true nature?

 

A: My conclusion is probably that he’s a crazy, mixed-up kid. When you’re doing it you aren’t thinking about is he or isn’t he, you’re thinking about what’s happening dramatically on the page. Obviously Martin thought that he was a vampire, and in a certain sense, I guess he IS a vampire of sorts. He believed all of the things he was told. If you’re told that you are a thing, you will soon believe it. Like kids today. If they’re getting bad parenting and no support and someone says that they’re stupid or dumb and they hear that, they’ll pretty much start behaving in that manner. Martin’s problem was that he was told he was a vampire long and hard enough that he started believing it.

 

Q: After Martin you were involved with Dawn of the Dead. You did some casting for that?

 

A: I did primarily zombie casting. I was able to bring in some minor role folks. Doing casting for zombies was relatively simple. Once the word got out that George wanted a lot of people to play these roles, they were soon filled. Some nights we would have hundreds of people lining up in costumes and make-up. I just wanted to be around. We had such a great time shooting Martin and it came so quickly after Martin was shot. I just wanted to be part of the machine, and George was kind enough to keep me around.

 

Q: You also had a cameo in Dawn of the Dead as Martinez, a Hispanic gang member.

 

A: Yes, yes I did [laughs]

 

Q: Martinez is basically Martin was an EZ tacked on. Was that an intentional homage to Martin?

 

A: It sounds like it could be, doesn’t it? But no. They were in need of an actor to play one of these outlaws on the roof of this project, and Tom Savini grabbed me and said they needed somebody to do a little scene with Scotty Reiniger. They put me in this bad make-up and on the roof I went. [Laughs] it wasn’t an intentional thing on anybody’s part. Just “John, we need you…come on.”

 

Q: You’ve been teaching at Point Park University since 1982. What drew you to teaching?

 

A: I lived in New York from 1976 to 1982, but I still came back to Pittsburgh to act in plays. It just so happened that the chair of the department at that time asked me if I would do some part time teaching. I said yes and I’ve been there ever since. It wasn’t something that I sought, it just kind of fell into my lap. After a while, though, I really started to enjoy it. I did a lot of work with George in the beginning (Knightriders, Creepshow, Day of the Dead), but I needed, like we all do, a day job to help pay the bills.

 

Q: You mentioned Day of the Dead. I heard the shooting schedule was kind of grueling. Lotta late nights.

 

A: Yeah, they shot in these mines for a good three months. It was cold and it was damp. It was pretty uncomfortable for most people. I was one of the lucky ones because I spent only about two weeks on the movie. So it was a lot easier on me than it was on a lot of the other folks.

 

Q: What are your opinions on the Captain Rhodes character? Can you sort of see where he was coming from in his actions?

 

A: Well, yeah, sure, as a military guy who wanted to keep the living dead at bay and provide security, I can see where he was coming from.  Absolutely. Not to say that he wasn’t psychotic.

 

Q: Oh yeah.

 

A: For him it was dire circumstances, and what Richard Liberty was doing as the doctor kind of went off track in terms of what the scientific purpose really was. He started to veer a little bit to the right. He wanted to train them, he wanted to bring them back, he wanted to save them, which was not necessarily the purpose of why they were down there.

 

Q: In the end when Captain Rhodes goes off the deep end, he kills Logan with a burst of gunfire to the chest. We don’t see any damage to his head, but at the same time, he doesn’t come back. I’ve read the original script, the one Romero couldn’t get financing for, and in it a character is killed and a big to-do is made over the fact that three or four days later, he still hasn’t reanimated, insinuating that the disease had run its course. Do you think Romero was trying to do that here?

 

A: I haven’t read the original script, so I don’t know what kind of changes were made. I knew that they had to change the script due to money issues. That’s the biggest problem that I heard about, so I can’t really comment.

 

Q: So tell me about “The Three” the concept trailer that you acted in along with Lori Cardille.

 

A: Well, there was never really a script. Scott Goldberg is a big fan of Day of the Dead, so he got us in there and he wanted to develop this film that took place in a similar location to Day. The truth of the matter is that I never fully understood where the movie was going because he didn’t have a developed script beyond he was going to produce super soldiers. I spent about a week on and off shooting in that mine. Unfortunately it never became a full film.

 

Q: Do you have anything in the works now?

 

A: In the near future I’ll be directing Donald Margulies’ The Country House for the Pittsburgh Playhouse. It’s basically about a family sitting around talking, but there are a lot of issues there. It was on Broadway. Blythe Danner was in it. In fact we’re going to open our season with it.

 

Q: Of all the movies you’ve worked on, which is your favorite?

 

A: That’s an easy answer. Martin. It might not be George’s best movie, but it’s his favorite and mine too. It’s an honest psychological character study, and I was lucky to be a part of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Words With Dave Evans (AC/DC)

I love rock and roll. I like other types of music (oldies, classic country, eighties, disco), but rock…down, dirty, leering rock…that’s what gets me going. And of all the rock bands out there, AC/DC has always been my favorite.

It was with great honor, then, that I recently sat down with Dave Evans, AC/DC’s very first front man (you thought Bon was the first???).

Born in Wales, Evans moved to Australia with his family as a small child. An up-and-coming rocker by 1973, Evans answered an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald placed by a burgeoning rock group looking for a lead singer. That group was AC/DC.

Though not as well known as Bon Scott or Brian Johnson, Evans played a vital role in shaping the band. Indeed, it was with him that AC/DC scored its first hit (“Can I Sit Next To You Girl?” later rerecorded by Bon Scott, and its B-side “Rockin in the Parlour.”). Issued on July 22, 1974, “Can I Sit Next to You Girl/Rockin in the Parlour” became a hit in Australia and New Zealand.

In October 1974, however, Dave was out and Bon Scott was in. Shortly after leaving AC/DC, Dave joined with Newcastle rock band “Rabbit,” and issued two moderately successful albums with them before they disbanded in 1977.

Forty years later, Dave is still rocking hard. Nevertheless, he graciously took a moment to sit down with me. Not only is he one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet, he’s also genuinely nice, a rarity among rock stars. Dave, you did wonderful.

 

***

 

Q: First of all, let me thank you for being here. It’s really an honor. I mean THE Dave Evans. King of all badasses. Wow.

Unfortunately you aren’t very well known here in the states, but you’ve been a major
player on the Australian music scene for over forty years. When did you decide you wanted to make music for a living? Was there any definite moment when you sat up and said, “THIS is what I want to do”?

 

A: Yes, I left home at 16 after a huge row with my father about my long hair and he wanted me to work in the bank. I rebelled and left the small country town where we lived in Australia and headed down to Sydney to find my own freedom. We always had music in the home and my father sang on stage in local amateur shows and I sang in the school concerts and in the eisteddford before discovering the Beatles, the Rolling Stones,  the Troggs etc which my father detested so that was a bone of contention between us too at the time. It wasn’t long after I left home that I started singing in local bands and enjoyed it and was encouraged by the reaction of my band members and the audiences to take it seriously.

 

Q: You formed your first band at seventeen. How did that go? Did you guys play any gigs?

 

A: The band was called In Session and we played local hotels, school dances and clubs and the reaction was really good and very encouraging.

 

Q: You were an early member of AC/DC, signing up in 1973. What kind of state was the band in when you joined, and what did you bring to the table  that they were lacking?

 

A: I am one of the five founding members with Angus Young joining last of all. We were all ambitious and enthusiastic and our original drummer, Colin Burgess was already a well-known rock star as he was a former member of the famous Masters Apprentices who had many hit records and had toured Australia and the UK.

 

Q: In the beginning, AC/DC was somewhat of a “glam band.” In the video for “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl?” you guys are wearing some pretty wild outfits. Whose idea was all that?

 

A: It wasn’t called glam back in those days as it was the contemporary and modern look coming out of the UK. It is a term that has been used only in modern times since the boring grunge look became popular in the 90′s. We all dressed like that all over the world and it was normal with band and members of the audience too when they went out on a Friday and Saturday night. We had been more a jeans and t-shirt band when we first started although Colin used to wear some cool clothes as had been to England and the fashionable Carnaby Street mod shopping area. George Young, the older brother of Malcolm and Angus who produced our records along with Harry Vanda wanted us as Australians to look modern British so they came up with the idea of Angus in the school outfit and Malcolm in the satin jumpsuit and wanted the rest of us to come up with suitable outfits for the release of our new single, Can I Sit Next To You, Girl? and before we did the film clip for the song which we all did.

 

Q: You exited the band in October 1974. Malcolm Young has stated in the past that you got drunk and missed a show. You’ve said you got into a fight  with the band’s manager. Was it really any one thing that led to you  leaving, or was it a combination of things

 

A: It ‘s hard to believe that Malcolm would say that as that never happened. The only time I missed a couple of shows was when my voice actually gave out completely after we had been doing three shows per day during our hectic tour promoting our new hit record. We had been doing lunch time , early evening shows and late spots all in the one day time after time which was very taxing on my voice and eventually it just gave out. Yes, I also had a physical confrontation with our then manager about us not being paid for our shows after which I quit the band but stayed on to finish our very successful tour as far as our performances and full houses went before a final meeting where it was agreed that I should split as nothing had been resolved as far as a firm promise of a fair pay per show and besides the manger and myself were not talking at all. He was sacked soon after my departure.

 

Q: After AC/DC, you joined Rabbit, a group that is infamous even now for its “savage hedonism.” What does that mean? How wild did you guys really get?

 

A: LOL !! Yeah, Rabbit was a wild outfit alright and we enjoyed the hedonistic 70′s to the max and our wild after show parties became legendary in Australia. The boys and myself are still great mates to this day. Great times.

 

Q: You were with Rabbit for three years, leaving the group in 1977. What led you to go?

 

A: During that time we released two albums and had some success internationally in Europe and Japan as well as in Australia but in the late 70′s disco music hit the world big time with the Bee Gees new disco sound and movies like Saturday Night Fever and live band venues closed in their droves leaving the top earning bands to split up as our overheads were the same but out income had halved. Rabbit became a victim as Australia only had a small population of abut 12 million people. AC/DC escaped the mayhem in Australia as they had moved to Europe before this time and continued to be able to find plenty of venues there to keep going strong.

 

Q: What did you do in the eighties? I hear you were in a movie.

 

A: In the eighties I had an outfit together called Dave Evans and Thunder Down Under and released a self-titled album through Reaction Records and acted in several movies with lead roles. They were small budget films but a lot of fun and great experiences.

 

Q: I know you recently toured Canada. What else do you have in the works?

 

A: I am currently touring in Canada for the first time after arriving from touring in Ukraine. I will head to the USA after this tour has completed.

 

Q: Are you active on social media? Where can your fans find you?

 

A: They can find me at https://www.facebook.com/daveevansrocks

 

Q: Being star-struck the way I am, I’m sure I’ve missed some interesting points, so here’s your chance to address the fans directly. What do you want them to know about Dave Evans?

A: Just get my music and that will do the talking. I call it Badass Rock and every track is a killer and no track is a filler – guaranteed. You can get my last few albums online at iTunes, Amazon and CD Universe. Here are a list of the last five for the fans to rock out with, cheers !! – Sinner, Judgement Day, Revenge, Nothing To Prove, What About Tomorrow.

 

Thanks again to Dave Evans.

A Few Words With John Dugan

I’m a horror geek. I admit it. One of my favorite films has always been “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974). Shot on a shoestring budget during the hot summer of 1973 in location in Texas, Chainsaw follows the brutal crimes committed against four friends by a deranged family of backwoods cannibals. Partly inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, Chainsaw premiered in October 1974 and has since become one of the horror genre’s most beloved films.

 

I recently spoke with John Dugan (Grandpa). I was starstruck, sure, but quickly sobered up: John is a great guy, very approachable. In fact, after a while, it was like talking to an old friend.

 

John, you were great.

 

***

Q: First of all I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Inevitably, we’re going to talk about Chainsaw, but before we get into that: The…sort of origin stories (if you will) of creative people fascinates me. When did you realize that you wanted to act? Are you a natural born performer, or did that come later?

 

A: I MC’d the neighborhood talent show on my Grandparents street, when I was about ten. I killed. I’ve always been very out-going.

 

Q: Did you do many acting gigs prior to Chainsaw? Theater, maybe?

 

A: I was in theater school, in Chicago, when I did Chainsaw. It was the summer between my second and third year. I was doing a Children’s play, two shows a day, six days a week, when Kim Henkel called me. I think the play paid 150 dollars a week, or something like that. Dancing around in tights. Hehehe

 

Q: Oh, boy. Hahaha. That’s not bad, actually. I’d dance for much less. So…you knew Kim before production started?

 

A: He was married to my sister. she was an artist and sculptor. Austin was a really neat place, back then. Still is, except it’s been discovered.

Anyway, that was the year I became a professional. I had 3 paying gigs that year.

 

Q: Your time was coming around at last. So Kim called you and you went down there. One problem. The make-up process was torture. Correct?

 

A: Sitting for it wasn’t bad, you know the part where they did a cast of my head. But the application took forever.

 

Q: So the application process was hell, and you told Tobe Hooper you weren’t going to do it again, meaning all of your scenes had to be shot in one sitting. How did he take that? Was he cool with it? Did he panic?

 

A: That is a myth. I never said that. They had no more prosthetic made, we had used them all, and Jim [Siedow, AKA Cook, Old Man, Drayton] had to be wrapped out because of other obligations, so we shot that one marathon 30 hour day.

 

Q: You were filming in an old farmhouse. Most of your scenes were set at night but had to be shot during the day, necessitating the windows being covered. It was summer, the lights were bright, there was no air condition…I hear it was hot. You must have gotten the worst of it under all those prosthetics.

 

A: It was awful. I can’t even begin to describe it. I think at my age now it could possibly kill me to attempt that.

 

Q: It would probably kill me now, and I’m only 24!

So, when did you know Chainsaw was a hit?

 

A: I knew we had something when people started using it as a reference, and when Johnny Carson referred to it, on his show. Things like that. It was still kind of a joke in “Hollywood”, though. If it was on your resume, studio casting directors would snicker, or roll their eyes. Kind of insulting, really.

 

Q: Wow. Hearing Carson talk about it must have been surreal. The Ramones did a song about TCM in ’76. Chainsaw, it was called. What you said about having Chainsaw on your resume being a joke…it is insulting. Horror movies didn’t get much respect back then. These days it’s different, but back then…

Anyway, British film critic Kim Newman claims that the killers in TCM parody the typical American family unit, with Old Man being the father, Leatherface acting as the housewife, and the Hitchhiker being the rebellious teenaged son. Others see the film as an indictment against the meat industry. Is there anything to that? Do you think Tobe Hooper really have a sociopolitical “message”, or was he just trying to make a good horror movie?

 

A: People will see what they want. If you take a dysfunctional family to the extreme, as we did, there are bound to be sociopolitical comparisons. I don’t think it was intentional. Kim and Tobe just put it over the top….with glee, I might add, hehehe

 

Q: Were you asked to play Grandpa in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?

 

A: I was never asked to play grandpa again until Carl called me about 3D. It wasn’t like I was hiding or anything. The decent thing to do would be to ask me. Pisses me off.

 

Q: You’re right. You originated the role. You should have gotten first dibs.

You next appeared onscreen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation in 1994. What did you do in that twenty years between movies?

 

A: Got married twice, had a daughter, worked in F&B, basic actor stuff. Let’s just say, neither wife was real keen on my career choice; they were attracted to the whole “actor” thing, but when it came time to move in and pay bills, not so much.

 

Q: You had a cameo in Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) as Grandpa. I loved the beginning (I’ve always wondered what happened to the family and I never bought that “No farmhouse was ever found” crap from II), but the rest of it…I wasn’t impressed. Mainly because it lacked the low-budget feel, but for other reasons as well. Are you at liberty to discuss your opinion on 3D?

 

A: You can’t get a low-budget feel when you have a budget. It simply can’t be done. The temptation is to great to use that money. That aside, I liked the film on several different levels. I liked the beginning, the archival footage, the destruction of the home. I loved seeing Marilyn [Burns] act her age. I thought Dan [Yeager, Leatherface in 3D] was great.I’m pissed that there wasn’t a closeup of me, or a two-shot of me and Mose. Now the story……and this is what causes a lot of controversy….. When Carl [Mazzocone] bought the rights to the name, he bought the rights to use it seven times, so it was an absolute necessity to change the story curve and I think they did a great job. I liked it.

Another thing a bout the low-budget feel thing. Daniel Pearl told me ,at lunch last fall, that when he met with producers about the remake that they wanted him to recreate the look that he created in the first one. When he said that first off they would have to shoot on 16 mm film, they freaked out. Hehehe! It’s a funny story when Danny tells it.

 

Q: Do you have a website where your fans can find you?

 

A: I don’t have a website, but I am easily accessible on Facebook.

 

Q: Do you have anything in the works?

 

A: I’m working on a film next week called “Belly Timber” based on a true story about cannibalism. I play a grandpa…..no shit! In October I’ll be in California doing “William Froste”, a film who’s cast list reads like the who’ who of modern horror.

 

Q: That about does it. Thanks again for agreeing to sit down with me. You’ve been wonderful to talk to.

 

A: It’s been great, talking to you as well, Joseph.

***

John Dugan is active on Facebook. Since you’re limited to only 5,000 friends, I can’t guarantee he’ll accept your request, but he *is* approachable.

 

 

The Benefits of Exposure

May 4, 2015. The day the publishing industry rose up against the evils of non-paying markets. I was scanning my Facebook feed (as I often do, because I have no life), and I noticed a lot of my writer friends posting derogatory comments, pictures, posts, videos, and what the hell ever else, about non-paying magazines. Their argument was that a writer should get paid for his work. Alright. I can get behind that. I’m a writer. I like money. Make it rain! benefits

Then I realized, after hours of watching non-paying markets being vilified (I shall forever refer to May 4, 2015 as Literarischkristallnacht, or Literary Crystal Night…look it up) that non-paying markets aren’t the Great Satan my asshole friends were making them out to be. Sure, if a market can’t pay their writers in cash money (or, at the very least, a contributor’s copy), then chances are they’re not a very good market to submit to. I mean, the owner could just be lining his own pockets. You never know. However, there are good markets out there that don’t pay.

I know how that sounds, but hear me out.

It’s industry standard for these FTL markets to pay with “exposure.” That is, your pay is the joy of knowing your work is out there being read. A lot of markets that “pay” in exposure are also markets that don’t have exposure: They’re just another .com ezine lost in the crowd. There are some, though, that can provide exposure, and despite all the snide little memes (EXPOSURE ISN’T PAYMENT, ITS SOMETHING YOU DIE FROM, LULZ!) exposure, honest-to-god exposure, does it have its benefits, especially for young, beginning, or not-well-known writers. I won’t name names, but there’s a good FTL market out there, an onlize zine, that does very well for itself. It has several thousand unique hits a week, it’s published major authors (Piers Anthony, Joe R. Lansdale, Joseph Rubas), and its anthology series has gotten some great feedback on Amazon. For the beginning writer, this type of exposure is a godsend. It get their name out, and it pairs it, as it were, with some of the biggest names in the horror/fantasy/science fiction genre. Sure, they don’t pay, but when you’re just starting out, exposure can be more important than money. It can help readers find you. And without readers, you’re just another pen scribbling in the dark.

If your name is Stephen King, you don’t have to worry about exposure. You have a million dollar publishing house doing that for you. But if you’re a small guy, an indie, you will find that exposure is…tops. If you don’t expose yourself, who’s gonna do it?

Two things that you need to know, however:

One: For every good “exposure only” market, there are fifty, a hundred bad ones. Ones run by greedy assholes out to make a quick buck at your expense; ones that are genuine in their love for literature, but can’t rise above the herd, and thus remain lost in the void. It’s up to you to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Two: The publishing industry (genre notwithstanding) is stuffed, and I mean stuffed with assholes. Imagine Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. You know, the millionaire with the stereotypical Yale accent? You’ll find so many of those types you’ll wanna just give up. Fuck those guys. With editors, you have to be careful when listing your past markets in a cover letter: Though story should ultimately win out no matter what, a lot of them do look at where you’ve been published before, and, if your past markets are the lowest of the low (the FTL markets that can’t even give you exposure) they do hold their little brandy sniffers like flamers and say, “They’re just not our type, Lovey.” I’m friends with a lot of editors on Facebook, and I know for a fact one of them posted a brief update regarding a slight formatting error I made in a submission to him. Funny thing is, he sent me a form rejection two hours earlier that made no mention of it. Not even a quick “Whatever you did with the formatting? Don’t do it again.” Oh, but editors are SO busy. They can’t personalize your rejection. Well, they can sure as hell take the time to whip up a mocking Facebook status, now, can’t they?

Thankfully, the industry is changing, and writers now have the option of perusing non-traditional avenues. Those dickwad editors? Their days are numbered.

Anyway, yeah, FTL markets have their benefits, just make sure you find a good one. And don’t let what I said about editors scare you off. Even they can recognize a good FTL market from a bad one. If you have good ones on your resume, they’re more likely to not reject you out of hand.

So…uh…get crackin’.