CINE-WEEN 2020: Talking ’80s horror with director Richard Friedman

While his output has slowed in recent years, during the ’80s and ’90s, director Richard Friedman’s work was cult genre gold. In addition to feature films like Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge and Doom Asylum, he tackled episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series and Tales from the Darkside, to say nothing of the spin-off series, Baywatch Nights. It’s a fascinating career, and I was lucky enough to speak with Friedman last year for an interesting conversation.

I’m a huge fan of Friday the 13th: The Series and I found a site that does rankings of TV series. It seems that like the two episodes you directed are in the the top 20.

Really? Friday the 13th: The Series was fun. I mean, when I first came upon it, I was really young and it was a great opportunity. We shot it in Canada, but the thing about it was it had absolutely nothing to do with the Friday the 13th movies that I had seen, so it was an entirely different story. It was a great concept and I think it’s a concept they should bring back now — you know, these cursed cursed items that had to be collected to remove the curse. It seemed so fun.

I remember watching it when it was in syndication at much too young an age. It was Saturday night at 11 o’clock, and around here, occasionally, when it was like towards the end of its syndication run, they would also bookend it with Freddy’s Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series. That was a lot of scary for for me at a young age. It was one of those things my parents would find me watching and they were like, “What? No!”

It didn’t spook you, huh?

No, and I have the complete series on DVD now.

Wow. On Friday the 13th, I did “Dr. Jack” — it was Jack the Ripper’s scalpel — and “Montarro’s Magic Box,” with Houdini’s magic box, I think.

When Doom Asylum got that very nice 30th anniversary release from Arrow, what was it like getting to see your film restored and readily available to a wider audience?

Well, I’ll tell you a funny story with Arrow and I’ll answer your question. Arrow had contacted me a couple of years ago that they were going to re-release Doom Asylum and I hadn’t seen Doom Asylum in a very long time. I mean, I didn’t even know what state it was in or where it was and they had had remastered it and re-released it — and Arrow does a fantastic job doing that. I mean, whether you like the movie or not, they do a fantastic job. So, they re-released that and I thought — when I watched it, I said, “Well, you know, this movie isn’t as horrible as I thought.” It was kind of pretty horrible, but it’s kind of funny, you know, and I realized that that was a comedy.

Not long after that, I get an email from a guy by the name of Robert Erlinger who said, “I saw Scared Stiff and I’m a big fan of Scared Stiff” — the first movie that I did after Death Mask, which is a true story and not a horror film — and he said, “I saw that and I’d love to get it re-released,” and I said, “Go for it.” and he says, “I’m working on it.”

What he did was he got together everybody that worked on the film. Over 32 years ago, in Florida, we shot Scared Stiff. He got together everybody, worked on the phone, put it together, and created a website for it, a Facebook site for it, and then he got in touch with Arrow and Arrow just released it two weeks ago in a beautiful remaster. I mean, the film never looked so good. Trust me: it didn’t look that good when I made it. They released it, and now I find that Arrow is talking about releasing Phantom of the Mall. That’s a comedy that I didn’t intend to make a comedy.

I was going to ask — it’s 30 years, do we do we get that soon? That’s kind of an amazing coincidence.

I don’t want to say definitely, but it it sure looks that way, because I spoke to them a while back and they said it’s looking very good.

You had this really interesting thing where, in movies like Phantom of the Mall or Doom Asylum, you worked with a lot of actors who ended up going on to all kinds of things. Doom Asylum has Kristin Davis, who would go on to Sex and the City and Pauly Shore, who would go on to be Pauly Shore and Rob Estes from Silk Stalkings in Phantom of the Mall. What’s it been like to see those careers rise that you helped get started?

How about Alison Brie from Born? She’s probably the biggest. I mean, she’s probably the most prominent right now. She came in and when I auditioned her, she had done one episode of Hannah Montana. That was it. Another one is Kaley Cuoco, who was in a film that I did call Forever Together, and she had done nothing at the time. She was a kid. So, when you look at them, it kind of validates that, well, maybe I chose right. Maybe I picked the right point and I’m kind of happy. I like seeing people succeed, and I like to see them make it, and it’s a good feeling.

You know, I’m a realist about my horror films. I fell into the first horror movie I directed, Scared Stiff. I answered an ad in Variety looking for a director for a movie and it turned out that the producer was the producer of Blood Simple, so that was how I fell into that one. The second one, Doom Asylum, was because a friend of mine had come to me and he said, “Listen, I have $90,000 and an insane asylum. You want to make a movie there?” and I said, “Sure.” The third movie that I made was Phantom of the Mall and what happened was I had written a script called Bungalow Nine, which is a film noir mystery.

It was bought by a company called Fries Entertainment, and they said, “Okay, we’re gonna make Bungalow Nine, but before that, would you direct Phantom of the Mall, to which they had the script, and I said, “Sure, why not?” so that’s kind of how it happened.

Nick Spacek
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