An interview with Deborah Voorhees
Deborah Voorhees is best known among horror fans for her role in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (where she was credited as “Debi Sue Voorhees”) and coincidentally sharing the same surname as the film series’ murderous central character Jason.
But Deborah is also an accomplished writer, editor, and director. Her company Voorhees Films has produced numerous music videos and films, including the award-winning comedy Billy Shakespeare, which focuses on what may have happened if the famous playwright had been writing in modern times.
I previously had the pleasure of chatting with her for Examiner.com in 2014. While that publication is now defunct, the interview itself can be viewed on my blog.
In my second interview with Deborah, she discusses her new film The List, which horror fans can have a chance to participate in.
Tell us about your upcoming movie The List.
It’s about a serial killing socialite who creates a list of those who have wronged her and offs them one by one. It’s a horror-comedy, a blend of Psycho’s mystery and Dark Shadows and the comedy from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and John Waters’ Serial Mom and even some Young Frankenstein.
The List spawned from a 40-minute dark comedy called Catching Up. It’s about a widowed socialite who’s supposed to be helping an ex-con reintegrate into society, but her dark obsession with murder gets in the way of helping him.
I went black and white on the piece because black and white symbolizes fantasy, and Sally’s and Fred’s dark dialogue is so fantastical. When I first made it, I saw it as an experimental piece because it is a stage play put to film. It has the pacing of a theatrical play. Honestly, I had no idea I made something that horror fans would respond to, but I turned out to be so wrong. The reviews have been great. Apparently, I really didn’t know what I made. The fans have really responded to the dark dialogue. I decided to create The List literally while standing in the middle of the Texas Frightmare horror convention. So many fans told me how much they loved it that I knew I finally had the film I wanted to make for my horror fans. I decided to take the socialite to a whole new level, take her obsession to a full-fledged serial killer. A serial-killing socialite is just funny from the get go. Molly Wickwire-Sante played Sally so amazingly well that I am keeping her as my female lead in The List. She has this brilliant ability to change on a dime, go from charming to nuts in a millisecond.
I understand that fans can get a chance to take part in the film.
This is what I’m most excited about. This is actually a film that I’m doing specifically for my horror fans and horror fans in general. Without them, I wouldn’t make a scary movie. As you know, I am a huge chicken, so while I have seen some horror films, they are not on the top of my list to see. So without my fans encouraging me and sharing their love of the genre I probably never would have made a horror film. So I really owe this film to the fans. This is why I want them involved in all aspects from beginning to end. We are having several contests. One is a Best Kill contest. These ideas have to be comical and something unexpected with a twist. I will have a first, second, and third prize for the best kills. If I use someone’s kill idea, he or she will be credited in the film. We will have a Best Comedic Victim contest and a Meme Contest where fans can write a caption for a picture I will supply them with.
Our biggest competition is a chance to be murdered in The List. The outpouring of support has been amazing. I had no idea so many people wanted to die (laughs). This is our final competition, and for this, we will have a drawing. The winner will be flown out, put up in a hotel, and become a part of the cast for a day and be included in the film’s credits. To participate, people will need to be in the U.S., be at least 18 years old, and have the physical ability to work on the set for a long grueling day. [Ed.: Details can be found on the Voorhees Films website and on Facebook.]
One film you’ve directed that I enjoyed was Billy Shakespeare, which talks about the famous bard in modern times. Were you pleased with how it turned out?
This is another film where I didn’t know what I created. Someone told me that the film was a great romantic comedy, but I didn’t think of it as a romantic comedy. I thought I wrote a loving satire on Hollywood, but after being told it was a romantic comedy multiple times, I finally had to believe the fans.
There are pluses and minuses. Overall, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed making it. What was difficult was the amount of Shakespearean dialogue I used. Some couldn’t understand it. I’m glad I did it when and how I did it, but if I did it today, I would do it differently. I would probably work more on the plot rather than the jokes. The film has a lot of inside jokes. Probably a very small percentage of the population would’ve gotten all the jokes. You really can’t make a film that requires someone to be a professor of Shakespeare (laughs) to fully understand it. Overall, it was something I wanted to do and I love. Creating the film was my film school, and I loved every minute of making it. I couldn’t have made it with a more supportive and amazing cast and crew.
In addition, you’ve made a short film based on Othello as well as a music video based on Hamlet. Do you plan to bring any other of his plays to the screen?
It’s very possible. I love Shakespeare, and I love Devon Glover. We’ve done 3 music videos together. We’ll have to see. We showed the Hamlet piece at a film festival in England, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Film Festival. Hip Hop Hamlet and Othello also showed in Denmark at the Elsinore Shakespeare Conference celebrating the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death. I’m also looking at a modern interpretation of Othello as a thriller.
You’re obviously beloved for your onscreen work in films such as Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. With all the directing you now do, do you ever consider acting again?
I won’t say no, but I like being behind the camera best. But for some reason, I think it’d be cool to play a very old woman one of these days. Maybe I will play something really scary as an old woman. In Billy Shakespeare, I played one of the witches, and that was a blast.
Are there any other types of films you plan to make?
I have a sci-fi film I’m working on right now. I also have two romantic comedies I’ve written and I have a ghost story I’m working on, as well as another horror spoof. I like the ghost and horror comedy genres a lot. I’ve always loved dark comedies. I also have a western in the pipeline and a thriller.
Are there any directors that inspire you?
Edgar Wright! Absolutely. John Waters. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is a mad genius piece. There’s not a cut that’s not just complete and utter perfection. I like Wes Anderson’s quirkiness a lot. Some of Tarantino’s stuff is too bloody for me, but I appreciate the dark humor in Pulp Fiction.
You obviously love Shakespeare, but what other authors inspire you?
Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead, and David Mamet. His play Oleanna is about a woman who accuses her professor of sexually harassing her. The most fascinating aspect is that everything she says is correct, but he didn’t sexually harass her. It’s a very intricate play. I saw it performed in Dallas when I worked with the Dallas Morning News. The interesting aspect to that play is that his guilt or innocence hangs on the actors’ performances. I love Hitchcock, the mystery and twists that go with Psycho and The Birds. I love romantic comedies, such as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally… and Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Voorhees Films has worked with rock and folk bands. Are there any specific groups that you’d like to work with?
There are so many bands I would love to work with. Songs with stories. I love working with a band called Gleewood.
Deborah, you’ve had such great experiences as an actress, writer, and director. Do you have any advice for anyone who wishes to become as diverse as you?
I live by Picasso’s saying… this isn’t verbatim but basically he says, I spend my days doing that which I cannot do, so that I may learn how to do it. This is how I live my life. Everyday I do things that I have no idea how to do, so I can learn how. In filmmaking, there are so many roles that anyone serious about creating films must do the same. Learn, learn, learn. This doesn’t mean you have to go to college for filmmaking. Sure, college is a wonderful experience, but it is so expensive today. Is it worth it? If you have the drive and ability to learn on your own, do it. You can learn anything you want online and in numerous workshops from pros. Do the work. Write, shoot, learn how to shape your light. Do a music video. Get the camera out and work it and see what works and what doesn’t. There are so many artists who are teaching master classes. Masters like Steve Martin and Aaron Sorkin have online classes.
The next advice is don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do your work. If you want to make a film, make a film. Make your mistakes, fall on your face. If you make something bad, that’s okay. You will learn and do better next time. If failure keeps you from trying again that’s okay, too. You’ve just learned filmmaking isn’t for you, but at least you tried. For those who push past their failures, awesome. Push on. Make your own way. When you do the work, and only when you do the work, do you give anyone a chance to notice you. And just maybe by the time you get noticed, you might not need anyone to greenlight a picture for you, because you will be able to do it yourself.