Richard Elfman on Modern Vampires and This Weekend’s American Cinematheque Retrospective: The Losanjealous Q&A

You There! WIN ONE OF OUR GRAND PRIZE PACKAGES at the end of this article! What you’ll get: a SIGNED Forbidden Zone (remastered! in color!) DVD, a SIGNED Forbidden Zone poster and tickets to the screening of your choice this weekend at the Egyptian. Contest ends end of day Thursday (7/16).

Richard Elfman’s Modern Vampires & Shrunken Heads @ Egyptian Theatre Fri Jul 17
Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone @ Egyptian Theatre Sat Jul 18

As previously mentioned, three contemporary classic Richard Elfman films will be screened by American Cinematheque at the Egyptian this weekend: Modern Vampires (“Uncut and fucking scandalous!” in the director’s own words) and Shrunken Heads Friday; Forbidden Zone on Saturday. Q&A and special guests both nights. We speak today with director Richard Elfman about the film Modern Vampires.

Richard, thanks for joining us. First off: Why the name change from Revenant to Modern Vampires? (I like both titles.)

vampiresI like both titles too. People didn’t know what “Revenant” meant. Shrunken Heads was originally “The Call of Mr. Sumatra.” Distributors changed that name.

Without giving too much away, you tackle a host of social issues in this film, which might ultimately be seen as an updated take on the classic vampire story. You’ve got abusive trailer park stepfathers, interspecies gang rape, crack-smoking vampire hunters, racist vampires, fascist-paranoid van helsingisms, and bisexual and lesbien acceptance among vampires to name but a few. With all of these issues packed into the film, what was the most important point you hoped to address in the film?

Vampires were an allegory for contemporary hedonism, selfishness, amorality, etc. Not too different from Hollywood or Wall Street. Although Modern Vampires isn’t so much a “message” film as a dark, absurdist comedy. I suppose screenwriter Matthew Bright was out to “outrage,” as usual. And I certainly abetted him!

I didn’t have time to be outraged as I was laughing too hard, but I hear you. You gathered a stellar 1998 cast for this film: Casper Van Dien (also one of the co-executive producers), Kim Cattrall, Rod Steiger, Craig Ferguson, Udo Kier, Robert Pastorelli, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Natasha Lyonne…How was it working with these actors at the time, and how did they stop themselves from laughing nonstop on set? (Chalk it up to great acting?)

I was very lucky to have that cast. As I had to shoot the thing in less than 20 days, having seasoned pros paid off when the cops were about to pull the plug at night and I had to squeeze a whole scene into one shot, one take. Rod Steiger, bless his brilliant heart, was a handful sometimes and would blow up into screaming fits when I tried to rush him. But he’d call me that night at 3am and ask if he was “believable” in the dailies. “Yes, Mr. Steiger, you were believable.” Casper is a natural in front of the camera. He should do more Cary Grant type of stuff; he has the looks, plus comic chops.

Udo Kier is something of a legend among certain horror/cult film circles. Watching him in this movie I was instantly reminded of his roles in Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula. By chance did you draw inspiration from either of those movies during the making of this film?

DEFINITELY!! Blood for Dracula is one of my all time favorites. I told Udo that I had waited 25 years to drive another stake through his heart!

elfman_as_clownRegarding your recent self-promotion of the weekend’s screenings (see video clip, top of article – ed): It gladdens my heart to no end to see you doing this, DIY, grassroots, bizarro-carnival-on-the-street-style. Behind the scenes things are more chaotic than the ultimate clip we’re presented with, but at the end of the process you have a piece of performance art that becomes intensely watchable in and of itself, exclusive from the movies you’re promoting. What brought this on, how did it develop, and what can you share about the process at this time?

As editor of Buzzine Magazine (, I get 1,000 emails a week from PR reps (You, too? Where does it end!? -ed). I thought I’d show ’em how it’s really done. Being in a clown suit was somehow liberating, as we specifically strive in life not to be clowns, and be taken seriously. But with my red hair in a bozo cut, and wearing full clown regalia, huge shoes and all, there was no more dignity yet to lose, so I could finally relax and let all pretense of normality go. Add liquor on a warm summer night? YEE-HAW! Honk-honk-honk!! Most passerby’s were really nice, but we did encounter the occasional asshole making derisive remarks. I’m an ex-boxer and was tempted to beat the shit out of someone — would’ve made a great shot for the video, maybe even some headlines. “Large, angry clown attacks…”

If you had the power to command all of the publicists and public relation firms to do three things today, what would they be?

HA!!! Clown suit manufacturing stock would shoot up almost instantaneously!

Final Q. Last year we asked you about your favorite Los Angeles freeway. This year, we’d like to know what (to you) are the TOP TWO OR THREE most annoying intersections in Los Angeles, and why.

How about worst 300!! Santa Monica and Western takes forever, too much street traffic and slow drivers. Yo! Driving either way on Santa Monica Blvd. as it approaches the 405 at rush hour. Fucking impossible!! And the list goes on. Traffic has gotten worse and worse every year. I don’t go stuff across town during traffic — missed a great 5pm cocktail party yesterday in Malibu. (I live in Hollywood hills).

Thanks for your time Richard. We’ll see you at the Egyptian this weekend!

Thanks Ryan!

» Killer Clown Attacks Hollywood! (Buzzine)
» Modern Vampires (official site)
» Shrunken Heads (official site)
» Forbidden Zone (official site)
» Delving Into Richard Elfman’s Brightly-Colored Forbidden Zone

And Now! As promised, win one of our grand prize packages. What you’ll get: A SIGNED Forbidden Zone (remastered! in color!) DVD, A SIGNED Forbidden Zone poster and a pair of tickets to the screening of your choice this weekend at the Egyptian. What I need: Your first and last name for the tickets, which night you prefer to go to the Egyptian (Friday or Saturday) and your mailing address for the DVD and poster. ENTER TO WIN HERE. Contest ends end of day, Thursday (7/16).