Jeffrey Combs [Interviewed by Zeb Carter]

Jeffrey CombsFirstly, you must understand. The celebrity is a wild and elusive creature. I had to approach Mr. Combs several times over the 3-day convention for this interview. Each time as I drew close, he scented the air, turned his head left to right quickly and then scampered off into the darker recesses of the convention. If I wasn’t greeted with this reluctant behavior he would stand raising his arms and puffing out his chest roaring to keep me at a safe distance, displaying his dominance and warding me off of his territory. The final day, however, I seem to have won him over by approaching in a submissive pose eyes downcast and palms up awaiting his permission to approach the booth. It was well worth the wait.

There are several interviews online covering his body of work and upcoming projects so I wanted to ask the questions that mattered to myself and the Forced Viewing crew. These were his responses to the queries I posed:

He has the range to be funny, witty and intimidating so I had to know why he chose horror as his primary genre to act in?

He said “It found me, I didn’t find it.” I wasn’t sure if he was saying that it was his calling or not but he went on to elaborate.

“I went to school and trained, and did a lot of theater, and um, it just so happened that one of the first things I did was Re-Animator. And it just perpetuates itself, you know. I didn’t do all that just so I could do horror. That’s just sort of where success first pops up and you just kind of roll with it.”

It wasn’t meant as a put-down, though. He went on to say, “It’s a good genre, I love the genre when it’s done well, but my tastes are across the board.”

While I had him on the subject of Re-Animator I thought I would ask about the director, writer, and producer he has worked with time and time again on that film as well as many others, Stuart Gordon. Comparing their collaborations to that of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, I needed to know why he has chosen to work mostly with him on so many of his projects.

“Well, mostly it’s thanks to Stuart. His philosophy is to…remain loyal, and use people he works well with and that he thinks are versatile and are able to fulfill whatever it is he needs as a director. So I’m honored and flattered that he keeps asking me to dance.”

The tone at this convention was so mellow, I am tempted to say subdued but it’s not that, it was a respectful reverence that spread throughout that wasn’t tenuous or hectic despite the fan boys and girls in attendance. I had to ask, what was the craziest thing that has ever happened to him at one of these conventions?

“Oh, I don’t know. You think that conventions are crazy-ass weird things, but really they’re decent, and the people are great, so I wouldn’t say it’s chaos on wheels (these things), they’re pretty good.”

I had to agree. You would think seeing people like Tony Todd or Tyler Maneand Ken Foree would have the booths mobbed but the scene was one of mutual respect and a kind of quiet cohabitation. He continued on, “As shocking as this was every once in a while someone can get a little rowdy. I do think it’s weird when someone comes up to me and, like they want me to sign like a tattoo of me on their leg or something…That’s pretty weird to me. I can never wrap my head around that one.”

Having gotten that out of the way I wanted to move on to his land mark success with Re-Animator. Most fans thought it was done with Bride of Re-Animator until the SyFy network put out a third film over a decade later titled Beyond Re-Animator. I can’t say it was a bad film. And any opportunity to see Herbert West again people jumped for joy. Bearing that in mind I had to know, why did it take so damn long? Was it made because the demand was so high for it or was it a pet project of his or what?

“You know, this is show-business, and the business part of it really determines the show. And so it’s all about making a deal, getting the money, putting all the pieces together and so Brian Yuzna (the producer). For some weird reason other franchises are just able to pop em out, but for some reason Re-Animator can’t quite get sort of a flow goin’. So what was it…five years or somethin’ between the original and Bride and then even longer than that to Beyond but that wasn’t without Brian trying to get it done. It’s just kinda the way the business works. If anybody could tap into what the fans wanted it would be a different story, but that’s not the way it goes, so…” As he let the sentence trail off it was obvious that we understood each other and the implication of the film making process on the business end outweighing the wishes of hardcore fans.

As we were talking his costar in many films including Castle Freak (which has a review I’ve done available for your visual consumption on the site as well) Barbara Crampton walks over to bid him farewell. Amidst the kisses and hugs you could see this wasn’t professional courtesy. They have truly transcended the relationship one needs to complete a film and had become friends. With her taking her leave and the Convention coming to a close, I thought I would ask one of Forced Viewing’s signature questions before I had to close things out.

I asked what his favorite breakfast cereal was?

“Crispix,” was his lone reply.

He has worked with plenty of other noteworthy actors but I know the horror genre doesn’t really attract big Oscar winning stars unless it’s on their rise to stardom. With that in mind I asked my next to last question.

Who is on your wish list that you would be willing to work with even if they couldn’t pay you? It took him a while to get an answer formed and out there.

“You know, there’s a lot of people I’d poop my pants over if I were told I was in a scene with ’em. I’m a little wary of that, you know. ‘Cause for one thing once you set someone up on a pedestal like that, you’re setting yourself up for some disappointment, because I’ve met some people that I really admired and go…wow…that’s like…not what I thought. But then other times it’s above and beyond what I thought, so that’s a hard one. I don’t think I’d know what to do if I were in a scene with (Al) Pacino. I think that I would just sit back and watch him chew the scenery.”

For my last question I thought I would ask the star of over a dozen horror films, what scares him? His answer surprised me.

“The dark.”

With that last answer the convention for me was at a close, my majestic and elusive prey and I had made contact and I will carry the lessons I learned from him off into the parking garage on level C-13 as I got into the vehicle and rode off into the sunset until next year’s Flashback Weekend where I hope to bag the legendary Clive Barker or perhaps to a lesser extent the red-rumped George A. Romero. If you want to catch any new “old-school” work by Mr. Combs you can check out the recently found and released lost footage from the film H.P. Lovecraft’s The Evil Clergyman.

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About Zeb Carter

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at forums.drabblecast.org.
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