If you don’t know Debbie Rochon and you’re a horror fan, you need to have your “horror card” revoked. She is the queen, or some might say godmother, of the independent horror film. From her work with Troma to time with Greg Lamberson or Chris Seaver, no face has appeared in more productions than hers. In the next year or two, she may reach a daunting milestone of 300 horror films notched on her belt.
But until now, she could never make the claim of being a director. As she says, there was never a point in being a director just for the sake of saying so. But with “Model Hunger” (2016), out now from Wild Eye Releasing, she finally found a project she could sink her fangs into. A big special thanks to Debbie for chatting with me about “Model Hunger” and a few horror-related odds and ends.
GS: Fangoria magazine recently lost a dominating presence with Michael Gingold. Any thoughts on the future of the magazine or horror journalism?
DR: Well, I can’t say anything about what’s going on at Fangoria, because I’m not currently in touch with the people running it. As you know, I had a column in Fangoria for many years, which was given to me by Tony Timpone. Then the magazine went through Chris Alexander, and then to Michael Gingold, and my last column was under Mike some time around October 2015. I don’t know what will happen now that Mike left. I’ve heard they made one final issue and will be going to press, but I have no clue because I haven’t heard anything directly from them. It’s a mystery to me, to be honest with you.
It’s a hard road trying to get people excited about picking up print publications. Maybe the future for all the horror magazines is to go digital, but in my personal experience it’s not very much fun reading a digital magazine. I don’t know how the business will play out.
GS: I agree regarding the print / digital debate. I need my paper books and magazines.
DR: Yeah, I find reading online to be very difficult. The reading is the same, but the navigation
can be a challenge, making it hard to read the articles. These articles were really designed to be in a print magazine. At the end of the day, we know it’s all going to be on the Internet, but that’s a sad thing. Some print magazines are surviving – Screem, Delirium, Rue Morgue – and that’s great. There are many good magazines still out there in print, you know, so with any luck we’ll see the magazine format carry on.
GS: You’ve worked with Greg Lamberson on “Slime City” and more recently “Killer Rack”. What has that relationship been like?
DR: Like you said, we’ve done many movies together, both before and after “Model Hunger”, and they’ve all been really fun experiences. As far as the subject, he likes the same stuff that I like – that underground, New York feel we have in “Slime City Massacre”, “Dry Bones” and “Killer Rack”. It’s like his own personal version of Frank Henenlotter’s world (BASKET CASE), or Roy Frumkes (STREET TRASH). Greg’s world is not that far from Troma, and yet very different. It’s always been a lot of fun for me working with Greg, because the type of material he makes is the stuff I’ve done a lot with. I really like it.
On “Model Hunger”, he worked as a line producer and worked his ass off. He was really, really good. And he’s gone on to work with Fred Olen Ray and anyone who goes to Buffalo gets to work with Greg Lamberson. He’s getting more and more work, and that’s a great thing, especially for Buffalo. In terms of the movie business, it might sound like the middle of nowhere, but in fact many movies are made there every single year. He has his hand in pretty much all of them.
GS: You mentioned that he worked as line producer, but more specifically what did Greg bring to the table for “Model Hunger”?
DR: He did all of the location scouting, actually, and then I reviewed them before we started shooting to decide what would or wouldn’t work. So he did all of the leg work. He also did some of local casting on video before I got there, so by the time I arrived it would be whittled down to the parts that needed to be local. I couldn’t be moving everyone around on the type of budget that we had. He was great and really helped me run the set, bring all the departments together. He was irreplaceable.
GS: Although you have hundreds of credits to your name, this is your first time as director. Why was it the right time to make that leap?
DR: The truth is that I’ve been offered other scripts to direct in the past, but they’ve all been very flat, in my opinion, and not very interesting to me. Also, having made so many movies as an actress, I understood how long a director has to live with a movie. Really, it’s their whole life, but definitely from pre-production to post-production to distribution, which is much more time invested than showing up on set for a few days. And then, like we’re doing here, when you’re working on lower budget films, the director is actively involved in grass roots promotion, too. So, to take on the role of director, it had to be something I felt extremely strong about.
When I read the script, it really jumped out at me as something I could work with. And the writer gave me absolute liberty to play with his script, change elements and characters. It was the right story for me, in terms of something I could live with for five years or more and wake up every day and feel good about it. That’s what it had to be, something I felt strongly about and something I had creative control over. People had been asking me for years when I was going to direct something, and I told them I might never do it. To direct something just to say you directed something… that never interested me. With directing being a project you carry on your shoulders, you don’t want that project to feel like a weight on your shoulders, but something you’re excited about creating.
GS: Although done in a darkly comic way, the film has a message. Did it resonate with you?
DR: Absolutely. I think in some ways this is a story that has been told before and will be told again, but it’s really topical right now. If anybody said the message didn’t resonate with them, they would be lying. Men and women alike, if you’re an actor, model, director or writer. It’s like watching some of the classic “Twilight Zone” episodes that Rod Serling wrote. There’s going to be that point in your life where you have to face the changing of the guard. Sometimes it’s hard to start that next chapter in life.
I wanted to create a microcosm of a world… for example, the “Suzi’s Secret” program or infomercial. It was written very straight, like any other show, but I wanted to switch it up and be more interesting. All infomercials have something to say about getting fit, getting healthy, look younger, or whatever. But, to me, TV lies so I didn’t want to just do something straightforward about a bigger girl and plus-size modeling. I wanted there to be a bit of a lie, a farce in there. The subject matter also resonated with Lynn Lowry, which I why I think she’s just so good in the picture. It helps as an actress when there’s something at the core of what you’re doing, no matter how absurd or extreme. If there’s a truth, there’s something inside to dig down to and bring to the surface.
GS: Tiffany Shepis described shooting “Model Hunger” as a fun experience, like being at “summer camp” with all her friends. Would you agree?
DR: Yeah, I absolutely would. I went around and asked as many people as I could that I loved to work with on various projects in the past. Like Brian Fortune (GAME OF THRONES) came in from Ireland to do the movie, and I worked with him and Tiffany on “Wrath of the Crows”. There’s Voltaire, who I’ve known for a very, very long time. And Michael Thurber I’ve worked with, and I knew he was a stellar actor. He’s in “Killer Rack”. For “Model Hunger”, he was a good enough actor that he didn’t even need words or dialogue in order to be a full character.
So, yeah, I totally get what Tiffany was saying. It’s maybe not as much of a summer camp for me as a director, but I’m extremely happy to hear that it was for the actors. In fact, that’s the ultimate when they can have that sort of relaxation and the freedom to create. That was all very intentional. There were some new people, people that I didn’t know, but I did my best to bring in people I already knew were reliable and talented. It’s nice to start a production and already having that rapport with your cast and crew. So if it was anything like summer camp, that’s great. I’m ecstatic that she feels that way. I couldn’t be happier. Tiffany’s so good and natural. Her character is more subtle, so while we were filming she was concerned that she wasn’t quite hitting her mark. It was subtle enough that she couldn’t feel it, whereas Lynn’s role was the other way, more extreme, extroverted and just bigger. But Tiffany nailed the subtlety. She was perfect, just perfect. Oh, and also like summer camp, it was really, really hot that year.
GS: One last question…
DR: I knew this was coming! Yes, I’m wearing black underwear.
GS: No, no! You appear in the upcoming “Death House”, which has the distinction of being Gunnar Hansen’s final film. Can you give us any hints about what to expect?
DR: Gunnar Hansen talked about making this movie for a long time, and I had known him since 1994. A long, long time. My role in the film, the shooting was only a couple of days long. His script was very, very character-driven. Writer-director Harrison Smith took that and added a lot more action than was in the original script. And the cast list goes on and on and on. It seems like more people are being added every day, and it’s turning into this great thing. For me, it literally brought tears to my eye because it reminded me of Gunnar, knowing him personally. The production value is incredibly high, as professional a set as you can be on. Beyond that, I don’t know much more because I wasn’t there for the duration of the shoot.
GS: That’s very much what it sounds like, like everyone is there for a day or two, but few people are overlapping.
DR: Yeah, I think that’s right. A couple of the lead actors are television actors. I spent a bit of time with Barbara Crampton while I was there, but I didn’t have a scene with her. The type of character that I play (called “Leatherlace”), there’s not too much going on there beyond some flashbacks to my victims. Everybody was really excited, but that’s really all I know. Oh, and the director’s a sweetheart. In the name of Gunnar, I hope it does really well, because he deserves it.
GS: Absolutely. Thank you so much for chatting with me.
DR: No, no, Gavin. Thank you for getting the word out.