Remembering Danny Steinmann
A genuine mystery and all-around obsession arose in 1986 during the “discovery phase” of my relationship with horror in the mid-1980s. It would last until the early summer of 2008.
It was something I could not share with my friends or my family, and in those pre-internet days, information (such as the type I needed) was in short supply, and there was little hope that I would ever find the answers I was so desperately looking for.
The question at hand…
Who was Danny Steinmann?
He was the director of my personal favorite of the Friday the 13th films…the often-derided and misunderstood Part V: A New Beginning, released in 1985. He also had the action/exploitation flick Savage Streets to his name from 1984. But that was it, as far as I knew at the time. For months on end, I scanned the pages of Fangoria for word on Mr. Steinmann’s next film, but nothing ever came.
Over time, I was able to gather more information about this mysterious filmmaker, who had seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth after FRIDAY V. He had directed the 1981 horror effort, The Unseen, but had his name removed and replaced with the “Peter Foleg” pseudonym. He had also directed an adult film in the 1970s (under the name Danny Stone) called High Rise, which only further enhanced the intrigue and mystery around this man. How had a director of porn come to direct and then disavow his first mainstream theatrical feature, move onto a Linda Blair revenge flick, take on the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise for a major studio, and then just vanish into thin air?
Steinmann’s films were marked by colorful over-the-top characters, wild dialogue, copious amounts of sex and violence, and an overriding sense of fun. They were filthy, nasty, and just plain wrong, and yet none of the them were the most explicit of their kind. I dare say there was a sort of innocent charm to Steinmann’s sleaze. Ironically, his lone adult feature, High Rise, is one of the most cheerful, good-natured and enjoyable “pornos” ever made. It would take his entry into genre filmmaking to bring out Steinmann’s zest for the exploitative along with harder edged material. And yet, even with such scenes as the brutal rape in Savage Streets, his work was marked by a lack of condescension to the genre, and even his most graphic scenes were marked by a surprising amount of creative restraint bolstered by solid filmmaking craft. There was just something in the atmosphere of his work that made everything seem just that much more…inappropriate. Friday V, in particular, has a general sense of unbridled black comedy mixed with the usual stalk ‘n’ slash formula that gives it a unique flavor unlike any other entry in the series.
In recent years I had given up hope of ever finding out more about Danny Steinmann, let alone possibly meeting him one day. There were rumors that he had died some time shortly after FRIDAY V came out, or that he had gone into seclusion for various reasons. In Peter Bracke’s comprehensive Friday the 13th reference tome, Crystal Lake Memories, cast and crew of Friday V tended to paint Steinmann as either a beloved and passionate creative type, or a short tempered madman with allegations of drug abuse, sexism, and all that goes with it. There was no consensus on who Danny Steinmann was. For years, as the information in the book disseminated, the legend of Danny Steinmann grew in the minds of many out there, who like me, had wondered who was this guy? What was his story?
In early 2008, a series of events collided with each other that would put me and eventually many others on a path leading to the resolution of the “Steinmann” mystery. My friend Cliff MacMillan was working at the now-defunct BCI-Eclipse DVD distributor and had acquired Savage Streets for distribution. I practically browbeat the man into letting me contribute to the disc, as I had to be involved in the production of the first-ever Special Edition of a Danny Steinmann film….I simply had to be. While I was able to produce interviews with stars Linda Blair and Linnea Quigley for the release, my main goal was to find Danny Steinmann…or at the very least find out what had become of him. As it turns out, I didn’t have to look for very long.
At the same time, celebrity manager/writer/and Horror’s Hallowed Grounds creator Sean Clark had tracked Steinmann down in hopes of getting him to attend conventions and other personal appearances. How he actually did this remains a mystery to me, and you’ll have to ask him how he did it. When I found out from Sean that Steinmann was alive and well and living in Dover, Delaware (of all places) I was so excited that I didn’t even ask about how he had come to track the elusive director down, I just wanted Steinmann’s phone number…I needed to talk to this man!
Sure enough Sean passed the number on, and while on my way back from Los Angeles to Detroit in early May of 2008 I called Danny Steinmann and spoke to him at long last. He was pleasant and chatty to a degree but seemed surprised that anyone was interested in his work, but after some cajoling he agreed to record a commentary track for Savage Streets. It was agreed that I would come out to his apartment in Dover and join him on the track since he was worried he wouldn’t remember as much about the production without someone to ask questions, etc.
I drove from Detroit to Dover a few weeks later, and along with my sound recordist and longtime friend Scooter McCrae, we knocked out the Savage Streets commentary at Danny’s place in a leisurely and laugh-filled 90 minute session. Danny was delightfully candid about his experiences on not only Savage Streets but on everything he had worked on throughout a career which was infinitely more varied and wide-ranging than I had ever guessed. We covered all his directorial efforts, and even his time as an actor before that, along with previously unknown times working with such producers as Gene Roddenberry on various projects. There was so much more to this man than I could have imagined, and my time with him that afternoon was a revelation in multiple ways. Danny was irascible, hilarious, politically incorrect, and a shitload of fun to be around. He didn’t pretend to be perfect and it was easy to see how some people would find him difficult or uneasy to be around. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and was not prone to trusting people. He lived alone and had few friends. He had family but saw them rarely. A horrible accident had almost killed him not long after FRIDAY V was released and he had spent years recuperating from it, and had never returned to filmmaking, despite many attempts. Danny was both everything I expected and a complete surprise.
I kept in touch with Danny after that day, and sent him copies of the finished DVD when it was released later that year. After my visit, he had tried out his first convention, a Friday reunion show in Texas that didn’t go as well as hoped. Danny was still not convinced that there were really fans out there that cared that much about his directorial efforts. In late 2008, I had the idea to bring Danny in for a convention that I regularly attended every year called Cinema Wasteland, which stills holds court twice yearly just outside of Cleveland Ohio. After making all the arrangements with the convention’s organizer, Ken Kish, and convincing Danny to give this convention thing another shot, we set up Danny’s appearance for the Spring 2009 show in April.
To tell the whole story of those three days in April in Ohio would take forever. Danny arrived Thursday night dubious and skeptical and left Sunday night astounded, touched, and thrilled by the attention, love, and affection from the many fans that came up to him at his table, which I helped organize and tend to throughout the weekend. We took pictures with countless fans, and with each passing encounter throughout the weekend, Danny’s demeanor brightened and he freely shared stories with everyone who approached him. He told me later that he truly thought for years that no one “gave a fuck about his work”, and he was stunned to see such genuine affection for the films he had directed so many years ago.
After the show on Saturday, the biggest treat came to pass, as Danny, myself and Ultra Violent Magazine’s Art Ettinger participated in a live-commentary for Friday the 13th Part V at midnight in the main screening room of the convention. The crowd was wild and perfectly in the mood for the film, and Danny gleeful told tales of the production and made more than a little fun of his little slasher epic, and encouraged Art and myself to join in as much as possible, which we did with glee. Our comments were like Danny and his films…funny, sick, wrong, and perfect.
For the months following Cinema Wasteland, Danny and I kept in touch. I helped set up his participation in the Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning Special Edition produced by the Dan Farrands and Andrew Kasch, two great friends and the masterminds behind the Elm St. documentary epic Never Sleep Again and the upcoming Friday the 13th documentary, Crystal Lake Memories based on Peter Bracke’s book. Dan even let me moderate the Friday V commentary by phone with Danny and stars John Shepard and Shavar Ross, which was another great ribald trip down memory lane.
I had gone from wondering about this man and his work with little or no hope of ever meeting him for years, to having enough personal time and memories of him to fill up a novel in just under a year’s time. Over the next couple of years Danny and I stayed in touch, and eventually we met again at another convention in the sweltering summer of 2011. This time it would be Louisville, Kentucky at the Fright Night Film Fest. By that time, Danny was clearly not as well as he had been only a couple of years before. He was walking with a cane, and seemed tired. Though plenty of great times were had and we shared some great memories over the course of the weekend, he mentioned to me as we parted ways on Sunday that he “wasn’t sure he had another one of these shows in him.” I assured him that he would be fine, and that I would keep a look out for another potential show down the line if he was interested. He smiled and said he’d talk with me soon.
I spoke with Danny a few more times that year, but another convention appearance never came about. We hadn’t spoken in 2012 and it had been on my mind to contact him again to see how he was doing, but work and other things got in the way. Then a few days ago, on December 19th, I saw the postings about his passing and my heart sank. While there seemed to be no official verification anywhere to be found, I had a undeniable feeling in my gut that it was true. Danny’s phone number led directly to a generic voicemail which it had never done before, and after tracking down some contact info for his older brother who Danny had told me was a practicing attorney in Texas, I left a message with his office and waited.
Two hours later, and one gracious phone call later, whatever sliver of hope I had that this was all a mistake was gone. Several days before the news got out, Danny had passed away quietly in his apartment in Dover and his body was discovered some time shortly after that. He was 70 years old and a few weeks shy of his 71st birthday.
I wish Danny could somehow see the amazing displays of public sympathy and thoughts that have somberly greeted news of his passing in recent days. I think he would be touched by the affection that he and his work somehow generated over the many years. I’m glad that the last few years of his life gave him the opportunity to get a glimpse into the devoted following and genuine appreciation of his career, which was something I think truly stunned and amazed him. He was proud of his accomplishments and yet was honest enough about his work to poke fun at the outrageous and often ridiculous nature of the films he made.
From a personal standpoint, although I would never claim to be his best friend or his closest confidante, I feel blessed by the opportunity to have known him for the brief time that I did. Danny was honest, open, hilarious, bitter, caustic, tempermental, imaginitive, creative, sweet, and caring. That statement may seem strange and contradictory but so was the man himself in many ways. He lived an amazing rollercoaster life, most of which I’ve only hinted at here in these passages. When the world loses someone like Danny, it can’t help but seem a little less vibrant, a little less colorful for a while.
At the end of it though, I’m left with one overriding impression of the man. It was something that he expressed to me the first day we met, and was something he gleefully and happily brought back up with me throughout our times together. As any casual viewer of his work would easily guess, Danny Steinmann was breast man. Whether happily extolling the virtues of them during a commentary session or interview, or partaking of a notable pair during various moments of any given day, Danny delighted in all things boob. After recording the SAVAGE STREETS commentary back in 2008, he happily autographed my one-sheet for the film by drawing an arrow into Linda Blair’s ample cleavage, writing “There be tits here!” and then signing his name proudly underneath. That was later carefully “concealed” when Linda Blair put her pen to the poster a few years later.
If I have a favorite memory of Danny, it would probably be a small moment that occurred during one of the days at Cinema Wasteland. As we sat there amongst the colorful crowd of that afternoon, both of our attentions were drawn to a particularly well-endowed young woman who passed by our table in an outfit that left little of her ample bosom under wraps. As she walked away, Danny quietly and happily stated, with an almost childlike glee, “Whoa Michael…did ya see that…wish I was still making movies”
Me too Danny…me too.
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