Adam Rifkin Talks DIRECTOR’S CUT, THE DARK BACKWARD & His Last Conversation with Bill Paxton

Long-time Dread friends know we’ve radically reshaped ourselves over the past year; in addition to maintaining our mission to curate, educate, and entertain horror fans, we launched Dread Central Presents, the genre-distribution arm of Epic Pictures.

We’ve been proud to bring you a quality catalog of diverse horror offerings like The Lodgers, Imitation Girl, Terrifier, and #Screamers. Our latest release, available on VOD since May 29th, is Director’s Cut. The film is directed by Adam Rifkin and stars Missi Pyle, Penn Jillette, Harry Hamlin, and Hayes MacArthur.

Despite building an enviable filmography, this is one of Rifkin’s rare forays into horror; it’s also one of the rare occasions when he’s directed a film he didn’t write. We were lucky enough to sit down with Rifkin recently, where we discussed Director’s Cut, his cult sleeper The Dark Backward, and his final conversation with Bill Paxton, who tragically passed away in 2017.

As our sit-down was extensive, and probably too much to consume in a single dose, we’re presenting it in 2 parts. Give the trailer and synopsis for Director’s Cut a look-see below, followed by Part 1 of our interview with Adam Rifkin. Be sure to check back next week for Part 2!

The ultimate ‘meta movie’, DIRECTOR’S CUT is an insane, cinematic sleight of hand trick that reflects on itself, much like the stage persona of its co-star and creator, world famous illusionist Penn Jillette. Here, teamed with acclaimed Director Adam Rifkin, Jillette conjures a mind bending, genre defying movie-within-a-movie-mash-up that’s part narrative thriller, part docu-mental-case.

Herbert Blount (Jillette) is a crowdfunding contributor for the new Adam Rifkin feature KNOCKED OFF. Unhappy with the film, he steals the footage and kidnaps actress Missi Pyle to star in his own “director’s cut!”

Dread Central: Can you introduce yourself to some of our younger readers?

Adam Rifkin: Yeah, I’m Adam Rifkin; I’m a writer and a director and, sometimes, I act (but I would definitely not consider myself an actor). I would never besmirch the fine people who take the profession seriously and devote their life to the craft. I just like to ham it up every once in a while. But, I’m definitely not a professional actor.

DC: Your filmography is kind of all over the place. You’ve done some family-friendly flicks for Disney and Pixar, as well as some high drama. As a true Renaissance filmmaker, how does writing and directing horror compare to other genres?

AR: Well my first love of movies from the time I was a little kid was the love of monster movies. When I was about 4 or 5 years old, I remember vividly my grandfather bought me an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. I was absolute fascinated by the pictures of all the classic monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And that got me started on this obsession with monster movies.

I got my first film education in Chicago, which is where I’m from, watching all the classic horror movies on a show called Svengoolie. And he’s still doing it. In those days, every regional market had its own local horror show host: LA had Elvira, New York had [John] Zacherle, and Chicago has Svengoolie. This was the era of local television and so a monster show host would introduce this week’s movie and during the commercials they’d do some little schtick about the movie and some trivia. So, on Svengoolie, I saw all the classic Universal monster movies, I watched all the Hammer horror films from England, I saw all the AIP Drive In movies, I saw all the Japanese giant monster movies. It was a real cinematic education.

But I’ve never really made a horror movie [before Director’s Cut] in my professional career—and, actually, I’d stay that still holds true. I know Director’s Cut is sort of a horror film, but it’s more of a very black comedy or horror comedy. So, I still have yet to make a genuine, genuinely scary horror film.

DC: Your first film that I saw was The Dark Backward [released in 1991]. That one also kind of straddles the line between horror and deadpan, black comedy. I just read on IMDB that it’s now considered a bona fide cult classic.

AR: I am very happy about that; I’m grateful for that.

DC: It’s been almost a year since the passing of Bill Paxton, one of the stars of The Dark Backward. Can you talk about what it was like working with him back when he was just a young actor cutting his teeth?

Bill Paxton, Judd Nelson, and Wayne Newton in The Dark Backward

AR: Sure. To back up just a bit further, The Dark Backward was the first screenplay that I ever wrote. It definitely has horror elements, specifically body horror, but it absolutely is a very black comedy as well. At the time when I wrote it, I was trying to get my first movie made, and I knew that no one was going to give me a lot of money to direct. I was young and just out of the gate.

So, in lieu of explosions and big special effects, I tried to create something unusual enough that its offbeat nature would get it some attention. I didn’t think I’d get attention for it in any other way. I didn’t think I’d be able to have stars or big special effects or anything really. But if it’s unusual enough, I figured, maybe it will stand out.

What ultimately did end up happening is we did get stars in it. Judd Nelson, at the time, was a big enough name to carry the whole movie. And Bill Paxton was just coming off of Aliens and Near Dark and Weird Science, and he was very funny; a very hot young actor. Wayne Newton has always been an icon. James Caan was just coming off of Misery so he was flying high. Rob Lowe has always been a big star. So, the fact that I got these stars was a shock to me. But, really, the reason we got them was because the script was so left of center; they’d never been offered anything like it before, which is why they all signed on to do it.

Working with Bill was absolutely one of the greatest joys of my life. We became very close friends on that movie and remained friends for all these years. In fact, a week before he tragically passed, I had just gone over to his place and to show him a rough cut of the film I’d just done with Burt Reynolds called The Last Movie Star. I showed him the rough cut and he really liked it. We had lunch that day and he actually told me that he had to go into surgery and he was nervous about it. Those words will haunt me forever.

The fact that Bill Paxton isn’t around anymore is one of the great losses of our time.

DC: Wow, Adam, I had no idea you guys were so close. I know our readers will appreciate your emotional recollections.

AR: Anyone who’s a Bill Paxton fan should know: He was as great in real life as he was on screen. He was just a great guy, a funny guy; a really generous and wonderful person.

DC: That’s great to hear, because he was one of those actors who always seemed to bring a bit of himself to the roles he played. After watching a few of his films, you feel like you actually know him. Thanks again for sharing your memories.

Let’s jump back to Director’s Cut: How did it all come to fruition?

AR: I’ll tell you how it came to me. As you may know, I didn’t write Director’s Cut. I usually write what I direct, but in this instance, the screenplay was written by Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame. I had made a film called Look that was a drama shot entirely on surveillance cameras. And Look had done well on the arthouse scene and spawned a TV series on Showtime. When Penn Jillette saw the movie, unbeknownst to me, it had already been out and gone and was only available on video.

One day, late on a Friday night I get a Facebook message from Penn Jillette. Of course, I was home on a Friday night because I have no life! He said some very complimentary things about Look, which he had just watched with a group of friends. He had reached out to his manager and agent and said, “I want to get in touch with Adam Rifkin,” and they said, “We’ll look into it first thing Monday morning.” Well, instead of waiting, he found me on Facebook and saw that we had mutual friends. He sent me a direct message saying, “I loved Look, I want to talk to you about it, here’s my phone number.”

Since it was getting late, I didn’t want to call him on the phone; I’d never met him before, you know? So, I wrote him back on Facebook saying, “Thank you so much. I’m a fan of yours. I’d love to discuss the movie with you. I know it’s late, so here’s my phone number. Feel free to call me anytime over the weekend.” Two seconds after I hit “Send” my phone was ringing, and it was Penn.

Check back next week for Part 2 of our interview with Adam Rifkin.



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