Hall, Kenneth (The Halfway House)


Kenneth Hall Halfway House

Kenneth Hall has an interesting view on the world. An inexhaustible filmmaker and all-around horror nut, he’s had his hand in some of the most notorious and arguably the most fun films from the 80s on, including the infamous Nightmare Sisters, the ultimate film for fans of original Scream Queens Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, and Brinke Stevens. No doubt most of us have wonderfully fervent memories of seeing it for the first time on USA Up All Night. Sisters was directed in four days by genre wunderkind Dave DeCocteau, but Kenneth can take the credit for first putting the story on paper. “Dave came over one night and said he had a great idea. He wanted to do a movie with Brinke, Linnea, and Michelle called Sorority Succubus Sisters, which was the original title. Basically they are sorority girls who get transformed into demons and go around orally castrating guys! I always thought castration was a funny subject, unless of course it happens to you.”

It is this wicked sense of humor (something he never lacks, by the way) that encapsulates why Kenneth’s had such longevity in the business. Always good natured and never afraid to go for the extreme, he understands how to make a good low-budget genre movie. He proves it once again on his new feature The Halfway House, which is sort of a mixture of Caged Heat, Bad Girl’s Dormitory, and The Creeping Terror. Kenneth takes the winning elements from our favorite exploitation movies and weaves them into one enormously entertaining film.

Halfway HouseA Florida native, Kenneth, along with his brother, Cleve (who co-stars in The Halfway House), headed for La La Land, where he met the prolific Fred Olen Ray and somehow found himself entangled in a movie to be named Evil Spawn. Though the memories are bittersweet, Kenneth remembered the words of wisdom Fred gave him, “Well, ya’ know, screenplays are funny things. People can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them, but if you write them yourself, it’s free.”

Kenneth moved steadily through the independent horror circuit, working in just about every capacity: He crafted the monsters for the Rick Sloane cheapie Hobgoblins (“I’m rather proud to say it got on Mystery Science Theater“), he wrote the splendid Dr. Alien and Puppet Master, and he directed the legendary (and highly sought after) Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout. He knows the Landers sisters personally, does an awesome impression of his good friend, the late Buck Flower, and has even had macaroni and cheese at Michelle Bauer’s house. In short, he’s an icon to horror fanatics the world over.

Unfortunately, the B-movie industry came to a screeching halt in the 90s and Kenneth found himself struggling to make ends meet. “Around the early 90s the bottom fell out of the direct-to-video market. I had not made that transition from just being a writer-director for hire into producing my own content. The thing with B-movies is that there is some money to be made between one or two people, but there’s not enough money to go around. I found myself in a situation where I was barely able to survive for a while. I decided to break back into special effects, which led to me starting my own special effects company, Total Fabrication, in 1995; and it’s still going today although the industry has changed a lot, especially since 9-11.” Kenneth found success with his new business but always knew he wanted to go back to directing. “In early 2003 I went to a ‘Monsters Among Us’ show, where I ran into a lot of people I knew in the horror movie business. I reconnected with why I came out here … to make movies.”

Kenneth took an old concept he’d been toying around with and punched it up a bit. “I’d had an idea back in the 80s that was much more simplistic called Gut-Eating Monsters from Hell, which was the original working title for The Halfway House. It was pretty much about girls being kidnapped, thrown in a basement, and fed to a hungry monster. Originally I was thinking of an ordinary basement in a boarding house and a woman and her son or deranged handyman being the culprits. Somehow I came up with this idea of a Catholic halfway house. Originally they were going to be two separate places, but then I decided to have it all take place at the halfway house … and maybe have our landlady turn into this evil nun!”

Mary Woronov Halfway House

As evil nuns go, Mary Woronov was another feather in Kenneth’s cap. A supporter of low-budget indies herself, not to mention a huge favorite of genre fans, she adds just the right amount of sinister charm as Sister Cecelia. “I sent her the script first. She read enough to know it was her cup of tea. She met with me. Mary’s a true artist. She’s a painter and a writer as well as an actress. A lot of her decisions are not based on financial considerations; they’re based on whether or not she’s going to have a good time or if it’s something that appeals to her aesthetic. She and I got along really well. We occasionally get together for dinner and drink martinis and eat red meat!”

Halfway HouseKenneth promises he wasn’t putting any social commentary in his movie, but there’s some satire to be found hiding in the basement with his monster. “I was raised Roman-Catholic and went to Catholic school for 12 years. With all the current scandals in the Catholic Church and the fact that they’re so eager to completely deny this just because they have the protection of the Vatican, it makes them ripe for a target of satire. If I was consciously trying to take pot shots, it was at any kind of organized religion and the fact that so many people get away with stuff because they hide behind religious freedom.”

Kenneth hopes that viewers appreciate his flavor for the older exploitation films of the 60s and 70s. “The one guy I truly admire is Russ Meyer, who recently passed away. His films had sadistic violence toward women at times, but he always managed to balance it by having these incredibly strong, almost superhuman, female characters. Especially when you look at films like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! with Tura Satana. It’s probably one of the strongest females in movie history. He made these joyous ‘sexplotiation’ movies where women almost always seemed to have the upper hand. It took the edge off films that deal with torture, sadism, and rape. I think the keyword is fun.” Like his idol, Kenneth coyly pushes the envelope in his movies but never oversteps his boundaries. “There are some lines I personally don’t like to cross. The Halfway House is a strange film in that it’s exploitive but has a very strong feminist standpoint. The lead character is female, and so is the lead villain. While there some female characters lined up as victims, every male character gets to die horribly!”

Kenneth continues, “Some of the people working on my movie were squeamish with certain scenes like the attempted rape with the Virgin Mary. I always hasten to point out it doesn’t happen. Boy, if there’s one scene that people remember, even if they just watch the trailer, it’s Athena De Moss dipping that Madonna statue into a bottle of Vaseline. There was a conscious effort to try to go over the top, to put in something that had some legitimate shock value but didn’t cross my own personal line. It’s a challenge. In this day and age, because of the conservative backlash we’ve had in this country, people are still shocked by things in The Halfway House. Younger audiences in particular label the film as being soft-core, which I rampantly disagree with. But I think it’s primarily because aside from soft-core and horror, people don’t see as much nudity and sex in the average movie these days. I equate the movie with a style of exploitation that was really prevalent in the late 60s and early 70s.”

As a tribute to his favorite films of the past, The Halfway House is full of tits and ass, a bit of blood, and a cool monster. The women in this halfway house, by the way, are 100% unaugmented. (Go, Kenneth!) “I just wanted to go for something more natural, which in that sense is a retro aspect. You didn’t have those kinds of boob jobs back in the 60s and 70s.”

Halfway House

Kenneth was happy to finally see his hard work pay off with a wonderful DVD release of Halfway House by Skouras/Ventura in August of last year plus some other good news. “Our new foreign sales agent is Shoreline Entertainment, whom we signed with before the last American Film Market. I understand they are working on a deal with a major Japanese distributor, but I don’t have any details on that. The movie will also be playing on Showtime early this year.” [Editor’s Note: According to the film’s official site, The Halfway House will premiere on Showtime Extreme Wednesday, March 1, at 11:50 PM EST. This will be the first of five showings of the film’s R-rated cut throughout the month.]

Currently Kenneth is working on several projects with his partner Frank Dietz, and he’s just happy to be back doing what he loves. As for the end product of The Halfway House, Kenneth says, “I’m very happy with it. It’s my first time having complete control over a movie. I financed it myself. It’s not something I recommend to the squeamish. It’s something I knew would be tough to get someone else to do. There was also a lot of stress and pressure, but despite all that it was hands-down the most fulfilling and enjoyable experience I’ve had.”

Kenneth Hall Halfway House

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