By Steve Newton
One of the many fine memories from my 13-year stint as Vancouver correspondent for New York horror mag Fangoria involved interviewing screen legend Pam Grier when I was covering the Snoop Dogg flick Bones.
I was expecting good things from Bones because I loved director Ernest Dickerson’s previous fright flick, Demon Knight, but it turned out to be no great shakes. It was still worth it to chat with Foxy Brown herself, though, even if I had to go through some makeup FX artists and secondary actors first.
Here’s an edited version of my on-set report, which appeared in the October 2001 issue of Fango.
The makers of Bones may have chosen a former cheese factory in which to shoot the majority of their horror film about an undead avenger from the 1970s, but there’s nothing cheesy about the film itself. When Fango visits the set in Burnaby, British Columbia, director Ernest (Demon Knight) Dickerson sets the record straight about his latest fright foray.
“It’s a real horror film,” he points out proudly, “and it’s serious. It’s not a joke or a sendup of the genre–it’s serious about what it is. It’s a horror film, but one that’s about people–people who are suddenly faced with dealing with fantastic, supernatural situations. Their lives are affected by it, and touched by it.”
Bones, which New Line releases October 24, stars rapper Snoop Dogg as Jimmy Bones, a mythical protector of his inner-city neighbourhood in the ’70s who, after being murdered by scumbag rivals, returns from the dead to kick modern-day butt.
Just as Dickerson starts to elaborate on the premise of his no-no-nonsense chiller, he is suddenly called away for a conference with director of photography Flavio Labiano, so Fango takes the opportunity to cruise the set, observing preparations for a shot of “the Necropolis,” a wall-sized sculpture of fabricated foam latex and Polyfoam created by Lilo Tauvao and Fred Fraleigh of Alterian Studios.
As the duo of young artists happily explain, it took them two weeks to create this “limbo of undead souls,” which includes tormented faces, ripped-up arms, torsos and other body parts–some made from olds of Snoop Dogg’s body. When this reporter asks if it’s okay to touch their cool-looking creation, they warn that it has already been “slimed,” and indeed it is covered with greenish-yellow goo. Later today, various extras are expected to brave the guck and bring the Necropolis to life, with heads and arms sticking through, reaching out and writhing about.
As effective as the Necropolis setup appears to an onlooker, when it comes to physically freaking people out, it’s always hard to beat that wiggly old standby: maggots. When Fango comes across actor Khalil Kain, who plays Patrick, the son of Jimmy Bones’ nemesis, he’s quick to point out how those wormy devils worked their squirmy magic on him.
“There’s a scene in the film where I get attacked by a dog,” he explains, “and the dog backs off away from me, looks at me, growls, sort of bubbles and boils, and then explodes–and the maggots fall all over me. And to be honest with you, I would have bet a hundred bucks that it wasn’t going to bother me; I was real calm about it. They weren’t real maggots–because real maggots will actually bite into your flesh, and you can’t have that–but they were these little white worms that resemble maggots. And what they do is, once they get on you, once they touch your skin, then they start to move around. It was probably one of the freakiest experience I’ve ever had in my life.”
Kaim claims that it’s “a complete and utter joy” working with Dickerson, who gave him his first break in the movie biz with his role in the drama Juice. The handsome young actor is equally imprssed with the big stars of Bones, Snoop and Pam Grier. As a matter of fact, he was in a trailer watching Grier do her thing in Scream, Blacula, Scream before being called out for the Fango interview.
“Pam Grier was probably the first woman on film that, as a child, I ever….hmmm…how can I put this? …not fantasized about, but actually had a physical reaction to, so to speak. I mean, I think I was maybe nine, and I wasn’t quite interested in girls yet, so to see her on screen and actually go, ‘Wow!’ was sort of strange for me. But she’s really a sweet lady, a lotta fun. No diva in her. She’s a ball to work with. And Snoop Dogg, I’ve known him for about four years now, and he’s cool people.”
Bianca Lawson, who plays Cinnabar, Patrick’s girlfriend, has also been viewing the Scream, Blacula, Scream video the day Fango visits the Bones set. Like Kain, the former Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress is totally enthralled by Grier. “She’s awesome,” says the 21-year-old Lawson. “She’s completely nuts–I love her. She’s got the biggest personality, and when she’s on the set, there’s energy and people having a good time; she’s making everybody laugh.”
When Fango finally gets the opportunity to chat with the woman everyone’s been raving about, there’s one big question that’s foremost on the agenda: Why, after Scream, Blacula, Scream, did Grier wait 27 years to make her second horror movie? As it turns out, she hasn’t been avoiding scary movies for any particular reason.
“I love doing horror films,” she says, “but there just aren’t that many good ones around. Some of my best experiences were doing [sci-fi films like] Mars Attacks and Escape from L.A., but as far as horror goes, there’s not that many. The problem is, how do you keep scarin’ people when they see real-life scarin’, ya know? They’ve run the Scream series into the ground. I mean, you can only scream so many times and then, what’s up? Freddy Krueger?
“The horror has got to be more like the first Alien,” says Grier, who moved directly from Bones to John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. “Now, the first Alien scared your ass, okay, because of the special effects. That, to me, was a horror film, although for most people it’s still sci-fi. The Dracula with Winona Ryder, that scared me, but that was special effects too. Now, if the industry and the public will support the financing of all the technical aspects, there’ll be more horror films, and they’ll get better, and I would love to do them. But imagination, you know, it costs. It costs to be the boss [laughs].”
Grier believes that the FX-filled Bones is in good hands with Dickerson, a director whom she feels has a great visual sense, and who also hires actors to really “fill a canvas”. It was her connection with Dickerson that actually got her involved with the project.
“Ernest called and said I’d be the only perfect person to play Pearl,” says Grier. “He told me the storyline and I was just like, ‘Wow! Yeah, I want to do it.’ Because I loved the story, along with it being a horror film. I mean, the first film I was really mesmerized by was Godzilla, and that’s what got me into film. I really wanted to do the last one they did a couple of years ago.”
Grier may have missed the chance to be in Roland Emmerich’s big-budget 1998 monsterfest, but some would say that’s just as well. But Grier expects her second horror outing to be a truly scary one.
“If it’s not, we’re in a lotta trouble,” she says. “But for me, just walking on the set and seeing certain images and visual was scary, where I just didn’t want to look at ’em anymore. So, yeah, it’s gonna be extremely scary; it’ll touch subliminal levels of your mind and prey on you late at night. I mean, there’s a moment where Snoop is so ugly, and you don’t want to meet up with him in a dark alley. It’s like, ‘Oh, baby!'”