Few actresses are lucky enough to have a resume as varied as Dee Wallace, whose 43-year-career in Hollywood includes iconic roles for A-list directors (Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson), genre directors (Lewis Teague, Joe Dante) and first-time feature directors (Craig Anderson).
But few actresses rival Wallace, whose fan base includes children (and parents) who grew up loving her as the mom in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and horror aficionados who first-discovered her in terrifying, blood-drenched films like The Howling, Cujo and Critters.
BVB: Blood Violence and Babes: I’m sure you get this a lot, but I have to share a story with you before we get going. I was — and I don’t mean to date either of us by doing this, but I think it’s — I was 11 years old when I convinced my dad to take me to the theater to see The Howling.
DW: (Laughing) Oh geez, I thought you were going to say E.T.!
BVB: Nope! From that first opening scene where Karen steps into the adult shop to meet Eddie Quist and we get just a glimpse of him, mid-transformation, I was hooked. And I have to say I have followed you and your career ever since.
DW: Awww, great. Thank you.
BVB: You are so welcome. You have been such a strong presence in so many iconic genre films that I think a lot of fans probably take for granted just how good you are at your craft. I, for one, personally, just love that a whole new generation of people whose parents are probably a little more wise than my dad, and won’t take them to see Red Christmas until they’re 18…
BVB: …they still get to discover you when you guest star on shows like Supernatural and Grimm and they get to appreciate you and then go back and start viewing your canon of work. So, it’s just awesome. I’m so happy that are still such a presence in films today.
DW: Well, thank you so much. That was — that made my day. Probably my month. Thank you.
BVB: Thank you! So, let’s talk Red Christmas! This is — it’s simply a fantastic take on the traditional slasher film, and it’s such a unique movie, so I wanted to start by asking you, what attracted you to Craig’s script, and specifically, the matriarchal role of Diane?
DW: Well, you know, Diane, first of all, she’s very complex. There’s so many levels that she’s dealing with. She’s nice sometimes, she’s bitchy sometimes, she’s scared to death sometimes. You know, she’s got this deep, dark secret that she’s holding back. I’m always drawn to really, really strong characters who are flawed, and who have a huge emotional arc to play.
DW: Those are my babies. That’s what I love to do. And then the script is such, really, a classic horror script because it deals with all of these social issues in such a brave way. I mean, in your wildest dreams, if somebody pitched to you — "Could you do a horror film with a Downs Syndrome adult and deal with abortion?" You’d go, "What?" But Craig wrote this amazing script that worked, and it’s horrifying and it’s touching and it makes you think. And for me, you can’t turn down a film like that.
BVB: I can totally understand that because it’s one of those films, as you’re watching it, so many layers keep getting pulled back and revealed, and it just really, it just has so much — I was struck by how much is going on, not necessarily behind the scenes, but more the undertones you were talking about. The political, the societal undertones that — I mean, there’s going to be people who appreciate it just as a horror film, and then there are going to be people who champion it as this amazingly brave and brilliant dissection of an issue that still is relevant in society today.
DW: He made it look so easy, you know, but just to have the idea of writing a script like that is very gutsy.
BVB: Were you on-board as a producer before you read the script, or did the script prompt you to want to be a producer?
DW: Let me tell ya, I didn’t know that I was going to get that credit until I saw the film. Craig just said, "Look, your name alone allowed us to get so much more done than we could have, and you brought so many creative ideas to the mix, and it helped us so much," that he just wanted to, I guess, honor me that way. I was stunned, quite frankly. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that, but that’s the truth (Laughing)
BVB: So, in your opinion, and I was curious about this, do you consider this — is this a pro-life or a pro-choice horror movie, because I think there’s a case that can be made for both sides, and I was wondering if you ever talked to Craig about that or what you personally thought about that?
DW: I think the message is you to be proactive in making the choice that’s best for you. And, you know, for a mother who knows the truth of who she is, and that she absolutely cannot handle something like this, her choice is going to be much different than the mother who says I can embrace anything, I can love anything. And that choice isn’t only the mother’s, but it’s for the child as well, I think. And I think all of those different perspectives come out in the film.
BVB: I do too, and I was wondering, because I know there has been some controversy — obviously, in today’s climate, it’s hard not to have controversy about something — were you guys aware during production that Red Christmas might become this lightning rod for debate?
DW: I think we all thought there was a possibility of that because it’s such an incredibly different and unique horror film. But whether, because it’s a horror film, the people who see it will want to debate that, that’s questionable to me.
BVB: I agree. And that’s why I was saying earlier, you’re going to have people who are strictly going to be, "It’s a gory horror film, and it’s awesome," and then you’re going to have people who will kind of dissect it and ruminate on different parts of it.
DW: Absolutely, as any good film — you would say that about any good film. You know, there were people who just watched E.T. and went, "Oh, what a cute little alien," and then there were people who said, "This is the story of Christ." So, you create your own life through your perspective, and you get to choose what that is.
BVB: You’ve also got the anniversary of E.T. is coming up, and you’ve got so many different milestones, and I’ve been delighted in just the last few years to see how younger directors, and genre directors, in particular, are really seeking out performers like yourself, Barbara Crampton and someone like, even Lin Shaye — actresses who for those of us that are in our late 40s and early 50s, you guys made an indelible mark and kind of helped define our love of movies at a very impressionable age. What does that connection with the audience mean to you as you’re nearing 40 years in the business?
DW: Well, they’re my family. Look, there are no better fans on earth than horror fans. They are loving, they are loyal, they’re passionate, as long as you don’t take them for granted in your performances. I love going to these sci-fi conventions where I get to meet everybody and see my friends all over again. I love that. I love the stories. They bring me pictures to sign and, at least, twice at every show I go, "Oh my God, where the hell did you get this?" It’s amazing to me that they scope out these things that I didn’t even know exist. There’s just so much appreciation and love between us. I look at them as family, really.
BVB: See, I think that’s amazing. I think that’s awesome because I love going to conventions and I’m one of the people that will sometimes stand in line for an hour just to shake a performer’s hand and thank them for what they’ve done, for their body of work or for something that meant something to me, a moment in a film or a character. And it’s nice when you see that it resonates with that performer, and they appreciate it, because not everybody does, you know.
DW: No! There’s asshole actors just like there’s asshole businessmen. For sure, but most of us know that this is a give and take business. Life is a give and take business, you know. I saw Neil Diamond the other night, and at the first of his show, he did something really interesting. He said, "You know, we’re in a dance. You applaud and send me love. I sing and send it back." I thought, yeah. He was very humble, but it was the truth. There’s that beautiful exchange of appreciation, which makes us, me anyway, just want to give more.
BVB: Oh, that’s amazing. I will tell you a funny story. I saw Neil Diamond 14 times when I was growing up because that was my mother’s favorite artist of all time.
DW: Well, she had good taste.
BVB: She did (laughing), she did. And he’s an amazing performer. And he’s still an amazing performer.
DW: Yep, two and a half hours of just him on that stage. No pyrotechnics, no nothing. Just me, the moment and the music.
BVB: I read IMDb, and it’s not the most reliable out there, and I saw that you have several things that are in production, or still filming, but are you finding that you’re still getting really original scripts, kind of like Craig’s, that challenge you and make you want to sign on?
DW: Sometimes, you know, sometimes, and sometimes not. I’m just finishing my series that I’ve been doing for three years, hard to believe when I say that, for Amazon Prime called Just Add Magic…
BVB: Oh, that’s right.
DW: And, you know, I play someone very close to me, and it’s been a great run, but I’m kind of bored of me right now. So, as soon as this is over, I go into a movie called Ouija House, which my fans will loooove, and I get to play this very weird, out-there kind of character, which is what I love. I loved doing The Frighteners and Cujo. That’s what makes me excited as an actress. I live for that kind of stuff. And Red Christmas. I’ve got a lot of sci-fi conventions booked, which I hope I will see a lot of my fans at, for the rest of the year. But, you know, I’ve been shooting for three years, and they’re just now getting me back out in the fray. So, I’m excited about that because I’m ready to go play in another sandbox.
Red Christmas opened in August for a week-long theatrical run in Los Angeles, and is currently expanding to theaters in San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and more markets.