Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

All the Rage: An Interview with Julie RageDebbie Rochon got her start in the wild world of film by playing a groupie in the cult flick LADIES & GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS—which also kick-started the careers of Laura Dern and Diane Lane. Since that 1981 debut, Rochon has appeared in about 30 films ranging from the Nicholas Cage vehicle VAMPIRE'S KISS and the arthouse flick LONELY IN AMERICA to straight-to-video exploitationers like ALIEN AGENDA: ENDANGERED SPECIES, HELLBLOCK 13 and SPLIT. Her recent work includes appearing in the Spice Girls parody Slice Girls (alongside Steffanie Pitt, Tammy Parks and Christine Cavalier) and a risky venture - a role in the 30th Anniversary version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD where new footage was shot and edited on to the existing classic. As Rochon says, in her typically blunt fashion, "Even people who rip us a new asshole are still going to write about it." We caught up with Debbie on the phone after her NOLD work...

Tell me a little bit about your background.

Well, I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. And I was a child of a very dysfunctional family, so I was taken out of my family and put in foster care when I was twelve. I was constantly running away at that point because I didn't really like the foster care system. I was sort of insightful at that age to not like it. And I somehow met—through the foster system—some other kids and they were older, like sixteen, seventeen. And they were hooked up, one of their uncles was in to casting films; I just heard to go down to this one hotel and Paramount Pictures was casting for LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS. So, I went down there and, obviously, I didn't have a picture or a resume or anything. I was even shoeless at the time because I had run away at that point.

I walked into the room and Lynn Karo took a Polaroid of me and said, "would you be willing to dye your hair," and I said, "No problem." Anyway, she cast me and I did it and I dyed my hair like a skunk and it was that way for many, many months.

Making two or three hundred cash every week, plus I was staying at the hotel where all the film folk were staying...so this was the life. And I decided when it was all over I decided that this was a good direction rather than falling into all the pits of various things that can suck you in when you're a runaway.

It's just a glorified extra. I have one line, I had three or four but they cut most of them out, and it's just a groupie. As you may remember they travel around and they have a couple of main groupies that follow them around wherever they go.

That's one of those films I wish they would release in this country, but I guess there have been some problems.

I know, I just don't understand it myself. It was a funny thing...a couple months back, maybe two, three months ago, a writer named Sarah Jacobson who writes for the Beastie Boys' magazine Grand Royal, she contacted me and did an interview with me about this movie. And I thought it was kind of strange, the movie was made 1980, '81 and all the sudden out of nowhere people have become interested. Then a few months after it was on the stands, it was on VH1.

On R&R Picture Show? I wish I had known, 'cause that's one of the films I'd like to get on tape.

It's just really extra work...it's not the kind of thing where you can look for me unless I'm sitting there with you. But it had a really big impact on my life.

So you make the flick and think, "This is what I want to do with the rest of my life."

Yep, and I studied, and I auditioned for the community college theater department and was accepted. so I worked three jobs during my early teens and saved up. Just before college started I decided I wanted to take my money and study in New York. All the books I was reading were written by teachers in New York. So I figured, what am I doing...I've gotta go over there. And I've been here ever since.

Then you did some stage work before you got in films?

I did a lot of stage work, mostly plays that were written by the resident playwright. I did do some Tennessee Williams and Pinter, sort of what we consider as the classic contemporaries. We did a lot of that, but mostly I did original work. I did a lot of work at the Samuel Beckett Theater, The Harold Korman Theater.

It was an awful lot of fun and I learned so much, but the truth is the theater world is really no different than the film world. It's extremely political. I belonged to a number of theater groups, but it was always about whoever's buddies with the director or writer. They will always get the leads. You may have a few lines up to a supporting part, but unless you've been with the company for 10 years you won't even be considered for a major role.

So I decided to concentrate on getting some film work and I landed in the lap of Chuck Vincent. And did a couple of films with him and a couple of films with Roberta Findlay.

What was it like working with Chuck and Marilyn Chambers?

(Laughs) Oh my god, it was just so funny. I have worked with Marilyn Chambers since then, but at the time of PARTY INCORPORATED I shot my scenes and didn't know she was in the movie. I was done and when they told me I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I thought, "Is this a porno?"

Later on I would work with her and she was really nice and supportive. A lot of the Playmates and Penthouse Pets that get hired for these sorts of things, it's always sort of a competitive atmosphere because they're basing their whole career on looks. Some girls like that have a hard time with her, but I just look at her like this matriarch, and I always had that attitude towards her like, "Yeah, Marilyn Chambers!"

So you go from that to making tons of B or exploitation flicks?

The only thing of interest I did before I landed in the B world was I had a part in Spike Lee's editor's big film debut...Barry's Brown's LONELY IN AMERICA. I just think that was cool because it was something very different for me. I haven't really done anything like that since, except maybe NEW YORK UNDERCOVER because I've fallen pretty much deep into the horror world.

And it seems from having covered the genre for the last 12 years or so that once you get into it you stay in it.

I'm a huge fan of the genre, big time! I remember waking up in the middle of the night to catch the Hammer movies with the sexy vampire women, and I wanted to be one!

So, your ideal wasn't the Farrah Fawcetts of the world, it was Ingrid Pitt and the other Hammer chicks!

And it is still. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've always been a major fan and you end up sort of hanging around the genre because you do a number of films, you get exposure, you get on tv, you're on a number of magazine covers and then people know you and start offering jobs in the genre.

It's almost like you could continually work, say like a Julie Strain does, and never have to go outside the genre, or stop the wheel and say "No, I want to pursue mainstream stuff." Because this stuff takes over your life, there's just so much of it going on. Yeah, I love the genre and I'd love to stay here as long as it will have me. I am in the section that's a little too low-budget to make a good living at it.

And that's the thing. A lot of these people, at this point, are my friends, and I know how hard it is to get these films off the ground. I certainly wouldn't shake them down, but I've worked with B-movie "legends" or "stars," and they just squeeze the life out of these little directors.

Cause they know how much their name can mean on a box.

Absolutely. To me it's the spirit of low-budget filmmaking, that's where it's at. That's what really gets me. So when people want, not just a nice hotel they want a penthouse and they want unlimited lobster. And hasn't that whole acting thing come so far? Remember back in Shakespeare's time when they were thought of as vagabonds and thieves...the scum of the Earth were actors. Now actors are the royalty.

It's such a shame. It's two-fold. People will use you for your name and just run with it and make a lot more money off the film than you ever will. There's gotta be some sort of balance between either side taking too much advantage, but that's why it's called the "exploitation" business.

I noticed in your bio that were a number of instances where films ran out of money, were shut down because checks bounced, or scenes were shot and they ended up years later in another film you never knew you were going to be in. What's the strangest incident like that you've ever been subjected to?

It's not strange and it's not shocking and I probably could've predicted it. Recently I saw an ad by a filmmaker that I did one of my first starring role things—just a shot-on-video thing, it wasn't a real film. It was going to be sold through magazines and at conventions. It was not quite finished and the director—a certifiable mental case and I mean that literally, he was insane and turned out to be quite evil and vindictive. And when I moved on and I did a lot of work and got my name out there, he would see my name all the time and see how much I was working [and] he would get very angry over that.

Years later he made a video, which was just a little sex video made on a home camcorder that he was trying to sell through the backs of magazines and nobody was buying it. Recently I flipped open one of the genre magazines and I saw an ad for that video and it says right on it, "Plus, the lost trailer for DO YOU LIKE WOMEN starring Debbie Rochon." I could've seen that coming and it doesn't surprise me, it's just so pathetic he's gotta stoop to that level.

You've worked with a lot of people, "genre legends" as you refer to them, like Marilyn Chambers, Jan Michael Vincent, Dan Haggerty. Who's the strangest character you've come across in your years in the business?

Let's see, I have to say that it's a little bit of a stretch. I didn't actually work with this person in a movie, but I would probably say Phoebe Legere.

I'm, on one hand, a big fan of her stage work and how outrageous she is. I love that sort of thing. But I had a radio show in New York city and had her on the show, many years ago, and my co-host was a guy. And at that time, Phoebe was going through a very anti-man period in her life and she basically used the entire show to berate and degrade him. I was just so shocked I was dumb-founded.

It's actually quite funny looking back, but it was a horrible experience at the time. And just how everything comes full circle, I play a character in TERROR FIRMER - which is Lloyd Kaufmann's new film—which is very loosely based on her! It has influences from other actresses, so I wouldn't want her to think it's literally her.

Joe Bob Briggs told me this funny story about her. He was in this lounge in New York City and she had just gotten up on stage and sang a song. And it was not something that was publicized, she just sorta did it.

And she came off stage and he said, "That was wonderful and I thought you were just fabulous in the TOXIC AVENGER movies." And she was standing there and looked at him with this sort of blank expression and said, "Well, excuse me. I have to go home and masturbate."

He was a little shocked. It was just so Phoebe.

You also worked on TROMEO & JULIET. What was it like to work on that project and what's your association with Troma like?

I've always gotten along with Lloyd very well. He's had a rough time of it and he has a really interesting story. He's always struggled and it's a really offbeat film company. It's "mainstream"...if you asked the average person on the street if they've heard of THE TOXIC AVENGER they'd say "yes."

Sure, between the cartoon series, the action figures, and the Colorforms...but I remember sitting in the movie theater thinking, "This is the last time I'm ever going to see this flick!" Same thing with THE CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH, and then the whole video thing took off and Troma was everywhere.

Right. And they had successes along the way with certain pickups. But after NUKE 'EM they didn't experience the same kudos until TROMEO & JULIET.

I thought TROMEO & JULIET was a great flick.

Great, thanks. And it was a lot of fun to make. They actually wrote it in iambic pentameter, which is sort of weird and you wonder why did they even bother? In their own crazy way there's a rhyme and reason to the madness. And you would probably never appreciate that fact, but it meant a lot to them.

It was Lloyd's pet project. I remember him speaking to me about it four years before it was ever written. And it went through three or four writers, but it was a major Lloyd Kaufmann dream. Interestingly enough, Michael Herz—his partner— wasn't really into it. He really didn't get it. He thought, "Let's stick to what we know..."

Right, like REDNECK ZOMBIES, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

Good stuff, MOTHER'S DAY...so there was sort of a little ripple over that, just getting it done. But Lloyd pressed on and god bless him, because

I really believe that besides TOXIC AVENGER, the first one, it's his best movie. That was a combination of great writing, taking their time, a good cast and co-directing it with the writer, James Gunn. He's a performance artist himself, so he had a good sense of the bizarre, lurid humor that Lloyd likes and he also knew how to bring a lot of drama into it. It's definitely a standout Troma [flick].

I thought it was the first Troma film since the original TOXIC AVENGER and NUKE 'EM HIGH that elicited genuine laughs.

Well, I'll tell you then, you're really going to enjoy TERROR FIRMER. It's based on Lloyd's book, All I Needed to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger. It's about a director named Larry Benjamin, who's of course Lloyd, and he's blind. And that's because Lloyd has always been told that he doesn't have any vision as a director.

And he's making a movie, a typical Troma movie, within the movie. And there's a serial killer wandering around knocking people off, affording the movie to have some really funny and really gory special effects. This is really supposed to be the ultimate Troma movie.

What are some of the things you've beem doing lately? I know last week you were working on that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Anniversary project.

Yeah, and that just came out of the blue. It's very exciting, but people have some very strong reactions to messing around with a classic.

Sure, I have very strong reactions to the fact that they're making a PSYCHO remake. I'm disturbed by it because it's probably one of my top five favorites of all time. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD doesn't bother me so much because even Romero has been involved with an authorized remake as well as the sequels. Tell me some more about the project and what your involvement with it was.

They wrote 18 pages of script to complement the already-existing film. We shot it in black and white, 35mm, same cameras, same film stock as 1968. It was funded by Anchor Bay and it'll be distributed by [them], one of the co-owners of that company is William [MANIAC] Lustig. They release all of George Romero's stuff, but George is not involved in this project...everybody else is that made the original one.

So they're going to edit the new footage into the existing footage as a framework story?

It's a little bit of an additional storyline but not too much. They open with a scene before the original starts and it shows the burial [of the original zombie] and his coming to life and killing a couple people and then going down the road and cuts to him in the cemetery. There's a couple scenes in the middle, throughout the movie, but there's really just a little chunk at the beginning and a little chunk at the end. It doesn't try to bring the whole thing in another direction, I'd say the most that it tries to do is it ends it on a very different note.

Did you shoot out in Pittsburgh?

Yeah and HBO was there and they're doing a special, not so much on our remake but on the anniversary. They interviewed George Romero at a different cemetery, but we'll see what happens. For better or worse, it'll get a lot of attention. Even people who rip us a new asshole are still going to write about it.

How long were you there?

My part was just three days. But they're only shooting five days. They didn't want to add a lot of time. I would say they're adding maybe fifteen minutes.

Did you get to see any of the city? I ask because I just spent three years there.

No, I was just in and out. The hotel room, the cemetery...that's my life. From the hotel room to a cemetery is a normal thing for me. But I like it.

Tell me a little bit about the Slice Girls.

That's a parody group, obviously, and we use the same melody but we reword the lyrics so they're horror-movie oriented. For instance, for the "Wanna Be My Love" song we have "Wanna Haunt Me"..."If you wanna haunt me lover, you've gotta dig up my friends, good ghouls last forever, nightmares never end." It's very bubblegum but it's pretty funny. We have a comic book out...

Yeah, I was just looking at the poster book you sent me.

It's pretty cool, and we're getting airplay in the Netherlands. I don't know why, but for whatever reason, we are. We'll see what happens in the States.

So, you have a cd coming out?

Yeah, it's actually out now, but it's not the type of thing you're going to tour with. It's the type of thing that should just be at the checkout counter. It's been a lot of fun, I just wish it would take off. I find people, especially people that don't like The Spice Girls, like it. But, like everything else, just because you think it's wonderful idea doesn't mean it'll go anywhere.

Any other things that you'd like to mention?

Yeah, just a couple things. One is called IN THE HOOD and that's a comedy. It's a wonderful super-low-budget film that I've been working on for a few months. And it's going to have a cameo with JJ Walker, which is pretty exciting...Dy-No-Mite. I've been having a lot of fun with that because it's completely non-genre, it's just a comedy. I've really been sort of stretching myself and doing something different. Also a film called SPLIT.

I was going to ask you about that...that was the one shot in Philly, right?

Yes, that's three-quarters done and that's going to be at the IFP Film Festival this coming Monday. It's very exciting because it's just the most breathtakingly shot film that I've ever worked on. It's very sort of futuristic/cyberpunk, and the dialogue is very cool and mean yet very funny. It's just an incredible film and I'm extremely proud of it.

When do you figure that'll be available?

Well, he's hoping to get it completely done by the end of the year. This festival that it's going to be at is actually a market. And what happened with his last film a few years ago is that he brought it and he got finishing funds for it and he's pretty much doing the same thing with this one.

Who was the director?

Hiem Bianco. He did a film called THE POPE OF UTAH and he actually had a short film called INTO YOUR GUTS that was shown at The Sundance Film Festival.

He's the type of guy that's extremely talented and it's just a matter of who's going to see him first. It's one of those things where you just meet somebody who's so exceptional, it's just a matter of time and somebody's going to pick him up. And I don't say that about hardly anybody. I love the people I work with, but this guy...

Well, sometimes even the exploitation world produces someone with some real talent and the ability to move beyond the low-budget world...not that there's anything wrong with the low-budget world.

I know exactly what you mean. And no offense to Spielberg—because I loved SAVING PRIVATE RYAN—and any of the others, but I'm just so bored with Hollywood films.

I used to see upwards of 200 flicks a year in the theaters; now I'm lucky if I see 50. I can't get motivated...I'd much rather go to the video store and rent something that's wacky and low-budget.

Sure, like a Steve Buscemi film...and those are even high low-budget films.

Exactly. There's something about low-budget films—there's a certain spark to them that's missing from the big-budget films. There's more going on than in a Hollywood flick that's been screened for focus groups, tweaked here and there, and rewritten and re-edited by committee.

If you're interested in finding out more about Debbie Rochon or receiving info about her fan club, drop the Queen B a line at PO Box 1299, New York, NY 10009. Many thanks to Debbie for taking time out of her schedule to chat with us.
 


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