Rex Sikes Interview!!!

Actor and entertainer Rex Sikes is best known to hardcore horror fans for starring as the ill fated Rodney in the cult clas-sick 1976 exploitation favorite MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH. I had the chance to ask Rex all about the filming of MASSACRE, his memories of the cast, and his opinion of the film.

 

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

Brain Hammer: Where and when was MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH filmed? How old were you at the time?

Rex Sikes: MASSACRE as I recall was shot in the early part of 1976, seems like late winter early spring, it’s always hard to tell in Los Angeles where the weather is perfect year round. I would have been approaching 21 or 22 at the time, we all were in our twenties as I recall.

BH: Did you have any prior acting experience?

RS: Yes I had already done numerous lost films. Most of my films have seemed to have disappeared through the years. Among them, there was a terrible horror flick called TERROR OF CAGED WOMEN. I have no clue whatever happened to that. We shot much of it on location and at Columbia Studios – Sunset/Gower (now ABC) – which at that time had been pretty much abandoned as the studio moved to Burbank.

I lived in Sound Stage 1 off Sunset with other actors and film makers for a while in 74 and 75 when TERROR was filmed. We had the run of the studio lot. Later big bands like Billy Joel, Earth Wind and Fire and many others would come in to rehearse down the lot at stage 7 or 9 and would drive past my front door. I got to watch lots of rehearsals and meet lots of celebrities at that time.

BH: Did you audition for the role of Rodney? What was the audition process?

RS: I got a call from my agent to go to the director Rene Daalder’s home in the Hollywood Hills. He was interviewing or reading Kimberly Beck at the time as I recall and I was ushered into a room to look over the script. I met Bert Von Munster the cinematographer, now the Emmy winning producer, and he looked over my portfolio and seemed to be impressed. He became the man in my corner for getting a part I believe.

After a while Rene came out and said “talk to me.” Well I had nothing to say. He said talk to me so I said “I like your view.” He again said “talk to me” and I said “I told you I like your view” He then said “you may go.” And I did. I got in my car, drove down the hills and went home. When I got there the phone rang and it was my agent telling me to go back to Rene’s house.

I drove the forty or more minutes again and got back to the house. He gave me sides and told me to go into a room and read them. I think Derrel Murray may have been there, and Bert was. I’m sure there were some others. Eventually he had me come out and read and I read with him. I don’t recall what part or which pages (it must have included Rodney’s lines) but we again went through this song and dance conversation, all the while Bert would say ‘he is so photogenic, look at this and look at that picture.” I was certain I was about to be sent back home when he said “You have the part. You may go.” And I did.

BH: What are your memories of the script? What were your first impressions reading it back then?

RS: Corny in places. But I decided to learn it as it was for whatever reason. Some of the actors would say “I am not going to say this” and wanted to change their dialog but I kept it intact feeling it reflected the type of person that Rodney was. I mean, “my pa” and “chickens” and all – I said it. I mean after all, what was this poor student doing in such an affluent school? But there he was, pa and chickens…There must be a secret as to why Rodney was actually there, don’t you think?

BH: Did you have any issues with the high levels of brutal revenge themed violence in the film?

RS: No. I loved brutal violence and special effects in movies. I am more shocked nowadays. It’s hard to imagine that they can make things look so realistic. Perhaps, they shouldn’t. Maybe we need to remember after all – it is only entertainment and to stop depicting reality in such a graphic fashion. I think this more now as a family man, and with all the issues in high schools, even grade schools with violence, the film maker in me says “nah, it’s the movies – do it however you want.” SO I guess after all is said and done I am conflicted about it and have not resolved it and must take it on a case by case basis. Hmmmmm.

BH: Were you a fan of any horror or exploitation films at the time?

RS: Sure. I grew up on horror films, but remember they were 30′s 40′s, 50′s and 60′s horror – much different in special effects and in monsters. I mean THE EXORCIST made such a deep impression. Nothing was ever done like that before. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was okay to me. The movie that first totally frightened me was LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. I think I was 16 and it was the first movie where I thought “Oh my god this happens in real life” and it terrified me. Because it was too real. And of course the scene of hammering away at someone’s teeth with a chisel had my mouth numb for weeks.

BH: Do you have an idea of the budget? How much money did you make?

RS: At least a buck or two. Actually I have no idea what the budget was nor what I made. Nothing like later salaries. Probably less than 5,000 dollars when all is said and done. No residuals ever, thanks to the actors strike of 1980 which got us nothing. You know, it played all the time on cable TV and none of us have seen a dime. We probably all got scale, which was 600 or more bucks a week but there were special shooting days where much more than that was paid in a single day. I just don’t know the actual figures.

BH: How long was the shoot?

RS: 3 or 4 weeks. I believe I worked at least 3 weeks nearly consecutively. We worked a few national holidays so union wages were good for those days as I mentioned before. Although, as is often he case, I believe we were asked to waive certain bumps to our salary due to budget constraints.

BH: What was the atmosphere like on the set?

RS: We all met at production offices on Sunset on a Saturday while they were casting the last role of Oscar – Jeffrey Winner, another nice man. He won the role. How long after that shooting began I don’t recall. But we all became friends quickly and spent nearly every evening going to dinner together. Andrew Stevens bought me my first shot of Courvoisier and as I recall I shot it down to his dismay. “You have to sip it!” he told me. I do believe he bought another. So we were all pretty relaxed together and the atmosphere was happy. There are always production tensions, delays, and issues that surround film making but it was good to be with everyone. I don’t recall any fights, any incompatibility issues, perhaps minor artistic squabbles. I don’t recall ever feeling rushed.

BH: It was a genre flick shot in the Seventies so I have to ask: any coke-fueled orgies on the set to report?

RS: None that I can recall. HAHAHAHAHHA! Actually, I recall getting really drunk on Southern Comfort at a party Rainbeaux Smith had at her house once, but I know of no drugs on the set to report. And yes the 70’s were quite the era of drugs and free sex. Wow, to be able to relive those days would be great – not the drugs but the freedom from fear of disease and death. Lot’s of partying for sure but what a different time. I would never again do that to my body or brain, ever. But ohhhh the freedoms!

BH: What are your memories of Rene Daalder? Was he an easy director to work with?

RS: Rene was fun to work with. I can’t say I understood his vision for this movie, maybe none of us did but we did what we had to get it done.

I enjoyed Renee very much but I have always been a little angry with one particular shooting aspect. At one point in the film we cut to me in the library and I slam down a pencil and yell “Goddamn math problem won’t work out!” and Arthur comes to the rescue. Well, I had my own way of doing it. I wanted to do it that way. Instead, he gave me a line reading – this singsong way of doing it. He wanted me to mimic back to him how he hummed the line. I argued that no one would speak it that way – he said “Do it my way and we will do it your way.” Well we did it his way and that was it. That’s what showed up in the film and it always made me cringe. I will let fans and critics be the judge. It would have been different had I been allowed my way – that’s all I can say Still, I liked Renee and would have loved to work with him again. Perhaps it is not too late.

BH: Tell me your thoughts on your on-screen friend turned killer, Derrel Murray. You two had a nice chemistry together in the movie. Were you close off camera? How was he to work with?

RS: Derrel as I said before is great. Always friendly, always positive and upbeat. We have stayed in touch, after many years not in touch. LA can chew you up and spit you out. I have lost so many friends to drugs, suicide, murder, and later to AIDS. So when you meet cool, upbeat friendly people you like to keep them around. I have so totally digressed on this, but there are lots of great people. Derrel is certainly one of them. I genuinely liked him and I think that comes across a bit on screen. However, this was not a film with time to develop relationships. Much of it is revealed through back dialog or “at the beach.” There should be a drinking game like the Newhart show one, where everytime someone says “lets go to the beach” someone takes a shot.

BH: I’ve always had the hots for one of your female co-stars, the late great Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith. Do you have any stories or memories to share about her?

RS: I truly enjoyed Rainbeaux and would spend some afternoons with her at her Laurel Canyon digs after the shoot. She had some parties and it was always fun to be with her. I used to breakfast and lunch at the famous Schwabs Drugstore on Sunset and Laurel Canyon nearly every day and she lived right up the road about 5 minutes away.

I feel so bad for Rainbeaux. After I learned of her death, which was a couple years after it occurred, I contacted her son by email to let him know how much I enjoyed knowing her and how sorry I was for his loss. He at that time had never seen MASSACRE.

BH: How about the male lead Andrew Stevens? Any thoughts on him? He went on to have a very successful career in Hollywood. Did you feel he was a talented actor back then?

RS: I liked Andrew. We had a brief falling out over a girl – who was a friend of mine – but Andrew is a likeable guy. He became friends with one of my oldest friends in Hollywood – Kin Shriner from General Hospital and we re-established contact through Kin. In fact if Kin moved and we lost touch it would be Andrew who could reunite us. I think it is great what he has accomplished. I think back then most of us were a bit envious of Andrew. I surely would have worked like he had, but he was a good guy and fun to be around. We too lost touch and only recently emailed a bit. Kin used to encourage me to work for Andrew on one of his many projects. I would love to, but it has never happened. Perhaps in the future, who knows? But it would be fun to work for him.

BH: The trio of bullies in the film are all very convincing as arrogant little douche bags. Were the three actors: Ray Underwood, Steve Bond, and Damon Douglas nice guys when the cameras weren’t rolling?

RS: Yes, all nice guys. Enjoyed all of them. I have no clue of what happened to Ray and I would love to know. Steve I saw on and off for awhile but have not been in touch for so long. Damon I met for breakfast a few years back over by 20th Century he has become a therapist and helps people. So I have Damon, Tom Logan, Derrel in my cell phone and an email for Andrew. I have lost touch with so many people. When I left LA I didn’t intend to stay away so I never really said goodbye. It was my mistake to have not kept in touch.

Later, when I go back and I would run into someone they would go “I thought you died.” And to them I had because there was no closure in how I left them and Hollywood. It’s hard to make up for not keeping in touch still I want to. And then, sadly and happily, people move on.

BH: Your most famous MASSACRE co-star has to be Robert Carradine, who played the free spirited Spoony. How was he to work with? Were you familiar with his famous family, or perhaps a fan?

RS: I know a couple of us thought Bobby was the worst actor while working with him. Turns out when all is said and done I think he was the best. It’s just that he was soooo understated at a time when that wasn’t really formal acting. I think he does shine. And I recall doing somewhere between 17 and 28 takes as he tries to say “Detroit degenerate gas guzzler” or whatever the line was. Bobby I saw occasionally too or spoke on the phone with once in awhile. Gosh he has gone on to lots of work. Bobby is and was a talented actor. And a nice guy.

Let me now say a word about Lani O’ Grady who played Jane. I miss her. We had been out of touch for a long while, a few years after massacre after “8 is Enough” ended. About a year before she died I got her number somehow and called her. I never heard back. I just said left a message at that time that I had heard she had some troubles and I was there for her in my thoughts and I was glad she had got everything together and was hoping to chat sometime. Later, I learned she had died. Truly sad. To think there were only 3 girls in Massacre and two of them are dead. Wow.

BH: Tell me about the scene where the bullies wreck your beloved jalopy. Do you remember shooting that scene? Were any stunt people used, or did Steve Bond really drive the car?

RS: We shot some of it at Griffith Park, the drives and the stop. After they get in the car we shot at another location, a condemned school in Burbank. When they stop me I obviously was driving as was Steve I believe. After a few takes I hear someone yell “Sikes hit the van!” and I got blamed for crashing into the van. It never happened and eventually I was exonerated. But at first I was blamed.

The guys get into the car and we drive off, cut to driving at the condemned school. We all were in it for much of it except the final car jump. I believe some of us were replaced with stunt people. Danny Rogers was the stunt co-coordinator and another really good guy. I don’t remember if we were all in the car going over or not. Funny, it seems like I remember being in the front seat with stunt men in wigs in the back. That way those in the front would be seen through the windshield – but it would have to have been Danny the stunt driver. I honestly don’t recall it for certain.

BH: At the end of that tragic scene you unleash quite the raw display of emotion. After the bullies walk away you slam your car door and then kick the car while spinning around in frustration! Was that method acting?

RS: Yes pretty much. Although I did use a grass reed to tickle my nostrils to tear up. I think the bullies found that most enjoyable. So I am teary eyed and in the “moment” when action starts. And then the anger and the spin!

BH: Were you present for the shooting of any of the death scenes? If so, please share your memories!

RS: I was present for the pool death. And upon discovery of Steve Bond’s body Andrew Stevens broke my nose for real! I utter something, Harvey (Tom Logan, good guy and we are still in touch) says something like “and to think he was so full of life” then Andrew rushes to take him out and he accidentally koko-butted me in the nose.

I bled immediately. They grabbed me, threw me in a make up chair and grabbed my nose. The producer Howard Sobel comes by and asks “Do you have a history of bloody noses?” I angrily say no and tell him to get lost, to which he replies “Oh I do, that’s why I wondered.” Geeeesss! Anyway, I recovered moments later and we shot the scene. Turns out my nose was crushed. I have a broken nose throughout many scenes in the movie and a puffy face because it was shot out of sequence. In 1999 I finally got it fixed so I could again breath properly. There should have been a workers compensation claim but I never reported it.

I was there for Oscar’s death. During rehearsals the explosion knocked out Danny the stuntman briefly and the lights and set went dark. Tom and I were supposed to be in the scene next to Oscar but wardrobe put us in the wrong day’s clothes so they just went ahead without us. It was scary although no one was ultimately hurt.

I also was there for Arthur’s death at Hollywood High Library. We all thought the blood looked cool running down the page.

BH: Your character has a fiery demise! Any memories of that car explosion?

RS: It was filmed at Griffith Park which we used for the parking lot. It was a little spooky watching a dummy – with MY blue jean jacket on it get blown sky high. I was holding a girl’s hand I was dating and watching me and part of my clothing go bye bye. The production crew asked if they could use my jacket because they forgot to get one and promised that they would replace it – well not to my satisfaction did they replace it. Instead I got some crummy old blue jean jacket. Not cool at all.

BH: Do you think your character deserved to be killed?

RS: If you follow the story, yes he became as bad as the rest. Maybe a little worse. I personally would have liked his story line developed a little more because with Rodney you really saw the transformation, as you also did with Oscar. Arthur gets snobby and Harvey, well he remains Harvey up until his garage speech to David.

BH: Why are there no parents or teachers in Central High?

RS: We are alien kids transplanted from another dimension…the Black Lodge. Our real parent is The Man From Another Place, and sometimes all our arms bend back. That is why. Actually, I have no idea. That was Rene’s scripting. We wondered about it, just like there were no cops. I am sure we discussed it at times but don’t recall any specific conversations. After the fact, it did make the move stronger. None of us I’m almost certain had a clue that it would have received the response it has through the years. It is a bold move in film making to isolate the kids in that manner.

BH: Was there ever a premiere for MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH? If so, where was it, and did you attend? What was the audience reaction to the film?

RS: I think it opened on Hollywood Blvd at the Pacific theater on a Wednesday night and the cast all went. I don’t recall if it was a special screening of it or not. We sat together in two rows. As the credits rolled Lani yells out “Hey, how did I end up after Sikes?” since the original film credits somehow moved my name further down the list of costars.

It was bitter sweet for me. It is difficult to watch oneself and then I see my broken nose throughout. The audience that was there seemed to like it. Tom Logan and I hung out quite a bit and there were times in Hollywood when people would spot us and ask for autographs because we were kids from CENTRAL HIGH. I later took a director friend of mine to see it at another Hollywood theater so she could see my work in the film. She was positive. I am glad it has been well received through the years, surprised and glad.

BH: What were/are your thoughts on the finished product?

RS: I like it and I cringe, as I mentioned it is always difficult to watch yourself. What you could have done differently-and “gd math problems” and such. I thought it should be longer. Things happened too quickly. I don’t know what if anything was left out of the filming. But the market at the time was dictating and it was more of an exploitation flick. Fast deaths, no grief, revenge, and then end. That sort of formula. Embedded in it however are the subtle messages of class rivalry, power corrupting, and the dialog of children attempting to act like adults or movie tough guys. It made for an intriguing blend with the sappy music. It was bound for cult fame – I just didn’t see it at the time.

BH: Do you feel MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH has been fairly reviewed by critics over the years?

RS: I’m surprised that it was so well received in some respects. That they were able to see the message or the multiple messages that the film conveys is a good thing.

BH: Do you think CENTRAL HIGH is an underrated or overlooked film?

RS: Well it disappeared. It was here – at one time the most rented video, on TV very frequently – and then gone for years and years. Not on TV and hard to find. In that regard it certainly has been overlooked and underrated. I hope it does make a comeback.

BH: In an age where seemingly EVERY horror/exploitation film ever made is getting a remake, I think it’s safe to say that a big budget Hollywood remake of MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH won’t be happening anytime soon. Especially in the wake of tragic recent events. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think a remake would be in bad taste?

RS: NO! If done right it could address the very issues we currently face. It could point out the stupidity and horror of those actions and the hopelessness and futility for those considering anything at all remotely similar.

I made a movie short in ’77 after Massacre entitled KILLER’S MATINEE. It played between features for awhile. It was about me – the killer shooting people for making noise at Casablanca. Needless to say it disappeared after a tragic event in San Diego at a fast food restaurant. It virtually disappeared. It was a good piece of film, but it was never meant to say this is what anyone should do. Nor does MASSACRE make any statement like that. I think you are supposed to see how idiotic it is to try to make violence a solution. Horror films should be a release NOT AN INSPIRATION!!!!!!!!!!

If they remake MASSACRE do you think they would cast me as one of the parents or teachers today???? HAHAHHAAHA!!!!

Thank you again to Rex for doing this interview!

 

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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2 Responses to “Rex Sikes Interview!!!”

  1. Nice work, Brain Hammer!

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