R.A. the Rugged Man: Being that you made the scariest movie of all time, what movies scare you?
William Friedkin: Psycho (1960) and Alien (1979). Diabolique (1955) the H.G. Clouzet film is absolutely terrifying, another would be a Japanese film called Onibaba (1964) directed by Kaneto Shindô, One of my favorite directors is Dario Argento, Are you familiar with him?
yeah, Deep Red, Suspiria.
Exactly Suspiria (1977) is a fright fest, every couple minutes something comes along in that film. Deep Red (1975); actually the Italian title is Profundo Rosso, there are some unsuspected killings in that movie that are absolutely unbearable to watch. Bird with the Chrystal Plummage (1970), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). That guy knows how to turn it on. I also like Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) too. Strong, very Strong.
So after Hitchcock scared the shit out of you with Psycho, a year or so later you ended up working on his TV show. What was that like?
I enjoyed it but I only met him on one occasion, He’d only come in once a week and read the introductions to the segments then go home.
Do you have any idea what Hitchcocks reaction was to The Exorcist?
I really don’t know. He never called me and said “well done old boy.” or some shit like that.
You had a 13 year old girl masturbating with a crucifix, screaming “Let Jesus fuck you!” Did you ever think to yourself, “I’m a sick man, I’m going to hell”?
(laughs) No, If you read the actual files there was weirder shit than that. The last century there were three cases in America that the Catholic Church believes were authentic cases of Demonic possession, and this Exorcist case was one of them. It was a 14 year old boy not a 13 year old girl, who by the way is still alive and has worked for Nasa for a number of years. He has no recollection of any of it.
Did you see the film Abby (1974)? it was the blaxploitation rip-off of the Exorcist.
No, I never heard of it.
The Director ended up getting decapitated by a helicopter propeller. Do you think it was Pazuzu?
It might’ve been a critic who hated his films. You gotta be careful of those guys, they can very often get access to a helicopter and turn you into a hamburger.
The Exorcist caused people to pass out, vomit, have seizures. What was the most insane audience reaction you can remember?
Well, There was a woman in Chicago who was throwing up and having fits in the theatre going crazy, She passed out and the manager of the theatre helped carry her out and got her an ambulance. He went to visit her in the hospital and a month later they got married and contacted me to be the best man, so I did.
Paul Bateson who had a small role in The Exorcist, ended up having sex with a male film critic, then beat him to death with a frying pan. Was your film Cruising (1980) starring Al Pacino based on him?
Yup! Boy you did your homework. I visited him on Rikers Island and he told me how body parts of gay men were turning up in the East River in plastic bags, and police traced the bags back to his work. Paul was a technician at the NYU medical center and he played the radiologist assistant in the Exorcist. He told me there were all these unsolved murders at the time and told me the police offered him a deal that if he confessed to 8 or 9 of those murders they’d give him a shorter sentence wether he did them or not. Also one of the detectives I worked with on French Connection (1971) was actually the real life guy that Pacino plays in the movie, he was sent into the Gay World because he resembled the victims.
Gay people went crazy protesting that movie.
The leather bars and that whole gay world was simply a background to a murder mystery, a lot of the guys from the leather bars were on our side but some people felt we were a set back to the gay rights movement. We recieved death threats, we’d go outside and thousands of people were protesting, throwing rocks and bottles at us, so the film crew started throwing rocks and bottles back at them. It was like riots in the street, you had to be there to believe it.
What is the most horrifying moment in a Billy Freidkin movie?
Chevy Chase doing a love scene in Deal of the Century (1983). (laughs) Well, In BUG (2006) when the guy freaks out and thinks there’s Bugs all over him and he starts whipping up and down on the bed then a few minutes later he starts yanking his own teeth out. That was frightening.
What I think worked so well in BUG is you can interpret it endless ways. Did the phone ever even ring? Is it partially real? Are they just whacked out meth heads? It’s just a total mind fuck.
You’re right on. Exactly. Is the Dr. Sweet character real? how much of this happened? how much of this is a coke dream? or is it just a figment of their imagination? It’s a classic study of duel paranoia, each of their paranoia is so real that when it’s combined it becomes lethal.
BUG was well received by some but I think the way it was marketed a lot of idiots were pissed off cuz they were expecting a conventional horror film. I bet if it had cheezy CGI Bug monsters It might’a been more of a commercial success.
Fuck um, if they don’t like it. honestly, What I set out to do R.A. is make the best movie I can. You hope that people are gonna like it or relate to it, many do, some don’t, you can’t win them all. There’s people who hate Gone With The Wind (1939), I’m one of them. It’s probably the most popular movie of all time. So you can’t please everybody, but if you don’t please yourself that’s when you fucked up.
I really liked RAMPAGE (1987). your main character is a mass murderer who drinks human blood.
Yes, and based on a true story. I think the most frightening horror movies are the ones that can actually happen. Serial killers are real, they’re real people you walk past in the street. They have jobs. A theme in most of my films is that thin line between good and evil that exists in everyone of us. And I believe its a constant struggle for our better angels to triumph over our demons, in everybody. I don’t make films that have heroes, you know all evil or all good or some shit like that because I think there’s a bit of both in everyone, Hitler included.
The director of Exorcist 2 (1977) was John Boorman, he’s a good, competent director Why do you think Exorcist 2 was so horrendous?
I saw about 10 minutes of it, its a piece of shit. He didn’t understand what the Exorcist was about, He wanted to do his own thing, thats fine but then don’t call it Exorcist 2.
It’s just surprising how bad it was because Boorman did make some great films like Deliverance (1972), Point Blank (1967).
I like Lee Marvin but Point Blank doesn’t hold up well at all, watch it today.
It was great catching up with you. This is just the horror interview, is it cool if I get you back for a future piece on some of your classic crime films like the French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)?
Of course, no problem, R.A. you know your stuff, you know what you’re talking about and I appreciate that, any time.