Kevin Bacon: My life in horror, from Friday the 13th to You Should Have Left
The actor gets footloose recalling his most memorable genre roles.
Comedies. Dramas. Superhero movies. You name it, there's a very good chance Kevin Bacon has done it. But the actor will always have a special place in the hearts of horror fans thanks to his appearances in a clutch of notable genre movies, including the original Friday the 13th, Tremors, Hollow Man, and Flatliners.
"It is a genre that I really like," says Bacon. "I like moves that have life or death stakes. I would say that, when it comes to the genre, I'm not so interested in slasher horror where teens in sweat pants are getting their throats cut. I really have always loved things like Don’t Look Now and Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and The Exorcist and on and on and on."
This week, Bacon reteams with his Stir of Echoes director David Koepp for another terror tale, You Should Have Left, which is released Thursday. Based in part on Daniel Kehlmann's 2017 novel, the film stars the actor as a middle-aged retiree who takes an ultimately terrifying vacation at a modernist house in Wales with his young actress wife (Amanda Seyfried) and their daughter (Avery Essex).
That seemed occasion enough to have Bacon recall his many adventures in the horror arena, dating back to that time he got it in the neck from Jason Voorhees's mother...
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
KEVIN BACON: Some of the movies that I've been in were very specifically by choice. Friday the 13th, that’s just because I needed to pay the rent, really. It ended up exploding. I don’t know how many they made.
Tom Savini (legendary makeup effects artist), I guess that’s probably the movie that put him on the map. What I remember was that, I have sex with the girl, and then smoke a joint, which means in horror language that they're dead. I’m lying there, and the hand comes out from underneath the bed and pins my head down, and then an arrow comes shooting out from the back, underneath the cot, through my neck and out through the front. So, they built a fake neck and chest and then it was my face. I was on my knees kind of underneath the bed with my head tilted back and this fake neck and chest. I got under the bed, and they lit it, and they applied the makeup. I mean, it was a really long time in a tortuous kind of position.
They also said, "Just know we only have one of these necks." So, there really was no take two. There was an effects person underneath the bed that was supposed to pump the blood once the arrow went through. I’m acting — you know, I don’t know how you act, like, getting stuck with an arrow, but I just was, whatever, doing what I could — and the hose broke on the blood pump. So, that person I believe grabbed it and started blowing it with their mouth, since it was only one take. As a result, the blood has a weird kind of trajectory.
I’m always horrified by the fact that, when it comes to autograph hounds, that’s probably the number one picture that I'm asked to sign. Me, with blood coming out of my mouth and an arrow through my neck. You know, I’m a pretty easygoing guy. After a while, it just gets to you. You’re like, really, do I have to sign another picture of me dead?
KB: It has a production style that is definitely of its time. Joel Schumacher started dressing windows and then became a production designer and then made his way to directing. So, we were using a lot of what we call “atmosphere,” lot of smoke. You know, an early Julia Roberts movie, and Kiefer (Sutherland) and Billy (Baldwin) and Oliver Platt. We had a lot of laughs making that movie. Sometimes we felt like we were a bunch of naughty kids. We’d be standing around somebody's body, trying to bring them back to life, and we’d all be laughing.
KB: I’m not someone that thinks that all my movies are gems, because they’re not, but I think Tremors is a really well done movie. People kid of forget that it was not a box office success, because marketing scary-funny is a tough one to do.
STIR OF ECHOES (1999)
KB: We were making Stir of Echoes and it was about a little kid that sees ghosts. We were in the middle of shooting it and heard about this Bruce Willis movie that was being made and that it had some similar vibes to it. [Laughs] The Sixth Sense ended up being incredibly successful and people went not just once but two, three times. It was an absolute phenomenon and a great movie and a movie that certainly deserved the success that it got. But when Stir of Echoes came out on the heels of the Sixth Sense it was so compared to that movie that I think it really hurt it from a marketing and box office standpoint. I personally feel like the movie definitely holds up. I think that the acting is good, I think the story is scary, I think that the backdrop of working-class Chicago was really well done. I thought Dave directed the s--- out of it. I would like to go back and revisit it because I have a feeling that it’s probably going to hold up.
HOLLOW MAN (2000)
KB: It was really really challenging. When I got the script I thought, this is going to be amazing, I mean most of this is in voiceover. But Paul Verhoeven felt very strongly that he wanted me to use my body and the outline of my body and then have my voice — rightly — interacting with the actors, so they had something to play with. Paul and the effects people were really experimenting with motion control cameras and motion control capture. Everyone’s familiar with the green screen — well I was the green screen, so I [was] often covered in green with giant green contact lenses that covered my eyes and green mouth and green make-up all over and a green suit. It was long and extremely hard to make. And, uh, yeah, it was a tough one! [Laughs]
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020)
KB: I loved working with David Koepp and, unlike a lot of Hollywood relationships, we actually became real friends and stayed close for all those years. I kept pounding the table with him about trying to do something that was as contained as Stir of Echoes and in the same kind of genre. He was really busy on all of those amazing writing projects that he had, and the films that he’s directed, and working across other genres.
My wife (actress Kyra Sedgwick) and I were discussing contained horror movie ideas and she said, "Well, what about a horror movie surrounding a marriage?" I wasn’t really sure how to take that, but I spoke to David about it, and we started knocking ideas around. When I say “we” started knocking ideas around, he would have great ideas and I would say, “That’s a great idea!” We were very far down the road, he was going to write this thing on spec for us to do together, and I happened to read a review of You Should Have Left in The New York Times. You Should Have Left was a hundred pages and I thought to myself, well, that's a book that I could read! So, I read it, and I loved it, but I was completely taken aback with how close it was to the story that we were already working on, which is something that just sometimes happens in the zeitgeist. David said, "Don’t even show it to me, I don’t want to see it!" [Laughs] Eventually he read it. We talked about approaching Daniel, the writer, and optioning the book, which we ended up doing. And while I think there’s a lot of differences in David’s script, there’s an essence of You Should Have Left that came from that fantastic book. We sent it to Jason Blum (founder of Blumhouse Productions) and he said, "Let’s make it."
We saw that house, I guess, online at first. David was living in London and I was still in New York and he had a very clear idea that he didn’t want the house to be a creaky old antique with a kind of gothic vibe. When we saw it, it almost felt dangerous, because we thought, this house is so perfect for us that if we’re not actually able to shoot there, it’s going to be so disappointing.
I’d never been to Wales. To be surrounded by so many sheep, and so few people, and to see these towns with like a lot of ‘l’s’ in the title, and the friendliness of the Welsh people — I really loved it.
I was in a hotel in the village and they’d found these kind of cabins down the road from where the house was. They were using them as our dressing rooms and as the base camp for the unit. I looked at it and I thought to myself, I think I should just stay here, because I think it will be interesting, just personally, to be out here in the middle of nowhere. So, at night, the crew would pack up and leave and I basically lived in this little cabin. The quiet and the darkness — I’ve been in the woods before but this was something I’d never really experienced. I think it was, in its own way, helpful for me to just have this sense of solitude at night and then wake up the next day and go back into the house.
You Should Have Left is released on demand Thursday.