Brinke Stevens: beautiful, smart, multi-talented and born to scream. And scream she has!!! Through a career spanning over 140 films, and celebrating more than twenty-five years on celluloid. Not just as an actor, but also as a script writer, set decorator and producer; even appearing as a body-double for Diana Scarwid. In fact, Brinke has written a romantic ghost story called The Returning, set in Charleston, South Carolina, which would also be the perfect chance for Brinke to try her hand at directing. All she needs is a backer who has witnessed her mighty horror oeuvre to realise what a fine film this talented lady would create for horror buffs everywhere.
While many fans may know of Brinke’s many films, or have enjoyed her very sexy autographed 10x8s on sites like eBay they may not be as familiar with the fact that Brinke once worked as a scientist before taking to a film career. “I spent four years in college getting a double-major in biology and psychology, hoping to work on dolphin communications. Once I was accepted at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, however, they forbade me to work in that controversial field. Instead, I studied vision in seals (which nobody really cared about) and got my Masters Degree in marine biology. Then I went to work for National Marine Fisheries (late-70s). We were one of the first groups to study ozone layer depletion, so it was incredibly groundbreaking at that time. From there, I became a freelance Environmental Consultant for San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant (in CA) to test if they were harming the local ecology.”
This thirst to learn and to keep achieving has always been at the forefront with Brinke. “Communication has always been important to me, and I have an aptitude for foreign languages. I learned Spanish before I was 8 years old -- I briefly studied it in grade school, and then begged my parents to buy me a whole set of "Learn-a-Language" records. In high school, a pal and I learned enough Russian that we could secretly communicate in letters. In college, I became fluent in French. In Grad school, I needed to master German to read scientific papers. While I was enrolled in the oceanography PhD program at Scripps Institute, I was convinced I could crack the dolphin language too. [Sadly, nobody wanted to speak with dolphins at that time, since hundreds a day were being slaughtered in tuna fishing nets.) When I moved to LA in 1980, my "godfather" Forry Ackerman taught me the universal language of Esperanto (which nobody really uses, but it's kind of fun knowing it). In the early 1990's, I was invited to a major film festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- so I learned to speak Portuguese in the months beforehand, so I could address my audience of 10,000 in their native tongue without needing a translator.”
When Brinke is away from film making, or her many others interests, she also takes the time to attend numerous conventions and to run her official website:
Here is some more of what Brinke had to say about her life and film experiences during our recent interview:
David: How did you feel going to make your first film Necromancy in 1972? Were you at all overwhelmed working on the same set as Orson Welles?
Brinke: I'm glad you asked me about that! It's a common misconception that Necromancy was my first movie job way back in 1972. In truth, that original '72 movie was not released until the early 1980's, after the producers shot some additional "party scenes". I was hired as an extra for this newly added '80's footage. So, sadly, I never got a chance to meet Orson Welles.
My very first movie job was actually Roger Corman's, Slumber Party Massacre in 1981. It was the first time I had a nude shower-scene, was menaced by a madman, screamed myself hoarse, and died horribly. That proved to be the template of my whole horror-movie career -- something I've repeated many times after that, in the last 25 years…
David: Do you recall when you signed your first autograph?
Brinke: I started to receive fan mail in the early 80s, particularly after I appeared in Playboy and Penthouse magazines. Guys would forward my torn-out photos and ask me to sign them. It was an enormous thrill! I was always very puzzled how they'd obtained my address, until I discovered that Directory publications do exist. Although I worked on many films throughout that decade, I didn't become "famous" as an actress until after 1987, when I starred in several high-profile horror features like "Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity", "Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama", and "Nightmare Sisters". At that point, I started my own Fan Club and published an ongoing Newsletter, because I was getting too much mail to personally respond to everyone's letters. I even had to hire a secretary to help me deal with my fan mail, as I was getting over 100 requests per week. But I've always authentically signed all of my own photos myself.
David: You are regarded as one of the world’s best autograph signers and attend many shows and have always looked after your fans. So I wondered about how many autographs you would normally sign at say a single convention, and over the course of a year? And what are some of your favourite conventions?
Brinke: Originally, I started attending "Star Trek" conventions as a fan back in the mid-1970s. So, I definitely know what it's like to stand on both sides of that autograph table. A big part of me will always be that "nerdy fan-girl" waiting to speak to her idols!
In 1980, I started selling and signing my own photos at San Diego Comic Con in southern California, because I was their on-camera hostess for a closed-circuit "Con TV Show". At that point, I think I was probably the very first actress to actually offer up her own photos -- until then, fans would buy them from dealers and simply bring them to the table.
It escalated in recent years, to the point where I attend about a dozen conventions annually, meeting perhaps 100,000 people each year. I might sign a couple of hundred autographs at each show. While I enjoy the huge conventions like San Diego Comic Con and Chiller Theatre (held every Halloween in New Jersey), I also like to attend the smaller, "home-grown" gatherings that might attract merely 400 fans, but everyone is so very excited to be there.
David: Have you ever had any problem with fans or autograph hunters?
Brinke: As a diehard fan myself, I feel like we're all part of the same tribe of smart, wonderful misfits. I love my fans, and they treat me with great respect and admiration. When I first started out, I noticed that most of the guys standing in line would actually be trembling as they approached me -- but I just figured they must've seen my movies, wherein I often terrorize and kill!
David: Do you see many forgeries of your signature on sites like eBay, and if so what do you do about this multi-million dollar problem plaguing the industry?
Brinke: I've been very lucky, in that I've only seen one forged signature on eBay (which a potential buyer alerted me to, when he emailed me to ask about it). However, I don't like it when I get certain "questionable" requests for a free signed photo in the mail -- where I'm told an outrageous sob-story that can't possibly be true, or they praise me for movies that I've never appeared in, or sometimes it's even addressed to "Dear Mister Stevens" -- and then they ask me NOT to personalize it. Of course, those photos appear on eBay the very next week.
David: Getting back to your films could you tell us one of your favourite yarns from working on a film set?
Brinke: There have been SO many.... Twenty years ago, I remember shooting "Three Amigos" on the Universal Studios backlot -- where director John Landis was getting very annoyed at the tour buses passing by every ten minutes. Finally, he grabbed one of the stunt horses and raced after one of these tour buses, whooping and shooting gun-blanks all the way. I recall working on "This Is Spinal Tap", when I hired as an "extra", and star Michael McKean constantly encouraged me to SAY something to get a higher salary (which I did). I treasure my first meeting with director Brian De Palma for "Body Double"; we spent a lively hour discussing his earlier films like "Phantom of the Paradise" -- and then he hired me for a week's work, never knowing for sure what I'd be doing from one day to the next. On "Slumber Party Massacre", I still laugh at how subversive filmmakers posted deliberate signs in the background, as I was ruthlessly slain by a Driller Killer -- signs like "Emergency Drill Instructions" and "Join the Drill Team!" And I'll never forget that fast, indie filmmaker Fred Olen Ray quipping, "It this shot takes any longer to set up, I'll have to have my mail forwarded here!"
David: Have you ever had any serious injuries or anything truly bizarre happen to you while making a film?
Brinke: In reality, the horror movies I make are really action films. And due to the low budgets, we do all of our own stunts. On a daily basis, I deal with knives, machetes, guns, buckets of blood that make the floor slippery, and running for my life in short tight skirts and high heels. I have fights scenes with maniacs, not-quite-dead corpses, vampires, zombies, werewolves... you name it. All action actresses like myself, have suffered our fair share of injuries. And unfortunately, an independent film's insurance coverage is often non-existent, so we have to foot our own medical bills. I'm still in pain every day from a fall I took on "Witchouse 3" several years ago. I see my chiropractor far more often than I see most of my best friends!!!
David: What actors, directors and special effects people do you enjoy working with the most?
Brinke: Back in the 1980's and 90's, I did lots of movies for producer-directors like Charlie Band (Full Moon), Fred Olen Ray (American Independent), David DeCoteau (Rapid Heart), and JR Bookwalter (Tempe). They hired me for many years, and I loved working with them. Since then, however, the game has changed enormously. The whole "middle" ground has dropped out of horror films. Now, we're mainly dealing with either big-budget studio releases or micro-budget "grassroots" productions that are shot by a kid with a video camera in his backyard.
Lately, I've been doing a lot of smaller, indie films across the country. And I've been fortunate to meet some incredibly talented, promising newcomers like Jon Weimer ("\Xeline), Jason Paul Collum (October Moon 1 & 2), Jon Keeyes (American Nightmare), Seth Landau (Bryan Loves You), Joston Theney (Bleed for Me), Creepy-Six Productions in Vancouver (Vampires vs. Zombies), and many more.
David: Do you collect autographs or movie memorabilia, and if so what are your most treasured possessions?
Brinke: Decades ago, a casting agent once referred to me as a "young Jane Seymour", whom I'd always thought was an amazing, fascinating actress. When this became common knowledge (from an interview I'd done), fans started sending me Jane Seymour's signed photos as a gift. Years later, I co-owned an Italian restaurant in Santa Barbara, California, which our neighbor Jane would frequent. As a result, I was able to hang out with her, celebrate her birthdays, and admire her newest oil paintings in her own home. It was a huge thrill to go from fan to peer, and I treasure the casual snapshots I have of us together, even moreso than her autographed photos.
David: If anyone in history could sign their photo for you, who would you ask and what would you like them to say in their dedication?
Brinke: One of my ancestors is Lady Jane Grey, who -- when she was fifteen -- ruled as Queen of England for 9 days (right after Henry VIII) until she was beheaded at the Tower of London. I wish I could have known her -- she seems like a truly amazing girl. I'd settle for a personalized photo, reading "Dear cousin Brinke -- Learn how to stay on the cutting edge without losing your head!"
David: And what are some of your favourite things: best movies, actors, songs and books?
Brinke: Besides "global music", I listen to singers like Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Loreena McKennitt -- I like female artists who write their own material and have something to say. As for literature, I avidly consume a great deal of fiction, from "Harry Potter" to Stephen King. I also subscribe to a dozen different magazines per month to keep informed about politics, science, our planet, food, fashion, design, gardening, etc. I rent just about every movie that comes out on DVD, though I prefer edgy thrillers, horror and science fiction. I also love spectacular old black-&-white classics like Gene Tierney's "Laura" and the Jennifer Jones classic, "Portrait of Jenny".
David: What will see Brinke Stevens doing in 2007, and what brings you the most joy?
Brinke: In Hollywood, they say it's career-death -- that unpardonable sin – for a woman to turn 40. Fortunately for me, the horror film audience is very loyal and devoted. In recent years, I've been offered more jobs than I can handle, and doing some of the best roles of my life. I already have a half-dozen films lined up for 2007. Along with producer Joe Casey in Florida, I'll soon be releasing "Brinke's Tales of Terror", a DVD compilation of scary horror short-films. I've also been working on two perfect "summations" of my 26 years in Hollywood so far-- one is a fun, fast-paced documentary about my life, which is being produced by Fangoria-TV. The other project is a coffee-table book of my many photos from modeling and movie roles, called "Brinke: A Body of Work" from the publisher of "Sirens of Cinema" magazine. In it, I'll show how various famous artists, photographers, and filmmakers have perceived me and created me according to their own vision. I expect to continue writing screenplays and producing movies, as well. As for what brings me the most joy, I'd love to spend more time painting, and eventually to have a gallery show of my work. But I guess that will have to wait until I retire!
David: In closing, I wondered whether there was a memory of yours that tells us a little about the person behind the movie persona that you would like to share with your fans.
Brinke: Back in the late-1980's, I happened to visit a close friend at his office -- when I wasn't wearing a lot of makeup nor fancy clothes -- and there I met one of his business associates, who barely gave me a second glance. The next day, I ran into that same associate again at a Hollywood party, where I was now all done up like a movie star. That guy fawned all over me and said how thrilled he was to meet me. I reminded him that we'd already met the day before at my pal's office. Thunderstruck, he gasped, "That ugly little girl was YOU?!" To this day, perhaps to spite him, I take great glee in playing not only the glamorous heroine, but especially the grotesque monster or villain in my movie roles.
Article copyright David Priol 2005
Photos copyright to their various owners