Heather Langenkamp Reflects on Acting and ‘The Butterfly Room’

The Butterfly Room poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is based on a screening and Q&A which took place back in 2014.

The Butterfly Room” is one of those movies which is being released under the radar. It just debuted at the Laemmle NoHo 7 without much in the way of publicity, and this a shame because this thriller directed by Jonathan Zarantonello proves to be a real treat for horror fans as it features several actors we affectionately remember from various horror and cult classics. Among them are Barbara Steele who is best known for her work in a number of Italian gothic horror films like “Black Sunday,” Ray Wise who left an indelible impression on us with his performances in “Robocop” and “Twin Peaks,” Erica Leerhsen who survived a few ill-fated horror movies like “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” and the remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Camille Keaton who suffered such unforgivable brutality in “I Spit on Your Grave,” Adrienne King who memorably decapitated Jason Voorhees’ mother in “Friday the 13th,” and P.J. Soles who showed us things we really liked in John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” Looking at this cast, you might think this was another version of “The Expendables” but with horror icons.

Another big horror favorite in “The Butterfly Room” is Heather Langenkamp who is still best remembered for her role as Nancy Thompson in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Here she plays Dorothy, a single mother who has her own reasons for keeping her son away from butterfly collector Ann (Barbara Steele). As the movie goes on, you find out exactly why Dorothy has such a bone to pick with her, and it is not worth spoiling here.

Langenkamp dropped by the Laemmle NoHo 7 for “The Butterfly Room’s” opening night to participate in a Q&A with the movie’s second assistant director Brian McQuery. When asked how she became involved with this production, Langenkamp explained it all started with a journalist friend of Zarantonello’s who introduced the director to her while at a horror convention.

Heather Langenkamp: This journalist friend was my introduction, and I noticed that Jonathan was lurking in the background (laughs) for several hours. Finally, we struck up a conversation and he gave me the script later. I have to say that when I read it, I felt that the part of Dorothy was one of the better parts that I’ve read in many, many years. I think, from what you see on the screen, she’s a very strong woman and she’s a very fierce mother and I really enjoyed playing such a part. I remember we got together at this restaurant in Santa Monica, and I think I shocked Jonathan a great deal by telling them how much I liked it and how I really loved this idea that this horror movie focuses on an elderly woman which is something that is really rare.

In addition to all the horror icons, there are also several child actors here who play kids that become way too friendly with Ann. Now there is a saying, the things to avoid while making a movie are working with animals and children, but Langenkamp found working with child actors like Ellery Sprayberry and Julia Putnam very informative and fascinating.

Heather Langenkamp: It’s kind of a lesson every day in how to be so natural and so in the moment, and I always get a lot of inspiration from children like Miko Hughes (who appeared opposite Langenkamp in “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”) who was like that for me. You just zone in with them as they really experience the movie in a different way I think, and it is really refreshing. Ellery was really fun to work with, and I remember this one day when she had to go too long here to short hair too long hair and everybody was panicked. But Ellery was just smiling and taking it all in stride, and we had a lot of fun on the set as I remember.

Ever since her days battling Freddy Krueger, we have not seen much of Langenkamp. Acting for her has since become a part time job as she spends most of her days running AFX Studio, a Special F/X Make-Up studio in Los Angeles, with her husband David LeRoy Anderson. One of her more recent acting roles was as a character named Moto in “Star Trek into Darkness,” but her role as Dorothy in “The Butterfly Room” is the biggest one she has had in some time. This led one audience member to ask her if coming back to acting was like getting back on a bicycle to where everything comes back to you quickly.

Heather Langenkamp: I would have to say not at all like riding a bike. I think that you’re much more self-conscious about how you’re doing as you get older especially if you’ve taken time off. I was really worried a lot of the time about whether I was going to be able to get my chops back up to speed, and I’m happy with the way the movie looks on the screen. I’m much happier than I actually thought I was at about 6:45 tonight (the movie started at 7:40 pm) because I get a lot more critical of myself too as I get older. Both of those things combine actually, making for a very uncomfortable day today, but now I can relax. I don’t think it’s like riding a bike. I wish it was more like that.

But even after being away from acting, Langenkamp still has a great love for it. She explained why and also talked about what it was like working with Steele who is probably the biggest horror icon in this cast.

Heather Langenkamp: It’s probably my favorite thing to do. I think one the most creative things that a person can do is bring a script to life and think of the character and think of how you’re going to interact with someone like Erica. Those scenes were a lot of fun and especially all the scenes with Barbara Steele. She is one of my personal heroes and someone that I greatly admire, so I often watched her. She’s a very elegant woman and she’s very powerful, so sometimes I would just watch her and try to learn from her in the thing she did to be kind of a majestic creature in the film. I learn a lot from the people that I work with and I always and see what their techniques are and how they get prepared, and I take whatever I can from people like that.

Like many horror movies coming out today, “The Butterfly Room” was shot on a very low budget and had a tight shooting schedule. Moreover, Zarantonello started filming this movie back in 2010, and it is finally making its premiere four years later. With little time to make this movie, actors do not have the same luxuries available to them on big budget studio productions. Langenkamp described the pressures she faced and how she learned to deal with them.

Heather Langenkamp: It’s always difficult especially with wardrobe and hair when there’s really not enough time to get all that is necessary, and maybe there’s not enough personnel to take care of everybody. There are four or five ladies sometimes who all need to be ready within an hour of each other, and so we had very quick moments in the makeup chair sometimes (laughs) and you just have to put your vanity aside. That’s the hardest thing for an actor to do, but you realize you’re not going to get the hour in the chair that may be would make you feel more comfortable. In the end I really do feel like naturalism is the rule of the day, and looking as natural as possible as much as an actor. Maybe you don’t love it, but I do think that it adds to the reality of filmmaking. So, every time I didn’t get enough time in the chair, I would say in the end that it’ll be better for the film.

It is really great to see Heather Langenkamp back on the big screen after being absent from it for what feels like years. She may not be interested in stardom and is not looking to make a big comeback in movies, but she is still very much interested in giving the best she can as an actress. While she may forever be linked to “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to where many cannot see her as anyone other than Nancy Thompson, she can still hold our attention whenever she appears in a movie. Clearly, she is more comfortable these days running a special effects studio, but I do hope we get to see more of her on the silver screen sooner than later.

‘Friday the 13th’ May Be No ‘Halloween,’ But it is Better Than the Average Slasher Movie

Friday the 13th movie poster

Look, no one is going to mistake any “Friday the 13th” movie for cinema at its best. It started out as a rip off of “Halloween” with a little bit of “Psycho” thrown in for good measure, and it soon became a never-ending franchise which, to this day, still won’t die. We had two of the sequels with the word “final” in them, and each turned out to be a flat out lie. Just when it looks like this franchise has breathed its final breath, it is resurrected once again. Perhaps the world is overpopulated with too many horny teenagers who need to be dealt with in a messy way. In the end, these films touch on our deepest fears and exploit them for all they are worth. We know they’re not good for us, but we can’t help ourselves and want to see what nasty crimes will be perpetrated next.

The “Friday the 13th” movies are essentially the equivalent of a fast food meal, the kind which has an obscene amount of cholesterol in them. You know it’s bad for you, but you keep coming back for more. It’s not just tapping into our deepest desires, but into our willingness to be bad and rebel against what our parents don’t like. Film critics never stopped attacking these movies and continually bashed them to pieces, and yet they made so much damn money on such low budgets. It represented horror being taken to the next level for the children of the 80’s. Our parents hated the movies, and that made us all the more curious about seeing them. Jason Voorhees eventually became as familiar to us as Santa Claus. I remember when “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (LOL) came out when I was in the second grade, and none us had ever looked more forward to a movie none of us would be able to see (nor had we any business to). Yes, these slasher flicks bring back a lot of nostalgia for me.

The original “Friday the 13th” seems much better in retrospect. This is especially the case when you compare them to the sequels, let alone all the endless knockoffs, which came after it. What surprised me is how some of the murders which occur in this movie actually happen off screen. We have no idea they have occurred until we see the carnage put on display right in front of our eyes. It’s pretty vicious what is perpetrated in this film, and this was back when an arrow through an eye actually felt shocking. For the most part, “Friday the 13th” and a couple of sequels felt very real. You have to give the filmmakers credit because none of the slasher movies made today can’t even touch that feeling of reality. We all know we’re watching a movie when it comes to the sequels, but the original was experienced more than watched.

I’m sure we all know by now what Drew Barrymore should have known at the beginning of “Scream;” Jason was not the killer in this one. Instead, it was his mother, played in an over the top performance by Betsy Palmer. Mrs. Voorhees is basically what Norman Bates’ mother would have looked like, had Norman not have killed her off. Those moments where she is clearly schizophrenic and acting as if her son is actually telling her to kill people are both chilling and hilarious at the same time. This is far from a convincing performance, but Palmer is so much fun to watch in her deranged state to where it really doesn’t matter.

The cast of actors were basically hired not so much for their acting talent, but because they resemble, as director Sean S. Cunningham put it, those kids who came out of a Pepsi commercial. In many ways, this casting choice helped give “Friday the 13th” a stronger feeling of reality as they are people we recognize from our own lives. They are not models who have enhanced themselves with endless plastic surgeries (those would appear in the sequels). The ladies look very sweet and fetching, and the men look down to earth and not like those guys who spent way too much time at the gym.

“Friday the 13th” also was the movie which started the cliché of how if you have premarital sex with your boyfriend of girlfriend, you would die. The last person left standing was always a virgin, or the one too shy to ask a boy for a date. As a result, many people think there is some highly conservative Christian value system in place in these movies which one must follow in order to survive an experience with a masked maniac. Some will say Carpenter originated this with the original “Halloween,” but he made it clear in the DVD commentary he was not trying to spread religious dogma. Carpenter said the characters got killed because they weren’t paying attention, but ever since the first “Friday the 13th,” it’s been open season on kids who don’t practice safe sex.

There is also the crazy old man Ralph (Walt Gorney) who warns everybody of how they “are all doomed.” Of course, it’s always some crazy guy no one ever listens to. God forbid it’s some normal person people take the time to listen to. But if everyone were to believe this guy, then there would be no movie.

Of all the actors in this film, let alone the entire series, Kevin Bacon is the one who came out of it with the most successful career. “Friday the 13th” may not show off his best talents, but he does have one of the coolest death sequences in horror movie history. Bacon also gets to have one of the sweetest love making scenes any horror movie could ever hope to have. His character and his girlfriend actually do make love. It’s not one of those humping and pumping moments you can find in so many other movies where one person is doing all the work and the other is not having enough pleasure. It makes their inevitable deaths feel kind of sad. Even if we really wanted to see these two get bumped off, we don’t look forward to it.

Sooner or later, we were bound to see this movie because people couldn’t stop describing the more graphic moments in it. I remember my brother telling me about the scene where Kevin’s girlfriend does finally get it:

“You see her looking into the shower stalls and no one’s there. But while she is looking, you can see in the background the shadow of an ax being raised up. When she turns around, you can see the ax going into her face!”

My reply to this at the time was:

“Whoa! Cool!”

Then you have the unforgettable Harry Manfredini music score which basically sounds like Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” score on speed. Never have woodwind instruments been as thoroughly pummeled as they are here. This is not to mention the “chi, chi, chi, ha, ha, ha” sound (it’s actually “ki, ki, ki, ma, ma, ma”) which is so clearly identified with this undying franchise. When you hear it, you know Jason is not far away with a rusty machete in his grasp.

Cunningham is no John Carpenter, and he is a better producer than a director, but he does keep the suspense quota of “Friday the 13th” at a high level and generates a number of good scares. This one does not focus so much on the killings as it did on the messy aftermath. While you did see characters gutted in the most painful places imaginable, there were a couple of others you kept wondering about until you saw their bloodied corpses. The later sequels would get a little more creative with the murders.

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