'To hell with it'
WE’VE ALWAYS KNOWN Michael Biehn was cut out for barking orders. The 1980s superstar and erstwhile James Cameron muse became a household name as Sgt Kyle Reese in The Terminatorand Corporal Dwayne Hicks in Aliens.
A faint hint of Southern drawl around the consonants, a pointer toward his Alabama origins, only seals the deal. His old chum “Jim” Cameron is inclined to agree: he’s been hinting that the actor ought to pick up a megaphone for nigh on 25 years.
“I always liked the idea,” says Biehn. “But I was thinking more about Robert Rodriguez and his go-shoot-something guerrilla style when the time finally came around. It’s one thing Cameron always says; the brilliant thing about Robert is that he doesn’t understand that he can’t do something. He just goes and does it.”
In this spirit Biehn, who worked with the Sin Citydirector on Planet Terror, has embraced the values of Rodriguez’ DIY bestseller Rebel Without a Crew: How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7000 Became a Hollywood Playerand the recently revitalised grindhouse genre.
“I had been thinking about it since I watched Robert shoot day for night,” says the actor-turned-film-maker. “I knew my wife had showed me a script a few years earlier that needed a page one rewrite but that I could get my hands on for free. And one day I was sitting in a coffee shop and I saw a kid reading that book and I just decided right then and there. To hell with it.”
A determined Biehn returned home and consulted the missus. Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, the former Party of Fiveand Dark Angel star, had never produced anything before but within hours The Victim,the couple’s splendidly trashy debut feature, was a live possibility. “Jen went out and raised the money and put everything in place,” says Biehn. “She’s already producing her second film now. We knew our best shot was to do a grindhouse kind of picture. We thought it had a better chance of making money. I’m lucky enough to have a wife who looks really good naked and she promised she’d take her clothes off for me. And we have a friend named Danielle [Harris] who also looks really good naked and she promised she’d get her clothes off and do some nasty stuff on camera for me. So I thought okay. I might actually have a movie.”
Thus The Victimsees two nubile young co-eds (Harris and Blanc-Biehn) witness dirty cops doing dirty things before they escape into the woods. There, they stumble on a cabin occupied by the reclusive Kyle (Biehn) and enact bloody cat-and-mouse games. It’s a Biehn family affair.
“We’re just feeling our way into the grindhouse circuit,” says Jennifer Blanc-Biehn. “We just got back from Sitges and what a great crowd to watch the movie with. It’s amazing what a variety of horror fans there are out there. Ours is an exploitation movie but it fits into the genre just as movies like Hatchetthat are all about the kill do.
“There’s a whole new spin out there on what Roger Corman started all those years ago.”
All told, it took five weeks from the moment Michael Biehn said “to hell with it” to the point when he had a finished film in a can. How on earth? “We shot it in 12 days which if you know anything about the movie business you’ll know is not long enough,” says Biehn. “Our house became our production office. At night we did casting sheets. I’ve been in Hollywood for 35 years and I’ve had a lot of great roles and worked with a lot of great people. But I’m prouder of this venture than anything else I’ve done.”
We wonder what his old mate Jim, a chap who usually doesn’t have to use his home to house the catering department, made of it all? “Well, you can’t really compare Jim to any other filmmaker,” says Biehn. “He believes the only way to make a lot of money is by spending a lot of money. And he’s always been a big ideas guy. So when I had to show him my movie it felt like showing Picasso a stick figure drawing.”