Heading off to Camp: An interview with Felissa Rose

         “I have not really worked outside of the horror genre and I really don’t think I want to.”     


     Thirty-two years ago, a campy slasher film called Sleepaway Camp snuck its way into a cluster of theatres across the US.  The film held a robust 11-body count (beating out Friday The 13th by one) and became an instant cult classic, thanks in no small part to arguably the most memorable scene in horror film history.  The mere mention of Sleepaway Camp invokes images of young Angela standing, rigid and naked, mouth agape, as the camera slowly pans back to reveal that Angela certainly isn’t all woman.  It’s a scene that is mentioned as both one of the most upsetting and popular moments in horror history.  Angela almost instantly became a fan favorite, a young girl that certain sectors of the audience could relate to (the film can be seen as a genuine study on bullying) and others could crush on (judging by the dozen or so males over the age of 30 who I have spoken to, they all freely admit that they had a huge crush on the memorable lead character).

That iconic stare and that fantastic debut performance are proud highlights in the career of an actress who has had many.  From stage to screen and spanning almost her entire life, Felissa Rose has enjoyed a colorful career.

Recently, Rose was named co-head of Independent Genre Film Development of Carolco Pictures along with producer/director and personal friend Harrison Smith. Carolco Pictures, many will recall, was a major force in the film industry up through the early 90’s.  As the company looks to rise again, adding a fresh face and mind like Mrs. Rose to the mix should only help.

This is a woman who is so much more than that classic horror film from 30 years past. Sleepaway Camp was a seminal achievement in the slasher film era that gave us perhaps the classiest dick shot in the history of film.  Felissa Rose is a voracious advocate of independent filmmaking and the families that make up the indie community.  A professional who refuses to use the term “fan” when speaking about the millions of people who love and support her work, Felissa sees the word as a way to separate actor/actress from hard-earned-money-paying convention and film-goer.  Spend fifteen minutes at any of the numerous horror conventions Felissa has been a part of over the years and you’ll see that the line so many professionals seek to keep established between themselves and the so-called “fans” is non-existent with the married mother of three.  She’ll out-dance, out-laugh and out-hug even the most hardcore convention attendee and she wouldn’t want it any other way.

Having met her briefly at Chicago’s Days of the Dead: 2014, I was privileged to be able to speak with Mrs. Rose recently via telephone and discuss her career, her love for the horror community and that awesome little slasher flick that continues to traumatize movie goers to this day.

Mangled Matters: Before Sleepaway Camp, were you a fan of horror films?

Felissa Rose: Well, I was young when I got cast. I was only twelve, so I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan, but I was intrigued by them and had a great respect for the genre.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, The Shining, Magic… those were all favorites of mine. I was a fan, but I was scared to death of them, which you should be, right?!  It wasn’t until after Sleepaway Camp where I could enjoy horror films and not be as horrified of them. (laughs)

MM: Sleepaway Camp is regularly atop lists regarding LGBT and homoerotic films.  Most feel the film is a proud representation of the lifestyle. What are your thoughts on this?

FR: It was a very provocative film for the time.  We probably touched on a lot that hadn’t been done in a horror movie yet, in the early 80’s.  I don’t believe we were really concentrating on that.  Robert (Hiltzik, director), even to this day, denies there was an emphasis on the homoerotic context, but I believe it absolutely was a major player in the game.  It’s a great topic and I think it was a very proactive film.  It was all about “be who you are”, you know?  Besides Angela having her issues having lost her family in the boating accident, she was trying to figure out her own sexuality in her own way.  Her father being gay in the film, you know, we were dealing with a lot and I think that was what the movie was about. Just dealing with who you are and figuring your way out.

Creating nightmares for thirty years and running...

Creating nightmares for thirty years and running…

MM: Topics like these are what always makes me chuckle when someone rolls their eyes at horror.  As if there can’t be any serious discussion about a film in the genre.

FR: It’s definitely an intriguing little film.  I never like to make it more than what it is.  We understood what it was, even back then.  It wasn’t like we were working on making the next Citizen Kane.  Although it is forever living on, we knew it was a slasher movie and somehow, some way, it resonated with audiences.  I think it’s because there were actual children in the film, because of all of the gender questions, the darkness of it.  I think that’s the stuff the audiences really gravitated towards.  I mean, the bullying and transgender issues are still very relevant today.  Perhaps even more so than it was even back then.  A lot of people I talk to at conventions and such, they can relate to Angela.  We’ve all been there- with the bullying and finding ourselves as adolescents.

MM: It’s clear you’re not a scripted person and you don’t really have to “force” yourself to get up for your projects and the genre.  It’s awesome to see that you are so receptive to the audience and proud to be a member of the horror community.

FR: I really appreciate that.  I never feel I can thank people people for all of the love and joy they provide me.  Your words and the audience’s words are tremendous and it always means so much to me, so I thank you for that!

MM: You are regularly listed as one of the all-time favorite guests on the horror convention scene.  Like I said, it is just so cool that you embrace the horror community with open arms.  What makes the con scene so special to you?

FR: Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to begin.  It’s like, you love your family so much and you just know they are a part of you.  When you get to see them, it’s like a reunion of just true friends and supporters of the genre.  I’m pretty open to the fact that I don’t like the term “fan”.  It doesn’t come off as kind to me.  It’s like, ‘I’m here and you’re looking up at me’ and I don’t like that.  We’re a family.  I’m here, you’re here.  I get giddy at these conventions! (laughs) I get to meet people I admire and I just love everybody I see.  I’m there to have fun.  I get to hang out with these cool and amazing friends and it’s a big ol’ party.  I absolutely love it.  I have the best time at conventions.

MM: With that being said, what conventions have you been confirmed for this year so far?

FR: Well, I’ll be on the set of a new project, Wretched, for the month of May but I’m making a stop out to Franklin, Pennsylvania for the Franklin Comic Con, May 8-10.  I’ll be at the Connecticut HorrorFest, beginning July 18 and with so many other news coming out so quickly, the best way to really keep up on where I’ll be is by checking out a website that a fantastic supporter of mine named Andrew runs.

MM: Speaking of the horror convention scene, I was fortunate enough to meet Dee Wallace at the Days of the Dead: Chicago in 2014 and she was just the best.  You’ve had a chance to work with her (on Zombie Killers).  What was that like?

FR: Dee Wallace is one of my very favorite people in the world.  She loves life, she is who she is and she always inspires me.  I always want to be in her energy and be near here.  I had the good fortune of working with her and her daughter and we are like a little family now.  Zombie Killers was the first and only time I’ve worked with Dee, so far.  She is in Wretched, too.  We both play witches but I didn’t even get to hang out with her!  I was already finished up when she was coming in, so.. Dee and I got really close at these conventions, because we’d be at these shows together, then at the airport together, and I kind of just wormed my way into her life. (laughs) I’m such a huge fan of hers and she is absolutely marvelous.  She’s amazing in Zombie Killers!

PJ Soles, Felissa Rose and Dee Wallace on the Women of Horror panel at Chicago's Days of the Dead, 2014.

PJ Soles, Felissa Rose and Dee Wallace on the Women of Horror panel at Chicago’s Days of the Dead, 2014.

MM: Your role in Zombie Killers

FR: I play such a different role in the movie!  It was a real departure for me.  My character is this religious leader and in most reviews I’ve read, they say I’m scarier than the zombies! (laughs) I had one particularly kind review say that this was my best performance.  That meant a lot to me.

MM: I’m a big fan of ‘partnerships’ in films.  I tend to find myself more invested in a film when I see that a director and actor have worked together before, or two actors are joining up again.  It’s just a cool thing to see. In the indie horror world, it tends to happen a lot with some very talented people.  You have such a relationship with director Harrison Smith.  What is it about Mr. Smith that makes you invest in his projects?

FR: Oh, wow… Harrison is just an amazingly talented, competent, strong leader and director.  I know when I’m signing on to his project, I’m safe and I know it’s going to be a very tight ship.  He is loving and giving, and I couldn’t ask for more from a director.  I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many wonderful and amazing directors and people on films.  Over the years, I’ve worked with people like Dave Campfield (Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Xmas, Caesar & Otto’s Paranormal Halloween) and John Callas (No Solicitors), and they are all just such good people and great relationships.  I like to have a lot of fun, I know it’s hard to tell (laughs) but I love to work hard and play hard.  I throw parties in my hotel room for the cast and crew.  Harrison just brings so much joy to his films and he allows me to just stretch out and really get true joy out of the entire process.

I worked on a project yesterday that had that same feel, I just loved it.  The people, the cast, the crew… just everyone was so amazing and it’s like you get drunk on the happiness of the atmosphere.  The film is called Bethany and I had an absolute blast.  The film stars Shannen Doherty and Zack Ward (A Christmas Story), who are also producers on the project.  It’s directed by James Cullen Bressack and it’s going to be a blast.

MM: In 2003, you really jumped back into horror head first.  What was your inspiration for the revival?

FR: Honestly, it was just something as simple as somebody asking.  I was approached about one of Harrison’s projects, read the script and saw the cast and was like, ‘oh my God, yes. Sign me up!’ From that moment on, it just snowballed.  It was very sudden that I just fell into a bunch of awesome projects and roles.  It was great.

(Mangled Matters note: since the beginning of 2003, Felissa has been credit with forty-eight roles)

MM: It’s a great time for the Women in Horror movement.  How proud are you that you are one of the originals, a true woman in horror?

FR: It’s so tremendous.  We are really fortunate to be in a genre where we can play anything- the victim, the villain, we can be behind the camera, producing, directing… I have not really worked outside of the horror genre and I really don’t think I want to.  I’m so in love with it and I hope to be able to continue to just enjoy it.  It’s given me so much in the way of love and feeling love from so many people.  I think it’s been a great thing to see women so much more at the forefront.  You look at ladies like Danielle Harris, Linnea Quigley, Tiffany Shepis, Adrienne Barbeau!  We’ve all been given this gift of working so much with so many great people, it’s just a wonderful genre to be involved in.

MM: I also particularly like to see the horror classic ladies ushering in this new age and supporting the younger generation so much.

FR: Danielle Harris is a woman I love and respect so, so much. I love her film Among Friends.  I’m really hoping to work with her through Carolco Pictures alongside Harrison Smith.  We are fortunate to be working with Adrienne (Barbeau) on her film Love Bites, based on her best-selling book.  The Soska twins are another dynamic force I’d love to work with.  They are so awesome and talented, it’s ridiculous.  I love to work with women directors, writers and stars.  The voice of women in horror is so strong right now and that is so important.

MM: At the Women of Horror panel at Days of the Dead: Chicago, you gave a great answer when someone asked what your dream role would be.  You said you would love to work with Tim Burton, alongside Helena Bonham-Carter in a vampire film.  That is the coolest, most in-depth answer I’ve ever heard- you gave us a director, a co-star and a theme!

FR: (laughs) I didn’t even know I was going to be working on Love Bites at that time, so how cool is that?!  It’s just so unique to be in an entertainment industry where you get to work with people who you looked up to growing up or who inspire you.  In Wretched, I’m working with C. Thomas Howell.  I was obsessed with him as a teen, in The Outsiders, and it’s just so awesome.  It’s just another one of those instances where you are in a position to work alongside someone you’ve admired.  Then you look at how I met my husband!  It’s crazy.  He was a fan of the film, and when he was like twelve years old, he goes, ‘I’m going to marry that girl’.  I mean, who does that?! (laughs)

(Mangled Matters note: Felissa married CKY front man Deron Miller in 2004 and the couple has three children)

MM: One thing, I think that really endears you to the audience is the fact that there is not an ounce of selfishness or self-entitlement in you or your work.  It’s people like you, with everything you’re doing, that keeps this genre fresh and strong.  So I would like to sincerely thank you.  I know I’m not the only person who feels that way, either.  I am a huge proponent of the Women in Horror celebration and a huge advocate of indie horror and it means so much to see people like you putting so much time, effort and love into this. Thank you so much for your time and enthusiasm.  What else do you have currently going on?

FR: Thank you so much.  That means so much to me and I thank you for your time and everything so many people are doing to help support the genre!

We start pre-production for Love Bites in the summer and we start shooting this fall.  I’m super excited for that.  We also have No Solicitors coming out soon.  We are currently discussing with distributors and that project is just a ton of fun.

At this very moment, I am busy working on Wretched.  I play two characters and I’m a producer on it, so I’m really, really thrilled and really, really busy. (laughs)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s