Interview: Kelli Maroney Talks About IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS and Eighties Horror

After studying at The National Shakespeare Company Conservatory, Kelli Maroney began her acting career on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope. Her first film role was in the classic teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High in 1982. She achieved cult status for her role in the Sci-Fi/Horror/Comedy Night of the Comet in 1984 and then starred in the horror film Chopping Mall in 1986, which cemented her place in the hearts of horror fans. I grew up in the eighties and saw A Nightmare on Elm Street in the theater when it came out in 1984, and even though I didn’t sleep for a week after seeing it, the film had such an impact on me that I became a horror fan for life. Eighties horror movies were full of outrageous storylines and mind-blowing practical effects. It was a great time to be a horror fan, but even people who weren’t around in the eighties appreciate the horror that came out of that decade. Now, thanks to social media platforms like Twitter, horror fans all around the world have connected to form an amazing horror community. A new fan-funded documentary, In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic ‘80s Horror, is in post-production and it looks fantastic! The film features interviews with all the people who made eighties horror so outstanding and nostalgic, like Barbara Crampton, Bill Moseley, Mick Garris, Jeffrey Combs, Kane Hodder, Heather Langenkamp, Kelli Maroney, and so many more. Ghastly Grinning had the pleasure of speaking with Kelli Maroney about her career, the appeal of eighties horror, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

The crowdfunding campaign for In Search of Darkness, which will provide horror fans with their final chance to support this documentary celebrating eighties horror, concludes on Sunday, March 31st. To find out more information on how you can purchase your own copy of In Search of Darkness on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as the exclusive backer rewards currently available, please visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/in-search-of-darkness#/

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GG: You’re well known for eighties horror because of films like Night of the Comet and Chopping Mall.  Why did you want to be a part of In Search of Darkness?

Maroney: In the last several years I realized that horror is my home. When I was younger I was out trying to figure out where I belonged. Barbara Crampton said to me, “Horror is where I belong.” And I thought well, that’s really interesting, and then I realized, you know what, me too. You don’t really pick horror. Horror picks you. That’s where I’ve always felt comfortable and it fits my personality. It fits my rebellious streak. It just took me a while to figure it out.

GG: I think it’s so interesting that you said that because when I talked to Barbara Crampton a few months ago, she said the same thing. She said, “Horror picks you.” I think that’s really cool.

Maroney: Yeah, for a long time in my career I felt like a nomad (laughs). I started out in drama. I actually wanted to be a Shakespearian actress. I went to the National Shakespeare Company Conservatory when I was a kid. You know, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans, right (laughs)? That was heavy duty drama. I was evil and it was great training. Then I got out here and I did the teenage movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and then I segued into horror. Also, at the same time I was doing comedy. I do theater as well, I know nobody cares about that (laughs), but nine times out of ten, I would get something comedic. It’s such a wonderful feeling making people laugh. So, I didn’t really know where I belonged. For a long time, I wasn’t getting offered any horror. If you don’t stand in front of somebody’s face, they don’t remember you. You have to be part of the community. I was not actually aware that there was a community to be a part of. I’m not sure that was always the case, where everybody talked to everybody. It could well be that I just didn’t know it because I was out trying to figure out who I was.

In the last maybe ten years, I realized everybody knows each other and this is great. A lot of my roles are comedy into horror, but I can do both. I can be dramatic and horror usually has elements of comedy in it. It satisfies both things for me. For a long time, I was waiting for the industry to tell me who I was and that was my downfall. I was doing what I wanted to do and that was great, but I thought I better figure out what they want from me. You are who you are. You can’t be something to please other people. And people want you to be passionate. So, whatever you’re passionate about, that’s what people want. You start creating things because you want to, not because you’re supposed to.

GG: You worked in other genres in the eighties, including films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and TV shows like Ryan’s Hope, but I’m wondering what did you enjoy most about working in horror?

Maroney: It appeals to my sense of, “You know what? This might not work but fuck it. Let’s try anyway.” I love that. I’ve just got kind of a pugnacious attitude or a rebellious attitude. I didn’t even realize I was rebellious until someone pointed it out to me. Sometimes people see who you are before you do (laughs). Everybody else gets it and you’re the last to know. I just love exploring the dark side of people. That’s where all the meat is. That’s where all the heart is, and I think that’s where people want to connect. It’s such a relief when someone expresses that, “Here’s something I hate about me. Here’s something I’m afraid of happening or something I’m afraid of about the world.” And then you find out everybody else feels the same way. There’s a connection there. I think people are afraid of what’s going on inside of them. People are afraid to explore the dark side and they’re like, “Don’t be negative.” Well, guess what? There’s negativity in this world and the more you embrace it, the less threatening it is (laughs). But it is there, and I think it makes everybody nervous to say, “Well, I have this anger in me. I have this fear in me, but I don’t want anyone to see it because I won’t be accepted.” Well, guess what? I think horror has always fulfilled that. It’s a visceral, physical release.

GG: That’s exactly why I love horror!

Maroney: I know, and I always laugh, too! I’m the worst. I shriek and then I laugh. You always know I’m in the audience at a film festival or something. I’m always the first one that shrieks (laughs) and if there’s a really good scare I start laughing because it’s a physical release. It does something to you physically. It’s very healthy. There was a thing going around on Twitter and I thought it was the stupidest thing ever. For everyone that posted something about horror, they would send out something that said, “Need help?” The feeling was that if you’re attracted to horror, you’re probably disturbed, but I think it is healthy. I think it’s very psychologically healthy.

GG: It seems like eighties horror featured more practical effects than we see today in horror films. I personally prefer practical effects over CGI. What are your thoughts on practical effects versus CGI?

Maroney: Yeah, we didn’t have CGI. There would be window washers or something and it would ruin the whole shot and the producers would be screaming bloody murder. We couldn’t CGI those people out. We couldn’t use that shot. It was a heyday for creativity. I’d still rather see practical effects any day than CGI. I realize that CGI is also a craft and I do not want to put it down, because I certainly couldn’t do it. For me personally, when I see that someone has pulled off a really great practical effect I go, “Man, how did they pull that off? That was great (laughs)! I know what it’s like to be out there sweating bullets going, “We’re losing the light. This doesn’t work. This looks terrible.” You’ve got all the people in the art department running around like for their lives trying to make something happen. It’s a different kind of satisfaction. I go to Spectral Motion and places like that. The people that work there, number one, they’re geniuses and number two, when they make something work, they’re members of SAG and you never see them on camera, but they’re acting that monster’s arm. It’s amazing to watch and you’d never know it unless you walked in there and saw it happening. I thought this guy could just as easily be a movie star. He’s a good actor, but there he is making an effect. Why anyone in their right mind would want to be an actor over doing special effects, I don’t know (laughs).

GG: In Search of Darkness also talks about things like eighties movie soundtracks, 3-D filmmaking, and the marketing in video stores. What was it like having your movies featured in video stores? I have fond memories of walking down the horror aisle and picking a movie based on the cover.

Maroney: The thing with Chopping Mall is no one gets chopped, so there was a lot of people saying, “No one gets chopped in this (laughs)!” You see body parts in a shopping bag and that is not what occurs in that movie. Sometimes when they would draw me for the initial artwork, I would think, “My God, that is so unflattering.” And then they would come out with new artwork and I’d go, “Ok, I like that drawing of me.” So, I would go around and see if I was looking terrible or not (laughs). You could draw a person where they have chipmunk cheeks or they could look fantastic and it’s all up to that artist what you’re going to look like. So, I walk into this video store in the nineties and this guy goes, “You’re in The Zero Boys.” At that time I had not thought about The Zero Boys since I did it, so I said, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because it’s a really hot item and it’s kind of an underground thing. I can’t keep it in the store.” I said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” I had no idea! He goes, “Oh my God, I can’t keep it in the store. I don’t know why people aren’t talking to you about it.” It was early enough in the nineties, that the internet wasn’t a big thing, so no one was writing to me about it or anything like that. So, every time you walk into the video store, especially if you’re in horror, it’s an adventure! You see your stuff and you see people responding to your stuff. Usually, you don’t get recognized, but if you do, then people ask you questions. It was kind of like the only place we really met our fans until we started doing the convention thing and stuff like that. We didn’t really see our fans, you know? So, we had no idea that anybody was caring about this stuff.

I thought, “Gee, what do I want to do with my life? Is this really what I want to do? I could be in a movie or I could clean toilets, because I have no other skills.” It was kind of scary (laughs)! I had no idea that people were interested in this stuff until the internet came along. I only had some idea because they used to play the movies on cable, like every five seconds. I guess they could buy them cheaply or something. Someone would say, “Oh, I just saw you in a movie.” Nine times out of ten, they were rolling their eyes at you. I learned to say, “Well, it’s a living (laughs). A girl has got to eat (laughs).” Then, all of a sudden, people started to look at them for what they were and appreciate what they were. If one more person says the word cheesy to me, I’m going to scream. I’m going to say, “Do you know what that means? Can you find another word and why must you put something down?” Why is something a guilty pleasure? Why can’t it be a pleasure? And why are we in love with the word cheesy? If I hear it one more time, I’m going to go through the screen and slap that person (laughs). I’m really not! I’m just kidding. (laughter) I hate it! What does that mean? Are you trying to say it’s kind of hokey and kind of lame? I guess it’s a way of saying something that’s kind of a put down, so let’s call it cheesy. I hate that.

GG: It kind of seems like there was more gore and nudity in eighties horror movies. What do you see as the major differences in horror from the eighties compared to horror in 2019?

Maroney: Now that you’re saying that, there’s plenty of reasons to call this stuff cheesy. The acting was broad. The colors were lurid. There was lots of gore and lots of kills and you always had to have tits. And that was irritating. As a matter of fact, Roger Corman told Jim Wynorski that he didn’t have enough tits in Chopping Mall. Jim said, “There’s no call for tits in this.” Roger said, “You’ve got a locker room scene. Puts some tits in it.” And Jim said, “I’m not asking Kelli to do that. She’s the heroine and Barbara’s already given us gold.” So, he had some model walk past us and it’s really just side boob, it’s not even really boobs (laughs), to satisfy Roger’s request that there were more tits in the movie. For Jim Wynorski to be offended by something, are you kidding? He said, “I don’t want to put nudity in this scene.” I didn’t know him then, but now looking back, that was odd on his part (laughs). That’s the level of okay, there’s got to be this amount of kills and this has got to happen. You know, there’s that old cliché. Okay, the more we talk about it, the more I’m okay with cheesy. Because if you have sex, you die. Things that we all know are familiar and it’s part of the charm.

But to answer your question, I think that horror is, instead of going in and saying we have to follow this format, they’re using a lot more wit and creativity. People have said, “In the eighties horror was about the people. You cared about the people.” And now they say, “We don’t really care about these people and that’s why it’s not scary. That’s why it’s not engaging.” I think there’s something to that, but recently we have come back to that. There’s so much good, original stuff now that is about the people. It’s almost like the heart has blossomed back in. It’s like they had to go a certain way, but now they’re back. Because it is about the people and it’s very sophisticated in a way that no one had the time or inclination to be way back then. In a way, maybe the eighties deserve the word cheesy because maybe we were talking down to our audience. Nobody was taking the genre seriously. It was something where you would sell your script or sign on to direct to get your foot in the door directing. It wasn’t because you necessarily loved the genre. Even as actors it was like, “Okay, I’m paying my rent. This is great.” I mean, most actors I know weren’t that way. If you got a part, you played the part with all your heart and soul. But I’m sure there were people who just said, “Yeah, whatever.”

I’m trying to make a point here, which is maybe we did look down on it ourselves. Maybe that’s why. And now, people are putting their intelligence and their emotions and heart into something. They’re using horror now as a platform to say things that are important and heartfelt and spiritual even, whereas before it wasn’t that way. Not consciously. Now I know consciously I did. I always tried to make this, “What is this a metaphor for,” when I was preparing for a part. I always did. Probably everybody else did, too, but somehow it wasn’t conscious and now it is. People are saying, “How does this connect with other people? What are we trying to say?” Maybe they’re not when they’re on the set, but I know that by the time it’s out and people are discussing it and it’s being reviewed, it’s being discussed on such a higher, more intelligent, more thoughtful, more wiser level than I’ve seen before. It’s very exciting.

GG: I’m really excited about In Search of Darkness and it features more than forty horror icons, including you! How did it feel to be involved with this project and what do you hope genre fans take away from it?

Maroney: I just think it’s a love letter to the fans more than anything. When I see snippets of the other interviews, everybody is just so delighted to talk about their passion. I mean, I can’t wait to see this because it looks like it’s so much fun. They probably have enough material to do Part Two because people get in there and their faces light up. The director, David Weiner, is a wonderful person to talk to because he’s an encyclopedia. He knows what he’s talking about and he cares deeply about this subject. And you could just see everybody’s eyes light up because they knew they were going to have a good conversation with him. I think it’s a love letter. I think it’s a celebration of the fact that horror is a real genre and it’s here to stay and blossom. And I think it’s going to be more important as the years go by. I think it’s the enduring one and basically the first one. Everybody is always going to want to categorize a little bit, but it’s hit the mainstream and I think it’s home to stay.

People grew up on this, watching it, and the connection now that they have with other fans. It’s not just them watching it. Then they get on social media and they’re all watching it together. I mean that whole thing that happened with Joe Bob Briggs. All these people got on and they broke the internet because they’re all so excited to be talking to each other about what they’re sitting there watching. Maybe in the past, they were sitting there watching it by themselves with no concept anybody else was watching it. And I think it’s going to continue with that and it’s going to be another thing for fans to go, “God, I loved this growing up. It formed my teenage years or my childhood or my adulthood. I love this movie so much and I didn’t even know anybody else knew about it.” That’s what entertainment is supposed to do. It’s supposed to connect us with one another. And horror does that on such a visceral level, with no holds barred, that everybody continues to respond to it. And I think that’s why we go to the movies.

GG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! It’s been wonderful talking to you about horror and the eighties.

Maroney: You, too! Thank you so much. That’s another thing, too. It’s interesting for me to do this horror documentary and meet people like yourself that know what you’re talking about. It just makes my heart sing to know that you’re doing this. It’s just great. The horror community is the most creative thing going on right now because people are sparking off each other. People are allowed to be themselves and let their guard down. We have this unique possibility now of all communicating with each other on such a more normal and regular level, not just occasionally. I just think that this is on fire right now. This is the perfect time for this documentary to come out. Everybody in those clips is excited and I think the fans will be excited, too. I think this is going to be important and I’m so glad I was asked to be a part of it.