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From monster kid to GODZILLA costume builder, to working on
such Charles Band/EMPIRE classics as ELIMINATORS and GHOULIES, special FX
wizard Cleve Hall is fascinating (as even casual viewers of his hit show
MONSTER MAN can now attest too). Hall has see and done it all. Hell, he even
built Gene Simmons’s iconic chest armor. In light of his current run on Syfy,
Fango sat down with the artist to talk up his career and all it's entailed.
FANG: Its well known that Godzilla inspired your career, do
you recall what age you were when you first saw it?
CLEVE HALL: I was in 2nd grad, I believe, in Catholic school
in Jacksonville, FL. I remember being so excited. I'm not sure how I first
became aware of Godzilla. I loved dinosaurs and Lionel trains. I had seen
Mothra and Gorgo, so my love for giant creatures had already been forged. I
remember seeing the ads for KING KONG vs GODZILLA in the newspaper, along with
one murky black-and-white picture, but my mom wouldn't take me because it was
playing in a "bad section of town;” whatever that meant. I had also seen
the Aurora Godzilla Model with rather inaccurate painting of Godzilla (which
thrilled me in a way I can't describe nevertheless). When I found out GODZILLA
VS THE THING (MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA) was opening in a few days, I couldn't stop
thinking about it. We had driven past the theater and I saw the poster. That
Reynold Brown artwork is still one of the most powerful images I have ever
seen. I must have driven everyone nuts at school, because I couldn't shut up
about it. Well, the day came when my mom had promised to take me, and that was
the longest school day of my life. My teacher, Sister Davida, came by my desk
and looked in my notebook. She was not pleased to see that, instead of math,
every page was filled with drawings of Godzilla! That evening, while bolting my
dinner down in an effort to make us leave quicker, my mom got a call from my
teacher. She told my mom about my lack of attention at school and suggested I
be punished by not taking me to the movie. My mom listened patiently, nodding,
then hung up and said "Okay! Time to go! Get in the car!" My mom was
FANG: Who`s been the most difficult client to work with?
HALL: Well, I hate talking shit about people, and to be
honest there have been a few clients that, no matter what, just couldn't be
pleased and kept wanting changes. Most of them were the ones who had the least
money, and I had agreed to give them a break on the price. Now, Gene Simmons
was somewhat difficult at times, but that's Gene. [It]takes a while for him to
warm up to you.
No, the number one most difficult client was this
ventriloquist named David Strassman (I refer to him as Stressman) who, it turns
out, is quite famous in Australia and lands far away. Basically, he's the
equivalent of Jeff Dunham (whom he hates) here. He would approve something one
minute, then come back the next day and hate everything.
FANG: What was the first horror film you can remember
HALL: I believe it was the Hammer film, CURSE OF THE
WEREWOLF. I mainly recall the ending scene where he is cornered in the bell
tower by the village mob, and throws a burning hay bale down at them. Now, the
one horror film I saw that scared me so bad I made my mom take me out of there
was the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL with Vincent Price. That scene where the
girl backs up and the hag is standing behind her freaked me the fuck out! I
also recall seeing THE RAVEN and PIT AND THE PENDULUM and being weirded out by
some of the images.
FANG: Who were your FX mentors?
HALL: Well, obviously Eiji Tsuburya was like a god to me,
and Ray Harryhausen as well. I started with the desire to do stop motion animation
before I got into makeup FX. But, as far as the one person who became my greatest
inspiration and a friend, I met him in '77 at a convention, and then would meet
up whenever he had business in FL.
FANG: NIGHTMARE was the first feature film you worked on. What
was the experience like, what were your impressions of Tom Savini?
HALL: I got a call from a friend in Cocoa Beach and he told
me there was a horror film shooting there and they needed a makeup FX
assistant. I called the production, and was hired. I drove down there with no
idea what to expect and met the FX person, who was also the producer, Bill
Milling. Nice guy, [he] is credited as assistant to Rick baker on SQUIRM. Not
sure what exactly he did on that because, as I came to find out, he had no idea
how to do the FX for the killings. Since production had already started, there
was no time to prep or order materials, and the first FX scene was three days
away; the throat slicing. Bill was so relieved to have someone who knew what he
was doing—at least compared to him—he went around telling everyone what
fantastic stuff to expect. He had me so stressed the night before the shoot
that when we went to the local mall to buy acrylic paints, I stayed in the car
while he went inside. As soon as he was out of site I gunned the engine and
burned rubber out of there. I got a couple of miles away before his girlfriend,
who was still in the car with me (she played the girl who gets killed in that
scene) talked me down from my sudden anxiety attack and convinced me to turn
around and go back for him. I pulled up and parked about 30 seconds before he
came out of the mall, clueless as to the drama he'd just missed.
The whole shoot was an amazing experience, and the beginning
of a technique for creating FX that I have become quite amazing at; the ability
to, no matter where I am and what materials I seem to be missing, create
something totally workable out of whatever is laying around.
FANG: You’re best known for TROLL and GHOULIES, do you
personally have a favorite?
HALL: On GHOULIES, I was only a puppeteer. I had worked on a
couple of films for Charlie Band previously, METALSTORM and DUNGEONMASTER,
where I had met John Buechler on set. I met John's crew—most of whom have moved
on to very impressive careers— but at the time were just starting, GHOULIES
being their first film. So, all of the ghoulie puppets were already made and
just needed touch-ups, plus some gore FX I helped with. TROLL was the first film
I worked on for John, having been hired for a few days to foam fabricate the
minotaur costume. As things worked out, I ended up working with John for a
couple of years. Band had several films he was trying to do and we never knew
which would shoot first, so all of the FX for TROLL, ZONE TROOPERS,
ELIMINATORS, and TERRORVISION were done at the same time. Then, RE-ANIMATOR got
thrown in as well. Since John was directing TROLL, his first feature, which was
set to shoot in Italy, he kept me on that to handle the design of the puppet
staging. ELIMINATORS was shooting in SPAIN simultaneously. I have enough
stories concerning the making of TROLL to fill a book—some not for youthful
ears—but I had an amazing time in Italy doing it! Some might say I had too
FANG: Any recent horror films you`ve really enjoyed?
HALL: WOMAN IN BLACK; Totally old school, simple storyline,
scary as hell, plus the Gothic setting and use of suspense over gore—yeah, I
know, I still prefer atmosphere over gore, even though it does pay the rent.
But mainly, when the first title to appear on the screen read HAMMER FILMS, I
was in love with it.
FANG: In your vast career, what are you most proud of?
HALL: Playing Godzilla in PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is
definitely a career highlight! This little kid's dream come true! Stomping on
tanks, fighting King Ghidorah, riding in a slay with Santa and crashing into
Twisted Sister's car. I could have died that day and felt my life had been
FANG: You work with your daughters Constance and Elora. Is
it more difficult to work with family?
HALL: Sometimes it is. They don't feel they owe you the
respect of some newbie who is afraid of getting fired. But they do great work
FANG: You’re currently on the hit show, MONSTER MAN. What
can fans of the show expect this season?
HALL: Well, there were several things about the first season
that I feel need to be altered somewhat that will make the second a vast
improvement. One major difference will be that this time, all creative
decisions, from design to zipper, I will have the final word on. There were a
few things that Roy had done that I wasn't pleased with which were represented
as my work in the final edit of the episode.
It had been a verbal agreement that I was to be in charge of aesthetics,
but not always adhered to. Another is that there will be more money for these
builds, so we aren't emptying our pockets for supplies. While the deadline
aspect of these projects was constantly emphasized on the show, there was never
any mention that these were also limited budget and I couldn't afford extra
help, which I would've done to make sure we were finished on time. The last
major difference is that, recently, Roy and I agreed to become partners in SOTA
FX, with him handling the clients and business end, and myself responsible for
the creative decisions.
FANG: I heard you’re quite the ladies man, has the show
boosted your appeal with the female viewers?
HALL: Well, I don't know about being a ladies’ man. I mean,
I was a total slut back in the 80s, but I would be lying if I didn't say that I
have not received… quite a surprising amount of comments online in the various
social media sites, posted by women ranging in age from 18 to 50s, all stating
how incredibly hot they think I am. Now, I admit that back in the 80s, I was
mad hot [laughs], but now, who am I to argue? Oh, and there have been a few proposals of
FANG: Finally, any advice for future Monster men?
HALL: Yes, follow your dreams, but have a back up plan!
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