Fango Funhouse: Judah Friedlander talks “FEAST,” “FEVER” and Frights!
As any true fright fanatic can tell you, horror and comedy go together like monsters and sequels, often bleeding into one another in such iconic genre offerings such as the DEAD ALIVE, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and CREEPSHOW. Whether it’s oddly timed decapitation or the bickering undead, few can argue that the subversive nature of both genres compliment each other with relative ease. Therefore, I welcome you, dear reader, to FANGO FUNHOUSE, a look into the co-dependent world of horror-comedy through those who know it best.
You may have seen Judah Friedlander in his main cast role from NBC’s 30 ROCK, or possibly throughout the world of stand-up comedy, wherein he’s earned the self-appointed title of “The World Champion.” However, dread devotees probably know him best as Beer Guy in John Gulager’s FEAST and its sequel, as well as his small roles in THE JANITOR and CABIN FEVER II: SPRING FEVER. So under the cover of night, the oft-hilarious Friedlander stumbled into the FANGO FUNHOUSE to talk about gory goodness and his love for the comically macabre.
FANGORIA: So, was FEAST your first horror film?
JUDAH FRIEDLANDER: Actually, I believe I did one earlier. A microbudget one called THE JANITOR. It was like a ‘blood-and-boobs’ type horror-comedy.
FANG: THE JANITOR? I’ll have to look into it. Most horror fans first saw you in FEAST. Have you always been a horror fan?
FRIEDLANDER: Yeah, I love horror movies. I think they’re rarely made very well. I’m not slamming people by [saying] that, but what I’m saying is that it’s difficult to make a very good horror movie. But I loved FEAST, man. I loved FEAST so much. It’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve been in. I had a great time making it. When I got the opportunity to be in it, I jumped at it. And one of the things I said when I got cast was, “We need my character to have really disgusting, gross things happen to him. The nastier things that happen to me, theoretically, it’s good for the gore and the gross stuff but it also ups the humor, you know.” That character is one that you’re supposed to be cringing and laughing at, with all of the ridiculous, over-the-top things that happen to him. So, after the monsters puke on me, there were supposed to be maggots coming out of my eye, in my hair, in the goo I’m covered in. Jules [Sylvester], our maggot wrangler, was awesome. He also did the snakes for SNAKES ON A PLANE. I believe they were mealworms. Not actual maggots, but real, live mealworms. I wanted it to look real, disgusting and not fake. So I actually put them in my mouth and up my nose, just because it was going to look better for the final result. So I was like, “Let’s get really messy and get these critters up in my body.” So yeah, it was awesome.
FANG: As a horror fan, is there any horror film that you think has been undeservedly forgotten or ignored?
FRIEDLANDER: As for forgotten horror movies, I mean, I think there are a lot. I really like this movie called LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH from 1971. There’s not a lot of gore in it, but it’s really creepy. It’s got a good story, and the lead actress is really good in it. I really liked that movie. I’m a really big fan of GINGER SNAPS 2. I mean, I like GINGER SNAPS but I think GINGER SNAPS 2 is really good. There’s a TV movie that’s sort of horror called BAD RONALD. It’s got a great story and it’s got some creepy stuff in it. I’m not sure if you could technically classify it as horror but I really like it. I also like, and I know he gets slammed a lot by critics, but I also really like some of [Brian] De Palma’s from the 70s and early 80s. I think DRESSED TO KILL is a really scary movie.
FANG: Our March Issue [#321] actually focused on De Palma.
FRIEDLANDER: That’s awesome. I’ll have to pick that up. I remember when I was a kid, a movie that scared the shit out of me was TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM. I remember that being the first movie that really fucking scared me. It’s about a wax museum. One of the builds is Jack The Ripper, and it actually comes to life and starts killing people. I remember liking that a lot, but I haven’t seen it since it first came out in 1973. I think everyone’s got that story about the first time they saw a horror movie. That would be mine.
FANG: How was it like working with John Gulager on his first feature film?
FRIEDLANDER: Let me tell you something: John Gulager is the man. A true original. Really creative. Great with editing, great with the camera. He does his own thing. I think he’s an exciting filmmaker. I would do any project with him. I did a cameo in FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS. He actually offered me a cameo in PIRANHA 3DD, but I was unavailable, so I couldn’t do it. That was a bummer. But yeah, I’m a big Gulager fan. I love him. I love his dad, Clu. I love his whole family, man. They’re great people.
FANG: Were you surprised that FEAST was as humorous as it was?
FRIEDLANDER: Oh yeah, I knew FEAST was a horror comedy. I read the script, and the guys who wrote it, Marcus [Dunstan] and Patrick [Melton], are great. I remember reading the script, and I totally got it. They nailed it. It was fucking funny, and they also gave me some freedom to come up with stuff, so it was just a really good collaboration. Gary Tunnicliffe, the head of the monster FX, and Michael Mosher, who did the make-up effects, were great. Kevin Pike did some other FX, and I’m forgetting some guys, but it was such a fun crew. Fun cast, too. And I’m a big fan of horror movies that are able to effectively combine humor as well. I feel FEAST is legitimately scary and legitimately funny, and I’m really proud to have been a part of it.
FANG: What appealed to you most about the role? Have you been hesitant to do a death scene in a movie since?
FRIEDLANDER: Well… that was one of the biggest attractions. When they first came to me and said, “Hey, we want you to play the role of Beer Guy,” I figured it was a one-line scene. So I read it, and I was like, “Oh, I’m in main cast. This is awesome!” And then I just see myself getting tortured, two different girls are beating me up, monsters are puking on me, they’re pulling out my eyeballs, and I said, “This. Is. Fucking. Awesome.” Getting to do a death scene in a horror movie is so much fun, man. So much fun. And the thing was, when I was a kid, I was really big into FANGORIA, STARLOG, CINEFEX, all that stuff. I did animation when I was a kid, and I would read all the special FX magazines and stuff, so when you’re doing a horror movie where they’re doing all live, practical effects, I just love it. That’s the stuff I grew up on. I wanted to do that stuff when I was a little kid. I was a big Ray Harryhausen fan. It was just awesome.
FANG: That’s the M.O. with many horror films these days. Because they work with such low budgets, they’re usually a labor of love.
FRIEDLANDER: You bring up a good point there. That’s always the best when you’re working on something where you love it, the people who are making it love it, the crew loves it. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about money. It’s not about box office. It’s about creating something, people having a great time making it and hopefully people will have a great time watching it.
FANG: You have also appeared in CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER. Were you a fan of the first CABIN FEVER?
FRIEDLANDER: Yeah! I did like the first CABIN FEVER. I liked it a lot. It was kind of a nice throwback to an 80s style horror movie where it has this old school feel in the style of a legitimate horror movie.
FANG: Do you prefer your horror films bloodier or more atmospheric? I feel CABIN FEVER has a good balance between the two factors.
FRIEDLANDER: Yeah, it does. I don’t have a preference necessarily. It depends on the film. I like gore films, but it has to have a purpose and a point instead of just being there, you know what I mean? It just has to fit within everything. Otherwise you’re just watching a man getting stabbed. I like a combination of both.
FANG: How was working with Ti West?
FRIEDLANDER: Ti’s great! Ti’s an awesome dude. I actually met Ti several years ago through my friend TJ Nordaker, who was the co-director of THE JANITOR. And Ti knew me because he was a fan of my comedy and stuff, and when CABIN FEVER 2 came along, he said, “Hey, I’d like you to do a little cameo in this.” And I’d never actually been on set with him. I’ve seen some of his movies but I’d never seen him direct. And I was so impressed with just how he really knows what he wants, how organized he is, how fast he films and how knowledgeable he is. The FX guys on CABIN FEVER 2 were great, too. I know Ti had a lot of problems with the production company for CABIN FEVER 2. There were a lot of re-edits. I really liked the script. I really liked the scene I’m in. I thought that came out well. I liked working with Giuseppe [Andrews]. I don’t think the movie came out the way Ti wanted it, which is a little disappointing, but that happens in the film business. I still like much of that movie a lot. The lead actor, Noah Segan, has this long monologue when he’s telling off Alexi Wasser, and it’s really one of the best monologues I’ve ever heard on film. It was really fucking good, so there are a few cool things in the flick.
FANG: Have you seen any of Ti West’s films since then?
FRIEDLANDER: I haven’t seen V/H/S yet, but I have seen THE INNKEEPERS. Ti’s all about mood. He’s really big into that. I think he’s a talented and smart guy, and I also like how prolific he is. He’s always doing stuff. It’s inspiring. He’s very good.
FANG: Have you ever had a particularly memorable in-theater experience for a horror movie, for better or for worse?
FRIEDLANDER: Oh, well, I remember one movie that scared me, and I hadn’t seen all the movies featured in it, was TERROR IN THE AISLES. I’m a huge Donald Pleasance fan, and it’s him and Nancy Allen sitting in a movie theater, watching horror movies, and then talking about how the people sitting in the audience with you can be scary, too. So you’re watching that, and they’re showing all these clips from horror movies. I remember being a kid, seeing that and being like, “Whoa. That’s scary.” I remember that was the first time I was introduced to Wings Hauser. I think they were showing clips from VICE SQUAD, which isn’t technically a horror movie but the way TERROR IN THE AISLES used those scenes, he seemed very scary.
FANG: FEAST spawned two sequels of its own, so between that and CABIN FEVER 2, you’ve been in at least two horror franchises. If you could be a part of any other iconic horror franchise, what would you choose and why?
FRIEDLANDER: Oh man… there’s so many to pick from. I think HALLOWEEN would be great. I don’t think that one can be redone again. I think JAWS might be cool. After the last one, they kind of just fell off. I like shark movies though. I’d add some comic relief to it also. I’m trying to think of some kind of role that I’d play in one of these movies. Maybe if I were to be in a Freddy movie, I could play a janitor at the high school or something. I actually just did a little cameo in RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH. I think it’s almost done. I think they’re going to have it at Cannes. Lloyd [Kaufman] is an awesome dude. He’s funny. I wore some horror movie T-shirts on 30 ROCK. I wore several Troma shirts on 30 ROCK. I always had to do a shout-out to things I liked. I think, also, that “Frank” on 30 ROCK would be a horror fan, too.
FANG: What do you think it is about comedy that lends itself so well to horror?
FRIEDLANDER: What intrigues me about it is that they’re the two genres that elicit a reflexive action from the audience. Like, when you see a horror movie and there’s a scary moment, the entire audience will scream or gasp or jump at the same moment. When you do comedy, and you do something funny, whether it’s a joke or a sight gag or whatever, the entire audience will laugh at once. It’s an audible and physical reaction, and you don’t have that in drama, really. Like, people won’t get sad at the same time. Some people cheer up, some people might not. But with horror, it’s kind of like a punchline, but a scary one as opposed to a comedic one, because you don’t see it coming. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when it’s going to come. It’s the same with humor. There’s some similarities there. I’d love to get some horror roles or write a movie someday and explore that stuff. The first movie that really impressed me, at least as far back as I can remember that did that, was AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. I remember seeing that when I was a kid and being impressed because it was so scary and so funny. It was an amazing combination of entertainment.
FANG: Do you think it’s harder for the relationship to work in reverse in terms of trying to implement elements of horror into a comedy film?
FRIEDLANDER: That’s a great idea, and I haven’t even thought about that much.
FANG: There’s only a few guys who can pull it off pretty well. I think Tim Burton is one of them, especially in his earlier stuff like PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and BEETLEJUICE. Edgar Wright does it well, too.
FRIEDLANDER: What I remember, and it’s not even a comedy movie per se, but in SHOWGIRLS, there’s a scene where one of the girls gets raped by a music star. It’s out of the blue, and it’s just creepy and scary and awful. You’re just like, “What the fuck was that?!” It really caught you off-guard. Otherwise, I can’t really think of any, but I really like the idea.
FANG: Now that 30 ROCK has finished, do you have any genre projects coming up?
FRIEDLANDER: Actually, no, but I want to. I have two projects of my own I’m working on. I’m working on a stand-up album, and a stand-up concert documentary film, and after that I have two movies that I want to write and be in. One of them is a horror-comedy-exploitation film. I’ve had a fair amount of dramatic roles too, you know, like AMERICAN SPLENDOR, which was dramatic and humorous, and also films like CHAPTER 27 and DUANE HOPWOOD. When it comes to acting, I don’t like doing the same stuff over and over again. I like to do different things, and in dramatic parts, sometimes you’ll even learn things about comedy because even though they’re different, they are related. But I’d love to get into more horror work. If there’s anybody working on one, let me know. Even if it’s a scary role. I’d love to play a scary role in a movie.