Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chapter VII: After Friday V

Although Danny had his biggest hit, Friday V would be the last film he would ever make. If the saying “You’re only as good as your last film” is true, why did Danny never make another movie again? Why has he kept quiet till his most recent appearance in the Friday the 13th documentary His Name Was Jason? In this chapter, Danny breaks his silence and fills in what happened between 1985 and 2009.

Danny Steinmann: In NY, I took my mother out to dinner one night. A girl comes over to our table dressed beautifully and gorgeous and asks, “Are you Danny Steinmann?”

I said, “Yes.” And she told me who she was. When I was 16, this girl was my life. She was a cross between Natalie Wood and Ava Gardner. Not an exaggeration. We were inseparable for two years. She went away to college, and so did I. I saw her a few times, but the magic was mostly gone. She got married, and we went our separate ways.

Over 25 years later, she tells me she’s divorced and has two kids. I was divorced and had one son. She wrote down her address and phone number and left.

Friday was finished and the two guys from Boston had hired me to write and direct The Last House on the Left, Part 2. I began to flush out the story. I got together with Margie, the woman that now consumed my heart.

The two moneymen had gone to Cannes to pre-sell the film. A super-talented girl, Tina Landau, helped me write the script. I was being paid good money and anxious to get started. Although I was in my forties, I was experiencing life as I had when I was 16.

One of the producers asked me to go and look at some locations in Wisconsin. We went, taking my soon-to-be wife with us. After a day or so, I agreed that we could shoot there. About a week later, back in New York, I was told that there was a problem with the rights. It seemed that they had not secured permission from the original writer to shoot a sequel, and although they were paying me good money, their hands were tied and it couldn’t be done. So began a series of bad breaks and missed opportunities that eventually led me to a life without purpose, without hope, without the will to stay alive.

For the moment, no big deal; Margie and I got married and were madly in love. Friday V had done very well, and although not critically received, it was a good credit and I was getting offers.

I next signed on to write and direct a camp musical entitled Frankenstar. I met with the producers and music executives in order to coordinate a plan of action. I began to write the script and insisted on being paid each week. We went down to Baton Rouge and New Orleans to scout for locations. We met with the governor and various officials to secure locations and obtain permits. They made an offer to Ozzy Osbourne to star in the picture.

Back in LA with a finished first draft, I secured a crew and began pre production with everyone on board. I received a call telling me that one of the producers was arrested and the other had gone missing. The project collapsed and I was unemployed. I was super pissed, but could do nothing about it.

I was next offered to write and direct a feature film for Empire Films, a company with a track record for making small but commercially successful films – comedies, thrillers and horror. It was owned and run by the Band family, very nice to work with and financially sound. This time my agent made a deal with them that I would be paid in full whether the film was made or not.

The story was similar to The Descent. I was given an outline and began to write the script. A month later, they sent me to Italy to scout locations and begin to cast. I was taken to Cinecittà, a major studio in Rome where Empire shot many of their films. I was shown a bunch of caves in southern Italy and found one that would work nicely.

Back in LA, I met with Charles Band. He told me that Empire was out of business. They had declared bankruptcy. He implored me not to go after my unpaid salary. That he would make it up to me, pay and hire me as soon as he was back on his feet again. I acquiesced, and I’ve never been paid by, hired by, or spoken to Mr. Band again. What the fuck was going on?

Almost two years of marriage, it abruptly came to an end. We both discovered that we weren’t teenagers anymore and couldn’t handle life together as adults. It was my second divorce and I felt like a failure. Life tastes much better when you have someone to share it with.

I was next offered to direct a film that I had written called Caprice. It was to be shot in Seoul, South Korea. The story was about a girl who loved her father a bit too much. She kills her mother and sister ten pages into the script: a sexual thriller.

The moneyman screened two of his films for me. He traveled everywhere in his limo. He lived large. I hired three American actors. The rest of the cast would be Korean. I made the father the United States Ambassador.

Three days before I was to fly to Seoul, I met with my new agent who gave me the news. The film producer was a phony. He had duped a bunch of investors out of large sums of money. He was wanted in Europe for similar schemes. I was floored. I called the Beverly Wilshire, but he had checked out. Trust no one. Not a good time to go to Vegas.

About this time, I had been living in a nice apartment in the valley. I was thrown out of bed early one morning. The apartment started to come apart; the Northridge earthquake. It seemed to go on forever. Everything I owned was no more.

I moved in with a close friend, hoping my luck would change. I was on a horrible roll. I used to be a very physical person. If I didn’t run, play tennis, go to the gym, something each day, I had trouble functioning. One day I was riding a bicycle when for some reason a pickup truck slammed into me from behind. I flew through the air and landed on the back of a parked car. For some reason I didn’t put my arms out and took the crash full force with my head, crushing my cervical bones, No. 3 through 7.

I strongly advise wearing a helmet while riding a bike. Christopher Reeves’ fall off his horse obliterated all of the bones in his cervix. He was immediately paralyzed.

I was left with crushed knees and horrendous pain in my neck. I had successful surgery on my legs, but my neck was no easy fix. I saw many doctors, specialists and surgeons in LA. They came to no consensus and this was becoming expensive since I had no medical insurance.

I strongly advise to always have medical insurance.

I went to Miami and New York and back to LA trying to find the right doctor or surgeon to help me recover. My pain was becoming acute so I agreed to let a surgeon operate. He would take out the shattered bones and replace those with bones that he constructed from my hip, then sculpt and secure them with titanium plates and screws. He stated that after the operation I would virtually be pain free. That was not to be the case. Post-op I would remain in the hospital for 18 more days. I had trouble breathing on my own. After another attempt to correct my cervical spine, I was free to go and fend for myself. My pain had lessened, but had not gone away.

A good friend of mine asked me whether I was well enough to go to the Philippines and write and direct a documentary on the life of Imelda Marcos. I asked my doctor and he gave me thumbs up.

Less than a week later, I landed in Manila and was taken to a magnificent house with a huge pool, beautifully furnished, and quite a few servants. I was off my pain meds and feeling good. My luck had changed. That night I met with Madam Marcos at dinner and became entranced by her beauty and her spirit. I was anxious to get to work. The next morning I awoke in pain that I didn’t know existed; blinding, excruciating, stabbing. No words exist to express this torturous overwhelming feeling.

I was rushed to the hospital, given a shot of Demerol, and thankfully, passed out. I was to remain in this Manila hospital for the next 2½ months, given so many different medications, therapies, and tests; taking heavy doses of pain meds each day.

Gradually, I began to recover. I asked for any books or publications on the life of Madam Marcos. She also came to the hospital twice to be interviewed. I began to write. I believe it’s the best work that I’ve ever done. I underwent another surgery in the Philippines that they hoped would heal my condition.

The producer had gone back to the States and I was informed that the documentary was cancelled. When I was able, they put me on a plane back to LA. Mentally and physically, I was in a great deal of pain and now almost broke.

The next few months in LA are pretty much a blur. My only objective each day was to quiet the growing monster of pain as best I could. I was losing the battle. Almost every night was spent in different emergency wards around the city. I had no money to spend on doctors. My options shrunk. The pain continued to grow mercilessly.

I bought a knife. That night, I filled the bathtub with water, got in, and slit my wrists. Soon the water turned red. I closed my eyes and thought about my best friend who overdosed on heroin in the mid-sixties, that he had missed Neil Armstrong on the moon, Vietnam, Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, and I drifted away.

For some reason I hadn’t put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, which I had done every night. I was told that the maid had come in, saw me in the tub of this skanky motel, and rushed downstairs to the front desk. They called the police and five to ten minutes later there were over 12 people in my room. Talk about being embarrassed.

I was taken to the nearest hospital. There I was given a shot of Ativan and put into the psychiatric ward where I would stay for a week. The problem was I was not given any pain medication, not even Tylenol. I didn’t sleep the entire week. I begged, howled, and pleaded to no avail. They considered me an addict and was treated as one. Finally, I was discharged in a great deal of pain.

To this day, I don’t really know whether I was a pain pill addict or whether the pain came from a botched surgery or a combination of both. It didn’t matter. The agony was real and growing. I was still suicidal and super pissed that I was still alive. Each time I saw a bus or a truck coming toward me, I tried to throw myself in front of it, but I could never gather the courage. My mind was all over the place. I couldn’t retain any clear thoughts.

Somehow, I remembered I had an uncle who lived in Dover, Delaware; my mother’s brother. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in years. I found his telephone number, called, and told him my story. He said with no hesitation, “Get your ass down here.” That was thirteen years ago. Two weeks after my arrival in Dover, I had a wonderful doctor, Medicaid, and Social Security checks. I am virtually pain free now and have a life, not much of one, but it’ll do. Sadly, my uncle and his wife have passed away.

About eight months ago, strange things began to happen.

I was asked to do an interview for a book on the Friday the 13th series. Shortly after, I received an invitation to be part of a Friday V convention in Dallas and then did a radio interview for deadpit.com, then a commentary for the Savage Streets DVD, then was filmed for a documentary featuring High Rise. Shortly after that, I was asked to do a filmed interview for Friday V, a documentary on all the Friday films, shot in New York, I believe for Starz Cable. The Unseen, the picture I took my name off, has recently been released on DVD and a film I did as an actor in 1965 has resurfaced. I was invited to Cleveland by Cinema Wasteland the first week in April. (I had the best time. The people were wonderful.) A few weeks ago I went to LA to do a commentary and interview for Friday the 13th Part V. I went to a convention in Florida in mid-April and I was invited to NYC for Fangoria, June 5th-7th and then to Kentucky in August.

And that’s my story. My son is in LA trying to succeed as an actor/writer. He is so talented and gifted. The key, I think, is the ability to judge people correctly. It’s a tough business, lots of phonies and lots of good, honest people. Judge them correctly and always wear a helmet while riding a bike and always, always have medical insurance.

9 comments:

Mand D said...

Great interview

Scab said...

I agree, GREAT interview. I love Steinmann's work.

Anonymous said...

Quite a story, and quite a life. DS needs to write an autobiography. I've heard plenty of cautionary tales about Tinseltown but none quite as filled with disappointment and tragedy. People need to be enlightened about what really goes on in Hollywood and how the movie industry functions (or malfunctions) for those who aren't heavily connected A list players. Careers can be frozen and lives ruined by malicious rumors because the whole town is fueled by gossip, and those who spread it (usually frustrated D-girls and vindictive producers or execs) are often jealous of the writers and directors and actors who actually create the movies, and are eager to cut them down at every opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the incredible interview. Very touching, and made me tear up at some parts. I'm a writer myself, and a former student of film. If my memory serves me correctly, "A New Beginning" was the first, or at least one of the first Friday the 13th films I ever saw at an early age. It's really something that in recent years, it's gained popularity due to a second look of it. I'm actually writing a novel that will be a direct sequel to part 5, with Tommy as the killer. Watch for it on one of the websites.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,
You are to be commended for a doing a great job. With so many people re-gurgitating tired old myths, you have gone out and done some excellent research. Thanks!

Phantom of Pulp said...

Thistruly one of the best interviews I've ever read with a true filmmaker; it is so raw and honest and free of bullshit.

Fantastic job.

Mr. Steinmann has 100% of my respect.

Anonymous said...

I invested good time on reading this review. It is so worth it.

sitedecinema@sitedecinema.com.br said...

SUPERB interview.
I hope Dennis is cured.

Anonymous said...

Cory feldman brought me here.