Interview – Robert Kurtzman

All too often we only see what is in front of us and neglect to see the work behind the scenes of a film. Sure, it all looks great on the screen… but what about the work behind the scenes? A highly accomplished special effects makeup artist, Robert Kurtzman has been working behind the camera for nearly forty years. With a lengthy list of credits that would make a Horror lover salivate from 1986’s Night of the Creeps to 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and beyond, Kurtzman’s artistry is all over the genre.

Also working as a producer, director, and writer, Kurtzman wrote the story for the 1996 fan-favorite From Dusk till Dawn and directed 1997’s Wishmaster. Still hard at work, in more recent years, he has worked on effects behind such popular works as Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and 2019’s Doctor Sleep. So, the question is, how many films have you seen that Kurtzman has worked on? The answer is probably quite a few! Still yearning to create, direct, and push cinematic boundaries Robert Kurtzman recently sat down to chat about it all. 

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in film as a makeup artist, special effects artist, and director for three decades now. In that time, you have worked on a long list of memorable Horror and Sci-Fi films. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in cinema?

Robert Kurtzman – From comic books to Fangoria, to late night Horror host movies. I saw monsters and wanted to make them.

Cryptic Rock – So you were a Horror lover from the start! Among your many credits you have done makeup/effects on 1986’s Night of the Creeps, 1992’s Army of Darkness, 2002’s Cabin Fever, and the list goes on. What are some of your more memorable experiences working on the set of a film as an effects artist?

Robert Kurtzman – We had the best time on Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987). Blowing things up, creating and partying together in a Chainsaw Massacre type house.

Evil Dead II movie poster / Rosebud Releasing Corp (1987)
From Dusk till Dawn movie poster / Miramax Films (1996)

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a lot of fun. What have you learned from all behind the scenes on film sets?

Robert Kurtzman – Be prepared for anything.

Cryptic Rock – That is a good outlook to have. As an effects artist, you have seen a lot of changes. Obviously, technologies change, assisting in making effects more cost efficient. That in mind, as a veteran of effects and makeup, what are your thoughts on CGI effects in modern cinema?

Robert Kurtzman –The best filmmakers utilize both. Practical is always the way to go but there are some things that can’t be achieved with practical alone. A lot of great filmmakers use both like Guillermo del Toro.

Cryptic Rock – Good point. It is all a matter of how they are used to enhance a film. Perhaps one of your most recognized pieces of work is writing the story for 1996’s big hit film From Dusk till Dawn. Spawning a series of sequels, and even a television series, how did the original From Dusk till Dawn project come about?

Robert Kurtzman –My buddies and I used to go to the drive-in that ran “From Dusk Till Dawn” movies, quite literally. The story itself came about wanting to make an Action film and a vampire movie. Using one location and having people fight for their life very much like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Cryptic Rock – The film certainly has stood the test of time. You had numerous roles as a part of From Dusk till Dawn. Just a year later, you directed Wishmaster (1997). What led to your involvement with Wishmaster?

Robert Kurtzman – I wanted to direct, they were looking for a director, interviewed and after numerous call backs I got the job.

Cryptic Rock – Well you made a big impression because the original film is a fan-favorite with Horror lovers. There were numerous Wishmaster sequels to follow. Were you asked to be a part of any of them? Furthermore, would you consider returning to the Wishmaster realm if asked to?

Robert Kurtzman – I was not part of and did not want to be part of the sequels as they wanted the same, but at a lower budget. If Andrew Divoff agreed to take on the Djinn character again, and if the budget were big enough, I would definitely consider directing another Wishmaster.

Robert Kurtzman applying makeup on Victoria Pedretti / The Haunting of Hill House series

Cryptic Rock – Hopefully the stars align for something like that, because it would be interesting to see. Seeing you have done effects, writing, directing, and production do you have a favorite department you enjoy working in most?

Robert Kurtzman – As much as I love makeup FX and all that it entails, I plan to direct again.

Cryptic Rock – Hopefully we will get to see you direct again soon. Which leads to our next question. The last time you were in the director’s chair for a feature film was 2010’s Deadly Impact. Can fans expect to see you perhaps return to this role in the near future?

Robert Kurtzman – Yes, I am in talks with three productions so we’ll see how that works out.

Cryptic Rock – That is exciting to hear! So, if given the chance to direct again in the future, what would you like to work on?

Robert Kurtzman –As we all sign NDA’s, I can’t give details, but I’m working on a creature feature and again, in talks to direct.

Wishmaster movie poster / Live Entertainment (1997)
The Haunting of Hill House series poster / Netflix (2018)

Cryptic Rock – Ok, so these are all things to look out for. Last question. What are some of your favorite Horror/Sci-Fi films and why?

Robert Kurtzman – The Thing (1982), Race with the Devil (1975), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)… each one has their own unique storyline, action, effects. Honestly, my list is too large to list.

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