March 14, 2019 Interview – Tommy McLoughlin
Growing up out in Southern California, Tommy McLoughlin knew from a young age he wanted to be involved in entertainment in some shape or form. Little did he know that his dreams would come true when he became an established filmmaker during the 1980s, directing such memorable films including the 1982 cult classic One Dark Night, the Friday the 13th series fan-favorite, 1986’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, and adored 1987’s Romantic Comedy Date With an Angel.
Yet still, McLoughlin’s career and life’s work does not stop and end there. Always passionate about Rock-n-Roll, he had his band The Sloths active during the 1960s, and in recent years, he brought them back from the grave! Putting out a proper album in 2015, the band recently were featured on The Amityville Murders soundtrack and will be rocking out at Austin, Texa’s SXSW.
Excited about living his dreams, the multi-talented McLoughlin sat down to talk his non-linear road to success, his desire to make another Friday the 13th film, creating new music with The Sloths, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in entertainment for over four decades working in film and television. Briefly tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career in film?
Tommy McLoughlin – Basically, I started because I grew up in Culver City, which in the ’50s was where MGM Studios were with huge back lots. My father came out to Los Angeles to be a filmmaker, went to USC Film School, but when he graduated they were not hiring guys out of film school.
We basically bought a house to be close to the film studios, I was born about a year later, and I grew up with his dreams of wanting to be in the movies. By the time I was about seven, I was taking his movie camera with my friends on the weekends. We would go underneath the fence of the old MGM back lots to film little shorts. That was sort of the beginning of me really wanting to be a filmmaker.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool. So, when did the passion for music come in?
Tommy McLoughlin – Things kind of shifted when The Beatles and Rolling Stones hit in the ’60s, that is when I suddenly shifted from filmmaker to rock-n-roller. That became my absolute passion from ’63 to ’69. Our group The Sloths opened for The Doors, Iron Butterfly, Pink Floyd, and so many iconic groups from the ’60s. We were fifteen and sixteen-year-old kids and this was the golden period of ’60s Rock-n-Roll on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
Then everything kind of shifted again for me at the end of the ’60s when everything started to get kind of nasty – The Charlie Manson murders, Altamont with The Stones, the whole peace and love generation all started to merge from peace, love, and understanding to fear of anybody with long hair. That combined with the fact that I wanted to do something visually different on stage than my heroes – which are Roger Daltrey from The Who, Mick Jagger, etc.
I then decided I was going to go to Paris, of all places, to study mime, to study with the French Mime Marcel Marceau. That shifted my career again from filmmaker, Rock-n-Roll, to now mime. That was a good part of my life for about ten years, writing and directing a visual company. I had a group called The L.A. Mime Company, we went on the Dick Van Dyke TV series in the ’70s, and I got an Emmy nomination for that.
That led me back into filmmaker and features. That eventually turned into my first low budget film, One Dark Night, which we did in 1980. It took me back into that area, and seven years ago, I returned to Rock-n-Roll to find out The Sloth’s song “Making Love” was actually a cult favorite in Europe as a result of being on a compilation back in the ’80s. For the seven years, I have been straddling between all of these things. It’s been a kind of interesting circular career at this point. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Wow, it sounds like it has been a very interesting journey filled with a lot of twists and turns. The Sloths released a proper album in 2015. The album is very good and has a little bit of a lo-fi, throwback Punk Rock feel. What was it like working on that album?
Tommy McLoughlin – It’s interesting, because what we were trying to do was pick up where we left off in 1966. What eventually became Punk Rock, or what the Ramones ended up doing, was a derivative of what Garage Rock bands were doing in those days. We called it Rebel Rock instead of Punk Rock. When we started performing, we started being called a Grunge group or new age Punk Rock. It is pretty much what we are and what we came from; we tried to stay true to. My lyrics on the album are very much a throwback to teenage angst – things you complain about such as lust, making love, getting fired from a job, etc. Going into a studio and make an album that we wanted to make fifty years ago was obviously an incredible fulfillment of a dream.
I will many times on stage preach to the audience, “Don’t give up your dreams, because I’m standing here holding a vinyl album that we wanted to do fifty years ago.” We finally had a chance to do it and it’s just as sweet, if not sweeter, doing it later on in life when we should be on golf carts driving around some retirement home. The recording of the album was a real indication of what that dream was and finally getting it fulfilled.
Cryptic Rock – That is awesome that you were able to live out the dream. Some of your music is featured in the recently released The Amityville Murders movie. Being someone who has worked in the Horror genre, how exciting was it for you to have your music featured in the movie?
Tommy McLoughlin – It was great! Daniel Farrands, the writer and director, I got to know because he was a huge Friday the 13th fan. I wrote and directed Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). Ironically, being my Rock-n-Roll background, I wanted someone that would be an iconic Rock-n-Roll Horror musician for the film, so we got Alice Cooper – we got 3-4 songs from him. Dan was a huge fan of that movie and actually did a series of tributes to the franchise. He did Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) for A Nightmare on Elm Street series, and he did Crystal Lake Memories (2013) for all the Friday the 13th films.
When he did The Amityville Murders, he called me and said, “I’m doing a little tribute, lovemaking scene and I would love to have a song in there from The Sloths which is a tribute to your lovemaking scene in Friday the 13th.” That was great fun to be able to hand that song over to him. I suggested for the end of the movie this song we have called “Haunted,” and that’s the one we did the music video for.
Cryptic Rock – It is cool how it all came together. With the album released in 2015, the feature in The Amityville Murders, have you thought of recording new music?
Tommy McLoughlin –Absolutely. We actually recorded two new songs around three months. We thought, should we release them? Then we decided to save them for the next album. Then we did a song called “I Survived 27,” which is a tribute to all those who died at 27 – Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, etc. It’s all about a punk-ass Rock-n-Roll attitude, but yeah, I survived being a nasty guy, and being beaten since I was around two; I survived the cursed age. That ended up going on a 45 with The Dwarves a little less than a year ago.
I’m still writing songs and we are probably around two songs away from an album’s worth. We keep premiering songs when we are performing live: we have a couple of new ones for SXSW. We don’t stop, we want to keep pushing it and see where the music evolves.
Cryptic Rock – It will be exciting to hear more new music. What is like for you to get on stage and play these songs?
Tommy McLoughlin – Getting back on stage was amazing. We threw the band together as sort of a lark. I had not sung in about forty-five years, the guitarist had not played in forty-five years, and a couple of the other guys had continued with bands. We literally, seven years ago, got into a garage and said, “For the hell of it, Wednesday nights let’s jam and play some of the old songs.” Maybe six months later, we were offered a chance to perform in San Diego. I was the first one to say, “Let’s go for it!” Everyone else said, “No, they are going to throw shit at us, let’s not do this.” I said, “It will be fun, what do we have to lose?”
I got up there and it was just like stepping into a well-made suit; it all came back. Getting back on stage again, all of that excitement came back. Also, bringing to the stage magic: there are visual effects done on stage such as fire coming out of my hands, things disappearing and reappearing. There are also costumes, and doing things that normally a big stage show would do, but we would do it for whatever the venue is – whether it is a dive bar or the Hollywood Palladium. That has gotten me very much addicted to being back on stage and entertaining people again live.
I’ve done something like forty-two feature films, and in that time, I was more than very comfortable staying behind the camera and not doing a cameo in my movies – I was a writer and director, that was it. To suddenly get back into this teenage dream of being an entertainer, I never thought it would happen. In fact, I would have nightmares about getting up on stage and not knowing what I was doing. (Laughs) Again, there is a great sense of fulfillment and also conquering a fear that I could never go back and do that, but it’s happening.
Cryptic Rock – That is really inspiring. You mention about your career in film, and a couple of years ago Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives turned thirty. How did that film come about for you?
Tommy McLoughlin – Besides Rock-n-Roll, I was and still am a huge Horror fan. I still go to Horror movies the first weekend: I want to see it with a crowd who has not seen it before. I was doing that all through my teenage days and in my twenties. Then, as I was going through my twenties and wanting to get back into film-making, the most logical thing to do was my passion for Horror.
I made a very low budget Horror film called One Dark Night, which has become a kind of cult favorite. Off that movie I got the offer to do Friday the 13th. They had just had Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), which audiences just hated. It was not because it didn’t deliver, but you found out at the end it wasn’t Jason doing the killings. I got hired basically with one directive, “Bring back Jason!” Instead of having two years between movies, there was one year, because they wanted to get back and get their audience.
I brought my love of the Universal monster movies into it to make it a more Gothic Horror movie. I also wanted to have a kind of sense of humor with it, because I felt you can’t do six of these movies without having a little bit of irreverence to the genre you are doing. I also set out to make the characters likable. When I put the movie out there, I had no idea how it was going to be received, both by fans and I figured the critics were going to hate it – they always hate Horror and Slasher movies. Much to my shock and Paramount’s, we actually got so many great reviews based on the fact that the humor made the movie much more fun, rather than just celebrating murders.
It ended up being a fan-favorite as well, because it is the one a lot of people saw for the first time on VHS or LaserDisc. It continued onto DVD and I’ve done three different commentaries over the years for it. I probably sign more autographs for that movie alone. Over thirty years, it has remained one of the classics of that period. It amazes me, all of us making these movies in the ’80s, we figured they were going to play, be gone, and forgotten about. What kind of happened with Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Chucky became for a generation very much what Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula, and Mummy was for those of us growing up and saw on TV as kids. It kind of makes sense, this was an age where you had monsters, franchises, and you could watch these favorite monsters go from film to film.
Cryptic Rock – Yes! That is what makes the Friday the 13th films fun. Are you working on any new Horror movies?
Tommy McLoughlin – I am working on a new Friday the 13th now. It’s taken me years to come up with something that would be fresh; I didn’t want to go back and repeat what I did before. I came up with a concept I believe will make it fresh to an audience, and at the same time take the series one more step into something that is terrifying; make it kind of a nod to the classic monster movies of the past.
Along the way, I’ve done Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Unsaid (2001), and The Haunting of Helen Walker (1995). I’ve made a lot of Horror, Ghost, and Supernatural movies. I’ve also done a lot of films that are flat out Thrillers or Romantic Comedies. I very much like to jump from genre to genre and keep trying things. For me, it’s all about creating something entertaining and challenging.
Cryptic Rock – It is great to have that ability to be diverse. Tell us a little more about your work on a new Friday the 13th film.
Tommy McLoughlin – I’m doing it knowing full well the franchise has been shut down; I think the last one was around 2009. That is because there is a battle between Sean Cunningham, who did the original, and Victor Miller, who wrote the original, about rights. Paramount’s rights have expired, and it’s all gone through this whole legal battle that some people say will never get resolved. I firmly believe in the wonderful world of Hollywood that someone is going to come up with enough money to say, let’s put the differences aside, and let’s do this. I think with the success of the recent Halloween (2018), someone is going to say, we can work this out.
Fans are dying to have another Friday the 13th. In fact, so much so, they are creating their own with fan-funding. There is actually one I am going to appear in called Friday the 13th: Vengeance. It’s amazing they are doing this, and basically getting away with it, because it’s all done low budget and fan-based. Just like Friday the 13th: The Game, once they started making serious money, someone stepped in and put a stop to it. I was even involved in the Friday the 13th: The Game, writing the Pamela Voorhees Tapes. I’ve stayed very close to the genre and I’m hoping this new project will see the light of the day at some point. I’m doing it knowing at the moment, it’s an impossibility. I somehow believe that’s all going to change.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully it does, it would be fun to see your Friday the 13th film. Outside of Horror, you have worked in other genres including Comedy. Speaking of which, you wrote and directed the fun 1987 film Date With an Angel. At this point, it is kind of a forgotten gem. Do you know if a Blu-ray release is possible for the movie?
Tommy McLoughlin – I think so. It does have an underground following. There are a lot of people who responded very well when they first saw it or when they saw it on HBO. It was one of those movies I made because I had a great admiration for Frank Capra, and I wanted to make a modern day Frank Capra movie. It’s a relationship between boy and angel. It was made for a company that was going bankrupt, so it did not get the original distribution that it should have, so it kind of disappeared.
As the years went on, I’ve had more people come to me and say, “This movie is what my parents would approve of for our slumber parties.” It had a sort of fulfillment of that romantic fantasy dream. That is another part of me: that love of Frank Capra. What he told me from my conversations with him was, “You have to like the people in the film, it’s a people to people medium.” I’ve always been very sincere in my attempt to say let’s cast people you inherently like, or if they are the villains, you like disliking them.
Date with an Angel was very much an offend nobody kind of movie. It was obviously a huge contrast between that and the Friday the 13th movie I did. Then I went from the Date with an Angel movie right into Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back. I kept jumping genres. Date with an Angel is still one of those that have people come up and tell me things like it was my mother’s favorite film. You just never know where these things end up going. I made a movie about AIDS with Molly Ringwald called Something to Live for: The Alison Gertz Story (1992). It ended up being shown in sex education classes in high school. Who the hell ever thought the movie would be a sex education high school movie, but it had such a strong message about safe sex. In those days, no one knew females could also get AIDS, it really alerted a lot of women to that potential danger as well.
Cryptic Rock – It is interesting how films take on lives of their own.
Tommy McLoughlin – Films can somehow have another life, that is what I find so fascinating and exciting.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, hopefully Date with an Angel will get that second life. Last question. What are some of your favorite Horror films?
Tommy McLoughlin – Without a doubt, the first I would say is The Exorcist (1973). That film was life-changing for me, having seen it for the first time the first week it came out with audiences running up and down the aisles, throwing up, and ambulances out front. It was more than a movie, it was a Horror event. Beyond just a roller coaster ride, it was an intense punch to the gut. It made me want to go in and learn everything I could about how William Friedkin made that film and what were all the elements that affect us subliminally, which there were a few.
After that, probably the original Halloween (1978). Again, I saw that in a theater with an audience who had never seen it before. John Carpenter did an incredible thing without showing hardly any blood whatsoever, he made it just as scary and suspenseful as possible. It was one of those experiences that was like a roller coaster ride for the audience. There has been so many copies of that as the years go by.
There are so many different things out there that I love for different reasons. The Turn of the Screw, which was turned into a film called The Innocents (1961), and getting to remake that story, made it one of my favorites. The Haunting of Hill House, which is actually a Netflix series. I was blown away, the acting and stylistically it was really top notch for me. There are also tons of things that are just fun like the original The Evil Dead (1981). The list goes on and on. I will see something and say that’s really great. I hope the Horror market continues to discover new things. There are so many movies I love for different reasons.