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Venture into the 'Fresh Air' crypt for a Halloween horror fest

In addition to Steven King and Jordan Peele, we talk with Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins about how he humanized Hannibal Lecter, the oh-so-sophisticated cannibal of The Silence of the Lambs. And Carrie star Sissy Spacek remembers sneaking into the theaters in New York City to watch audiences jump at the sight of her hand stretching up from the grave at the end of that film. Plus, we hear from actor Mercedes McCambridge, who voiced the devil in The Exorcist; George Romero, who directed Night of the Living Dead; and Kathy Bates, who starred in the 1990 film Misery.




This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.


ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

BIANCULLI: For Halloween this year, we're looking back at some of our favorite scary scenes and characters from the movies. One of the most chilling characters to ever appear on screen was that of the psychopath and serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 Jonathan Demme film "The Silence Of The Lambs." Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for the role of Lecter, who used exquisitely precise ways of killing his victims and then eating them. Throughout the film, he taunts FBI agent Clarice Starling, played in the film by Jodie Foster, who is desperately trying to track down another serial killer by the name of Buffalo Bill. She thinks that Lecter may help her peer into Buffalo Bill's deranged mind and visits Lecter in prison.


HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) I'm offering you a psychological profile of Buffalo Bill based on the case evidence. I'll help you catch him, Clarice.

JODIE FOSTER: (As Clarice Starling) You know who he is; don't you? Tell me who decapitated your patient, doctor.

HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) All good things to those who wait. I've waited, Clarice, but how long can you and old Jackie boy wait? Our little Billy must already be searching for that next special lady.

BIANCULLI: Terry interviewed Anthony Hopkins in 1991. He told her how he came up with the voice for Hannibal Lecter.


HOPKINS: When I was assured that the part was on offer to me, I started to work on it simply to learn the lines and think about it. And it was such a well-written part, and the story was so compelling that when I - after the first reading, I heard the voice of Hannibal Lecter. It sort of - I heard it in my head. I saw a vision of it. I saw what he looked like. Well, not strictly within the first reading, but let's say maybe two or three readings of the script 'cause I - my work is kind of quite simple. I just learn it, you know, before I start filming, just learn the text, learn the words. And the voice came. And for some reason - I don't know why. The voice sort of - the voice, in fact, identified the character for me. And I saw within a few more days what he looked like - the hair being slicked back and the way he moved, his grace and elegance.

TERRY GROSS: Describe what you did with your voice.

HOPKINS: Well, it was one of the - there's one line which I think is seen on the trailers and this and that. I'll help you catch him, Clarice. I don't know what it was. It was just a kind of tone. And there's a speech where he has - he says - one of the speeches that made me understand the man was - he said, you know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube, a well-scrubbed hustling rube with a little taste. And I thought, that's it. That's the character.

GROSS: You know, there's something both very effete, very scary and very purring...

HOPKINS: Yes, yes.

GROSS: ...About the voice...


GROSS: ...This weird purr.

HOPKINS: Well, the thing is, if you're playing an evil character, if you're playing somebody who's mad or evil - well, let's just take the first part. If you're playing somebody who's mad, the thing is not to play him mad but to play the opposite. Play him as ultra-sane. If you're playing somebody who's evil, play the good side of him. And that makes him more scary because you humanize him. Of course, nobody is all evil. Nobody's all good, whatever those terms mean. But nobody is all one thing. So what I do as an actor is to find out what the other side of the character is. And I found out with Lecter that, in fact, I think his problem is - or his peculiar psychology is that he is so in control of himself - mentally, spiritually, physically, whichever way - he's so totally in control of every aspect of his thinking that he is completely mad because nobody can be in that much control. It's as if he is so sane, he's flipped over into the world of the dark and the irrational.

GROSS: Now, I don't know if this is connected to the control you see the characters having, but you rarely blink in the movie. I mean, the eyes have this fixed stare, and they're wide open all the time.

HOPKINS: Yes. Well, I don't know. I didn't analyze much about the part. I mean, I just had a hunch on how to play him. First of all, when you're playing a character like this, you have to like him. The actor has to somehow like him. And I think there's something very terrifying about people who are unblinking. It's that they are so certain. They have no doubts, no uncertainty. And they're so certain that it makes them terrifying. If you look at all the great monstrous political leaders in our century, you know...

GROSS: And one of you've played.



HOPKINS: Old Adolf, yes. They are - they rise to power because they're so certain. They have no doubts. Their minds are already made up. Somebody said of Hitler, she - a journalist who interviewed Hitler in 1936, before the war - she said, Hitler has in his library 1,000 books. He hasn't read any one of them. But, of course, he doesn't need to because his mind is already made up. And I found that the most apocalyptic, frightening vision of a man. And I think it's the same with Lecter. He knows with absolute certainty what he is and what everyone else is around him.

GROSS: What kind of kidding took place on the set in between shooting?

HOPKINS: We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of laughs on the set. I'd go up behind people. There'd be people working on the props or something or, you know, some of the guys walking around, and I'd go up behind them and say, good evening. Are you having pleasant dreams? And they'd sort of jump. But it was a joke. It was a kind of funny joke. Everyone on the set was very happy. I mean, everyone seemed to work very - with a great deal of ease.

GROSS: You've said that you really liked working with Jonathan Demme. Is there any kind of direction that he gave you that is different from what you're used to getting? Is there something different about the style that he works in?

HOPKINS: I think the great hallmark, for me anyway, of - the great sort of positive for me is when directors - it's not that they exactly leave you alone. But what they do - they let you develop the character. And it's really a question of trust. And what I felt with Jonathan was that he had total trust in me as an actor. And because he paid me that compliment, I had total trust in him as a director. And I'd seen some of his films. I'd seen "Something Wild," "Married To The Mob." And I thought I knew that I was in the hands of a very skilled craftsman. He would listen to some of my suggestions that I wanted to do, and, you know, he - there were two ideas I came up with that he thought were excellent, and he let me get on with them.

GROSS: Are those the ideas that you mentioned?

HOPKINS: Well, no. It was just - he wanted - he asked me. He said, how do you feel about - how would you like to first be seen? You know, when we - the film spends a lot of time talking about Lecter before they see him. And I said, well, if you don't mind, I said, I'd like to just be seen standing right in the middle of the cell as if I'm waiting for her. And he said, oh, that's weird. He said, well - I said, well, it's the most terrifying thing I can think of - is the very monster that she's listened to and heard about, when she actually goes towards him and she comes into eye - comes into the area of his cell, that he is staring straight at her with a nice smile on his face. And I sensed my own psyche, whatever that means, that that's the most terrifying thing. That's sort of based on my nightmares in a way, or it was as a child.

GROSS: Somebody waiting for you.

HOPKINS: Somebody waiting for me in the corner or the top of the stairs or - I used to have a dream I'd open the door when I was a child. There would be banging on the front door of the house in the dark. And it was always moonlight. And as I opened the door, there'd be nobody there. But across the street, in a window, three floors up in the building opposite, there was a face staring out at me and smiling. That was the most terrifying nightmare. In itself, it doesn't sound frightening, but there's something strange about that. And this is what I wanted to do to the audience. I wanted them to just take that moment of horror when they see Lecter that they don't see somebody with blood dripping off his mouth. They see a very pleasant, normal-looking man standing to attention in the middle of his cell - very weird.

BIANCULLI: Anthony Hopkins speaking with Terry Gross in 1991. Coming up, the voice of the devil in another horrifying film, "The Exorcist." Stick around. This is FRESH AIR.



BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Mercedes McCambridge was an Oscar-winning actress who played tough, often abrasive characters. In the Orson Welles film "Touch Of Evil," she played a lesbian motorcycle gang leader. And in the 1954 Western "Johnny Guitar," she squares off in a deadly shootout with Joan Crawford.


BIANCULLI: But perhaps her most popular and memorable movie role was in the 1973 movie "The Exorcist." She played one of the scariest characters in the history of the movies using only her voice, creating the voice of the devil which came out of the possessed little girl, Regan, played by Linda Blair.


MERCEDES MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) What an excellent day for an exorcism.

JASON MILLER: (As Damien Karras) You'd like that?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) Intensely.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) But wouldn't that drive you out of Regan?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) It would bring us together.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) You and Regan?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) You and us. What's that?

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) Holy water.

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) You keep it away. Oh, it burns. Oh, it burns.

BIANCULLI: When Terry Gross spoke with Mercedes McCambridge in 1981, she asked how the actress created the voice of the devil.


MCCAMBRIDGE: "The Exorcist" demon is a radio performance in a film.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

MCCAMBRIDGE: It's 100% radio. But I had such a great teacher in college that I can go now from what is a rather high and thin and reedy tone of what I am doing all the way without any effort whatsoever down to the absolute (inaudible) and on back up without any problem whatsoever. Young actors are doing themselves a great disservice by not using the voice as much as they should. It is the best possible tool for communication. Everybody talks about projection. The hardest and most difficult projection in the world is into this microphone. That's where the projection comes. The timbre has to be so much deeper than to use a voice full of stentorian tones in a theater reaching 5,000 people. That's nowhere near so difficult as coming down to the thing of trying to convey to someone, I love you. Do you know how much I love you? That's exciting. That's - and it's all a funny little instrument inside us with a lot of timpani going and muted sounds.

GROSS: Let's get back to "The Exorcist." How did you figure out what the right speech would be and the wheezing sound that you developed?

MCCAMBRIDGE: Well, the speech was - is nothing. You know, I read again - reread some of Kazantzakis' things about Lucifer, and I wanted to cry as Lucifer cried. But it's very hard to - we taped them on - with eight different microphones with the people in the control room at Warner Bros. in this most sophisticated sound studio. And they would have them at different levels and the microphones open to various degrees or non-degrees of acceptance. And in one place, I had to vomit. On the screen, you see the green vomit from the girl's mouth, the bile, and it comes out in a projectile kind of way. Well, what it is pea soup with corn flakes in it to make the bumps of vomit. Now, I had to make that sound. And the way I finally did it - and it was only through stumbling and invention, again, you know, as Stanislavski says, you utilize it.

I would have them bring me apples - sections of apple. And I would put a whole bunch of those mushy apples in my mouth. And then from a Dixie cup, I would put in two eggs that had been just broken into the cup, not mixed up, just the yolk lying there looking at you - two of those. And at a signal from the control room, when the frame of the film, which I was watching on the big screen in the empty sound studio - when it came up to the point where the little girl with the pea soup and the cornflakes coming out of tubes that were built up from the back of her bed and then around the outside of her cheeks and then her cheeks covered with make up with spouts in her mouth, I had to time that precisely to the frame by swallowing these sections of apple - which were to be the lumps - and then the eggs down to mid-gullet and then forcing the diaphragm muscles and then just throwing it up on eight microphones covered with a tarp. That's very hard. It's - you have a hard time doing that.

Again, Stanislavski says you can utilize anything that's ever happened to you. All my life, I've wheezed, particularly when I was smoking. Thank God. I don't know if I could play the demon in the same way now because I don't smoke anymore. But when I did, I wheezed a lot, and I didn't know how to get the breath of the demon across. And I want to know if I can do it - let's see - because my lungs have been cleared now of smoke for almost three years. So there isn't that awful bronchial hacking noise in there.

But getting very close to the microphones - and it's hard to wheeze for any length of time. First of all, you have to wait until all of the air is out of the bellows of the lungs. And then, you can maybe, for a few seconds, sustain it. But Blatty says in the book, it had an unearthly sound, the devil's breathing, that could be heard through the open door. But if I get very close to the microphone, maybe I can do it. (Imitating demonic wheezing). Well, that's very hard to do because you're gagging, and you're forcing right down to the ultimate, the last breath that you have in your body. You do that for five or 10 minutes, and you have to go lie down for a while and come back and do it again - very exhausting.

GROSS: There's a great story that you tell in your book that I'd love for you to tell us. It's about a radio drama you were doing with Boris Karloff, in which - I guess he's a vampire. And he sucks your blood, yes.

MCCAMBRIDGE: Of course, he was a vampire. Yeah.

GROSS: And there's a great sound effect that I'd like you to tell us about.

MCCAMBRIDGE: Yeah, he - we couldn't find anything. Boris was - this gentleman, Boris Karloff, was the vampire who had broken my neck or would break my neck in the show and suck the blood. And he's standing on one side of the microphone going (imitating sucking noise) and everything. And I'm making anguished, little noises on the other side, dying of the broken neck and the blood being sucked. But we couldn't find any sound that would really give the impression of the bones in the body or the neck breaking. And Tommy Horan, the sound man at NBC in Chicago, bought a whole sheaf - that's the word - of spareribs. And he had a cleaver, and he was pounding at these spareribs. And they were flying off like pterodactyl's toenails into the corners of the studio - just really awful. But it wasn't the sound that it should be.

So then, in one of the drawers of his utility table, he found some peppermint Life Savers. And he put a peppermint Life Saver - I wish I had one now - on end, between his back teeth, and got very close to his microphone, the sound microphone, and crunched. And you'd hear these little bits, these little flakes of peppermint Life Saver being disintegrated. And it sounded like every small bone in the neck was being split. It was just great. So he was over there doing that with his mastication. And I'm groaning, and Boris is going (imitating sucking noise). Oh, it was sensational. But it was just a Life Saver.

GROSS: That's such a great story.

MCCAMBRIDGE: Yeah. Yeah. In radio, we had them like that.

BIANCULLI: Mercedes McCambridge spoke with Terry Gross in 1981. McCambridge died in 2004 at the age of 87. Here she is as the voice of the devil in "The Exorcist." In this scene, the spirit within the little girl is being questioned by a skeptical priest played by Jason Miller.


MILLER: (As Damien Karras) Hello, Regan. I'm a friend of your mother's. I'd like to help you.

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) You might loosen the straps, then.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) I'm afraid you might hurt yourself, Regan.

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) I'm not Regan.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) I see. Well, then, let's introduce ourselves. I'm Damien Karras.

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) And I'm the devil. Now kindly undo these straps.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) If you're the devil, why not make the straps disappear?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) That's much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) Where's Regan?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) In here with us.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) Show me Regan, and I'll loosen one of the straps.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Can you help an old altar boy, father?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu) Your mother's in here with us, Karras. Would you like to leave a message? I'll see that she gets it.

MILLER: (As Damien Karras) If that's true, then you must know my mother's maiden name. What is it? What is it?

MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Pazuzu, vomiting).

BIANCULLI: Yum. Coming up in the second half of our Halloween special, Sissy Spacek talks about playing a teenage girl with telekinetic powers in the horror film "Carrie." Also, Kathy Bates was the psychotic nurse in the horrifying movie "Misery." She'll tell Terry about shooting that bone-crushing scene with James Caan. She was his No. 1 fan. And George Romero, who made "Night Of The Living Dead," will recommend what not to do when directing a bunch of zombies. I'm David Bianculli, (imitating demon) and this is FRESH AIR.


SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS: (Singing) I put a spell on you because you're mine. Stop the things you do. Watch out. I ain't lying. Yeah, I can't stand no running around. I can't stand no putting me down. I put a spell on you because you're mine. Oh, yeah.

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. We're noting Halloween this show by sharing stories about some of the scariest films ever made. Many of them are based on stories by Stephen King, including "Misery," which we'll hear about in a few minutes, and the hit movie "Carrie," which originally was released as a surprise sneak preview on Halloween night in 1976. I was there in the back row of a movie theater in Gainesville, Fla., and watched an entire audience jump and scream as one. In that film, Sissy Spacek played the outcast teenager who was pranked on prom night and covered with a bucket of pig blood. She earned an Academy Award nomination for that role. Terry Gross interviewed Sissy Spacek in 2012.

GROSS: In the beginning of the movie, you're in the shower after gym class. And it's a very lyrical scene and lovely music. And suddenly, there's blood between your legs. And you don't understand what menstruation is. And this is, like, the first time you started menstruating. And you're just in a panic seeing the blood. And you start screaming. And then, you know, all the girls are, like, laughing at you. And then you go home. And you tell your mother, played by Piper Laurie, what's happened, and that the kids were laughing at you and that, you know, you want to know, how come you never told me about this?

And this is just a really, like, frightening scene, you know? Piper Laurie, as your mother, picks up this book and starts reading from a chapter called "The Sins Of Women." And then she starts, like, hitting you on the head with it. And what we hear at the end of this scene is your mother dragging you into a closet and locking you up in it as punishment. So here's the scene with my guest, Sissy Spacek, and Piper Laurie in "Carrie."


PIPER LAURIE: (As Margaret White) The raven was called sin.

SISSY SPACEK: (As Carrie White) Why didn't you tell me, Mama?

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Say it.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) The raven was called sin.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No, Mama. And the raven was called sin.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) And the first sin was intercourse. First sin was intercourse.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) I didn't sin, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Say it.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) I didn't sin, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) The first sin was intercourse.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) And the...

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) First sin was intercourse.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) And the...

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) First sin was intercourse.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) And the first sin was intercourse. Mama, I was so scared. I thought I was dead. And the girls, they all laughed at me and threw things at me, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) And Eve was weak. Say it.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Eve was weak.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Eve was weak.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Eve was weak. Say it.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Say it.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) Eve was weak. Eve was weak.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) And the Lord visited Eve with a curse. And the curse was the curse of blood.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) You should've told me, Mama. You should've told me.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Oh, Lord. Help the sinning woman see the sin of her days and ways.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Show her that if she had remained sinless...

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) The curse of blood would never have come on her.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) She may have been tempted by the Antichrist. She may have committed the sin of lustful thought.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No, Mama. No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Oh, don't lie to me, Carrietta. Don't you know by now I can see inside you. I can see the sin as surely as God can.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) Let me go, Mama. You're hurting me.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) We'll pray.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No. Stop, Mama.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) We'll pray, woman.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No.

LAURIE: (As Margaret White) Pray to Jesus for our lost but sacred souls.

SPACEK: (As Carrie White) No. No. No. No. No. No.

GROSS: That's my guest, Sissy Spacek...

SPACEK: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...With Piper Laurie as her mother in a great scene from "Carrie." And that's Sissy Spacek at the end, banging on the closet door that her mother's just locked her in.

SPACEK: Oh, my God. That's so disturbing (laughter).

GROSS: Isn't it disturbing? Yeah, I know.

SPACEK: Oh, my God (laughter).

GROSS: And - but it sounds like a duet. It almost sounds like music the way you two are doing your parts together.

SPACEK: She was - playing scenes with her and playing scenes with other actresses are really like a dance. And we just both came in prepared. And then - and we just - it just became real for us. And, you know, I pored over all the religious material and the Dore etchings of the Bible. Actually, my husband, who was designing the film, had stacks of research. And when I went through it, I found a book of all of the Dore etchings of the plates of the Bible.

And one of the things I noticed was how dramatic and melodramatic the body positions were. And I studied those. And I tried to either begin a scene, end a scene, or at some time during the scene, take on those biblical and very dramatic body positions. And I think that, subliminally, you know, it gave it another layer. Also, I think, you know, the thing about Carrie was she just - she didn't care about her telekinesis. She didn't care about that. She just wanted to be normal. But she didn't know how to be. She didn't have any - (laughter) she obviously didn't have any help at home. And she was an abused child.


SPACEK: But, you know, I - we shot in a soundstage at Culver City Studios in Los Angeles. And, you know, it's a huge, dark, cavernous building. And I was always lurking, you know? All the cast was having fun together. And I was, you know, lurking in the catacombs in the dark corners, the dark recesses of this building kind of licking my wounds. And that was the time in my career where I stayed in character. And, you know, so I was really hamming it up (laughter).

GROSS: You were 25 when you got the role even though Carrie is a high school student, a very lonely high school student who is frequently bullied. She has telekinetic powers. She has a mother who's a religious zealot who's obsessed with sexual sin and punishment. Tell us how you dressed for this audition to make it clear that even though you were 25, you could be a convincing high school student.

SPACEK: Well, I wore a little sailor dress that my mother had made for me when I was in about seventh grade. And I took the hem out of it - I remember that - so it was a little more - I looked a little more dorkish.


SPACEK: But I looked very young. I remember I read the book again the night before the screen test. And that was enough to really connect me with it. And I woke up. I didn't brush my teeth. I didn't wash my face. I put Vaseline in my hair. And I went...

GROSS: Why did you put Vaseline in your hair?

SPACEK: Just so it would look dirty, and I would look a little unkept and...

GROSS: And then...

SPACEK: ...Sorry for myself. I just - I think all of us have a Carrie in us somewhere, certainly most teenagers do. And so I just channeled that side of myself.

GROSS: So in the final scene - and if you haven't seen "Carrie" and you intend on seeing it soon, tune out for a couple of seconds (laughter). But in the final scene, after you've been, you know, dead and laid to rest, the Amy Irving character comes to visit your grave. And there's beautiful music playing. And suddenly, like, your hand shoots out from beneath the earth. And everybody in the audience, like, screams or jumps. And you insisted - you know, the director, Brian De Palma, suggested getting, you know, like, a stunt person, a body double to do that part, just, like, the hand coming out of the grave. But you insisted that, like, it be your hand and that you be buried. When you see the film with other people, as I suspect but maybe you haven't done, are you glad it's your hand when you see people's reaction to that scene?

SPACEK: Oh, absolutely. I laughed, you know about that. I do all my own foot and hand work and always have (laughter). But, you know, I used to go to - when I was in New York and "Carrie" came out, I would go to theaters just for the last five minutes of the film to watch everyone jump out of their chairs. Because if you know it's coming - you know, the film ends about, as Brian said, about eight times. And so you're - people are all relaxed. The music is really beautiful and relaxing. And all of a sudden, that comes up, and people just go crazy. Although, you know, my favorite scene in the film is the one where Carrie's mother is impaled with the kitchen utensils. That I think is one of the most wonderful and unique scenes. And it was done - back then, she was rigged and all of those kitchen utensils were sticking out of her. They were - you know, there was a - she was wearing a harness. And it was very...

GROSS: Let me just explain that, you know, what happened is your mother stabs you in the back with this big butcher knife. And then she makes a cross with the knife. And then using your telekinetic powers, you summon all the knives in the kitchen to kind of rise up and float over and stab her. So she's impaled with all the kitchen knives through your telekinetic powers. So obviously...

SPACEK: Add a couple of carrot peelers.

GROSS: Yes. OK. Yes.


GROSS: So that the scene that you're describing.

SPACEK: Yes. And it was interesting because they shot it backwards, and then they reversed the film. So they started - when we were shooting it, they started in her body and then were pulled out on wires, you know, to the counter where the potato peeler was and to the drawer where the knives were. And, you know, it was - it's certainly not the way they do special effects now, but it just holds up so beautifully.

BIANCULLI: Sissy Spacek speaking with Terry Gross in 2012. Next up is Kathy Bates, who played the unhinged nurse with a very hostile way of caring for her captive, bedridden patient. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. In the 1990 thriller "Misery," Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes, a registered nurse and an obsessed fan of romance novelist Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan. It was the first major screen role for Bates. Terry interviewed Kathy Bates in 1990. I'll let Terry take it from here.


GROSS: "Misery" opens as Paul Sheldon finishes a new novel in the quiet of a remote Colorado cabin. On the drive home, he gets caught in a blizzard and drives off the road. The unconscious rider is rescued by the nurse, played by Bates, who turns out to be his No. 1 fan. Too bad she's also crazy. She nurses him back to health, and she creates makeshift casts for his two broken legs. But she keeps him as her prisoner. And as he begins to heal, she makes sure he stays disabled. This is a clip from the most revolting scene in the movie, the sledgehammer scene. Even if you haven't seen the film, you'll remember this from the TV ads. But the ad ends before we actually see how Annie hurts Paul.


KATHY BATES: (As Annie Wilkes) I know you've been out twice, Paul. First, I couldn't figure out how you did it, but last night, I found your key. I know I left my scrapbook out. I can imagine what you might be thinking of me. But you see, Paul; it's all OK. Last night, it came so clear. I realize you just need more time. Eventually, you'll come to accept the idea of being here. Paul, do you know about the early days at the Kimberley diamond mines? Do you know what they did to the Native workers who stole diamonds? Don't worry. They didn't kill them. That would be like junking a Mercedes just because it had a broken spring. No. If they caught them, they had to make sure they could go on working. But they also had to make sure they could never run away. The operation was called hobbling.

JAMES CAAN: (As Paul Sheldon) Annie, whatever you're thinking about doing, please don't do it. Annie, for God's...

BATES: (As Annie Wilkes) Darling, trust me.

GROSS: Do you want to explain what you do in this scene?

BATES: Well, technically, I put a board between his legs, and I break his ankles.

GROSS: You know, it's such a - this is the scene that you walk away thinking, oh, gosh, I hope I don't think about this scene very often. It really hurts to watch it.

BATES: Yeah. My sister, who's had a problem with her ankles, said it was particularly difficult for her.

GROSS: What did you actually hit?

BATES: Well, I actually hit a prosthetic leg that was built for us by the special effects team, KNB, and they built a couple of really very realistic legs that we used in that particular shot.

GROSS: Did this image haunt you?

BATES: No, it was more of a technical problem for me, Terry, and I think it was more of a difficult shot in terms of camera angles. And so by the time we'd went through it - we'd gone through it several times, that was what I was more interested in was trying to get it right than anything else.

GROSS: What was your reaction when - the first time you saw it on screen?

BATES: I thought it looked great. I couldn't believe it worked so well.

GROSS: Have people been telling you that this film relates to - have well-known people been telling you that this film relates to phobias they have about their own fans?

BATES: Well, you know, it's an interesting story. Rob Reiner told me that Ringo Starr had come to one of the early screenings and liked the film very much and afterwards went outside and was walking, I guess, to the car with friends. And some woman came up to him on the street who - completely out of the blue and said, oh, are you Ringo Starr? And he said, yeah. She said, I'm your No. 1 fan. He just turned white, apparently. I think that was the wrong time for him to hear that.

GROSS: Well, everybody's probably been coming up to you and saying they're your No. 1 fan.

BATES: Yes, they are. I was on "The Tonight Show" last night, and I said it to Barry Manilow just to be mean.


GROSS: And I understand that you studied tapes of psychopathic killers before doing the role?


GROSS: Well, what did you look at?

BATES: Actually, I read some books, and I did see some tapes of nurses who kill.

GROSS: Where did you find the tape?

BATES: Well, quite by accident. Right after I was cast in the role, I saw a program on "Geraldo Rivera" (ph), and they had a program on nurses who kill. The chilling thing about these portraits was that the individuals who were in prison for committing these crimes were extremely disconnected to the event itself. And one of them I remember saying, well, I know I must have done it because I'm in jail. But he had no connection to what he had done at all. And I liked that disconnection. And going back to your first question, I think emotionally that's what's happening with Annie during the hobbling. There's just absolutely no real connection to the event and the pain that she's causing this other human being. And I think that's a central characteristic of a psychopath, a sociopath.

GROSS: This was really your first big movie role. How were you cast in the role?

BATES: I was handed it by Mr. Rob Reiner. He had seen my work out in LA as a stage actor, and he called and said that he was interested in hiring me to do the lead in his new film. And I was thrilled when I heard it was going to be "Misery" because it was a book that I had read some years ago, and I'd always secretly wanted to play the character of Annie.

GROSS: I have one bone to pick with the - this isn't with the acting, but with the characterization of the woman that you play. I don't think she'd be listening to Liberace records in her room. I think she'd probably be listening to Elvis.

BATES: Oh, really?

GROSS: Yeah.

BATES: Well, I don't know. I think Liberace is better because of her disconnectedness to her sexual libido, you know? And I think Elvis the Pelvis definitely is, I think, a little bit too raunchy for her. I think Liberace's a little more feet-off-the-ground kind of music for her. And I kind of agree with Mr. King on that. So I have to disagree with you, Terry (laughter).

GROSS: But I see you've really thought it through.

BATES: Yeah.


GROSS: Kathy Bates, thank you very much for talking with us.

BATES: Thank you, Terry, for having me. It was a pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Kathy Bates speaking with Terry Gross in 1990. After a break, we'll be back with some zombies. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. "Night Of The Living Dead," George Romero's 1968 horror film, ushered in a genre of zombie films and TV shows that's stronger than ever. Even as the long-running TV series "The Walking Dead" is winding up, several spinoffs are in the wings ready to launch. And George Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead," which generated several sequels of its own, established it all with its low-budget story of corpses rising from the dead to feast on the flesh of the living.


CHARLES CRAIG: (As Newscaster) This is the latest disclosure in a report from National Civil Defense headquarters in Washington. It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of reports from funeral homes, morgues and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims. It's hard for us here to believe what we're reporting to you, but it does seem to be a fact.

BIANCULLI: George Romero made "Night Of The Living Dead" on a shoestring budget, working on the weekends. It became a cult classic and now resides in the Archives of the Museum of Modern Art. "Night Of The Living Dead" had scenes that were really graphic for the time with shots of zombies munching on arms and internal organs. The sequels that Romero directed pushed the gore even further. Terry Gross spoke with George Romero in 1988.


GROSS: Now, I presume you loved horror films when you were growing up. Did you like them because they scared you? Or were there other things in terms of the mood of the movies that you liked a lot?

GEORGE ROMERO: I liked them principally because they scared me. They were the most fun for me. That's, I think, because the things that scare me in real life are always the more realistic things - the fear that someone might drop a bomb on my head or that someone - when I was growing up, I actually went through, in New York City, blackouts when we had to close the windows and worry about air raids. And I don't know whether those were realistic worries or not. But as a kid, when we all had to run around, pulling down the drapes and turning the lights off, it was a very frightening experience. And then, to think that - I remember when John Cameron Swayze over the television told me personally that the Russians now had the atomic bomb. And I knew that we were goners, you know?

GROSS: Is that why there's always some newscaster telling about the latest progress of the zombies in your movies?

ROMERO: Probably, yeah. I have a real strong concern for what electronic media has done to us in bringing us the news as quickly as it does and, you know, not letting us sort of discover things for ourselves or have - or allow them to gestate, you know? It's just a little too - I think it's the pace more - I don't - I'm not saying that we shouldn't be brought the news. But it's just - the pace at which things are fired at us, I think, is maybe a little too fast sometimes.

GROSS: Can I read something that Variety wrote when "Night Of The Living Dead" came out in 1968? It said, this film casts serious aspersions on the integrity of its makers, distributor Walter Reade, the film industry as a whole and exhibitors who book the picture, as well as raising doubts about the future of the regional cinema movement and the moral health of filmgoers who cheerfully opt for unrelieved sadism. Until the Supreme Court establishes clearcut guidelines for pornography of violence, "Night Of The Living Dead" will serve nicely as an outer limit definition by example. Well, did you feel when you made that movie that you were compromising your moral health or that of your audience?

ROMERO: I didn't feel that way at all. And "Night Of The Living Dead" did, I think - I attribute much of its success to the fact that it was one of the films that people wrote about in those terms. The piece that you just read was one of a hundred pieces that were pleading for some sort of - you know, that was in the period of time between the Hays commission and the MPAA, which we have now. And there was no governing panel at all that was indicating - there was no censor board. There was no one indicating what - in any fashion what was to be expected from the content of a film.

And, you know, I certainly didn't make "Night Of The Living Dead" for it to be showed at a kiddie matinee. And that was principally what it was criticized for. And I believe that - rightfully so that it shouldn't be - shouldn't have been shown at kiddie matinees. That's not who the film was made for.

GROSS: Well, Tom Savini, who's done a lot of the special effects for your movies, said in his book that he wasn't happy with how the 3M stage blood photographed in "Dawn Of The Dead," which is the second in your zombie trilogy. And I wonder if you felt that way, too.

ROMERO: No, I liked it. And Tom and I will always argue about this.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ROMERO: I liked the fact that it looked comic book. Tom felt it looked too bright and red, and it didn't look real. And I feel that that helps ease the pain a little bit, the fact that it was more comic book. I liked the fact that it looked very comic book.

GROSS: How did you come up with the way you wanted the zombies in your zombie movies to walk? Did you demonstrate for them how you wanted them to look?

ROMERO: No. It's funny. You know, the moment you - when you have 40 people in makeup looking at you and you're trying to direct them and tell them what you want them to do, if you make the slightest little arm movement - and then, in the next shot, everyone makes that arm movement.

And so I pretty much leave it up to them and just ask them to do whatever they think a zombie might do if it had just recently come back and had stiff limbs, and come back from the dead with stiff limbs, because if - and truly, if you demonstrate at all, then all of a sudden you get everyone doing exactly that. And the only way to - that I've found to keep everyone doing their own thing is to let them do whatever they want to do.

GROSS: I know that a lot of students were in "Night Of The Living Dead." Have people kept up with you over the years, trying to be extras, trying to be zombies in your movies?

ROMERO: Oh, yeah. It's so funny. It's like, someone wrote once that it's sort - that's it's some - there's some kind of a cultist kind of chic to being a zombie in one of these movies. I don't know. I'm always amazed at people that call and say they want to come in and they want to be a zombie, or they want to do a special kind of a shtick or a special kind of business. We haven't been able to accommodate as many people as have requested to come in. So it's never a problem getting zombies.

GROSS: You've said that you've never really been afraid of the kind of images you create. What scares you is real stuff. Nevertheless, have you ever been haunted by any image that you've created for a movie?

ROMERO: Only to the extent that I've been typecast (laughter) as someone that makes this kind of movie. And so that's a kind of haunting, I guess. But again, that's reality. That's not anything - that's not part of the fantasy. No, I haven't been. The...

GROSS: Anything you'd be too squeamish to film?

ROMERO: I couldn't shoot news, I don't think, you know? I don't think I would want to cover, you know, Vietnam. And I don't think I could do it. In the context of fiction, I'm not bothered by it because I guess I feel that it's safe. And I'm always actually a little bit alarmed by the way people react to it. I'm more alarmed by people reacting violently to the violence in my films than I am by the violence in any - in films.

GROSS: Well, I thank you very much for talking with us. Thank you.

ROMERO: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: George Romero speaking with Terry Gross in 1988. The director of "Night Of The Living Dead" and other classic horror films died in 2017 at the age of 77. On the next FRESH AIR, we'll speak with the director of the new film "Till," about the murder of Emmett Till, who was lynched while visiting relatives in Mississippi. His mother insisted that his mutilated body be photographed for the world to see, images which helped spark the civil rights movement. The film's director, Chinonye Chukwu, is our guest. Join us.


BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support by Joyce Lieberman, Julian Herzfeld, Al Banks and Tina Kalakay. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL KAMEN'S "OPENING TITLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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