You’ve no doubt heard that you can’t judge a book by its cover. If you don’t believe it, see actress/filmmaker Elske McCain. At first glance, Elske is the ultimate horror vixen—all lush body and sultry stare. But talk with her for a few minutes and you begin to see the truth: Elske is actually a geek princess, exceedingly articulate and knowledgeable about the horror films she loves. In other words, she’s a fanboy’s dream. I recently wrangled Elske into a conversation about filmmaking, scream queens and nature run amok.
Hi Elske, thanks for chatting! I’d like to start by welcoming you to the “Unusual First Name Club.” Is Elske your real name?
Hi! Yes, Elske is my real name. My mother was born in Norway and moved to the states in the 1960s. My name means “love” or “the act of loving someone” in Norwegian. It is pronounced El-ska, not El-skie, as many people have mispronounced over the years.
It’s a lovely name. So, you seem to be pretty busy these days. Can you give me a list of all the projects on your plate at the moment?
As you know, the movie in which I produce and star, Jessicka Rabid, is currently in post [production]. It should be ready towards the year’s end , and hopefully will screen at Tromadance New Mexico, possibly Tromadance in Park City, Utah, not to mention some other festivals. The Loft Cinema in Tucson has also expressed interest in showing the film. Other than Jessicka Rabid, I have been asked to be a part of a documentary on scream queens, directed by Fabien Martorell, the same director who just recently completed the Troma documentary Tromatized: Meet Lloyd Kaufman. I have also been asked to film a horror movie in November called Farmer Joe.
You started as a dancer, right? Have you always had aspirations to be an actress, or did you just kinda stumble across this career direction?
Movies have always been my love. Becoming an actress was pretty much one of those “right place at the right time” cases. Even though I had done some extra work as a kid on some productions, it wasn’t until almost ten years later that I got back into the acting game.
You are constantly described as a “scream queen,” which I think is cool. Do you have a problem with that term? I know some actresses consider it demeaning.
I really do not have a problem with it. I’m pretty honored to be considered a scream queen, though I will agree that the term is very much overused these days. Much like the term “grindhouse” is now commonly used to describe exploitation films, “scream queen” now seems to be the term to use to describe any actress who does mainly horror films. In my eyes, the true scream queens are Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, et cetera. Horror actresses from the 80’s who have stood the test of time.
Speaking of scream queens, do you have any personal faves? Are there any ladies out there you consider to be role models?
I will have to say my favorite scream queens are Linnea Quigley and Linda Blair. As a child, whenever I would see Linnea’s name on a movie, I would rent it no matter what it was, because to me that was a sign that it was going to be a fun movie. I also really dig Linda Blair. Ever since I was young, people would tell me I looked like her, so I have followed her career very closely. I have yet to meet either of these women, so I am looking forward to the day that I do. Though she may not be considered a “scream queen” in the traditional sense, Dee Wallace was very instrumental in my early acting career; she gave me a lot of encouragement, and without her kind words, I might not have gotten back into acting at all.
You’re a horror fan from way back, right? What’s your first horror-related memory?
I remember I watched The Hand at a very young age. Everyone in my family would try to scare the hell out of me by hiding behind a wall with nothing exposed but their hand. Another similar memory was the movie Alligator. I was frightened to death of the scene where the little boy falls off of the diving board into the pool only to be eaten by the alligator. I didn’t go anywhere near diving boards for many years. I remember one time as a kid, I had watched Friday the 13th and, shortly after, I would go swimming in the pool pretending to be young Jason popping out of the water and attempting to scare whoever was with me.
You have worked your way up in fright flicks. Lots of small roles to start, but that’s changing. You are now doing what a lot of women in horror are doing—taking control and creating their own projects. Do you have some insight on this?
I’m what I like to call an “accidental” producer. I was on a few sets and when problems would arise, I would be the one to solve them—thus, becoming an associate producer. After hanging out with so many filmmakers and seeing what they do, I realized, “Hey I can do that too.”
Horror used to be a bit of an “old boys” network. But recently, women writers and directors are everywhere, which is awesome. Why is now the time, do you think, for women to emerge as a force in horror?
Now is just as good a time as any. In the past, most of the women in horror were just the “scream queens.” I figure the current trend of women in horror might be due to the video boom of the ‘80s, which led to more women growing up into horror fans. Better late than never, I say.
I recently spoke with Scott Phillips, who directed you in Gimme Skelter. I loved you in that flick, by the way. Actually, you had the best line, if not the best scene, in the film. How was it working with Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface?
Gunnar Hansen was really cool, and very supportive. The first scenes I shot for the movie were with him, and he made sure to make me feel very comfortable and [he] rehearsed with me ahead of time to make sure we both knew our lines.
How many of your heroes have you had the chance to work with so far? Any special memories?
Working with [Troma Studios founder] Lloyd Kaufman on the scene I did for Poultrygeist was a dream come true. I have worked with Trent Haaga a few times, and I will credit him with honing my acting skills. I also directed Uwe Boll for a cameo in Jessicka Rabid. He was extremely happy to take part, which in turn made me feel even more confident as a filmmaker.
Now, you and [horror goddess] Tiffany Shepis are good friends, right? I bet the town isn’t even safe when you two go out.
Tiffany and I have been known to party pretty hard when we were hanging out in Tucson. Like myself, she is crazy and fearless, which when combined with alcohol results in fun times!
Are there any plans for you and Tiffany to work together? I know we’d all love to see that.
Unfortunately, me and Tiffany have not yet had the opportunity to work together on any films. The odds are in our favor that, someday soon, we will probably work together on something. I think the fans would really love to see us collaborate.
Definitely! So, you live in Tucson, right? Do you like being away from the craziness of L.A.?
Funny you mention this. I have recently relocated to L.A. I had pretty much exhausted all of the resources Tucson had to offer and now feel that, with the current career path I have taken, it only makes sense to be here in Los Angeles.
Oh, wow, that’s an exciting change…and totally blows my next question. But I’ll ask it anyway. There seems to be quite an underground horror scene forming in the New Mexico/Arizona area. Am I correct about that?
I think a lot of this has to do with geographically being so close to California. Also, the Tromadance New Mexico festival that is held in Albuquerque every year helps to corral these indie film resources, which in turn has led to a cult film phenomena in the Southwest.
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of working on your own projects, do you have anything else planned in the pipeline?
I have been co-writing a script called The RollerBoogey Man with my best friend Cisiany Olivar. We were working on the movie when we realized that we had lost our original investor. I still plan on finishing the film someday. We have also had much interest in doing a sequel to Jessicka Rabid, even though the first one is not out yet. This sounds like it could be really fun, but in all honesty, I have been living and breathing Jessicka Rabid for about a year and a half, so I think I may need a little break.
You’re in Amy Lynn Best’s great new flick, Splatter Movie. Did you enjoy working with her?
Oh yes! After encountering a bizarre situation on my first experience with a female director, it was refreshing to work with Amy. She took great care of us and made sure we were all comfortable during all of our scenes.
Was Amy’s set different than the male-centric sets you’ve worked on?
I wouldn’t really classify it as “different,” but she was very organized, which is not always the case on every film set.
That’s putting it mildly. Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you a little more about Lloyd Kaufman. How’s he doing? His recent Poulterygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead tour was quite a success.
Lloyd is doing great. He is one of my strongest allies in the film world. I still ask him for advice when needed, and he has been extremely supportive in my quest to stand out from the pack of scream queens in order to be known as a filmmaker. The last I hear, he is gearing up for the DVD release of Poultrygeist, and now I am hearing that he is going to return to the director’s seat to make Toxic Avenger 5!
Toxie returns!? You read it here first, people. Elske, I hear that you love the “nature run amok” horror genre. Me too! My favorite is Night of the Lepus. I mean, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun and giant mutant bunny rabbits? What’s not to love, right? What’s your favorite?
My favorite has got to be Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell. The idea that the family pet can turn into a deadly menace is intriguing. I also like Day of the Animals. Also, any movie with killer spiders in it makes me crazy. I have always hated spiders.
Oooh, yeah! Devil Dog! I love TV movies from the ‘70s! Okay, so what’s next for you, lady?
Honestly, I just hope to continue to make the kinds of movies I like, with the people I like. I am always up for challenging projects, so I am ready for anything.
Well, I know we all wish you the best of luck. By the way, I know you have a website. Where can we find you online?
I am currently revamping my old website, so it is offline for now. In the meantime, the best place to find me is at my MySpace page.
Okay, Elske, thanks so much for talking to us. Is there anything you want to hit on that we haven’t mentioned?
I will just take this opportunity to thank everybody who has helped me so far, and I will do my best not to disappoint any of my fans. Thanks, guys!
No, thank you, Elske. It’s our pleasure.