During the Golden Era of Hollywood, the B-Movie genre was an extraordinary source for launching the careers of many iconic women in motion pictures. A-list superstars like Betty Grable, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner paid their dues in the B-Movies before ascending to big-budget productions, while actresses including Dale Evans, Ann Savage, Mamie Van Doren, Marie Windsor, Jeanne Carmen and Barbara Steele achieved devoted followings by staying primarily at B-level.
In today’s B-Movie orbit, the clear queen of the genre is Debbie Rochon. Beginning her career as a pre-teen in the 1981 punk rock cult flick “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!”, Debbie Rochon has developed into one of the most versatile and beloved stars of today’s B-Movie offerings, appearing in feature films from leading B-producers Troma Pictures and Sub Rosa Studios and even hosting last year’s inaugural B-Movie Film Festival in glorious Syracuse, NY. In films such as “Hellblock 13” (1999), “In the Hood” (1998), the award-winning Troma self-parody “Tromeo and Juliet” (1996), ‘Santa Claws” (1996), and “Black Easter” (1994), Rochon reigns with a consistent stream of entertaining, on-target performances which helps keep the B-Movie genre alive and thriving.
It is fairly easy to see why the 31-year-old Rochon has risen to the top of this genre. Her beauty is more than apparent, but she is hardly just another pretty face. When she is on-screen, Rochon commands attention with her poise, diction, and sense of focus in her performance. With training at three of New York City’s most prestigious acting academies (the Lee Strasberg Institute, the Michæl Chekov Studio and the Herbert Berghof Studio) and did extensive work in New York’s Off-Broadway theater and in theatrical workshops. Thus, whether her films bubble over the top or get a bit tawdry in their plotlines, Rochon’s performance moors the production with a sense of professionalism that keeps the viewer enraptured by her true star presence.
Rochon’s intelligence and articulate voice is also celebrated off-screen. She enjoys a parallel career as a journalist, having written for diverse publications including The Joe Bob Report, the Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope and Alternative Cinema. She also co-hosts an Internet chat show on eYada.com and is the author of “The B-Movie Survival Guide,” an insider’s book detailing the world of B-Movies.
Film Threat caught up with Debbie Rochon in New York to discuss her busy and colorful cinematic career.
[ Your first film was the 1981 punk rock feature “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!” The film is now regarded as a cult classic, but originally its theatrical release was delayed for several years and then it was barely shown. Tell us about your experiences on this project and your work with then-unknown co-stars Laura Dern and Diane Lane. ] ^ It was amazing because it was a Paramount Pictures film and the budget was very high. It was a great experience because I spent three months on the set and really got to experience what making a movie was like. The food, the money and the positive attention was great for me at that time. I never interacted with Laura Dern, but Diane Lane was interesting. She was very much into the ‘lead actress’ thing but suffered a lot of independence issues with her mother being present all the time. She felt like she wanted to get away from her, but who doesn’t at that age?
[ You’ve studied acting as three of New York’s most prestigious training academies. At the risk of sounding facetious, how have you applied the lessons from these acting academies to some delightfully over-the-top B-Movies such as “Rage of the Werewolf” or “Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre”? ] ^ Well, it’s really simple. Some movies you do for the love of the craft and some for the money. I’m a big fan of the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre, ever since I was a little girl, and I enjoy working with ‘creatures’! You just simply do the best job possible under the circumstances that are presented to you. If a movie is very rushed and doesn’t have the script to showcase your talents or range, then you just go with the flow and do your best and that’s it. I always try and enjoy myself regardless.
[ How did you come to work with the legendary Troma studios? And what is it like to act in a typical low/no-budget Troma production? ] ^ I know it may not be a well-known fact, but all three of the movies I have made with Troma (“Tromeo and Juliet,” “Terror Firmer,” “Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Part 4”) each had a half-million dollar budget. In the low budget world that’s not so incredibly low. To Hollywood it is, but not compared to a lot of independent flicks.
I met (Troma co-founder) Lloyd Kaufman in 1993 and started shooting movie posters and appearing at promotional functions with Troma. Then in 1995 we made “Tromeo and Juliet,” which was the first film Lloyd had directed in four or five years.
[ “Tromeo and Juliet,” Troma’s send-up of both Shakespeare and itself, is regarded as something of a modern B-Movie classic. Did you know the film would be so well received when you first received the script? ] ^ It was my first Troma movie so I didn’t know what would happen. I loved the script from the moment I read it, but had no idea if it would be taken well or not. I was thrilled to find out that not just the Troma fans loved it, but some really mainstream folks too. We shot a four-hour movie and it was cut down to 90-ish minutes, so everybody had a lot of their scenes cut…including me!
[ Some critics dismiss contemporary B-Movies as excessively violent and misogynistic in their depiction of women. Is there any worth in such criticism? ] ^ Sure! Absolutely. But, I have always said film is a reflection of us, and an expression of us. If we were not allowed to make whatever movie we wanted to then it wouldn’t be nearly as expressive a medium. If we could only use subject matter that depicted everyone in a nice correct way then all you would see is Disney films. I think there’s a place for strong women in cinema and a place for ‘fantasy’ women in cinema and the same goes for men too. Men are stereotyped just as often as we are.
[ You’ve been involved in productions which abruptly shut down in mid-flow, most notably “Negatives” starring Duane Jones (of “Night of the Living Dead” fame) and haunted asylum thriller “Strawberry Estates” (which is finally being completed after a hiatus of a few years). How do you keep your faith in the profession when you arrive at the set and discover a film is canceled? ] ^ Yeah, it’s always a bummer! But that’s the way it goes. It can be very depressing. I just started a film a couple of months ago in Las Vegas and it had to shut down because the director got very ill. I would have worked with Michæl Berryman in that flick! I was sad about that.
[ What has the feedback been to your work? Do fans stop you in the street for autographs? ] ^ It has happened, but not usually. I look so different in every film I make…I completely change and thus I am, for the most part, unrecognizable in person.
[ You’ve worked with several icons of the B-Movie genre. What have your favorite experiences been in this entertainment orbit? ] ^ I loved Gunnar Hansen, Dan Haggerty and all the Tromites. It’s fun with everyone, to be honest. I love working so I truly enjoy myself unless the person is just really out there on an ego trip! I loved working and getting to know Joe Bob Briggs when I had a column in his newsletter/zine: The Joe Bob Report. I’m happy to announce that he has a brand new web site that he runs: www.Joebob-Briggs.com
[ You hosted last year’s inaugural B-Movie Film Festival, which brought in about 100 films from all over the world. In viewing this international outpouring of B-Movie productions, what do you see as the continuing appeal of this kind of film? ] ^ I see this sort of film being screened on the Internet. It will cut down the cost of sending out physical product and is without a doubt the wave of the future. Think about it: the Internet has already saved on time, paper, and postage because we can now say: “Hey just go to *** and read about me.” There will always be fans of raw and edgy movies and this is the medium to reach them.
[ What projects are looming on your immediate horizon? And have you considered going behind the camera to direct or produce? And can theater audiences enjoy the pleasure of your performances on stage again? ] ^ I won’t be doing any theater in the near future. I have co-produced a film which is still being completed called “Split.” You can check out the film at: www.splitbrain.com I also play the character Cyclops in that film. I will be shooting “American Nightmare” in September, and you can check out that movie’s progress at: www.American-Nightmare.com.
Also early next year I’ll be working on “Demonium,” and that can be checked out at: www.Demonium-themovie.com Not to mention I co-host an Internet radio show at www.eyada.com every weekend. And then there’s my book “The B-Movie Survival Guide” which can be purchased at Amazon.com
Whew! Last plug, I promise… I will be giving my project updates at Debbie Rochon.com.
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