At first glance, EI Entertainment’s “The Screaming Dead” may seem like just another low-budget horror movie. Naked girls, blood, monsters, bad-to-moderate acting. Well, yeah, it has all that, but there’s a hidden gem to be found in the film’s star: Rachael Robbins. Best known as the model and creator of the campy “Blondezilla” (visualized by artist David Nestler on the back cover of Draculina #43), Robbins proves herself in “The Screaming Dead” to be a serious, charismatic performer who manages to bring depth to what could have been a very by-the-numbers character.

In “The Screaming Dead”, Robbins plays ‘Maura’, assistant to an overbearing photographer who sets up a photo shoot with three empty-headed ingénues in an abandoned asylum with a bad history. For reasons even the filmmakers felt best to leave relatively unexplained, the house’s long-dead and sadistic owner comes back to life to torture and murder to his heart’s content. Robbins’ character finds herself on the business end of a bizarre torture device at one point, but the actress never allows the potential cheese of the situation to creep into her performance. And while she may be second-billed on the box, make no mistake, this film belongs to her.

“I like the horror genre!” Robbins says. “I love watching horror movies so it’s just fine that I work on them. I guess the difference is that in other types of genres, there are more complex character roles. In horror, you tend to stick with the same few emotions: panic, terror, relief. “Screaming Dead” was the best movie I’ve worked on. Everyone involved gave their all and tried to make the best film possible. The attitude on set was always positive. And it’s been pretty well received. I’ve gotten the best press from it and have had some cool experiences promoting it. I just went to set and did the best I could,” she says. “EI treated me really, really well and made me feel appreciated. They are a great company to work for. I was never hungry, always as comfortable as possible, and very happy to be there.”

For Robbins, the key to the film’s visual success was the film’s veteran director, Brett Piper (“Arachnia”). At the same time, she was often left alone to create her character with very little input. “Brett was great to work with. He really makes you feel like a friend. However, Brett is a technical director, not an actor’s director. So a lot of times I was floundering without acting direction. He tends to hire actors that know what he’s thinking, and everything works out in the end. When he’s talking to me, he always gives me invaluable advice.”

For most b-movie fans, it may seem that Robbins came out of nowhere. For a long time, she was on the periphery of the indie realm, focusing the bulk of her time modeling and taking small parts in small movies. While “Blondezilla” had a small following as she developed the character with various artists and photographers, it never really took off as a concept. (“’Blondezilla’ is on hold right now. Rachael is the main focus at the moment. There is only room for one diva at a time in my house. But she’s always waiting in the wings!!”) With “The Screaming Dead” in wide release, fans are starting to sit up and take notice of her. Also, it came hot on the heels of what is shaping up to be a cult classic, Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots, in which Robbins plays three very funny parts-including ‘The Angel of Death’ in a sequence parodying-of all things-the oeuvre of soft-core director Jay Lind (“To Dance With Death”). As ‘The Angel of Death’, Robbins is the zeitgeist for possibly-dead lesbians. Unfortunately, the guiding spirit has to contend with cheap special effects and very hot, dripping candlewax (it’s not what you think). “Jasi Lanier hooked me up with Paul Scrabo. He had some holes that needed filling in his film, so he filled them with me! He was a lot of fun to work with. He has a great knack for envisioning what he wants and making it happen.”

Robbins makes comedy look easy in “Dr. Horror”. And she took her comedic skills to the stage, as well, for Brian Howie’s off-Broadway production of “Pieces… (of A*s)”. The satiric “Pieces” gives a voice to, as the show’s book describes, hot women and the trials and tribulations they face being hot women. “Brian conceived ‘Pieces’ because he felt that everyone had a voice in theater except hot chicks,” Robbins says with a laugh. “He is somewhat of a ‘manimal’ and has had his fare share of experiences with hot women and knew they had a lot of great stories to tell. The play’s tag line is ‘Who says pretty girls have it easy?’. The play is made up of twelve or so true monologues that are written and performed by each actress. Some are funny, some poignant. The whole show is a lot of fun! The atmosphere is like a club, there is a live DJ and a bar and the seating is cabaret style. (When) I sent my info to Brian, Heidi got it on top of his massive pile of head shots. I met with him, and he wrote a specific element into the show tailored especially for me! I didn’t do a monologue, I was the shows hostess or MC. I compared my role to that of Joel Grey’s in ‘Cabaret’. I was the Greek chorus, the fool. I would pop up in various times in the performance. I also opened the show. It was a great role to do. I love it!”

The exclamation is surprising as Robbins is not a fan of live theater–far from it as a matter of fact, and her involvement in “Pieces” came almost by accident. “I was shooting ‘Screaming Dead’ and my co-star Heidi Kristoffer was always talking about this play she was getting ready for that was an off- off-Broadway show. Brutal. Now, I don’t like theater, so I was listening with half an ear. We wrap ‘SD’ and Heidi and I keep in contact. When her show opened I knew I’d have to go to show my support. I dragged my fiancé to see it, begrudgingly, and can I tell you, 30 seconds into watching it I turned to him and said ‘I have to be in this show!’

“I never understood why actors loved doing theater until I did it for the first time. I was instantly smitten with the immediate gratification. Our play interacted with the audience, eliminating the fourth wall. That always made for different nights. You never knew what you were going to get. Also, you had time to go home and think about what you wanted to improve on and how you were going to do that. Where in film, it’s take right after take. I always look a week later on a scene and come up with tons of great new ways to do it and things. DAMN!!!’ Another non-conventional thing about ‘Pieces’ was that we went straight from our bow into the audience and mingled. We got immediate feedback from the crowd (always positive), and that got pretty addictive! In the near future I am waiting for “Pieces” to open on Broadway. We are also doing a one week run of the play in Vegas at the Palms.”

Having warmed to theater, it now results to the same desire with her: “I just want to act, ya know? I don’t really have a dream role, but I’d love to do more comedy. I studied comedy improv at the Groundling in Los Angeles and loved it. I also never get cast as the ‘strung-out-prostitute-young-mom’ types. In the future it would be fun to get some roles that are multi-dimensional and have some real emoting to deal with.”

The indie movie industry often offers meatier roles, but comes with other drawbacks for the serious actress. “The main problem I’ve encountered is that everyone always wants me to get naked,” she says. “I think the reason why indie films employ more women is that they have more nudity. It’s always the women getting naked. I think the indie film scene needs more naked men! Let’s get someone like (“Screaming Dead” co-star) Rob Monkiewicz—get him stripped down, and exploit him! Yeah!”

Visit Rachael Robbins at her official website.

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