My newest interview subject, Deborah Voorhees, is the first talent from the Friday The 13th franchise that I’ve interviewed for Pop Geeks. Deborah played Tina in Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning, but that’s not the only connection she has to the world of horror. In recent years, Ms. Voorhees, after spending time as a journalist and a teacher, has returned to the field of film as both a writer and director, and she’s gone from being scared of horror films to directing and writing them. We discussed all of this and more on Thursday, August 2nd, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Deborah Voorhees!
Johnny: You’ve written several articles about your time as a Bunny at the Playboy Club. What was the absolute best experience you had as a Playboy Bunny?
Deborah: You know, that’s going to be really hard to pick a single thing. I can say that there are a few things. One is you’re close with the girls. You work together and you watch after each other. That’s a really nice part. It’s a pleasure to be part of something that is so iconic, you know? I feel like I’ve just been amazingly blessed because I was part of the Playboy empire, and part of the Friday The 13th empire, and the TV show Dallas as well. Being a Bunny, we did a lot of charity events, and I really loved helping to raise money for people in need and organizations in need. Sometimes we’d go on road trips, and sometimes it was more local, but I was part of promotions all the time and that was a lot of fun. I, of course, enjoyed meeting Hef and going to the Playboy Mansion. It was an interesting experience, and overall, there’s the wonderful camaraderie, and helping out with non-profits and charity work was a blast.
Johnny: Alright. As several Playboy veterans, like Julie McCullough and Cathy St. George, have continued to break out the Bunny suit on occasion for convention appearances and the like, have you ever done so for Halloween or costume parties in recent years?
Deborah: No, I haven’t ever done that. We actually were not allowed to wear our Bunny costumes outside of the club, and you also weren’t allowed to take them with you. If someone told me not to do something, and it was within reason, I just wasn’t going to do it. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep my Bunny suit. I regret it sometimes because so many other girls kept their’s, and I don’t have mine. I would’ve liked to have had it, and it’s not like they did anything with it. They probably just threw them away. It would’ve been nice to have it. When we went out, we had a few different costumes. There was one that was a black top and wraparound skirt, that was like a leotard, that you wore. It was short and kind of cut on the side. I played on the Playboy Bunnies softball team, and that was a lot of fun, because we made up our rules and pretty much couldn’t lose with them (laughing). We had three or four different outfits for going out and doing stuff, and I also enjoyed playing bumper pool. I loved gambling on my tables, and I always made some good money off of the table (laughing). The deal was that I got part of the winnings. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit that since gambling is illegal.
Johnny: Quite a lot of fun.
Deborah: Yeah, it was a blast. We had a lot of fun.
Johnny: Your earliest acting credits came when you made several appearances on the popular drama Dallas. What was your favorite part of working on that series?
Deborah: My favorite part was behind the scenes, hanging out with the cast and crew. I was very much part of the family. It was super-cool to come on set and have Larry Hagman, whom I absolutely adored and loved from I Dream Of Jeannie and having him sing that song, “Peggy Sue, I Love You”, only he’d put Debi Sue there instead.
Deborah: That was pretty cool (laughing).
Johnny: I’m sure you know that Dallas was very popular in Romania, with some feeling it helped to end Communism in that country. During your time as a journalist, which I’ll be getting into more detail about later, did you ever visit Romania, and if so, did anybody recognize you from Dallas?
Deborah: No. I’ve never been to Romania, and I had no idea that some attributed the fall to that show. That’s pretty interesting.
Johnny: Oh, yeah. It was very big over there. The Ceausceau regime had bought episodes of Dallas for distribution because they wanted to show their people how wasteful the American way of capitalism was, but it backfired because the Romanians saw that even the poorer folks on Dallas had better lives than they did, and they thought, “Wait a minute, why didn’t we have this?”.
Deborah: (Laughing) “We want this success, too!”. That’s hysterical. I had no idea that happened. How funny.
Johnny: Going to 1985, you appeared as Roxie in Avenging Angel. Had you auditioned to take over the title character before Betsy Russell got the role, or was the role of Roxie the main one you auditioned for?
Deborah: No, Roxie was the one I auditioned for. I never auditioned for the other one. In fact, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty certain Betsy was already cast in that role. I really liked working with her. She was a really nice woman.
Johnny: Yeah. The Angel movies were definitely great exploitation fun. We now come to how many of our readers know you, which is through your role as Tina in Friday The 13th: A New Beginning. Every Friday The 13th movie has stood out for both the talents and the fans in its’ own unique way, so how did A New Beginning stand out for you?
Deborah: Do you mean me personally, or how I see it standing out for the fans?
Deborah: Okay. It was extremely well-received up until the final scene, when it was revealed that Jason wasn’t the killer, but I think there’s a lot of new appreciation for it, with people realizing that it’s a film that reflects back to the original. You know, the original wasn’t Jason as the killer. It was the mother, and even though she was demented, in her way she was protecting her young, even though he was already gone and dead. In V, it’s Roy that is upset. Both of them are irrational because they’re killing everybody, even people who never met their kids or had anything to do with them. For me, personally, it’s been an amazing experience. I never imagined that I would matter to somebody I never met, you know? It’s interesting when you have fans that care so much. I’m so deeply honored that anybody cares anything about it beyond the few weeks it was in the theater, and the idea that it’s gone on to mean so much, and that I’ve been included in so many Top 10 Best Kills…I couldn’t believe this. I was stunned. I was even included in a Top 13 of ALL Horror for Sexiest Horror Kills, right along with Janet Leigh, and I was like, “WHAT? Are you kidding?”. That’s mind-blowing, because I look at Janet Leigh and she’s an icon, so just to even be included on the list, I was just floored. It’s been a great honor, and the fans have been so kind to me over time. They’re always so thoughtful and kind. Occasionally, I’ll have somebody who’s a little bit of a nut, but they’re not necessarily a true fan. They’re more just a nutcase, you know? For the most part, I think horror fans are amazing. They’re kind. They’re generous. They’re thoughtful. They’re always looking to support you. They stop in and say “Happy birthday!” and stuff like that. I mean, who could’ve imagined that one film, with eight days of shooting on my part, could have turned into something that people care about and still want to talk to me about? Most of us don’t get that opportunity, and I feel really blessed.
Johnny: It certainly is something the fans admire, and something to be proud of. That kind of answers a question I wanted to ask about the franchise, which is this: What do you think fans see in the Friday The 13th franchise that critics like the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert did not?
Deborah: Right. You know, that’s a really interesting question. I think there is something about the Friday The 13th movies. When they first came out, they seemed really violent, especially the earlier ones, but I think there was this feeling of this isn’t real. Nobody’s thinking that these people are really being murdered or anything like that. The kills are fast. Nobody’s sitting there struggling and in pain, bleeding out. It’s more like everybody got together, we’re playing dress-up and having fun. What could be more kid-like? On a horror movie set, you’re in makeup, you’re in wardrobe and, “Oh, we’re going to pretend this. We’re going to pretend that”. We all had so much fun with it, and I think that must come across to the fans of the film. They have to feel that excitement and pretend. It’s clearly pretend, and so people get to work through all kinds of things. It’s like a safe scare. There’s the BOO!, the jump scare, the, “OOH, it just got me!”. I know I do it, too, even when I know it’s coming, like when Jason comes through the window at Amy Steel. I still jump, even though I know it’s coming, but at the end of it, I jump and everything’s safe. Everything’s fine. Everything’s good, and I think there’s something really kind of neat about that. At the time, I wouldn’t have said this, but now looking at it, I really think there’s an innocence there. In an odd way, it’s kind of similar to the Playboy Club because in its time it seemed so out there and edgy, but if you really looked back at our outfits, they were actually quite innocent. We had leggings on that were nude color, so they looked like your legs and you think you’re seeing all this leg, but you’re not. They’re just leggings, and then you put the black hose on top of it. You have the tight bodice and stuff, but you go back to the Victorian period, and you’d see cleavage and some shoulders. Granted, a little of the arms were covered up, but not completely. It’s not much more than these imaginary legs that you think you’re seeing, but you’re really not. Of course, you’d see the shape of the leg, but not the actual skin, and so there’s an innocence in that. There’s a sweetness to that, and I see that with the Friday movies. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but that’s how I see it.
Johnny: No, that makes a lot of sense to me. That’s really quite an answer. I can definitely see how important illusion is. One more question about A New Beginning before going into other aspects: What did you learn on the set of A New Beginning that would help you in your later creative endeavors?
Deborah: Well, on every set that I ever went on, I stayed very much alert. While I enjoyed talking to cast and crew, and I learned a lot doing that, I spent a lot of time watching the people with the lighting, watching the camera operator, watching the director, watching how things went. I feel like my time on the film set taught me a lot about how to make films. It gave me a leg up. I learned about how important it was for the director to have a good relationship with the actors, and with everything I saw, Danny (Steinmann) certainly did a good job of that. He was always very personable and helpful to me, and very kind and respectful. I just learned some of the basics of how it all worked, and understanding how many different takes it takes. As an actor, you don’t quite know what the camera’s picking up because you can see some of the angle, but the angle doesn’t tell you much. Unless you know if they have a wide lens on, or if it’s a close-up lens or what on there, you don’t know what they’re getting. I mean, frankly, you could have a camera 10 feet away from you pointed directly at you, and if they’re using a telescopic lens, they could be looking way past you and not seeing you at all. I didn’t actually have the privilege of looking into the lens’ eyepiece or knowing what lenses they were using or anything like that, but I did get to see all the different takes. They would tell me, “This is going to be a close-up”, or just the basics of whatever it is I needed to know in order to do my job. When I was making the film, I didn’t have any illusions about doing this really, really fast. I knew I had to worry about sound issues. I knew I had to worry about lighting issues. I knew all kinds of little things like that.
Johnny: We’ll come back to your more recent endeavors in film, but before that, for a long period of time, you took a break from the entertainment business to enter the field of journalism. What drew you to that field?
Deborah: I loved writing, and that was really kind of where my heart was, so I felt like I needed to dedicate my time to learning to become a good writer. There’s also something magical about a job where you can call just about anybody up and say your name and what publication you’re with, and just about anybody will pick up the phone and take your call. I was still covering arts and entertainment at the newspaper. I did other stuff, too, but the majority of the time, I was doing arts and entertainment, so I learned about news. What makes a good news story? What are the things that news people gravitate toward? What are the hooks, the things that are interesting? You can’t just make movies. You have to promote them, and so I learned that publicity side.
Johnny: Okay. What story from your journalist days are you most proud of having written or broken?
Deborah: There’s a couple of them. One was about John Biggers. He was a master muralist, and you just have to see his work. I’m hoping that, one day, he will get the full credit he deserves. He needs to be on line with Picasso and such…A different style, but he should be every bit as important. I got to travel around the country to see his murals, and to interview him and people who knew him. In fact, his family was working on a book, and they loved my writing so much that they were interested in having me write it. Unfortunately, John died not too long after that. The main source of information was gone, and so that didn’t happen, but it was still an honor to be included in that. The other one is I traveled to New York to write about Suzanne Graham. She’s a famous mezzo-soprano opera singer. She was performing at Lincoln Center, and I had the privilege of going there and spending time with her and learning about her. She played a lot of so-called trouser roles. That’s where a female opera singer plays a young man, hence the trouser role. I have a few others. As far as I know, I still hold a record for the two most controversial stories in a newspaper. It was so controversial that we were getting death threats and phones ringing off the wall. I did some early stories about a minister marrying his husband-to-be, one of the earliest stories on gay marriage, and then another one on gay men and lesbian women coming together and having children. That one pretty much went through the roof. I don’t know how it would do today. Pretty similar, as we’re still somewhat backward in our thinking on that, or at least there’s some segment of the population that is, not to really criticize them, not open. I am definitely more open, live and let live. As long as you’re not harming anybody, I don’t care. That article was so controversial that it was even written up in a magazine talking about the fallout from it.
Johnny: That leads me to ask: The position of journalist is a rather precarious one in today’s media environment, what with many news outlets being decried as “fake news” by The White House and their supporters, and hearing things like Milo Yiannopoulos calling for the deaths of journalists, even though he says he’s just a troll. Do you think that journalism is now in a dangerous position, or do you think that it’s not dangerous?
Deborah: You know, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know. There’s certainly somewhat of a target on people’s backs. We have a problem in this country that the large majority of people do not understand what news is about, and how to understand when you’re listening to legitimate news, and when it’s being skewed. It’s not anybody’s fault. This is honestly not a criticism. It’s just simply that, if you’ve never been taught, and you don’t understand what journalistic ethics are about, you don’t know how to judge what is being told to you. One of the things I do whenever I hear a news story is I always ask, “Why is that not true?”. You should be looking at what some of the possibilities are, and then you should be doing a little bit more research. There’s some really good publications out there. They’re not all liberal. They’re not all conservative. What you want is actual, good, fact-based news that talks to you like a human being. If they’re yelling at you, if they’re decrying and calling other people names, that’s not news. That’s called yellow journalism. That’s opinion.
One of our major networks is, by far, one of the worst offenders, and that’s Fox News. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a conservative publication. Look at the Wall Street Journal. There’s plenty of really reputable publications out there, like The Economist. If you want good, well-thought out news, go to those publications.I read those as well as The New York Times. Fox News is always getting on The New York Times, criticizingit. I mean, I read it, and I know what it says, but there’s a populace listening to Fox News who doesn’t. I even heard Chris Wallace bashing an article and making statements that didn’t represent the article in the slightest.
Right now, we have a lot of people out there who are out just to pull your chain. They’re just trying to get a reaction out of you. They’re trying to purposely make you afraid so we get angry at each other. We don’t need to be angry at each other. We need to talk to each other, and I mean left and right. We’re not that different, not if we stop listening to people screaming and carrying on, and if we actually sit down and find some compromises. I think the danger comes in when we’re listening to these people yelling and screaming, like an Alex Jones or a Rush Limbaugh. They yell and scream so loud, and they cherry-pick the information, and sometimes, especially in Alex Jones’ case, flat-out make shit up. I would say that if you have someone yelling at you, stop and reconsider, and there’s some on the liberal side that I don’t listen to either such as Occupy Democrats. They’re always sending out these inflammatory things about “the dangers conservatives are posing”, and once again, they’re cherry-picking their information. They are not presenting the whole picture. I think most of us, if we’re really given a chance to analyze the information, we might disagree, but we can usually find a compromise that can make people happy. I feel that we should leave everybody alone and let them do their own thing, as long as you’re not hurting anybody, and I think we’ll get along a lot better. The issue of danger comes in when you have someone who’s not particularly bright, who takes everything to heart, and then thinks they need to hurt somebody. If you instigate that, like with Pizzagate, and a guy goes in there, ready to free those children? There’s not even a basement. There’s nothing there except people who are having pizza, and there he is, armed to the teeth, ready to take them down. If you’re instigating that sort of thing, you really are responsible. I mean, the gunman is responsible, too, but that gets dangerous when you do that. Those aren’t journalists. If you’re putting out fake information, that’s not journalism. Those are people making up stories, and that can be harmful. Is that too long of an answer?
Johnny: No, it’s a very well-thought-out answer. I can definitely see the importance of knowing what’s real and what isn’t, but to return to the matter of fantasy: In recent years, you’ve returned to the entertainment industry, this time in a behind-the-scenes capacity as director and screenwriter.
Johnny: What has working behind-the-scenes provided for you that being on camera has not?
Deborah: Control. Of course, in a film, you only control so much, and everybody’s giving input, but I get to write about the things that interest me. I love working in the visual medium. I love using a camera and light to help show emotions, helping with the actors and moving them that way. It was very, very important for me to spend time as an actor so I could understand what they’re going through. It’s an extremely difficult job. In so many ways, the director’s job is more demanding because you have so much more going on, but I still contend that being an actor is the most difficult job because you have to be natural in the most unnatural circumstances. There’s nothing realistic going on when you’re filming. When you are filming, there’s nothing for you to work off of. You have a camera crew and lights. There’s nothing to tell you that what’s around you is real, and yet you have to portray that. You may have to do that many times because of sound issues, and then there’s the faraway shot and you have to do that many times because there’s an airplane coming overheard and wrecking the sound, then there’s a dozen times when you’re doing the mid-shot and reversing for your partner, and in my case, you’re doing both a TV version and a Rated R version. It’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Johnny: Alright. Shakespeare has been a big influence on your work as evidenced by your film Billy Shakespeare, as well as another short listed on your IMDB page called Othello: Good Night, My Sweet. What do you think the continued appeal of Shakespeare is to the entertainment community?
Deborah: For me, so much of it is about his dialogue. Of course, the characters and the plot are a big deal as well. A lot of the storylines, just like the storylines of many films today, were bought in from other places and other ideas, and he then recreated the stories completely on his own. What stands out to me is his dialogue. It’s so elegant, so beautiful, so comical, so dramatic. It’s so layered and textured with emotions, thoughts, ideas. Look at his speech with Hamlet, where Hamlet is talking to his mother. There’s a lot of discussion about “was he in some kind of incestuous relationship?”. Some people completely pooh-pooh the idea, and others look at the text and say “you don’t say this to your mother”. Because it’s Shakespearean, and because it’s not a common speech, many people don’t pick up on some of the subtleties of what he says, but are you really going to talk to your mother about the wet spot from your uncle having sex with her in the bed? I don’t think so. There’s good textual evidence that there’s these layers, and when you have layers like that, what happens? People talk about it.
Johnny: Mainly what I know about Othello is not so much about the story, but about how, for decades, the role was played by white actors in blackface, and only recently have black actors actually played the role of Othello.
Deborah: Right, of the Moor. Exactly. The basic idea is you have Othello, who is really a good man. He’s a hero. He is very deeply in love with his wife, and Iago is very angry, basically because he didn’t get a promotion he wanted. He decides he’s going to destroy the Moor, and what better thing to do than to go after the woman he loves? He does this in a very cunning, flat-out evil way. He starts putting doubts and feeding his doubts, and then he’ll feed information to other people, and then Iago will tell Desdemona, “You need to talk to Othello about this. Ask him about this or that. You watch. Desdemona will do this, and that’s evidence of your infidelity”, and sure enough, it will come about and Othello will doubt his wife more. It’s a fascinating piece. I changed my Iago to a woman, and made her a ghost, and when you change that dialogue to a female, it takes on an entirely new and different feeling. I told her to play it as a jealous ex-lover. That dialogue is so rich. I spent a little time looking at Iago and all he does. If you don’t want to read the text, but do want to see it, there’s a fabulous version with Laurence Fishburne and Keneth Brannagh. It’s brilliant.
Johnny: I’ll definitely have to keep that in mind.
Deborah: It’s a fabulous one.
Johnny: To move to an upcoming project, The List is a horror comedy. You’re quoted on IMDB as saying, “I’m just too big of a chicken to watch scary movies”. How were you able to get over that fear in order to make a horror movie?
Deborah: A couple of things. One, I started out watching a bunch of horror trailers. I watched more and more and the more I watched, the less I’d flinch, and then I had a lot of encouragement from my fans. They’d say, “Oh, you have to see this movie”, and so I didn’t want to disappoint them and not at least check out some of the movies they were suggesting. Over time, I really began to understand that adrenaline rush. I really like a lot of them now, everything from Hush to Gerald’s Game to the different Conjuring movies like Annabelle to Insidious. There’s several of them now that I just really, really like. There’s something exciting about getting scared, but at the end of it, you’re still safe.
I get that now. I didn’t for a long time because I didn’t like to be scared. I didn’t want to be scared, and the first several were really hard. I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do this”, (laughing) you know? I like The Others a lot. That’s a really good one. I liked What Lies Beneath. That was so subtle in so many ways, and that’s usually what scares me the most, because my imagination can get very active. For me, that was a really scary movie, more so than some of the others ones that are considered scary. It’s like Hush. I thought that was very scary. Talk about grabbing the arms on your theater chair. Another one is A Quiet Place. I don’t think I had a relaxed muscle the entire time I watched that movie, but again, I had a blast by the time I was out. It was just really exciting and fun. My poor husband’s hand. Luckily he recovered, but…(Laughing).
Johnny: Alright. As a director and screenwriter, which 5 actors or actresses would you most like to work with?
Deborah: Hmm. 5, huh? Boy, there’s so many, and as soon as I name 5, I’ll think of 5 more. I would say I’d love to work with Kevin Bacon. I’d like to work with Jessica Lange. There’s so many out there that I think are so talented. There’s a young man who’s just starting out his career. He played in the music video that Jon Lajoie did about the first scene in A New Beginning. I’d love to work with him. Freddie Highmore, I’d love to work with him. I think he’s very talented. I have a horror thriller that I’m working on which is going to be running on the intensity of a Cape Fear kind of thing, and I’ve got some amazing people that I’m working with for that.
Johnny: Alright. You’ve been an actress, a director, a screenwriter, a journalist and a teacher. What talent do you have that you haven’t showcased yet, but would like to do so in the future?
Deborah: (Laughing) I don’t know. I may be out of talent. I do the editing on my films, and I want to continue editing, and get better and better at it. I really enjoy the editing process. I don’t know. I think you probably covered it there (laughing). I don’t have any secret talents.
Johnny: Well, to stay with the horror theme, what are your feelings on conventions?
Deborah: I’ve been to three. For a long time, I just really didn’t do them, but my convention agent is Sean Clark, and he convinced me to give them a try. I did, and I’m very glad that I did. I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed meeting the fans and spending some time with them, and just kind of seeing what it was like at a horror convention.
Johnny: Alright. At those convention appearances, what’s been the most amazing piece of memorabilia you’ve signed?
Deborah: You know, I haven’t had too many strange ones. Lots of people would think I signed a lot of garden shears and things like that, but you’re not allowed to bring those things in.
I just had my first garden shears mailed to me, and I signed them and sent them on. It’s always been pretty normal stuff, you know? Definitely a lot of hockey masks. Pictures. Of course, the book. Posters. That kind of thing, nothing crazy.
Johnny: Alright. I now come to my final question. What would you say has been the biggest change in the entertainment industry between the 1980s and 2018?
Deborah: I’ll have to give more than one. The method that the product’s delivered is a big one. Of course, a big change is in the number of people able to pursue a career by producing and doing their own films. That has been a major change, but in a way, we’ve also become prudish again. Now, of course, we have cable like Showtime where there is no prudishness at all, but what goes on at the movie theater, I find that we’re getting more prudish. I never really quite understood our obsession with worrying about nudity.
As far as I know, nobody has died from seeing breasts or a penis, so why it still continues to be such a silly taboo, I don’t understand. I don’t see it any differently than arms or hands or elbows or anything else. Whatever we decide as human beings to make the forbidden thing…It is no different than if we were to decide that wrists were sexy, and you absolutely had to have them covered because they were indecent to be seen in public. Silly.I think there’s some practical reasons for clothing. Obviously, clothing is nice to keep you from sunburn. Bras are handy because after a while, walking around without one can be uncomfortable. There’s reasons for things. I think underwear and shorts and pants make sense, because if everybody’s running around without bottoms on, there’s obvious cleanliness issues, but if someone’s at the beach and quickly changes out of their street clothes and throws on a bathing suit to go swimming, I don’t think it should be a crime. Today you can end up on the Sex Offender Registry for indecent exposure. If you came out of a bar drunk, and did something stupid and peed in the alley, suddenly you’re a predator. That’s kind of prudish, I would say.
Johnny: Alright. That about does it for my questions. I again thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Deborah: Thank you so much, Johnny. I appreciate your time.
Johnny: No problem. I appreciate your time as well. I’ll be in touch and I hope you have a good evening.
Deborah: Oh, thank you.
Johnny: Have a good evening, and I’ll talk to you on Messenger.
Deborah: Okay. Sounds terrific. Take care.
Deborah: Bye bye.
I would again like to thank Deborah Voorhees for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. For more on Deborah Voorhees’ directing and writing endeavors, you can visit her official website. Deborah also has a very active Facebook fan group with lots of discussion of horror movies. Check it out when you have a chance.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview will be a jump from Friday The 13th back to A Nightmare On Elm Street as I speak to Jennifer Rubin, who played the “beautiful and bad” Taryn in Dream Warriors. Keep your eyes peeled for that, and thank you for your continued support.