American actress Rena Riffel is a cult superstar and schlock/trash movie icon. She appeared in 90s trash ‘classics’ Showgirls and Striptease, and has worked with Paul Verhoeven and David Lynch. A trained dancer and ex-model, Rina also had a signing career in the mid 90s. She has racked up many exploitation flicks, alongside scream queen Linda Blair and Brigitte Nielsen among others. We caught up with Rena to talk about Dark Reel, a new horror comedy in which she stars with Edward Furlong and Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd, and her own film, Trasharella, which she recently wrote, directed and produced, through her own company Rena Riffell films.
EMB: Hi Rena. Can you tell us a little about ‘Dark Reel’, and your role in it?
RR: It's a fun slasher flick, a ‘feel-good’ horror movie; more of a gory comedy than a straight out horror, but with a Hitchcock feel to it. I play Detective Mary Beth LaRue. She is a big fan of genre films, and loves classic B-horror movies. But these films that she thinks are great are actually very cheesy. She is a big fan of 'Gnome Killer', one of the films within the Dark Reel plot, and ends up getting an acting role in 'Gnome Killer 2', which comes as a DVD Extra with the film!
The film is set in the world of B-Horror movies and scream queens. It’s directed by Josh Eisenstadt, who was so fun to work with. Lance Henriksen plays the washed up movie producer, and Ed Furlong plays the creepy fan boy who wins a walk-on role in one of the studios schlock films; 'Pirate Wench'. The scream queens keep getting killed by a mysterious masked lunatic, and my character and Detective Shields (Tony Todd) need to figure this mess out.
EMB: You’ve been in quite a few genre films in your career, are you drawn to horror and thriller films yourself?
Rena: Yes, more and more, actually. I love retro horror films and am always trying to watch ones I have never seen before. I'm really into the artsy ones or the horror films that are so bad that they are good. I just rented Near Dark, as I want to watch Lance Henriksen (who is in Dark Reel with me).
EMB: Oh you’ll love ‘Near Dark’, its one of the best vampire films of all time.
Rena: I can't believe I haven't seen it, everyone says it is the best vampire movie ever and that Lance is amazing in it. And, so far, I am loving it! Next I want to watch everything that Tamara Dobson has been in. I have Cleopatra Jones to watch next. I saw Cleopatra Jones: Casino Of Gold and fell in love with it... she is the coolest woman I have ever seen!
I’m also working on a documentary about the making of sub-genre exploitation films. It’s called The Trasharella Expose: An Exploration On Exploitation Film Making. I’ve included the first 15 minutes of the documentary as a DVD extra on the Trasharella special edition two-disc set.
EMB: You have worked with both Paul Verhoeven and David Lynch (in ‘Showgirls’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’ respectively). What was it like working with two such legendary directors?
Rena: They are both amazing and so inspiring. Paul Verhoeven gave me my breakthrough role in this business and has had such an impact on my life. I loved working with him. He gave me freedom in my scenes to play my character like I had envisioned, but at the same time he was very technical with the framing of every shot and every set up. He had a lot to do with the choreography; he came to our dance rehearsal before we shot the dance footage. He knew exactly what he wanted and he knew the exact beat he wanted a certain camera angle. I am so honoured to have been able to make a movie with him. And David Lynch is just as amazing. I think he has a different approach than Paul, but they are both absolute genius. Working with David Lynch, he swept me away into his own dream world with him. I could feel his magic and his creativity when I was around him. He knew what he wanted to see, and I felt like I was his paint brush that he was painting his picture with... it felt like that. He is very artistic in his demeanour.
EMB: How was the ‘Showgirls’ experience? Although the film wasn’t well received originally it has a real cult status now, and a huge fanbase…
Rena: Yes, Showgirls is so awesome! I love the fans that the film has and go to the midnight movie screenings sometimes as a special guest. And I played my role as 'Penny/Hope' in a stage version of Showgirls, "The Best Movie Ever Made! Ever!” There is a sock puppet Showgirls play, too – I really want to see that!
Showgirls just keeps getting more and more popular, it’s a total phenomenon. I don't think a film could even try to have this afterlife happen to it. This cult status and celebration is all created by the fans and the people who saw something special in the film. I seem to be one of the only actors that represents and gets involved with the cult status. I think Elizabeth (Berkley) is still upset about how the film was received initially. I think she is brilliant in her role and she should have won best actress at some film festivals, and I think Joe Esterhaz's writing is remarkably brilliant. I suspect because the way they marketed the film, that is what led to the backlash. The marketing campaign was misleading. But at the end of the day, it all worked out for the best.
EMB: You’ve just directed your own feature, ‘Trasharella’. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Rena: It is a satire on B-movie horror films, and also a musical. I have an amazing supporting cast, really colourful characters. Mary Carey, the reality tv star/ex-porn star has a role in it. She had that 'double D' Russ Meyer style look I was going for. I included every fetish and every sub-genre in the film, from zombies, vampires, pin up girls, an inspired Lolita lollipop scene, whips, ball gags, and more.. I am a huge fan of Betty Page's pin ups and burlesque films.
I’m influenced by directors like Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, Warhol's Factory, Fellini... I went against the grain and instead of trying to make this slick Hollywood film, I just let things be as they were and made it into a really bad grindhouse style exploitation film. It has the 60's and 70's art house film look to it. But, of course, because it is a parody, it's so bad that it is good (laughs).
It does have some very deep symbolism, though, so it's not a dumb film, it's just "bad"... in a good way. Mae West said: "When I'm good I'm good, but when I'm bad I'm better." and we – use her quote in Trasharella. I'm getting great reviews and people seem to find it very entertaining.
EMB: How was the experience of directing and have you any other plans to direct in the future?
Rena: I love making movies. Yes, I have a slate of films I plan to make. I have a new script I wrote, a dance movie, which will be a decent budget. I also would love to make more zero budget films. Making Trasharella was so spontaneous, I love that.
EMB: Thanks for that Rena, and best of luck with ‘Trasharella<’ and all future projects!
Trasharella is available at www.renariffelfilms.comwhich links to amazon. And is available at Amoeba Hollywood location. The soundtrack will be available on iTunes, April 7, 2009.