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GARY KENT: THRILL-KILLS, SADISTS, SCHOOLGIRLS & PSYCH-OUTS

Gary Kent Interview
GARY KENT is an actor, director, producer, stuntman and author who appeared in a number of classic cult films including THE THRILL KILLERS, THE FOREST, SATAN'S SADISTS and SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS... 

Our first adventure takes us to the Roger Corman produced Richard Rush directed hippie drive-in flick from the sixties, PSYCH-OUT...

Centering on the exploits of a band with members played by Jack Nicholson and Adam Roarke, who wind up connecting with the likes of Dean Stockwell, Bruce Dern, Henry Jaglom, a young Garry Marshall, and of course, our subject Gary Kent, playing a junkyard thug...

Jack and Gary Fade
How was it working with a then non-famous Jack Nicholson?

Working with Jack was a pleasure. He was always dead serious about his work, and at the time I met him he was in mid-thirties, did not drink or smoke (except for pot). He was not a huggy-feely kinda guy, nor was he a prima-donna... he didn't hang with cast and crew much after the day's shoot, he was always holed up in his room with some good homegrown and a beautiful lady... when I first met him, that beautiful lady was his wife, Sandy.

He was competitive... a good sport, and was also co-producer on the first two films I worked with him on (The Shooting, Ride In The Whirlwind). Jack always seemed very sure of himself as an actor... and more or less private person off the set, except for a few close, close friends.

One of those friends was actor John Hackett... with whom I became close friends, and John was instrumental in my securing a few gigs doubling Robert Vaughn on The Man From Uncle television series. Small world....

Adam Roarke
How about the late Adam Roarke?

Adam Roarke was one of the guys. He was hardwired, and lived and performed pretty much out there on the edge. He came from a humble, even hardscrabble Bronx family... he learned to fight early in life – "on the block." Later he fought in the Golden Gloves competition and did quite well.

Adam was also very outgoing, could party hearty, but, like Jack, took the work seriously, no matter how raucous the film.

What were some of highlights behind and in front of the camera?

Gary Kent
Well, I had a whole bunch of things I was in charge of, so each day was a challenge for me in some way, mostly in effects, figuring out how to give the script and director Richard Rush, what they wanted to see on the screen, but not CGI... this (the fire trips) had to go from reality, segue into a bad trip on acid, fire becoming the main threat, real and imagined, segue into our heroine coming out of the trip on the Golden Gate Bridge and how to double Dean Stockwell in the car hit sequence that kills him. Whew! Then I had to coordinate the stunts, work 'em out with Richard, then hire the guys and get down with it.

As to how I played my scene with Jack...I knew Jack would likely under-play his character at first, before letting hi explode in the fight, so I decided to underlay my character also, this seeming lack of physical threat with only implied violence, vocally....until the real stuff begins....

And what was the most intense stunt?

Well, that would have been when I doubled Bruce Dern coming through the skylight at the art museum... after I broke through the glass, I saw the balustrade I was to swing to was a little farther that I had realized. There were no pads below me to fall on if I lost my grip, or missed my landing point... as the camera and crew were directly below, shooting straight up.... when I did the swing, I barely made it over the balustrade... doesn't look like much on film, but for me, a miss would have meant a crushed skull, for sure, and very possibly a bad attitude!

Gary Kent in Satan's Sadists
In the 1969 Al Adamson biker flick SATAN'S SADISTS, a group of hog-riding thugs roll into a small town and turn over a cafe where, besides the owner and a waitress is a tough Vietnam-vet marine, played by GARY KENT, and a seasoned cop (Scott Brady) and his wife who'd given the marine a lift: and here's where they end up, now having to deal with the lethal Sadists, or die...

How was it working with Scott Brady in SATAN’S SADISTS?

Well, I had worked with Scott Brady before, and liked and respected him very much. He was also one of my heroes when I was sneaking off to movies while still in school and dreaming of becoming an actor. So, being able to work with him again was a joy.

The scene itself was cool... I thought Scott was great as the tough cop with a chance at he and his wife finally getting some slack. I mean, here we were, in the desert, beautiful day... doing what we all liked to do. Pleasant feelings in the acting whirlpool...

Scott Brady
Then, to have it culminate in that scene in the cafe... where we are immediately confronted by the thug bikers... tough, it would seem, for anyone to handle... now, it is a tribute to our acting that Scott and I didn't do some major ass-whupping, as we were not the type of guys to let that happen... but, we were acting, and that ass whupping stuff wasn't in the script...

It also was a good example of how "just going along, and maybe they will leave us alone" mostly does not work. My credo had always been, if you are gonna move, do it soon, fast, and heavy as all hell...or you lose...

Any other recollections of the shoot?

I was disappointed that I was not more charming in the film, didn't smile more...but then, producer Sam Sherman told me "remember...you do not have a lot to smile about!"

At night, after the martini shot, Scott and I and Bob Dix would meet in Bud Cardos' room for drinks before dinner. Bud had whipped up a marvelous pate' that, munched on a Ritz cracker, tasted great... until we found out it was freshly killed and skinned rattlesnake...

And after dinner, there was much singing of "the old songs" and a lot of raunchy joke telling. It was very eerie for me to return years later as a witness for the prosecution in the trial of Al Adamson's killer, Fred Fulford. They put me up at the same motel Bud, Scott, Dix and I had stayed at years earlier, during the making of Satan's Sadists...

Gary Kent
GARY KENT has acted in many exploitation films, portraying the hero at times, but usually psychotics, and in this low budget odyssey, THE HARD ROAD, directed by Gary Graver, Connie Nelson plays a teenager who descends into a lifestyle of drugs and orgies and otherwise, and Gary doesn't play the hero or villain, but something somewhere in-between...

How did you get into character for "Leo"? There was an agent, with offices on the Sunset Strip, who embodied the hot-shot, testosterone-fueled fellow named Leo, whom we meet in the movie. This fellow, Mickey, even had the two-way mirror to view his secretaries. He also would frequently appear wearing a fur coat of some sort, the kind for males they used to wear at Yale ball games. I had a pet coyote who ate the coat one day when Mickey laid it on my sofa, and proceeded to the kitchen to mix drinks. Poetic justice? Anyway, it was Mickey I was channeling.

Connie Nelson
How was it working with Connie Nelson? Connie was Gray Graver's girlfriend at the time of the making of the film. She was friendly, but also a bit anxious, as it was her first film I believe, and here she was playing a lead. In a later movie for Al Adamson, I am making out with Connie on a beach blanket just before being beheaded by Lon Chaney.

And working with director Gary Graver? Gary was one of my best friends, and remained so for many years. We must have done at least ten or more films together, wrote screenplays together that we could never get produced, we went through family problems, personal triumphs and failings, etc... Gary was one of the hardest working guys I have known... he was mostly a cinematographer... his forte was speed getting the shot set and done, and his personality... which was charming, very funny in a dry way, and ingratiating. He worked tirelessly as a film editor, also, and frequently, after a long day of filming, Gary would go to the editing room and edit long into the night. If he wasn't doing that, he was dragging us (some cast and crew) off to see a foreign film he particularly liked, or some work by his idol, Orson Welles.

As a director, Gary was fun and enthusiastic...he knew how to set staging, but was not schooled in drama or theater, so he left the actors pretty much on their on as far as interpretations, portrayals, etc. were concerned.

Gary Kent knives
Gary Kent has played some pretty vicious psychos and here’s yet another memorable loon in THE FOREST: a bearded mountain man who has a taste for pretty girls, literally, trudging around the outdoors and making mince-meat out of campers, while being haunted by the ghosts of his two children, in this, a unique slasher-feature directed by Donald Jones...

How did you get into the head of John, the psychotic forest dwelling cannibal?

For this particular character, I more or less channeled a real murder case that took place in Sequoia Nat'l Park shortly before Don Jones wrote The Forest... in that case, a guy who had been working as a handyman at one of the park lodges turned out to be the culprit. He had killed and even decapitated several of his victims... mostly innocents enjoying nature at its finest.

Gary Kent kills
We never think of our forests as particularly deadly places, but of course, they can house some pretty demented folk along with the critters. The fellow was not your usual handyman type... being mid-aged, very fit, totally at home in the Forest.... da... da... dum da dum!!!! So I wanted to play Don's villain as more animal like in his view of life... eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.... nothing personal.

Two great scenes during your character’s flashback involve the killing of his cheating wife and the fight with the lover…

The demise of the dearly beloved wife. Yes, I remember the scene well. It was fun to shoot, as the woman playing my wife was sufficiently the bitch to motivate the murder. It did give me pause to consider what kind of man would take such abuse from his mate, but then, as I read on in the script... what do'ya know... he didn't!

The fight with the lover. I was bothered that the lover hung around after being caught in bed with this man's wife. Seems like he would be long gone. But, that's what Don wanted, so how to make it work? It was kind of tongue in cheek, then, the whole sequence, asking you to suspend belief for a moment, in order to justify the future events.

In that light, staging the fight became easy... I thought it would be interesting to have as weapons only the tools of a hardscrabble farmers arsenal (pitchfork, band-saw, etc.)… The power-saw at the end would have looked much deadlier if we had been able to turn it on.

Gary Kent enraged
And how was it working with Donald M. Jones again?

It is always a pleasure working with Don Jones. As usual, he lucked out and got us great quarters at this new lodge inside the park. The owner of the lodge was new, and wanted to make Jones. As usual, he lucked out and got us great quarters at this new lodge inside the park. The owner of the lodge was new, and wanted to make a statement to future guests, so all of our meals were gourmet cooked, all amenities first class for a film abut a maniacal killer lopping off heads and feet in search of a decent meal.

My wife, Tomi Barrett, played Sharon in the film, using the AKA Elaine Warner... as did I when I used Michael Brody or something like that, for my credit. It was done in order to work a non-union film for a friend, and not have to suffer penalties from the Union, SAG.

This picture seems to be gaining in popularity years after we made it. Not quite sure why… maybe the scenes of the forest... All in all, pretty inspiring. I loved this shoot.

Gary Kent
SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS came out in 1973 before a lot of films that imitated not only the violence and shock-factor but, like in Troma’s MOTHER’S DAY, the overall plot involving two crazy, mother-whipped brothers who kidnapped three beautiful young women, holing them up like live toys in their dusty, rat-infested cellar... And while Gary seems the more normal of the two psychos, he's anything but...

As a troubled man-child
How did "Frank" differ from your other "psycho" roles?

This fellow was perhaps even more dangerous, as he physically did not give a shit about the suffering of others... Why? And the only clue we are given is that flashback with the mother... yes, that's right, the demented mother raises killer son syndrome... but does that hold up? Frankly, yes, not a deluge, but a rivulet... cases of mother/son maniacal misadventures. Many have been committed to news-events, and even works of high-drama. William Shakespeare has taken care of that.

Well, my mind was on one of those guys, a cross between a hen-pecked, whining son who had killed his fiancee on his mothers orders… True story – when I was first in L.A., the early years... to a dour, low key brute, who along with his close friend, an Oriental fellow, kidnapped, tortured and murdered a variety of people in the late 60s – early 70s… This bastard seemed in the newsreels, to be removed emotionally from any compassion for the injuries or deaths of his victims. Yeah, I borrowed some of that guy to inhabit Frank’s persona.

Kent and Stoglin
How was the interaction between you and your “brother” John Stoglin?

It was cool playing off my co-star, John Stoglin Parker. John is a very good actor... did much stage work in and around L.A., including winning "Best Actor" award in the glory days of the Glendale Center Theater. You can see that acting ability in how much that poor, misshapen fellow is resurrected by John into a real person... and he never lets it go... not once! This made it easy for my character to feel some of his only human warmth... and that toward his "sicker" brother.

Merrie Lynn Ross
The scene where Merrie Lynn Ross runs through the orange field and then the train passes is jarringly memorable...

That train was a Godsend... came by location site the same time every day, so we just figured out what we wanted to shoot, using a train, and then just shot it. The shot where Lynn Ross' body is hanging over the fence, and then, on a reverse, we see her body through the spaces between cars, hanging on the fence. And then, suddenly it is missing, no longer there, and as the train pulls away, we see the two brothers walking away, chatting amicably and Frank is carrying the body over his shoulder. That was a great shot, reverse shots; that I thought were dynamite.

Gary Kent
What else did you do on this film besides act?

I mainly started the film as Production Manager... Don already had a lot of things lined up, though, so I assisted with the location scout, putting the crew together, negotiating salaries and equipment rentals even assisted in casting. Once filming began, there was little time for me to function well in two demanding areas... some other very capable crewman who's name escapes me, took over my Production job and brought us through on time and on budget.

Behind the scenes, I think John and I personified what a team of cheerleaders would probably be like on a movie set... we exuded sunniness and optimism, in light of such a dark, deadly and dehumanizing on screen persona... can you imagine? The predicament? The gradual despair... quite sad, really... we needed to see it resolved… although strangely so...

Thrill Killer Kent
GARY KENT appears in this famously infamous b-movie, THE THRILL KILLERS, in which he and two buddies, having escaped from a mental asylum, are on the loose in L.A. and… let’s just say they aren’t too friendly to a couple in an abandoned house or the couple’s friends at the local diner. Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler, who appears in the film as a solo-roaming psycho, this is an indie drive-in classic like you'll never witness...

How did you get into character to play such a vile, dangerous loon?

Well, if I have an excuse, it was watching newsreels of genuine maniacal killers... dangerous, psychically imposing men, driven to an edge, imaginary or otherwise, men willing to kill their way out of it. When they were that far into it, indeed, they would have a short tenuous grip on reality, anything will spark the rage... I always wanted Ray to do a back-story on the characters... like, what was the life like, or series of events like that led to "Gary" carrying all that rage at merely being locked up.

You have a great insane laugh in this film… How did this eerie cackle come about?

Madcap Laughter
I had a neighbor at the time, whose husband was in prison for armed robbery. She had a lot of children, one of whom was a little boy about seven or eight years. All of the children seemed to be dealing emotionally with a variety of problems... self-esteem, mostly, and a mother who was right out of a John Waters movie, (only darker)... anyway, I was struck by how that little boy laughed. He lived mostly with foster families... but he would show up at his mother's on holidays, where there would be some semblance of festive gaiety. Much laughter among family and friends... I sometimes would notice how loud the boy laughed, and how empty the laugh was of any real feeling of "mirth" or "joy"... feelings one normally associate with laughter.

He was laughing because he felt it was what had to be done to fit in, or get by, but he wasn't feeling "funny" at all. I am over stating here... but I remembered how hollow his laugh sounded. I decided to try and recreate that (to me) "panic and paranoia" masquerading as a good, hearty "laugh"...don't know if it worked, but at the time it seemed like the ticket, if you get my drift.

Wolf and Kent
Now, strange, James, to say this, but I have been trying to get a wild, Texas Red wolf to bond with me... long story… (felt trapped, did he, by a city encroaching rapidly on his habitat?... hounded by the city pound, the town dog patrol… a kill, kill situation… hounded by folks that consider him a ghost dog, a devil dog, etc. of mythic proportion... all incorrect...) he has shown up in desperation at my place... I have given him shelter, and am gradually ever so gradually winning him over... he will even come in my house... AS LONG AS I KEEP THE DOORS OPEN!!!! If I close a door, he reverts to sheer dangerous animal-panic... "Don't f**k with me pal… Don't close me in, cut off my escape!"

Hmmmm… could a human be driven to that edge? It happens everyday.

Axe anything
I can only remember making the decision to play this character as definitely riding the edge of psychosis, one of those bad, violent blokes that kills men and women on a moment's whim, hair-triggered and bad news when you see him on the street..."Oh no, this guy is easily trouble waiting for a light"... Ray agreed, so we went for it... Loved it, the rough stuff.... love it!!! Over the edge, well… that's my gig!!!

The Man Face
Recollections of the diner scene?

The diner scene was shot in Topanga Canyon, at a biker/bar/bistro smacked upside the hills between The Great Valley and Malibu... a dynamite sort of "outlaw" venue, as opposed to Coldwater, Benedict, Laurel, etc. The gentler, more civilized canyons. This particular cafe appears a lot in biker flicks of the era. The owner of the Cafe was played by my then wife, Rose Mary aka Laura Benedict. That's her smoking the cigar. Rose Mary had a background in Texas theater, and was working at the time for a theater company in Burbank. It was strangely a hoot doing the scene with her; she had an intriguing panache in the scene.

Gary Kent
How about that wonderfully long scene as you chase the girl up the hill and then fight with her husband?

Well, this was a steep step into the twilight zone... a zone, my friends, where a women in high heels, on a rocky, bramble covered series of cliffs and back slides, continuously and easily avoids capture by a husky, athletically fit male in his fighting trim... wearing gimme' shoes! How are we going to make this thing work? The fun part was doing the actual chase - the actual climbing and stunt fight... I didn't know what I was doing, only that I enjoyed all the scrambling over things, and getting in fights. Hmmmm... could it be? Nah.

I also felt a sort of pity for Liz Renay... why she did not break an ankle is a testament to her background in dance.

Ray Steckler
And finally, tell us a little about the iconic director…

Ray Steckler. Wow! Let me remember him, if you will. I met Ray as he lived across the street from me in a low-end, artsy-crafty section of Hollywood... I'm talkin' south-east Hollywood, headed for the outskirts of downtown L.A.

We met while we were both out doing yard work, mowing, trimming kind of stuff... and struck up a conversation. He was a friendly enthusiastic fellow who wanted to make some movies, and I wanted to do some stunts, or a chance to figure out how to do them. I also had acting credentials, so Ray asked me to be in his movie, "The Thrill Killers"...

I do not recall seeing a script, although there could have been one... basically, he would have us improvise... he would set up the scene, the problem, etc. And then let you start with each other, feeding into and reacting in the moment as our characters might... led to some very bizarre stuff... I think Ray got off on watching his actors improvise, and giving them a premise and a stage on which to do so... Hey, Ray, RIP.
Gary Kent is a real author... His book provides insight and adventure.. Check it out below...
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