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Exclusive Interview: Jeffrey Combs on “CREEPSHOW” and his NY production of the Poe play “NEVERMORE,” Part One

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Events, Exclusive, Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

Jeffrey Combs is getting historical over the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow, October 3 sees the premiere of “Bad Wolf Down,” his episode of Shudder’s CREEPSHOW revival series, and on Saturday, October 12, he’ll take the stage as Edgar Allan Poe for a production of his acclaimed one-man show NEVERMORE as part of New York’s Sleepy Hollow Film Festival. The actor took some time to discuss both projects with RUE MORGUE.

“Bad Wolf Down” is a mix of the lycanthropy and war genres, written and directed by Rob Schrab and co-starring rapper/actor Kid Cudi. Combs is one of the top terror talents recruited by executive producer Greg Nicotero and his cohorts behind CREEPSHOW, which brings back the EC Comics-inflected style of the 1982 George A. Romero feature. NEVERMORE, directed and written by the actor’s frequent collaborators Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli respectively, honors a much older master of horror, as Combs gives an absolutely riveting performance as the brilliant but deeply troubled author of some of history’s greatest genre literature. For more info on this must-see production and the rest of the Sleepy Hollow Film Festival, which runs October 10-13 in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, NY (easily accessible from Manhattan), check out the official website.

What can you tell us about your CREEPSHOW role?

It’s set during WWII, where an American platoon gets into a firefight and they kill some German soldiers, one in particular, and retreat to a bombed-out building. I play a Nazi general, and this one German they killed is my son, so now they will pay! I surround the building they’re defending, and let them know there’s no way out, and the Americans come up with a very clever plan to defeat us. They find out that the building is actually a French jail, and inexplicably, a woman has locked herself in a cell and they can’t get her out; the keys are in there with her. She speaks French, and one of them kind of speaks some French, and it turns out she did this on purpose. They don’t really understand, but it turns out there are werewolves involved. They’re war-wolves!

This is the first time I’ve ever played a Nazi general, and it was just frightening to wear that uniform. I’ve never had to put on one of those SS outfits, and, ugh, it was strange. But I had a lot of fun, and it was great to work with Greg Nicotero again; I was very pleased and honored that they asked me to join them.

Writer/director Rob Schrab has a lot of comedic credits on his résumé. Is there humor in this episode, or is it played straight?

I’d say it’s playful at times, but it’s played pretty straight and not for many laughs. I didn’t get a sense that that was the tone they were going for. It’s probably got some moments of macabre humor, but basically it’s very much in the realm of a very dark TWILIGHT ZONE, with a twist at the end.

Does the episode employ a lot of the colored lighting and background effects that we saw in the CREEPSHOW movie?

Yes! It’s very high opera, very dramatic, with very theatrical choices, and I quickly realized that was because tonally, they’re replicating the original film. They incorporated all of that, and chapters starting with an illustration that bleeds into the live action. It’s very stylish like that, and I was impressed with it. I was thinking that this DP had some inspired choices going on. All that gives the episode a very distinct feel.

Who are your co-stars in the episode?

Well, I wish I could say that I knew them, but my scenes were pretty much me alone, doing my thing with a few soldiers around me, and unfortunately, all of the other actors’ stuff was done on other days, before or after I got there. There was one night when we were all around, and there was a pretty big rapper in there with me, although I am not the most knowledgeable person about rap. It was a good group of guys, though.

Are you excited to be performing NEVERMORE in Sleepy Hollow, which has its own place in the history of Gothic literature?

Oh man, that place has an incredible historical resonance. Even though I’ve only seen it on video, the venue really captures the era of Poe; it’s a gorgeous theater. A lot of the time, I do the show in a black box kind of setting, or just a basic theater. This is almost like visiting the past here. So I’m excited about that, as well as the fact that it’s the home of one of Poe’s contemporaries, Washington Irving, so that’ll be interesting. I’ve always had a reference to Irving in my show; it may not be one that his fans are looking for [laughs], but it’s not bad. Poe had very few nice things to say about most writers, actually, although he loved Dickens; he enjoyed Dickens.

Do you find that you’re always on the lookout for new facts or material on Poe that you can work into future productions of NEVERMORE?

Sometimes. Researching is more Dennis Paoli’s lane. When I do the show in a locale like Boston or Baltimore, since he was born in Boston and died in Baltimore, I do have Dennis sort of mine Poe’s writings, looking for references to perhaps accent that—but not always. I’d also say that the script is like a freight train, and it’s delicate, and to move off and reference things too much would disrupt the forward thrust of the show. So even if I do acknowledge a particular place where I’m performing, I try to do it deftly, quickly. There’s already the line about Washington Irving in the script, and I don’t really know too much more about the two of them than I already say there. I think it would maybe push the show too out of balance to change things just because I’m in Sleepy Hollow. I have thought about making a reference like, “I see Washington Irving chose not to be here this evening—that is his choice, I suppose.” Something like that, I could say.

Before each new production, do you consult with Stuart Gordon about it, or do you have it in your bones at this point?

I pretty much have it in my bones. Although I learn things from performing it each time, it hasn’t changed all that much from that long run in Los Angeles years ago. You don’t mess with a good recipe, and I understand what we need—not a lot, but it’s crucial. There was a time when Stuart would go with me when we were first taking it out on the road—and that was helpful, actually, because I didn’t have to deal with the stuff that I now have to deal with. But that’s a lot of travel for him, and he’s basically kind of a stage manager at that point, you know? And there’s usually someone who can do that wherever I go. He certainly knows that I’m going, but as far as bringing him into the loop, it’s not really necessary at this point.

TO BE CONTINUED

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.