What makes someone great at what they do? As a scrawny, bow-legged, barely 6’3″ kid from the barren wasteland of Central Illinois who had a dream of playing college basketball, I can tell you that it is absolutely not natural-born talent. Sure, you have to have some natural abilities, but that’s not what makes someone great. What makes someone great is their willingness and desire to put in the work. To arrive early and stay late, to put in the extra miles when everyone else has gone home. It doesn’t matter what gifts you were born with if you are unwilling to put in the work. Danielle Harris, the very definition of a Scream Queen, has been doing that since 1988.
For the last 30 years, Danielle has been rolling up her sleeves and working harder than anyone else in her craft. She has starred in two of the greatest slasher franchises in horror history, but she has done much more than that. She has also amassed almost 100 acting credits to her name, or in other words, put in the work to get where she is today. Because of this work ethic and drive, there are very few people that mean more to the horror genre than Danielle Harris.
Many of us were first introduced to the genre through Danielle and her work. My cousin Chad (two years my junior, but forever my senior when it comes to horror knowledge) first introduced me to Danielle Harris and her work in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers in the late 90’s. We damn near wore out those VHS tapes with all the re-watching we did. Little did I know that it would spark in me a love of the genre that has only grown with time. Therefore, I have Danielle Harris to thank for my love and passion for horror.
Danielle was gracious enough to take the time to chat with us about her new film, Inoperable, and about some of awesome things surrounding the horror genre right now.
Tyler Liston for Nightmare on Film Street: Inoperable has a pretty interesting premise going for it. It’s almost like Groundhog Day, only with ghosts. Two pretty awesome things on their own. What initially drew you to the project?
Danielle Harris: Well, I had not really done, like, a psychological thriller. So, the idea of just being trapped and having to do everything in one space was a bit difficult to map out in my mind. it would be a bit of a challenge, so that’s why I wanted to give it a shot.
NOFS: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a departure from the slasher genre.
DH: Yes! I am getting a little old to be running around in my underwear from masked men with knives, you know?
NOFS: I will say that I was worried about your ankles for most of the movie. You were running around a lot and those boots did not look comfortable at all.
DH: You know, I’m so petite that I can wear like 5 inch hooker stilettos and still haul ass. I’m so used to it that I actually picked out those boots, so no worries.
NOFS: Perfect! Running around so much really allowed the setting of the film to shine. It was actually really well done and pretty creepy. Where was Inoperable filmed?
DH: Oh, that was a real place. They really didn’t do much in regards to the art department or anything like that. It was an abandoned, dilapidated old hospital in Tampa, Florida, that had asbestos and mold and had all kinds of fun stuff in there. They dressed it to look, actually, nicer in certain areas than it actually was.
You know, sets are always a character in these movies. If it doesn’t work then the movie is pretty lame, so i thought the location was really nice.
NOFS: Well, I mean…
DH: Not nice, necessarily, but it works for the movie.
NOFS: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to hang out there or anything.
DH: No, not at all.
NOFS: Besides the setting, I enjoyed the way the film played your character’s perception of reality. This seems to be a trend in horror these days. Films like A Cure for Wellness, the new film Unsane and even Get Out deal with misinformation and makes the viewer question the nature of truth. Why do you think that is?
DH: I think that the surprise ending has always been as important as the great opening sequence. Look, it’s very hard to find an ending that the audience doesn’t see coming. Everyone kind of tries to have that, you know? Everyone wants a cliffhanger. In non-genre movies the ending needs to wrap up story and in horror movies it needs to unravel the story. I think we did a pretty good job. We shot this film in order so by the time we get to the ending i think we were all losing our minds so it was nice.
NOFS: Moving off topic a little bit, you had a son this past year, correct? My girlfriend and I recently had a child ourselves and it is by far the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. I wasn’t even involved with the actual birth part and it is still killing me. How has being a Mom affected your work and even how much you’re able to enjoy horror and conventions?
DH: Well it has definitely affected my willingness to go away and shoot, because there’s another little person that depends on you. I definitely pick and choose what I want to do more than before. It really has to be something good. Before, I would take something because you’re like “Well, I’m not doing anything else right now and it could be kind of fun because so-and-so is working on it. Yeah I can go shoot in butt-fuck wherever for a month and nobody will miss me while I’m gone and it’s totally fine I’ll just disappear and go make a movie”.
Now, you have to say, “Wait, where are we shooting? It shoots locally? Great! How many hours am I going to be there? So, it definitely makes a difference in the kind of roles that I take. I need to be present and my kid comes first, always. I wouldn’t do a movie if it ever interfered with anything important, like a birthday, and that’s always going to be the way it is. He will always come with me, too, even now he travels with me. I did a horror convention in October in Nashville and he was there. I wanted to do a little vacation with my Mom and my Husband because I love Nashville, and I brought him on stage with me when I had my Q & A. Now, this is a horrible analogy, but it’s like when someone brings a dog to work and all of a sudden everyone cheers up and you get out of your work funk. It’s like that when my kid is with me. It’s like everything is better.
NOFS: Well, speaking as a generally anxious man, I’m still terrified.
DH: Just know that none of us know what we are doing. You’ll figure it out.
NOFS: Thank you. I hope as Hell hope so… Getting back on track here, the Horror genre has blown up this past year, both at the box office and with freaking Oscar nominations (which is still crazy to me). Where do you see the future of the genre going? What do you hope to see moving forward?
DH: I think it just goes to show you the unpredictability of it all. Like, who knows what’s going to happen? Finally we’re getting some recognition, which I know we’ve been wanting for a long time, but it needed to be something that fits the times we live in… but, the times keep changing, so I don’t really know where we’re going to end up. I think there’s some really big, awesome changes about to come and we can only go up from here. So, I’m excited to see what happens with horror films.
On the flip-side, it’s also a very scary time because anyone can be famous right now. I mean, I’m specifically losing out on parts that I want to do to other people that are not actors or actresses. They are YouTube stars or they are “influencers”. I haven’t seen a lot of those movies come out yet in our genre, but these films are very difficult to make. It’s very difficult to act in these movies. Not just anyone can do it.
I’m curious to see if maybe at some point those famous people will go back to doing what they know how to do and leave the acting to the actors.
NOFS: Maybe leave it to the actual actors with 30 years of experience?
DH: Or maybe some of them are really good and they may have a new career. You know, back in the day you had to pay your dues. You had to go to school and you had to understand the business. I don’t think it’s that way anymore. When you’re losing out on parts to people that have more YouTube followers even though you have 30 years of experience and 100 movies under your belt, it can be a bit disheartening.
NOFS: My Grandpa always told me that “Cream rises to the top”, so let’s hope that happens quickly with this new crop of stars.
DH: It’s interesting. I always tell these producers that I know you think these are the people that are going to download or go to the theater to see these films but they’re not. These are kids that are going to pirate the shit out of your movie! These are not fans that are our age that are going to go buy a ticket or buy your DVD. So you think that 2 million people are going to go buy movie, but they’re not. They are going to steal that shit online, so good luck to you.
NOFS: They don’t have a lot of disposable income.
DH: No, they don’t… Because they’re twelve.
NOFS: So, what is next for you, Danielle?
DH: Well, I just finished a movie called Camp Cold Brook, which is a Joe Dante film that I am super stoked about that Andy Palmer directed. With Chad Michael Murray and myself…
NOFS: He’s a Certified Dreamboat.
DH: You know, it’s funny because he remembered meeting me like 20 years ago out at a club somewhere. He looks like all the guys that i dated at that time. Blonde, spiky hair actor kids like Shane West and those guys so I think I remember meeting him but it has been so long. He’s wonderful and we had great report on set and the movie is really good and fun. It’s a ghost story again only this time set in an old camp. We shot it in Oklahoma City in the middle of nowhere and it’s very throwback-80’s. Joe Dante is very proud of it so I’m pretty excited about it.
NOFS: Do you have any interest in directing again?
DH: Yes. There’s a particular story that I’ve been wanting to do for so long. I pitched it recently to quite a few different people and everybody frothed at the mouth wanting to do it it’s now just a matter of me finding the right group that I want to work with. Directing is a two-year obligation so with a kid you want to make sure that you get in bed with the right people. So, I’m just trying to put my team together and I hope that within the next year I will make it happen. If it doesn’t happen within the next year, it’s OK because I know that at some point in my career I will make this movie.
NOFS: Among Friends was something. I enjoyed it but I definitely want to see you get behind the camera again.
DH: Thank you. Now I would like to make a real movie! That movie was so quick and we had no time to do anything and I was brought on like two days before which is crazy. I definitely want this next one to be mine.
NOFS: Lastly, Danielle, I just wanted to ask you about the horror community in general. I’ve always been a fan but I have only recently joined the community as a writer and active participant. What does the horror community mean to you?
DH: Well, without them I wouldn’t have a career, that’s for sure. It’s like we’re the outcasts that find solace in one another. It’s a bond that’s unbreakable and its something that we all have in common. It’s kind of crazy, this phenomenon. You don’t see conventions for Terms of Endearment, you know? You really don’t. This fan-demonium is just in some genres. Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy. That’s it. It’s a way to escape and they’re forever dedicated and devoted and they may love horror, but let me tell you that there is not one horror fan of mine that hasn’t seen everything that I’ve done. Even outside of the horror industry. So once they love you, they love you forever and it’s pretty awesome.
As you probably noticed, the words “Halloween” and “New Sequel” never came up during our conversation. This was intentional on my part. We have all read the interviews where Danielle has expressed her disappointment in the direction the new sequel is taking. Specifically how it is erasing all of the sequels that have already taken place and how they are replacing Jamie Lloyd as Laurie’s daughter. I speak for all horror fans when I say that nothing anyone does moving forward with the Halloween franchise could ever negate how important she is to the series and to us fans. She is in four films in the franchise, for God’s sake! We love the work that she did in 4, 5, and in the Zombie films, and no timeline jump or reboot will ever take that away from her.
Keep your eyes locked right here on Nightmare on Film Street as I will be posting my review of Danielle Harris’ newest film Inoperable after it drops this Tuesday the 6th. In the mean time, join our official Facebook Group and let us know about the impact that Danielle and her work has had on you during the last 30 years. Hop on there and show some love and appreciation for all that she has done for the genre.