Jeffrey Combs interview: The Renaissance man of genre cinema

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Jeffrey Combs

Photo: Holiday Hell.. Image Courtesy Uncork’d Entertainment, October Coast Publicity

Jeffrey Combs is a legend in the horror film community however his appeal spans generations and genres. At 1428 Elm, we sat down with the iconic actor to discuss his latest film, Holiday Hell and the highlights of his career.

Jeffrey Combs is a versatile thespian. There is no genre he hasn’t explored and in terms of acting he has done it all. The big screen, the small screen, the stage and voice over work are just some of the realms that he has conquered.

While he is known for his brilliant turns in Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraftian epics, Re-Animator and From Beyond, Combs is a true renaissance man in every sense of the word. Well read and cultured he can talk Edgar Allan Poe, music and popular culture in one fell swoop.

His latest film, Holiday Hell from Uncork’d Entertainment and the minds of Jeff Ferrell and Jeff Vigil, is a throwback to the golden age of horror with homages to classic tropes around every corner. For those craving old school scares with a story, this effort ticks all the boxes.

We were fortunate enough to chat with the actor recently at 1428 Elm about his long, varied career and why he loves horror.

The Interview

Jeffrey Combs

Photo: Holiday Hell.. Image Courtesy Uncork’d Entertainment, October Coast Publicity

Old Haunts

1428 Elm: Hi Jeffrey! Thanks for speaking with us. We have enjoyed your work since The Man with Two Brains and your films with Stuart Gordon, so this is a pleasure. Let’s start off talking about your latest venture, Holiday Hell.

Thaddeus Rosemont, the Shopkeeper in Holiday Hell is a masterful storyteller. Did this part appeal to you because you have a personal fondness for writers like Poe who know how to spin macabre tales?

Jeffrey Combs: I can’t say that that is the case. I liked the premise and the character. Even though he turns out to be a man you can’t trust. At least, he has some sort of sick aesthetic of only selling things that had some sort of story behind it that intrigued him.

That to me was very entertaining. He was kind of old school and old world. I went out and found an old, vintage suit that was pretty right for the role. It was of another time and place. I sort of thought of that shop as not being in the real world.

To be honest, the other lure was Seattle. We shot there and I went to the University of Washington for the actor training program many years ago. So, for me it was not only a chance to create a role and work with another director but it was also to revisit my old haunts.

A lot of the time I get offered things where its like, “You’re going to Bulgaria.” You go, “What? What? Really?” But Seattle? It was an immediate “Yes!”

Jeffrey Combs

Photo: Holiday Hell.. Image Courtesy Uncork’d Entertainment, October Coast Publicity

Foundations of Great Storytelling

1428 Elm: Did you find your background in theater to be helpful for your Never Told Casket Co. segment in the Holiday Hell anthology? Basically, it is very similar to a play. You and Meagan Karimi-Naser are on one set, it feels like the stage plus its more dialogue driven.

Jeffrey Combs: Yes, because we are driving the exposition. We’re laying the groundwork, giving you the backstory and the premise. A lot of time the task for an actor is to make that next narrative sound natural and not overly drawing attention to itself.

Every actor should do theater. Its where you really stretch your muscles, its like every dancer should take a ballet class or jazz. You’re limiting yourself if you’re not going back to where it all began and really stretching yourself out and pushing yourself.

That’s where my foundation is, in the theater. So, I work sometimes with actors who have never done theater and I just think well, you are really missing something in your skill sets then. You need those tools because sometimes you just never know.

Learn the tried and true foundation before you think, “I got this handled.” For the long haul, you need to have some hammers, screwdrivers, rulers, pencils, etc.

1428 Elm: Did you have a favorite story in the film?

Jeffrey Combs: Yes! I really liked “Christmas Carnage.” I thought Joel Murray was effective and you cared about him. You had empathy for him.

I also enjoyed “The Hand That Rocks the Dreidel,” with the Rabbi doll.  Since Jeff Ferrell is half Jewish, he said he wanted to incorporate that aspect of the holiday season. I liked that it opened up the spectrum instead of keeping it all Christmas oriented.

1428 Elm: You have a great speech in Holiday Hell about the importance of passing stories on from generation to generation. In today’s action driven cinema do you feel that aspect is neglected?

Jeffrey Combs: I don’t enjoy movies that are unmotivated, that are just “sound and fury signifying nothing” as Shakespeare said. Just bang, bang, boom, boom on to the next gag and it goes by so quickly that I don’t even know what’s going on.

The geography, the what or the who its so quickly cut. So, I just call it the “videogamization” of film.

They think, “Well, that’s what people want in a movie now!” It’s kind of this meld and blending of one platform with another platform into another artform. To me, its fleeting.

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