Among the many celebrity guests at this weekend’s Mad Monster Party horror convention, which takes place in Rock Hill, S.C., is character actor Sid Haig.
He’s best known as the wisecracking, blood-spilling patriarch clown Captain Spaulding. But the 77-year-old actor had appeared in numerous television shows and movies since taking his first role in 1960. He appeared in episodes of the original “Batman” and “Star Trek,” “Mission Impossible” and “Gunsmoke.” He tangled with Pam Grier in “Foxy Brown” and “Coffy” and appeared in the cult classic “Spider Baby.”
But after playing bad guys in countless ’80s TV series, Haig hung it up. You can thank Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie for cementing his second act.
Haig spoke to The Observer recently about his desire to break from the bad guy mold, his lost (from the screen) years, convention fans, and turning villains into heroes. His Q&A panel takes place Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Hood Center on the campus of York Technical College.
Q. You’ve been to Mad Monster Party before. Do you enjoy revisiting your films through the Q&A sessions?
A. Yeah, because they were a lot of fun. A lot of things happened spontaneously. It’s something you want to share.
Q. You think you’ll do a book?
A. People have been bugging me for a book for years, so I’m finally going to do it. And a documentary. And a cookbook.
Q. What do you cook?
A. I cook a lot of Armenian food. Italian. Good old comfort food. When I was old enough to pick up a knife without killing myself, I became my mother’s sous chef. I cut, I diced, I did everything. It bonded us.
Q. Was it something you wanted to do?
A. I volunteered. My mother was always cooking. I only saw her back, and I wanted to spend more time with her. Dad was busy working. At one point, my father was studying electronics because he wanted to be an engineer. After dinner, he and I would sit at the dining room table and both do our homework. That’s how I spent time with my dad.
Q. What did you do when you weren’t acting?
A. I went back to school and became a hypnotherapist. It dealt with smoking, weight, fears and phobias. I got tired of doing the same old heavies (in movies). These stupid guys pointing guns in people’s faces. I decided I’d take a rest from that. At the same time, I had to make a living. I’d done a lot of home study in psychology to help me better create characters. I found the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, which was the only accredited school of hypnotherapy in the country. A year later, after putting in over 700 hours of study, internship, and residency, I started my practice. Then Quentin Tarantino called. He wrote a part of a judge for me in “Jackie Brown” and said, “I won’t take no for an answer.” That’s what restarted everything. Nothing really came of the “Jackie Brown” situation in terms of initial work, so I kept my practice open. Then I got a call from my agent that he was sending me a script. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. He said, “Read it. If you want the part, it’s yours.” That was “House of 1000 Corpses.”
Q. What made you take it?
A. I just thought I could have so much fun with that character. That’s why I accepted it. And we all know what happened from there. Now I’ve started to stretch. People have allowed me to do that, which I appreciated. I did a film called “Cynthia,” in which I play a police detective. I did a movie called “Dead Calling,” where I play a straight-up Norman Rockwell dad. I’m starting to move around in terms of genre.
Q. What did you think when you received “The Devil’s Rejects” script?
A. I looked at it more as a modern-day Western than an actual horror film. It reminded me a lot of Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” It was more realistic and gritty. It’s a film that’s held up, much like “Spider Baby,” which I did in 1964. To this day, every five years we get a whole new fan base for that film, and this will be the 50th anniversary. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did a frame-by-frame restoration of that film.
Q. What I liked about “Devil’s Rejects” are the characters, and how you end up rooting for people that were villains in the first film.
A. The tide turns in that film in the ice-cream-eating scene in the truck. You start to see them as a family. Characters only become interesting when you see them change. A guy who walks around for 120 minutes with a grimace on his face, when you see what’s behind that, or how that changes, then the character becomes interesting. Whether you care about them as someone you appreciate or despise, it doesn’t make a difference.
Q. Bill Moseley posted a photo of you two, Sheri and Rob Zombie recently. Were you bonded by that film?
A. Just last week we had lunch together. We try stay close. When you’re making a film like that, you’ve got to kind of have one another’s back. The companion disc to “Devil’s Rejects” is called “30 Days in Hell.” The reason for that was for 30 days we shot in temperatures that never got below 110 degrees on top of the emotional and physical demands. We were shooting in weird places that nobody’s been. Snakes left because there was nothing left to kill. It was a special situation.
Q. What’s the status of your movie “High on the Hog?”
A. By the end of this month, it’ll be completed. Then we move on to seeking distribution. I’m really very proud of that. Everybody involved was fantastic. I play a farmer whose farm has been in the family for five generations. He decides to plant a little weed amongst the corn to supplement his income. Along the way, he runs into these three women, who have been terribly abused. Everything is going along terrifically until the DEA shows up.
Q. What kind of movies do you like to watch?
A. Good horror. I like heroic films where people start out in a terrible situation and they manage to work their way out of it and become who they need to be. I did a film called “Little Big Top” in which I played, oddly enough, a clown from a circus family, where it’s passed on from grandfather to father to son. My character’s only problem was he couldn’t stand the spotlight. He became a helpless alcoholic. At first, you see him jumping off a freight train in his hometown, and he is going to live his life out as a drunk. He got foreclosed on. He starts at nothing, but by the end of the film, you know he’s going to be OK.
Q. Do you still play music?
A. It’s kind of on the backburner right now. When I get old and tired, I might settle down and become a musician again. I’m a bluesman. I go back to Leadbelly and Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins. Sometimes friends will be playing at a club and ask me to come sit in. If I can, I do.
Q. I’ve noticed that prices at your convention table are very reasonable. Is it something you’ve given thought to?
A. It’s all about connecting with the fans and giving back some of the love. To me, it just makes sense to charge what I charge. My pictures and posters are $20, and if someone brings something they have for me to sign, it’s $10. Specialty items have a higher price tag because I have to pay for them myself. I try to keep things as absolutely reasonable as I can. Military is free. Kids under 12 are free. You have a little kid that just likes this picture of you where you’re doing something crazy, it’s the right thing to do.
Q. What else is in the works?
A. Besides “High on the Hog,” there is “Cynthia” (co-starring Moseley and Scout Taylor-Compton) and “Death House.” They tried to get every horror notable in the industry to be in this film. Then there’s another one called “Abruptio” (with Jordan Peele, “Buffy’s” James Marsters and Robert Englund). I do the voice of one of the characters. It’s interesting, because the characters are life-size marionettes. I’m interested to see how that turns out.