Friday, September 24, 2010

Confessions of a Blood Farmer: The Jack Neubeck Interview

For fans of Invasion of the Blood Farmers (you know who you are), the limping Druid blood farmer Egon is by far the most popular character in the film. With his oversized hat, his overalls, his spray-on gray hair, and that magic cane, Egon follows in the great minion tradition established by Igor, Lobo, Torgo and all the others that came before in that he is both a servant of evil, but also evil's inept Achilles' Heel; it is his own incompetent mistakes that ultimately allow good to triumph. In this case, Egon's loss of an ancient key provides the heroes of the film an important clue while complicating the blood farmers' plans to resuscitate their comatose queen. Or something like that.

Jack Neubeck, who played Egon, also returned as the snarky Tom Nash in Ed Adlum and Michael Findlay's Blood Farmers follow-up, Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), in which he distinguished himself both by singing an impromptu song about a killer Yeti, and also having his leg removed and eaten.

Neubeck, a Broadway veteran, has since moved into the more lucrative business of commercial development and real estate in Arizona, but still performs regularly on stage in the Tucson area with big band revival act called The 3Bs. You can also purchase his album of showtunes and standards at CD Baby.

I spoke to Jack back in 2007 about his brief but memorable film career.

Where did you go to school?

Adelphi University in Garden City, Long Island. Then I got into the Actor's Equity in my freshman year in college. That's how I basically got into the movies. It's funny. Norman Kelly, who was the father in the Invasion of the Blood Farmers, he said, "Oh I've got these friends that are doing this horror film, and they're looking for some skinny guys." I went, and that's how it all happened.

So Norman Kelly introduced you to Ed Kelleher and Ed Adlum. What exactly did they present to you, in terms of explaining the film?

Well, they just presented that they were doing these low-budget horror films. I was supposed to just be an extra on the thing, but they liked what I was doing, and I didn't complain about the 16 hour days, so they said, "Hell put this guy in everything; put him in some more."

How long did it take to film Blood Farmers?

I think it was actually -- I'm guessing it was over like eight days. They would always do it on weekends because they could get the rental of the equipment for one price. We'd always work on the weekends.

What was filming like?

Well, when we were doing Blood Farmers, they had this idea. Originally, it was called Invasion of the Blood Farmers because we were supposed to be coming from outer space. But they couldn't find any effects that were cheap enough, so they said, "Well, we'll make 'em Druids!" It was a very fluid experience. They would change as things were happening.

One of my favorite stories is when the dog was chasing me through the woods. They didn't want to get a trained dog, so Ed had a neighbor who had this white husky. It was only about nine months old. They said, "What we're going to try to do is let the dog run through the forest, and you try to remember which way he's going, and then we'll edit it so it looks like he's chasing you."

Then we got to the brook, and they said, "Well, when you get here you're going to stop and confront the dog." We get up to the brook, and the owner of the dog gets behind me out of camera view and calls the dog, and the dog just runs right by me. I tried to stop the dog and I land in the brook. So they put food all over me -- they put dog food all over me. The dog is there, and here I am fighting the dog looking fierce, and the dog's just licking the food [laughs]. It was great. We didn't have a care in the world. It was a lot of fun. It really was very fluid, as I said. I think the script sort of just happened. They had the basics of what they wanted to do, but then they would just say, "We've got this place to shoot this, let's go shoot that." It was quite an experience.

Did you know any of the other cast members from school?

I knew Norman, and over the course of time I got to know some of them a little bit better. Norman was my contact, though. I knew the guy that played the head of the druids, Paul Jennings. I had met him earlier, through Norman as a matter of fact. And then I got to know Ed Kelleher a little bit. The guy that filmed it then directed Shriek, Michael Findlay. That was just tragic. He was killed in that helicopter crash at the Pan-Am building. He was a great guy. He'd tell tremendous stories about he and his then-wife [Roberta Findlay]. They were doing low budget porno movies on the side.

Ed Kelleher said in an interview that he paid most of the cast and crew with six-packs of beer.

That was the norm. In fact, I was telling somebody when I did Shriek of the Mutilated, I think I paid more for the tape when it came out in VHS form -- when VHS was very expensive -- than what I got paid for doing the movie! It was a great experience. I was still in college when I was doing Blood Farmers. Shriek, I had just graduated and I was doing another job at the time. I was doing Man of LaMancha in New Jersey with Howard Keel, so it was just a lark. A lot of fun.

Your character in Blood Farmers was mute, but a lot of the other actors had to deliver some pretty ridiculous dialogue.

I told people that was the greatest blessing that I had -- I didn't have too many lines!

I don't know how Paul Jennings got through it without cracking up.

Oh, I'm telling you, when he was doing that stuff -- more power to you, buddy, because that was pretty bad. It was really an incredible experience for a kid to go and do this stuff. We did have a lot of beer, though. There was a lot of beer.

You also figured prominently in the poster art.

Yeah. That was funny, too. That was Ed Adlum's wife that I was poking with the pitchfork. The whole thing was definitely a family deal.

Was there any kind of premier for it in New York?

You know, I don't think there really was. It was on 42nd Street when 42nd Street was really seedy. I saw it there. You knew where it stood in the scheme of things when during the movie there was a guy hawking popcorn and candy, walking through the aisles selling this stuff during the movie.

You were one of the only people to return for Shriek of the Mutilated. How did that happen? Did no one else want to come back?

They just called me and I was available. The thought of being one of the good guys -- well, being the bad guy is much more fun. Ed Kelleher called me up and asked if I would be interested. As I said, I had just gotten out of college. I had another job, so it really didn't matter. I was footloose and fancy free. I knew it wasn't going to make my career, so I didn't really care.

Were conditions on Shriek as loose as they were on Blood Farmers?

Pretty much. I didn't shoot as many days on that one because I was in pretty much the first couple of days, when they were doing the party stuff. We shot part of it at this really nice home on Central Park West. Then we went up state and did some of the shots with me, finding my leg and all that stuff. That was about it. I only shot, I think, about maybe five or six days on that.
The other reason they liked me was that I did just about everything on one take. I'd say, "Let's do that again," and they'd say, "No, that's good. Let's move on."

The party scene was definitely a highlight. Did they just throw a party and film it?

That's it. They got as many people together as they could. I think both Eds called everybody they knew and said they'd provide the booze for the thing. That was real booze going through there, so it got very loose. Now, who was the guy that played the crackpot? Tom Grail. He had actually been in Blood Farmers, too. He was at the bar when they were talking at the bar, so he was a returning cast member. He was a character, too. I don't know how they pulled together all these different people, but it was great.

The other highlight was your Yeti song.

I just made that up when I was there. That's what I did, believe it or not. I moved to Tucson in 1986, but prior to that I was in the original company of Evita and the original company of La Cage aux Folles on Broadway. I was a singer. I still do it now to a degree. I sing with the symphony here every once in awhile. But it was a great diversion. It was a trip.

Any memories of the other cast members?

Jennifer Stock, she was very nice. She was a very nice young lady, and so was my counterpart [Darcy Brown]. In all honesty, Shriek of the Mutilated was probably a little bit more structured because Mike Findlay took over the directing of the thing. Because he had been a cameraman for so long, he had a much better idea of how he wanted to do it --the order he wanted to do it, the order he wanted to do the cutaway shots. In Blood Farmers, it was just really hit or miss.

Did you keep up with the other cast members? They all seem to have vanished. Bruce Detrick passed away a few years ago. He'd done some soaps and was an AIDS activist in New York. A few of the others did some Broadway as well.

So he passed away? There you go. I was the MC the first time they had Broadway Fights AIDS. It goes way back. It was -- it was trying to see friends that were these young men, 20 years old. Where's David? He's sick. And the next thing you know, he's passed away. It was a hard time.

Did your family see these films?

It's funny, years ago my dad was consulting out in the L.A. area, and he walked into this theater in south L.A. and saw Blood Farmers. He said, "Well, that was very interesting." Blood Farmers got a lot more play in the theaters than Shriek.

Did Shriek play 42nd Street while you lived there?

I never saw it on 42nd Street. Then different family members would call me and say, "Oh, we just saw it on TV."

When it came out on DVD, I got these e-mails from people in New York asking, "Are you the Jack Neubeck that played Egon? We're having a party, it just came out on DVD, we're so excited." I really wish I could have found who was doing the DVDs because I would have loved to have done an actor's commentary. It was hysterical. Some of the scenes with the blood overflowing, they would just get Stein's blood and then they'd put some Alka-Seltzer in the things. Just great stuff.

By the time the second film came out, you were on Broadway, right?

Then I stopped. It was just one of those things. I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I think the reason that happened to me was just to add a little color to my life. It sure did that.

Did your Broadway co-stars know about your film career?

Oh yeah. Every once in a while we'd have people over. We used to have a lot of parties, my ex-wife and I. She was a dancer in Evita. That's why I moved here, because she was from Tucson originally. We'd have a lot of parties and we'd always have showings of the stuff. Everybody would just howl. "Oh my god, look at you, look at you!" Now as I've aged a little bit, people say, "That's not you." Yeah, that's me. No doubt about it.

At least in Shriek you had the least offensive wardrobe in the entire cast.

I actually had nice overalls in Blood Farmers. The magic cane was a little bit far fetched. Again, it was one of those things that they didn't want to pay for anything real special, so I had this cane, and the cane had magic in it. I don't know if I still have that. I think I might still have that somewhere.

Did you do any television or any other film work?

I never really did television. That was my own fault. I never really had an agent. I just got everything on my own. That's where I probably made a mistake. As I said, everything's for a reason. I had a great career. I worked solid on Broadway for seven years. Not too many people can say that.

I'm not saying it changed the direction of my life, but it was great. As a result of the two movies, Paul Jennings introduced me to somebody. I was working at a law firm on Wall Street. I started out just being a messenger, because they didn't have faxes back then. Eventually I was digesting depositions, and they offered to put me through law school. I said, "Let me think about it." Then through this friend of Paul Jennings, I got a gig in the Bahamas for six months singing and dancing. You never know what direction you're life is going to go.

After you left Broadway, what did you do?

I literally did a show on Broadway and moved here on a Tuesday. I just totally changed my whole career direction, and I'm one of the owners of this company The Planning Center. We do master planning of communities, zoning work, and landscape architecture.

You also recorded a CD.
That was done in 1992.

I was disappointed that the Yeti song wasn't on there.

Well, I've been just waiting to do another. I'm ready to do another one. Maybe I'll throw the Yeti song on there!

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