Rector the director stakes his claim with Revamped

by Mark Burger

Jeff Rector loves horror movies. When he was a kid, he watched all the old Universal horror movies, his favorite being the immortal 1948 classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, in which Bud and Lou squared off against the likes of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster.

Actually, it might be safe to say that Jeff Rector loves all movies: Horror, comedy, drama, action, suspense, science-fiction….

As a fan, he loves watching them. As an actor, he loves acting in them. And now, as a filmmaker, he loves making them.

With Revamped (see review on Page 37), writer/producer/director Rector offers a fresh – and somewhat farcical – take on the vampire genre. Rector himself stars as Richard Clarke, a slick LA businessman whose life really begins when it ends, and he becomes a vampire. (Don’t ask how or why; it would take too long to explain… and would ruin a couple of the film’s gags.)

As Richard gets acclimated to his new status as a creature of the night, he finds himself swept along in an escalating battle between vampires and vampire-hunters, each sworn to destroy the other. Can’t they all just get along? No, they can’t – and Richard Clarke has to become something he never was before, alive or dead: a hero.

With two award-winning short films to his credit (including Fatal Kiss, the basis for Revamped), Rector was ready to stake his claim (pun intended) as a feature filmmaker, and he brought along some famous friends to join in the fun.

Revamped’s star-studded cast includes Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, Christa Campbell, Billy Drago, Anne Lockhart, Tane McClure, Victor Lundin (Robinson Crusoe on Mars), Carel Struycken, Sam Jones, Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior), Reggie Bannister (Phantasm), Jason Carter (“Babylon 5”), Raye Hollitt (“American Gladiators”), Spice Williams, RA Mihailoff (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) and even Kato Kaelin!

With so many established actors in the cast, Rector had no compunction about giving each their moment – if not in the sun (because this is a vampire movie), but in the spotlight.

“I’m very giving, what can I say?” Rector jokes. “I’m smart enough to know that, without a “name’ name in the leading role, you’ve got to surround yourself with recognizable faces. I was very, very fortunate to get a lot of genre names cast.

“Imagine the thrill of being able to direct the people whose movies I watched and loved as a kid. “Elation’ is the only word I can use.”

Having worked the convention circuit, Rector was friendly with many of the actors who ended up appearing in Revamped. “When the time came, I picked up the phone and called in the favors. Thankfully, everybody said yes.”

(One who had to back out due to a scheduling conflict, regrets Rector, was legendary makeup artist/actor/director Tom Savini. “We’ll get Tom on the next one,” he says.)

Even on a tight schedule and budget, however, Rector wanted his actors to feel comfortable enough to offer their input and expertise. Williamson, for example, has appeared in over 50 movies, directed more than 20 – “and he’s bigger than me,” quipped Rector.

And Drago, another 50-film veteran who plays the vampire lord Vladimus and is a noted acting teacher off-screen, Rector recalls one scene in they disagreed over which take was better. Drago preferred the first, but Rector preferred the second – and Rector was the boss. Nevertheless, he says, “in the editing I discovered that (Billy) was absolutely right – and that’s the take we used.”

“I have an improvisational background,” Rector says. “Some actors do not, and would like to rehearse. So what I try to do is walk through the scene with the other actors. It’s not quite a rehearsal, but I’ve found that it makes the actors more relaxed. They can pick up the vibe of the scene. Very often, it spurs an idea, and we’ll make a scene better – right on the spot.”

This “Jeff of All Trades” has put that improvisational background to good use in his career, not only as an actor but also as a stand-up comedian. He also teaches acting, comedy and improvisation, serves on the board of directors for the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival, and is also an elected member of the Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council.

Having made his screen debut in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), Rector has appeared in such small-screen fare as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Sliders,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “NYPD Blue” (in which he appeared with his twin brother Jerry). His feature films include such memorable titles as Hellmaster (1992), Black Gate and Galaxis (1995), Dinosaur Valley Girls (1996), Kraa! The Sea Monster (1998), Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004) and Cry of the Winged Serpent (2006).

A veteran of the low-budget trenches, Rector took his cue from those he’s worked with in the past – Roger Corman, Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski.

“They shoot very fast and they know what they want,” Rector says. “As an actor, I had to nail it, and I’d better do it right the first or second time. I learned a lot of tricks from them – how to make a movie look bigger when it really cost a nickel.”

“People have been asking me if I want to direct again,” says Rector. “I did one and that was my life-long goal… now I’m going back to picking up trash. Of course I’m going to direct again!”

He confirms that he’s already knocked out the script for Revamped 2 and has other projects simmering. As a jobbing actor, he’ll soon be seen in director Rowan Woods’ adaptation of Roy Freirich’s novel Winged Creatures, scripted by the author himself. The film also stars Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, Kate Beckinsale, Guy Pearce, Embeth Davidtz, Dakota Fanning, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Troy Garrity. Columbia Pictures will be releasing the film later this year.

“It’s a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role,” Rector says, “but awfully good company to be in. The director had much the same experience that I had with Revamped: He had a great script and got a couple of names aboard – I believe Kate Beckinsale was the first – and the other actors followed suit.”

Juggling the duties of writer, producer, director and leading man would seem fairly daunting – hey, just ask Orson Welles! – but Rector says it wasn’t a difficult decision… or all that difficult a task, really.

“It’s easier for me to do them all and not waste the time that I would, explaining what I want, to three different people.”

Rector admits that Revamped is not an easy film to classify. “It’s not a comedy, it’s not a horror film, it’s not an action film – but it’s got elements of all three,” he says. “What I set out to do was make the ultimate popcorn movie – a movie to get a laugh out of and a kick out of. If people watch it and say “That was cool,’ then I’ve done my job.”