Despite the Hollywood mainstream recycling remakes in 3D to cater to the masses, the American independent horror scene continues to grow with a new generation of filmmakers only to eager to exploit the new digital age and the marketing potential of the internet. The genre has also seen a new batch of young stars gaining acclaim as the heroes, villains and scream queens who have begun to populate the modern horror franchises.
Among the new crop is British beauty Eleanor James, whose impressive résumé already includes working alongside legendary FX artist-turned-actor Tom Savini. James landed her first substantial film role in the 2005 horror Forest of the Damned, an early feature from filmmaker Johannes Roberts, whose subsequent work would include When Evil Calls and the acclaimed thriller F, released in the States as The Expelled. This soon led roles in other productions like Colour from the Dark, Harold’s Going Stiff and the inevitable Forest of the Damned 2.
Arguably the highlight of James’ career to-date was Bordello Death Tales, a horror anthology in the classic tradition with stories written and directed by James Eaves, Pat Higgins and Alan Ronald. Stitchgirl, the second of the three tales, featured James in the eponymous role and would bring the young actress modest acclaim for her offbeat performance.
Eleanor James looks back on almost a decade of horror roles and her plans for the future.
The term ‘scream queen’ seems somewhat overused these days and applied to almost any female acting in the horror genre; what would be your definition of this concept and how do you feel about being referred to as one?
I’m extremely flattered that someone might think of me as a scream queen. I love the term but I think you need to have racked up quite a few quality horror movie credits to deserve this title and I’m not sure I really deserve it myself at the moment, although I have done my fair share of roughing it on indie film sets. Years of being covered in fake blood, freezing my butt off, going without sleep, screaming… yeah, I should be a scream queen.
But seriously, I think a scream queen is an actress that has performed excellently in even just one great horror movie that will be enjoyed for many years after she’s dead and buried, and we all know who those actresses are. I’m certainly not in that league – YET – and ninety-five per cent of the other actresses referred to as scream queens aren’t either. But that’s just my opinion.
You teamed up with (Hellbride cinematographer) Alan Ronald once again for his segment of the horror anthology Bordello Death Tales. In the movie you play Stitchgirl, which Dread Central described as ‘reminiscent of Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ Could you shed some light on the movie?
Bordello Death Tales is an anthology set in a brothel and incorporates three short films directed by Pat Higgins (Vice Day), Jim Eaves (The Ripper) and Alan Ronald’s Stitchgirl, in which I play Stitchgirl, a Frankenstein-esque girl who has been stitched together in the basement of a brothel to become Dr Whale’s (played by Julian Lamoral-Roberts) dream ‘date for the night.’
Believe it or not, it’s actually a little bit romantic. The film was an homage to Bride of Frankenstein and Alan asked me to study Elsa Lanchester’s performance before filming. I did this, but I guess Stitchgirl turned out more like Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas. I think we all worked for twenty hours straight to get the main scenes shot for this. I enjoyed doing it. I like playing strange/quirky non-human characters. It was a great experience, a great team of people making a really special little black-and-white movie.
Until recently, acting in low budget horror movies would often involve working with prosthetic make-up, yet in recent years a lot of that has been replaced with digital effects. Have you worked with both methods and how would you compare the two?
I’ve worked more with prosthetic make-up; I’ve had special teeth prosthetics quite a few times for both Forest of the Damned movies and, most recently, for Dead Cert, where I also had a huge prosthetic cross burn across my chest. Kinda gross really, but they are very impressive. I would say unless you’re going to do the digital effects well don’t even bother, stick with the prosthetics, but then that’s not really my territory as an actress.
Despite a low rating on IMDb, Colour from the Dark received positive reviews from the likes of Bloody Disgusting. Was this a movie you were proud of was working with Debbie Rochon an enjoyable experience?
Hell yeah!! Colour from the Dark is a really beautiful movie made in Italy by an incredibly hard-working, devoted and talented cast and crew on a very small budget. I understand the positive reviews; I have no idea why someone would not enjoy it. If you are into intelligent indie horror and you’re not a fucking idiot then you should find it an enjoyable watch. Way too many retards get the chance to play ‘film critic’ on IMDb and their opinions should not be counted; they should be shoved up their arse.
Having worked on an impressive amount of horror movies over the last few years, has this been out of choice as a fan of the genre or merely where the work has come from?
A bit of both! I love horror movies and if I had a choice of genres I would now choose horror. I do see myself very much as a horror actress. I think it would be disappointing to be in a movie that didn’t involve the blood, scares and chaos of a horror movie, so it’s worked out well that I really just do horror anyway.
One issue many actors have with low budget horror is the nudity required for young actresses. Is this a problem you have encountered and do you feel this is exploited too much in this particular genre?
Well, I can only talk from my own experience, but I’ve never really understood what the big deal is. It’s just a naked body. If you don’t look good naked then yes, of course you should stay clothed. I feel sad that a woman would feel ashamed or uncomfortable to be seen in the birthday suit.
I was delighted to get naked on FOTD, I felt proud of my figure, even though it’s far from perfect, and it’s actually quite a liberating and empowering experience to be comfortable naked around people like that. It’s kind of hilarious and a bit trippy actually. It’s like, ‘This is my body – fuck you.’ Having said that, I don’t like nudity when it’s not shot nicely and with class. I don’t like anything vulgar and yes, there is too much of that. And you have to really trust the people you are working with.
But actresses have to realise that low budget horror often involves nudity and that’s probably not going to change. And some people love it and some people hate it, and if you have a problem with it then quit whinging and stay away from the genre. Having said all that, young actresses do get exploited because they are not clued up. I’ve been there and it’s a very nasty, horrible, sad thing. And can I just say one more thing? I have done thirty movies and only done nude scenes in four of those, so I’m really not getting my kit off all the time.
Of the numerous B-movies you have been associated with over the last few years, which do you feel deserve a special mention and which did you enjoy making the most?
Forest of the Damned because it was my first horror feature film. Colour from the Dark because it was a great experience being flown to Italy and working with Debbie Rochon. Bordello Death Tales because I loved my Stitchgirl character and Alan Ronald is lovely to work with. Karl the Butcher vs. Axe, also know as Violent Shit 4, because I have never laughed so much in my life as I did during the scene with me, Eileen Daly and Marysia Kay having a ‘Roman Orgy,’ feeding Eileen grapes while she snorted and spat them out like a crazy barbarian.
And I tried really hard to keep my bra on for that scene, but Andreas Schnaas insisted I remove it on the last take and then he hacked it off with a machete at the end of the film anyway. And also the scene with the sperm machine and I was burning that German dude’s nips with a candle!!
Then Aggressive Behaviour, previously know as Unwelcome, because I was in France for three weeks and it was a great meaty role, with a great director Stefan Smith and lovely cast and crew. And last but not least, I have to mention Slasher House, which is in post-production at the moment, but the trailer is out and I’m the lead role. It’s super cool and was filmed in a haunted abandoned prison on the Isle of Man. Really excited about that one coming out! I wear a red wig in it.