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Jessicka Rabid, Vaginal Holocaust, Caged Lesbos A-Go-Go…these are the kind of projects most actresses wouldn’t dream of having on their résumé. But then Elske McCain isn’t your normal actress. Having first found success with the low budget exploitation empire Troma, McCain has rapidly become a cult star, and her impressive turn as the tortured victim of Matthew Reel’s grindhouse classic Jessicka Rabid shows just how far she is willing to go.
Spending the majority of the film’s running time either naked or humiliated, this is the kind of role that many stars bad away from, but McCain developed the story alongside Reel and also acted as executive producer. Among her other titles are The Goat Sucker and All the French Are Whores, two short films directed by Reel, and Troma’s cult classic Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.
Elske McCain talks about her work to-date in the exploitation horror scene.
You are known as both an actress and a model. Which came first and how would you compare your two professions?
I don’t really consider myself a model. Sure, I do photoshoots from time to time, but wouldn’t go so far as to call it a profession. As far as the acting thing goes, I think it’s fun. When it gets to a point where it isn’t fun anymore, I tend to back off. Living in Hollywood for several months really unveiled the reality of the acting business. If you don’t have extremely high self confidence, it can really break you, for you can be turned down from roles for the smallest reasons. This is why I like to produce my own stuff. That way I don’t have to put myself into the meat grinder that is the acting business just for a tiny part. When I produce my own work, that gives me the chance to create challenging, fun roles for myself with out the degradation that Hollywood actors endure.
How much of a struggle was it for you to find work as an actress and are there any roles that you regret doing or ones that remain undiscovered?
I would say that it is an ongoing struggle. I think that perhaps once Jessicka Rabid becomes available to a bigger audience, people might take me more seriously as an actress. Most of the roles I have done require nudity. I don’t regret doing any one particular role. If I start tearing apart one role that I regret for a certain reason, then I have to just look at my body of work as a whole, and be like ‘come on now.’ Most of the roles are in exploitation films. They are called exploitation films for a reason. Since I am a topless dancer, I have no fear of being naked, so this characteristic is ‘exploited’ in most of my films.
How do you feel about the way that females are portrayed in cinema, particularly within the horror/fantasy genres?
Yes, women’s roles in horror have definitely improved lately. The current generation of scream queens reflects that. I believe that the older generation were stuck being naked victims, but now we are stronger, darker fighters and killers.
Over the last few years you have become known for your work with Troma. How did you come to be involved with the studio and how would you describe Lloyd Kaufman as a filmmaker?
Meeting Lloyd Kaufman changed my life forever. He made me believe that I am a film genius who belongs in the horror movie world. I think he is right, and I am glad that our fateful meeting occured when it did. He has given me a lot of exposure and the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting, cool people. The fact is that I only have a small cameo in Poultrygeist, most of my work with Troma has been assisting at conventions and personal appearances. I think that Lloyd is a true ‘Master of Horror.’ He has his own unique style, and you just can’t imitate that. You can try, but it doesn’t always work out. I would like to see him do something a bit more dark and serious, something different from the horror comedies he is known for.
Troma are renowned for their low budget productions and excessive use of toilet humour, nudity and gore. Was your time with them enjoyable and how would you compare their method of making films to the more mainstream approach?
I will always have fond memories of my times working with the Troma Team. They really taught me how to make movies extremely cheap, but not necessarily look cheap. I believe there is a whole new generation of filmmakers erupting now, that have learned this style from Troma.
Much of your work (both film and photo shoots) has featured a certain amount of nudity. Is this something that you are comfortable with and do you feel that sexuality is fairly portrayed in the media?
I am personally comfortable with nudity, and have no problem with it, ask anyone who has ever done a nude scene with me. However, I am getting tired of it, and in the future I would like to cater to a more kid-friendly audience. I do think it’s lame that chicks are naked all the time in films, but you hardly ever get to see male nudity. I do think that male nudity is just not as attractive as female nudity, but both are a part of life, so they should both be shown equally.
One of your regular collaborators is Matthew Reel. How did the two of you meet and what was it that made you both want to repeatedly work together?
Matt and I met online at a horror DVD website. The night I met Lloyd, his assistant recorded the whole thing, though Matt was never actually there. However when Matt’s American Asshole DVD was released, and the Lloyd Kaufman interview ended up as a special feature, I was extremely happy with the footage. So when Lloyd asked me to film an audition for Poultrygeist, I contacted Matt online, and he came over and shot it for me. From then on, we just worked together a lot. I guess we figured if we combined forces we could really accomplish things, and I think we were right in this assumption.
Jessicka Rabid hardly seems an actress’ dream role, having to spend much of the movie in a cage and being ridiculed. Yet this was a role that you created yourself. What was it about this character that fascinated you so much and how did you and Matthew Reel come to develop the script together?
I had a couple of ideas that ended up as Jessicka Rabid. In one movie, I wanted to make a female serial killer, sort of a female Freddy Krueger, that we could use in sequels and merchandising. On the other hand, another movie idea was creating an autistic killer. My daughter is autistic, and one day she knocked over her fish tank, and watched the fish die. She didn’t know that they were dying, she just wanted to watch. I was intrigued by the idea of an autistic person killing someone, but not really knowing that it was wrong. Somehow, Matt managed to merge these two ideas together to come up with Jessicka Rabid. While Jessicka is not necessarily ‘autistic’ I definitely used my daughter’s behaviour as inspiraton for the role.
This was a project that you seemed to heavily invest yourself in, also handling casting, costume and second unit directing. Did you already have prior experience with any of these and was this decision out of budget necessity or the desire to learn more?
Matt and I had produced and directed another feature in Tucson the previous year, which was unreleased. So in a way, we had already done much of this before. Only this time, since I was handling all of the money, we had more control of the final outcome. The only other people who helped on the film came willingly, and with no pay. (Aside from Trent Haaga) The other actors and crew members came on board to help solely to be involved first hand in the filmaking process. The magic of movie making.
You often work in low budget horror and splatter. Was this a genre you were always interested in or was this a career decision, as many feel that horror is the best way to enter the industry? What kind of horror in particular were you a fan of?
Slasher films were always be my favorite. I was a huge fan of vampire films as a kid, but oddly enough I don’t really have a desire to do a vampire film right now. I do agree that many people think that horror is the easiest way to get your foot in the door, however horror just happens to be the genre that I have always loved the most. I think that is what makes me different from a lot of the other horror actors and actresses. I am doing this because it’s fun, because I love it, and because it is a dream come true.There has been talk of a sequel to Jessicka Rabid. Has the story or screenplay been developed yet and what can you reveal about it?
Even while shooting the first film, we would joke about a sequel. And like I said earlier, during the original script development, I told Matt that I would like the character to be possibly used for a franchise. So basically, the main goal right now is to get Jessicka Rabid (the first one) to dvd. However, Matt Reel is working on a script for the sequel. Whether or not it will get made remains to be seen, but I would definitely leave that option wide open.
What other work do you have lined up for the future and which of these projects in particular are you excited about?
I have learned that it is important in this business NOT to get excited about a project until it is done, or at least until you are on the actual set filming. Anything can happen in pre-production, and sometimes you can work for months on a project only to be shuffled away and replaced. This is a hard lesson that I have learned, so my answer to your question is…the only thing I am truly excited about right now is FINALLY getting Jessicka Rabid onto DVD to share me and Matt’s hard work to the world.