Screamin’ Biehn: Visiting the Set of ‘The Victim’

Starring Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens, Grindhouse), Ryan Honey (“ER,” Hallowed Ground), Jennifer Blanc (“Dark Angel,” “Party of Five”), Denny Kirkwood (Never Been Kissed, Groove), and Danielle Harris (The Last Boy Scout, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Stake Land) is Brock Morse’s The Victim, which follows a man who lives alone in a remote cabin and is surprised by his visitors. Recently filming in Los Angeles, Bloody Disgusting’s Chris Eggertsen took a trip down to the set and witnessed a whole lotta screamin’ Biehn! Get the skinny, along with first images inside!
IT’S ALL ON THE LINE, RYAN! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO! HE’S ASKING YOU QUESTIONS AND YOU DON’T HAVE ANSWERS!” – Michael Biehn, directing star Ryan Honey

Aliens is one of my favorite films of all time, so needless to say I was pretty excited to meet Michael Biehn (aka Corporal Hicks) on the set of The Victim, his latest film co-starring real-life spouse Jennifer Blanc (“Kendra” on the short-lived Fox series Dark Angel), scream queen Danielle Harris, Ryan Honey, and Denny Kirkwood. The film – from a story written by Reed Lackey that Biehn adapted into screenplay format – is about two strippers, played by Blanc and Harris, who meet up with a young, charismatic police officer (Honey) and his crooked narcotics agent friend (Kirkwood) for a night of drugs, sex, and partying in a remote cabin in the woods. When things end up going horribly wrong, the night devolves into a savage fight for survival that’s complicated when Blanc’s character stumbles across Kyle (Biehn), a reclusive ex-criminal living in an isolated nearby home.

After being greeted by associate producer/publicist Alana Pona at the entrance to the set, located in the woods behind a large home in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon, I quickly interview actress Tanya Newbould, a friend of Biehn and Blanc’s who was cast in a small role as a news reporter. Having heard that the film was being helmed by relative newcomer Brock Morse, I was surprised to hear Newbould tell me that she was excited to have been directed by Biehn in the film. I followed up with her on this point, since Biehn is nowhere listed as the project’s director.

“He’s working with Brock and he’s doing some directing as well as starring in it”, she told me.

Fair enough, I suppose. After all, given Brock’s newbie status versus Biehn’s more than 30 years in the business, it didn’t totally surprise me that the veteran actor, who has worked with some of the greatest directors in the business – most notably James Cameron in a string of classic `80s films – would have taken a hand in shaping the production. Nevertheless, I was curious to see what the dynamic between the two would be like on set.

“IT’S ALL ON THE LINE, RYAN! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO! HE’S ASKING YOU QUESTIONS AND YOU DON’T HAVE ANSWERS!” screamed Biehn from video village, just as cameras were about to start rolling on a tense scene involving Honey and Kirkwood’s characters. To be honest, I was taken aback by the intensity of Biehn’s vocalizations, not to mention the fact that he actually seemed to be directing the scene rather than merely offering a helpful amount of creative input.

“Wait a second, guys!” he yelled out a moment later. “I don’t like this framing, man. This is like…this is neither this nor that. Cut! I don’t like this lens…you said he was gonna be a cowboy!”

Only a minute or so prior to this I’d had the brief opportunity of speaking with Biehn, a grizzled and intense man who seemed primed to explode at any moment. I made a point of asking him how involved he was in directing the film.

“Brock is a very good director, he’s very good visually, and [Eric] Curtis, who’s lighting this [he's also the cinematographer], is lighting it beautifully, so they take care of the look of the movie and make sure the camera moves in the right way and the lenses are right, and it’s the right background”, he told me. “I’m more involved in the story and working with the actors and making sure we can get [good] performances and stuff.”

I’ll say. The energy on set definitely fit the perceived intensity of the piece, with Biehn careening around like a man possessed and frequently voicing his concerns in a tone of voice veering between frustration and outright anger. Later on, I asked star Ryan Honey – also serving as executive producer on the film – if the fast and furious nature of the 12-day shoot helped to ratchet up the intensity of the scenes.

“I’ll tell you what helps with the intensity of the scenes: Michael Biehn”, he said humorously. “That guy is just an intense packet. That guy is just a bundle of energy, and it’s infectious, and he’s pushed us from day one, and it’s been successful.”

I then asked if he felt as if Biehn was playing up his natural forcefulness in order to get better performances out of the cast.

“Oh, totally”, said Honey. “So we’re shooting the other day – I have an eighteen-month-old daughter – and we’re shooting the other day, and it’s a pretty intense scene, and we’re about to roll, and I just hear from video village over here, I hear: `Do it for Nyala! For her life!’ [Laughs] But it totally worked! All the sudden I’m thinking about my daughter, and what would I do if she was…all this stuff. He knows all the tricks to get performances out of people, and he doesn’t rest for a minute, and so the expectation is that nobody does, and so we’ve been able to make our days and get a really great product.”

Blanc, the raspy-voiced star and producer of the film who is also Biehn’s wife, did her best to help paint a fuller-fledged portrait of the actor, who one could be forgiven for believing was a total raving lunatic.

“He’s a great actor’s director”, she told me. “He’ll frustrate you to the point where you’re so frustrated a performance comes out of you. [Laughs] Whatever it is that he does, with each person it’s a different thing, he’s gotten performances from everybody here. Like, ridiculous. He needs to continue doing this, because he’s really good at it.”

As in continue…directing?

“Jennifer! Quiet please!” Biehn shouted from the set as they prepared to begin filming another take. And then, as the cameras started rolling: “HOW YOU GONNA EXPLAIN THIS TO YOUR FATHER, RYAN?! HOW YOU GONNA EXPLAIN IT TO HIM?!”

A few minutes later, a visibly calmer (and actually very friendly) Biehn sauntered over to our table to sit down for a brief chat between takes. Blanc was visibly nervous as I asked him questions about the film, especially given the fact that in my earlier brief conversation with him he’d spilled the beans on a key plot point within earshot of his wife, who’d quickly scolded him for giving away too much. And here she was scolding him again…for, once again, revealing said key plot point.

“Michael! Michael! We do not -” she began.

“We see it in the first shot of movie!” he interrupted, voice rising in agitation.

“It doesn’t matter. We don’t want it in the press!” she shouted back.

“We don’t?” he replied in confusion.

“No.”

And then, sheepishly: “Alright, don’t write that.”

It was a typical interaction between husband and wife, although I should note that there was no malice or true anger in any of it – more just typical married-couple bickering, Hollywood style.

Moving right along, I was curious as to the nature of Biehn’s off-the-grid character, and the actor went on to explain it this way: “He’s gone to a cabin that his uncle owns and doesn’t use and he’s kinda going up there, and he’s reading the Bible…and the Dalai Lama, like meditating…he’s just trying to quelch the inner demons that he has…he’s trying to get his act together so when he re-enters society he’s not the type of guy who you bump into and he’s like, `Fuck you, motherfucker!’ BAM! He’s gonna hit you in the fucking face in a second. He’s got that anger management thing so he’s just trying to change up his life a little bit.”

Also sitting by – in stripper wear consisting of a purple cutoff skirt, brown high-heeled boots and pink tank top – was co-star Danielle Harris, playing Blanc’s “exotic dancer” friend who goads her into accompanying the two cops to a remote cabin to engage in some illicit, sexually-charged activities.

“I may look less innocent than Danielle, you know?” said Blanc, a buxom blonde with a hard-edged, slightly unkempt quality. “She may look a little more innocent and tiny (tidy?), but she kind of pulls me into this weird world.”

“The things I do for my friends”, sighed Harris good-naturedly about the seedy, sexually-explicit role she’s essentially doing as a favor to pals Blanc and Biehn. “My other good girlfriend Kimberly McCullough [a regular on `General Hospital'] is at the AFI Film School and she just did a short called `Nice Guys Finish Last’ that’s an awesome dark comedy…and I had to do some stuff for her too that I was like, `You guys owe me so big.’ The shit that I do for my girlfriends! You have no idea; I wouldn’t do this for anybody else.”

Indeed, by Blanc and Harris’ account the film features an ample helping of nudity and extreme sexual situations that definitely pushes the envelope.

“I think [Biehn] is trying to tip it to as racy as you can possibly [make it]…and still get fucking ridiculous performances and still be R-rated”, said Blanc.
“He’s been pulling out all the stops on this one, and I’m used to him! [Laughs] And I’m getting surprised [at the things he's doing]!”

As for the on-screen violence, the actors indicated it will be raw and realistic without resorting to the over-the-top spewing of blood and entrails typical of more fantastical horror films.

“When there is violence, it’s very violent for a very short period of time”, said Biehn. “Think about like `Taxi Driver’, that’s how I want the movie. Like when you see violence in `Taxi Driver’ – [and] I’m not comparing myself or this movie to `Taxi Driver’ or Martin Scorcese – but in `Taxi Driver’…when the violence happened it happened very violently and for a very short period of time. And that’s kinda what happens here.”

Nevertheless, famed special effects makeup artist Rob Hall and his Almost Human effects company did come in to work on one shot that required a little extra “oomph”.

“We don’t have a special effects [guy]“, said Biehn. “Somebody put up a press thing about Rob [Hall] doing our special effects and stuff, and he worked a shot, he did a shot for us, and he did a great job, and if I had a special effects movie I would hire him in a heartbeat. But [the movie is] not about that, it’s about the performances.” (Though Jennifer did take pains to chime in that Hall nevertheless did come in and lay a “smack-down” on the movie in a big way, in an effect related to Ryan Honey’s character.)

Another possibly intriguing aspect of the film – being shot day-for-night as a nod to Xavier Gens’ Frontiere(s) (Blanc and Biehn are both coming out in Gens’ next film, The Divide) – is the fact that throughout its reportedly flashback-heavy duration the audience will be left unsure as to the true nature of the featured characters. In other words: who is villain, and who is victim?

“It’s one of those weird things where you’re kind of not sure who the victim is, who the bad guy is, [and] who the good guy is”, said Blanc. “It’s kind of like one of those things where each one of them has major secrets and you’re not really sure, like…who are you rooting for here?”

It’s a great question to hinge a thriller around for sure, but the real answer I was looking for on set that day was more along the lines of: where’s the director? Though I’d been standing close by the shoot for most of the time I was there, I’d seen neither hide nor hair of Mr. Morse. And while it’s true Pona had informed me early on that he wouldn’t be giving interviews, I at least thought I’d see him walking around outside the black cover of video village at least once or twice during my visit (I didn’t). Not that I could blame him, exactly; with a firecracker like Biehn seemingly taking the reins of a film for which I was credited as director, I’d probably choose to remain hidden away too.