Carpazine: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in underground cinema.
Johnny Terris: I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and was adopted in 1974. My friend/cousin and I started filming skits and things; stupid stuff like farting and mooning the lens and stuff like that; stupid things that most boys do when handed a video camera. I decide that we should do a movie, so we shot a short film about a mother and daughter team who go batshit crazy after drinking contaminated tap water, and then end up raping and killing each other in the house. After that, I left home at 16 with a stolen video camera and just started filming stuff with friends in the city. Eventually, they started getting more graphic and sometimes more pornographic. By the time I shot my 1996 film ‘Room 405’, which was about a trio of people who slide into sexual debauchery within one of the rooms of an abandoned, haunted hotel- my style was pretty much cemented. Some of the people I used in the earlier films left it and some stuck around. Some of the ones from the earlier years I don’t even remember who they were, let alone where or what they’re doing now. If someone came up to me and asked to be in a movie, I’d usually just let them. There isn’t too many of us from Canada. There was myself and Bruce La Bruce really, doing that kind of material. Both started around the same times, but I was lesser known because I never put my work out there like he did. I was never interested in doing that.
Carpazine: When did you first start getting into films?
Johnny Terris: Through my mother. She as a huge horror lover and she introduced me to a ton of horror at a very young age. Nothing was off limits to me. I saw The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, all the greats when I was around 6 or 7 years-old. They were heavily influential to me. When I was about 12 or 13 it was common in our town to fight and fuck. That’s just what you did. You either got in fist fights or you fucked each other. Or both. I remember gang bangs in my friend’s father’s car at the ages of 13 and 14 with each other, and the sluttier girls would give us all blowjobs in the empty trains on the train tracks. I remember there as one you could fuck, and one who just gave blowjobs. You could go to either one of them depending on what you wanted. So, I was very aware of my sexuality at an extremely young age. When you were bored in a small town in the 1980’s, you fucked. There was lots of teen pregnancies and stuff. I was a very angry young kid and anger was a staple for a lot of my future work. I didn’t fit in anywhere it really showed. That made me angry all the time. Lots of fight and stuff. I shaved my head into a mohawk and would huff gas out of a gas jug all the time and always steak my father’s wine and sneak in the drive-in through the backwoods. I just hated everything in that town except for that drive-in. I would get into fights with rednecks and jocks all the time because of the way I looked. So, my mind was already in a sexual and violent state by the time I found underground film. The first film I came across was John Waters’ Female Trouble. Then once I became aware of Richard Kern and the Cinema of Transgression, that’s the moment I decided to actually make movies. Those movies inspired the fuck out of me. I could relate to them in a big way, so at 16 I left home hitchhiked to the city and just began making my own.
Carpazine: What do you think is unique about artists’ film and video?
Johnny Terris: I think it’s pretty important for an artist or filmmaker to put parts of themselves in their work. That’s what it’s all about really: self-expression. For me, my work is more like medication. Instead of taking an anti-depressant or an anti-psychotic, I make a short film, I write a book, I paint something. I throw every bit of whatever emotion I’m feeling into it. If I’m feeling angry, I’ll create something horror-related or spoken word, anti-political, anti-mainstream rants. If I’m feeling sexual, I’ll do porn stuff. Whatever I’m feeling, I work on that project. That’s why I usually have a ton of projects all going at the same time.
Carpazine: What is the basic difference in making underground movies and mainstream movies?
Johnny Terris: Rules really. A good example is, in a mainstream project I worked on, there was a sex scene where my character is supposedly rimming the guy he is having an affair with. Before the scene started I went up to the director and said, “So do I really rim him”? He looked at me and laughed and said, “No Johnny, you don’t really do it”. I seriously didn’t know though. I mean, I would have rimmed him for real. That wouldn’t have been an issue for me at all. There is also a formula with mainstream that doesn’t exists in underground films. The people in underground are just more down to earth, more interesting people. Mainstream people and union people think they’re this special breed of people when 99.9% of them are narcissistic mediocre assholes. Some of the stories I could tell you about ‘actors’ and their smug, entitled behaviors would make you sick. Underground and punk folks aren’t like that. They just do what they want to do because they have to do it. There is no fucking hierarchy agenda other than release and having a good time. Everything on film is fake in mainstream of course. In my earlier films I’ve used real vomit, real urine, real blood. I’ve carved my entire body up with razorblades in a movie once. That would never happen on a mainstream set. For one, the union wouldn’t allow it.
Carpazine: Who are your major influences?
Johnny Terris: Brutality, grit, porn and sleaze mostly- not necessarily together. Filth and the underbelly of life inspire me. The Golden Age of Porn in the 1970’s really inspires me as well. Those films were brilliant. They were not your typical fuck/suck porn, they were surreal, with bizarre plots and crazy cinematography. Typical fuck/suck is very boring on film to me. I always throw story and surrealism in when I do anything pornographic. On the horror side of things, Italian horror all the way. For underground/punk stuff, my inspirations can go from completely looney and comedic to the more serious. As I get older and well into middle-age, I find myself letting loose a lot more and not taking myself so seriously. I actually started out with offensive comedy stuff. The first few years of my work was like that. I think I’m slowly starting to head back in that direction with some of my work. Not all. But some.
Carpazine: How much of your work projects can we find from your own personal life experience?
Johnny Terris: I think all artists put themselves into their work. That’s part of the process. Whether it’s personal things, fetishes or whatever. The biggest example for me personally was when I did the 2004 film Inside Inoxia. I was coming off a very traumatic moment in my life and all that emotion is thrown into that film, which is why it ended up being extremely dark. It’s probably the darkest film I’ve ever done.
Carpazine: Can you tell me about your work on television series Sex & Violence?
Johnny Terris: Working on Sex & Violence was interesting because it was my first time doing anything at all more mainstream. The show has been nominated 17 times for CSA and ACTRA awards (Canada’s equivalent to The Oscars and SAG Awards) including wins. While some deserved those accolades, some of the people nominated shouldn’t have been because they just weren’t great actors. And some who should have been, were not. The guy who played my husband on the show was brilliant and deserved a nomination and never got one. He definitely deserved it more than the new young guy who got one. Awards shows though, are all contrived. It’s all a secret club of friends who all nominate one another. It’s such bullshit and you really see it when you actually work in it and work with these people. But, one of the reasons why I actually did the show was because the show was not conventional. Even though it was mainstream, it had explicit (simulated) sex scenes, graphic nudity and disturbing content. It was uncut and uncensored and all that really appealed to me. I played the head therapist on the show; a sarcastic, dry man named Manny. He didn’t give a shit about any of his patients, and it showed. The director was great to work with and Olympia Dukakis was a very nice lady. I originally read for four other smaller bit parts and then on the callback he told me that he wanted to cast me as one of the leads, to appear in every episode of Season 2. I was going to be in Season 3 but we had scheduling conflicts and plus I refused to work with one of my co-stars. She as a vile woman who publicly said that I was a ‘self-depreciating gay’ because I didn’t fit her version of what a queer man was apparently supposed to be like and I didn’t kiss her ass like the rest of them did. I had a scene with her in Season 3 so I just said fuck it. There were little hiccups but they were not the fault of the director. He wasn’t even there for a lot of Season 2 due to a family emergency so it was another director for some of it. It was just couple of the cast and the crew who just seemed to have some issue with me for whatever reason. Look, I filmed the vast majority of my underground films in Halifax during the entire 1990’s. There has always been a smug mediocrity to the people there and years later I came to find out that didn’t change. I never fit in then and it was very clear that I didn’t fit in now. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate it. I did and I thank the director immensely for the opportunity. I just didn’t think it was the right time to do it. Timing was off.
Carpazine: Have you ever experienced anything embarrassing or unexpected in your career?
Johnny Terris: I haven’t experienced anything really embarrassing because I don’t really get embarrassed. No real divas or difficult people either, at least not on the actual sets. And if I did come across that, I wouldn’t have put up with it. There was that one co-star I didn’t particularly get along with and I called her out on her shit after the fact, as I would ever do that on the actual set. That blacklisted me a bit in that particular side of the industry because her brother was semi-famous in Canada. But, I don’t give a shit about that. I don’t do what I do to fit in and I don’t give a fuck about any of those people. The only way I’d ever do mainstream again was if the director was cool with who I was, what I’ve done and what I was about. He or she would have to know me, my past and my work and be fine with it. I can say I did mainstream once. I tried it. And while union and mainstream are extremely good money, I prefer the other. It’s much more free and I have way more fun doing my kind of shit. Hell, I’d rather really actually rim a guy on set then pretend to.
Carpazine: What do you think has changed in the film industry in recent years?
Johnny Terris: The MeToo movement has changed the mainstream industry a lot, that’s for sure. I am all for standing up with women in that case. There are also instances where women lie too. Like I said, the industry is full of egotists and opportunists, so you’re naturally going to get women (and men) who lie and purposely play the victim mentality for attention in press and media, because when you accuse nowadays, you suddenly get trending on Twitter and the mob mentality drove of robots come to your rescue. They do a massive disservice to the actual women who are raped and assaulted who we actually should stand with and support 100%. The media spins shit to propaganda agendas. It’s all garbage. There is a reality star in The White House for fuck sakes. Everything is way too politically correct too, both in and out of film. I’m sick to death of people rambling their mouths off about how you can’t say this or that anymore, on film and off. I’ll say whatever the fuck I want. Don’t fucking tell me what to do or say. A good example is Molly Ringwald saying now that her old comedy movies in the 1980’s were “problematic”. Fuck off. We seemed to have gone backwards in a lot of ways due to political correctness and that’s really fucking depressing. My entire life and career were spent on not being politically correct, so this new society is bullshit to me and won’t stop me from doing what I want regardless.
Carpazine: How was writing your autobiography Sinister Splendor and Broken Glass?
Johnny Terris: Sinister Splendor & Broken Glass actually started in 2011. It was initially just a journal of sorts for me to document my life and try to cope with general shit. I never realized how gritty and dark my life actually was until I started proof-reading it. It was very threptic. A third of the way through it I realized that there may be some people out there that could maybe relate to it or relate to some of the things in it. Especially young people who feel like they’re fucked up or have nobody to relate to. It’s morphed into a bio about my early life on the street and the films and traumas etc., and is on the third (and last) draft. I’m adding more chapters, more stuff. The book currently ends in 2005 so I figured I’d update it. A hell of a lot has happened since 2005.
Carpazine: What kind of music do you listen to today?
Johnny Terris: Metal and punk. Always metal and punk. Old school stuff. Not particularly that interested in new music. My regular playlists consist of stuff like Wendy O Williams/Plasmatics, Girlschool, Motorhead, Turbonegro, Judas Priest, Nashville Pussy, Misfits, Black Flag, Angelwitch and a lot of punk and New Wave of British Heavy Metal stuff form the late 70‘s and early 80’s. Though I also like some darker classical pieces as well. That stuff is really great to write to.
Carpazine: When you are not working, what do you like to do for fun?
Johnny Terris: Well my work is my fun. Writing is one of my favorite things to do. I’m starting to get into working out a lot. Getting obsessed with it a bit. I like to cook. I don’t go out and socialize much so I watch cool shit on my theater. I have a projector set up in my place and it gives me a 10-foot-high screen so a lot of my time is in front of that or in front of the computer writing.
Carpazine: What upcoming projects are you working on?
Johnny Terris: Updating Sinister Splendor & Broken Glass and working on a new book called Cinematically Raped. Don’t want to give too much away about that right now. Re-releasing my second book called Throwdowns at Recess which is some of my early screenplays and scripts done in story format. Adding more to that for the second draft. In the new year I’ll be compiling together some of my films, from 1987 to 2012, for a new DVD release that I’ll also do a new film for. I’ve been so focused on writing that the last film I did was in 2012, so I think it’s time for a new one.
Carpazine: Is there a town or place in the world you consider inspiring?
Johnny Terris: New York was really inspiring when I was there many years ago. Would love to get back sometime. Maui, Hawaii was extremely inspiring but in a totally different way. You would walk outside your door and be immediately at peace there. It was great. I did a lot of writing there in 2002 after the love of my life became a missing person and was never found. That’s actually where I started Sinister Splendor & Broken Glass. I think Chernobyl would be extremely inspiring, especially for film ideas. There is a place in Canada, an entire town called Kitsault in British Columbia where nobody lives. It’s totally deserted and everything is still all early 1980’s: he malls, the houses, everything. That place would be amazing to visit for inspiration.
Carpazine: Can you give the readers your Website and facebook addresses so they can check you out...
Johnny Terris: Sure. I don’t have a website but I do have a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can look up my name or go to:
Carpazine Issue Number 17 Featuring Exclusive Interview with Filmmaker and Actor Johnny Terris!
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