The Mad Legacy: An Interview with Nick Millard

A little while back, I had the distinctive honor of talking to horror film director Nick Millard, the genius behind Criminally Insane, Death Nurse, and dozens of other wonderful films. Mister Millard has been in the biz since the 1960s, starting out making sexploitation films like Uta and Nympho. In 1975 he went into horror with Criminally Insane, and in 1977 he made action movie history with .357 Magnum. Nick has always been one of my all-time favorite directors, ranking with Norbert Moutier, Todd Sheets, James Bryan, and Doris Wishman, so I had to restraint my inner fanboy to bring these words to print. Take it away, Nick!

Adam Mudman – I’ll kick things off in the best way possible; by asking how you got your start. How did this all begin? How were you raised, and how did it impact your decision to become a filmmaker?

Nick Millard – I remember how it started. We were living in New Orleans, a great city, I was maybe eleven or twelve, and I saw some newspaper ads for my dad’s movie, The Condemned. For some reason these ads seemed magical to me, like we had a true feature film, like they were playing at the Joy Theatre on Canal Street, or the Loew’s State Theatre, or the Orpheum Movie Theatres where I was seeing great films like High Noon, Dial M for Murder, The Barefoot Contessa. As I grew older I came to realize that the film business is magical, and I am very happy to have been able to have even a small, a very small part in it…

I got the money to make my first film when I was 20 years old, by going to my brother in law, Harry Farros, who was a theatre owner.  He had a theatre in Sacramento, CA, which he closed down, because he couldn’t make any money. I asked him to rent it to me, and he agreed. The rent was $600.00 per month. I saved money by not renting a hotel room or apartment, by sleeping in the theatre’s projection booth.  Maybe once a week, I’d rent a cheap hotel room to shower, and get a good night’s sleep. I had a very good reason to save money—I wanted to make a film. I saved about ten thousand dollars, and went to Hollywood.  I wrote the first draft of the screenplay, about two guys in London who find a wallet full of credit cards, and take off on a spree. The original title was Carte Blanche. This was my first film, and I thought I’d play it safe by getting a Hollywood writer. My dad, S.S., introduced me to one of his writer-directors, a man named harry fraser. they had made 6 western films together.  Low budget quickies.  Today if you walk into some supermarkets, or K-Marts you will see Harry Fraser’s name on DVDs. He directed a young John Wayne in Randy Rides Again” and Beneath Arizona Skies.  Harry Fraser added some screwball comedy to the script and we started shooting in San Francisco in September of 1961.  Just over fifty years ago.

I wanted to make films for two very noble reasons.  I wanted to meet women, and I wanted to make a lot of money. To quote Ayn Rand “money is the root of all good.”

AM – Your father, S.S. Millard, was a film producer behind such films as Sex (1920) and Is Your Daughter Safe? (1927), and your mother, Frances, served as the producer of  your post-Criminally Insane films. So there seems to be a definite mark left on your career by your parents. Can you elaborate on how they shaped it and contributed to it?

NM – I had the great fortune to have wonderful parents…my mom took me to the two most important places a mother can take a child, to church and to the library. I was also extraordinarily lucky to have been raised around a burlesque theatre, the Moulin Rouge in Oakland, CA. And Adam, let me tell you that no boy ever had a better upbringing.

In an interview, about 5 or 6 years ago, they asked about my dad, and I said my father was a great man. I was hoping the interviewer would ask me why was your father a great man? I would have said because he fed his family, and it wasn’t always easy. Like millions, billions of other great men, that feed their families.

The truly great men are not to be found in Beverly Hills, or Washington, DC, or on Wall Street. That said my father, S.S. Millard was the consort of Queen Marie of Romania. He was a man of daring, and like myself he never gave up. When he died he was working on a documentary film entitled Tales of Virginia City. We had shot footage of the great director John Huston, riding a camel, in a camel race, in Virginia City, NV, on labor day 1960. We visited the locations, Dayton, NV. And a dry lake about 10 miles east of Dayton, where Huston was shooting The Misfits starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. We got to meet Arthur Miller, who many consider to be America’s greatest playwright. We showed him the still pictures of Huston on the camel, he got a big kick out of them, and he couldn’t have been nicer to us. A couple years later 1962 I took a 16mm print of the camel race to Universal-International where Huston was making a film. I gave it to Huston, and he let me visit the set. That’s where I learned to direct films. So my dad really set the fire in me by making the Virginia City film. It was my first introduction to filmmaking, and in fifty years of making films, there is only one thing that I like better. Women.

AM – At what point did you decide to move into horror/action films? Before Criminally Insane, it seems like most of your films were softcore pieces. What led you to start telling the stories of people like Crazy Fat Ethel and Nurse Edith Mortley?

NM – The French camera manufacturer eclair brought out a new, almost totally quiet running camera called the Eclair ACL, prior to that camera, you had to use a Mitchell BNC camera, or a German made Arriflex in a blimp. Both very,very heavy. We did a factory pickup of the ACL in Paris, so it was an advance in technology that enabled me to start making genre films..just as today another technological advance has been made. High definition. The two easiest kinds of film to make are: #1 adult, get a handsome guy and a pretty girl, and sparks will fly. #2 horror, get some Blasco blood and a psycho character and you’ve got a horror film… By the way, I have never gone to the Sherwin-Williams paint store and bought a gallon of red paint. I am a high school dropout, but I’m not stupid. Back in the 1970’s we were using the same artificial blood that the major film studios were using. It was made by the 3M company, and was state of the art at that time. It can be seen in Warner Bros. Iconic feature film “dirty harry” and every other a picture of that era. Yes, it didn’t look real compared to Blasco blood, but that’s what we had. Major studio and lowly independent alike.

The most difficult film to make is a drama. That’s why dramatic films usually win best picture Oscars, this year was the exception a comedy won. Action films get some technical nominations, best sound, best special effects, but the artistic nominations screenplay, cinematography, etc and wins usually go to dramatic films.

I’ve always liked quirky characters like Ethel Janowski and Edith Mortley RN. The best thing that an independent filmmaker can do is offbeat subjects. That’s what made the Coppola Girls’ career.

AM – What horror and action movies inspired you when you sat down to make your own? Are there any titles in particular that really gave you a feel of what you wanted to do?

NM – The German vampire film Nosferatu, still frightening because of the makeup, costume, weird hands, and the cinematography. Also the British made Hammer films starring Christopher Lee. Dracula at his best.

Action films – Don Siegal’s films, particularly Dirty Harry. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. The Italian Sergio Leone, the German’s tried making cowboy films, and they were not good. But the Italians pulled it off. Sergio Leone was smart enough to go to Hollywood and get an out of work television actor to star in his westerns…his name was Clint Eastwood…I once read that Eastwood was not happy working on the first western For a Few Dollars More. The crew was too small, how the hell can you make a good film without a 60 man crew like they have in the place where they make real films, Hollywood. He also didn’t like the fact that the Italian crew drank wine with their lunch, so he almost walked. Probably, no career if he had…

For my money the best western ever made is High Noon with Gary Cooper and Princess Grace.

AM – There is a certain sort of mythos to your movies that I haven’t really been able to find anywhere else, in that music, actors, and even credits are reused over and over again. What led to this period of reusing actors so frequently? And—speaking as the voice of those who watch Criminally Insane and then are baffled after popping in Death Nurse—why do the credits and kill-scenes from Criminally Insane appear in so many of your movies?

 

NM – The British repertory system which produces great actors and actresses decade after decade. In one show an actor will play the lord of the manor, in the next show he may play the butler. Actors gain a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Secondly, if I know who I’m writing for that makes it easier to write.

Nextly. I don’t like casting. I don’t like turning people down.. It is the least fun of filmmaking.. You know that some people really need the job, they’re desperate, you can see it in their eyes, and you just can’t give it to them…

So I like using the same people. Again and again. Rainer Werener Fassbinder, the German director, did the same thing…

So why do I use the same credits and scenes over and over?

Because it saves money. It is called the film business, and if you want to last 50 years in the film business, as I have, you better pay attention to that last word business. I work with my own money, some of those fools who are star directors, run around Hollywood, playing the great artist, do so because it is not their money they are working with. They waste money because it is not their own. The only place that wastes money even more is Washington, DC, they do it their on a grand scale, they’ve gone from billions to trillions.

No one bothers to read credits anyway, they are for the most part, something you have to sit and watch fifty years ago their was a great title maker, Saul Bass. He made very interesting main titles…

When I reuse a scene, perhaps I’m hoping that this film will be seen by an entirely new audience. It is not done out of greed, that is one of my best qualities, I am not greedy…

Fifty years later I’m still here. Carolco, the most successful independent in the history of filmmaking is gone, bankrupt and liquidated. They had gigantic hits like Basic Instinct, and The Terminator. But they made too many films that didn’t make money, and they wasted money. The Dutch director who made Basic Instinct, a very talented director, told the company owners that he absolutely, had to have the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil” to use as the main title music. The two heads of Carolco paid the Rolling Stones seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the right to use the song. Then he changed his mind, the song didn’t work at all, he couldn’t possible use it. I would have made him pay for it out of his salary, Directors Guild or no Directors Guild.

Cannon, another independent production company is also gone. But I’m still here…

AM – The Internet Movie Database lists some films that came out after the 1975-1987 spree that stretches from Criminally Insane to Death Nurse 2—these include a documentary on Howard Hughes, an adaptation of Turn of the Screw, and a particularly intriguing entry called Dracula in Vegas. An interview with your mother that I found refers to another unlisted movie called Mother of the Vampire. My research is unable to find anything on any of those movies! What can you tell us about them in terms of production, story, availability, etc.? And are there any other films that you’ve made that IMDB hasn’t listed?

NM – I don’t know who puts the IMDB together. They are missing about 30 to 35 films that I have made, on the other hand they have gone back 50 years and found films that I almost forgot I had made.

Mother of the Vampire is not a film that I made.

AM – A massive number of your films were directed under an alias. Can you explain the rationale behind taking on so many pseudonyms for directing?

NM – Why do I use stage names?

For two or three very logical reasons… and I have always liked this idea, when the great Irving Thalberg was running production at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer back in the 1930’s he once said “if you are in a position to be able to give credit to others, you don’t need to take it for yourself.” Now that’s power, and looking at it’s use in the right way.

I have made somewhere between 85 and 90 films, I stopped counting exactly, when I reached fifty. Of those 85 films, I have put my name on about twenty, and of those twenty there are only five or six that I really like…

AM – The last film you’ve made is 1999’s Dracula in Vegas. Have you made anything since then that hasn’t gotten much press? Or have you gone into retirement? If so, what have you been doing since then?

NM – I always like to say that there is plenty of time to retire when I’m dead…

I’ve made the following films after Dracula in Vegas.

Jackie Devereau, the story of a New Orleans low life. City without a soul…its name starts with an “h” and ends with a “d”…

Faust 2005, Werener Faust, a German film director, wants a hit film, and he is willing to sell his soul to the devil to get it…

Interview with a Dead Man…somewhat autobiographical, since I play Nick Millard in it…the dumbest movie in America…a film director, Victor Fabian (READ Nick Millard) is tired of making arty films that few people go to see, so he decides to copy the major film studios and give the public what they can’t seem to get enough of comic book action crap. He sets out to find the worst action script that he can find, the worst actors, etc. But things don’t turn out as planned, everyone gets inspired, rises above their limitations, and the result is another art film…

The Life and Death of Richard IIIa modern day version of Shakespeare’s great play…

Contessa…The theme, an important one, you lose your skills as you get older, I’m 70, so I know what I’m writing about. A French playboy who can no longer get pretty young women, a Formula One racing driver, who can no longer drive as fast as he could, a French matinee idol, once the lover of Brigitte Bardot, now old and can’t remember his lines. That said about me being 70, I haven’t lost any of my skills, I’m at my best, and always improving.

AM – Looking back at your nearly fifty-year-long career, what has been your favorite part of filmmaking? What moments have numbered among your great personal triumphs?

NM – My favorite part of filmmaking is of course getting to kiss the leading lady…

Shooting films, especially on location…I also like to write. Least favorite, as I mentioned is casting… Editing is also work, but I must do it myself, as I can’t afford an editor…..

Personal triumphs, the only award I’ve ever won was when I was in the army, 1964 at Fort Ord, California. I won the best projectionist award. I am very proud of it…

In terms of film awards, I made up a joke… What’s better? To win an Academy Award, or have a beautiful young girl in her twenties (not a gold digger) fall in love with you. There is only one correct answer, and believe me I would take the young girl every time…what are you going to do with the Academy Award? Look at it?

Other triumphs, making money in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. IRMI and I had a house on the French Riviera (Cote d’azur as the French call it). The British are the ones who started to refer to it as the french riviera.. We owned the house for ten years, had to sell it in 1980. The ups and downs of the film business. Believe me the downs last a lot longer than the ups. But I have no complaints whatsoever. Others have had it a lot tougher. My dad had a great life too, like me he loved life, but he died broke in my hotel room at the Hollywood Inn Hotel. Hollywood, CA. That beautiful, seductive bitch, with her legs spread wide apart to entice, known as Hollywood…I love her too, always will…

I want to thank any of your readers who have bought tickets, rented or bought VHS cassettes or DVDs to see my films. Without an audience there is no film business…..

AM – I’d like to thank you very much for participating in this interview!

NM – You’re welcome, Adam…I enjoyed it…best regards! Nick Millard, AKA Clem Moser, Otto Wilmer, etc., etc….

Wow. I can only pray, dear reader, that you enjoyed reading those remarkable words as much as I did. A round of applause to Mister Millard, long may he reign. Please, check out his movies as soon as possible. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

  • http://slashervideo.com Jesus Teran

    Nice interview// Nick and Irmi are awesome people :]