While the bad girls, Angela and Suzanne, may have had all the fun, it was the good girl, Judy, who survived the Hull House Halloween party in the 1988 classic Night of the Demons, and Cathy Podewell says the party never really ended during filming and, unlike her character, she had nothing but fun making the movie.
Night of the Demons is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and after three decades, two sequels, a remake, and an upcoming documentary, it has rightfully secured its place in regular rotation throughout October for horror fans around the world. It’s the simple story of some naughty girls who throw a wild party on Halloween night, during which they awaken and are possessed one by one by some much naughtier demons. Judy is the ultimate straight-laced final girl and the perfect contrast to the rowdy and horny party people. As her Halloween costume hits home, she is Alice and Hull House is her Wonderland.
Cathy Podewell is every bit as sweet and genuine in person as she comes across as Judy is in the film, as I recently found out during our very candid conversation about the making of Demons, working on the biggest TV shows of the era, her real life love and passion for Halloween, and how it all started when she was killed by Johnny Depp.
Read on for our full interview with Cathy Podewell.
How did you first get into acting?
My grandparents were veteran theater actors in Chicago. Actually my grandmother (Beverly Younger) was on one of the very first television shows ever created, called Stud’s Place. It was on out of Chicago, with Studs Terkel. They both did lots of theater. Tennessee Williams called my grandmother one of the greatest actresses. So I come from like really pretty awesome acting seed, so to speak.
My grandmother had kind of stopped acting, but my grandfather (Lester Podewell) kept acting until he was well into his 80s. He passed away at 89, and he was acting right up until then. He was famous for Groundhog Day. He played the homeless old man that begs Bill Murray every day when he comes around the corner.
So it was always there, and I kind of wanted to continue the Podewell acting tradition. In high school, I did theater. Then I went to college, and I was a theater major and a dance major. It was always something I wanted to do.
I really felt that if at some point that I had given it a shot and it didn’t work out, then I’d want to have something to fall back on. I thought maybe it would be physical therapy. So when I got to college, I was thinking I would just major in something practical, but I got hooked right away. I got cast in a play and that was it, I declared theater as my major. I was hooked.
And my grandparents always – they didn’t discourage me, they didn’t try to talk me out of it, but they always felt that it was a very tough business for kids, and somehow if they could discourage me or talk me out of it slightly, then I wasn’t meant to do it, it wasn’t in my heart. But they could never talk me out of it, so that’s it.
After college, I moved to L.A., and Night of the Demons was in my first few months of auditioning. I was really lucky to go out for that.
I had no idea that was your granddad in Groundhog Day. That’s so awesome. It definitely sounds like acting was always in the blood.
They were always very humble too. Different shows would cast local actors in Chicago if they were filming there, and I wouldn’t know half the time, and I’d be watching TV and I’d be like, ‘Ah, Grandma’s on TV!’. They didn’t make a big deal of it. I went to go see Only the Lonely in the theater, and there’s my grandfather. I had no idea. They were so humble. And probably what’s more impressive than the television and movies, was their work in the theater.
Did you ever go on sets with them?
No, because I grew up in California, and they were in Chicago.
It was something I was proud of. And I thought if I could give it a shot, I really loved performing, whether it was in high school, where it was theater but it was also dance, and I was a cheerleader, and I was in the marching band, and I was on the swim team, so I was performing one way or the other. It was a natural progression to finally end up in L.A.
And once you got to L.A., Night of the Demons was one of the first things you did. This year (2018) is the 30th anniversary. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I watch it every year around Halloween, like I know so many fans do. How did you first get involved with the film?
I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. A friend of mine was shooting a show, ironically enough, in Chicago, and he became friends with the director who was directing the following episode and he mentioned me. I was trying to get my SAG card, and so this director said, ‘As long as she’s a local, she can audition,’ and my relatives were all in Chicago. So I stayed with my aunt and I was considered a local, and I got hired.
They funny thing about that job is that I was killed on the show (Lady Blue) by Johnny Depp. On my Instagram, I have a really funny picture of myself with Johnny Depp and David Oliver, who was the other actor, and they played killers. We were both guest stars. It was a TV show with Danny Aiello. So that was a great way to say I got my SAG card.
I got back to L.A. and I started auditioning. I’m trying to think if I got Growing Pains right before or right after I got Night of the Demons. I believe Night of the Demons was first. Actually, I know it was. Now I’m like putting it chronologically. Lance Fenton and Billy Gallo and maybe somebody else all had the same agent, and the agent came to the set. And that’s how their agent became my agent. So yeah, it came first.
I had an agent who sent me out for it, and I read for (director) Kevin Tenney and the casting director. Kevin tells the story that she (the casting director) was gung ho to cast me, but he was unsure, because my headshot at the time read older. So he thought, ‘Oh, she’s too old.’ And thank goodness for the casting director, because she was like, ‘No, Kevin, call her in again, you’ll see, she looks really young. It’s just the headshot that makes her look older.’ They called me back in, and that was it, I got it.
That was a big year for you, because around the same time you got Growing Pains as well, and it sounds like Growing Pains came almost as a direct result of Night of the Demons too, like it was all meant to be.
It absolutely was, completely, because that sort of got the ball rolling as far as going out for really quality, good auditions. I have so many reasons to thank Night of the Demons all these years later.
And for it being your first film, it is the lead role. You’re in the entire movie. You’re the final girl.
I may not have been the star, but in a horror film, when you say I’m the one that got to live, it’s pretty cool that I survived.
I just rewatched the movie again, and I love your performance in it. Maybe you can talk a little about your experiences filming. It was a four-week shoot, and you were there the whole time?
Yeah, I don’t remember not being there on a day. I do remember maybe having a later call, thank goodness. I’m so glad I didn’t have to sit through eight hours of makeup. So I got to go hang out, and sit in the director’s chair outside and chill.
I think you and Alvin (Alexis) are the only ones that got to avoid the (demon) makeup.
I know. And there were so many times where we would look at each other and were like, ‘We are so lucky.’ And it wasn’t just the putting on (the makeup), it was the taking off too.
What else do you remember from filming?
I remember it was so much fun. We were all young. Kevin Tenney was still I think fresh out of USC Film School for the most part. We were all kind of novices. I mean other than Linnea (Quigley), I think we were all pretty new to the business.
I remember liking everyone. I thought it was so much fun to go into work. We all got along great.
The hardest part I think for me as an actress – well the one scene that I can’t stand, I cringe – I hadn’t seen the movie in all these years until we had a midnight screening when the (2014) Blu-ray came out. I hadn’t seen it in 25 years. I remembered the scene with the crematorium and fire. It had changed, we changed the dialogue, and my acting in that scene is cringe inducing for me. I remember feeling it back then, and then watching it 25 years later, I was like, ‘Oh God, it’s so bad.’ I just remember that I couldn’t remember the lines that they changed. It was a lot of exposition, and it felt kind of unreal to me the way I had to explain it. Anyway, it was traumatic. (laughs)
Otherwise, it was fun. Kevin’s giving you direction of what’s coming at you, and of course there’s nothing really there, and there’s the challenge of trying to be scared, called acting. (laughs) But it was challenge. It was definitely something I had never done before.
It was a lot of fun. I loved it.
And you got along with the other cast members well?
Yes, we love each other. We still do. And that’s the best part for me. I mean first of all, if you had told me 30 years ago that this movie would still be relevant to anyone right now, and to have the Blu-ray release, to have it spawn two sequels and a big budget remake, it is crazy mind boggling to me.
Actually I didn’t even know about any of this (fandom for Night of the Demons) until about 10 years ago. At the grocery store I shop at, one of the clerks always would look at me. I was thinking, ‘Do I know him?’ I couldn’t figure it out. And one day he asked me, ‘You’re Cathy Podewell?’ I was like, ‘How do you know that? You’re like so young. What did I do that you would have seen?’ I was thinking Dallas, did he watch reruns? And he said, ‘Night of the Demons.’
I go, ‘What do you mean Night of the Demons?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it’s a cult classic.’ And I went, ‘No it’s not. What are you talking about?’ (laughs) So that’s how I first found out that there were two sequels and a remake. I had no idea.
So yeah, none of us thought 30 years ago that any of this would be happening right now, with the 30th anniversary and the documentary that Chris (MacGibbon; read our interview) is doing. It’s so exciting. But the best part is that I have had the opportunity now in the last few years to get together with everybody, and I love it. Everybody’s so sweet.
I love hearing that the cast was so tight with each other, and that you all still are, because it was pretty much the first film for most of you.
I know Amelia (Kinkade; read our interview) had done a Stray Cats video and Linnea was already established as the horror queen that she is, but otherwise yeah, I think it was pretty much the beginning for all of us. And it had that kind of feeling, like, ‘Let’s put on a horror show.’ There wasn’t a big star to feel awkward or insecure around. It was a level playing field in that respect.
Did you guys hang out much during the down time when you weren’t filming?
Oh, definitely. It’s funny because our dressing rooms were all up in the rooms (of Hull House), but none of us wanted to hang out in the house by ourselves in our dressing room. So we all pretty much sat outside in our director’s chairs, but we were all together pretty much the entire time. Nobody went off to be by themselves. The only time anybody was by themselves was if they were in Steve Johnson’s makeup chair.
It was just a really nice environment.
That’s great to hear.
I know, isn’t it? I love hearing that too about different shows or whatever. It’s so nice to hear that everybody liked each other and got along.
It really is nice to hear, as a fan. And at the end of the day, it’s just such a fun movie. It’s not meant to be taken so seriously, and you just enjoy the ride and you feel like that you went to this Halloween party.
Looking back, the thing that amazes me the most about the movie is that there is no CGI. It was all, shot by shot, done creatively through what we called the blue cookie, the smoke thing that they lit, and how they shot it with the light coming in and caught in that smoke. And Kevin’s amazing genius shot, which I knew at the time, I was just like, ‘This guy is too good for this little movie,’ that shot of the broken glass and reflections of all of us (in the mirror pieces). And (then there’s) Steve’s amazing makeup. That, to me, is what is so remarkable to look back at.
It’s definitely a great example of some of the best practical effects of the time. It still looks better than some of the movies made today with much bigger budgets.
It’s a testament to Kevin, for sure. And Joe Augustyn, the writer, was also a pretty big presence on set. They had this amazing group behind the camera. It was sort of like a perfect storm of everything just working. But even with all that said, I still can’t believe we’re talking about Night of the Demons 30 years later.
There is this legacy and this devoted fan base that loves this movie. What do you think is the lasting appeal for so many fans? Is it the fact that there’s something for everybody, a character that each person in the audience can identify with, from the nice girl to the goth girl to the jock and so forth?
I don’t think that’s so unique as the amazing makeup work and creative shots, like how they retracted Linnea’s face, how they did the lipstick scene with the prosthetic of her chest, and the eye gouging. All of that has held up. It’s amazing to think that was all real movie makeup magic.
I love the shot right after the ‘Run Judy, run’ line, and you’re coming down the hallway with Linea’s silhouette kind of larger than life behind you. And I love the Alice in Wonderland costume. I always thought that was just the perfect costume for Judy, because she’s kind of entering this other world when she goes to this party. It’s obviously not her normal crowd, it’s really not where she wanted to go that night, and it is kind of like Alice going into Wonderland and finding her way out.
Exactly. And that was Kevin Tenney. It was originally written in the script that I was supposed to be Little Red Riding Hood. Kevin felt that the red cape would’ve been too demonic and not, you know, sweet and innocent. So he came up with the idea for Alice in Wonderland, which obviously referred to Alice falling down the rabbit hole. So that’s good that you picked up on that. I love that you have an appreciation for the costume choice. It’s so cool.
That’s why Night of the Demons fans are so awesome, because they’re so appreciative of the details, and that’s what I’m appreciative of, and was at the time. I was impressed even when I didn’t know I should be impressed.
I was like, ‘Okay, it’s perfect. My first job is a low budget horror film, of course. That’s how you’re supposed to start out. Doesn’t everybody?’
But it was something special even then. Nonetheless, it’s still amazing that we’re having this conversation 30 years later. (laughs)
That movie is such a classic. Like I said, I watch it every year.
I love that. To know what’s coming in horror film, it kind of loses some of the magic after you watch it for the first time, but you and so many other fans of this movie – well that’s why we’re having this conversation, because people like you exist that can watch it over and over, year after year. I can’t tell you how many people tell me, ‘We watch it on Halloween every year.’ It’s very gratifying, it really is.
I love it. I love being part of a Halloween classic. (laughs) That’s what it really is. You talk about Christmas classics, well here you go, it’s pretty quintessential Halloween viewing. (laughs)
Speaking of Halloween, did you celebrate the holiday as a kid and with your own kids?
Actually, Halloween has always appealed to me. Halloween would end one year, and I’d start thinking about my costume for the next year. I happened to have a mother who was super creative, and she would make my costumes up until middle school probably. So I took a lot of pride in my Halloween costumes. I felt very proud.
I remember as a kid having the Halloween parade at our elementary school, and that’s why I was so excited that my kids went to an elementary school where there was a Halloween parade, and I sort of carried on and made costumes for my kids. I mean, I can close my eyes and think of my costumes, like I was a wolfman and I had fur busting out of this lumberjack kind of shirt. I took lots of pride in it as a kid. I loved it. And then as a mom, I sort of passed that on to my kids.
Halloween was the best. I still dress as a witch or a clown every year. Even though my kids are grown, my youngest is a junior in high school. (laughs) I still answer the door as a witch in green face.
Yeah, I love it. My kids think I’m – you know, in high school I’d show up to pick them up from school, and I’d be the crazy mom in the car with the green face and the witch hat driving down the street that everybody would laugh it. That would be me.
That’s so awesome. That’s us too.
It’s fun! It’s your one night a year to be, you know, to have that kind of fun. Yeah, you came to the right person, obviously. I’m preaching to the choir here about the love and virtues of Halloween. Yeah, I don’t really have to sell it too hard. (laughs)
That’s good to hear that you made sure the kids went to the right schools where they could celebrate Halloween properly, because not all schools do that now.
I know. It is sad. I know halfway through my kids’ years in elementary school, the Halloween festival became a fall festival. It used to be called the Halloween Haunt but then they changed it to the Fall Festival, so I was really worried they were just going to get rid of everything, but they didn’t. They kept the Halloween parade.
When you look back to your childhood, to me Halloween was like the one thing that I could always say – like I don’t remember day to day life in the second grade, but I sure remember that I was Cleopatra and I strutted my stuff at that Halloween parade. Those are memories that are meaningful and that last a lifetime.
So I’m hoping that I passed my love of Halloween on to my kids. But they always would dress up. My oldest is 26 and he and his girlfriend dress up every year. So I feel like I’ve sort of passed the torch of Halloween love to my kids.
Are your kids picking up on any of the performance genes that you picked up on?
No. There was a period where I thought that maybe my youngest would. She took an acting class and she loved it, and the teachers thought she was really good. It was the year before her freshman year, and I was like, ‘Uh oh,’ but no. She wants to be a zoologist. (laughs) And that’s fine. And my grandparents would be like, ‘See how comforting it is not having to worry about a family member going into this crazy profession?’ And it is, just because there are so few actors that make a living from acting. So it is interesting that my three kids were not bitten by the acting bug.
I want to talk just a little bit about Dallas. I remember watching you on that show.
It was about a year later, in 1988. I auditioned, and it was just supposed to be seven episodes, a guest starring role. Then I got a call back with the producer, and then I got a call back with Larry Hagman, and he and I just connected. An hour later they called.
It was an amazing thing, because in seven episodes they liked the chemistry and they developed the character, and it turned out to be a three-year gig. So as an actress, to have a job for three years and be able to develop a character over that course three seasons was just a dream. And talk about loving a cast, everyone was so great.
I’ve been really fortunate, because I don’t think there was a job where I didn’t really love everybody. I don’t know where these bad actors and divas are. I guess there are plenty of them out there, but I was fortunate enough to never work with them.
Larry Hagman was just the greatest guy ever, and took me under his wing. He included me in everything. He made me feel very welcome in the Dallas family. There are stories about one (cast member) that was a diva, but she had left the year before I arrived. I didn’t have any interaction with her, but I’ve heard that there was a diva once on the show. Everybody that was there when I was on was amazing.
So what are you up to lately? Do have new projects coming up?
I really don’t, because I sort of decided long ago – I always joke that I’ve been on a 27-year hiatus. When my first born, who’s 26 now, was a year old, I got a call from a casting director about doing an episode of 90210. I got the job. I’d been a mom for a year, I’d been nursing, and so I did this job, but I had never left my son with anybody before. I left him with one of my dear friends, and this job lasted a week, but I got through it. Then they called for reshoots and I had to go back for a second week. And I decided I liked being a mom. It was too much. I loved acting, but I didn’t ever want to be away from my kids.
I did a couple more jobs, but I didn’t go back fulltime, and I’m really grateful that my husband could support us and I could be a stay at home mom. And I loved every minute of it.
Now that my youngest is 16, I’m just now starting to think, ‘Okay, it’s going to be starting over. I don’t have an agent. I have my credits, but they’re 30 years old.’ (laughs) It’s definitely starting over, but I just thought, you know, I talked myself into giving it a shot 30 years ago, and why not try again now. And if I love it like I used to love it, great, and if I get work, great, so I’m thinking about it.
Actually it was the Night of the Demons fans that basically kept asking me every time I’d do a signing, ‘Why don’t you have social media?’ So I finally started an Instagram. And I’m getting my head wrapped around maybe getting back into it. I’m waiting for Kevin Tenney to write me a film script.
Well I’ll be first in line to see that.
Thank you. Don’t hold me to it though! We’ll see.
That’s great to hear that you’re open to it at least, and starting a new stage in life it sounds like.
I am. And that’s the thing I always would say when my kids were little and people would ask, ‘Why don’t you go back to acting?’ And I said that I knew that part of my life was going to go by so fast, and you only get to be the mother of these little kids once. Then they’re grown in the blink of an eye, which is exactly what happened. I always said, ‘I can act when I’m 80. But I can only be the mom of these small kids in that moment, so I didn’t want to miss that. And I don’t have any regrets. I can act until my dying day. So we’ll see.
I do feel blessed though. My dreams did come true. So many little kids dream of being an actress and working, and being on TV or in the movies or whatever, and I feel very fortunate that for the five years I gave it a shot, I pretty much worked steadily. And that was a dream come true, it really was. Then I got to be the mom of three awesome kids.
So maybe life will come full circle and I’ll give this acting thing a shot again.
I really hope you do. I’m excited to see what the future holds for you.
Thanks, Matt. It’s been so nice talking to you.
Cathy Podewell is among the franchise cast members set to be featured in the new documentary The Party’s Just Begun: The Legacy of Night of the Demons.
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