Lisa Blount: Short Life, Short Career

The Arkansas native was discovered at the age of 17 by James Bridges, the talented screenwriter of Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) who had gone on to establish a substantial directing career before his death two years ago. “He had come to Arkansas to shoot an autobiographical piece, but he didn’t have his leading lady,” recalls Blount. “He certainly did not intend to cast her out of Arkansas; they were still trying to find an actress in Hollywood. I literally sat on the doorstep in his motel for days until he would agree to see me it was the only way they could get rid of me.”

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The film was titled (9/30/55) September 30, 1955 (1977), the date of the death of James Dean, whose career had had a tremendous impact on Bridges. Despite its realistic tone, the film was Blount’s first brush with the genre, due to a quirk of her character, “a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who thought she was Vampira. When James Dean died, she did not know what to do, so she got herself dressed up as Vampira, because she knew Dean hung out with her. It’s so poignant, so pitiful, to see these kids try to make sense out of the death of this gigantic persona.”

Unfortunately, the film never found its audience. “Universal didn’t know what to do with it: they gave it one of those quickie releases. It’s brilliant, but it was way ahead of its time; I’ve heard some people call it the BREAKFAST CLUB of its era, because it was a cast of unknowns who went on to do very well: Dennis Quaid, Richard Thomas, Dennis Christopher.”

After the location work, the actress moved West to shoot the interiors. “Coming to Hollywood caught me by surprise,” she recounts. “I had left high school real young, because I planned on graduating (college) by the time I was eighteen, and I never really intended to move to Hollywood. Most kids in that part of the country who want to become actors go to New York, which is where I thought I would go. But I had an opportunity to meet people, so I came out here and eventually made it my home.”

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Blount’s second feature was Dead & Buried (1981) written and produced by Ron Shusett and directed by Gary Sherman. “In my opinion, it was one of the better horror films ever made, structurally,” claims the actress. “Every red herring pays off. It’s not a gory movie; it’s a horror movie. I played a reanimated person-essentially, a Barbie doll. I was young and cute enough at the time to pull it off.”

“My experience of making horror films is that they’re very difficult and painful. You scream a lot and end up scantily clad in a cold environment constantly,” she explains. “For instance, in DEAD AND BURIED, we had a shot of me nude in the water, off the coast of Mendocino, below freezing. We decided that we would not show breasts, so I had pasties on. I got serious hypothermia, got back where it was warm, and yanked the pasties off-along with all this skin that was attached. And they couldn’t even use the footage because I was blue and my teeth were chattering too bad. We had to reshoot that out in Malibu.

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The film that brought the actress the most attention was An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) a fact she regards somewhat ambivalently. “It gave me an opportunity that so few actors get, to be in a movie that broke box office records, that’s been seen by damn near every person on the face of the Earth,” she reflects. “I was lucky to get that, and I have a kind of love/hate relationship with the movie now, because I’ve been associated with it for so long. When I read something in a magazine about Richard Gere or Debra Winger, it will say AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN next to it; it’s like nobody can shake this movie. It became my middle name: ‘Lisa Blount.’ For the longest time, my goal was that I just wanted a different middle name; I wanted somebody to associate me with something else. I really don’t feel that way anymore; I just think in time people will forget. But if it was not for that movie, I would not have done the other twenty that I had a shot at because of the success of that one, so generally I’m grateful.”

What Waits Below (1984)is an uneven Sandy Frank production about a joint scientific-military expedition that unearths a lost Lemurian civilization in the depths of a bottomless cavern. Fortunately, the film is helped by a talented cast, including Blount, Robert Powell (Ken Russell’s TOMMY), and Richard Johnson (THE HAUNTING). Director Don Sharp is well remembered for Hammer’s KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1962, a.k.a. KISS OF EVIL), but like many of his later efforts, this fails to fulfill his early promise.

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The filming involved another behind-the-scenes horror story, although in this case Blount was not one of the unfortunate victims of the misadventure. “We were down about three miles deep in a cave,” the actress recalls. “We would go into the caverns before dawn, stay there all day, and come out at night, so we never saw the sunlight, except for Sunday. At one point, I was captured and tied up on a little rise inside the cavern. All the extras, as the Lemurians, were out in front of me, and I watched all these people just start silently falling over, fainting, as this wave of carbon monoxide came at them. All hell broke loose. We had little golf carts for transportation, and it was an immediate emergency situation of getting out, but these carts didn’t go that fast. We had very sick people, and it was a matter of determining who got in the first car out-youngest ones first. It was just total chaos. There were sixty people who went to the hospital. I was fortunate; I may have gotten some of it, but it didn’t bother me. As far as I know, nobody was permanently injured. It was just one of those technical problems where the generator running everything backed up and started shooting fumes back into the cave. We had to shut down for a few days because of that, but we got through it.”

Her role in Radioactive Dreams (1985), film which she terms “pure fun.” The low-budget effort is one of many from director Albert Pyun. “I loved this movie,” the actress proclaims. “Now I think this was a good film that did not get its day but that was a blast.”

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Filming still had its share of pain, but in this case it was part of the characterization. “I had to play a woman disguised as a man who later reveals herself to be a woman,” she says. “I worked out and thought I was in good shape. Then I went to costuming, and they gave me a jacket with fake muscles. My skinny little muscles were not quite what they had in mind, so there ! was sweating to death in a 50 pound jacket. But we had a good time on that. They gave me this machine gun that was actually in production-at one time, the L.A.P.D. had considered it. But it kicked too much; it was unpredictable. The special effects people got hold of one, so I got to use it to wipe out about forty people. There was one of those long dolly moves, and because of the way the shot was designed, it just did not look right to put it against my shoulder, so I had to do it free-handed, straight out, and this thing kicked so bad that most people would pull the trigger and go flying fifty feet backwards! I worked and worked with it till I got it to where I could shoot and it looked good. I loved that stuff. It’s not what you call one of your finer points of method acting, but that’s what acting really comes down to so often: learning how to use a prop. I’ve done a lot of stuff with quns, and I go to an annual celebrity shoot now. It’s kind of a hobby for me; it actually came out of working with guns in movies and then saying, ‘Hell, I better learn this shit for real.’ It just looks better if you know what you’re doing. I’m really good with car work, too. I’m challenged by ‘You’re going to fly over this embankment and hit this mark.’ If I can do it, I’ll do it: if I can’t, I let the stuntman. I guess there’s just this macho side of me, but I get a kick out of it.”

Cut and Run (1985)

Next up was a piece of exploitation cinema from Italian director Ruggero Deodato, who has managed to earn a certain cult status from films with charming titles like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. In Cut and Run (1985), Blount co-starred with perennial villain Richard Lynch, who played a charismatic Jim Jones-type character operating a cocaine ring deep in the jungle. Location filming in Venezuela “was without a doubt the roughest thing that ever happened to me,” according to the actress. “I swam in the river, not by choice but because I had to in the movie, with electric eels and piranha. I got my hand sliced up with rusty nails, jumping in and out of canoes, and got stung by things that god only knows what they were. But it was fun, and I survived it.”

What the actress almost did not survive was the monsoon season. “We were shooting out in the middle of the Amazon, in this little place where they could land a plane, and we overshot one day. The monsoon was coming, and we were going to spend the night there with no food and no shelter. We had two planes, and one pilot-he was a local said, ‘I can fly out of this; if anybody wants to come with me, I’ve got three seats.” hopped in, and we were tossed around in the air like a piece of paper. It was just amazing the force of nature There was absolutely no doubt that we were going to be dying. We ended up making an emergency landing in a village of hammock-makers, and these people were so wonderful. They were natives who did the best they could to take care of us until the next day, when we were rescued.”

Stormin' Home (1986) Gil Gerard Lisa Blount Original TV Promo Photo
Stormin’ Home (1986) Gil Gerard Lisa Blount Original TV Promo Photo

“My other horror story of a horror film was working for John Carpenter on Prince of Darkness (1987),” she continues, referring to the director’s underrated horror effort which restated the old Good vs Evil theme in science-fiction jargon. “I jump through a mirror and save the world from the Devil at the end of the movie. Well, the way it was shot was in a swimming pool, covered with a piece of plexiglass, and the camera was looking straight down as I was reaching toward safety. This involved learning to scuba dive. Since it was only the bottom of a pool, nobody saw much need to give me much instruction, so in the shallow end ! learned how to breathe, and they weighted me down with 40 pounds so I would not float. It was all done with light cues, because they put ink in the water, so it was dark down there. They would flash a light; I would take away my equipment, do my scream, blow all the air out of my lungs, then pick up the diving mask and walk out. What they failed to tell me is you should always blow into your mask before inhaling, because water goes into the air line. So I inhaled water straight into my lungs. I couldn’t float to the top, because it was covered with plexiglass. There was a diver down there, and he came to guide me to the shallow end. I couldn’t tell him I was drowning, because it was pitch black. He was walking me slowly out

of the pool, while I was fighting the urge to inhale. The only thing I could do was kick him as hard as I could to get him out of my way so I could scramble out on my own. I puked and coughed water for days. And in the movie the shot is just four seconds of nothing particularly outstanding, and you just go, ‘Well, I guess it was worth it.’ Nowadays, when I see good stunt work, boy, do I appreciate it!”

Along with Catherine Mary Stewart, Blount was one of the acting ensemble playing passengers aboard Nightflyers (1987), a sort of “PSYCHO in a Spaceship” story, with a visual look inspired by ALIEN. The script was based on the excellent novella by George R. R. Martin, but the $3.5-million film didn’t do justice to its source. “That was fun,” says Blount. “It wasn’t a great movie, but I thought it ended up looking good. My problem was it was just a formula script; the actors did everything they could with it, but you just need a good script.”

If drowning and asphyxiation were her other film horrors, in this case the treachery of portraying an airless zero gravity environment proved to be the greatest difficulty. “Flying hurts a lot,” she says. “You’re rigged up forever, and they can’t let you down, so you get little welts. I mean like, ‘It’s bleeding-now can I come down?’ They had us in these space suits with the bubblehead and tubes. Well, whoever built these things forgot we actually had to live in them. The tube was solid, so the only way you could breathe was to lift up the visor, grab some air, then flip it down. So you do your scene and hope you don’t faint before you get your dialogue out, then lift it up to breathe again. So it was not the best way to work.”

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Blount’s filmography runs the gamut from box office blockbuster to cult flick. One of the more obscure examples of the latter is Femme Fatale (1991). “I got to play the most wonderful character,” she enthuses, “a lesbian bad filmmaker who considered herself quite the artist. It’s a great cast: Billy Zane is brilliant in it, and Lisa Zane is great. She had to play this character with eight different multiple personalities, and I was her jealous lover. I was chasing her down, trying to still make bad movies, and clobbering the wrong people. It was a hilarious black comedy with a real kind of gruesome edge to it. That was really the take we ended up going with in the whole movie, and it was a good thing. Done any other way it just would have been too stupid, but when everybody doing the movie is in on the joke, you could get it, with your tongue in your cheek. So that’s the way we did it, and it was so much fun. I was there for a number of screenings for the sci-fi community, and people went nuts over this thing.”

Don Murray and Lisa Blount in Sons and Daughters (1991)
Don Murray and Lisa Blount in Sons and Daughters (1991)

In an episode of HBO’s THE HITCHHIKER (Deadly Nightmares, One Last Prayer) series, Blount played a rock singer with a split personality. “She was in touch with who she really was, and she had this rock-n-roll persona. At one point, she divides and becomes in the physical world two people, so we got to do some of that split-screen stuff, where I yell at myself a lot. I was really disappointed in my performance, because I’d never done it before, and it was very difficult to get the timing right. People have done that in movies very often, and boy I’m really amazed when I see somebody do that well, because I tried it and it’s harder than it looks. There are no special courses in split-screen acting, but there should be.”

Blount’s favorite work is not in a horror movie but in the Hallmark Hall of Fame television production,  An American Story (TV Movie 1992). “As much as I enjoyed doing the horror stuff, this was an opportunity to really get down to business,” she explains. “For me, it was very serious. Hallmark does wonderful projects, and this was a subject that had never really been done before. It was about a very small Southern community, where the men are trying to re-integrate into the society, post World War II, and their families are trying to deal with it. It’s very multidimensional, and it took a lot of time for me to find the character: 1 worried myself sick over it; I wanted to do the women justice who had actually gone through these experiences. I didn’t have anything to call upon but my own imagination. Everybody involved gave their all, and it was so well received. I got such glowing reviews, like never before. It was just overwhelming. I think I’m most proud of that.”

Blount’s most recent genre performance, in the Castle Rock adaptation of  Needful Things (1993), went almost unseen, due to post-production editing. “Any Stephen King fan would know that Cora Rusk is an integral character in the novel; in the script she was also integral, so I went to Canada and froze my butt off for three months. Cora’s fantasy was Elvis Presley. She goes to the shop and buys a bust of Elvis, comes home and communicates. We did not do any flashbacks to Graceland or anything; it was all done with me in the bed, with Elvis just talking and singing. Then Mr. Gaunt (Max von Sydow) calls, and tells her that he can make Elvis do more than sing. She will do anything for this, so she is given her Devil’s deed and gets what she wants; then she goes crazy. I had a scene with J.P. Walsh that was absolutely wonderful-I was sitting in a bar, having a conversation, completely out of my mind. They gave me all my material on a videocassette: I’m running around in a see-through negligee in the dead of winter with little booties like house slippers, this tacky old coat, Elvis shades, and kind of a Priscilla Presley hairdo from the ’60s.

One Last Prayer
One Last Prayer

“Because there are so many characters, it was a bit overwritten and perhaps a bit overshot—the director’s first cut was over three hours,” Blount continues. “It finally got down to Castle Rock saying to Frazer Heston, ‘You can either cut it down, or we won’t release it.’ He called me up and said he did everything possible to keep Cora in. But when it came time to edit, it was a lot easier to take out Cora , because I had so little contact with the other characters-my work was with Elvis in bed. I was very disappointed. There is certainly no blame to be put on anybody, but it hurt, because you like to have your work seen.”

More recently, Blount played the murder victim in a horrific true life story, a television movie called Murder Between Friends (1994). “It was interesting because I have never come across anything like this after all these years of acting,” she recounts. “The filmmakers had in their possession documents from the court. For example, they knew where the murder weapon, a baseball bat, was in the room; they knew there was a bloody handprint on one wall. There were no witnesses to what actually occurred, so the actors had to block out the scene and go through the motions that would have to happen for the bat to end up there and for her to still be alive to crawl over and put the hand print on the wall at this particular place. Going through that was at first sort of technical, but there came a moment that was not so technical for me at all. It was so real to me that this had occurred to a human being.

We were very aware all the way through that these were real people, it was not a fictional situation, and we gave it all due respect. But to be on the floor. crawling-even though the bat was rubber, it still hurts when it hits you—and to have this man towering over me going through the motions of bludgeoning me was one of the most hideous experiences. I just got sick. It was like the line of reality had been crossed.”

Despite her numerous genre appearances, Blount has managed to avoid being typecast as a horror movie scream queen, amassing an impressive number of mainstream credits. After 9/30/55, she worked with Dennis Quaid twice more, in Flesh and Bone (1993), with James Caan and Meg Foster, and in Great Balls of Fire! (1989), the story of Jerry Lee Lewis. (“I played his mother-in-law, which was funny, because he’s a number of years older than I am. This was in fact pretty much the situation in reality.”) She also appeared with Rutger Hauer (BLADE RUNNER) in Blind Fury (1989), a take-off on the well loved Japanese Zatoichi series, about a blind samurai swordsman. The actress played “a cocktail waitress who got hoodwinked and dragged along into this situation. She could not figure out whose side she was on for the longest time, but in the end she goes for the right side. It was fun, and Rutger’s great. That’s a well-made movie, directed by Philip Noyce. I think it’s the only film I think he’s done that wasn’t a huge success.”

Blind Fury (1989)
Blind Fury (1989)

Of her work in the genre, she concludes, “Adventure movies and horror movies—I’ve done a lot of both-turn out to be physically demanding in ways that you don’t realize when you see the final product. You know, I thank God for stunt people. I am athletic, and when I felt it was necessary—when I felt the shot would suffer by allowing the stunt person to do it would do it myself. Those days are long since gone. From now on, I’ll do what I have to, but I’ll give these people work and let them do it. I would not trade those experiences for anything but I would not do it again. Once you get to a certain point in chronological age, as well as having done as many of them as I have, the fun wears off.”

Blount was found dead in her home in Little Rock, Arkansas by her mother on October 27, 2010. The coroner told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Blount appeared to have died two days earlier. No foul play was suspected, according to the Pulaski County coroner.

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Although the coroner did not release an official cause of death, Blount’s mother told RadarOnline.com that her daughter had suffered from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), in which low levels of platelets keep blood from clotting and lead to bleeding and bruising. “I think that might have been part of the problem when she passed away because when I found her she had a purple look on her neck that looked like blood on the surface”.

SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY
1977 September 30, 1955
1979 The Swap
1981 Dead & Buried   Girl on the Beach/Lisa
1982 An Officer and a Gentleman
1984 What Waits Below
1985 Radioactive Dreams
1985 Cut and Run
1985 Cease Fire
1987 Nightflyers
1987 Prince of Darkness
1988 South of Reno
1989 Out Cold
1989 Great Balls of Fire!
1989 Blind Fury
1991 Femme Fatale
1993 Needful Things  Cora Rusk
1994 Stalked Janie
1994 Judicial Consent
1996 Box of Moon Light
1999 If… Dog… Rabbit…
2002 A.K.A. Birdseye Vicky Sharpless
2005 Chrystal    Chrystal
2007 Randy and the Mob

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Imagi-Movies v02n03

3 thoughts on “Lisa Blount: Short Life, Short Career

  1. Wow. When your read a (well-written) retrospective round-up on Lisa . . . you forget how many films of her’s you watched. Even Up from the Depths and Cut and Run!

    Liked by 1 person

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