“Please God, don’t let me die and have this be my epitaph.”
Film director Barbara Peeters is smiling when she tells me that. I know she’s kidding. But then again, she’s really not. She’s referring to Humanoids from the Deep, her 1980 low-budget sci-fi cult classic starring Doug McClure and Vince Morrow that brought in $3 million at the box office. Google her and, like it or not, it is what she’s “known for.” (Her directing credits include a half-dozen feature films and more than a 100 TV shows.)
Though she is nice enough to humor me, answering questions about Humanoids and the rest of her 46-year Hollywood career, Barbara prefers talking about what’s on her plate now, a documentary , in particular, that could have a profound impact on people’s lives. I can’t fault her priorities.
Burned out on L.A., she and her business partner Josh ZanZera Willow, moved their Silver Foxx Films company up from L.A. in 2008, where they’ve primarily been making commercials for area businesses. (www.silverfoxxfilms.com) I’ve seen some of them. They know their stuff. The work is quality. Barbara’s passion, though, has been the production of a feature-length documentary titled “Inheritance of Rage.” The film, about abused women, imprisoned after killing their abusers, focuses on the trauma suffered by their children. “Their dad’s dead and their mother’s in jail.” All too often, says Barbara, “the girls grow up to be victims like their mommies and the boys grow up to be beaters.” The film is intended to help “break the cycle of rage.”
Barbara is familiar with the subject, having directed the ground-breaking TV episode of the police show Cagney and Lacey on spousal abuse. “In the mid-‘80s when I did that show, one out of every four women were abused. Now it’s one out of every three women. “
Working through the non-profit, Voices Set Free, she’s been drumming up financing while shooting a quarter of the movie. The film will be used as a tool to increase awareness and could find a place on public TV. (To donate, go to www.fromtheheartproductions.com, click on STORE, t hen click on Inheritance of Rage.)
Determined to make movies—and get “as far away from home as possible”—Barbara left her home in Iowa with a degree in theatre at age 20. However, she didn’t know which way to go until after a post-grad summer in Cripple Creek, Colorado.
“I was down at the train station and I flipped a quarter,” she says. “Heads would have been New York City, tails, California.” Tails. Barbara headed West.
As life stories go, her time in Colorado is worth more than an asterisk. When a $150-a-week acting gig in summer theatre fell through, she hired on to run the Gilded Cage Saloon, with its player piano, a hot poker game and characters like “Big Bill, a miner who’d never ridden in a car in his whole life. He had a mule who was his best friend.” Old Bill taught young Barbara how to pan for gold. She done good. Between the gold she collected and her house cut from the poker game, she left town with $12,000 cash—and this was in the early ‘60—enough to pay for a top theatre grad school in Pasadena.
Years later in L.A. while working with a film crew on location, she pitched a script to investors at dinner. “They loved it, thought it was a great story. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. Now I have to write it.” Three weeks later, after delivering the script, Barbara had money and the leverage she needed to get a distribution deal with Roger Corman, Hollywood’s king of the B-Movie. Excited to be directing her first feature film at age 29, Barbara never read the fine print. So when her 1972 film, Bury Me an Angel, about a shotgun-toting biker gal who goes after he brother’s killer, grossed $3 million; she didn’t make a dime. And she didn’t really care.
Barbara went on to work for Corman’s New World Pictures for eight years; it was a good place for people who loved film more than money. “We lived like gypsies, sleeping in the hallways when we couldn’t pay rent, sharing a car among five people. I thought I had the best life in the world. I was making movies. What were the other girls I’d graduated high school doing back in Iowa? They were marrying the boy who had the biggest farm.”
Eight years after Angel, Corman couldn’t get anyone to direct Humanoids from the Deep. “He offered to all the boys, but the boys turned it town. It was a terrible script. So he offered it to me.”
There was only one glitch. Barbara was fighting terminal stage melanoma, and before signing a contract, she needed a medical clearance from the bonding company that insured the film’s completion. To prove she was healthy enough, she put herself through hell, working on another Corman shoot in the rain and cold of the Mendocino coast, in and out of boats and “getting seasick.”
Making Humanoids came with its own set of stresses. Corman’s shop wasn’t union; by then, Barbara was a member of the Directors Guild of America. Though she thought she was safe, filming on location out of town, “the union rep caught me. He said, ‘You have to quit.’ I told him, ‘If I start a movie, I finish a movie, union or non-union.” Her commitment cost her a $15,000 fine, wiping out her take-home pay.
The film found an audience and continues to have a cult following. The plot summary I found at www.imdb.com is all you need to know: Scientific experiments backfire and produce horrific mutations: half-man, half-fish which terrorize a small fishing village by killing the men and raping the women.
The “A lot of people love it,” says Barbara, who clearly isn’t one of them “It’s drek,” she concludes; it’s a Hollywood movie. “I want to do something now that will benefit people.”
Alan “Rosey” Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com or 541-778-8949