Felissa Rose is nothing short of an icon in the horror genre. She first appeared at the age of thirteen in the cult classic Sleepaway Camp, in which she played transgendered serial killer Angela. Since then, she has been heavily involved in the genre both in front of and behind the camera. In addition to appearing in films like Zombiegeddon, Evil Ever After, Satan’s Playground and reprising the role of Angela in Return to Sleepaway Camp, Rose has also recently become involved with resurrecting legendary 1980’s film company Carolco Pictures. And of course she is appearing in Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard, in which she gives one of her most layered and intelligent performances to date. We caught up with her to talk about the film, her role and more. Zombie Killers: Elephants Grave Yard hits DVD and Blu-ray today (February 3, 2015)
Wicked Horror: Thanks so much for talking with us. I loved the movie, how did you first get involved with it?
Felissa Rose: I had previously worked with Harrison Smith on a movie called Camp Dread. Which we did a couple of years ago and I was fortunate enough that he had written the part for me, because of the whole Sleepaway Camp tie-in and her being a kind of older scream queen. And he said, “I wrote this script named Zombie Killers, would you take a look at it?” And I said absolutely. When I looked at it, he said I’d get the part of Lia and I almost fell of my chair. I thought, how in the world can I pull that off? Because we’re so different. But then, as an actor, the only thing you really want is a challenge. And we worked hard. We worked very diligently on making that character come alive.
Wicked Horror: What was it about the role and the film in particular that attracted you?
Felissa Rose: You know, I absolutely love Harrison. I love the way he writes. And I loved this particular piece because I felt like it was so character driven. The character of Lia particularly resonated because I knew I’d be playing it. But I knew she’d be rich in her motivation and her aggressiveness. We created a backstory behind all of her preaching. I had never played anything like her. It was extraordinary to find her heart and soul and why she was motivated to do the things that she does. It was a lot. It was definitely the biggest challenge I’ve ever had.
Wicked Horror: Other than backstory, did you have a lot of prep time to prepare for the role?
Felissa Rose: I had a lot of time. I spent a lot of time with Brian Gallagher, who plays Rory, and we developed a history. I got the idea that she was madly in love with Rory, for a very long time. And almost had a nervous breakdown in her heart and her soul and her mind, after being rejected by him. I spoke with another gentleman who had been involved with the church for many years in the past. And I did a lot of thinking on just who she is and what is she doing. I’m a spiritual person, I love life, but I certainly don’t go about my life the same way she does. She’s very angry. But I had to love her and I had to nurture her and embrace her. So we did a lot of church together and he helped me understand why she’s driven the way she is. Hopefully it translates. I know everyone says I’m scary, but I don’t see her like that. I see her like she’s broken and the only place she has control is behind the podium.
Felissa Rose: Oh, it was incredible. We had beautiful landscapes, the Poconos, among these people it was nothing but respect and love. I had worked a lot with the young cast, the zombie killer guys are very good friends of mine. We had done Camp Dread together. So it was a very friendly set. It’s funny that we’re a town that’s dying and overall we’re a group of people who live so big. You call lasts and we go thirty minutes to get to the hotel we’re staying at and it’s like party time. We really worked hard on the set, there was a lot of material, the characters were really drawn out by Harrison and they were a challenge for all of us to sort of go through that craziness of what’s happened. Very little had to do with the zombies, they were a very peripheral part of the story. We were much more focused on “who are these people?”Wicked Horror: Right. And I think there are a lot of standout differences, but what do you think separates this film from all the other zombie movies going on at the moment?
Felissa Rose: I think it was a combination of all of the elements. We’re a very small, isolated group of people. And the arcs we go through. Each character was given such a wealth of story, a journey. It’s very poignant and very dramatic, these people’s interactions with each other. I felt like you saw the thread that sort of opened between them. You become very attached to these people. And we had that Western element, you know? The RVs were like horses, and the aerial shots. Although this is where they live, they can’t seem to get out. I feel like all of Harrison’s stories and characters are really what makes the films so tremendous.
Wicked Horror: There was a long period of time between Sleepaway Camp and your other films. What drew you back to the genre and to acting in particular?
Felissa Rose: Well, you know, I was thirteen when I did Sleepaway Camp, back in eight grade. And then I graduated and I went on to study at NYU. I was in Manhattan so I took advantage of the theatre scene, did a lot of plays. I’m the sort of spirit that goes with the flow, and a really sweet young filmmaker came to me with a short film and wanted me to be the lead character. And I think that was around 2000, I thought it would be neat to come back, and come back with a genre piece. It was another slightly crazy character. I really enjoyed it. And with the Internet, the resurgence of Sleepaway Camp and people reaching out to me, like “Hey, you were that girl!” People can sort of get in touch with you and directors in the genre started asking me to work on their projects. It’s thrilling. It’s a genre I love, it’s a genre I’m comfortable in. There aren’t many people who grew up in horror and I’ve been there for a long time, and I’m grateful and happy for it.
Wicked Horror: In addition to your acting work, you’re also involved with bringing back Carolco Pictures. How did you become a part of that?
Felissa Rose: You know, it’s like they found us. I’m partners in it with Harrison Smith, we’re co-heads of the genre division. I’ve been producing a little bit on the side, I know a couple of people on the board, it’s been a really nice process of getting to know the CEO. Obviously it was a no brainer when they said Maro Cossari was coming back, and he’s heading the high-end division and bigger budgets. You’re gonna make me cry now. I’ve been on like a two week process with Harrison, he’s staying with me and we’ve taken like ten meetings a day for about two weeks, and it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m just processing what a great honor it is to head this department. I just want to make great, amazingly profound, smart, funny, entertaining movies. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do in my life. Our first venture is Adrienne Barbeau’s Love Bites. Harrison adapted that and the script is freaking amazing. It will be in the tone of like American Werewolf in London. We couldn’t be happier. We’re meeting special effects people and directors. We’re just incredibly honored to be a part of this company that I’ve been a fan of my whole life.
Wicked Horror: I know Sleepaway Camp Reunion has been tossed around for awhile. Have you talked to Robert Hiltzik about it recently, or do you know what the status of it is, if there is any?
Felissa Rose: You know, there’s so much communication about it on a pretty regular basis, but the problem is always financing, timing, script, there are so many different elements that have to come together to bring it alive. I think we’ll get there, with Robert’s permission and everyone else involved. We’re waiting for the right time. I feel like it’s The Last of the Mohicans, you know what I mean? It’s sort of the last to have no remake. He’s sort of defensive about that, which I totally understand. We’ll see what happens. It would be cool to see, but only time will tell.
Wicked Horror: Is there anything else in the cards that fans can expect from you in the near future?
Felissa Rose: Well, Harrison and I are doing a movie called Wretched. He wrote this movie about witches and we just landed some amazing talent. We begin filming April 20th. So in the next couple of weeks we’ll run with it. Fortunately he did offer me a role, so I’m excited, but I’m just as excited to produce with him. And it’s going to be fun. We haven’t seen a terrific witch movie and this is an outstanding script. And then he’s going on to do the sequel to Zombie Killers in June, and then we begin Love Bites in September.
Wicked Horror: Sounds fantastic.
Felissa Rose: It’s a busy, busy year. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wicked Horror: Well, I can’t wait for all of it. Thank you.