Barrington actor credits dad, Halloween for horror career
The upscale community of Barrington doesn't exactly come to mind as a spawning ground for sociopathic killers, flesh-eating zombies and characters with names such as Quilt Face and Chop-Top.
Actor Bill Moseley has been all those things while becoming a bona fide horror film icon.
'They're coming to get you, Barbara!'Barrington and Barrington Hills native Bill Moseley likes to make the most of his horror film roles, no matter if they're supports or leads.
Take his character Johnnie in the 1990 remake of the classic zombie movie "Night of the Living Dead." He gets his skull crushed on a gravestone while trying to protect his sister Barbara from an undead cannibal. (Actually, a stunt dummy was used for the head-crushing part.)
"I studied Boris Karloff's voice so I could do the line," he says, falling into Karloff's scary delivery, "'They're coming to get you, Barbara!'"
Later in the story, Johnnie appears for a brief moment, but it's actually Moseley's stunt dummy.
"They didn't have budget for me to come back for a second time," Moseley said. "So the only time you see Johnnie again in 'Night of the Living Dead' is when they throw my dummy in the back of a pickup truck under a canvas. They pull it back and there's the dummy! So at least the dummy got some love."
Three of the Barrington native's terror tales have just been released on DVD: "Rogue River," "Exit Humanity" and "The Tortured." (Do we even need to go into the plots? Seriously?)
He has played in the trifecta of horror sequels and remakes: as the dreaded Chop-Top in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," the ill-fated Johnny in Tom Savini's remake of "Night of the Living Dead," and a Deadite captain in "Army of Darkness," the last segment in the "Evil Dead" trilogy.
And, he stars in the 3-D remake of Tobe Hooper's 1975 horror classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," scheduled for release in 2013.
"It never really occurred to me this was possibly a career," Moseley told us from his Los Angeles home. "I come from a line of railroad men. My great-grandfather was a surveyor for the Burlington Railroad.
"My grandfather and dad worked at General American Transportation Corp. in Chicago, a company that made tank cars and freight cars. We had a pragmatic, Republican, manufacturing, Illinois consciousness as far as employment went."
What happened? How did a regular kid from the Northwest suburbs wind up as a horror movie icon?
For the answer, we'll have to travel back to the mid-1950s when Spencer and Virginia Moseley moved their family from Connecticut to Barrington while waiting for their custom-made home to be constructed on County Line Road in Barrington Hills.
We'll let Moseley take it from here:
"I came from a Halloween-friendly home. My dad, Spencer, was a U.S. Marine captain. But when it came to Halloween, my dad had a soft spot. He would take his three sons and friends on escapades on Halloween night.
"We did the usual trick-or-treating, but he would arrange for friends to dress up as ghosts and haunt abandoned barns. We would turn in with the car and he would have the boys get out and go into the barn. He'd say, 'I dare you to do it!' And we'd be scared out of our wits."
Wait. There's more.
"He'd take us to the Barrington Cemetery and he'd have us make grave rubbings. But he arranged with the cops to dispatch a cruiser to quietly come in, then turn on the lights catching us and preparing to arrest us. I was terrified when that happened!"
Wait. There's still more.
Dad brought his sons to the remote home of a pair of hermits, who used kerosene lamps for lighting. Dad ordered his sons to grab something on their front porch and bring it back. "To be men in Dad's eyes, we had to accomplish this task," Moseley said. "I don't think they had a phone, so they couldn't call the police."
OK, so it's safe to say that Dad's Halloween quirks not-so-subtley influenced young Bill's interest in the macabre?
"Halloween was an adventure and a bonding," Moseley said. "It was probably the only night I felt the closest to my father, who was a tough guy."
Moseley attended the Countryside School in Barrington Hills and a Connecticut prep school. He graduated from Yale University as an English major in 1974. The following year, he saw the movie that would change his life and scare the bejeebers out of him, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
"That movie really disturbed me," Moseley admitted. "It really affected me. It really changed my view of rural America. It hurt me. I tried in subsequent years to try to get over the movie. I must have seen it a dozen times, hoping that it would become so familiar that it would no longer have a hold on me. Instead, it just pounded it deeper."
Moseley's salvation turned out to be a five-minute parody he made with friends, "The Texas Chainsaw Manicure."
In the comedy short, a woman orders a manicure at a salon, then Leatherface, the chainsaw-wielding psycho from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," shows up to do the job. Moseley played the part of the hitchhiker at the end of the short, which wound up being seen by Hooper. The filmmaker was apparently impressed enough with Moseley's performance that when his 1986 sequel, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," got the green light, he sent Bill a script.
"It was like winning the lotto!" Moseley said.
He landed the role of Plate Head, which had to be changed to Chop-Top for legal reasons. Since then, Bill Moseley has become a regular in Rob Zombie thrillers ("The Devil's Rejects" and "House of 1,000 Corpses"), wracked up supporting roles in TV shows and nonhorror features, plus starred in a twisted musical, "Repo! The Genetic Opera."
Moseley has two more personal productions: his daughter Jane Maude Moseley, 25, a sculptor, and his younger daughter Marian Gillette Moseley, who just graduated eighth grade. (Bill lives with Marian's mother, Lucinda Jenney.)
Talent and intelligence have obviously shaped Moseley's career, but he says his Northwest suburban upbringing helped. "There is a Midwest work ethic," he said. "That is something that has really put me in good stead. I don't think of myself as a movie star. I'm a movie worker. I come from a railroad family. I come from the corn."
But not "The Children of the Corn." Different cast.
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