Tom Atkins has a résumé relished and enjoyed by generations of horror fans, and recently at Crypticon Minnesota, I had the great honor of speaking with the legendary actor about seeing Halloween for the first time, working with George A. Romero and Jamie Lee Curtis, and much more.

Did you enjoy watching horror and science fiction films in your formative years?

Tom Atkins: I was not a huge horror fan when I was a kid, but I did have one very favorite movie: The Thing from Another World (1951). I was not a teenager yet, and I went with a bunch of pals up to the local Mount Oliver Theater to see it. There were probably ten of us and it just scared the shit out of me. I love that movie, especially when they all widened out on the ice and realized it was a flying saucer. And then when The Thing was dug out of the ice and put into this room, they threw a blanket over the top of it, and there was a guy all by himself with it, in a room, sitting at a desk, and it showed you the water dripping underneath, and you knew something bad was going to come out of that block of ice.

Well, about a week later, it was playing over the hill at Allentown—a neighborhood near where I lived—and nobody wanted to go because they had all seen it, but I wanted to go because I loved it, so I went over the hill. It was an evening movie, so when it started it was light, but when it was over it was going to be dark. And when that ice started melting onto the blanket, I ran all the way home, all by myself. It terrified me, that movie. I just loved it. It was the most delicious kind of fear. That’s the one I loved.

Then I got a little older and saw some Vincent Price movies. I wished I could be him. I thought he was just a wonderful, wonderful actor.

What was it like starring opposite Jamie Lee Curtis in the wake of her success from Halloween? Were you a fan of Halloween at the time?

Tom Atkins: I was a fan of Halloween. My wife and I were invited to a screening of Halloween at the Director’s Guild over in Los Angeles and she brought a girlfriend along and they sat on both sides of me. We watched that movie and I loved it, but they were scared to death by that movie and they kept leaning into me with their eyes closed, saying, "Can we look yet? Can we look yet?" And I would say, "Yeah, sure, go ahead, look." And they would look and go, "Oh, you bastard! Oh, God!" It went like that all night long. Adrienne Barbeau was dating John [Carpenter] at the time and when the movie was over, my wife and her friend, Genie, said, "We can’t let Adrienne marry this guy. He’s just too weird to direct these kinds of movies."

But she did marry him and it worked out for awhile and they made a wonderful son, Cody, and I got invited to be with Jamie in The Fog and we had a great time. She was scared to death. She was only 19. I was about 34. She was still nervous, not sure of her legs as an actress, but I thought she did great in The Fog. It was a tougher movie than Halloween because it was a little old fashioned ghost story with not a lot of action and frights and scares for her to react to, but I thought we did a good job with it. I can’t imagine why they made a remake, but they did and I’ve never seen it and have no intention to.

Can you talk a little bit about working with Dario Argento and George A. Romero in their horror film, Two Evil Eyes?

Tom Atkins: I met Dario, but I didn’t have anything to do with the segment he shot. I was in George's and again—we were talking earlier—Adrienne Barbeau and I have been in four films and have never been onscreen together. In any of those four films, we were not co-stars opposite each other. We had absolutely not a moment of screen time together in any of the four films. It is bizarre.

You later went on to work with George again in Bruiser. What was that experience like?

Tom Atkins: I love George and I had worked with him before. I knew him a long time from Pittsburgh before we ever worked together and we were good pals. He's a great director. A big old bear of a director. He knows what he wants and he shoots it.

Oh, I had a wonderful time making it. I just don't think it turned out to be as good a movie as it might have been, and it certainly wasn't George's fault. I had a great time up there shooting it.

We had a wonderful time shooting in this old distillery up there that I don't think has been working since 1870 or something like that. It's a great, great location to shoot in—weird and haunting. We had a big party scene in there where we had to chase the guy with the mask and The Misfits played at the party. They were great.

You stay very busy in the world of theatre, and I understand you recently had a great time playing the stage manager in Our Town.

Tom Atkins: I love Our Town. It's a wonderful role. I could do that forever. It's a great role for me and I love storytelling. That's what the guy is, narrating your way through this family's troubles and joys in a little town a long time ago; a Thornton Wilder play. It's just great. A lot of people ask me—because I'm an old theater actor—"when are you going to do Lear?" To me, the stage manager in Our Town was my Lear. I don't care if I ever do Lear. I'm satisfied doing that.

  • Derek Anderson
    About the Author - Derek Anderson

    Raised on a steady diet of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Derek has been fascinated with fear since he first saw ForeverWare being used on an episode of Eerie, Indiana.

    When he’s not writing about horror as the Senior News Reporter for Daily Dead, Derek can be found daydreaming about the Santa Carla Boardwalk from The Lost Boys or reading Stephen King and Brian Keene novels.