I'm not one to boast about things, but I have some pretty great friends. One such friend owns Virginia's top haunted attraction; DarkWood Manor Haunted House in the town of Luray, Virginia. This year, one of their special guests was none other than R.A. Mihailoff, best known for his frightening portrayal as the backwoods cannibal Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 3.
Back in October, I received a call from DarkWood's owner, Louis Brown, asking if I would be able to take R.A. to an interview scheduled at the local radio station in Harrisonburg, Va. Of course I enthusiastically obliged. I had the opportunity to spend the weekend hanging out with Leatherface, including grabbing lunch and doing an interview of my own for all of you. Surprisingly, we did NOT eat BBQ.
The interview was recorded, translated over to text format, and can be read below.
Backwoods Beard Co: "Welcome R.A. To start, what would you say led you down the path to becoming an actor?"
R.A.: "It just seems like something I always wanted to do, but maybe my childhood set me up for it. Because when I was a kid, I was fortunate enough that my father made a good living as a steelworker and my parents would indulge me and buy me costumes. I had costumes for just about every kind of show that was on TV, you know, like little kid dress up costumes. I had buck-skins for Davy Crockett. I had a Zorro cape and sword. I had a helmet and sword for Tales of Robin Hood and the list goes on. I actually had wardrobe and props for just about every movie. I even had one of those little hobby horses, so when the cowboy shows were on I'd ride along with them. So, maybe that's what set me up, you know."
Backwoods Beard Co: "As you got older and you started having more interest, in theater and things like that, were your parents still supportive of it?"
R.A.: "Yeah. Because, you know, as with other stuff in high school, it was just an extracurricular activity. So, yeah, they were supportive at that point, yes."
Backwoods Beard Co: "You've been doing this for quite some time now and you've got a lot of film credits to your name, but the one that seems to garner the most attention for you was your portrayal of Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 3. What was it like receiving the call to play that character? And was it something that you sought out or was it a role that kind of found you?"
R.A.: "Well, 50/50. In regards to the first part of the question, what was it like receiving the call? Excellent. I knew that a friend of mine had been hired as the director, because I actually read it in the Los Angeles Times. So, I was hoping and I had my fingers crossed that he would call me up for the part. He actually offered it to Gunnar Hansen first, which is right and proper, but Gunnar wasn't able to make a deal with New Line Cinema. So it left the part open. I hung out and still do hang out with a bunch of film geeks out there and our friend who got the job directing (Jeff C. Burr) was at a barbecue with some of those mutual friends when my name got brought up. I was the most logical choice among the group and it just seemed like a natural fit. I got the call and I was thrilled. I mean, come on, I'm a lifelong horror fan and it was everything I wanted."
Backwoods Beard Co: "That story really makes it seem like you were destined for it. Now, when you got this role, obviously being new to this character, you'd be bringing a new portrayal of it. Was there anything that you did to prepare for the role as far as getting into the psyche of the character? Trying to understand what made him tick or why he became this way? Was there anything new that you wanted to bring to it that you hadn't seen brought to that character before? Of course this with all respect to Gunnar Hansen and Bill Johnson's portrayals of Leatherface previously."
R.A.: "Well, to start, I had to prepare physically. I'm left handed and the other boys were right handed. They couldn't just switch over to a left hand chainsaw because that would just ruin everything as far as continuity goes. I had to practice running the chainsaw right handed. That summer before I started work on the film I was working construction and I started using my skilsaw and everything right handed just to get used to it. As far as delving into the psychology, I didn't really go into it too deeply. I'd seen both prior Texas Chainsaw movies. I knew about Ed Gein. I'm a big believer that if it isn't on the page it isn't on the stage. I trust the writer and I trust the director. The words in the script are going to set things up and then those guys will help guide my performance."
Backwoods Beard Co: "I know you're saying you didn't feel it necessary to dive into the psyche behind this character, but weren't you at least curious as to why he was this way?"
R.A.: "Ironically, after I finished the movie and thought I was still attached to the series, because I had a contract option for three, four and five; I did want to know. Here I was, waiting for New Line Cinema to come up with another script and put me back to work and it just didn't happen soon enough for me. So, I decided to write a prequel. That is when I really began to think about the "why". Why is Leatherface so big and powerful that he can just snatch a girl off the ground and hang her on a meat hook so easily in one fluid motion? I came up with the idea that he had been a professional wrestler and let me say, we could sit here for an hour and a half and talk about the whole plot, but suffice it to say he's a professional wrestler who is supposed to drop the belt to the Russian heel and he refuses to do it. He costs the promoter a lot of money, so the promoter has his goons take him out for a one way ride and they leave him for dead in a canal. But he survives and he finds the Chainsaw family or rather the Chainsaw family finds him and it goes on from there."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Ya know, that's interestingly cool, because we kind of talked when we hung out the other day about your stint and experience, albeit short lived, with professional wrestling. Do you want to touch on that a little bit on how you got involved in that and was this before or after Texas Chainsaw 3?"
R.A.: "I went backwards. My wrestling career began well after I did the Texas Chainsaw 3. It wasn't the first time I had flirted with it. I bumped up against it for many years. You know, when I was 23 years old I met the great Kabuki at a bar in Toledo and he offered to help me get in the business. But I was working on the railroad in Pennsylvania and I couldn't figure out how to square making the big money on the railroad and going to Ohio to train, so I let that opportunity pass. Fast forward 10 or 15 years and I was working at Universal Studios doing a live action stunt show and they brought in a bunch of WWE wrestlers (WWF at the time). They brought in Big John Stud, Hillbilly Jim, Chico Santana and Wendy Richter. So I made a bee-line for their trailer and I was hanging out with them and bumped into Lou Albano. I said, Hey, Captain Lou, if a fella wants to get in this Wrasslin' business what's he gotta do. The first thing he asked me was how old I was. I was 33 at the time. He goes well, that's not too old. Did you meet Red Bastien? And I said, no, I did not. He says well, he's the West Coast representative of Titan sports, which is the parent company for WWF (now WWE). He gave me Red's card and told me that he ran a training school in Los Angeles. So I gave Red a call about training at his wrestling school with the belief that if I did his eight week training course and spent the money, which was $2500 for eight weeks; a substantial amount of money at that time, that it would grease the shoot into the big time. It, however, did not. I didn't know any better at the time, but I was very disappointed when I found out that I would have to go to some kind of minor league to get seasoned. I was making too much money doing the live action stunt show at Universal. I'd already invested many years into an acting career. I just could not start over at the bottom of another profession. So I passed up that opportunity. You know, maybe in retrospect, I was wrong, because even Kurt Angle had to go to Ohio Valley for two years and he was an Olympic gold medal wrestler. He still had to train and work the Ohio Valley circuit for a couple of years just to get seasoned because it's a lot different."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Lets go back to Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a minute. How long after the film before you really started noticing, hey there's a cult following here; that there's a big fan base attached to that character and now you're on the receiving end of it? How long before you're getting requests for other movies, requests to appear at conventions, haunted attractions, that kind of thing? If you could put a timeline to it?"
R.A.: "Well,at the time of that movie there wasn't a whole lot of conventions and then, to my knowledge, I didn't even know about the haunted house industry. Fangoria magazine used to host two shows a year: one in New York and one in Los Angeles. I became a marquee guest at those Fangoria conventions, but it wasn't like it is today. It was just like going down and hanging out with your peers. Then, probably two or three years after I did the movie, I got a call from a place in Massachusetts called Spooky World and they invited me. They offered to fly me out and they would pay me. All I had to do was sign autographs. To me it was unbelievable."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Do you ever get burnt out? Does it ever get stale or too repetitive or does that passion still burn bright?"
R.A.: "I absolutely love it. Do I get tired? Yes. Late nights and long drives can wear me down. But no, I really do love it. Let me put it to you this way-- if Halloween lasted 10 months out of the year I'd be the happiest guy in the world."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Well another thing too is that you grew up as a fan of horror and now you're on the same playing stage; the same one as these guys that you've admired. How was it for you that you're getting compared and held to the same esteem as those guys?"
R.A.: "Its excellent and I love it. I've looked at those characters: Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface and Pinhead and I've actually compared them to the classic Universal Monsters: Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Dracula, etc. so to be a part of that, I guess its like being a part of the next generation or the next wave of iconic movie monsters. It's fantastic as an actor, but also as a fan."
Backwoods Beard Co: "From a fan standpoint on my end too, I've had exactly the same comparison to them being the Universal Monsters of my generation. I grew up with Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, and Myers so I definitely agree with you on that. Is there any standout of that group that is on your list that you'd like to portray that you haven't checked off yet?"
R.A.: "Well, one that got away from me and I was kind of bitter about it at the time, but I was under very serious consideration for Jason in Friday the 13th: Part Six. They had hired a guy and taken him to Atlanta where they worked with him for two weeks before deciding that they didn't like what he was doing for whatever reason and they wanted to replace him. So, I got a call from a stuntman friend of mine telling me that he had mentioned me to the producer. And I got called in and went through several interviews. It got narrowed down to me and another guy, and they chose the other guy. So that that was like a machete to the gut, you know? And ironically the original actor they fired is now one of the biggest stunt coordinators in the business. But so that one got away. I mean, I would have loved to play Leatherface again, especially in the 2013 3D. I was the perfect chronological age for the role."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Were there discussions for you to do future Texas Chainsaw Massacre films?"
R.A.: "Well, what happened was, New Line Cinema, the company I worked for, had licensed the title and characters for three movies. Texas Chainsaw 3 we of course filmed and then there was Roman Numeral IV and Roman Numeral V to be done in the future. They signed me to a contract to do III with the option to do IV and V. Well, somewhere along the line, New Line decided that they were no longer interested in the franchise, so they let the rights revert back to the owners. And my contract option? Let me put it this way: Charmin toilet paper holds more value than the paper my contract was written on. (laughs)."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Well, I'd have loved to see what you did with those films."
R.A.: "Me too, but you know, that's just the way it goes sometimes."
Backwoods Beard Co: "We were talking about Jason and of course, Mr. Kane Hodder has had an iconic career in that role. You guys are actually close friends. Do you want to kind of touch on how that started? Or how you initially met?"
R.A.: "Yes, we're very good friends. How it began was that he was the stunt coordinator for Texas Chainsaw 3. He and I hit it off right from the beginning, because we have a similar sense of humor. We like to joke around and have fun. Over the years, we've just done so many projects together. We've done, I don't know, maybe five or six movies together and then, you know, we hit the the convention circuit a lot. Over those years we've developed quite a good friendship."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Do you guys still operate your Paranormal Investigation group together?"
R.A.: "Yes, we still have our group, Hollywood Ghost Hunters. We're still angling for our own show. It's an amazing mystery to me why we don't have one."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Is there any particular movie that stands out from a fan perspective that had an impact on you; whether that led you into wanting to be an actor or just stood out in the horror genre itself?"
R.A.: "Well, sure. I'll start with "Night of the Living Dead". As that movie played and the plague started to widen, they got close to my backyard, so that had a big impact on me.I was fairly young when that movie came out and I, let alone anyone else had ever seen anything like it. So that had a huge impact on me. The next one of course would be the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". I saw that in the theater and again, it was groundbreaking and something no one had ever seen before. I just walked out of there going, wow, what did I just watch?!?"
Backwoods Beard Co: "You have a great frame for playing these badass, menacing killers or characters in these horror movies? I mean, for our readers who may have never met you, you're a big dude. Do you ever have an issue with being typecast? Are there certain roles that you would like to portray, that you really haven't landed yet, because of the roles you're typically cast in crippling that effort?"
R.A.: "No, I don't have an issue with that at all, because I'm doing what I love. Another thing too, if I was interested in playing doctors and lawyers and such, I'd shave my beard, get a haircut, and wear a suit. I joke about that sometimes; that I will change my image and I'll become "Eurotrash" wearing Armani suits and smoking my cigarettes backwards. Not gonna happen!"
Backwoods Beard Co: "A lot of people don't know that you've actually had a pretty long career doing commercial work. You've done a lot of television commercials and I believe, correct me if I'm wrong here, an episode of Full House."
R.A.: "I have and I was, yes. I did an episode of Full House and see, now here's where typecasting pays off. Because I used to, on occasion, would ride motorcycles with John Stamos. I had been to his house and stuff like that and when the baby shower episode came out, and the plot line was that he was going to crash the party with his biker buddies, I was like, one of the first hogs at the trough for that. That worked out great!"
Backwoods Beard Co: "So you're not just a horror guy after all!"
R.A.: "No, no, I've been in some comedies. I was in a movie called "License to Drive" with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman."
Backwoods Beard Co: "You've had a beard now for such a long time; sometimes longer and sometimes a bit shorter, but always some form of a beard. I know we talked the other day that you're really old school when it comes to not using any products like beard oil or beard balm. Are there any other staples that you use to maintain it or things that you incorporate into a beard care regimen? Or do you just let it grow?"
R.A.: "I just let it grow. I'll let it grow sometimes and see how long I can get it. Then I'll get frustrated because it won't grow as long as I want it to as fast as I want it to, so I'll trim it down. That's my one concession. Sometimes I want to be taken seriously as a businessman, so I'll trim it up tight and neat."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Do you think that your beard has attributed itself to landing some of these roles?"
R.A.: "Yes, of course. It has definitely worked in my favor. If I completely shave my beard I've got a pie face and this makes me look a little bit more rugged."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Lastly, let's talk about current or upcoming projects. What do you want your fans to keep their eyes open for?"
R.A.: "One thing and especially since it relates to how we met, the convention circuit and the haunted house circuit, I'm as active in that as I can be, especially during Halloween season. So I may show up in a town near you anytime. As far as upcoming projects, we just premiered my latest movie a month ago at the Hot Springs Horror Film Festival. It is called "Ride Hard, Live Free" and it is a for lack of better description, a post-apocalyptic biker movie. However, it is important to note that it is nothing like Mad Max/Road Warrior. It's more focused on a couple of bike clubs in the future. There's been some kind of society meltdown and our group of bikers are living out in the Nevada free zone fighting to see who will be the dominant club in that area."
Backwoods Beard Co: "I know that some people hear post-apocalyptic and of course, now, with The Walking Dead on TV, they think zombies. There's no zombies, correct?"
R.A.: "Correct, no zombies. It's not even strictly horror. I mean, there is a lot of people being killed and stuff like that, but I wouldn't classify it as a horror movie. I actually kill one of my own brothers in the film. I have to. We're in the free zone ans we're cut off from the rest of the country. We don't have guns. We don't have good medical supplies or anything. He's been stabbed in the gut, its really bad and there's not a damn thing we can do for him. There's not going to be an ambulance. It really is a mercy kill. I pull my knife and I place it on his chest. And he actually puts his hands on my hands and helps push, so yeah, its a mercy kill."
Backwoods Beard Co: "Preparing for that movie, you worked with a lot of outlaw motorcycle clubs?"
R.A.: "Well, we use real outlaw motorcycle clubs in the movie and we actually wore the cuts of a club. Here is a little side story on that. It was my manager that put the deal together. Now when the manager is putting a deal together, the actor does not talk to the the production people, the director, or the producer. That's all done by the manager. So she finally makes a deal, but while she was negotiating everything she calls me up with an update telling me that the director is a really nice guy who lives in Las Vegas. I knew we were going to shoot in Nevada, so ok, cool. Everything gets done and she sends me the script. I'm reading through it and get to page 17. "Interior Skoners Motorcycle Club-club house,night". Now, I knew somebody that was a Skoner, but I didn't know a lot about the club. I knew they had a big presence in Nevada. So I'm thinking to myself and I had a vision of this director ( who I hadn't spoken to yet) cruising the Las Vegas Strip, seeing a bunch of Skoners outside of a bar, having a conversation with his wife to the tune of, "Honey, honey, pull over and let me take a picture of those emblems. They'd look really neat in my movie!"
Then I'd sign on to this movie and we'd be out filming in some remote location in the desert and 25 or 30 Skoners would roll in and teach us the facts of life. So I called the manager and said hey, does this guy know that they're using a real Motorcycle Club's colors? Turns out the executive producer was a member of another Motorcycle Club and had worked it out. So it was all cool."
Backwoods Beard Co: "I really do appreciate you taking the time to do this interview for the Backwoods Beard Company "Beard and Brew" blog!"
R.A.: "You bet, Brother. Thank you!"
I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Woodstock Brewhouse, a local craft brewery located in historic, downtown Woodstock, Virginia.They were kind enough to share some insight into their brewing process, brewing history, and passion for great beer.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: How’d you get started with brewing? Did you homebrew?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Everyone either knows someone, or was someone that attempted to make beer in college and had it go terribly wrong, I was that someone. Years later my Brother in Law gave me a 5 Gallon home brew kit as a gift and this time I followed the instructions. The brew came out very tasty and my interest in brewing was rekindled. Over time I made the transition from extract brewing to all grain brewing and then from bottling to Kegging my own brews. When you transition to all grain brewing the world opens up to you as far as flavor and tastes that you can control.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: What were your inspirations to brew and the driving force to take it to the level of opening up your own brewery? Were there any obstacles and if so, can you provide a little insight on what they were?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: My original inspiration to try brewing was just to see if I could successfully make a drinkable clone brew of a beer that I liked. Once I knew that I could do that, my inspiration shifted to creating different recipes and trying different things to explore a more creative side (creative being different styles of beer) of brewing. A brewer has a tremendous amount of control in the beer making process from hop and barley usage to alcohol content and exploring those options is part of the fun of home brewing. I always thought owning a brewhouse would be fun, but I wanted the location to be special. I also thought working with larger more automated equipment would make it easier to brew (not necessarily true). So what the driving force was to open the brewhouse really came down to I thought it would be fun. As far as obstacles, the only challenge was finding the right location.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of brewing?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Brewing is a simple process with about a million things that can go wrong. In the simplest breakdown, brewing is creating a sweet water (wort) with high sugar content, then introducing hops to offset the sweet taste. Then you introduce Yeast that converts the sugars into alcohol and you have beer.
But every step in the process has challenges to keep your product consistent. The most critical factor in making beer is to keep everything sanitary. When you brew you are creating an excellent environment for the propagation of yeast, but that same nutrient rich environment is perfect for other bacteria to reproduce in and those other bacteria would ruin your beer or give it a taste that you were not trying to create.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: What made you choose Woodstock, VA as your grounds of operation?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: I live in Woodstock Virginia, the ability to stumble home was a significant criteria.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Name your favorite beer that Woodstock Brewhouse makes right now?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Oh, that’s an unfair question as I am responsible for making all of the beers. I will say quite honestly that the beer I drink depends on my mood and I don’t always drink the same beer. Somedays I want a malty smooth tasting beer and will have the Tipsy Squirrel nut brown ale, but other days I want the hoppy goodness from the Beckford Parish Extra Pale Ale, or the Crow’s Provender IPA. Warm summer days sitting out front of the Brewhouse might call for the Brite Blonde or Seven Bender Pale Ale. As winter sets in I enjoy having a darker Tower Stout. So I don’t know that I have an actual favorite, but I will say the beer that I am the most proud of is the Crow’s Provender IPA. I think our IPA has a great balance of hops, alcohol content, and malty smoothness that make it very drinkable and enjoyable.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Favorite competitor beer?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Again they are all good at different times for different reasons, but Flying Mouse has an IPA that I really enjoy, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager is wonderful, Sunken City has a Dam Lager that is very crisp and pleasant, Brothers Brewery makes wonderful beer, as does Three Notch’d and Heavy Seas, basically I can just run down the list of brewhouses and say great things about everything they are doing and I will apologize right now for not listing all of them.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: What is your best seller? Why do you think people gravitate to that beer more than another?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Our best seller is probably the Brite Blonde, as it is the least bitter and most basic ale we have and that seems to appeal to the largest audience. But our IPA is very popular with the Brewhouse crowd.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: What goes into naming a beer?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: For me, naming a beer is a challenge as I would really like to have the names represent our area and community. I like to have some interesting history or back story to go with the name if I can and I always appreciate some humor in the naming process.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: When will you be adding the Ginger Beard Ale to the menu? Ok, ok, we just made that one up, but hey, it could work ;)
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: I like the name, it fits into my naming concepts, we would just need to make it more local and then I would have to work on a ginger beer recipe …
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: What is the worst name for a beer that you've come up with and never used?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Ha, no comment.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Have you ever dealt with a bad batch? If so, what is the process when something like that occurs?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Thus far we have only had a couple batches that we had to dump, one wasn’t necessarily bad tasting, but the temperature ran away during our mash and the alcohol content was too low (4.0%) so I just let it down the drain. The most important part of the process is the post analysis and figuring out what happened to make it go south so you don’t have it happen again.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: What were your goals within the community, i.e., what mission did you have when you started this journey? Have you accomplished that yet?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: From the start we wanted to provide our community with a warm and inviting atmosphere that could be used for medium sized gatherings as well. We didn’t want to open a bar, but wanted it to feel more of a tasting room and we wanted to provide some food options that didn’t compete with the other venues in our area. Basically we wanted to integrate into the community, not fight with them. The other thing we wanted to accomplish was to do the building proud in our renovations. Our building was constructed in 1926 and is a grand structure with a great openness and feel to it. It is a place that people enjoy coming to.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Are you looking to expand?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: You never say no to the concept of expansion, but as we have only been open since July this year it would be nice to not think too hard about the effort to expand just yet. We have been considering offering a comfortable barber chair where people could come in, relax, have a beer and get their beard oiled and groomed while they had an ale.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Tell us a little bit about the atmosphere of the Woodstock Brewhouse? About your patrons?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: Oh man, we love our space. We renovated an old factory, trying to bring it back to as close to its original days as possible. And you can definitely feel the warmth of a decades old building. Its industrial but still inviting. Its noisy, but we like that. As for our patrons, we get a real mixed bag which we like. We have our regulars, but are always seeing new faces, lots of folks just passing through out little town.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Can you offer a bit of advice to aspiring business owners or entrepreneurs?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: The best advice I can offer aspiring business owners is don’t be afraid to do it. Everyone has had the “you know what this town needs …”, or the “I wish someone would make a …” conversation in their life, it takes very little to go from that conversation to opening or starting a business. The most important factor is the belief in yourself to accomplish it and the realistic aspirations of what you are trying to do. For example, I thought it would be fun to open a brewhouse, our community didn’t have one, yes there was investment capital that had to be found and yes we had to find the right building to make it happen, but I never let the challenges beat down the desire. It would have been easy to become intimidated, I mean none of us had ever opened a brewhouse, but we never saw a down side to the project. I mean honestly our worst case scenario is that we have another place to drink beer …
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: We're a beard care company so we have to ask....for the beard or against the beard?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: I love beards, definitely for them in all shapes and sizes, sadly, I am one of those guys who can’t grow a beard so every November I am forced to sit on the sidelines and cheer.
BACKWOODS BEARD CO: Finally, any news, upcoming events, or anything extra you'd like to add?
WOODSTOCK BREW HOUSE: We are ordering holiday glasses for December and will be hosting a couple “Steal the Glass” nights for customers. Follow us on the usual social media to find out the details, we are also looking for that Barber chair …
Thanks again to Woodstock Brewhouse for the the insightful interview, being beard friendly, and for bringing great craft beer to our local area.
Check them out at:
and grab a beer at:
123 E. Court Street
Woodstock, VA 22664
I had the opportunity to sit down with Master of Horror and owner of Virginia's number one haunted attraction, Louis Brown. Louis owns DarkWood Manor Haunted House in Luray, Virginia and gave us a little insight on what's involved in running a successful haunt.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Louis how long have you been in the haunted attraction business and what led you on the journey to begin with?
Louis Brown: This will be my official 15th year of haunting. I've always been into Halloween since I was a kid. I remember, when I was a kid, I was always trying to make props and sets when I didn't really know how to, but that never stopped me. My parents were great cause they pretty much let me have at it even when I wrecked the house in my attempts to create stuff. In college I ended up getting a degree in fine art. I didn't discover haunting until I was in my 30's, but it was the perfect fit for me. It is a genre that allows me to be creative on so many different levels, and I get a high on the visceral responses people have to my work. I get to make people scream, cry and laugh. I may be demented, but for me, as an artist, it doesn't get any better than that.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Tell us about that journey; about the roadblocks and challenges you may have faced? How has DarkWood evolved over the years? How does it compare to the beginning?
Louis Brown: All I can say is that I'm glad there aren't a lot of photos of the first year of DarkWood. The concept was there and the originality was there, but my skill set and budget was not. However, I got a lot of positive response, cause no one in this area had ever done anything like it in a haunted house before. I tried creating realistic sets and I tried to tell a story. So, my biggest hurdles were budget and the learning curve. I just threw myself into the learning side of things. I read everything I could find and watched every video on prop building, lighting, animatronics, pneumatics and haunt acting. DarkWood still doesn't have the budget of a large metropolitan based attraction or ones found at theme parks, but I do have enough to make the show more along the lines of my vision.
Backwoods Beard Co.: This is your full time job. On one hand I am sure it feels gratifying knowing that you’ve been able to rely solely on the income you earn each season, especially only being open for patrons during October. Have you ever thought you’ve had enough? Ever considered making it the last season? Or is the passion still as strong as it was when you started?
Louis Brown: At some juncture, sometimes at several, every season I say to myself, "what the hell am I doing? I’m working my ass off over a spook house!", but those thoughts usually pass pretty quickly. When I see all the fun people have at DarkWood, the patrons and the actors, I realize it is worth it. I get to do something I love and give people a great time. How can I stop? The business part of it is no fun for me. I don't like sticking to budgets and making ends meet. I'm a creator. I just want to create, but in order to do that I have to be a business man as well. It is a small sacrifice if you hold it up to the alternative of working for someone else doing stuff that you care less about.
Backwoods Beard Co.: One of the coolest things about DarkWood is that no season is like another. Every year you add or rearrange set pieces, change the story, sculpt new masks, create new characters, and fabricate new props. I’ve noticed a lot of other haunts don’t operate this way and I’d imagine it would be cheaper not to. Why did you decide to use this approach with DarkWood and what would you say is the most challenging aspect?
Louis Brown: The short answer is I'm crazy and a horrible business man. HAHA! No, I started doing this cause I wanted to tell scary stories in a real life environment. It was just an extension of my art. Over time it is what made DarkWood successful. If I was just doing a traditional haunt in the rural Luray, I doubt I would have been able to keep doing it. People can find those all over. The fact we do things different is what motivates people to drive a little farther to see us. The most challenging aspect of doing different themes each year, with all that it entails, is that it takes a lot of my time. I have to solidify what the following year's theme is going to be shortly after DarkWood closes for the year. It takes all that time to get all the new stuff made. And, inevitably, every year there are always great ideas for the show that I have, or that some of the other creative people who help me have, that just have to be tossed aside because we don't have the time or money to get them done. That bugs me a bit, but in the end the show we produce usually turns out pretty spectacular.
Backwoods Beard Co. : What is this year’s theme?
Louis Brown: WIGHT- A Ghost Story. Once again it centers around the DarkWood family. The back story for this year tells how the DarkWoods created a legion of vengeful
ghosts to protect DarkWood Manor, and they chose the location on which to build the manor because it was cursed to keep spirits of the dead trapped there. The patron's window into this is that they are invited to a séance that accidentally awakens all of the ghosts. DarkWood has a main back story that centers around the DarkWood family, and then each year I write a short back story to accompany the theme. Some years have a more detailed story than others. This year has a more detailed one.
Backwoods Beard Co.: What is your favorite part of it all?
Louis Brown: There are a lot of parts I like a lot. I think if I boiled it down it would be the creation of cool characters and the environments for them to inhabit. Of course all the screams that can go along with that can't be beat either!
Backwoods Beard Co.: What makes Luray, Virginia so unique that a haunt such as DarkWood has thrived for so long?
Louis Brown: Even though we are kind of out in the sticks we are centrally located to several larger population areas. Also, Luray is a major tourist destination in October. With the changing of the leaves, Luray Caverns, and sitting on the door step of the Skyline Drive helps us with getting a lot of tourist business. For a lot of people, DarkWood has become a part of their yearly visit to the area.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Have you ever considered running the haunted house year round? Any plans for exploring any other attraction opportunities?
Louis Brown: I think about a year round haunt all the time due to the fact this is a tourist town, and I think a year around attraction would work here. Of course it would have to be geared more toward a general family experience, but I do believe it would work. My reservations about doing it is that it would take even more time, and I wouldn't want to give up what I do with DarkWood. Not to mention I'd have to do more 'business man' type stuff, and I'm not much of one of those. I have been doing some minor consulting with other attractions, and looking at a possible bigger project in DC next year. I'm going to have one of those 'business man' type meetings with the interested parties sometime in November. If things pan out I could be doing some haunting in the big city.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Craziest visitor incident?
Louis Brown: There are a number of those. I guess one of my favorite ones is a lady got her husband to drive her two hours to come see DarkWood. She got about a third of the way through the house and freaked out! She was hysterical. We had to escort her out the exit and she never finished the haunt. People's reactions to DarkWood are so all over the spectrum, and it is very fascinating.
Backwoods Beard Co.: You have some pretty amazing makeup artists working for you. How much do they contribute to the success of operating each night?
Louis Brown: We have, and have had, some really good make-up people at DarkWood over the years. That has always been one of the strong points of the show, and I try to get the best people I can. I want guests to get immersed in the environment of DarkWood, and having the actors look good is an important key to doing that. So, the make-up department is very important to the whole operation.
Backwoods Beard Co.: How about the actors? Any challenges filling all of the roles each year?
Louis Brown: The actors are a major key to DarkWood's success. I try to recruit people who have a passion for playing pretend and scaring people. That isn't always easy to do in a rural area especially with all the other autumn actives going on, but we somehow manage to do it. I don't know how, but we pull it off. I never have all the actors I want, but I usually have all I need to make DarkWood work.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Talk a bit about ScreamFreak and how that idea came to fruition?
Louis Brown: It started out several years ago when Ryan Sligh and I were working on cross-promoting DarkWood and several other Virginia haunts. After that first year the haunt that Ryan worked for closed. Himself, and a few of the other actors from the haunt were looking for some place to act for the following year. That is when we came up with the idea of them doing queue line acting at several different haunts and also use that as an avenue to promote all Virginia haunted attractions. So, we set up the website, SCREAMFREAK.COM that is basically a listing of all Virginia's haunts, Ryan and I worked on a design for the icon character for the website, Mr. ScreamFreak, and Ryan and the other actors did the rest.
It has really grown over the years. The website listings are free to all Virginia attractions, and it now sends a lot of traffic to those attractions’ web sites. Other states have web sites that provide state wide listings, but I doubt any of them are free to list. I think it is a pretty cool achievement.
Backwoods Beard Co.: What some folks may not know is that underneath the beard I’m an artist who loves both illustration and working with my hands. You’re actually the one who taught me how to sculpt, as you’ve done for several other teenagers and young adults who’ve come to you seeking mentorship. What is that experience like? It has to be rewarding to know so many people respect your craft.
Louis Brown: I love showing people how to sculpt and make masks, or any other part of the haunting process. It is a learning experience for me as well. It makes me think about how I approach things, and reinforces the skills I have. Teaching people also brings fresh ideas to the table, and I always encourage that.
Backwoods Beard Co.: How do you feel about haunts that focus on the torture side of fear? There are a lot of questionable things that go on. Do you think they create a bad public perception of the industry?
Louis Brown: I believe consenting adults have the right to offer and take part in any form of entertainment they desire. My concern is that I just wish they wouldn't label these "extreme haunted houses" as haunted houses. They need to be called Torture Houses or Extreme Experience Attractions. The haunted house industry has struggled to build a decent reputation over the years. Now, with more amusement parks and other high-end entertainment facilities getting into the haunting game, our business has a certain legitimacy that has been hard-fought. I just fear that these extreme venues are going to tarnish that quickly, especially if there is an accident and people get hurt.
Backwoods Beard Co.: As a college art major, do you think Art School is necessary to be a successful working artist?
Louis Brown: No, not any more. There are so many ways now to learn the skills you need to have to work in the art field. However, with that said, I wouldn't give up my college education for the world. It has always been my opinion that art is about everything other than art. Most of my art classes were spent talking about religion, politics, history, and personal experience. That kind of personal exposure to other people's opinions and insights is hard to get outside of a college or school setting.
Backwoods Beard Co.: On a side note, what is your favorite beer?
Louis Brown: Well, Guinness Extra Stout is my usual choice. But, when I feel like spending more, I like Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout or their Taddy Porter. And, please don't confuse Samuel Smith with Samuel Adams...big difference.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Favorite comfort food?
Louis Brown: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!
Backwoods Beard Co.: Favorite scary movie?
Louis Brown: That is a hard one. There are several, but I guess Alien for sheer piss-yo-pants scary. The first time watching that movie is a blast! And it still holds up well for being 36 years old. That can't be said about many horror/sci-fi movies.
Backwoods Beard Co.: How do you feel about your beard? How does your wife feel about your beard?
Louis Brown: It's my evil artist beard. It is good for stroking malevolently as I ponder new ways to scare people! MUHAHAHAHA! My wife likes it. Even over the winter when I let it grow out completely she doesn't complain. She does wish I would let her groom it, but I like to trim it myself.
Backwoods Beard Co.: Finally, is there anything you’d like to add about DarkWood Manor? Be sure to let people know where they can come see your horrors and pee their pants.
Louis Brown: This is our 15th year of doing DarkWood and like each year before, it just keeps getting better!
DarkWood Manor is open all the weekends in October, and the first weekend in November. For a complete schedule go to DARKWOODMANOR.NET
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and speak to Charley Hustle: producer, songwriter, artist, and founder of The Hustle Standard. If you've seen the film Southpaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal, you've heard his music. His song "Beast (Southpaw Remix)", co-written and produced with Rob Bailey (FlagNorFail), played during the opening titles of the film and was featured on the film's soundtrack. He was kind enough to share a little of his time to provide great answers to all of my questions. I hope you enjoy the interview below.
Backwoods Beard Co: Who inspires you?
Charley Hustle: It’s always changing. Different people for different times, but right now. Rick Rubin, Elon Musk, Phil Jackson, Vince Gilligan. It’s usually that kind of mix. A producer or musician, a revolutionary, a coach/leader, and a director/writer.
Backwoods Beard Co: What musical influences would you say led you on your path with songwriting and producing?
Charley Hustle: Method Man was the first person I heard that made me think I wanted to do that. Then I just dove in and eventually started studying producers. I just naturally felt like that’s where I belonged – guiding the direction or trying to bring to reality what artists had in their minds or hearts. I really got away from the artist & songwriter thing for a while in my early 20s. Then I kinda got too impatient for the mainstream path and decided that if I wanted to work on dope music I’ll just have to make it and find the artists I want to make it with. That’s how Hustle Standard was born. I’ve always loved writing songs and making the environment those songs should live in. The artist part is sort of byproduct of that. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a visible part of my music, but more than that I just love creating songs that mean something to people.
Backwoods Beard Co: How old were you when you started pursuing music? Did you have anyone trying to tell you it wouldn’t happen and if so, how did you respond to that?
Charley Hustle: I think I was 17 when I made the choice that that was a path I was going to go down. I told myself that I would regret not trying. That’s actually how I got myself through for a long time. It took me from the time I was 17 until I was around 28 before I ever made any livable money from producing and songwriting. And all along the way, whenever I thought about doing something else, I just kept saying, “but you’ll regret it if you stop now”. And yeah, I don’t know if people really tried to discourage me. And I think that’s kind of my point too. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. So much so that I don’t even remember if people told me I wouldn’t make it.
Backwoods Beard Co: Can you talk about any of the struggles you faced during your journey?
Charley Hustle: Like I said, it took about 11 yrs to get to a point where I felt like I could say I made my living from producing and songwriting. I was making an ok living as a recording engineer, and could have made a good living at it if I wasn’t so obsessed with becoming a producer/songwriter, and you’d think that being in the studio every day with songwriters and producers and artists and managers and A&Rs blah blah blah that I’d have the most access to get the chance to do what I really wanted, but it was actually the opposite. They all saw me as the “engineer”. That was something that really fired me up. I would be playing my songs or tracks for a songwriter and then their manager would walk in the room and be feeling what I was playing and then ask who it was, and then when they found out it was me the head stopped bobbing along. That was really weird to me and really pissed me off. So, I just said fuck it, I’ll find a different way to the top of the mountain. It’s really funny because no one I ever worked with had or has anything to do with the success of The Hustle Standard. I’m not in that major label club and I’m totally cool with that.
Backwoods Beard Co: Is there an aspect of the field you enjoy more than the other? Where do you feel the most comfortable?
Charley Hustle: Making tracks, writing songs, and working with musicians & artists on songs. That’s where I feel alive. The creating part is my favorite part. I don’t mind mixing. I absolutely cannot stand editing. I also don’t really enjoy playing live shows. I like making shit. That feeling of making something from absolutely nothing and having that thing be something you love. That’s what I live for.
Backwoods Beard Co: How did you and Rob Bailey connect? You’ve worked together on a few albums now and always put out amazing music. What makes that relationship so successful?
Charley Hustle: Rob & I went to high school together. We met on the basketball team. Been great friends ever since. We’ve always helped each other out with projects whether it was him doing graphics or photos for me or me making music for something he was working on, and every once in awhile we would make songs together. Rob has always been one of my favorite people to work with. I feel like we are very similar in a lot of ways. We both have the same amount of intensity. Mine might be a little more under-the-surface, but we both have big expectations of ourselves and live passion filled lives. We both love working hard and we love getting better at stuff. We also give each other a lot of respect creatively. We never argue about what we’re working on and trust me, we’re extremely honest during the creative process, but early on we knew we had to be able to be honest for us to both feel like we were involved in the final product.
Backwoods Beard Co: You and Rob recently had one of your songs featured in and on the soundtrack for the film Southpaw that starred Jake Gyllenhaal. Tell me a little about that experience.
Charley Hustle: The way we got the placement was everything you want as a creative person. Apparently, Atoine Fuquia is an avid boxer, and he listens to RBHS when he’s in the gym. So, when he made a movie about boxing I guess we were the obvious choice haha.
Backwoods Beard Co: I know that a lot of your work has influenced and motivated me personally. It’s my go to pick me up when I need to focus and get sh*t done. Is there an artist like that for you?
Charley Hustle: Weird artists “hype me up”. The Good, The Bad and The Queen; Elbow; Ray LaMontagne; Bon Iver. For some reason Bon Iver’s soft ass music gets me going. I think I get more out of deeply emotional music than just hard shit. But on the other side I always go to Jay-Z, Kanye, Drake, Tupac, Lil Wayne….I love Hip Hop and sometimes the more ignorant the better hahaha.
Backwoods Beard Co: What’s a typical work day look like for you?
Charley Hustle: This is my optimal workday, but you know, sometimes things don’t fit this exactly. But I started planning my days like this about 2 years ago and I get so much more done working 7-8 hours a day and limiting my emails and social to 2-3 times a day then I did when I just went as hard as I could from sun up to sun down….and now I get to spend time with my wife and take care of other responsibilities too. But this is generally what a good day looks like.
6a – I’m up, shower, meditation
7a – Coffee & reading (time with wife)
8a – Breakfast
9a – Working – Which can range from Writing or Mixing to Editing Video or Even just admin stuff.
12p – Lunch & Emails/Social
1p – Back to Work
6p – Emails/Social
6:30p – Dinner
8p – Make a plan for tomorrow, Do stuff around the house, Maybe get some TV in
10p – in bed, reading, asleep by 11a.
Backwoods Beard Co: Is there an artist on your list that you haven’t worked with yet and would like to?
Charley Hustle: I don’t know, I think I could make a killer Jay-Z album. I would love to do a Tom Petty album. Miley Cyrus, holler at me!!! Hahaha But I also really like making songs for my audience. I’d love to bring more artists into my world, and give people more positive, no-excuses, kill everything music hahaha
Backwoods Beard Co: What advice could you give to someone interested in a career in music? How about to young, creative professionals in general?
Charley Hustle: MUSIC – Make a lot of it, work with a lot of people, and finish shit. Also, the sooner you can figure out who you want to be or where you want to be the better. Hold on to that idea and do EVERYTHING you can do to get it, and don’t play yourself. You can’t predict the future and there’s no way of knowing where something will take you, but eventually you’ll be able to tell when something is going to feed your vision or distract you from it. GENERALLY – Yeah, pretty much the same thing. Also, find a mentor and NEVER stop getting better.
Backwoods Beard Co: What do you like to do for fun outside of music?
Charley Hustle: Carpentry is a new hobby for me. I really enjoy that. Snowboarding has also been a new thing for me that I really enjoy. Basically, I never really had hobbies. I lived in NYC and every minute of my life was about career. Then I bought a house in the mountains and now I’ve started doing other stuff. Other stuff is awesome. But don’t worry, music is where my soul lives.
Backwoods Beard Co: One of the highlights of this blog is interviewing hardworking bearded professionals. You just so happen to fit that category. What does your beard mean to you, if anything? When is the last time you were beardless? How does your wife feel about it?
Charley Hustle: My beard doesn’t really mean anything to me more than my jeans or tee shirt, but I’m really happy to have it. When I was a kid I wanted facial hair so badly. I thought dudes with beards and goatees and chinstraps and all facial hair were awesome. So, I’m really happy I can grow one. From the time I was probably 15 I wore some version of facial hair – even if it was just a couple chin hairs. For a year when I was 18/19 I worked at an Italian restaurant in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and they had a shaving policy. That was the only time I ever didn’t have facial hair. I mean, I’ve shaved here and there, but I don’t think I’ve ever shaved more than once every 6 months. I think the last time I took off the beard was about 2 years ago. My wife LOVES the beard. When we met I was wearing a very short beard; a little more than scruff, and she was like, “you should grow that out!”. So naturally, I obliged, and I’ve never been happier. The marriage has been nice too haha.
Backwoods Beard Co: Your favorite beer?
Charley Hustle: Recently I’ve been loving the Nirvana IPA by Ommegang, but now it’s fall and I’m gonna need to get back into the stouts. The Catskills is such an amazing place for good beer. Honorable mentions: Victory makes some great beers, and I pretty much like everything from Southern Tier and 21st Amendment.
Backwoods Beard Co: Finally, is there any news or upcoming announcements you’d like to discuss or anything you’d like to add?
Charley Hustle: Nope. Thanks for the insightful questions.
Special thanks to Charley Hustle for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and answer these questions. If you'd like to learn more about his work, please check him out at the following links: