Interview with Actor Keith Coogan By Jesse Striewski

Chances are if you grew up in the late ’80s/early ’90s such as myself, you remember actor Keith Coogan. Not only did he appear in numerous commercials (his first acting job was a spot for McDonnald’s), and popular shows on TV at the time such as Knight Rider and Silver Spoons, he was also lucky enough to work alongside two of the most memorable bombshells of their time, Elizabeth Shue in 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting, and Christina Applegate in 1991’s Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. Recently, I was able to sit down and speak with Coogan during a candid phone conversation about these experiences, and so much more.

I instantly wanted to start at the beginning and discuss what it was like making his first movie, a voice role in the 1981 Disney film The Fox and the Hound. He told me; “Yeah, no real huge memories of that! I came from a real big showbiz family with my great-grandfather in Vaudeville, then my grandfather in silent films and television, and my mother was a comedy writer, so they knew it’s a hard way to make an easy living. And I had worked my way up through TV, doing lots of commercials and guest appearances on great shows like CHiPS, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Eight is Enough, Mork & Mindy, and Laverne & Shirley. My mom, or “momager” was the one that took me around, and almost everything with a kid in it I auditioned for. And we got a voiceover job for Disney when I was eight; it was thrilling, but really only like three or four days of work spread over months and months. And they recorded the voices singularly…it wasn’t until Robin Williams was doing Aladdin years later that they decided to bring in whoever he was doing a scene with due to his improv nature.”

He continued; “We started in ’78, and of course the hound was played by Corey Feldman, who I’ve been friends with for decades now. And then Don Bluth left the production and took a lot of animators with him, and they had to shut down before hiring new people to finish the film. And by the time it came out in ’81, I was eleven and had been doing more TV and stuff, so it was kind of an after thought like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s out’ (Laughs). I know how grateful I am to be in a Disney movie, and some say it’s their last classically-animated film before they used computers full-blown on their next production. I think it’s a terrific, sweet film, and I think it made $64 million dollars at the box office, which was a record for them at the time, too.” He added one final thought; “And despite what it says on IMDB, Kurt Russell did NOT record his dialogue wearing Snake Plissken’s jacket (Laughs).”

I also wanted to get into some of those old TV roles he took part of, starting with working with the late Robin Williams on Mork & Mindy; “Oh gosh, working with him, and Jonathan Winters, and of course the anchor holding the show down, Pam Dawber, was so great! And this was actually the last episode to ever air, and they knew they weren’t necessarily going to get picked up for another season, so the set kind of had a dire mood to it. But there was still that spark of creativity there from Williams and Winters, although Jonathan was much more on his own planet (Laughs).”

Of course I had to ask him about Silver Spoons as well; “Rick managed a rock band called Splat, which I was the keyboard player for. And they were going to go on a Star Search kind of thing before their singer got sick, and so Rick had to sing, hence the title of the episode, “Rick Sings.” It was kind of a precursor to future roles I would play, but it was more surfer rather than stoner. I also got to work with Alfonso Ribeiro and Billy Jayne, and it was a welcoming, fun set with the video games and the train, and I think I got about ten feet into the house before three guys came up to me with their satin ’80s jackets (Laughs). And all of the video games on the set had unlimited credits, so you could just walk up and play any one of them! But they didn’t typically have the train out and lying around, so there was probably a ‘no riding the train’ rule!” He went on; “But the audiences on sitcoms used to throw me off. I probably did six or seven more of them, too, including Growing Pains and Just the Ten of Us. And they always were nerve racking in front of a live audience! I remember my entrance I did for the Laverne & Shirley episode I did; I opened the door and just cracked up, so we had to re-shoot it at the end of the night (Laughs).”

And aside from sitcoms, he was also on another favorite ’80s show, the previously-mentioned Knight Rider; “That was amazing! David Hasselhoff was particularity awesome and fun to work with, and I worked with my uncle Don Stroud, who played one of the biker gang members. We shot around southern California, and one of the coolest shots we did was at Mockingbird Square, which was Clock Tower Square at Universal Studios. And the bait shop we filmed in was the diner from Back to the Future. So that was fun to not only get to shoot there, but also ride around in K.I.T.T.!”

As far as his movies go, I asked if he felt Adventures in Babysitting is the one he will always be best remembered for; “It’s entirely subjective to people, but I think for me, it’s a split between that and Don’t Tell Mom...And regarding its 2016 remake, he said; “It was the one-hundredth Disney Channel original movie, and I went to the premiere when it came out, and it was great, lots of fun! The original was stretching the PG-13 and was limited to a certain audience, whereas the G-rated version was more for a younger generation. But it rings a lot of nostalgia bells with some of the little Easter eggs in there. But still, totally different story and tone, but I loved it! And Coogan even explained a little what co-star Elizabeth Shue has been up to recently (despite not having kept in contact with her); “She was involved with a recent article on all the things you ever wanted to know about Adventures in Babysitting answered, and it’s fantastic! They cover everything from the dance scene in the beginning, to the Playboy, to “Babysitter’s Blues.”‘

I also wondered if he had kept in touch with his former Don’t Tell Mom…co-star Christina Applegate, who recently announced a MS diagnosis; “We actually spent some time running in the same circles before shooting the movie, so it was a great pleasure to get to work with her, having already known how talented she was. She’s a total professional, and it’s interesting that both of these films kind of rest these huge budgets on the shoulders of teenagers! But I know that she’s gone through a lot, but she’s a trooper, and just fantastic, and I wish her all the best…sending out good vibes to her. And as far as how close Coogan was in reality to his character Kenny in the film? He tells me; “I was a nerd, a geek, and a “Dexter” as we used to call it in middle and high school (Laughs). So I wasn’t much like my character at all, I didn’t listen to the rock music like Kenny, or the punk music like Mitch in Cousins. But director Stephen Herek was very supportive in helping me find my character. But I loved it, and there was no way I was passing up the role of Kenny.”

One thing often somewhat forgotten about Coogan are his brushes with the action genre, such as the 1991 film Toy Soldiers; “I think they wanted to forget it when it came out (laughs), meaning it did good business, but you know, nothing to write home about. But Louis Gossett, Jr., what a legend, and Denholm Elliot, another legend! I had a great cast to work with, from Sean Astin to Wil Wheaton, and Shawn Phelan who has now passed. There was also Andrew Divoff who is pretty “method,” I don’t think I saw him smile once until we were done shooting (laughs). And the late R. Lee Ermey; at this point I had already done Adventures in Babysitting with Vincent D’Onofrio from Full Metal Jacket, but now I’m working with the Gunnery Sergeant himself, so I was just over the top! But it was an interesting mix-and-match movie…basically Die Hard meets Dead Poets Society (Laughs).”

In more recent times, Coogan even appeared as himself in the 2019 Kevin Smith film Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, and I asked him to briefly tell me about the experience; “Kevin had said something interesting along the lines of, ‘before I started making movies, I watched a lot of movies.’ So he really has a soft spot for nostalgia and for anyone that came before him. And having Chris Hemsworth at the end credits say – as Thor – “The dishes are done man,” I crapped my pants a little when I first saw that! (Laughs).”

While I could continue even further with more from our hour-long conversation, I’ll end things on this note due to time (perhaps I’ll get to the rest in future pieces), but those in the New Jersey area can actually catch Coogan at the Chiller Theatre Expo in Parsippany from the 29th-31st of this month. Regarding this event he stated; “It’s their anniversary for the convention, and it’s going to be a riot and a huge blowout! A lot of great guests, cosplay, and screenings, so it should be amazing!”

Retrospective: 25 Years Since ‘The Frighteners’ First Freaked Moviegoers By Jesse Striewski

The ’90s – especially the mid-to-late ’90s – were a unique time indeed for cinema when it comes to horror films; The Silence of the Lambs paved the waved for more ‘sophisticated’ thrillers in the beginning of the decade, while typical slasher franchises originally led by the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Chucky, were laid dormant to make way for the more realistic meta-horror of the Scream franchise and all its numerous copycats. As a fan of both horror films, and Michael J. Fox since his Back to the Future and Family Ties days, I was eager to see this new intriguing horror flick with him in it (something he had not yet attempted to do), and was at the theater to watch it with friends within its first couple of weeks of release (see original ticket stub photo attached below). What ensued was nearly two full hours of dark, brooding insanity, and big budget, zany chaos.

Before it there were also the more surreal horror flicks that bordered on equal parts fantasy, and silliness. Films such as Leprechaun (1993) and Brainscan (1994) stretched one’s imagination while taking liberties with reality as a whole. When Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners was released on July 19, 1996, it definitely ticked many of the same boxes as said previous films, yet in its own unique way. Author and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee commented on the film; “The Frighteners is one of those films that has gotten a lot of reevaluation over time. It was both a precursor to (film director) Peter Jackson’s mainstream success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the rise of the Weta Digital and the Weta Workshop, the New Zealand (where the film was also filmed) special effects company co-founded by Jackson.”

He continued; “Upon its release in ’96, the scare trailers that followed made little mention of it as a Peter Jackson movie, who was still unknown at the time to most audiences. It was instead marketed as a supernatural comedy by Universal Pictures and Robert Zemeckis, the film’s executive producer. The trailers also struggled to explain what the movie was even about. This most likely led to its brief theatrical run, low box office performance, and eventual second chance on home video.”

Original 1996 ticket stub from the author’s personal collection

The plot is fairly simple; Fox plays Frank Banister, an ex-architect turned ghost hunter who uses the help of a trio of spirits (played brilliantly by John Aston, Chi McBride, and Jim Fyfe) that only he can see to con locals into believing they have an actual haunting. Things start going awry once would-be client Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) mysteriously drops dead (among many others), and his widow Lucy (Trini Alvarado) immediately enlists Frank’s services to solve what happened. Further complicating things for Frank is an aggressive detective (Jeffery Combs) dead set on proving Frank had killed his own wife years before, a newspaper editor (Elizabeth Hawthrone) hell-bent on proving Frank’s a fake, and other spooks like Master Sargent Hiles (played by the late R. Lee Emery in a role which emulates his Full Metal Jacket performance from 1987) disgusted by Frank’s chosen methods.

It turns out that Frank is not the only one with the power to see those from beyond; local patient Patrica Bartlett (Dee Wallace) has been helping her long deceased lover Johnny (Jake Busey) continue his killing spree from beyond the grave for years, and along with a little help from his ghosts and Sheriff (Troy Evans) Frank and Lucy have to put an end to the twosome’s rampage once and for all. In an October 2020 interview, Wallace revealed to me what it was like to play a villain in place of her usual squeaky clean “mom” roles; “Oh God, I had so much fun doing that! I love exploring all of the different sides of me, and the psyche, and I just loved the arc of going from the little victim, to becoming the killer towards the end!”

The Frighteners was far from a runaway hit; grossing just under $30 million on a $26 million dollar budget, it received a lukewarm reception from moviegoers and critics at the time. Though it had the potential to become the Ghostbusters of the ’90s, it was too “out there” for the casual viewer to “get;” too dark for the family friendly crowd, and not gory enough for the usual horror fanatic. Still, a quarter of a century after its release, it remains a stepping stone in Jackson’s flimography, and worth a revisit, whether it’s your first time ever seeing it, or fifth.