He’s No Dummy – Actor Bill Oberst, Jr. Talks ‘Handy Dandy,’ Ray Bradbury, And Bill Moseley’s Beard

It’s always such a joy to talk to Actor Bill Oberst, Jr. You would never know that such a quiet, self-deprecating man lives behind the faces of some of the creepiest deviant characters out there. In his career, he’s portrayed a Nazi war criminal, a determined detective, a pedophilic monster, Abraham Lincoln, a Civil War general, a nihilistic clown, an animated bull, an obsessed prison warden, and Jesus Christ himself. The South Carolina native won an Emmy in the 2011 interactive video, Take This Lollipop, which has since been taken down due to its controversy.

In the twelve years since his first recorded role as General William T. Sherman in the documentary Sherman’s March (2007), Bill has been tagged for 190 film projects, both past and up-and-coming, most of them horror. Here at PopHorror alone, we’ve discussed and/or reviewed his films 3 From Hell (2019 – read our review here), Circus of the Dead (2014 – read our review here), Heir (2015 – read our review here), Monsterland (2016 – read our review here), Ayla (2017), Hunting Grounds (2015 – read our review here), After Hours (2016 – read our review here), Dis (2018 – read our review here), the upcoming film, The Late Shift, and his award-winning portrayal of Ray Bradbury in the theatrical show, Ray Bradbury (Live).

One of the few remaining videos for Take This Lollipop.

 

We were blessed to have the chance to talk with him about his time on Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell set as well as in the upcoming film The Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge (AKA Handy Dandy), both of which also star Bill Moseley. There’s so much to go over and not nearly enough time in the day, but we did manage to put a few mysteries to rest.

PopHorror: Thanks so very much for talking with me tonight!

Bill Oberst, Jr.: It’s my pleasure, Tracy.

PopHorror: Let’s talk about Handy Dandy. Actually, I’m not sure what to call it. It has something like 3 titles, I think.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: (laughs) It was originally called Handy Dandy, and then it became Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge.

Poster artwork for The Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge

PopHorror: Oh, okay! (laughs) Can you tell us what the movie is about?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Well, it’s about evil ventriloquist dummies… It’s trope-y. You know, the thing I love about horror fans is that everyone will know what a trope is. This film is mega-trope-y. It’s the kind of movie that I used to love to watch with my buddies in high school where we would shout at the screen, “You’re so stupid! Why would you do that?” Over and over again. It’s a fun movie. If you made a drinking game where you would do a shot every time there was a trope on screen, you’d be drunk by halftime. (laughs)

Oh, it’s not high art. Everyone involved knows it’s not high art. It’s an homage to those Teen Doing Something Really Stupid movies from the ’80s… with 30 year-olds playing the teenagers, of course. Plus, us two old horror veterans. Bill Moseley and I are may be the independent version of who Vincent Price and Peter Lorre used to be. We’re in it. My Handy Dandy character is Mr. Jolly, a kids’ show host from the ’60s who’s very evil. His ventriloquist dummies come to life. He’s thought to be dead, but he’s not dead. He comes back for one final show.

PopHorror: Does something bring him back?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Yes, something definitely brings him back. I wanted to make him fun, so I said to the director, Jeff [Broadstreet], “Look, this guy works with ventriloquist dummies, and those guys are always a little bit… off. So, let’s make Mr. Jolly a grownup version of a ventriloquist dummy.” I wore this bright red shirt and medallion. I had a costume with white gloves. They darkened my hair and it was plastered down to my face. I’m made up like I’m a living version of a doll.

Handy Dandy is my friend. He’s the one I did the show with, and he’s really the evil genius of the pair. And he talks like this: [in high-pitched evil ventriloquist dummy speak] “Because all evil ventriloquist dummies talk like this, Tracy! Yeah, that’s right. Hee hee hee hee!”

(both laugh)

Bill Oberst, Jr.: I loved working with him. I actually idolize Handy Dandy. I would have gone and gotten him coffee if he had asked me. I just thought he was very cool.

“There’s a cuteness to puppets. The only thing I think that would have made them cuter is if they gave them all miniature instruments of torture, like a tiny little chainsaw.”

PopHorror: You’re letting your true horror fan show, Bill.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: (laughs) Yeah, I guess I am! He was very insulting to me. He showed me zero respect, but I couldn’t stop being his biggest fan. He’s a good puppet. And working with Bill Moseley [read the PopHorror interview with him here] was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. We both did 3 From Hell [read the PopHorror review here], although we only had a brief scene together. I wanted to work with him again. He’s so great.

PopHorror: How did you get in the zone to act like an insane ventriloquist dummy?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: As a child of the ’60s and early ’70s, I grew up with kids’ show hosts. Now, there’s Mr. Rogers. He was cool. I’m not going to make fun of him. But I also grew up with the local kids’ show hosts who showed movies, and I grew up with Captain Kangaroo. Captain Kangaroo was my favorite! He seemed quite innocent to me. But today, if you showed the kids Captain Kangaroo and Mister Moose, they would say, “Ew! That’s creepy!”

PopHorror: Don’t forget Mr. Green jeans!

(both laugh)

Bill Oberst, Jr.: So I based Mr. Jolly on those kinds of kids’ show hosts, which, in the ’60s, would have been great! I tried making a character within a character, which I really like doing. I also did it in Circus of the Dead with Papa Corn. There’s one personality that he really is and one that’s his public character. So, I did that for Mr. Jolly, too. When he’s taunting Bill Moseley, he’s using his real voice, and then, when he’s on screen, he’s like, [in high-pitched evil ventriloquist dummy speak] “Hey, let’s start the show!” I thought of the kids’ show hosts of my youth through a twisted lens.

But you know what, Tracy? No one thinks that they’re evil. I’m convinced of that. So, for Mr. Jolly, he thinks he’s just this great kids’ show host… even if some people get their limbs cut off. [in high-pitched evil ventriloquist dummy speak] “It’s really a good show!” (laughs)

Bill Oberst Jr, Circus of the Dead, Billy Pon
Bill as Papa Corn in Circus of the Dead (2014)

Bill Oberst, Jr.: One of the funniest things was that we filmed it in an old television studio, where there had actually been local news and kids’ shows, including a show called The Mr. Jolly Show in Detroit. We were the last thing that was done there since it’s been gutted and changed into apartments. There were even old TV cameras in there. So, they did a shot of the TV cameras with a red light on it and a puppet sitting behind it named Luigi. He was a little Italian puppet. I say, “Time to start the show!” And they cut to Luigi, who winks. I thought it was really cute. There’s a cuteness to puppets. The only thing I think that would have made them cuter is if they gave them all miniature instruments of torture, like a tiny little chainsaw.

PopHorror: Like Puppetmaster!

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Yeah! And the people would scream and cry like it was a real threat. They didn’t do that, but that’s the only thing that could have made it better.

PopHorror: I heard that they’re actually making a movie about the Banana Splits.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Oh, they are! The only thing better than that would be Bananas in Pajamas.

(both start singing the Bananas in Pajamas theme song, laugh and talk about the future horror movies with Spongebob and Peppa Pig)

Bill Oberst, Jr. in The Chair (2016)

PopHorror: This is probably an obvious question, but is this a kid friendly movie? It’s about a kids’ show…

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Well, there’s dismemberment and nudity, plus kids getting together before they get killed. That kind of thing. No, you probably wouldn’t want your toddlers to watch it. Although I would have loved to have done a clean version of The Mr. Jolly Show for kids to watch, but we didn’t get to shoot that.

The one little bit of a real TV show that got in there was a scene where a character was supposed to play a game which could result in his dismemberment. As scripted, my line was, “Oh, you’ve got to play the game!” But I thought, “What if Mr. Jolly is really hurt?” Because one of the things I think is really scary is if someone is really insane, and then they react as if they’re wounded or hurt. He’s really hurt that she won’t play his game. So, Jeff let me try it. Handy Dandy the puppet says, “Oh, what’s the matter, Mr. Jolly?” And I answered, [in a whining voice] “She doesn’t want to play! She’s ruining the game!” So Handy Dandy says, “That’s alright. I’ll fix it, Mr. Jolly.” Then he reveals intimate secrets about the character’s most private life. So I say, “You always know what to say, Handy.” So yeah, they have a little relationship.

Bill Oberst, Jr. as Mr. Jolly in The Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge (2019)

PopHorror: Did you do Handy Dandy’s voice, too?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: (laughs) No, I didn’t get to do his voice. But the guy who does it [Jake LaMarca] – he’s completely in green, so he couldn’t be seen – that’s the way he talked.

That reminds me that, as a kid, I ordered the obligatory Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog ventriloquist dummy, and so did my brother. My brother had one called Willy Talk, and I had one called Charlie McCarthy. There was a record out by the late Paul Winchell, who’s dummy was called Jerry Mahoney. He had an LP called “Learn Ventriloquism At Home.” I wore the grooves out on it, trying to be a ventriloquist. But Jerry Mahoney also talked like that. That’s the voice I was trying to do, the Jerry Mahoney voice.

“In 100 years, who is going to remember you unless you have some legacy, some mark.”

PopHorror: So, you had an investment in this character, since you really wanted to be a ventriloquist.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Yeah, I love inanimate objects that come to life, like a stuffed animal that moves and talks. But I could never do it. It looked so easy. The ad in the comic books would show people saying, “Hey, where’s that voice coming from?” It’s coming from the trunk, and you’re sitting there, smiling. But, it never worked.

(cue discussion on X-ray specs and cheap rubber monster mask ads in comic books)

Bill and Bill in The Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge

PopHorror: You mentioned earlier that you were in 3 From Hell with Bill Moseley…

Bill Oberst, Jr.: And his wife, Lucinda Jenney. It was a cameo scene, which was awfully cool, since Bill was in it, too. She’s a trained theater actress, so I related a lot to her. Interesting tidbit: they played husband and wife in Rogue Rover [2012]. This was Jourdan McClure’s movie, who did Children of Sorrow [2012], which I was in. When I saw her on set, she looked so different that I didn’t even recognize her.

PopHorror: What would you say is the biggest difference between the filming of 3 From Hell and The Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: That is a really, really good question. The answer is: the food. Because, no matter what the budget level of a movie is, people are always dedicated. Obviously, Rob [Zombie’s budget] was much higher. Everybody wants to do a great job and everybody wants to make a good movie. Everyone works hard, 12-14 hour days. The main differences are the amenities around it. Rob’s was a world class set, so the food was great! (laughs) Plus, in Rob’s movie, you’re like, “Oh, look! There’s Clint Howard dressed as a clown!” “Oh, Danny Trejo!” “Hey, it’s Sean Whalen!”

PopHorror: And, you got to see Bill [Moseley] twice.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Yeah! And I learned that Bill can really grow a beard. The beard from 3 From Hell is his. When I saw him, I had to say, “Wow, that’s an amazing beard!” And he said, “Yup! It’s all mine!” Lucinda said, “Yeah, that’s his. I can’t wait for him to shave it off.”

(both laugh)

Bill Moseley and his real beard in 3 From Hell

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Rob runs an incredibly tight set. He really is a great filmmaker. His team is very dedicated to him. That’s another difference between the two sets. On an indie film, everyone tries really hard, but not everyone has the same level of experience. But Rob’s people are well-seasoned and right on top of it.

PopHorror: There’s also that nervousness that there will be enough money on an indie set.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: That’s right. You might finish the shoot but not have enough money to color it or add a score in post-production. You might not be able to get distribution. You need as much after the fact that you do when you shoot it. So many movies are sitting on hard drives right now because people can’t afford to color them or do post. Then they might get it finished because there’s some crowdfunding thing, but now the movie’s old.

Then you get uncontrollable things, like in Children of Sorrow, which was 74 minutes long. It won award after award. It was killing it at the film festivals. At 74 minutes, it did great. It’s all changed a little bit now, but back then [2012], you had to be at 90 minutes to get distribution. So they told Jourdan, “Hey, we need 90 minutes.” He added them, but after that, every review of the movie said, “It drags in the middle. It drags in the middle.” It didn’t drag in the middle until you made it drag in the middle by saying that it has to be 90 minutes. I just wish that people could have seen the 74 minutes version,

It has changed a bit since then. I just worked with Adrian Corona, an arthouse horror director on a movie made in Mexico called Dis (2018 – read the PopHorror review here]. It was only 67 minutes or something like that, and he got distribution, which is great. I’m a big advocate of movies being as long as they need to be.

PopHorror: The filmmaker knows what they want to say. They should be able to say it in their own way. If the story is 60 minutes long, then its 60 minutes long. That’s it.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Especially when they say, “I don’t have any more!” So they say you have to use every little scrap of footage that you have, because I’m not taking it unless it’s this length.

What if someone wrote a book, and the editor said the book had to be 200 pages long? Well, I’ve only got 150 pages. No, it has to be 200. But the story is is finished after only 150. I’m a big Curious George fan. Some of his adventures are short, and some are a bit longer. You don’t want to mess with them.

Bill Oberst, Jr. in full Ray Bradbury makeup

PopHorror: Are you still touring with Ray Bradbury Forever (Live)?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Yes. I’ve got a show in Atlanta next year and then I’m going to Walla Walla, Washington. I wanted to go there just so I could say Walla Walla. It’s fun. And then I’ll be performing at some libraries next year because it will be the 100th anniversary of Ray’s birth. We did it on Broadway, and we did it in Los Angeles. We did about ten performances last year, so I learned what worked and what didn’t work. My goal is to get it to the point where people who know nothing at all about Ray Bradbury, people who have never read a word of his, can say, “Wow, I got something out of that.” I’m not interested in the Wikipedia info, where he was born and what he wrote and all that.

Think about it: after we’re all gone and all the people who have known us are gone, what’s left of Tracy and Bill? What were our lives lived for? What did we stand for? What is it about us that future people can say, “Well, I don’t know anything about Tracy or Bill, but this thing they did could apply to my life.” That’s the test. In 100 years, who is going to remember you unless you have some legacy, some mark.

“Dr. Seuss never would have thought of a cat in a hat who does a home invasion if he hadn’t been bored.”

PopHorror: What has the response for been like for you?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: It’s been really, really instructive to me because people who come to the show tend to be literate people. I don’t mean that they’re smarter than anyone else. I just mean that they’re readers. And that is a very different kind of audience that I am used to dealing with. The people who come up to me after the show, they’ll take my hand and they’ll say that there was a passage of words or a quote that really meant something to them. It made them feel introspective or thoughtful. It’s all about the words. It’s not the visual that’s happening on in front of them. It’s the words. It helps them to respect the genius of Bradbury and the genius of other writers even more. Just the fact that you can take something that is just a sound to create words that move the human spirit so much is astounding. It’s like magic.

PopHorror: What’s a letter? A letter is a line and a circle or whatever. They look like they’ve been all dumped onto the page. Other people look at those lines and circles and get a heavy emotional reaction, something that may even change their life.

Bill Oberst, Jr.: There’s a poem of his. It’s called Remembrance. I like it so much that I’m adding it the beginning of the show. I can’t read it without crying. Sometimes at night, to go to sleep, I recite it. It’s so beautiful. It’s the power of words to cut through all of our stuff, to get to the universal. That’s why I worry about a culture that’s based only on images and not on words. I don’t know if it’s a good thing to have a meme culture. I don’t know. That’s why no one reads my Facebook posts! I’m writing mini essays and people are just like, “Lol.” (laughs)

Bill Oberst, Jr. as Jesus of Nazareth

PopHorror: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: I love to read. A lot. I work out, too. I like to walk on the beach. But I mostly do a lot of reading. Lately, I’ve been getting into poetry. Bradbury helped me with that because I read a book of Bradbury’s poetry. I realized that there’s this whole world of literature that I’m not getting into. So, in the morning, I read my Devotional, and I read a poem from a book of poems by Carl Sandburg, one of Ray’s poems and a bit of Robert Frost. Between them, I read at least one poem a day. It’s really amazing how reading a poem gives you an idea of how someone else looks at the world. It can really open up your mind, and for the whole day, you see things in a new way. If you want to be a writer, every day read an essay, a piece of fiction and a piece of non-fiction. If you do those things every day, I defy you not to write something.

PopHorror: Are you writing?

Bill Oberst, Jr.: Yeah. I’ve started writing some poems. Maybe some other things will come out. I don’t know. I like to think, and I like to be quiet. I don’t like noise. I only have a flip phone because I don’t want things ringing and buzzing. I like it quiet so I can think. Dr. Seuss never would have thought of a cat in a hat who does a home invasion if he hadn’t been bored.

We want to send a hug THANK YOU to Bill Oberst, Jr. for talking to us and for giving us such great answers. Be sure to check him out in Devil’s Junction: Handy Dandy’s Revenge, which released on DVD on November 5, 2019. Stay tuned to PopHorror for all of your horror and gaming news, reviews and interviews!

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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