The grindhouse mourns today for actor David Hess, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 69.
Where to start with David Hess? He would probably start with the fact that, before he become an actor, he was a succesful songwriter whose songs were performed by Elvis Presley and Pat Boone. He was also a singer himself and can be heard performing his brand of dark folk in several of the films that he later appeared in. He won a Grammy for co-writing a rock opera called “The Naked Carmen.” He was also good friends with the writer, actor and political activist, Malachy McCourt (brother of Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt) and recorded an album with him. Hess never stopped making music and he even recorded a few tracks for Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever.
However, David Hess is probably best known for playing assorted rapists, killers, and other unpleasant people in over 30 films. Starting with his iconic performance as Krug in Wes Craven’s original Last House On The Left, Hess quickly established himself as one of the most believable (and scary) villains in the grindhouse world. Whether he was holding Franco Nero hostage in Hitch-Hike, terrorizing guests while wearing a canary yellow suit in The House On The Edge of the Park, or playing a rare good guy in Camping Del Terrore (a film which co-starred another recently deceased grindhouse favorite, Charles Napier), Hess was always both bigger-than-life and a surprisingly underrated actor. Hess may have made a career out of playing killers but every killer was unique and special in his own twisted way.
Like many movie psychos, David Hess was a funny, sensitive, and, at time, erratic interview subject. Interviews with him can be found on the DVD releases of Hitch-Hike, The House on the Edge of The Park, and Last House On The Left and all three of them are worth owning for that reason alone.
While I doubt those toadsuckers in the Academy will see fit to honor David Hess during next year’s Oscar ceremony, he will forever be remembered by film fans (i.e., the people who actually matter).
David not only starred in Last House On The Left but he also composed the music. Below is his song, Wait For The Rain.
And even though he didn’t compose the soundtrack for The House On The Edge of the Park, here’s a clip of David Hess watching Giovanni Lombardo Radice dance in that film. Yes, I’ve shown this clip before but I just happen to love it. This clip proves, once again, that even in a canary yellow suit, David Hess could still dominate a scene.*
David Alexander Hess, R.I.P.