Caroline Munro is one of the pivotal horror woman actors from the 70's and 80's from DRACULA A.D. 1972 to THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES to Bill Lustig's ultimate serial killer flick MANIAC. Caroline was recently interviewed for a horror related documentary, THE LIFE OF DEATH and this question and answer is her full interview for that program.
Q: Do you think a person's perception of death affects the way they live their life?
I do think a person's perception of death can affect their life. When I was younger, in my 20's, I thought about it a lot. We do because it's the only sure thing. I did have a fear of death, I suppose. I went to a Catholic school, so there was a lot of praying involved and that gives you a different perspective on things. I think it was a fear of what happens, the death process--"Please, let it be quick and as painless as possible and not too soon". I had some anxious thoughts on that in my 20's. It wasn't discussed with friends. Then I got older and had my children quite late, 41 when I had my first daughter. Your whole idea of life changes because you have this new life, I thought fleetingly, I'm an old mother, when she's thirty I'd be a lot older, you want to be there for that child, so that thought passed me by.
Q: Have you experienced someone close to you die?
My father died four months after I had Jo Jo, my daughter. I found that very hard, coming to terms with death and birth around the same time. I was very close to my dad.
I remember going in to see him, once we had the call , and it was in the night, 3 am. I remember my friend took the call and she said, "Oh Caroline, your dad is in the hospital he had a heart attack." I could hear myself, scream, When I went and saw him he was sitting up in hospital and we talked, had a lovely chat. I told him, "Remember, Dad, I'll see you tomorrow" and he said,"If I'm here that would be so nice". We saiid our goodbyes and I told him I'd come backe tomorrow. But no, I had a call a few hours later and he'd gone. That was my first serious thoughts of death...
(The idea of death) became inevitable, the reality set in. I supposed that this was the process and my first awakening to death. It was a wake up call. I would always, and still do, push the fact to the back of my mind and think, yes, death is going to happen but not at the moment, you have to live your life one day at a time. That brought it back to me. I saw my father two days before, fine and healthy, and two days later he died. You have to make each moment count and we forget that. I think the most important thing you do with your loved ones is to say "I love you", before you go, that's a word they will carry with them. That's the word I remember from my dad.
And years later again, after the birth of my other daughter, Iona, my mom developed cancer. That's a hard road to see, having someone you love go through that. She was magnificently brave and said "It's just something we have to go through". She was incredibly brave and with it, she went into a hospice for respite for us, to give me a few days to rest, and I took the children to see her. What was amazing is that she knew she was dying, they gave her limited time and she said everything she wanted to say. And I think that is so important. If you are prepared, if you know you're going to die, it's important to air everything and she did.
I was lucky because the two people I loved most, other than my kids, were my mom and dad and to see them die well, put to peace everything, was very special. You take that with you, therefore when you see that it gives you courage. You don't have a fear....the fear is just those last...the last breath. It's the last breath, what happens. Do you see the light?
Q: What do you think happens after you die?
It's THE question. None of us knows what happens. Various thoughts go through my head. There's a fear that there's nothing. If there's nothing, there's nothing to fear., If there is a downstairs there's a fleeting fear if I've been good or hurt people and how that would be. I think there has to be something wonderful because you look around you and life is amazing, the Earth and nature are amazing. People have different interpretations, hopes rather than fears of what death could be, I'd like to think i'll meet up with my family. The older you get he more people die around you.
You do hope there will be one almighty party up in heaven but you don't know, do you?After my parents died I did look for signs and that's one thing my mother did say, when she was in the hospice, "if there's a way I'll let you know and I'll come back". She'd give me a sign. Whether or not I had that sign, or my daughter had that sign is interesting because she had a dream and her dream was of Granny up in the clouds and floating and waving. That was her little sign. She remembers that to this day and she's 19.
Basically, we want there to be something afterwards but what it is I don't know. It must be quite special,..
Q: Do you see a difference in how Americans and Europeans see death?
I don't know, maybe it's more sterile over here. Everybody grieves in their own way.
I think in America they sensationalize it a lot. The media, the media circus, has their own story. We in England, in Europe, get a watered down version of what you have here...everything in America is larger than, glorified or vilified.
Q: How had death affected your work?
Obviously I was quite young in DR PHIBES. I was meant to be dead in the film but I was very much removed from the reality of death. I didn't really think that much about it because it was so beautiful--I was in this barge laying next to Vincent Price in a fur lined coffin. It was hard for me to hold my breath in those scenes...
Working with Christopher Lee in DRACULA A.D 1972 the reality didn't hit, at the time. The character thought she she was going to be with Dracula, so there was fear and love.
When I did MANIAC I got to think about death more in depth, these horrendous deeds done by this man, because that film was based on a real character.
Q: Why do you think people like horror movies?
The horror market here in Europe, worldwide is a youth orientated thing. There's huge fandom. People like being frightened, pushed to the edge in the safety of their cinema, It's the fear factor that we enjoy. When you're a kid looking at DOCTOR WHO behind the couch, it's "what's going to happen next?". You like to be frightened, again in the safety of your home. I think that in horror films, the way in which death is portrayed, it is a fantasy. There's disgust and horror but not the reality with most of them, especially the modern ones. When you're young you don't think about death, thank goodness. It's a mechanism that kicks in when you get older and see death around you
Q: How do you want to die?
To go to sleep and not wake up would be wonderful, wouldn't it? Everybody would like that but then you don't have your affairs in order.
I try not to think about it, but that inevitably goes through our minds. I would like it short and sweet--everybody wants that for themselves and families. With my dad it was quick, you didn't have time to prepare, my mom was slower and I went through it with her and that was agonizing to watch. She was incredibly brave, I saw that. For my kids that would be awful, I wouldn't want them to see that. I would rather it be later than sooner...I would love to be a grandmother...
It's living for each day really, one has to do that.
Q: Is there anything you want to do yet, before you die?
A lot of people think they have to "do this or do that" before they die. My dad was born in India so I'd love to walk in the Himilayas, to see that. But it's true, when one is still living, preparing stuff is good, if you have family. I hope before I go I'd like to clear up all my rubbish and get things in order.
Q: How do you want people to remember you?
My girls, my family, will hopefully remember me fondly and that she was an okay mom. It's funny, I went to a parents meeting and their friends said "they think you're quite cool". "So that's nice, being a cool mom. But yeah, it would be nice to be remembered with love and that I did the best I could for them. One goes throgh ups and downs and some downs, so hope I give them some life skills they can cope on their own, do things and be strong wonderful women that they are already. They are very fair, good people.
If people know my work it would be great to be remembered as an "okay" actress.
Q: What do you want to happen after you die?
It would be wonderful if we were all up there in some spiritual form with all the people we loved. A beautiful place to be, a wonderful calmness. I sound like an old hippie, don't I? I sound like Ringo......