I was born in North Brunswick, a small suburb in central New Jersey. I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated with a BA in Film (actually, Film, Television & Radio, but I learned virtually nothing about TV and even less about radio). After that I worked in a variety of jobs within the New York City film industry, during which time I wrote numerous screenplays, various episodes for a horror television series (which, although a pilot was shot, was never picked up), and a novel which, I'm still being told, is too bizarre for the mainstream press. I moved to Chicago in 1998 and am currently the Associate Director of Development for Towers Productions.
2. What prompted you to write "GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE & FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM, 1978-1986" ?
After college, instead of immediately getting a job, backpacking through Europe, or doing whatever it is that most recent graduates do, I stayed on campus and wrote a book. It was called The Horror Film Revisited, and was a critical look at the 50 greatest horror movies of all time, as I determined them to be. Looking back, there was nothing really critical (or original for that matter) about it. Much to my surprise, however, Fantasma Books offered me a contract. Unfortunately, they soon went out of business and I was stuck with one unwieldy, not particularly good, manuscript. I then submitted it to more publishers than I can count, all of whom turned it down. McFarland, however, liked the book's style, and a few years later, out of the blue, they contacted me to see if I had any other ideas. I did, on a subject very near and dear to my heart, which turned out to be Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986.
3. What is the most appealing thing about the horror genre for you?
The freedom. Once you're under the auspices of "horror" - unlike, say, the Western, musical, or comedy -you can pretty much do whatever you want. You want to show a zombie plucking out an eyeball and eating it? Go ahead. How about a powerdrill lobotomy? Why not? There is not a single act of violence, or imaginable perversion, that has not been fictitiously replicated on celluloid. I find this fascinating. In what other genre is subversion not only allowed but encouraged? I'm talking exclusively about cinematic violence, of course. I find real-life violence as reprehensible as the next person.
Initially, what attracted me the horror genre - and I became fascinated with it at a very early age - was that it was like a dare. A barometer to see how much I could take. I distinctly remember watching Friday the 13th Part 3 through my fingers. I would stand in the doorway of the living room, squinting at the screen, prepared to either clamp my eyes shut or dart out of the room as soon as it became too intense. It took me quite a few viewings to finally get past the part where Jason, assumedly hanged, lifts his hockey mask to reveal his deformed face.
4. Talk about the Grand Guignol and how that has influenced the genre…
For the uninitiated, the Grand Guignol was a Parisian theater which treated patrons to realistic scenes of torture and death. Rape, decapitations, amputations, eye-gouging, electrocution - nothing was taboo. Although the Guignol was officially open from 1897-1962, its heyday was in the early part of the century, when it was both a sanctuary for the poor and a morbid curiosity for the elite. Rather than go into all the sordid details, I recommend reading The Grand Guignol: Theater of Fear and Terror by Mel Gordon (Da Capo), an absolutely fabulous book which tells the entire story of this gruesome spectacle.
While it's currently en vogue to point to the Guignol as an antecedent of the slasher film - and I guess it was, in spirit - the truth is that when the theater was at its most popular the horror film was still in its infancy. In fact, back then it was still drawing most of its inspiration from classic literature. Then, by the time the slasher film rose to prominence, the Guignol was no more. While some of the early slasher directors may have well been aware of the Guignol's existence, I think it's a stretch to say that they were directly inspired by it. That said, both Herschell Gordon Lewis' The Wizard of Gore and Joel Reed's Blooksucking Freaks reference it directly.
Incidentally, in the 1970's, in Chicago's Old Town - which was sort of a Bohemian area back then - H. G. Lewis opened The Blood Shed, a modern day Theater of the Grand Guignol. Unfortunately, it didn't do as well as expected and closed soon after.
5. What do you think of the recent crop of "Slasher Movies" that have been made during the past five years (including the SCARY MOVIE spoofs)
Most importantly, I think they're great for the genre. Anything that gives it a shot of adrenaline, which it inevitably needs now and then, is to be commended. However, I did take exception to the way in which Scream - and by this I mean the filmmakers, critics, and even some fans - rationalized its success. I found the entire Scream phenomenon to be kind of smug. It pretended to be above the slasher genre, exposing and deconstructing its conventions, while refusing to acknowledge that it was these exact conventions which were responsible for its success. You think Scream grossed over $100 million because it was a self-conscious film and acknowledged the existence of other slasher films? Please. It succeeded for the exact same reason as Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street: good-looking characters with whom the audience can identify, creative murders, a fairly preposterous plot and, most importantly, a deliciously sinister villain. In fact, I don't believe a single film known for its reflexivity - from those of Godard and Truffaut to those of Kevin Williamson - is enjoyed solely because it draws attention to the cinematic medium. Inevitably, it comes down to the old saying, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you," and in essence, in think that's what Scream did, which is why I enjoyed I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, and even Valentine far more.
In regards to films like Scary Movie and Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, they're just the logical extension of the genre's current evolution, nothing more than a post-modern Student Bodies or Pandemonium.
6. What is your favorite slasher film and why is it your favorite?
At risk of sounding boring, I've always had a soft spot for Friday the 13th, mainly because it's been unfairly maligned for so long. While Halloween is hailed as a classic, even by mainstream film critics, Friday the 13th is almost universally detested. The truth is, it's just as well-made as Halloween, just bloodier, a fact which didn't sit well with most critics (remember Siskel and Ebert's laughable campaign to boycott all Paramount releases, which I'm sure really put a dent in the domestic gross of Raiders of the Lost Ark a year later). True, Black Christmas pioneered many of the slasher's conventions which were then perfected in Halloween, but Friday the 13th was really the film which catalyzed the formula.
Equally impressive was its impact on the horror genre, not to mentioned the film industry in general. Don't think for a second that subsequent classic slashers like My Bloody Valentine, Terror Train, The Burning, Happy Birthday to Me, and Night School are the spawn of Halloween. They're not. Most of them were made solely as a reaction to Friday the 13th, hoping to exploit a previously untapped demographic (which I was happily a part of ) that eagerly gobbled up almost any inferior product which was fed to them.
Some of the more unpopular slashers of which I'm actually fond include Slaughter High, April Fool's Day, The Slayer.
7. What is the weirdest true-life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like part of a horror film?
It's funny you should mention that. Just last week, while babysitting my niece and nephew, I got a strange phone call telling me to check the children... heh, heh, heh. Great question, but thankfully my life has been free of any slasher-like trauma, which is good thing, or else I doubt I would enjoy working in the genre quite as much!
8. Who is YOUR favorite horror director?
I really don't have one favorite director. I find that even the most famous ones, who have created a work or two of indisputable genius, have also missed badly at one time or another in their careers. However, my soft spot for Friday the 13th extends to its director. I think it's a travesty that Sean Cunningham never received the recognition he deserved and find him to be every bit as talented as his better-known contemporaries, Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Recently, I went to see Friday the 13th on the big screen with Alex Flaster, a close friend and colleague of mine who, although an extremely well-respected television producer, is certainly no horror aficionado. On our way out of the theater, he asked me to guess his favorite scene. Naturally, I chose the usual offenders (the spear through the neck, the ax to the face, the final decapitation), but it wasn't any of these. It was the scene where Alice is brewing coffee, right before Mrs. Voorhees arrives at camp. If you don't remember what I'm talking about it's because nothing happens in this scene, she just makes coffee. But it's excruciatingly suspenseful. I know it's practically sacrilege to invoke the name of Hitchcock when discussing Friday the 13th, but the scene really is Hitchcockian. Cunningham knew exactly what he was doing and constantly keeps the audience on the edge of its seat.
I'm also a great admirer of those directors who I feel have been unfairly overlooked, most of whom I have tried to interview for this book. I'm talking about guys like Joe Zito, Jack Sholder, Armand Mastroianni, Fred Walton - all extremely talented directors, whose works everybody is familiar with, but who for whatever reason never received the recognition they deserved. Then, naturally, there's the usual offenders: Argento, Fulci, Bava, Scavolini, Deodato.
9. Anything you want to add?
Well, just that I'm so appreciative to all the people who have shown an interest in this project. Horror fans are the most rabid, demanding and passionate fans in the world, and I'm honored to be a part of that. As a kid, I remember devouring books like John McCarty's Splatter Movies, Kim Newman's Nightmare Movies, and Vera Dika's Games of Terror, and always hoped that one day I would be in a position to write my own book on the subject. I hope readers will appreciate what I've tried to do, even if they don't always agree with all of my opinions. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986, can be purchased either through the publisher (www.mcfarlandpub.com) or through Amazon.com or BN.com. Also, I'm currently working a few film projects which, although I can't go into details at this points, will be of great interest to horror fans in the near future!