Monday, September 22, 2008
Interview with GoreZone Magazine Editor Christian Sellers
Christian Sellers is currently the deputy editor of the #1 magazine for horror in the UK, GoreZone. Recently, he interviewed our own owner, Sarah Jahier (aka Fatally Yours) for an article appearing in this month’s GoreZone Magazine, Issue 36. His questions were so in-depth and thorough that we really wanted to turn the tables and interview him to find out how he was drawn into the beautifully tangled web that is the horror genre.
Besides being deputy editor for GoreZone, Christian also runs a Friday the 13th page on Myspace, does public relations for Masterplan Film Productions and has several screenplays in the works! Find out what makes this busy horror journalist tick by reading our interview with him below!
Fatally Yours: How and when did your love of horror begin?
Christian Sellers: To be honest, my first experience of being scared was not technically from a horror film. I think I was about three-years-old when my mother took me to watch The Elephant Man. The scene when he walked into the doctor’s office with a bag over his head scared the Hell out of me; I screamed and cried and eventually I was taken home. To say I was so young it is such a vivid memory! I think it was the fear of what could be hiding behind the mask that made the greatest impression, an aspect of horror that still appeals to me to this day. I didn’t watch the movie again until I was nineteen and found it very emotional. I was disgusted with myself for reacting in the way that many of the characters had, by immediately seeing him as some kind of freak. I think The Elephant Man helped shape my interest in certain aspects of the horror genre, particularly the sympathetic monster.
I was lucky enough to have grown up in the ’80′s, which was such an amazing time for horror. With the introduction of the home video, kids were able to get their hands on all kinds of gory delights. My friend at the time had a Betamax, and I remember us watching a movie late one night called Massacre Mansion (aka Mansion of the Doomed), which had a deranged surgeon removing his victims’ eyes to help save the sight of his blind daughter. This was my first real introduction to horror and I found it so terrifying, particularly the scenes of the victims being held in a cage in the cellar, their empty eye sockets and cries of pain making my skin crawl. Despite the countless nightmares that film gave me I became obsessed and immediately watched every horror that I could get my hands on. My mother has always joked that when I was younger she would hear screams coming from my room, it would usually be some slasher movie and she would always walk passed my room just as some semi-naked teen was being hacked to pieces. Also, Alice Cooper was starting to make a comeback around this time, and I found his stage shows and music videos fascinating. But I think the one thing that really appealed to me were special effects, particularly prosthetics, which had advanced so much with The Thing, Michael Jackson’s Thriller and The Fly. The first time I saw Hellraiser, when Frank’s body regenerated itself from a drop of his brother’s blood, it blew my mind. After that, I would watch the likes of The Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead religiously, anything that featured dismembered body parts or buckets of blood.
Fatally Yours: What is the one horror film/book/etc. that has affected you the most and why?
Christian Sellers: To me, the Friday the 13th franchise represented everything that was both good and bad about the ’80′s. They were excessive, tacky, gory, fun, shallow and entertaining, yet it was no secret that the first film had been designed to capitalize on the success of Halloween, and that each sequel stretched its credibility more and more in an effort to keep the business going. Despite killing Jason off after the fourth film (in fact, even the second movie struggled to justify its existence), Paramount didn’t lay the series to rest until they saw no more profit in it. Yet these movies were the perfect showcase for the advancing prosthetics, with decapitations, disembowelments and other grizzly FX. Jason Voorhees became a pop culture icon, appearing on lunchboxes, in comics and even on chat shows. They may have been of the lowest common denominator, yet for nine glorious years fans were treated to one film after another, each trying to outdo the last (that was until the MPAA got hold of them). Looking back on them twenty years later, they remind me of what’s fun about horror movies. You don’t always have to claim to like the classics (I find both The Exorcist and The Wicker Man extremely boring!), and you shouldn’t feel ashamed if your favourite film is considered by critics to be dumb and worthless. Friday the 13th is as dumb as it gets, but they never claimed to be anything more. They were designed as pure entertainment, and kept me glued to the screen for most of my childhood!
Fatally Yours: If you could only watch one horror movie for the rest of your life, which would you pick and why?
Christian Sellers: That’s a difficult question. I get very restless and constantly change my mind about things. My moods can be all over the place, and my taste in things like films and music change with it. I guess I would have to go with the one film that I find entertaining from start to finish, something that’s fun that I can watch over and over again. I’m not entirely sure, but I’d probably have to go with Re-animator! It’s fast-paced, eccentric; it has an amazing protagonist/antagonist with Herbert West, over-the-top gore, some great moments of slapstick and a wicked sense of humour. I’m not sure I would want to be stuck with one movie for the rest of my life, but at least I know I’d enjoy that one.
Fatally Yours: Do you feel that the United States and UK horror scenes differ? If so, how and why are they different?
Christian Sellers: Oh, absolutely, there are some fundamental differences. Up until the release of 28 Days Later a few years ago, horror wasn’t seen as a safe sell in the UK. It had been thirty years since Hammer had last made a feature, and there had been very few genre films of interest since. We had become more known for our comedies and feel good movies (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Full Monty) and Cockney gangster flicks (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), as well as our period dramas like Sense and Sensibility and Howards End. Whilst Europe was producing unique and interesting horror movies, our industry had come to a standstill. But, thanks to such filmmakers as Danny Boyle, Neil Marshall and Christopher Smith, we slowly started to make horrors that were worth watching once again.
As for the difference in themes and style, American horror films often seem to centre on a group of teenagers. I am not sure whether this is because they are their target audience or that the younger the victim the more of an emotional impact their deaths will cause (anything younger than a teenager seems to make the viewer uncomfortable). The UK’s recent take on the zombie genre seemed a little more inspired than Hollywood’s, with 28 Days Later (a zombie movie at heart) going for the nihilistic Romero approach. It helped that the director was not known for his horror work, which meant that he could approach the material from a fresh angle. The other zombie movie worth noting is Shaun of the Dead, which was a homage, as apposed to a spoof like, say, Scary Movie. The key difference between the two is that Shaun took the horror elements seriously, whilst still managing to keep a sense of humour. As for American horror, when a director manages to keep full creative control over their work (as John Carpenter did during his heyday) then the results can be both exciting and terrifying. But, unfortunately, studio movies are constantly raped by overzealous producers who feel that they know more about making ‘good’ movies than the filmmakers. The independent scene in America is very exciting, but Hollywood seems content on dumbing down the genre.
Fatally Yours: What advice would you give to aspiring horror journalists out there?
Christian Sellers: It’s funny you should ask that, as I’ve been approached a few times recently for advice on how to write for a magazine or website. To prepare for journalism, I spent about six months writing articles on everything from horror to the likes of Spielberg and the Coen Brothers, anything to keep me writing. I would gather about fifty pages of notes before I would actually write the piece, and I found it very important from the beginning to be brutally honest. If you suck up to filmmakers then your work really suffers. Don’t be afraid to be cynical, don’t be afraid to be harsh. As long as your work is well written and you have approached the subject in an intelligent and professional way, then you are pretty much free to say whatever you want. It’s a wonderful feeling when an interview runs smoothly and then the filmmaker contacts you after the article has been published and says how much they enjoyed it, it makes it all seem worthwhile, but you have to remember that, as a writer, you have a responsibility to your readers. They are the ones spending the money (if you write for a magazine), so you shouldn’t cheapen your interviews with generic questions. If, for instance, you interview a director, and their movie had caused some scandal (be it an on-set affair, a poor critical response or the studio refusing to release the film), don’t be afraid to ask them. Your readers expect you to tell them something about a movie or filmmaker that they haven’t read elsewhere, and if your questions are the same as every other magazine/website then it makes for a boring read. Being honest may rub certain people up the wrong way, this is an unfortunate downside, but if you write from the heart then it really shines through in your work.
As for taking your first steps into the industry, this is when stalking can sometimes be a good thing. Get a list of contact numbers or email addresses for every magazine and website that you can find, and send them an introductory letter, with perhaps a small sample of your work. Sound confident without being arrogant, but the most important thing is to show how passionate you are. Some editors may favour determination over experience, as there are always people who say they want to be a writer, are given a chance, and then quit as it’s too much work. If you want to be a good writer then it does involve a lot of work; it’s badly paid (if at all), you may spend days on an article and then never see it published and there will always be people who will criticize your work, though any publicity is good for you. Sites like MySpace are an invaluable tool as well, you can showcase your work through blogs, and it’s the perfect place to network and get your name out there. You will discover early on if this is the right job for you, as to become a successful writer you have to put in long hours and sacrifice your social life. I even made myself ill by developing insomnia from staying up night after night working on various projects. I wouldn’t recommend taking it to such extremes, but be prepared to spend long hours sat at your computer. But, if you have the determination, the rewards are worth it. I still have a framed copy of the first issue I was ever published in on my wall, and every time I am complimented on my work I am always extremely grateful.
Fatally Yours: As the deputy editor of GoreZone, what do your duties entail? How did you land this kick ass gig?
Christian Sellers: The role of deputy editor came from over a year of hard work. I was always writing or planning articles, and sometimes I would be asked to re-write other people’s. Almost every month just before the deadline I would be asked to write more, so it would sometimes be that I would have up to five articles or interviews in any given issue. I was even writing under a pseudonym, Sutter Cane (sometimes spelt as Sutton Kane), which was named after the fictitious writer in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. Eventually, the work paid off, as I was offered the gig in June. The first thing I did was create a new MySpace page for the magazine. I had always been disappointed with the original one; it was never updated and contained very little news or info, so I set about making one where I could regularly post interviews, reviews, news and allow for our readers to interact with us and give suggestions. It has proved very popular and has allowed for filmmakers and other sites to contact us easier for interviews, many of which I post as blogs on the page. The feedback has been amazing! Since becoming editor, I have dealt more with filmmakers with regards to interviews and promoting their work, though I did try to do this as much as possible anyway, and I have used the new MySpace page to get our name out there as much as possible, by interacting with other sites. I just think that the magazine decided to make it official with a title.
Fatally Yours: What are your thoughts on the current horror climate?
Christian Sellers: I think it’s such a shame that there are so many promising independent filmmakers out there that don’t get the kind of support they deserve, from both studios and critics. Instead, we are subjected to one remake after another, pointless Saw sequels and PG-13 horrors. The movie industry is a business, and if a product sells then every studio and producer are quick to jump on the bandwagon. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is remade and makes a lot of money, so every classic is optioned for the so-called ‘update’ treatment. I find the concept of PG-13 horror quite insulting. It seems that studios are trying to cater for the O.C. and Sex in the City crowd with dire teen movies like When a Stranger Calls and Prom Night. Horror is not supposed to be sugarcoated and watered down, so those that don’t like horror movies can tolerate them. It’s called ‘horror’ for a reason… it’s supposed to challenge you, disgust you, make you face your fears and feel alive. But when you dilute it with political correctness and target it towards non-horror fans you lose the essence of what a horror film really is. And besides, horror doesn’t have to be full of decapitations and T&A, family movies such as The Goonies and Monster House can be just as effective. The key is to treat the viewer as an adult, and let them decide what is scary and how much they can handle. If you are not a fan of horror films then that’s okay, there are plenty of other genres for you to enjoy.
Fatally Yours: After the so-called “torture porn” boom and the Asian horror invasion, not to mention the big-studio PG-13 remakes, where do you think horror is headed next?
Christian Sellers: In all honesty, I think the genre needed torture porn. Everything moves in cycles, and at the turn of the decade horror had become more subtle and suggestive. The likes of The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense had made horror popular again, after a brief run of slasher movies that were released in the wake of Scream. Films like The Sixth Sense appealed to those who had no real interest in scary movies, so slowly the genre was being populated by ‘safe’ films like The Others. I remember renting out Cabin Fever and not really having high hopes for it, but found it a really entertaining throwback to The Evil Dead. So, when I heard the director was making a movie about torture called Hostel I was intrigued. The first few films in the torture porn cycle were well made and felt fresh, I was impressed that the genre had grown balls once again and was not afraid to be brutal. I was blown away by Wolf Creek (despite several people walking out), the first Saw seemed quite inventive and The Devil’s Rejects had shown that Rob Zombie was progressing as a filmmaker after such a dire debut (it also had an amazing soundtrack). But pretty soon, like all trends, they became monotonous and audiences lost their interest. I would presume that, as many of the directors I have interviewed recently seem glad this cycle has come to an end, the genre may become suggestive once again. Whereas torture porn was quick to show ‘the money shot,’ it could be possible that, as with the likes of The Strangers, that atmosphere and the threat of violence may once again become more important than the violence itself. If you watch the original Halloween, there is very little on-screen violence, the entire film builds up this sense of dread, a fear that the killer could appear from anywhere. The scenes where he was stalking them were always more effective than the moments when he would strike. That’s the mistake that Zombie made with his remake. And I hope to God that this pointless remake trend comes to an end soon, it’s depressing.
Fatally Yours: What are some of your favorite current horror films and/or books? Do you have any promising new directors or authors that you’re keeping an eye on?
Christian Sellers: I wrote an article back in issue 27 of GoreZone called “Directors to Watch Out For in 2008″‘ and I think it was probably the most fun one to write. I interviewed countless directors, but unfortunately due to space I was only able to include a few in the finished article. But I was surprised by how many promising filmmakers there were, and most were a pleasure to interview. Both The Kentucky Fried Horror Show’s C. L. Gregory and Jessicka Rabid’s Matthew Reel seemed to have a clear vision of what they want from a horror film, so I’m intrigued to see what they do with that. I love the promotional artwork for Gutterballs, especially the homage to Maniac, so I can’t wait to see that (which I will finally get the chance to do in October at the GoreZone event in London). Other films I’m curious about are Children of the Hunt, No Left Turn (not strictly a horror but it certainly looks atmospheric) and Netherbeast Incorporated. Again, I know very little about these movies, but from interviewing the directors I am curious to see what they are capable of. Other films I am looking forward to are Albino Farm and Pig Hunt (I know James Isaac isn’t technically a new director, but this could prove to be his breakthrough movie). And I can’t wait to see what Todd Lincoln does with Hack/Slash, I have very high hopes for that one!
Fatally Yours: Looking back on 2008, what has been your favorite horror film so far?
Christian Sellers: Almost every horror that I’ve written about and been enthusiastic over has yet to be released. And all the films that I have seen this year were actually made a year or two ago. Studios seem to be mishandling horror movies of late, everything from Mother of Tears, Diary of the Dead and Midnight Meat Train seem to be hyped up by magazines and sites, only for their release to be delayed for sometimes up to eighteen months. This causes fans and critics to speculate that the reason for this is due to the film being poor, so by the time they are eventually released – usually straight onto DVD – the damage has been done. I am forever writing about movies that I’m really psyched about seeing, and then it seems to be at least a year until I finally do get to watch them. So while they’re not strictly 2008 movies, the ones I have enjoyed the most this year were probably Mother of Tears (a great return to form for Dario Argento), Cloverfield and Poultrygeist (a guilty pleasure). Unfortunately, every time I visit a horror site I hear about yet another pointless remake, so I feel less enthusiastic about new movies and tend to watch the classics at home.
Fatally Yours: Besides being the editor and writing for UK’s #1 horror magazine, GoreZone, how else are you involved with the horror genre?
Christian Sellers: I try to keep myself busy, I get really restless when I’m not working. About a year ago I was prepping an article on Steve Miner, who was set to release his Day of the Dead remake, so I went out and interviewed some of the cast members of Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3. I was surprised how pleasant and helpful they were, so I decided to set up somewhere that I could store my interviews. I created a MySpace page (www.myspace.com/fridaythe13thfranchise), not really giving it much thought that there would be others out there who would enjoy it. Pretty much straight away I was getting friend requests and messages off fans of the series saying how much they loved the page. So I started contacting more people that were involved in the movies, and most of them seemed really enthusiastic. All of a sudden, I had people offering to write for the page, offering suggestions and even a few who had been involved in Friday the 13th offering an interview. I was so overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiasm that I had to start taking the page seriously. I began focusing on interviewing everyone I could from the franchise, as well as getting as much news on the upcoming remake as I could. Some even said they considered my page their first stop when they wanted news on the movies, which made it all worthwhile. On the strength of that, I ended up contributing interviews and articles for the official Friday the 13th site. Around last New Year, I was offered the job of Public Relations for Masterplan Film Productions, a UK-based company that had several low budget movies in the works, including The Beautiful Outsiders with Tara Reid and a remake of The Driller Killer. I also have a screenplay in the early stages that we are hoping to make, but becoming deputy editor for GoreZone takes up a lot of time.
Fatally Yours: You are one busy man! What are your plans/projects for the future?
Christian Sellers: I have several different ideas that are being negotiated at the moment, so I’ll reveal more about them if and when they come to fruition. But I am starting to make contacts – that’s the great thing about getting to interview filmmakers – and I am determined to get my name out there as much as possible. It’s funny, I get told by friends how one-track minded I become when I’m working, how I manage to ignore everything else and just focus on my writing. I will finish my work and then suddenly realize I’ve been at my desk for ten hours without even taking a break. Surely that kind of dedication pays off eventually! I want to write for as many magazines and websites as possible, as we all have the same agenda here so we should be willing to help each other out more, and I definitely want to get involved with making films. That has always been my end goal. So if anyone is interested, you know where to find me!