Thursday, January 14, 2010
Interview with The Vault of Horror's Brian Solomon
Brian Solomon is the keeper of The Vault of Horror in his increasingly limited spare time. He has somehow found a way to make a living writing and editing for the past dozen years – seven of which were spent penning articles about screaming men in singlets for WWE. Born and bred in the Brooklyn neighborhood where they filmed Saturday Night Fever, these days he lives the life of Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas, in the state of Connecticut–the geographic equivalent of the Overlook Hotel. Joining him in the existential wasteland is a concerned wife who tolerates his zombie obsession to varying degrees, a 7-year-old daughter who ponders the existence of spirits, and a 5-year-old son whose favorite movie is The Host.
Fatally Yours: When and how did you first become interested in the horror genre?
Brian Solomon: I was raised in what I like to refer to as a “golden age” of TV syndication. As a kid, on a weekend afternoon, the NYC syndicated channels would constantly have classic Universal and Hammer flicks, plus awesome retro and cult horror from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was a great time to be a kid, getting exposed to stuff you never would have been exposed to otherwise. Entertainment options are much more plentiful now, and genres are more ghettoized into specific channels, so it’s harder for young kids to get into it the way I did. But that’s definitely what first piqued my interest.
Fatally Yours: What is the one horror film or book that most profoundly affected you?
Brian Solomon: I had been familiar with Universal and Hammer as a little kid, but the single movie that literally made me into an absolute horror fanatic overnight, and was my introduction to “modern” horror, was The Return of the Living Dead. My parents were big horror-heads in the early days of VHS, and this was one of the flicks I always heard them raving about. I rented it secretly when I was about 12, and watched it about three times in a row. I was absolutely fascinated with it—and horrified! As a pre-teen boy, I naturally missed all the irony and humor and took it all seriously. ROTLD was my gateway horror movie. Next came Evil Dead, followed by Romero, and the rest is history.
Fatally Yours: How and when did you decide to start writing about horror and how did your blog, The Vault of Horror, come about?
Brian Solomon: I had been a magazine writer for WWE for seven years, and got to write about something for which I had great passion at the time, which was the pro wrestling business. In that role, I also had a vast audience and got a ton of feedback on what I had to say. Once I left there in 2007, I had basically burnt out on wrestling, and wanted to write about something else that had always greatly interested me. I was intrigued by how a blog could allow you to create your own platform, without having to depend on a boss or anything (of course this also meant there would be no money in it, unfortunately!). I also missed interacting with readers, and knew a blog would help me do that, too. Horror was something about which I felt supremely confident about writing—plus, it helped that at the time my real-life job had me writing the most boring, dry stories imaginable. I needed an outlet!
Fatally Yours: What sets your blog apart from other horror sites?
Brian Solomon: I don’t think this is as much the case now as when I first started, but at the time, I wanted to combine enthusiastic fanboy-ness with legit professional writing cred. Blogs catch a bad rap for being unprofessional, or written by non-writers, and while I think that’s very unfair, I wanted to bring a dozen years of professional writing experience to the table, in addition to an undying love of the genre. That said, there are a ton of quality horror blogs out there now. I like to think The Vault of Horror has an appeal because it stays kind of general, drawing on the entire spectrum of horror history for its content. You get a little of everything.
Fatally Yours: What advice would you give to aspiring horror bloggers?
Brian Solomon: Remember that when you put yourself out there in this format, you’re now a writer. It may be just a hobby, but you’re putting your work out there for people to read, so unless you’re just doing a journal-style blog, you need to give your readers a reason to want to keep coming back. Never forget your audience—write for them, not yourself. Don’t make the blog about yourself, although it is important to create an online personality as well.
Fatally Yours: If you could cast your own horror movie, which actors/actresses would you cast, in what roles, and why? Who would you choose to write and direct the film?
Brian Solomon: I always wanted to see a horror film from Martin Scorsese, and now it looks like that’s what we’ll be getting with Shutter Island, although I suppose that’s being categorized more as a “thriller”. I’d love to see what his manic, kinetic sensibilities could do if let loose on the horror genre. He’s tried out so many other genres, why not that? I’m also very interested in seeing what certain actors and actresses you don’t ordinarily associate with horror can do, people with the right chops, that is. I thought Robin Williams was very good in One Hour Photo, and I think he’s got the kind of wild energy that could make him great in straight-up horror. Tom Hanks would be another one—can you imagine that? A sinister Tom Hanks? People call him the modern-day Jimmy Stewart, but look at how menacing Stewart was in Vertigo!
Fatally Yours: In your opinion, what constitutes a good horror review?
Brian Solomon: If you’re going to accept screeners and do reviews, do not, I repeat, do not be afraid to give a bad review if you think something stinks. Be honest, your readers will respect you for it. You are not the friend of these studios and movie marketers, and you’re not beholden to them. Bloggers are journalists. Don’t be a sycophant—but also don’t be outrageously, childishly negative in a review. Both are equally unprofessional. A good horror review is balanced, honest and informed. Call it like you see it.
Fatally Yours: What are your thoughts on the modern horror climate?
Brian Solomon: I think all this torture porn and emphasis on torture in general in recent years has been showing me I’m getting older. I can’t handle it like I used to. Movies like Hostel really bother me, and it was troubling me that it seemed horror was heading down that path. I was always as much a gorehound as anyone else, but for some reason, maybe it was having kids or just getting more life experience in general, I found myself more alienated by the cold nihilism of some of what I was seeing. I felt that horror was losing its sense of fun—which, as odd as it may sound, it really has always had to a certain varying degree over the decades. I lean more toward supernatural horror these days than dwelling on reality-based movies about things that “could really happen”. I’m not an ironic college kid anymore. I like the escapism. I don’t want to picture my loved ones getting hacked to pieces.
Fatally Yours: Why do you think sex and violence are so intertwined in the horror genre? How often would you say that nudity and sex scenes are actually relevant to the story in a horror film?
Brian Solomon: There’s been a strange comeback recently of gratuitous nudity and sex in horror, just as there has been with explicit violence. Horror movies scaled back a bit in the 1990s, but now it’s swung back the other way. There’s been this quasi-nostalgia movement, about longing to go back to the grindhouse aesthetic, and as a result we’ve been getting a lot of exploitative stuff lately. Sometimes that can be admittedly fascinating in its own right, but not when it gets overdone by every hack and his mother. As far as the intertwining of sex and violence, the genre has always been fixated on that. Our culture was in a completely different place at the time, but I’d say that movies like Dracula and Frankenstein are deeply concerned with that blend, just as The Devil’s Rejects is. Horror deals with our dirty little secrets, which is partly why I think it gets so stigmatized—it brings to light aspects of ourselves that some people prefer not to think about.
Fatally Yours: Horror films, though popular, are mostly viewed as subversive movies that, according to some, are only a step above pornography. For horror fans, it’s sometimes hard to convince others that the genre is much more than blood & boobs. How would you convince someone that the genre has much more depth and to give it a try?
Brian Solomon: The bad rap on horror has mainly to do with the fact that it’s primary focus is more often on making you feel, just as much as making you think—usually more so. This is why comedy also gets short shrift in comparison to drama, and why sci-fi tends to be more “respectable” than horror—it’s more cerebral than visceral. It’s hard to sway someone who’s diametrically and philosophically opposed to that very notion. But I’d say the best way to open people up is to show them movies that go against the stereotype they have in their minds. Don’t show them Jason mindlessly chopping up fornicating teenagers. Show them Romero exploring social allegories via zombies. Show them a mastermind like Hitchcock using symbolism to explore complex psychological themes. Get them to rethink what they think they know about horror. Then you can transition them to the fornicating teenagers…
Fatally Yours: Is there any kind of horror film you find difficult to watch or refuse to watch?
Brian Solomon: Like I got into a bit earlier, I’d have to go with a lot of the torture-based stuff that’s been all the rage over the past few years. I can watch something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre any day of the week, but show me something like Hostel and I’m sorry, but I’m checking out. There are some people who gravitate to horror mainly because they have a deep need to pruriently watch people be hurt. I’m not one of those. I adore TCM because it’s artfully made and has something to say. I can’t sit through a movie that is basically made for the purpose of titillating me through simulated violence, then wrapped in some vague, lame social pretext to somehow rationalize it. The ending of The Strangers is a good example. I actually enjoyed that movie, ‘til the end. We’re shown the two protagonists, trapped in a room with their assailants, no hope for escape, as they’re slowly killed. Why are you showing me this? What dramatic purpose does it serve? It’s not to build suspense, because they aren’t saved, and there’s no hope that they will be. It’s just there to satisfy a need to watch people be tortured. It shows contempt for the characters on the part of the filmmaker—and contempt for the audience, as well.
Fatally Yours: Where do you think the horror genre is going in the coming years?
Brian Solomon: That’s so hard to say. One thing I have noticed is that foreign horror, meaning outside the United States, is becoming more of a force than ever before. Some of the absolute best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years have been foreign language films. I have a feeling this is going to continue to an even greater degree. I also think we’re seeing another golden age of direct-to-video horror like what happened with the VHS boom of the ‘80s. Distributors like Lions Gate and IFC are putting out tons of stuff – lots of it inevitably awful, but there’s also a lot of great stuff in there, as well.
Fatally Yours: What horror films are you most looking forward to in 2010?
Brian Solomon: I’m excited about things like The Wolfman, Survival of the Dead, The Walking Dead TV series. Also, Shutter Island, as I touched on before. Interestingly, I’d say I’m looking forward to The Walking Dead more than any actual film this year, because I’ve always wanted to see a quality zombie TV series, and that comic book seemed to me to be the perfect source material. As for movies, I’d say The Wolfman still has me the most fascinated. There’s been so much drama surrounding it, and although I cant help but lose some hope regarding its quality, I still can’t help but also be extremely curious to see it.
Fatally Yours: What people in horror do you look up to and admire?
Brian Solomon: As someone who’s worked in magazines, and even ran one for a time, I have tremendous respect for Jovanka Vukovic and what she did with Rue Morgue. Especially as a woman in the field – believe me, I’ve seen the attitudes towards women in the magazine industry, it makes Mad Men look feminist. And to actually get to that position and have that kind of power in a male-dominated category is quite a feat. I admire someone like Max Brooks, who could have easily made a living being “Mel Brooks’ son”, instead embracing a topic he was passionate about and almost single-handedly spawning a sub-genre of zombie fiction. I admire George Romero for sticking to his guns and making movies the way he wants to make them, for avoiding the studio system as much as is still humanly possible, even in a day and age when so much has changed from when he first got into the business.
Fatally Yours: What are some of your current horror favorites in film, literature, video games, etc.?
Brian Solomon: The most terrifying new film I’ve seen since starting The Vault of Horror has been [REC]. In terms of quality, the best has been Let the Right One In. I’d call that one of the best movies of the decade – of any genre. In the past year, Grace, Drag Me to Hell and Deadgirl are standouts for me. I also consider Moon to be psychological horror in part, and that one completely blew me away last year as well. In literature, I was impressed with Breathers, although I’m not sure it quite lived up to its prodigious hype. I’m reading something right now called The Werewolf’s Guide to Life, which is a lot of fun. There’s also a comic series out now called North 40 that is head and shoulders above a lot of the lackluster horror comics out there. I’m not much of a video game guy, so I can’t really comment on that, although if you consider Godzilla to be horror, then I will say that Godzilla Unleashed is a pretty kick-ass bit of interactive entertainment. I enjoy recreating the Megalon/Jet Jaguar battle from Godzilla vs. Megalon with my son…
Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films and books of all time?
Brian Solomon: The original Dawn of the Dead is my all-time favorite horror film. Beyond that, I’d have to rank LTROI [Let the Right One In], ROTLD [Return of the Living Dead], the original TCM, Nosferatu, Bride of Frankenstein, Psycho, Dead Alive, The Evil Dead, Suspiria, The Shining, The Exorcist and Alien on that list as well, among so many others. But most people would agree on most of those, anyway. More off the beaten path, I’d go with The House by the Cemetery, the original Haunting, the Fredric March Jekyll & Hyde, Kiss of the Vampire. And of course, all civilized humans can agree on Shaun of the Dead.
With books, I’m definitely an Anne Rice defender. In her heyday, she was a much finer prose stylist than Stephen King could ever hope to be. The Vampire Lestat is her best. I’m also a big Dan Simmons fan, both of his horror and sci-fi stuff. I devoured World War Z in about six days, so that’s another one. Naturally Poe, with my all-time favorite being The Tell-Tale Heart. And in the past couple of years, I’ve gotten a much deeper appreciation for Lovecraft. The man practically invented horror as we know it.
Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite scream queens and kings of horror?
Brian Solomon: Vincent Price, Vincent Price, and Vincent Price. The man could literally do no wrong – I would watch him read stereo instructions. He relished his roles so much, and it always showed. At the same time, he always had fun with it, and was somehow able to balance the horror and the histrionic, tongue-in-cheek hamminess. He’s pure bliss to watch, I especially love his later stuff like Dr. Phibes and Theatre of Blood. Dwight Frye is extremely overrated and literally stole Dracula out from under Bela Lugosi. Anyone who reads the Vault knows of my obsession with Linnea Quigley, which also goes back to my ROTLD obsession. She was the epitome of the ‘80s horror vixen, how could you not be in lust with her? Plus, Hammer always had a knack for casting the most outrageously gorgeous women—it’s such a product of the swingin’ mod ‘60s in Britain, I love it.
Fatally Yours: What horror film do you think is highly overrated?
Brian Solomon: I have never been able to understand the utter adoration of Friday the 13th that seems often to be the underlying pillar of so much of horror fandom. Completely derivative, utterly unimaginative, cynical, puritanical, the antithesis of frightening. I enjoy the original, even if that’s also a blatant rip-off of Halloween, but once Jason comes into the mix, it’s just such a terrific bore. One methodical kill after another, with no rhyme or reason, strung together to allow the audience to watch really annoying people die. It doesn’t even try to scare you or make you care.
Fatally Yours: When you aren’t immersed in horror, what do you do to pay the bills?
Brian Solomon: I can honestly say that blogging has helped lead to things in my actual career—so hang in there, kids! I was a writer/editor/marketer based primarily in the print world, but thanks to all the web acumen I’ve accumulated via blogging and social networking, I’m actually getting paid now to build and run a website. It’s the web presence of a magazine publishing company, basically the online version of their print periodicals. It’s been fun and challenging actually creating something from the ground up like this, and keeping it running smoothly. Helps me still feel creative. Funny thing is, the sites are actually based on WordPress templates, so it’s almost like I’m getting paid to blog! Sort of.
Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre? What can we expect from The Vault of Horror in 2010?
Brian Solomon: Honestly, this thing has come a lot further than I ever even imagined it would! I’m grateful that the Vault has accumulated a strong readership, and that people seem to actually be enjoying what I put out there. I’d love to see the traffic continue to grow, and the online presence to widen even further, so that maybe one day it could even become a website to rival the “big boys” – hell, I’m not against luring some juicy advertisers in, I have no problem merging art and commerce, as long as it’s done right! I’m in the midst of putting together the 2nd annual Cyber Horror Awards, the only horror movie awards voted on by the online horror writing community, which I expect to be a lot broader in scope than it was last year. I’ve also been doing a lot with connecting with other blogs, and doing my part to foster a kind of community in the horror blogosphere, so I hope to do even more of that. It’s a crazy, interconnected web of writers and readers out there, and I love being a part of it.
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