Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Interview with Horror Critic Kelsey Zukowski
Kelsey Zukowski is a movie critic, interviewer, screenwriter, and avid movie fan who loves all things horror. Her tastes range from vampire and zombie supernatural flicks, serial killer slashers, psychological thrillers, and everything from the gruesomely gory to more artsy horror films that use the genre to creatively have a conversation about societal wrongs or aspects of human nature. Kelsey is a senior at DePaul University, graduating this year with a Bachelor’s of Arts in digital cinema with a concentration in screenwriting. Kelsey has written a number of feature length screenplays as well as shorts, many of which she has made in to short student films. Horror is her favorite genre to write about since she finds it so thrilling and fun. Kelsey has been writing movie reviews for nearly seven years now. While she was in high school she started writing for The Valley Voice, an independent newspaper based in California. For the past 2 ½ years she has been writing reviews for HorrorYearbook.com and 2Snaps.tv. Shortly after she started writing for HorrorMovieFans.com, FilmArcade.net, and TCWReviews.com.
Fatally Yours: How did you fall in love with the horror genre?
Kelsey Zukowski: The Halloween franchise got me in to horror. I was easily scared by horror films when I was younger so I mostly stayed away from them until later. In middle school my friends and I really got in to the Halloween series, though. We watched them constantly and even did reenactments of scenes. I actually dislocated my kneecap one time when I was playing the victim; I guess you can say I really committed to the role. Watching the series was the first time when I saw that fun element that now seems to go hand in hand with nearly every horror film I watch. From there I started getting in to some of the other classics like my current favorite, Nightmare on Elm Street. Once I discovered a lot of these films I was hooked and my love for the genre has only grown.
Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?
Kelsey Zukowski: Horror means a lot of things to me. It holds the opportunity for great creativity to communicate meaning, themes, and social conversations. Even creativity in kills and gore can leave a lasting impression on the audience. It’s great how versatile horror is. It can be fun and gory, a supernatural thriller full of suspense and tension that leaves you on the edge of your seat anticipating what might happen next, or have beautiful brutality inserting meaning. It’s thrilling, but outside of our everyday world, taking us in to another world where there aren’t any limits.
Fatally Yours: How and when did you start writing about the horror genre?
Kelsey Zukowski: I became such a movie fan that when I was around 14 I started writing reviews. After watching a film, it stayed with me, and writing reviews on the films was a way for me to examine and even re-experience the film. For awhile I just wrote them for myself. Eventually I started posting them on Myspace where I started sharing my reviews and reading other fellow movie critics reviews, which enabled me to have an audience through the movie community that formed on there. In 2007 I found out that HorrorYearbook.com was looking for new writers. I sent in a few samples of my reviews and shortly after started writing reviews for the site on a weekly basis. In January of 2008 FilmArcade.net was launched. The owner, Tony DeFrancisco was a movie critic I knew from Myspace and he asked me to write for the site. In October of that year another friend of mine who was the co-administrator of the site, Anthony Thurber, and I started a horror themed column entitled, “She Screams, He Screams.” It mostly focuses on lower budget, independent films. We both give our own insights on the film, showing both the female and male viewpoints. That May I had also started writing for HorrorMovieFans.com’s recently launched newsblog where I wrote reviews on a lot of small, independent horror films as well as some bigger releases.
Fatally Yours: What is one thing you’ve done within the horror genre that you are most proud of?
Kelsey Zukowski: I was quoted on the cover of the recently released, indie horror film, Livestock. I highly recommend the film. It really takes you by surprise, becoming something completely different than what it seems to originally be. It was great to find out I was quoted since that tells me my opinion is valid, trusted, and means something. I’m thrilled any time I can give smaller horror films credit that they deserve and make more people aware of films that they might never have known about otherwise.
Fatally Yours: How would you convince people who aren’t horror fans to give the genre a try?
Kelsey Zukowski: I hate that horror has gotten such a bad reputation. I think most people only think of horror as the big Hollywood films that are mostly lazy and uninventive remakes these days. All of the independent, foreign, and even a few of the bigger budgeted horror films that are real gems get overlooked, and that’s a shame. The genre is often seen as obscene trash, but I would argue that there is a lot more there than most people realize even in films that they themselves might group as such. Saw is one film that is probably considered trash by many, but there is a lot there about the human condition and the drive to live, not to mention it gave us a completely unique villain with a complex view of morality. The French film, Frontier(s), is another great example of the meaning that horror can hold. It is an extremely brutal bloodbath, but that violence is a metaphor for the struggle in society. It was the director’s response to the race riots in 2005 going on in France. The director could have made a documentary or straight forward drama on the events, but it seems so much more creative and has a much larger impact with the intense imagery and horrifying situation our character is put in. There are a lot of significant horror films out there and showing people that it is a divergent and misunderstood genre by many might open others view and allow them to give deserving horror films a chance.
Fatally Yours: In your opinion, what constitutes a good horror review? What guidelines do you follow when reviewing something?
Kelsey Zukowski: For a good horror review, I think first off you should go in to it with as little expectations as possible or at least to not make any real judgments until you really give the film a chance. I think it’s important to state the good and the bad. I try to be as constructive and fair as possible with my reviews. Even if I respect the filmmaker or what they were trying to do, if there are flaws, I have to acknowledge those as well. I owe my readers an honest review. I tend to write longer and very thorough reviews since I liked to have a conversation about the film through my reviews. I acknowledge everything that stuck out to me and how I viewed the film overall. With horror films, the kills, gore, tension, suspense and how effective it was are major points that I think reviews should hit on.
Fatally Yours: Do you feel women in horror get the proper recognition when compared to their male counterparts?
Kelsey Zukowski: Well, males definitely dominate the field and actually most of the film industry in general. It might be surprising to some that certain horror films are the work of women writers and directors, but I think they do get the respect and credit due to them for the films they create. Perhaps not quite as much as they deserve sometimes, but I don’t think that is necessarily because of their sex. Still, there are so few women horror directors in comparison to males that it does make you wonder.
Fatally Yours: As a woman who writes about horror, have you found it harder to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males?
Kelsey Zukowski: Sometimes people are surprised that I am such a big horror fan being a woman. I think it’s somewhat rarer, but I don’t often feel like I am not taken seriously because of it. I think generally it is more appreciated at least by people who are also passionate about the horror genre and more misunderstood by casual movie fans.
Fatally Yours: Since you’ve been involved with the horror genre, have you noticed a change in women’s roles within horror whether it be roles in horror films, women behind the camera or women writers?
Kelsey Zukowski: It seems there are a lot more strong female characters and a lot of female writers and directors making notable films. Amy Lynn Best is a writer/director who falls in to this category. Her film, Splatter Movie: The Director’s Cut, is a fun mockumentary that has a very memorable rape scene that switches the roles, making the predatory male the victim and puts the female, fiercely played by B-movie queen, Debbie Rochon, in control. Some of the best horror films in the last year or so have had strong female characters. Frontier(s), Inside, Otis, Let The Right One In, Grace, Antichrist, Eden Lake, The Orphanage, and Nympha are just a few recent films that have had smart, strong, and resilient female characters who endure more than most people ever could.
Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire?
Kelsey Zukowski: Debbie Rochon is one woman in horror I definitely admire. It’s clear how much she loves horror movies. She sticks with the B-movies because she’s able to work with great people who are just as enthused to be making horror movies simply because they’re projects they believe in and those in which they have a hell of a time making. Tiffany Shepis is another young horror actress who is a strong leading lady and shows that she loves the genre and being a part of it. In Nympha, she portrayed a very strong female character who had to question everything she believed amongst enormous amounts of torture being inflicted upon her. Her character didn’t even have all that much dialogue, but still she depicted so much depth, suffering, and betrayal through her eyes and facial expressions alone. Shepis always has great energy and screen presence, making her a joy to watch.
Fatally Yours: What inspires, influences and motivates you to keep writing about horror?
Kelsey Zukowski: First and foremost I just love the genre, re-watching the classics, and discovering new inventive, fun horror films. When I watch a film that has any type of impact on me or even just is entertaining, it makes me want to write about it and to share my experience and impressions on the film with others. Whether it’s to recommend and advice readers of horror films they don’t want to miss, show a different side to films that non-horror fans might not have anticipated, or even if it’s bad then to warn audiences that it’s not worth the time, I always enjoy writing about the films. Horror is a minority genre and it does seem like it needs others to fight for it more. Lower budget or independent films whose marketing campaign mostly consists of reviews and word of mouth rely heavily on press. More importantly though, I really appreciate how passionate horror fans are. Through writing about horror films, I have connected with so many people. The horror community is full of movie lovers who are knowledgeable, excited, and love talking about horror films. When you have an audience consisting of people like this it isn’t hard to become motivated to write about films that are inspiring, creative, and full of substance and style.
Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films and books?
Kelsey Zukowski: Nightmare on Elm Street is my favorite film. I always loved the dream world becoming something real, making the victims unable to escape. It merges the lines of reality and fiction, taking away any safety net and taking us in to a dimension where nightmares are a reality and nothing is impossible. Freddy Krueger as the villain has only made the film stronger. I love the mysterious, ominous killers like Michael and Jason, but Freddy is so in your face and his dark and demented sense of humor only makes him seem more unstable, crazy, and capable of anything. Also, Nancy was a breath of fresh air as far as women in slasher films go. She was relentless and strong enough to stand up to this horrifying immortal monster who had brutally killed nearly everyone she cared about and was invading her mind and wellbeing. I’m a big Wes Craven fan in general; Serpent and the Rainbow, People Under the Stairs, Last House of the Left, and The Hills Have Eyes are favorite of mine as well.
As far as horror books go I am really in to vampire and supernatural series like The Southern Vamire Mysteries, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, House of Night, Vampire Kisses, the Immortals, The Immortal Instruments, and The Morganville Vampires.
Fatally Yours: Outside of horror what do you enjoy doing?
Kelsey Zukowski: Although, horror is my favorite, I enjoy all types of films. I will give just about any type of film a try and love being opened to other cultures, ideas, or themes through films. I love going to the movies, but film festivals really have the best energy as you’re surrounded by film fans who care enough about film to seek out different and unique ones that mostly they would never be exposed to otherwise. Outside of film, television shows I really enjoy are True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Dexter, Reaper, Weeds, One Tree Hill, The Office, Community, Glee, Heroes, How I Met Your Mother, South Park, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Scrubs, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Everything from teen drama to quirky mockumentary to serial killer drama encompasses my tastes. Given my love for horror sometimes people are surprised in my musical taste; I am really into reggae and hip hop music. Some of my favorite artists are Arrested Development, Matisyahu, K’Naan, N.E.R.D., Flobots, Atmosphere, Jurassic 5, Ub-40, Bob Marley, Stephen Marley, and Damien Marley.
Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre?
Kelsey Zukowski: I hope to get some of my full feature horror screenplays made in to movies in the future and for them to reach the desired audience. I have a few finished right now that I would love to see on the big screen one day. I plan to keep on writing and creating horror scripts to have conversations about society, life, and horrific themes. I love writing horror reviews and being able to share my perception and spark conversations with other fans. After I graduate this year, I would like to write horror reviews, articles, and interviews on a more full-time and permanent basis.
Fatally Yours: Where can people find your reviews/more info on you?
Kelsey Zukowski: They can find my reviews on HorrorYearbook.com, HorrorMovieFans.com/newsblog, FilmArcade.net, 2snaps.tv, TCWReviews.com, and Wikpik.com. You can find more information and contact me at Myspace.com/kelz88 and Facebook.com/kelsey.zukowski.