Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interview with Journalist Heather Wixson

Heather Wixson, also known around these parts as “The Horror Chick,” can pinpoint where her love of the horror genre started exactly. At age three, Heather’s mom used her amazing parental judgment and took her to see An American Werewolf in London (For the record, Heather learned some 25 years later that even John Landis thought this was a bad idea when she told him about it.) She spent the next few years of her childhood watching as many horror films as she could get away with (usually peeking from behind a blanket) and after a while, her mom knew it was a losing battle trying to get to stop watching them an and it was all downhill from there.

While growing up, Heather always had a love for writing and as she got older, journalism really spoke to her. But the idea of stability prevailed and she gave up her dream of writing for the “joe job.” However, Heather soon realized that sometimes stability is overrated and found her calling when she joined TerrorTube in 2007 as a movie reviewer.

Heather was not simply happy just giving her opinion (although she still offers them up regularly) so she boldly decided to start reaching out to the horror industry and began lining up interviews any way she could. In late 2008, she was appointed Content Editor.

Joining Dread Central is a long-time dream of Heather’s, as she is generally known for saying “the more freaks, the merrier.” Her life’s ambition is to continue to prove all the idiots wrong who always said to her growing up – “Oh, horror movies? That stuff is just crap.”

Fatally Yours: How did you fall in love with the horror genre? 

Heather Wixson: My first horror experience would be when my mom took me to see An American Werewolf in London when I was three years old. What’s funny is that I don’t remember much about being that young but I do remember watching the movie theater scene from AAWIL with my mom.
When I was about six, my best friend and I discovered Salem’s Lot and I think it all sort of started rolling from there. When most of my friends had New Kids on the Block posters on their walls, I had Freddy Krueger.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?

Heather Wixson: Horror as a genre means escapism. It’s the place where you can explore your deepest fears and still be within the safety of real life. For me as a person, horror is home.  Horror is where I feel like I belong the most.

Fatally Yours: How and when did you start writing about the horror genre?

Heather Wixson: I started writing in general when I was in kindergarten believe it or not. I only got into covering the horror genre about three years ago and a lot of that is due to Adam Green.

He was at a convention in Chicago to promote Hatchet and he told his Dee Snider story (which if anyone hasn’t heard it, they should watch the special features on Hatchet to get an idea of how inspirational it is). I was just about to give up on journalism in general and decided after hearing Green talk about his experiences that I wasn’t just ready to throw the towel in.

Within a few days, I had found an ad for Terror Tube, a new horror website that needed reviewers, and I joined their team. In January 2009, I was asked to join the staff at Dread Central after I did some Sundance articles and reviews for them and it’s been an honor to be a part of the Dread team ever since. I continue to work for both sites now.

Fatally Yours: What is one thing you’ve done within the horror genre that you are most proud of?

Heather Wixson: One thing? That’s really hard. There’s so much that I am really proud of like working on all the Grace stuff leading up to its release, or the piece I wrote on Clive Barker or my profile on ArieScope Pictures in honor of their 10th anniversary.

But I guess the overlying thing that I am most proud of is the fact that I have been able to move forward with my horror journalism career. Everything up until I started working with Dread Central was 100% my own doing.

When I started off with Terror Tube, I had no press access really, no contacts, no inkling on how to get my foot in the door. So, I had to make my own way and I guess that’s probably what means the most to me – knowing that I really earned my place here in LA.

Fatally Yours: How would you convince people who aren’t horror fans to give the genre a try?

Heather Wixson: My biggest pet peeve is when people look down on horror as sub-par cinema.  It’s easy for a lot of people to dismiss horror as a genre of filmmaking that exists just to exploit human nature or shock people for the sake of shocking people.

I try to keep that in mind whenever discussing horror with anyone who has more of a mainstream focus. I try to promote the fact that a lot of horror movies these days do still have substance and that they are just as much of an art form as say an Oscar-bait film like Shakespeare in Love or something like that…sometimes a good story is just wrapped up inside a movie that has murder, mayhem, or even zombies.

Fatally Yours: In your opinion, what constitutes a good horror review? What guidelines do you follow when reviewing something?

Heather Wixson: I guess a good horror review explores every aspect of the film- not just how much nudity or blood there is.

I have two sets of guidelines I use when doing reviews. I have the “indie scale” and the “Hollywood scale” when giving ratings. I never thought it was fair to hold up someone’s independently produced horror film up to the same standards as a studio’s $20 million project because those who work within the indie filmmaking community certainly don’t have the same resources as, say, Universal or Warner Bros.

My other sticking point for reviews is that I refuse to include spoilers. I hate when someone does a review and says “spoiler alert.” Well, how as a reader am I supposed to read about a movie to find out if I would like it or not if someone is going to end up ruining it for me when they discuss its merits in a review? I think there’s always a way to discuss a movie without giving away the “reveals.”

Fatally Yours: Do you feel women in horror get the proper recognition when compared to their male counterparts?

Heather Wixson: If you would have asked me this question a few years ago, I probably would have given you a different answer than I am about to now.

But I do feel like women in horror are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve.  Ultimately, Hollywood as a whole is very male dominated so of course that’s going to spill over into the world of horror. Men will always be a step ahead of women, which is just a fact of life when you work in the entertainment industry, but I truly think women are finally catching up and are starting to demonstrate why they should be taken seriously.

Do I ever think there will be a time when women are ahead of men? Not really and that’s okay. I think I will be happy when there’s an equality between the sexes – where it doesn’t matter if someone has boobs or not, if they did their job well – whatever it may be – then they get recognized for it.

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? 

Heather Wixson: Truthfully, yes. I always joke that horror is kind of like a “sausage fest” because most of the journalists covering horror are men. Sometimes it can feel a bit like a “Boys Club” but I don’t really let that deter me. The horror journalists out there who are men work just as hard as I do so I guess I try to not let the fact that I am slightly outnumbered get to me. In the end, I try to see all of us as fellow journalists and not just see it with a guys vs. girls mentality.

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?

Heather Wixson: I think so. I think what’s interesting is that a lot of women who we’ve always known as “Final Girls” (like Heather Langenkamp, Lisa Wilcox, Danielle Harris just to name a few) are stepping outside of that label and doing other things within in the genre like directing or producing.

I think that’s really cool because I grew up watching these women on the screen and now they’re working behind the scenes on projects and it’s a really positive influence as a woman to see that it’s possible to take your life in new directions.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire?

Heather Wixson: In the world of horror journalism, I really admire Debi Moore with Dread Central who has been a great friend and mentor to me. I’ve also learned a lot from Staci Layne Wilson and Heidi Martinuzzi since I moved to Los Angeles. They’ve all been in this business a lot longer than I have and I can always find new things to learn from all of them.

In terms of working in the horror industry, one woman I really admire is Kathryn Bigelow. I know Near Dark is really her only true horror film but she has such a great vision as a writer/director that you can’t help but be captivated by what she does. Plus, I know this will probably catch me a lot of slack, but Point Break is one of my favorite movies of all time.

I also really admire women like Langenkamp, Wilcox, Harris, Felissa Rose, and Tiffany Shepis who have kept their careers moving forward within the horror genre.

Fatally Yours: What inspires, influences and motivates you to keep writing about horror?

Heather Wixson: What inspires me is that simply – I love horror. I love my job. And I am really grateful to be where I am today because I know just how lucky I am to be a horror journalist. I never take that for granted. Not for a single moment.

The one moment in my life that motivates me to keep pushing is a personal one from about 18 months back or so. In the midst of my marriage falling apart, my now ex-husband basically told me that I needed to quit writing and focus on the rest of my life, that it was never going to lead anywhere and that no one was ever going to take me seriously.

For a split second, I almost believed him. But I knew I had to keep going forward so that’s what I did. Knowing that I got to prove him (and ultimately myself) wrong still motivates me to this day.

Because of that one statement by him, I made the decision that no matter what it took, I needed to get myself out of Illinois and out to California so that I could keep pushing forward.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films and books?

Heather Wixson: Picking favorite horror films always feels like choosing between your children- it’s really hard!

But I guess some of my favorites include Fright Night, Shaun of the Dead, Creepshow, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, The Howling, The Descent, The Devil’s Rejects, Nightbreed, Near Dark, the Sleepaway Camp series… I could go on and on.

In terms of horror literature, I am not what you’d call a big reader now.  I used to read a lot of horror stuff when I was growing up, like pretty much anything Stephen King wrote (I read Christine and Carrie when I was 7). These days, I find myself more of a graphic novel type person.

Some of the graphic novels/series I’ve enjoyed are Sandman, Hack/Slash, Preacher, Watchmen, Sin City, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer- just to name a few.

Fatally Yours: Outside of horror what do you enjoy doing?

Heather Wixson: Is there life outside of horror? Kidding! No, seriously – I am huge movie person in general so I do go and check out a lot of mainstream movies when I can find the time.

I don’t really have hobbies so I guess some activities that I enjoy include playing Wii, watching some Adult Swim, watching football, checking out live music. Stuff like that. And yes, based on those answers, I promise I am really a girl!

Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the horror genre?

Heather Wixson: First and foremost, my goals within horror are as a horror journalist. I’ve always loved writing, I love what I do and I still have a lot to learn so I don’t plan on going anywhere just yet.

But what I have also realized is that sometimes have to step outside your comfort zone and push yourself in other ways, which is what I have been doing.  I’ve been learning how to shoot and edit video and I have a project that I have been developing since this summer that will hopefully be moving forward in 2010.  Fingers crossed at least!

But honestly, if none of that other stuff ever goes anywhere, getting to be a horror journalist is a dream come true for me and I would be happy keeping that job.

Fatally Yours: Where can people find your reviews/more info on you?

Heather Wixson: You can find my stuff on www.dreadcentral.com or at www.terrortube.com.  For the sake of making things easier for my mom, I also post everything I write for all the sites at thehorrorchick.blogspot.com.

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