Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interview with Publisher Jessie Lilley

Jessie Lilley has been publishing and editing small press magazines for 20+ years. She is the original publisher of the much acclaimed Scarlet Street: The Magazine of Mystery and Horror, Worldly Remains: A Pop Culture Review and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Mondo Cult Magazine and MondoCult.com. Her freelance work has appeared in the pages of Los Angeles’ Valley Scene Magazine and Perth, Australia’s Messenger along with a host of small press publications and websites related to horror films and music.

Jessie also edits biographies, including the memoir GLORIA by Bond-girl Gloria Hendry; an in-depth and candid look at the life of an African-American actress coming up in the extraordinary time known simply as ‘The 60s”. It is currently available at amazon.com.  Another project which was completed in the fall of 2009 is the biography of character actor Paul Reed, Sr. by his son Paul, Jr. A delightful remembrance by a loving son and a retelling of the stories his father told him about making a mark in “the business” in early 20th century New York City. Entitled You Grew Up, the book is scheduled for release later this year. Jessie is currently editing a series of children’s books called Rowdy and Me. The first in the series, Rowdy Comes Home, is due to hit bookstores by Easter.

Jessie lives in Santa Cruz County, CA at the top of a hill at the end of the road with her husband, musician David Paul Campbell, three fine and rescued cats and various, visiting doggies.

Fatally Yours: How and when did you fall in love with horror? 

Jessie Lilley: When I was a little girl and I saw Henry Daniell in Val Lewton’s The Body Snatcher on Million Dollar Movie out of New York. It scared the very devil out of me at the time, but it would seem I loved being scared.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you? 

Jessie Lilley: That’s hard to answer. There are so many different aspects of it. When I think ‘horror’ my mind turns to Frankenstein, Zacherley, Stephen King, Godzilla – I could go on and on. Between the books, films both classic and current and all the conventions with their myriad and costumed attendees, the mind simply boggles. So what it means to me really, is endless fun.

Fatally Yours: How did your career in horror start?

Jessie Lilley: Ha! Through the back door. Back in the 80s, my friend Richard Valley called me at work one day, complaining about the Sherlock Holmes VHS tapes he had bought. It was the series from Granada Television in the UK that starred the now-legendary Jeremy Brett. It seems the original VHS release was missing bits and pieces from each episode and it was driving Richard to distraction. He asked me if I’d call the company and complain because by now they weren’t taking his calls anymore. So I did. Long story short, I introduced myself as the publisher of a Sherlock Holmes newsletter – which didn’t exist – and asked them for a quote as to what they were going to do about the missing segments. What they did was pull the tapes, remaster them at their own expense and send me a complete set at no charge. They then asked if I’d run an ad for the tapes in my newsletter. I called Richard and told him they now wanted to advertise and he said, “Oops.” So we gathered the crowd together, wrote some articles and printed the thing. We noticed though that Holmes and mystery wouldn’t fill the book so we added some horror articles as well as we were all fans of the Universal classics.

Fatally Yours: Why do you think the horror genre has primarily been a boy’s club?

Jessie Lilley: Mainly because the boys were the ones that wanted to promote horror so they could bring their girls to the movies and have an excuse for the girl to climb all over them in the last row. Why else? Seriously? Okay. I’ll be good. Up until fairly recently, girls were supposed to grow up, marry, have kids and keep the house. Boys were supposed to grow up, marry and support the girls and subsequent offspring. That nonsense has thankfully been eradicated from society and we girls are allowed to play in the pool, too. Quite frankly, it no doubt never occurred to the majority of women to get involved in the “business” of horror unless they were actresses. It certainly hadn’t occurred to me. There I was, a good little suburban housewife, working 9-5 and keeping the house for my first husband and all of a sudden I’m publishing a magazine and being invited to sit on panels at horror conventions. Mr. Lilley was not amused. The marriage ended.

Fatally Yours: Have you noticed an increase in women getting involved in the horror genre? Do you think women’s roles in horror, both behind and in front of the camera, are changing?

Jessie Lilley: Of course there’s an increase. I’m no longer the only woman publisher in the small press horror mag business. In fact, I’ve been around so long that I’m not considered news anymore and haven’t been for more than a decade. Within the publishing realm alone, there are so many more women editing, writing and publishing in small press that what I did back then seems almost unimportant. As to performance, directing, producing, etc. I say again, of course. It has to. As with all generations, as the times change the roles of the men and women living through those times change. Alien is still, in my opinion, the best example of how women’s roles have changed in horror films. And I believe that Sigourney Weaver is responsible for that change. The script certainly, but her performance nailed it and broadcast to the world that here’s a woman who doesn’t trip over a grain of sand while engaged in a panicked and headlong rush into the night to escape a shambling mummy that couldn’t make it from the living room to the bedroom in less than half an hour. Not only did Ripley kick ass in that film, the monster she strove to defeat was female as well!

Fatally Yours: What elements can females bring to the horror genre that are lacking in males’ perspectives?

Jessie Lilley: The mother instinct. Whether you’ve borne children or no, there is something in what I believe to be the majority of women that nurtures. Men are not natural nurturers. Women are. Also, when it comes to beating on male monsters, women are better at it because it’s part of their natural defense mechanism. While a man meeting a man will assume an attitude of bonhomme, a woman will always have certain defenses up. Whereas a man can be blindsided by another man’s evil intent, a woman has a better chance of being prepared out of hand.

Fatally Yours: Do you think it’s harder for women to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males? 

Jessie Lilley: Not any more. Yes, it was so once, but within film, literature and the arts in general, I would have to say no. There will always be people who are not taken seriously in one form or another, but that problem stems from their lack of self esteem or their unwillingness to learn their craft before entering the main arena. Men of earlier generations may well still have a hard time accepting women in certain roles, but by and large, they’re dealing with it. And quite frankly, what they may say in the privacy of their homes as opposed to how they behave in public is their business and no one else’s. Everyone has the right to their opinions, whether we all agree with them or not. One must make allowances for the values of past generations. They worked well then and ours work well now. I have a great respect for people in general and I have no qualms about yelling for help from my husband if I need it. By the same token, he’s been known to yell for help from me. ’Twas ever thus; men and women rely on each other to get through life. That’s not a bad thing girls; the war is over and we won. Now it’s time to get to know our adversary and enjoy him. He’s not such a bad sort.

Fatally Yours: Do you ever get annoyed at how women in horror movies always end naked or with their clothes ripped off?

Jessie Lilley: Hell, no. It’s the nature of the beast. And what’s wrong with it anyway? Something there you haven’t seen before?

Fatally Yours: What horror movie would you say is equally fair in terms of men being objectified or at least, losing the same amount of clothes?

Jessie Lilley: Regarding the clothing, any Hammer film; spectacular stuff going on in those. As to objectification, the concept is bullshit on at least two levels. First of all, what’s wrong with women being admired? I’ve never had a problem with it. When I had a killer body, I was always pleased when men admired it. I have never understood why women dress to the nines and then get insulted when someone compliments them on the way they look.

Second, women are not the only ones who have been objectified, if you will, in film. Men have been so from all the way back to the start, but the intellectual femmes have chosen to ignore that fact. Just for fun, I opened one of the film books I have – there are several – and looked at some of the pictures from RKO, MGM, Warner Brothers, etc. Get a load of how many men have their shirts off, stripped down to the waist, sweaty, muscular, heaving pecs stirring the blood of the female filmgoers of the 20s, 30s, 40s and so on. Have you ever seen an Errol Flynn film? How about Clark Gable? Or pick almost any western and chances are you’re going to catch the hard body of countless males sweating away in the desert heat. You think the moguls put that on screen for any reason other than to get the women flocking to theatres? Not a chance. Men got their peep shows as well. Busby Berkeley pointed out back in the 20s or 30s that we were all grownups here. What’s wrong with showing ladies in their smalls? Nothing. It’s all about getting asses in seats. As the years went on, more and more garments were able to be removed in front of the camera and sent out to the public at large so now it’s not just panties and bras, but more titillating bits as well. Big deal.

But further to this point, I will hearken back to Alien again and its Mama Monster. If you wish to discuss objectification, tell me why in many of the older films the monster was usually male? That’s just objectifying the men in horror films as poorly and unfairly as having the ingĂ©nue being incapable of outrunning the mummy I mentioned earlier.

So let’s go back to Hammer studios. Hammer was a grand studio when it came to equal rights. There was an entire book written and published my Midnight Marquee Press called Bitches, Bimbos and Virgins, which totally missed the point of Hammer Studios. I swear the person who wrote that book did not view the same films I did. It was either that or she viewed them in a parallel universe. You want to talk about equal opportunity objectification? Check them out. I swear the men are disrobed more often than the women and the monster/villain/bad guy in the horror films was a woman nearly as often as it was a man. And leave us not forget Roger Corman. He directed Wasp Woman, among others. Does that sound like the monster was a man? No. How about Gorgo? Forry Ackerman trashed the fairy tale but had one of the greatest captions in a horror mag ever, to wit, “London Bridge is falling down when Gorgo’s Mama comes to town.” She preceded Ripley’s gruesome adversary by 18 years.

This will require some more study, but I’d say somewhere in the 1940s, the villains of the piece became interchangeable. It could be a man or a woman, depending on the writer’s mood. This would be a direct result of World War II, wherein women were out and about, building the machines of war that the men used overseas. Women were also in the military at that point so the roles were changing across the board. You’re aware, I assume, that the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II was a mechanic during WWII. The harpies who continually bellow about women being misused in horror films don’t know the history of the genre. If they’d pay attention and actually research their chosen subject, they might find out that their entire thesis is way the hell off base.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel you’ve become desensitized to stereotypical scenes in horror like the half-naked girl screaming and running for her life in slow motion? Or are these types of familiar horror tropes still effective and necessary? 

Jessie Lilley: Not when a film is done well. The problem, as I see it, is that there are many badly made films available from both yesteryear and today. When a good one comes along, I don’t care if their all running about starkers as long as the film is well made. Are the tropes necessary? Of course they are! You still have to get the asses in the seats. When the film is badly done, the only thing worth watching is the naked bodies charging around. When it’s well done, you don’t notice clothing or the lack thereof because you’re completely caught up in the tale.

Fatally Yours: How do you feel about the old stereotypical view that women are “soft” and not able to endure horror as well as men? 

Jessie Lilley: It’s crap. Women never had a problem with horror. Well, most women. It’s just another way to make your man feel manly, by acting frightened of the celluloid beast.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire and why?

Jessie Lilley: I can’t name them all so I will name only one because of personal reasons. I have a long-standing friendship with Ingrid Pitt whom I both love and admire. She has such a lovely time of it in the films she made. She obviously had fun, took the work seriously and writes about it and other things to this day with grace and strength combined. She is magnificent.

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give women who want to become involved in the horror genre?

Jessie Lilley: Learn about it. Realize that horror didn’t start with Nightmare on Elm Street. Thomas Edison made a silent Frankenstein film before your grandparents were born for God’s sake. There’s a lot to learn, know and love in the older films and stories. Lighten up on the stereotype thing and enjoy it.

Fatally Yours: What has been your best experience while working in the horror community? What’s the worst?

Jessie Lilley: The best is a four-parter beginning with the friendship I shared with Robert Quarry, which never would have come to be were it not for my work on Scarlet Street.  Second is the friendship I share with Brad Linaweaver who is not only my publisher at Mondo Cult but has been a close friend and confidant for these past 7 or 8 years. Third was the joy I had in knowing and laughing with Jeremy Brett. That man called at the damnedest hours! Finally, and by far the absolute best is the series of events that led to my moving from New York to Los Angeles where I met my husband, David Campbell. All in all, the best part of this business is the many people I’ve met, some whom I dislike but most whom I truly enjoy. Good, solid friendships have formed over the years and it’s hard to fault a business that gives you that kind of return.

The worst is, hands down, discovering the petty jealousies that people can have and watching while those same jealousies shatter lives.

Fatally Yours: What was your biggest challenge as publisher of Scarlet Street, the magazine of Mystery and Horror, and what is your biggest challenge now as editor of Mondo Cult?

Jessie Lilley: On Scarlet Street it was getting the money to pay the printer. If you go into small press, as we did, believe me you’ll never get rich. You’ll have more headaches from trying to get the bills paid than anything else. I’m still in debt from those days and wonder sometimes if I’ll ever get out of it. On Mondo Cult, the biggest challenge is getting the time to put the thing together. I work a full time job, keep the house, freelance my writing around, I’m starting up a record label with my husband, not to mention assisting him with his musical career and running around on the Harley with him and on occasion I sleep.

Fatally Yours: What’s the last truly frightening horror film/book you saw/read?

Jessie Lilley: I haven’t been frightened in a long time. I’m still waiting for another truly thrilling piece to shoot me up through the ceiling. The last one I saw was a little known film that ran on Brit telly called The Woman in Black. It scared the hell out of me. To this day it continues to do so. There may well be one out there now, but this past year I’ve not been to any films. My husband has been ill and our time and money have been spent getting him back on his feet. Happily, that’s where he stands now so I may well get out of the house again soon.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror films, books, etc.?

Jessie Lilley: For pure enjoyment, I love the Universal classics and the Hammer films. I’m also a huge fan of the Amicus releases. I don’t think much of more current horror films. CGI bores me and gore doesn’t frighten me. Shock value doesn’t send me the way well-built suspense does. I have a special place in my heart for Army of Darkness as I enjoy the comedic aspects of it. I restate my love of A Woman in Black and also note that while I’ve enjoyed Stephen King in the past, my current favorite horror author is Jack Ketchum. He has, shall we say, a happy talent for composition. I’m also very fond of the more staid romantic ghost stories of Barbara Michaels. I’m a huge fan of the boys from TAPS and also of The Ghost Whisperer. Let’s here it for Prime Time!

Fatally Yours: What are your goals while working in the horror genre?

Jessie Lilley: To educate the younger generations on the older films and books. It annoys the hell out of me to read some of the things being printed where the at times brilliant works of past filmmakers aren’t considered worth watching for such absurd reasons as the fact that they’re in black and white. Or, equally absurd, that the films ‘objectify’ women. It makes me want to bash heads together.

Fatally Yours: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?

Jessie Lilley: My publisher has informed me that he’s ready for another go at this and I expect to announce Mondo Cult 3 for 2010 sometime in the next couple of months. We’ve also got a fledgling discussion forum going on at MondoCult.com where all are welcome and there is the Mondo blog of course, where I rant on about anything from horror to the legalization of marijuana to the health care bill. All comments are welcome. I’m also quite pleased to have been accepted as a writer at Horrornews.net.

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