Cutting Remarks! Part Two
Horror’s modern monsters think censorship is scarier than any fright film.
By: Anthony C. Ferrante
Published in Fanorgia #201.
Last year, FANGORIA assembled five of horrordom’s most popular actors for a roundtable discussion on the state of horror and their importance as icons in this industry. The players were Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy), Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th’s Jason), Angus Scrimm (Phantasm’s Tall Man), Doug Bradley (Hellraiser’s Pinhead) and Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster’s Djinn). The actors assembled at KNB studio in Van Nuys (except for Bradley, whose interview was done earlier and incorporated into the session).
The second part of this very candid chat picks up as the conversation takes a turn toward how horror has changed in the 20 years Fango has been around.
FANGORIA: How has the state of horror changed since 1979, when FANGORIA hit newsstands?
ROBERT ENGLUND: I believe that when Wes [Craven] brought that up in the original Scream, it changed it again, as much as any of the effects have. Now the regular audiences were as smart as fans of the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, because they were brought in on the joke. Our expectations have changed too; the smartening up and sort of admission to the fans that we recognize they have caught on to all our tricks is important. Now that we’ve copped to the fact that the audience knows what we’re up to, we must admit that, give it to them and also sort of have our cake and eat it too—we have to scare them again.
FANG: Is it possible to still scare self-aware audiences?
ANGUS SCRIMM: Any canny filmmaker can utilize even the oldest tricks and still scare people. The sudden jump cut—you can’t not react to that, especially if there’s a noise in there. The eerie quality of not knowing what’s coming and the horrible apprehension of what may lie ahead in the next few moments of a story will never cease to grip an audience. We certainly have over-exploited some of the horror tricks, like the ending where the monster is evidently dead and leaps back to life two or three times. Audiences are becoming jaded with that, but if a new wrinkle was put on that, it might still be a stunner.
FANG: Have filmmakers today lost touch with what scares audiences? Or are they also so self-aware that they lose track of what is really scary?
ANDREW DIVOFF: A lot of what is really scary is in the viewer’s or the reader’s mind. After 1979, when slasher movies took over, it got right to the punchline as opposed to letting it ferment in your head.
ENGLUND: I agree. We used to call it free projection in the ’60s, where you let the person experiencing the art add his 20 percent to what you’ve given them. You let their own minds fill in the blanks a little bit. We’ve lost some of that. We embraced this sort of revolution in special effects, on a low-budget level and an imaginative level. It would seem logical to exploit these new toys and new effects. As I was saying, even now, we’re doing it with digital effects. I saw Final Destination earlier this year, and the audience truly did react differently because all the effects in there were done practically and in camera. There wasn’t that distance they had in an effects-laden picture like The Perfect Storm. There was a more visceral reaction to Destination because there were many more practical stunts in there than digital work. There was a sense within the audience that they were getting socked in the stomach with some of that stuff.
KANE HODDER: When something groundbreaking is done in a film and it goes over well, everybody tries to do the same thing. They get carried away with the whole idea of visual effects and sometimes it almost takes away from the story, from the scene itself. It doesn’t impact you as much when you’re watching the effects thinking, “Wow, how did they do that?” instead of thinking about the story. That’s what happens with anything that becomes successful in film—everybody tries to copy it for a while and then they drill it into the ground.
ENGLUND: It’s like the comedy from the Nightmare movies—there became a whole group of films that had the horror comic who lets you laugh and then scares you. You get a double catharsis and a double reaction out of the audience because if they laugh, they release that nervous tension, and then you can set them up again for the scare.
DOUG BRADLEY: We only enjoy that roller-coaster moment, but the reason people are drawn to Hellraiser films is more profound than that. Horror movies, fiction, art and literature in general contain very profound ideas. It’s about imagination, metaphor and the great, profound, unchanging truths of human existence stripped bare, which are birth, life, love, sex and death.
DIVOFF: It seems to me that from its inception in movies, horror has always pushed the envelope when it comes to taboos. They have been the rebels and the outlaws. That’s why I have a lot of love for the genre, and at the conventions and so forth, I’ve met a lot of people who seem to be the most grounded and honest people in the industry as actors, and the fans too.
FANG: Of course, you rarely hear stories of stalkers going after celebrities who work in the horror genre per se.
ENGLUND: It happens a lot more to legitimate people, and it has more to do with visibility. If you’re on TV week in and week out, you give the population much more opportunity to fixate on you than if you do two or three movies here or there.
BRADLEY: I can honestly say I’ve never received a crank phone call. I’ve never been stalked. Yes, I’ve been obsessed on. But where you find any case of people obsessing on something, they’re obsessing because they are fucked up. They don’t get fucked up by the thing they’re obsessing on.
FANG: Yet we’ve been hearing a lot lately about how violence is affecting children, and how the government wants to step in and be our watchdogs on this matter.
BRADLEY: For me, horror movies are not for children. They’re not about children, they’re not made for them. I don’t think anybody sat down to write a script for a horror movie with children in mind as the audience. They’re written, made and acted for adults. As an actor, I like to push the envelope. Do I think horror films turn people into violent killers? Absolutely not. It’s a bum debate and it goes round and round in circles, and I’ve even been on the receiving end of it in England.
SCRIMM: I’m not so concerned about the fantasy elements of horror, which are obviously unreal. Children can perceive that. I’m more concerned about the ruthless killing in non-horror films and the sadistic sexual abuse of women in some films. We have a lot of people in our society who are already abused as children and close to the edge, and I believe these things can tip them over. There needs to be more responsibility in filmmaking. I may never get another job if the right people read this, but Hollywood says this has no effect whatsoever. Yet they have always been quick to boast that they influence fashion, trends in music and many other things, but immediately deny that any of the violence on screen has any effect whatsoever whenever it becomes an issue, and to me, that’s hypocritical and self-serving.
ENGLUND: The day they prove it, I will be the first to admit it. I’m telling you right now. We’ve all worked in Vancouver and Toronto, and you turn the TV on up there and you can see anything. David Cronenberg at 8:00 at night with intrauterine devices and Jeremy Irons in prime time [Dead Ringers]. There’s nudity on TV there, and the same thing in Japan and Europe, yet they have the lowest crime rates. They make us look like marauding Huns compared to the rest of the world. And most importantly—they don’t have guns.
DIVOFF: I think it’s a little deeper than that, Robert. It really goes to education. What D.C. wants to do now is legislate art, when in fact what they should be doing is legislating education.
BRADLEY: I don’t think anybody ever landed on a psychiatrist’s couch saying “Doc, I’m fucked up, and it’s because of horror films. It was Pinhead that put me here. It was Freddy Krueger who put me here.” I’m sorry, I don’t think so. Four things put people on psychiatrist’s couch. One is being human, being alive and drawing breath. The second is family, the third is relationships and the fourth is religion. I suspect a spattering of drugs and alcohol on the way—those are probably the things that do it. If Joe Lieberman would spend time in the company of people who work in this industry, he would realize that from Boris Karloff to Vincent Price to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee down to me and Robert Englund—the actors who are famous for doing this are amongst the most sane, sensible, rational, civilized, intelligent and cultured actors who have ever taken part in this profession. I would extend the same to the writers and directors.
FANG: Yet there will always be these harsh reactions when something very visible happens in the public eye. TV’s Buffy is a great example—a show that uses high school and college problems as metaphors mixed with horror. It’s trying to say something about what goes on in schools, but when Columbine happened, they pulled the season finale.
ENGLUND: When you watch network or even off-network programming—that stuff is so mild. I understand if some unsupervised child at 6 p.m. turns on HBO2 and Seven comes on, or Silence of the Lambs or a great classic like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are ways to deal with that. You can put a lock on that channel, or there should be a parent in the house that doesn’t let Johnny watch Chainsaw at age 8. That’s no more or less frightening to a child than burn victims being wheeled away after a fire on the 6:00 news.
DIVOFF: Or watching a human body being extracted from a car.
ENGLUND: You can argue this all night, but the point is, there needs to be a responsible adult around to tell kids what that is and discussing it with them—and to prevent them from seeing it.
FANG: Changing the subject a bit—does it bother any of you being typecast by the roles you’ve played?
DIVOFF: I understand the process, and that happens. I don’t let it in. It’s harder when you’re not known. After a movie I did called Toy Soldiers [in which he played a Columbian terrorist], there were comments like, “Yeah, he’s a great actor, but he can’t do anything with that accent.” I didn’t get work after that because of that.
SCRIMM: It’s conceivable I might not have any career at all if I hadn’t been typecast. It’s obvious that the mindset to actors in Hollywood is that it’s extremely difficult to break through. That’s why I have nothing but admiration for Nicolas Cage, who has sculpted his career brilliantly by deliberately going from one genre to another and mastering them all, and proving he’s one of the most versatile actors on screen, at least in terms of what’s out there.
ENGLUND: On my first film, Buster and Billie, Time magazine said that director Dan Petrie discovered and used a great local albino from Georgia to great effect in that film. Of course, I was born and raised in Hollywood, yet they believed they had found a real little Deliverance kid with a banjo who was part albino for this role. I felt great—on the other hand, it didn’t do me any good.
FANG: Do you think you’re the last of the horror stars?
SCRIMM: Andrew himself is relatively new and a very strong personality, and there will always be stronger personalities and fascinating new Karloffs and Lugosis coming down the line that we can hardly even imagine now. In fact, if they took the two Presidential candidates and put them in horror roles, I would have been scared to death.
FANG: And finally, I’m curious about all of your memories of FANGORIA over the past 20 years. Possibly none of us would be here without Fango helping spread the word about you in the first place.
BRADLEY: I was kind of dimly aware of FANGORIA; the first time it came into my life on a significant basis was through Phil Nutman, who I did my first major interview with. And then Tony [Timpone] suggested I might like to go out to a Weekend of Horrors. Phil’s article was in the issue that was out that weekend, in April 1987. So this was the first time I was seriously exposed to what was going on, and FANGORIA was the only magazine out there covering our little movie.
HODDER: For me, it was a tremendous change for my character being on the cover—totally non-facial. And I can almost credit Fango exclusively for me being recognized on the street now for being Jason, because they started the whole idea of doing interviews with me as myself. Even after the first one I did [Friday VII], I didn’t do any interviews other than Fango. As time went on, I started getting into other magazines, but FANGORIA started the recognition of my face. No doubt.
DIVOFF: I have to say thank you to FANGORIA and [director] Robert Kurtzman, because they helped make my name. I remember Kane coming into the makeup trailer one night on the first Wishmaster and look at my outfit. This was his first time seeing it, and he said, “That’s the cover of FANGORIA.” I knew the magazine and I remember thinking, “No way.” And then when the movie came out, there it was—it was an article written about a character I played. I was blown away, and I still remember Kane saying it. And when it happened, the first thing I thought was that I was very flattered.
FANG: Wasn’t FANGORIA the first magazine to notice Phantasm?
SCRIMM: Avco Embassy sent Don and I to New York in 1979 and put us up at the Metro Hotel. The editor then—Bob Martin, Uncle Bob—came up to our room. And through the years, it’s like belonging to a sort of warm and friendly club, with the staff and the readers and the conventions through the years. It’s a great club to belong to.
HODDER: I have to add one thing that Fango has done in my life, and one of my mother’s proudest moments. During one of my first conventions, I met a kid who was 12 years old, and after it was over I ended up talking to him for an hour and half. I felt the need to talk to him. We talked and talked and bullshitted about nothing. I said my goodbyes and left. Later, his mother wrote a letter to FANGORIA about that incident because the kid was HIV-positive at the time, and was really having a hard time with his life. He had problems with his father, he was totally introverted and she wrote a letter to the magazine about how she appreciated me sitting there with him, which I didn’t find a big deal at all. He really opened up to me. I thought he was a regular kid, but based on what she said, he was going through a lot and having a hard time relating to anyone. The magazine printed her letter talking about this whole incident, and my mom read it. She called and was so proud. And that would have never happened without Fango.
ENGLUND: We also can talk to you guys. We can talk real to the people who write for your magazine. We can use the movie language of the fans, we can use dirty words and we can be ourselves with Fango. There’s a rock-and-roll attitude at Fango, picking up the banner and standard of Famous Monsters for a new generation. Also, the writers are true fans, and they’re intellectual people who do their research and homework. I love looking at Fango and reading great gossip on an old Hammer film, or something coming up on a friend of mine doing a new genre film. That’s what I love most about Fango.
SCRIMM: I might add that I’m not terribly fond of Dr. Cyclops, but there’s always one member of every family you’re a bit skeptical of.