Mr Slasher-man [2017-05-04]If you have more than a passing interest in the slasher genre you will be aware of Justin Kerswell- he’s a UK writer/ commentator- he wrote one of the few books on the genre Teenage Wasteland. He runs & writes for hysteria-lives, a renowned slasher focused website, that’s been active since 1998. And lastly, but hardly least he’s part of The Hysteria Continues- a group slasher fans/ experts who’ve recorded commentaries for a whole host of slasher reissues put out by cult film labels such as Arrow Video & 88 Films. Justin very kindly agreed to give M[m] an email interview, discussing every-side of his passion for the slasher film
M[m]:I believe the first Slasher film you ever saw was Halloween 2- when was this,and where? Please set the scene for your first viewing, and why do you think the
film had such impact on you?
Justin It must have been around 1982 or possibly early 1983. It was at a school friend's house and I was about 13. I remember his Mum made us chips and beans whilst we watched it! It was on one of those old, huge hulking top loaders; very possibly a Betamax.
I had always wanted to watch horror movies from an early age. I can remember, as a relatively small child, hiding behind a door or sofa in the vain hope of glimpsing the forbidden fruit. Eventually, I was allowed to watch the older,earlier one of the BBC double bills they used to run before being sent to bed. My family didn't have a VCR until a few years later.
Justin My bus to secondary school passed the local Odeon at the height of the slasher movie craze in the early 1980s. I was too young to actually see what were then still 'X-rated' horror movies, but it didn't stop me imagining how deliciously terrifying they must be. The titles: Happy Birthday to Me, The Burning, The Funhouse, My Bloody Valentine, Rosemary's Killer, and more, were so tempting -
not to mention the lurid promo and poster artwork. Until I saw Halloween II that teatime I had to make do with Hammer movies (which even in the early 1980s seemed quaint), James Herbert novels and my own rampant imagination. The film was everything that this 13-year-old thought these previously forbidden horror movies would be: scary, thrilling and good, ghoulish fun. I was hooked.Now I see it's limitations, but I still love it.
M[m]:oh you where a James Herbert fan…did your interest ever extend into other 70’s/80’s gory horror writers like Guy N Smith or Shaun Hudson?
Justin Oh, yes. There was a second-hand book shop in a market I used to visit after school. They did half price exchange. Even back then it was hit or miss if a
twelve-year-old could hire an uncertificated video. Yet no such restrictions seemed to exist on the literary nasties!
M[m]:At what point did you start to get more obsessed with the slasher genre, and started to write/ comment on it?
Justin After we got a VCR I tried to watch as many horror movies I could. Or at least the ones still left on the shelves after the 'nasties' panic. The original Friday the 13th made a big impression on me and so did its 1981 sequel. I judged everything I saw afterwards for a long while on those formative experiences.Bunking off school to watch, say, An American Werewolf in London with friends only added to the illicit thrill of horror movies.
Justin I still enjoyed watching and sharing my passion for horror movies at college - and even co-run an all night film marathon. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s it very much felt that horror movies - and especially slasher movies - were out of vogue. In pre-internet days it sometimes felt I was the only enthusiast left in the world. Wes Craven's Scream felt like a validation and I was delighted to see the subgenre in something approaching a renaissance. A few years later, in 1998, I set up Hysteria Lives! as a way of not only sharing my love for the slasher movies' golden age but also as a way to teach myself web
M[m]:So you designed the site all yourself?- if so very impressive?
Justin Thanks. It was nice to put my three years at art school to practical use
M[m]:on the website you’ve posted more than a few interviews with slasher related people- which subject was the most difficult to track down, and which one are
you most proud of?
Justin Ulli Lommel (who directed 1980's The Boogeyman as well as being a protege of Rainer Werner Fasbinder) was one of my first - and perfectly eccentric. He lived up to the hype.
M[m]:Still up the subject of interviews- who would you like to interview in the future?
Justin I would love to interview some of the stars from the giallo: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Jean Sorel would be amazing. Sadly most are of the age now that they are increasingly passing away - and I think there are still amazing tales to tell.
M[m]:In 2010 your book about Slasher films Teenage Wasteland was published- tell us a little were working on it for?
Justin I'd always thought that the website would be a good basis for a book. For many years I collected slasher movie artwork, such as posters, adverts, press books and more. I also wanted to share that beyond the website. I wish I could say that I was plucked from obscurity based on the quality of writing (which sometimes still shocks me when I look back at the earliest reviews), however, the truth is much more mundane. I had the good fortune to be friends with someone who had secured a job sourcing potential projects for a publishing
Justin I was thrilled when we inked the deal, but I was pretty naive. Although the motivating factor was sharing the slasher love, I thought I might make some money finally out of what had been for many years my passion. I did get a moderate advance, but my dreams of making a living were somewhat unrealistic! Not many people actually make a living at this stuff.
Justin Quite early on I decided that I wanted to do a history of the slasher movie, rather than a collection of reviews. Teenage Wasteland is a vibrantly designed
book full of amazing promotional artwork, which was a thrill. However, when it morphed into more of a coffee table book - and I still think it looks amazing - it meant that there was less room for text. One of the ongoing criticisms of the book is that some sections seem a little scant. It's a criticism that I accept, but the original draft was nearly twice as long and a lot of detail had to be
removed to make way for more illustrations.
M[m]:So what was cut out of Teenage wasteland, when it morphed into its present form?
Justin It was basically more detail on many of the films. The structure was still the same. Incidentally, I'm currently in talks for an updated reprint - and I'm hoping for an expanded eBook version that will put a lot of that detail back in.
M[m]:In general why do you think older slasher films work better than newer ones, and what do you see as the keys to a great film in the genre?
Justin I remain a fan of the horror genre in general, but there's an awful lot of dreck out there. Of course, there always has been, but at least the older dreck now
has the forgiving sheen of nostalgia and sometimes camp.
Justin I think a lot of modern horror movies miss one vital ingredient: fun. Of course, there were extreme horror movies back in the day, but I've always been a fan of
what you could term popcorn slashers that mix a likable cast, scares, jumps, chase scenes and gory. However, many modern genre movies seem intent on populating their casts with shrill and unlikeable nonentities. Forgetting the golden rule that to truly invest in a horror film you need to care about theprotagonists.
Justin There's also the issue of style over substance. Some filmmakers do better than others at capturing the feel of the 70s and 80s horror films, but it is so much more that copying the fashion if you're doing a retro movie. A case in point are many of the new giallo movies that fetishise the fashion and obsessive attention to detail, but seem to completely miss the point that gialli were, whilst wildly
stylish, populist thrillers - not arthouse films. Arguably it would be difficult for someone to make another true Giallo - but I'd like someone to try.
Justin However, there are filmmakers that do get it. That genre/slasher movies do not need to be misanthropic endurance tests populated by assholes. Todd Strauss-Schulson's slasher homage/parody The Final Girls (2015) is a perfect case in point as to why they can still surprise and most importantly entertain.
M[m]:You are probably most known for been part of The Hysteria Continues- which is a group of slasher fans that started off as a podcast, but have gone on to be the go-to people for commentaries on hack ‘n’ slash reissues. Please tell us a little but about how this collective came about & how did you all meet?
Justin I've known Joseph, Erik and Nathan for years now. I 'virtually' met and bonded with Joseph back in the guerrilla warfare of the old alt.horror newsgroup. Erik contacted me about my website and went on to contribute reviews. Nathan joined us on the third episode. The rest is history!
Justin We try not to overthink things and most importantly have fun with the show. I know we won't be everyone's cup of tea, but always underpinning it is our joint genuine love for the subgenre. Not that it doesn't result in disagreements
and differing opinions. It'd be very boring if it didn't.
M[m]:Other than the films you're asked to do commentaries by the likes of Arrow video & 88 Films. How do you go about selecting films to cover?
Justin To be honest, it's what we get offered and what we have the time to do. Often our biggest hindrance is that the podcast is via Skype across three countries and two time zones. Add in work schedules and it limits when we can record. We love doing the commentaries, but we have had to limit them somewhat otherwise we'd never have time for the show! We also limit ourselves to films that fall
firmly into our wheelhouse - after a not very successful foray into early 70s vampire movies (where we could find very little background and were left commenting on people's clothes). Not a thrilling listen, but we learned our
M[m]:please select ten of your favorite films from with-in the slasher genre, and
explain why you like them?
Justin As with any top ten, it always changes, but there are some constants, too:
Halloween (1978): the original and still the best. Smart, scary and forever a masterclass in how to do it right. Rob Zombie's remakes are an abomination.
My Bloody Valentine (1981): a great location and such an iconic killer. Plus a cast you can't help rooting for.
Friday the 13th (1980): its shocks might be mechanical, but it still gets the job done and Betsy Palmer makes for a wonderfully toothy monster mother.
Friday the 13th Part II (1981): although criticized as a carbon copy of the first movie it's actually an improvement on it. Enormous fun and Amy Steel makes for an amazing final girl.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981): it sure is daft, but that's all part of the charm. The Scooby Doo'ish ending isn't a let down it's a triumph!
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998): much maligned on its release and even still now, but of the post-Scream slashers of the 90s only this and Urban Legend truly embraced the absurdity and fun that make early 80s slashers still a joy.
Black Christmas (1974): an important precursor to Halloween that still remains sharp and effective. Those phone calls still give me the chills.
Eyeball (1975): I'm a big fan of the Giallo and enjoy most classic era Fulci, Argento, Martino and more, but I do love the trashier side of the genre. They don't get more deliciously daft than this late era entry from Umberto Lenzi.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): the series hasn't aged as well for me as the Friday the 13th franchise, but Wes Craven's film was the first slasher/horror film I saw at the cinema (when I looked just about old enough to sneak in). It still holds up today.
The Final Girls (2015): I've already mentioned this film, but it has a perfect mixture of fun, nostalgia and humor and - what subgenre films rarely possess in any great quantity - heart.
M[m]:I see from your blog on your website you're into Goth music- tell us a little bit about how you became attracted to the genre? And do you just like the
classic acts, or do you enjoy modern goth music too?
Justin I think I need to update that! As a teenager in the 1980s goth was my youth cult of choice. It matched my interest in the macabre and the music wasn't half bad,
either. Even, if like the classic era slasher movies, I wasn't quite old enough to catch it at its heyday. I still worship Siouxsie and the Banshees and regularly listen to the likes of Bauhaus and The Sisters of Mercy but my crimping days are long gone. My musical taste is much more varied now, too.
M[m]:You mentioned your music taste are fairly varied now- so what sort of stuff are you into?
Justin I like my soundtracks, especially Ennio Morricone's 60s and 70s cult stuff. And Bruno Nicolai. I have a soft spot for 60s girl groups and singers, such as the Shangri Las. And French music from the time, Serge Gainsbourg and the Yé-Yé movement. Plus I love Scott Walker. Lots of music from before I was born! More up to date, I currently listen to a lot of John Grant.
M[m]:Are there any long lost films you’d like to see released?
Justin For me, part of the joy of reviewing films, and talking about them on the podcast, is delving into their back stories. I'm more enthused in delving into the making of an obscurity like, say, Linda Blair vehicle Grotesque (1988) (my next review). Sometimes the stories behind the movie and more entertaining that
the movies themselves.
Justin However, it never ceases to amaze me the films that are now coming out that would be unthinkable even a few years ago - and the incredible treatment they now get. There are many now forgotten slashers that should get their second chance in the limelight and may do one day. Hell Night (1981) is long overdue a high definition release. I'd also love to see an uncut version of Friday the 13th Part II. Plus more gialli (beyond the big hitters), but my biggest want on a Bluray is not a Giallo or slasher it's Tonino Cervi's remarkable, sinister fairy tale of witches and seduction Queens of Evil (1970).
M[m]: What’s next for The Hysteria Continues & your website?. and have you ever
considered do another book, and if so on what subject?
Justin It's all about time. I'm still very much doing this as a 'hobby' - on top of a demanding full-time job. There is never enough time! I hope to be able to spend more time adding new reviews to the site - and keep the podcast going strong.
Justin Plans for the book are in something approaching a limbo at the moment. Teenage Wasteland sold out two print runs in the U.K. and sold out its release as The Slasher Movie Book in the US. I recently found out that they wanted to run to a second edition in the States but couldn't come to an agreement on numbers. Which means that both versions are out-of-print and appear for silly amounts of money at the usual places.
Justin I get requests all the time from people who'd like a copy. I still hope to do an expanded and updated version, as well as an eBook. The problem is that the company who put the book out in the U.K. no longer publishes in this country. I have an idea who has the rights and I'm trying to establish contact with them at the moment. I did hope to follow it up with a book on the 'final girls' and
submitted a proposal, but I simply don't have time to do it justice at the moment. My dream would be to secure Jamie Lee Curtis' involvement and donate the
proceeds to her charity. As they say, watch this space.
Thanks to Justin for his time & efforts with the interview. The pictures used through-out the interview are from Justin’s personal collection. At present Teenage Wasteland is out-of-print, but as you’ll read above there are plans for a reissue. The hysteria-lives website can be found here, and here’s the Itunes link to The Hysteria Continues podcasts on ITunes here. And the collectives exclusive commentaries can be found on a whole host of reissues of golden age slashers on the likes of Arrow Video & 88 Films.Roger Batty