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Continuing our interview with Vince Liaguno (see parts one and two), editor of the
slasher-film essay collection BUTCHER KNIVES & BODY COUNTS, begun here and
FANGORIA: Can you subscribe to auteur theory when you’re
looking at slashers? Can there be intent at all, throughout the body of a
filmmaker consistently working in the genre?
LIAGUNO: Probably more towards [what the book calls] that
“Golden Age,” and certainly from SCREAM on. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson; that
was so intentional, what they did. The whole thing was intent, almost ad
nauseam. What people should hearken back to now is to make a fun movie where
people get killed. Do we even watch for escapism anymore? THE WALKING DEAD, it’s
about zombies. We’re sitting there analyzing these things, and it’s like, it’s
about zombies, people. But there is more to it. We over think everything now. I
don’t think there is any more true escapism. Look at SUPER 8. When that movie
was made 30 years ago, you’d say it’s pure escapism. But now as an audience
member, you know the director went in specifically injecting certain elements
to pay homage to a director, in a time… It’s diluting the experience, I think.
Although the slasher continually reinvents itself, I don’t think we’ll ever
fully enjoy the length of the run it had in the ‘80s. There was SCREAM 4, and
we had things like URBAN LEGEND. But it never had the peak it did in the ‘80s.
It was a time of real purity.
FANG: Speaking of reinvention, you wrote specifically about
the modernization of the bogeyman in your HALLOWEEN essay. What do you make of
that concept, in the context of the more recent resurgence of slashers in the
2000s period and beyond?
LIAGUNO: It’s almost a crime to say we’ve had a resurgence
of the slasher, because everything’s a remake now. I don’t get as bent out of
shape now as some of the fanboys do, but as a writer I have a tremendous amount
of respect for source material. I’m always intrigued by someone else’s take on
source material, especially when someone is very unprofessional. Rob Zombie
taking on John Carpenter’s source material could not have been an any more out
there, holy shit kind of idea. I was fascinated by what he was gonna come up
with, and I was not disappointed. I thought what he did was inventive and
creative. I think we become jaded by sort of a generational “Oh that was my
movie in 1978, how dare you young’ns…” No! It doesn’t change anything that was
done in 1978. HALLOWEEN by John Carpenter is still a fucking awesome film. It doesn’t
matter what Rob Zombie did. Let’s look at Rob Zombie and ask, “How did he
interpret the source material?” But it’s hard to evaluate the modern slasher,
because there’s not a lot of originality. Even in the early ‘80s, each
successful slasher certainly wasn’t really original, but they still weren’t remakes.
Remake vulgarizes it a little bit more, because now you’re taking something
that really wasn’t original and a derivative knock off to begin with, and
you’re cannibalizing that. I don’t think that’s a generational thing, anyone
could agree with that. It’s disheartening, because I’d like to see more of
what, say, a Wes Craven could do with a slasher that’s not SCREAM. There’s
gotta still be something else out there to deal with.
FANG: You’re a self-proclaimed Jamie Lee Curtis fan
LIAGUNO: Please. Obsessed doesn’t begin to cut the word.
FANG: Was the reimagining of HALLOWEEN tainted in any way
for you with Scout Taylor-Compton in the lead?
LIAGUNO: No, no. I think I was objective to evaluate her on
her own merits. To Zombie’s credit, he did something so outside the ballpark or
anywhere near what Carpenter did, that there was no comparison. Jamie Lee stood
on her own, and Scout stood on her own too. It’s a completely different
character, but in a great way. I followed her through both films. The second
was certainly a little trippier than the first; there was more of Zombie’s
imprint on there. But I liked it.
FANG: In the case of something like HALLOWEEN II, and SCREAM
4 to some degree, there was a lot of studio meddling involved in their
LIAGUNO: It’s something else that minimizes the slasher
experience today, vs. back in the ‘80s. The studios [then] didn’t give a shit
about these films. They were so amazed that they were being made for so little
money and making so much money, and they were like “Oh?! Go ahead!” But now,
[producers] like the Weinsteins think they know “what works.” Nobody knew back
then. It was, “All you need is $100,000? Here, knock yourself out!”
FANG: Many contributors in the book talk about what in the
genre repulses them, where “the line” is drawn. Is there a line for you?
LIAGUNO: As a fan, no. I don’t believe any art should be
censored. But as a viewer, I’m not big on incorporating rape as a plot device.
I didn’t care for the original LAST HOUSE or the remake. I remember people
picketing LAST HOUSE; for all I know, the movie is empowering to a rape
survivor. I don’t know. To me, it’s just something I’m uncomfortable watching
on screen. The original MOTHER’S DAY kind of turned me off; I don’t know if the
new one has rape, but it’s probably something I wouldn’t see, for that reason.
Without passing moral judgment, everybody has their own personal policy. The
home invasion stuff bothers me—it’s terrible!
FANG: I think that’s the point.
LIAGUNO: It makes me uncomfortable, and sometimes I force
myself to watch it. Would I say I enjoy it? No, because it starts to raise my
own fears. Was I really afraid that I’d [die as] a camp counselor at Camp
Crystal Lake? Probably not. But am I afraid that people that want to cause
violence for violence’s sake could break into my house and torture me? Yeah,
that could happen. That shit bothers me. So a movie like THE STRANGERS, I
watched, but I’m having a total visceral reaction to it. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed
FANG: So you’d want a detachment from reality to some
LIAGUNO: Yeah, unless the art form can elevate it. THE
STRANGERS didn’t have the [artistry] that could made me appreciate it on a
different level. It bothered me, it affected me, it made me fearful. Then you
take something like the American remake of FUNNY GAMES—which was brutal to
watch, more so than THE STRANGERS—but it was done so f**king brilliantly.
Performance, direction, choices of music, a stunning ending. It bothered me to
FANG: FUNNY GAMES is also a film that smacks you in the face
for liking it; it chastises you the longer you sit through it. Adam Green
writes in his foreword to BUTCHER KNIVES about how we as fans have to
constantly justify enjoying these movies. Why is it that you think slashers
keep getting called to be defended? Will there ever be a point where they’ll be
LIAGUNO: I think they are left alone to a large degree now.
Other mediums, like video games have taken them to a new level. But horror in
general is counterculture. I think a lot of people miss the boat, in that
[slashers] can help these people stare down demons. In any event, when you’re
confronted with those demons, you have frame of reference in your head. As
fictional as it may be, but still a frame of reference. It’s all about
Horror films for me were a rite of passage. For some kids a
rite of passage was going to scouts, going to gym class and learning to climb
and get to the top of that rope, going hunting with their dad and killing their
first deer. For me, it was 8 years old, four tries to get through JAWS. Every
time I went to see JAWS with my dad I got a little bit further. First time,
poor naked Chrissie didn’t even get banged against the buoy the first
time—“Daddy, can we leave, I’ve gotta leave!” Next time, I made it past the
Chrissie part. By the fourth time, I got through it, my shirt soaked from
perspiration, it was like my merit badge.
FANG: With the death of the video store, suddenly there’s an
absence of part of that rite of passage—of picking up a cover and being enticed
by something otherwise unknown or forbidden. Does the cornering of the market
by digital pose a threat to young kids and filmmakers, looking to discover
slashers the way you once did?
LIAGUNO: I don’t think it’s less accessible, it’s just been
replaced. The internet’s made it more accessible. There’s so much more
exposure. My exposure was once a month, pedaling to the comic book store. “Hey
Mr. so-and-so, did FANGORIA come in yet?” “No, not yet.” “Aw!” Now it’s just,
laptop up, “Oh—gore!” The question is, does the accessibility take away from
the experience? If we have access to whatever we want, are there any more
taboos? Are kids really restricted anymore?
FANG: Could you have imagined that something like
Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights would exist? Films that were the forbidden
fruit of their time…
LIAGUNO: Now benign, family attractions. It’s kind of cool
how that’s come full circle. An amazing interview to me would be people from
organizations, religious or political, who launched campaigns against movies
like SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. How would they feel about those films now?
FANG: [Laughs] Now that they’ve been conglomerated, with toy
LIAGUNO: [Laughs] It’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I
got so bent out of shape over that shit!” It’s pretty wild.
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