filmBRAWL Author and Wildside Cinema Head Honcho
Chats with ER About Films, Publishing, Slasher Flicks and Beer
Oh sure, people bemoan the "death of human interaction" that has accompanied the rise of the Internet and social media services like Facebook and Twitter. Oddly enough, sites that supposedly have turned us into emotionless avatars who would rather type "U" than "you" have made it easier – much easier – for me to find like-minded individuals who share my love for trash cinema and junk culture.
Take Brian Harris, for instance.
I've never met Brian Harris nor have I ever spoken to him. For all I know this "Brian Harris" I correspond with is the creation of some hip Madison Ave. ad agency designed to get me to plunk my hard-earned dollars down on film review books. But if he is, then they've done a damn good job.
Reading filmBRAWL – his capsule review compilation – or trawling through the pages at the excellent Wildside Cinema, you can't help but get the feeling that Harris is the kind of fellow HorrorDad that you'd want to shoot the shit with over a twelve-pack. So crack a beer and settle in for an all-too-brief talk on the wildside...
What kind of film qualifies as Wildside Cinema?
Pretty much anything with bad dubs, mis-translated subs, gratuitous nudity, gore, cut-n-paste ninjas, untamed 70's beavers, sea creatures, black-gloved killers, horny dwarves, 80's excess and pretty anything that "-sploitation" can be tacked to the end of. Wildside is all about embracing your wildside and openly enjoying the films that you love without feelings of guilt or ridicule.
How did Wildside get started?
A few years back I'd started my own indie comic company with the intention of publishing a few horror comics and a big, one-shot magazine of horror cinema reviews called "Joe Horror: The Guide to Blue Collar Horror." I started a website in order to promote some of the reviews I had for the 'zine but as I began running the website I realized that I wanted to really focus all of my energy into the site instead.
Around late 2004 we launched a full-fledged JoeHorror.com and I took my first step into the crab barrel. It wasn't until about 2007 that I found myself really wanting to go retro and incorporate all the things I loved (cult/trash cinema) and grew up on into my website. I was also feeling the squeeze from some film studios and DVD labels, as many were wary of having their films reviewed and attached to a site with the word "horror" in the URL. Sounds petty but there's quite a bit of bias in the review game.
It was around then that I made the website-killing decision to change the name Joe Horror to Wildside Cinema. There was some resistance to it, I had a few DVD labels cancel screeners for my site, some long-time readers bailed and my traffic numbers took a major hit, some even made sarcastic comments about the name sounding like a porn company but I'm still here.
Were you writing reviews before starting what became Wildside or were you strictly a fan?
I wrote films reviews and edited poetry in the mid-90's for a prison 'zine/newsletter that circulated through some flea markets in the Chicagoland area. Most of the films were Latino/Urban/Hip Hop/Gang films but I was willing to pretty much write for anybody at that point.
In the last 5 years I've written articles and reviews for some genre mags including Ultra Violent, Gorezone UK (big mistake there!) and Hacker's Source. Some folks over at Fango were making big claims about jumpstarting the original 90's GoreZone and having me come aboard as a writer but the calls and emails stopped and the mag never got its re-launch.
What was the inspiration for your review guide filmBRAWL?
One of my favorite books, and still is, was horror host John Stanley's Creature Features Movie Guide. I absolutely loved how he was able to get in so many films while still offering a synopsis and a no-frills review! For years I'd wanted to produce a book just like his, something that really appealed to genre fans as well as lazy people. I wanted to write something that was capable of introducing fans to new, old and obscure films. I mean everybody knows about THE EXORCIST but what about ABBY or SEYATN (not in the book)?
Basically I wanted to write a big fucking book of reviews for fun and shitty films, toss a coin and then let the readers decide what sounded worthwhile and what didn't.
How long did it take you to compile?
Two and a half years to write, compile and edit. That includes the interviews and posters.
You succeeded in giving it a distinctly trashy vibe without making it inaccessible to the average horror fan. How did you decide what went in?
I'm glad to hear that I did that! It's funny but when I went into the book my intention was to keep all of the reviews very professional, matter-of-fact and honest. During my 2nd draft though I felt things were far too dry so I touched up many of my exploitation and horror reviews to speak to the fans of those genres. The end result was a mixture of serious and sleazy.
Did you try and pitch it via the traditional publishing route or did you always intend to self-publish it?
It was intended to be pitched to traditional publishing companies but, like many authors, I found myself rejected over and over. One large publishing house showed quite a bit of interest until they received the manuscript. They took six months to read it and came to the conclusion that there was too much foul language and it would be incredibly hard to market "cult cinema." Apparently it was just too nebulous a term for them. They asked if I could re-submit the book with all cursing excised and all non-horror reviews removed. They felt that pretty much anybody could review a film, they wanted informative entries, and they wanted something more along the lines of a horror cinema encyclopedia.
I went back to the drawing board and started re-editing the book but it just felt wrong. I wanted to keep the book as it was but I didn't want to self-publish so I walked away from it. It was only about [fall 2010] that I finally decided to get off my ass, swallow my pride, add posters, re-rate some films and release the damn book through a P.O.D. service.
How has the reception to the book been?
As a critic I understand that not everybody is going to like what you do and there are bound to be some negative reviews out there, thus far though the only one I've received was from a well known horror publication (Rue Morgue) and that was based on a first draft overeagerly sent in for review by yours truly. The rest of my reviews have come from consumers, peers and iconic figures like H.G. Lewis and, thus far, all of them have shown the book quite a bit of favor, which is encouraging.
I've been told it's a great book to read while on the toilet and that sounds like a winner to me!
What's your next publishing project?
I've got a million in my head, of course. Unfortunately I've only got so many hours in the day and days in the year, you know? Right now I'm editing a five-volume compilation of all of my online reviews, over five years of writing.
That's somewhere along the lines of 700 reviews. The book series is called "GIMP." The first volume is close to completion and will probably be selling P.O.D. by March.
My other current project that I'm gearing up for right now is my filmBRAWL follow-up entitled, "'BRAWL: Box Set Beatdown" which is pretty self-explanatory. It's a guide to cult cinema box sets. We all love box sets but many of us are afraid of spending the money and getting crap, this book will be aimed at reassuring or warning readers before spending their money.
From your Facebook updates I know you've been getting into some beer tasting – is that going to grow into a project?
Absolutely! I stopped drinking domestic beer and started drinking craft/microbrew beer years ago but I only recently decided that I wanted to start writing recommendations and reviews for them. I plan to either incorporate beer recommendations into my website or in a future book. I've always wanted to write a book that literally paired beer and boobs together so perhaps I'll get that opportunity at some point.
For anybody that drinks domestic, next time you're in the bar, pass on that MGD and support your local brewers by ordering a specialty beer. You won't regret it!
What film has your opinion changed most about – either good or bad – over the years?
I have one specific film series that my opinion has changed on over the years and that is George A. Romero's original Dead Trilogy.
How has your opinion on the series changed?
Well as the years have gone by the "legend" of George A. Romero's genius has grown to nauseating proportions, so much so that it's akin to blasphemy to openly state you dislike his work. "He's not a filmmaker; he's a civil rights leader! He's not looking to entertain us; he wants to teach us about commercialism, consumerism and the evils of the military industrial complex!" BAH! If anything, his last three films have shown us that everything we thought about the guy, everything that's been attributed to him, has been nothing more than hype. He simply nodded his head and agreed when people yammered on about subtext this and subtext that. Don't get me wrong, the original Dead Trilogy are certainly entertaining and influential horror films but LAND, DIARY and SURVIVAL have really revealed the true filmmaker behind the myth.
What's your opinion on the remakes, specifically the Savini and Synder ones?
Savini's NIGHT was a solid remake, I thought. It offered a bit more characterization; stronger leads, better FX and it featured genre icons like Tony Todd, Tom Towles and Bill Moseley. I must admit that the remake's finale didn't have the same impact as the original nor does it have the distinction of being a game-changer like the first but I enjoy it nonetheless.
Synder's DAWN is a "wild, untamed, action-packed juggernaut" of a film and, like Savini's NIGHT, it out-performs the original with production design, FX and acting. Everything you could really ask for from a gory, fast-paced horror film is here except a score by Goblin. The nostalgia of seeing the first DAWN in theaters and being scared shitless just isn't here but a good flick is a good flick.
DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM by Ana Clavell and James Glenn Dudelson was a shitty film. I did get a kick out of the gore but it was a horrible misfire, just like Clavell and Dudelson's CREEPSHOW 3. DAY OF THE DEAD: THE NEED TO FEED by Steve Miner was actually quite fun and it had a lot going for it. I know people were dead set against watching a horror flick with Nick Cannon and a vegetarian zombie but it was surprisingly entertaining B-movie.
I've never seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REANIMATED nor do I have any interest in seeing the upcoming NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: ORIGINS 3D.
What film would people be surprised to find out you love?
Rankin & Bass's THE LAST UNICORN.
On the flipside, what film would people be surprised to find out you hate?
Well I can't think of any single film that I hate that people might be surprised about but I can tell you that I despise slasher films. I find absolutely nothing entertaining about them and outside of a few creative entries, I avoid as much as possible.
Have you always disliked slasher flicks or have you just become numbed by exposure?
I've never been a big slasher fan. As a child I was far more interested in watching horror films with fantastical elements, films that contained hideous monsters, flesh-eating beasts and black magic. When kids would ask me which of the Halloween films was my favorite, my response was always, "HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH." Slasher films, like LAID TO REST, can be fun but most are nothing more than HALLOWEEN clones/rip-offs using new masks, different weapons and Agatha Christie's tried-and-true Ten Little Indians formula. I'll take HOWLING 6: THE FREAKS, THE EXORCIST III or HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP any day over a slasher film.
You can purchase filmBRAWL and the first four volumes of GIMP: The Genre Film Review Guide from the Wildside Cinema store at Lulu.com.