That’s right…it says Director up there in the title. Although he’s perhaps better known as the current editor in chief of FANGORIA magazine Chris Alexander has dipped his toes in all sorts of different media over the years. He was the resident film critic on Canada’s “The John Oakley Show”, he wrote the “Schizoid Cinephile” column for Canadian horror mag “Rue Morgue”, authored “Chris Alexander’s Blood Splattered Book” in 2010, composed & released music (On the Meridian music label), taught film theory at the Toronto Film & Media College AND he even managed to find some time to get into the squared circle & go a few rounds with director Uwe Boll back in 2006!
Now he can add “Filmmaker” to his bio as he’s directed his first film, “Blood For Irina”, which has already won some awards as it makes it’s way across the festival circuit. “Blood For Irina” is a movie steeped in the tradition of classic eurohorror, the type of film that Jess Franco or Jean Rollin might have directed in their heyday. Extremely excited about having his film make the rounds to acclaim, he took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with Horrornews about his directorial debut & his career.
HN: Thanks for taking some time to speak with me Chris. I know you don’t have a lot of time and I have so many questions to ask you and they’re not all about your film…
CA: (Laughing) That’s fine! We can talk about anything you want to talk about, no problem.
HN: I haven’t seen the film as of yet but I’ve read as much as I could about it. Everyone that’s seen it seems to agree that it looks and feels like a movie that Jess Franco might’ve directed. You even dedicated it to Franco’s long time muse, the late Lina Romay so I guess it’s not a reach to say that Franco & other Eurohorror auteurs were a big influence on you.
CA: Firstly I should say that Franco is a huge influence on me, not because all of his work was good though. It’s a bit of a challenge to appreciate a director like Franco because in order to truly appreciate someone you have to appreciate their entire body of work. You may not agree that he’s an auteur but I call him that because all of his work was so personal. No matter how commercial they were they always had these eccentric meanderings. When you see all of his movies, or as many as you can because he’s made thousands of them, you see a kind of pattern there. And maybe you can’t put him up there with say Hitchcock or Godard, he actually belongs up there with them because he operates at that same kind of level, he’s no slouch. If you were to interview Jess you’d find that he’s a very intelligent man. He knows cinema, music, he knows everything! All those obsessions made their way into his work.
In “Blood For Irina” the name Irina was taken from Lina Romay’s character in “Erotikill” or “The Female Vampire” depending on how you saw it, it has dozens of titles. I saw it when I was a kid and I remember the opening scene when she walks towards the camera and it takes forever! She’s just walking while this Daniel White music is playing and I was hypnotized because she was nude. And it’s so clumsy because her vagina actually bounces off the lens of the camera, she gets that close but Franco left it in! You see that and you think to yourself “What an idiot. He left it in”! But then you see other Franco films and he does similar things in each one of them. It’s not that he’s inept, it’s a personal thing that he put in there at the expense of making it a believable fantasy. It’s something that he wanted to do and it was there for a reason, what that reason was I couldn’t say, but it was there and I like that. So you couple that love of Franco with the sensual, romantic poetry of Jean Rollin and the kind of earthy, meditative, immersive feeling of some of my favorite Herzog movies like “Nosferatu The Vampire” & “Aguirre, The Wrath Of God” and you’ll understand the kind of movie I wanted to make, those are some of my favorite filmmakers & films.
I wanted to make a movie but I didn’t have a lot of money, so what I did was watch some of these films that I loved. I didn’t love them because they had large explosions or great production values. I loved them because they were personal works from filmmakers that took their time and created films that you couldn’t appreciate on one viewing. You had to go back and see them again to see things that you may have missed first time out. For me those three are the big ones…Franco, Rollin & Herzog and Harry Kumel as well! His “Daughters Of Darkness” was a huge movie for me as well.
HN: It’s funny that you mention Rollin because the first real horror movie that I remember seeing as a child in a theater was “Caged Virgins” (AKA “Requiem For a Vampire”). I think it was in 1971 which would have made me 8 yrs. old or so.
CA: Really? Wow, You’re lucky! In Toronto there was no way we’d ever stumble upon a showing of “Caged Virgins”. The only time I could see stuff like that was either on late night TV or on video.
HN: Yup, that was actually the first time I had seen a nude woman anywhere. For me it was a buzz but only because it’s full of tits & blood. It wasn’t until I was much older and I started to actually study horror films that I began to understand what was really going on with Rollin’s films.
CA: And that’s the key word…STUDY! Rollin’s easier to appreciate on first viewing because of all the nudity and the gore. His movies were more coherent than Franco’s by far. He’s one of my favorites because if you watch all of his movies you see the motifs. All of his vampire films are very personal and they have this kind of melancholy about them that I really appreciate as well.
HN: That’s it! They are as a whole very melancholy, there’s an artistry to them. Now back to “Blood For Irina”, how long did you have to make it?
CA: Well the genesis of it started out with someone who had some money to make a movie and approached me about it. He saw that as editor of FANGORIA I was connected to a lot of names & he thought that he could exploit that to some degree. So he asked me if I wanted to make a movie and I have always wanted to direct! I dropped out of film school and started making music because back then I couldn’t afford to start making 16mm films. Directing a film was always a goal of mine but a combination of time, chance & money conspired against me. So he tells me “Let’s Do It”! and I said “Great”! I wanted one location & found a beat up motel from the thirties just outside of Toronto in this town called Burlington on the lake (Ontario). It had not been altered for about 30-40 years and was marked for demolition. It was filled with whores & winos but they were renting by the month and it looks like one of those Franco beachfront motels in “Vampyros Lesbos” or something like that right on the lake but it also had a gothic look to it like Dracula’s castle and I thought it was amazing!
So I wrote the story very quickly, more like a French new wave thing than anything else, for a very small cast when I found out that this guy didn’t have much money! So I was stuck with this idea, this burning desire to make this movie…but I had no money. So I went to David Gregory, a friend of mine at Severin films to see if he could help. I had done some special features for a couple of his DVD’s and told him “I don’t need much money, give me under $10,000 & I can deliver you a product. And even if it’s no good, that still isn’t a lot of money”. I just wanted to get the movie done and at the time he was partnered up with Derek Curl who produced “Hatchet 2”, “The Innkeepers” & Lewis Tice. Together Curl and Tice created Autonomy Pictures which was invented to distribute a movie called “The Bunny Game” (2010). So they wanted to distribute low budget, independent films that were challenging & they decided to put some money into my movie which ended up being far less than $10,000. I didn’t want any money to do this, I just wanted enough to secure the location and to take some time off of work. The majority of the budget went to renting the hotel for a month and I took three days to shoot with the cast. There were 2 or 3 pickup days as well so if I tally it all up I think it took about 48 hours to shoot give or take a minute. I also used my iPhone for some of the pickup shots, I used anything with 1080p over the next few months.
HN: Really? It sounds like you did a lot of the heavy lifting on your own.
CA: I wanted to make it an auteur picture! I wanted to do it by myself. I had written the music right after I had the idea for the movie so the soundtrack was ready to go before anything was shot. I ended up putting it all together myself, I worked on FANGORIA during the day, put the kids to bed and sat on my couch with some headphones on and started putting the whole thing together. That was about 5-6 months of cutting, tweaking, re-tweaking, showing it to my producer to see what he thought and changing a few things here & there. After all of the dust had cleared I ended up with a 70 minute fever dream that’s almost dialog free! It’s very much the movie I wanted to make even with the constraints that I was under and I’m pretty happy with it. What I’m really happy with is the fact that I did so much of it myself, I co-shot it, composed the score, worked on the sound design, etc. There’s no CGI in it. There’s lots of blood but it’s not explicit. There’s sensuality in there but no explicit sexuality, it’s almost restrained. I’m really happy with how interesting it is and although it’s not for everybody there are some people who are responding to it favorably & that’s very exciting!
HN: One thing I didn’t know about you was your interest in music & the fact that you’ve been composing and performing for so long. Where did you get your love of music from and how long have you been performing professionally?
CA: Well the love for music definitely came from my dad, no doubt. My love for music & movies came from my mom and dad. Most of my family is really into movies, they’re all film buffs so they’re very excited. There are certain members of my family who don’t give a shit about what I do but there are others who would love to sit around a campfire and ask me about whom I’ve met recently. My dad had a copy of Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” (1978) and I was four years old when he brought that home, it literally changed my life! I still vividly recall being frightened by it, of how I was swept away by the story which was being told almost entirely with dark progressive disco-rock and the voice of Richard Burton. I was always into music and usually thought up images while listening to it, I have a really good imagination!
I was in film school in 94′ and there was a bar there so I used any excuse I had to get a drink. Unfortunately that killed off any success I might have had at school. But I was never keen on school anyway, I knew what I wanted to do already. I love art and I know exactly how to articulate myself. I didn’t need some out of work artist telling me what art is, that just pissed me off. I wanted to make movies but I couldn’t afford to so I made music instead. I used tape loops, keyboards & guitars…anything I could get my mitts on. I kinda had my cake & ate it too because I performed live using projected images on a screen. I piled up televisions on stage…stuff like that. I remember being asked by the club owner at the first live gig I played if I was going to play rock or set up a Salvation Army store onstage! I had so much stuff hanging from the ceiling, it was really ridiculous but really cool at the same time. That project became a little bit of a thing in Toronto and I never really gave it up. I started my own little label, emphasis on little. I released my own music and I’ve done a few soundtracks for small films, television & commercials when the opportunity arose.
HN: Your named your label Meridian…correct?
CA: Meridian…that’s right, a dopey little label! I’ve always been a soundtrack junkie and I’m always listening to the music while watching a movie, especially in the horror genre. Some of the greatest scores of all time have come from darker films. Sometimes the score will make the movie for me, I’ll forgive a lot of stuff in a movie if there’s a really propulsive score behind it.
HN: Can you give us an example of what you’re talking about?
CA: An example? Well I’m a huge eurohorror fan and Franco, Rollin…any of those guys made a lot of flawed movies. Half of the Giallo movies that I love so much don’t make much sense but I don’t really watch them for the great acting or plot twists, I watch them for the atmosphere and the music. The first time I really became attuned to that notion was when I saw “Deep Red” and I heard Goblin’s music…HOLY SHIT! I’m watching a guy walking down a hallway & I was riveted to that screen, it was unbelievable! I saw “Tenebrae” after that and I was watching a camera go up and down over the side of a house. It might as well have been a Bob Vila “How To” segment but I was f*cking scared because the music was so intense! “Miami Vice” is another example. I used to watch it every Friday night at 10 with my mom as a kid and I became attuned to the use of the slick visuals with Jan Hammer’s music. The first time I heard P.I.L.’s “Order Of Death” was over the end of an episode and it was nothing but Crockett driving across town to save Tubbs but it was so intense! If it’s done right you don’t remember the visuals as much as you remember the music and the feeling it gave you. That’s the basis of rock videos also isn’t it? I came of age during that period. All of that combined with a love of music and wanting to compose music for movies. It was cool to make this movie for nothing and be able to have complete control over it. Remember the music came first so I was able to base the visuals on the way I felt while I was making the music.
HN: Did you have open auditions while casting for your movie or did you have certain actors in mind beforehand?
CA: Being on film sets and watching how a lot of time & money was wasted on bullshit to articulate an image that’s disposable has always bothered me. Being a first time filmmaker I wanted to be sure that my first dance partners weren’t necessarily professionals. This was because I didn’t want to be tainted or saddled with preconceptions of what I should be doing. I just wanted to do what I wanted, what I thought was right. I knew by surrounding myself with people whose intellect & desire to make art I trusted in would be a lot of fun. Most importantly they had to trust me, no bullshit or wasted time, just people who would follow my lead with no questions and help to get this movie done.
My cast was comprised of my wife which killed two birds with one stone since we could spend some time together while making a movie! Shauna Henry is a dancer & a friend of mine from South Africa and she was my lead actress. She’s never really acted before but she has such a presense! There’s something really unusual about her face, it has all of these amazing angles to it. Her eyes are massive blue orbs, she has this great mass of hair and she has a interesting expressionist way about her. When you sit with her you feel like you’re in a silent movie because she moves with her hands. She is someone that a director like Rollin would’ve loved to have had in one of his movies. In my eyes she WAS the character so I let her have the character and I told her what I wanted, she took it from there and she was fantastic! There were only five of us that made the movie, very quickly with no bullshit and we had a hell of a good time. We all worked together, it was very collaborative.
HN: This might sound a bit silly but did anyone get paid?
CA: Well we had a very small budget but since I was doing everything there was no wasted money, money went to food, location & what we needed. My co-cinematographer (David Goodfellow) would suggest different cameras & ways to shoot certain scenes and I liked what he was coming up with so I decided that we would just buy the stuff we needed rather than rent it. That way he could keep it afterwards with the promise that if this all works out, we would do it again and he would have his own gear. So in a way he did get paid from what money there was. No one had to look for a place to sleep either. Since I had to bring them up here I booked some rooms in a really nice hotel for three days. No one was out of pocket and everyone came out of it with a little something extra as well. No one went home and was able to pay their rent for months on end because we didn’t have that luxury however David Gregory, Derek Curl & Louis Tice were very supportive. If the movie makes any money, which it just might as it’s scheduled for release on Bluray & DVD early next year, there will be some filthy lucre floating around. The deal we have is very favorable for me and I subcontracted out to my people so at the end of the day we stand to make something! We’re not gonna be poor or filthy rich but we will make something out of it in the end. The team that I have is awesome and I believe that if it ain’t broke, why fix it? All we can do is build on it and the nucleus of it works so well that I want to do it again with them. I already have an idea for the next film starting to gestate in my head and hopefully we’ll all get together again to make it but on a bigger scale, a more financially happy scale.
HN: How did you feel when your film won the “Best Experimental Feature Film” award at Pollygrind? (The Pollygrind Underground Film Festival took place last month in Las Vegas).
CA: Well I didn’t know what my competition was first of all!
HN: I was going to ask you what your competition was actually!
CA: (Laughing) I don’t know how many “Experimental Feature Films” there were at Pollygrind! There were about 50 films there and most of them were independent low budget films anyway so to me if you’re working on that level of filmmaking every film is an experimental film. No one really knows how their film is going to turn out if they don’t have any money to guarantee it or the proper facilities to make it. All of these films were made by people who were “Roughing” it. So to me they’re all experimental but my film is slow, meditative & immersive. It’s informed completely by music and the visuals are abstract, there’s no dialogue save for a few key voice over moments. It’s surreal and I really think it is experimental in the classic sense of the word. I don’t know what films it was up against but I’m certainly excited that it’s won something! At the end of the day what does it really mean except for a little laurel on the cover of the DVD box. Any awards it gets won’t fool the hard, cynical viewers but it will add to any commercial value the film might have. It’s a notch on my belt and it’s great leverage against future projects. The cynical part of me was asking “What does it mean”? but the kid in me that’s always fantasized about winning something is crying tears of joy! It’s so amazing and I’m very excited over it all. You know…I’m doing this for one reason and that’s because life is short and you wanna leave a small trail of breadcrumbs of stuff that you did. You want to live a life that’s true and honest and this is something I’ve always wanted to do so I’m very happy!
HN: Do you plan on travelling to Belgium with your movie where it will be shown at the Razor Reel Fantastic Film Festival?
CA: In Bruges? I wish but I just can’t. They were going to bring me in but I couldn’t because of some FANGORIA stuff that I had to do but at the eleventh hour I decided to go. So the cost was recalculated but it was double the original amount, it’s very expensive to fly from Canada to Belgium. In the end I could only go for two days anyway and it’s a 12 hour flight so I think they’re just going to Skype me in. I would’ve loved to go but I wanna do it properly and I just don’t have the time. It’s one day lost both ways and the rhythm of my day is so insane, I have three kids aged 5, 3 & 19 months and I’m running this magazine. I still freelance for local newspapers as well so I’m lucky if I get 5 hours of sleep a night. Gallivanting around the world with the movie sounds great but at this stage of my life it just isn’t…feasible. I did go to Buffalo though!
HN: Yes! The “Buffalo Screams” event where the film won the “Best Medium Length Film” & “Best Director: Medium Length Film”, were those actual categories?
CA: Yeah they were! But I never heard of them before. I meant to bring it up with Greg (Lambertson, director of “Slime City” & “Slime City Massacre” & Buffalo Screams festival director) What the hell does that mean?
HN: How long is “Blood For Irina” again?
CA: It’s 70 minutes long so to me that’s a feature. It’s not going to be playing at any multiplex anywhere soon but it’s a feature length film. Look at films like “Little Shoppe Of Horrors” or “Bucket Of Blood”…they clocked in at 60 minutes and they were features!
HN: You were there with your film. How did the audience react to “Blood For Irina”?
CA: I was really nervous but not because I cared about what the audience thought. The movie is exactly the way I wanted it to be and it’s kinda foolproof in that it was designed to cheat the pitfalls of low budget filmmaking. We didn’t have bad actors mouthing bad dialogue which to me is the deal breaker in low budget movies. I don’t care how nice it looks, as soon as the shitty actors start mouthing terrible dialogue the movie is ruined & it rips you out of it. In addition some filmmakers don’t know where to place music properly or they have some bad digital effects that just kills everything that might’ve been good about the movie. We bypassed that by making a movie that celebrates all of it’s shortcomings and it’s a real art film and I’m very happy with it. I wasn’t worried about how the film was going to be received but I was nervous about how it would look because I had never seen it projected. I created this immersive sound design but it was all on a small screen…my laptop. I did project it on a wall in my home but that was very small. But the moment it came on a big screen I felt good because it sounded amazing, it was a big surround, immersive experience and it looked great. For a movie that cost nothing the visuals were really beautiful in my humble opinion.
I know half of the audience was watching it and thinking “What The Fuck”? which is fine because you have to be really into it, really engaged in order to follow it. I always say that if you’re not hooked 20 minutes into a movie then it’s just not going to work for you. It’s not going to change it’s rhythm for you, all movies have their own rhythm and if you’re in tune with it great but if you’re not then you’re never going to get it and that’s the bottom line. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of people really liked it and I got a lot of good feedback from them. In Vegas, where it played at Pollygrind I got a couple of nice reviews but I did get one bad review. Some blogger gave us 1 1/2 stars and said he had a better time reading the synopsis than he did watching the movie. To me that is a sad example of internet journalism, I mean is that a review? But I want that kind of feedback anyway, you know why? Because I’m the editor of FANGORIA magazine, that’s why! I have a high tech smoke detector up my ass because so many people blow smoke up it. I want honest responses and this guy didn’t give a shit about who I was or mention FANGORIA, it was just a movie he saw at a festival. And he did not like it, which is fine with me…I don’t care. You’re still talking about it so whether you liked it or not that’s fine. I’m just glad that review exists because for what it’s worth it’s an honest response.
HN: Well there are always going to be bad reviews no matter what the film is. If all your reviews were good then I’d be extremely worried…
CA: That’s when you start to think that everyone likes it when you’re in the room with them but as soon as you leave there’s a collective “Bleeech! What an asshole that guy is”! But for instance if I showed it to you I know I would get an honest response because you’re a guy who speaks his mind. Not only are you honest but you’re articulate and you’d tell me what you liked or didn’t like. You’re coming from a point of view where you understand the references…you understand movies and that’s what I like. What I hate about the internet is that there are so many people out there who are trying to jab a stick into a hornet’s nest and really don’t understand shit. They’re just taking advantage of a platform that they really shouldn’t have. Make no mistake, I’m ready for that too. I’m ready for it to go in another direction because of FANGORIA and what it means to be the editor of the magazine.
HN: Speaking of magazines…I wanna ask you a few questions about FANGORIA.
HN: Let me start by saying I have every issue of Rue Morgue from #10 on. I’ve been a subscriber for years, I dig Rue Morgue. One of my favorite parts of each issue was your column, I always got a laugh out of your reviews. So when Anthony Timpone stepped down as editor of FANGO (He is still on the masthead as “Editor Emeritus”) and you were introduced as the new editor I didn’t make the connection right away although I knew I had seen your name elsewhere. I think the initial shock of Tony stepping down just overwhelmed my senses a bit. It took me a little while before I connected you with Rue Morgue and I started wondering about how did you end up getting the greatest job on Earth (As far as I’m concerned anyway)?
CA: I know how it happened but it’s still really weird…surreal. I don’t know…I always liked what I liked and I always believed that you can do anything you wanted to because everything we want is fabricated by other people anyway so you can do it. When I was a kid reading FANGORIA I used to think about how much I wanted to write for it. As I got older and found about Rue Morgue, I thought it was great! It was like having FANGORIA in my backyard, and I thought that maybe there was a possibility that I could be a part of it. So I got their phone number and left them a long rambling voice mail. I got a call from Rod (Gudino, Former editor of Rue Morgue) the next day and told me that he loved what I had said and wanted to transcribe it for use in the mag. Of course I said “Yes” & eventually I ended up writing a column for them, becoming a big part of the magazine. And not just in print, I think I came on really early in the mag and I ended up writing thousands of columns for them over the years. I used to DJ their parties as well and I really became a part of that world. But I guess part of me was disenfranchised with it all because Rue Morgue is more like a “Scene” and I never really liked “Scenes”. I’ve always liked individual thought as opposed to party lines & “Gooble Gobble One of Us”, you know what I mean? Groucho Marx had a great line: “I don’t want to be part of a club that’ll have me for a member” and that’s the way I started to feel about those guys. It was like they wanted me to gulp their Kool Aid or something and eventually I started to rub them the wrong way…I know that. The final straw was when George Romero was up here shooting “Diary Of The Dead”, he had moved up here after “Land Of The Dead”. Now I knew that he was here shooting but Rue Morgue didn’t so I brought it to them and the editor at the time ended up giving the assignment to somebody else on staff because she wanted to be a zombie in the film. That was like along the lines of “It’s important that we, the editors should be covering it because we should be in the movie as zombies”.
I was really upset over that and I made a big stink about it but nothing happened. So I said “Fuck This”! and I reached out to Tony and told him what was happening and I told him I’d give him exclusives and such. We had a really good conversation but it was quite surreal to me because I grew up reading Tony’s stuff and here I am talking to him! He gave me the green light to go ahead and I started freelancing quietly for FANGORIA but you can’t really freelance quietly for FANGO because it’s FANGO. People read that magazine and you also don’t want to be quiet about it because you’re so excited to be writing for them. Eventually Rue Morgue got wind of this and they told me that I had to make a choice, I thought I could do both and asked why I couldn’t. At the end they said that I couldn’t write for FANGORIA because I was a big part of Rue Morgue and it looked bad if I was writing for the competition. I said OK but if they were going to treat me differently than the other writers on staff then they’d have to pay me differently than the other writers as well because otherwise there would be no reason for me to be stuck to this brand other than blind loyalty. I had just had my first child and when it comes down to paying the rent and such…I have to think about these things. And they said it wasn’t going to happen so the choice was made and I started freelancing for FANGO & my other freelance gigs, I had a radio show and other outlets. I’ve made my peace with the magazine since then and all is well, I had a great time writing for Rue Morgue and harbor them no ill will whatsoever but suddenly I got a call out of the blue telling me that Tony was stepping down as editor to focus on FANGO’s VOD element and they liked what I was doing online and for the magazine. They liked how I promoted myself and make sure that people knew me and they asked if I would be interested in taking over for Tony and becoming the new editor of FANGORIA and I didn’t believe it. I remember that I was in a record store when I had gotten the call and I had flipped my car over the week before which twisted up my arm really badly. So I was in this record store on drugs with my arm all wrapped in gauze asking them if they were serious! It took a few months to do the dance and work out the details before it actually happened but it did…just like that. Tony was moving on to do other things, he had been there for 25 years and I guess they were looking for a new beat, a new flavor if you will. Tony moved on to the VOD stuff and some other things. He just finished the first FANGORIA coffee table book as a matter of fact.
HN: Yeah, I was talking with him about it last week actually…I’m dying to see it!
CA: It’s pretty cool! And he was really nice about it all. He spent a lot of time with me on the phone talking to me about what I should do, he’s like my mentor! He went through all of the stuff that was going to be expected of me and how he’d always be around to help me if I needed him. I was extremely nervous about it all and it took awhile to find a rhythm, as a matter of fact I’m not too sure if I even found a rhythm yet. I think my rhythm is that there is no rhythm. I just kind of follow instinctually what I think might be interesting or what I think a 12 year old kid might want to read.
HN: Well I was stunned when it happened quite frankly.
CA: You and a lot of other people were…
HN: I have every issue of FANGORIA. I’ve been there since day one and I actually call myself the magazine’s “Greatest Soldier”. I wasn’t going to stop reading the magazine obviously, I wanted to see what you would bring to it. I saw the change almost immediately, the magazine seemed to take on a more “Adult” air. There was a focus on music that wasn’t there previously. It just felt more “Adult” than it was during Tony’s years at the helm.
CA: It’s funny that you call it “Adult” because on my second issue as editor we had sold an ad to a p*rn company, there was a p*rn ad in there. And of all the hate mail I’ve received, which hasn’t been a lot thankfully, I got the most for that issue. If you let your kids read a magazine showing hooks going through a woman’s tits then why can’t you show them a woman sexually? There’s always been a sort of a disconnect there.
HN: How long have you been editing the mag now? Three years or so?
CA: It’s almost three years now but it actually feels longer!
HN: Well I don’t know if this was something you wanted to do or if it’s more of a subconscious kind of thing but you’re three years in now and it almost reads like “Rue Morgue” to my eyes.
CA: You know what? I’ll tell you this, I had a column in Rue Morgue but that’s not all I did. My literary influences are Tim Lucas and Chas Balun as far as journalism is concerned, Balun especially because he always brought his personality to the table and made everything an adventure. Mixing that with my love of music and deep poetry is how I define my writing style. So I was given carte blanche to do that in Rue Morgue and I wrote some really weird columns and ideas for features and such when suddenly all of the others started to write like I did. And they had to be told that they couldn’t write like I did because otherwise everything would be the same & it wouldn’t work. It started to take on a kind of shape, I’m not saying I steered Rue Morgue in a certain direction but I definitely was the voice in a lot of the features and ideas that went down during that period. I was always proud of that and I liked what Rue Morgue was doing in theory but although I haven’t read it in a long time I found it was getting pretentious. It was talking above it’s audience as if they knew more than you know and that always bothered me because one’s perspective on the ride all depends on when they got on the train. You can’t say what’s a good movie or a bad movie, you can’t shit on Rob Zombie because some 12 year old is gonna discover one of his movies and it’s gonna change their life. Even “Psycho” wasn’t loved when it was originally released, it was looked at as a poor, gutteral follow up to “North By Northwest”
. I felt like Rue Morgue was always looking down on you as if they were some sort of board collective of knowledge on this stuff and that really bothered me. But structurally I thought they were great! I thought every issue looked like a work of art and they took chances which I really liked. Rod would always come up with something for a cover story or interesting story angles which were not always commercially safe bets. By the time I came on board with FANGO, I have to be dead honest here, I would still get FANGO and I was a contributor but half the time I wouldn’t read it. I collected it but I wouldn’t read it. I thought there was something wrong there, I was sick of set visits…I thought they were dry. I didn’t think the magazine had enough juice to it, it didn’t pay enough attention to history and I thought it was kind of bland. Now make no mistake it covered a lot of stuff but not necessarily the kind of stuff that a print horror magazine should cover in an age where print is dying and you’re trying to hook your audience and you have competition like Rue Morgue & HorrorHound out there. You have to pay attention to the competition, why are people buying Rue Morgue & HorrorHound but not FANGORIA? If you’re sales are faltering you better find out what the other guys are doing and adjust. Try to be like the Highlander…”There Can Be Only One”.
So that’s what I tried to do. I tried to take all the things I loved about Rue Morgue, the things I did for Rue Morgue and things that I like about HorrorHound too. You know I think HorrorHound is terribly written by and large but I think visually it’s an adventure! It makes me feel like I did when I was a kid reading Gore Zone again because it’s messy and it’s kind of cartoonish like an old EC comic. It has this sort of energy to it that I dig. I think that it has the kind of energy that’s missing from Rue Morgue right now.
HN: I still subscribe to both Rue Morgue & HorrorHound and I am a fan of them both but I have dozens of issues that I haven’t read yet. The only ones I read as soon as I get them are FANGORIA & Video Watchdog. I read those as soon as they arrive in my mailbox and I get to Rue Morgue & HorrorHound when I have a spare moment or two.
CA: Video Watchdog is a major, massive, amazing magazine for sure!
HN: Yeah, that’s something that you have to block out time to read. But they’re the only ones that I can still learn something from. Like you said HorrorHound is a lot of fun but it is badly written overall and it’s terribly edited.
CA: Yeah, there are a lot of mistakes and that takes you out of it!
HN: I see mistakes in it all the time. And I don’t dig all the emphasis on toys although I can’t knock em’ for it because the toys wouldn’t be in there if people didn’t dig reading about them.
CA: They got the toys and Rue Morgue will run a three page article on “Monster Beer”! Who gives a f*ck? Or there’ll be some guy who took some pictures of a graveyard in England and they’ll run a three page article on that. Here’s two pages of the “Rue Crew” at a party…who cares? You’ll notice that there are a lot more interviews in FANGO now, I like interviews. I like interviews with strange people! I also try to keep everything thematic and that’s one of the things I learned from Rod Gudino when he was editing Rue Morgue.
He tried to keep to a theme and make the magazine read like a book. I think that’s what he was trying to do anyway and if you look at any issue of FANGO that I’ve edited you’ll see that, even if you look at where the placement of the features are, I try to connect them by theme so that the magazine has a beginning, middle and end. It almost plays like a record album and that’s what I consciously try to do. If I picked this magazine up would it feel like it read like a book from the first page to the last? I really feel like most of the time they really do. Interviews to me are fantastic, especially if you have a great subject because it really does feel like a conversation. I just love listening to conversations where intelligent people talk about movies and art, it’s like sitting around with your friends talking about movies except now you’re talking with the people that actually made the movie. I think that’s the best way to do it. I’ll give you a hint what’s going to be on the next cover of FANGORIA. I like to make weird & controversial moves that I think might piss people off like when I put Gene Simmons (KISS) on the cover and everyone wanted to kill me.
HN: Yeah! That cover looked like it was an issue of…
CA: Famous Monsters magazine.
CA: And then I’ll try to prove it! You know I’m like a lawyer…here’s exhibit A: I put Simmons on the cover because I knew KISS fans would buy it and they did, it was a HUGE issue for us. And I knew horror fans would try to kill me or get confused, maybe both! So then I have to prove it, I can’t just put it there and run away. I have to personally put my blood out there and say “Look, this is why I’m doing it”. Hate me or not I’m putting him on the cover for a reason and then I have to plead my case. This month I’m putting “Django Unchained” on the cover and even though it has nothing to do with horror it’s exceedingly, despicably violent and to me the whole history of spaghetti westerns is so deeply tied to Eurohorror they’re interchangeable. They’re aesthetics are gothic, Morricone was veering between doing Argento giallo’s and these incredible spaghetti westerns. The same people, actors, sensibilities, directors were all dabbling in the genre. So they feel sensational and that’s what Tarantino is trying to do with this movie, he’s trying to make a sensational gore western. So I’m really going for it, in fact I’m even calling the magazine DJANGORIA for that month and that’s gonna confuse people too but I don’t care! I know it’s gonna get them talking, I don’t care if they love it or hate it as long as they’re talking about it! There’s a great interview with Tarantino in there and he even wrote a bunch of articles for us this month as well. So it’s a real coup in that respect. I even got the Weinstein’s to send me the goriest stuff they have so the cover is gonna be a throwback to the classic FANGORIA gore covers. So I’m really excited about that and I know people are gonna look at it and say “What The Fuck”? Which is just what I want!
HN: You know I always thought that being the editor of FANGORIA must be the greatest job in the world, I still do actually. What does it mean to you to have my job!
CA: I’ll talk frankly about that too. It is the greatest job, even your bad days aren’t really that bad. You’ll get an email from someone in say…South Africa whose just read something you wrote and wanted to tell you how much they liked it. Then you realize that it’s not just a job, it’s a heavy level of responsibility to not only long time fans of the magazine but kids too. When I was a kid I’d read Timpone, Balun & Lucas and they were my teachers. They were responsible for my education on that level but it’s not all f*cking blow jobs and rainbows over here you know…
HN: Yeah, I can imagine that there are some pretty rough days.
CA: Tony was there during the period when he was Tony, the rock star you know? He was on GERALDO talking about the Satanic Panic. And Starlog was really big back then as well as all of the off shoot mags like GORE ZONE & BLOODY BEST OF FANGORIA were on newsstands all over. Everything in the print industry was glowing and FANGO was the only mag of it’s type there. Famous Monsters had come back to some degree but it wasn’t really serious competition. When I came on board people were calling the magazine dead. It had been offline for nearly three months and everyone had written them off. Suddenly I came on Board and it was alive again but it’s a struggle man, a real struggle to work and work and work! It’s not about just putting the latest horror movie on the cover. You have to think about what’s going to please the old fans & the new fans. What’s gonna be commercial? What’s gonna not be too commercial so we don’t look like a bunch of sellout syncophants? How are we going to find that middle ground? So I just go gonzo with a lot of it because I’m rolling the dice half of the time figuring out the formula. What’s gonna keep the lights on but also keeps the respect of the fans? That’s not easy man, I sweat buckets trying to come up with that formula month after month.
HN: I can imagine how tough that must be. I guess you have to be careful of what you wish for sometimes huh?
CA: Yeah! And then there’s Rue Morgue, HorrorHound, Dread Central, etc…and one might think that we should all just get along because we’re all chasing one common goal. No man, the common goal is to survive and we’re all on the same deserted island chasing after the same pig. You have to think and anticipate your competition. You have to think about that kid out there who loves horror but gets most if not all of it from online so why would he bother buying a magazine anyway? He’s gotta be a collector so you have to appeal to the collectors by throwing in posters and stuff like that because when that kid gets $10 and goes to the newsstand he’s gonna have not only the big 3 but there’s a lot of little guys swimming in the bloody water with us that are trying to get his attention.
HN: Magazines like Scarlet Street, Scary Monsters, Screem, Ultra Violent, etc…
CA: FANGORIA has been around for 33 years now so we have to do our best to stay relevant and that’s pressure, it’s a high pressure gig. And then you have to pay attention to the website as well which just creates more pressure…but I live for this stuff!
HN: Is there a timetable for your next movie?
CA: No because “Blood For Irina” is showing that it has a bit of life to it right now. It’s going to a bunch of festivals in places like Bruges, San Diego and it’s going to be touring through South America. And I think they’re plotting something for France that might include a limited theatrical release as well but it’s not my movie anymore, it belongs to Autonomy and they have plans! I don’t wanna rush into something else like a madman just yet but one thing’s for sure, When I’m all ready I won’t be f*cking around, I’m gonna hit the ground running and make it! Because I’m already imagining what it’s gonna be and any increase in budget will come from the fact that it’s going to be much more special effect oriented in terms of make up and the bizarre ideas I have that will require more time. I already have a location in mind and want to keep it local with a small crew. I kind of like the idea of being kind of a Canadian contemporary Jean Rollin in the sense that I’m making movies that are very personal and don’t cost a lot of money, movies that are thematically linked. They’re low risk and Autonomy has already made money off of “Blood For Irina” because it exists and they spent d*ck all on it! Any kind of sales they get is going to be five times what the movie cost…
HN: So it’s all gravy now..
CA: It’s all gravy! And all of us are gonna make some money off of it. And the product isn’t some unwatchable piece of shit, it will have some play. I don’t wanna make a David Fincher movie next time out, I have no interest in being George Lucas either. I want to make honest. personal movies that are low risk for the distributor but that will mean something to the people who like this sort of thing.
HN: Since you’re such a devotee of Franco did you include any nutty zoom shots like he was wont to do?
CA: I didn’t do any crazy zooms. I wanted the movie to be immersive so I wanted it to be really slow, like a slow ballet. So there are endless zooms but they’re very slow. It’s not that kind of movie, it’s more like a dream more than a movie really. And another thing, people are going to ask “Where’s the sex”? And I gotta say one thing about that. Rollin and Franco were great artists and great sensualists in cinema but they were trapped in a market where they had to provide the money shots to remain commercial. And sometimes the nudity and sex in the great Franco movies, as hot as it is, kills the atmosphere…it makes them common if that means anything. Why would my vampire get laid? She’s not human! No one in the movie is necessarily human, they’re fragments of memory so why would they want to do something so common as get laid?
Interview: Chris Alexander (Blood For Irina, Fangoria)