Five Questions for Bryan White
PHOTO: Bryan White and P.J. Soles at Rock and Shock
Bryan White is the mastermind behind Cinema Suicide, a daily digest of horror, cult, and exploitation movie news and reviews. According to the about page of his site, he holds a PhD in Xenoanthropology from the illustrious Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. But we forgot to ask him about whether he ever laid eyes (or hands) on the Necronomicon. Some interviewers we are, huh?
- You’ve called Kevin Smith’s Red State the movie you’re most anticipating in 2011. This, despite being of the opinion that his career has been pretty uneven in the last ten years. What’s got you so stoked for Red State?
I love it when a director steps outside of their comfort zone to do something they’re not used to. Smith is the absolute last director that I thought would ever attempt a horror movie and the teaser he cut a while back is one of the most intense things I’ve seen in a while. I don’t really know what inspired him to go to such a dark place, either. I know that he frequently antagonizes the Westboro Baptist Church presence on Twitter and that they get into it all the time and a lot of Red State is based on those people but from what I can tell, his life is going pretty good and there’s nothing in his outward presentation that would suggest that he had some demons to exorcise through a nasty horror script. I mean, he even put off a very commercial script, Hit Somebody, to do a movie in a genre that typically loses money unless it features some very specific ingredients.
Smith has been losing since Jersey Girl and it really seemed to get under his skin since he ran back to familiar New Jersey characters to nurse his wounds. An indicator that we’re on to something big here is how confident he is in this picture, though. It’s a complete 180 from his previous approaches. It’s exciting. He’s still not doing press for it, which is idiotic, if you ask me, but the unconventional marketing that he’s been doing demonstrates to me that we’re on the eve of something remarkable and he keeps indicating that Red State is the beginning of a new phase in his career. It’s hard not to get carried away in that kind of excitement.
- Your site, Cinema Suicide, discusses cult films, among other stuff. And the quality of cult films, we all know, is often in the eye of the beholder. If you had to pick five movies you’ve seen that are so bad they’re good, what would those be?
Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a movie that desperately needs to be seen to be believed. I’ve seen some really terrible movies in my time but the lunacy at work in Birdemic is unprecedented. Its production is pretty interesting as its by a former software salesman with zero filmmaking experience who sold his stock in his employer and made the movie with the cash about a software salesman who sells his company’s stock to develop green energy tech. He falls in love with this girl he meets in a diner and as their relationship grows, the local bird population starts attacking people because of global warming. I thought it was some kind of joke until I did the research and realized that the director, James Nguyen, is pretty serious about it. It is really, really bad in the best way possible with some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen (birds hovering over a city in defiance of gravity, divebombing buildings and bursting into flames), an unbelievably weird ending and the most awkward date ever put on film (set to a song called “Hangin’ Out With The Family”). I’ve never seen anything like it.
The Room quickly became the heir apparent to the Rock Horror throne and it has a great reputation as a midnight movie. Like Birdemic, it was made by a well-intentioned dude who had no business making a movie but it was his dream and he made it happen. The result is this extraordinarily boring story of Johnny and Lisa. Johnny is the nice guy. Lisa is a bored sociopath who wants to derail her relationship. Her mother has breast cancer. Johnny’s best friend is nailing Lisa behind his back and this man-child named Denny seems to have some kind of beef with a drug dealer. The whole movie is a series of incomplete subplots revolving around this terminally stupid melodrama and nothing ever seems to go anywhere. The dialog is ridiculous and the acting is beyond terrible. There are also numerous uncomfortable sex scenes set to third-rate R&B. Everything about The Room is diabolical. It’s just so, SO bad but people love it for that reason and a number of rituals, ala Rocky Horror, have sprung up around it.
I also have no shortage of love for Death Wish 3. The first Death Wish is a movie that I actually like and I think a lot of people dismiss it because it’s just another exploitation movie but it has a lot of positive qualities. Death Wish 3, however, is the polar opposite. It’s a real piece of shit but it’s mind-bending in the sheer scope of its badness. Charles Bronson seems sleepy and drunk through most of the movie and the villains are this South Bronx gang that look and behave more like a cult than anything else. The main villain is a guy named Fraker with a reverse mohawk. There’s a cop named Striker who gleefully breaks every constitutional law on the books. Most of Bronson’s dialog is grunts and either a yes or a no answer to a question but he lights up whenever he runs down the specs on a gun he’s magically received in the mail from an anonymous friend. He’s even sent a rocket launcher! Everything about the movie is terrible but it’s so god damn funny. A bunch of evil bikers are gunned down and then some children rush into the street and jump for joy. It’s really something.
There’s a Thai action movie called Born To Fight that came out in 2004 that is among some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. Thailand popped up on the action movie radar around 2004 when the movie Ong Bak was released. It put Thailand on the map as a destination for the most exciting stunt spectacles ever filmed. Born To Fight is no different. It’s a Die Hard ripoff about a drug lord whose armed militia takes a rural village hostage and threatens Bangkok with a nuke unless the drug lord is released by the cops. Lucky for the villagers, a really badass cop is among the hostages as is a humanitarian relief charity, manned by a bunch of Thailand’s best national athletes. The movie is outrageously violent and the plot is particularly rancid but it’s a 90 minute movie with ten minutes of plot. The remaining eighty minutes is dedicated to extended action sequences. The final forty or so minutes is nonstop fighting and shooting. They blow up two whole villages, too. The athletes fight the militia using their particular sports skills. There are Tae Kwon Do fighters and Thai Boxers but there’s also a guy who kicks everything in sight because he’s a soccer player and there’s a gymnast who rescues a baby from a burning hut thanks to strategically placed bars to flip off of. It’s kinetic madness like I’ve never seen before. The stunts are unbelievably thrilling, many of which involve near death falls involving moving vehicles. There’s a fight on top of a moving 18-wheeler that is exceptionally tense.
Lastly, just see Troll 2. Trust me.
- In addition to writing about films and comics and such, you’ve been involved in creating some of your own stuff. Tell us about Zombie Bomb, how you got involved, and in what issues we can find your work.
Zombie Bomb is an anthology comic published by Terminal Press and it’s edited by a good friend of mine, a guy named Rich Woodall. He does it as an editorial collaboration with another guy, Adam Miller. Rich and I have been tossing comic ideas back and forth for a while. He’s done backup stories, lettering, inking, coloring for a lot of indie books and published his own book, Johnny Raygun, so he’s been around the comic world for a while. Several years ago, he and I tossed around the idea of an anthology book that I would edit that was a series of original stories taking place in the fictional world of H.P. Lovecraft but it never came together. Eventually he and Adam got Terminal behind Zombie Bomb and Rich invited me to do some writing for it.
I wrote a short called “This Night I’ll Eat Your Flesh” that appears in volume 2 of the book and it’s about three scuzzy pillheads who break into an old lady’s house when one of them spots her at a pharmacy picking up a tremendous haul of pills. Unfortunately, what they discover is that she’s actually a zombie, the most passable among several in the house for a living human, and she goes out to get appetite suppressants and antibiotics for the rest of the rotting dead in the house since the pills stop the rot and keep them all from being so hungry for flesh all the time. It was supposed to be a modern spin on the old ironic Tales From The Crypt formula and I think we pulled it off. Rich did the art for the story and it came out great. They’ve had a filmmaker following them around at different cons and he did a sort of documentary about the creative process and the marketing process of an indie comic. Their YouTube channel is here—I was interviewed for a segment at the Rock & Shock con but none of that stuff was used in the show for whatever reason. The same director is said to be making deals to shoot a sort of pilot episode of a Zombie Bomb TV show that they’ll eventually pitch to cable networks. “This Night…” is supposed to be among the shorts they want to produce for the pilot but I’ve heard nothing new about that since October.
I also have a second one on deck for a future issue that’s a piece of illustrated prose called “Asenath’s Army.” Rich needed a fantasy sword and sorcery piece in a hurry so I threw together the story of an elf who is out to kill the necromancer whose army of undead slaughtered his tribe. No word when that will run, if it will at all.
I also have some outlines for comics that I’d love to pitch to some artists and publishers; varied tones and themes. There’s a sort of fantasy piece that takes place way off in the future and is informed heavily by themes and imagery from black metal and stoner metal music. There’s a sort of dystopian near-future thing about kids in a city under a repressive regime. It’s like the documentary Style Wars if it were set in William Gibson’s Chiba City. There’s also a comedy outline about the world’s biggest asshole who fulfills his dream of building a massive island fortress where the decadent rich can pay handsomely to hunt man but the details of running the place, dealing with henchmen and unions winds up putting a strain on his sanity. I need to raise a little cash and find an artist that I can sucker into drawing a few pages that I can send around to different publishers.
- You were one of the forces behind How to Survive the Strange, a Web series you often described as “Bob Vila, Vampire Hunter.” What’s happening with that?
Nothing, unfortunately. John Herman, the director, and I hit a scheduling snag. We took a quick break in the middle of the production while I gathered materials and ran makeup tests for some pretty ambitious special effects and he got everything together before going on a sort of sabbatical and the beat in the action turned out to break our momentum. We made a few attempts to rally the troops but availability was hard to come by and eventually we just stopped trying. John always has a million projects waiting in the wings and as soon as it looked like The Strange was dead in the water he moved on to his steampunk stage project and our collaboration came to a graceful halt.
Everyone involved in the production had a blast doing it. I loved every minute of it but I don’t think it’s coming back.
- Back in 2009, you wrote an article about the new breed of vampire being made popular by the Twilight series. In that article, you alluded to being blindsided by the vampire phenomenon because you were so busy pondering the popularity of zombies. Well, now it seems we’re back to zombies again with The Walking Dead. What is it about zombies, and particularly the story being told in The Walking Dead, that’s resonating on such a huge level?
I honestly do not know what is so alluring about zombies. The horror genre in its many forms has always been a reflection of our collective social anxiety about whatever happens to be in the headlines at the time. Each monster is a sort of Jungian archetype for the sorts of things that we fear in the real world but the zombie is probably the most generic of all the creatures in horror. You can attach it to anything and its relevant. Want to make a movie that examines the social ramifications of American immigration policy? Throw some zombies in it and set it on the Arizona border. Want to key into everyone’s fear of pandemic disease? Have I got a monster for you! Class war? Zombies. Consumerism? Zombies.
Zombies, no matter how popular they got, were always restrained to horror circles. Even after the monster mainstreamed with Shaun of the Dead. The public really got excited about zombies after that but they still didn’t rise to the status that they have now. The Walking Dead is probably the greatest yard stick for measuring the aforementioned public anxiety, though. That show got huge god damn numbers! Bigger than Mad Men! It set records. More people watched it than any other basic cable show before it and it maintained those numbers throughout its 6 episode run. That’s freakin’ remarkable! There was so much hype beforehand during Comic Con and in the run up to the premier and it didn’t lose steam even after the premier, which is usually what happens. Regular people, it seems, are ready for zombies which may or may not be a good thing. The Walking Dead succeeded because it was a typically sophisticated AMC production matched with horror and it didn’t skimp on the gore. Every episode of that show was a hard R rating. It was remarkable. It opened the door for more horror on TV, which almost always fails spectacularly (Masters of Horror, Fear Itself) and it also made people more receptive to comics on TV. The Walking Dead finally gave traction to the Powers show and a couple other comic shows are back in production mode like Sandman and Fables.
Why the public is so hung up on zombies, though, I can’t say. For that many people to tap into the show and start buying up back issues (Walking Dead #1 recently sold on Ebay for $1,000) indicates that even more people than before are seeing something relevant in zombies and apocalyptic fiction that they see out here in the real world and I’m not sure I can blame them. It feels like we’ve been teetering on the brink since the Bush administration, not to politicize this or anything, and zombies are an adequate stand-in for all the fear that we feel about pretty much everything in the United States right now. Everyone is on edge about everything and a show like The Walking Dead takes those fears and puts them at arm’s length so we can examine and process them from a safe distance. I guess The Walking Dead became a sort of group therapy for 6 million viewers plus all the people downloading it off the Internet.
Personally, I had my problems with it. I thought the first couple of episodes were killer but the later episodes lost steam and descended into soapy melodrama. I also wasn’t crazy about how far off-script it went. I’m fine with it taking creative liberties and sifting out certain characters but it was unrecognizable in the end. The cast was too big and they really telegraphed who in the show was a red shirt. Here’s hoping it finds its way back in season two. Apparently, though, I’m in the minority on this one. The viewership really flocked to it for the metaphor outlined above but the real hook was that the cast resembled average people. They weren’t super heroes, they were people you know in your real life and that lends a lot of credibility your fantasy if you don’t feel so far removed from the protagonists.