Interview for horroregon.us website, conducted in 2011 by Jack Maraglia
Who the hell are you?
My name is Willy Greer, and I am a fully realized geek.
A fully Realized geek, eh? How did you attain such inner peace?
It was a long, arduous journey. Geeks don’t thrive in Fresno, California–no one does, really, but especially not frail artsy types like myself. Twelve years ago, I moved to Portland, found my people, and everything began to change. Portland has an utterly amazing movie freak culture, from the second-run brewpub theaters to stores like Movie Madness. I can’t imagine being as happy anywhere else, even with Portland’s distressing lack of sunlight.
What do you do?
I co-host the podcast Horror Holocaust Radio with the amazing Jeff Dean; I compose music for horror movies; I wrote a just-released book on the genre called Shadow Play: Philosophy and Psychology of the Modern Horror Film; and I recently wrote my first screenplay–a slasher film called Second Skin.
Horror Holocaust Radio? Is that horror rock? Soundtracks? What’s happening there? Where can we hear it and about how often is is created?
Horror Holocaust Radio is a show Jeff and I have been doing since November of 2004; it’s mostly talk between Jeff, myself, and whatever guests will allow us to stick a micropohone in their faces. We discuss upcoming releases and horror news, do retrospectives on directors, composers, or horror subgenres that we feel deserve extra love, and sprinkle our favorite horror soundtrack music in between (we’re partial to Morricone, Carpenter and Goblin). For our first six years, we were a live, sometimes pirate, radio show, broadcasting every Friday. Now we’re a monthly podcast, which we hope to supplement with monthly fan commentaries for our favorite films. (We’ve just posted our first, for the original Friday The 13th; next up on the chopping block are Fridays 2-4 and Halloweens 1-3.) Horror Holocaust Radio can be heard and downloaded at horrorholocaustradio.com.
What horror films can we seek out and hear spooky atmosphere sounds by you?
My first two gigs as a composer were for Lovecraft-inspired films: Cthulhu (shot in the NW) and Pickman’s Muse. The director of Pickman, Robert Cappelletto, asked me to do something along the lines of Carpenter and Goblin, and I was more than happy to oblige him. I’d personally like to see a resurgence of that style of horror film scoring–the “Tubular Bells” template–and was happy to do my part on this film. I also scored the TV spot for Portland’s very own Fright Town, which has aired during haunting season the past two years.
Shadow Play…fill us in on that! Writing, research, editing, to printing. Give us the your painful travels from idea to papercuts!
Shadow Play is basically my statement regarding the function that horror fulfills for us–why it may be healthier to watch horror movies than to not. We humans are in constant conflict with ourselves, trying to evolve and attain civilization, but also trying to figure out what to do with these leftover impulses from the reptile brain, these fight-or-flight responses. Horror movies and fiction give us an outlet for these urges, and a chance to explore the darker side of the human mind without catastrophic consequences. I believe we can become better people for it–I certainly did.
In Shadow Play, I apply Jungian philosophy to the structure of horror films, which I’m a little surprised more people aren’t doing. Horror movies are usually analyzed from a Freudian viewpoint, which is valid on many levels, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Horror movies are about more than indulging the socially inappropriate urges of the id; they are about our ongoing quest to integrate all the repressed parts of our psyches into our consciousness, to move beyond the darkness that haunts us and live healthy, authentic lives.
There’s also a small amount of autobiography, providing a chronicle of when, how and why I became a horror fan (starting at age 8), but the rest of deals with individual movies–over 80 of them, from grindhouse to arthouse. I wanted to write something that could possibly explain to “normal” people why so many of us are so obsessed with this genre, and also to inspire die hard fans to view some of their old favorites through a more modern, liberal, Jungian lens.
From first draft to final polish–including breaks I took when I got sick of it–I’d say Shadow Play took about 4 years to write. Research included reading up on Jung and spending many, many days watching horror films in my underwear. Writing it inspired me to finally watch some of the films I had previously never been in the mood to see, like Irreversible, Lucker The Necrophagus, the Guinea Pig films, and Last House On Dead End Street. (My forcing myself to watch and write about some of these movies led to some of the most inspired essays in the book–a bit of Gonzo journalism in which I watch a few festivals of uber-disturbing movies while getting drunk and writing about them stream-of-consciousness.)
After I sent out the first wave of proposals to publishers, I took a break and focused on composing for a while. But a year later, the folks at Midnight Marquee responded, asking to see the full book. And then of course it was a frantic month of editing, rewriting, spell-checking, and catching up on a few films that had been released in the interim. Midnight Marquee said yes to the book, but there was another year-and-change between then and the book’s release. Accounting for all of that, it was published maybe six years after I first began writing. A very long slog, but I’m glad. I feel like I discovered my voice and viewpoint as a result of writing it, and honestly it took the entire process to draw it out of me.
Shadow Play is now officially available at midmar.com.
What’s on the horizon of horror that you are looking forward to, any format?
The screenplay Second Skin is the new priority. I’m impossibly excited about it. Cthulhu director Daniel Gildark is attached as director, and we’re currently looking for the right producer(s). I’m reticent to give too much away at the moment, but I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a slasher film, a genre I’ve been madly in love with since i was way too young to watch them, and which I still think gets a really bad and unfair rap. I want to help change that by taking the genre seriously, and I’ve put a lot of time, thought and love into this script.
There are also a couple of new book ideas fleshing themselves out in the back of my mind, and I can’t wait to work on them, but getting this movie made is the primary obsession. I think it’s the next logical step–a lot of screenwriters and filmmakers started as critics.
And I’m always on the prowl for the next scoring project. There’s no such thing as too busy.
What are you currently recommending to friends that might as you for something to watch, read or listen to?
Christopher Smith is insanely consistent, and has yet to repeat himself with any of his films. He’s amazing: Triangle completely floored me; Creep is a simple, primal classic; and Black Death is a brutal and brutally honest study of religious hatred inspired by mortal fear–it’s like Night of the Living Dead with the Bubonic plague standing in for the zombies.
My favorite horror movie of last year was Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. It’s Gremlins meets The Thing, and it looks like it was shot by Dean Cundey. But my favorite movie of last year was Enter The Void. I have to love movies that buckle down and go for it with so much abandon. It’s incredibly over the top, but it’s the kind of over the top I love.
We Are What We Are was incredible–a dark and moving cannibal family drama from Mexico; Piranha 3D provided everything I wanted from a movie with a title like Piranha 3D; Adam Green’s thriller Frozen was beautifully simple and wonderfully punishing.
I’ve also been recommending the books of Jack Ketchum to anyone who’ll listen. The man goes to such unbelievably dark, brutal places, but there’s real emotional resonance and humanity in every page. Off Season is one of the best cannibal yarns ever spun, and Peaceable Kingdom is an anthology of incredible stories–as good as King in the ’70s in my opinion.