A Small Discussion with NICK MOTT about Horror Films…by Richard Johnson

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Before delving into the discussion Nick Mott (ex-Volcano The Bear, Spectral Armies, Songs Of Norway, Skeleton Birds And The Number Of God) and I had concerning a favourite film genre of ours,  I had previously asked him to compile a list of ten of his personal highlights from it. This list precedes the discussion and might well serve as a causeway to some of Nick’s own creations, both as a freelance artist and a musician clearly drawing from the ether to be found residing near the portals of our consciousness and imagination.  

A lot of Nick’s artwork can be found adorning the covers of releases he has been involved with. He also has a substantial portfolio and has some pieces available to purchase, should you be interested. His music, however, may well remain loosely threaded to his collaborative work with Aaron Moore and others in the freeform electronics and molten sound group, Volcano The Bear, to a certain degree but, via a succession of solo releases since his parting from them a number of years ago, it has assumed a life of its own and sucks on kernels of analogue flotsam, tiny psychedelic flecks, industrial clunks and clangs, melodic wisps and fragments of non-music squeezed into forms glistening with new possibilities. Like his drawings and experiments with photocopiers, there is a fine, fog-swathed, line crossed between those more oblique, uncharted waters and a reality cut ‘n’ pasted into something fresher and more exciting. 

In early 2015, a new album by Nick Mott, Here Begins the Great Destroyer, will appear on Lumberton Trading Company. It will form part of a box set.

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TEN GREAT HORROR FILMS 

by Nick Mott

Martin (George A. Romero, 1976).  Martin is a stunningly beautiful portrait of a lonely and disturbed teenager who may or may not be a real Vampire. As much as I love The Crazies and his original zombie trilogy, Martin is probably Romero’s best film. A flawless piece of melancholic cinema that left me feeling a great sadness towards Martin destined as he is to his depressing and lonely plight as a blood drinking killer. This film asks: If you are forever told that you are something, do you become that thing?

Maniac (William Lustig, 1980).  Relentlessly grim, cold, and lacking the humour or fun of other slasher films of the era, Maniac is a riveting film. Frank Zito is a hopelessly tormented and sad, but utterly compelling serial killer who dresses the shop mannequins, which adorn his apartment, with the fresh scalps of his female victims. The set pieces inside Frank’s apartment are thrillingly creepy. Tom Savini’s gruesomely realistic special effects are spectacular, including one of his very best trademark exploding head scenes.

Don’t Go In The House (Joseph Ellison, 1979).  In many ways even grimmer than Maniac, Don’t Go In The House features the desperate and tragic killer Donny Kohler. Donny, haunted by the abuse at the hands of his cruel and overbearing mother, builds a steel lined room upstairs in his house, purchases an asbestos suit and a flamethrower, and sets about luring victims back to the house. The burning of his first victim is astonishing in its protracted preparation and cruelty. The audacity of this early scene sends waves through the remainder of the film and although we are shown nothing else quite as brutal, there are plenty of harrowing and downbeat plot developments to come. The dream sequence on the beach with a bunch of Donny’s animated burned and blackened victims is particularly frightening and effective.

Day Of The Dead (George A. Romero, 1985).  I always thought Day Of The Dead was the lesser film amongst Romero’s original zombie trilogy. Watching it again recently made me think that it’s the best. With relentless gore, Tom Savini is at the top of his game here creating highly inventive stomach churning set pieces that simultaneously delight and repel. Much darker and nihilistic than Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead is a genre classic.

 Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1978).  Not quite sure how I  previously overlooked this film. Phantasm is a wonderfully weird and beautiful ’70s horror film. Elevated to greatness by its highly balanced mixture of sustained mood, setpieces and soundtrack, Phantasm is a very original and quirky film. In terms of this film’s otherworldly mood I was reminded of the original television series of The Prisoner. Fleeting glimpses of caped dwarves, an alternative dimension or planet, a very creepy slow moving villain in The Tall Man, wonderful sound design, and a floating, spying metal orb that drains the blood from the head of its victims, all help to make this film a masterpiece of dreamlike horror.

The Unseen (Peter Foleg, 1980). It’s worth sitting through the flawed, but still oddly suspenseful, first two-thirds of the film in order to meet the cellar dwelling Junior, who then gets plenty of jaw-droppingly demented screen time. The scene where he rams his long suffering Teddy Bear down the front of his soiled boxer shorts will stay with me forever.

Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983).  The gloriously cheesy and insane Sleepaway Camp is really all about the blind blowing final scene. An ending to rival the genuine frisson felt at the end of Rec, the revelations about the film’s main protagonist, Angela; raising the film to another level entirely. As inventive as the killings are and as much fun as the film is, prior to the film’s ending the scariest bits are undoubtedly the clothes worn by the campers. If you thought the denim shorts were camp in Friday The 13th, wait until you see this.

The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981).  The Beyond is a masterful exercise in mood, gore, and horror. With no tangible plot to speak of, a lack of narrative logic is substituted by a series of startling and macabre set pieces. This film is really beautiful and very strange in its execution. Serious eye trauma, someone being eaten by spiders, a little girl getting half of her head blown away, and an afterlife littered with dusty corpses whose landscape looks identical whichever way you turn; this films got it all. I only recently discovered The Beyond, along with Fulci’s other films; Zombie 2 and City Of The Living Dead, all of which are fantastic. Can’t believe it took me this long to get around to seeing them. Typically great Italian musical scores too.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974).  Brilliant direction, acting, and a simple but unnerving plot that racks up the suspense, help make Black Christmas a truly superb piece of proto-slasher cinema. Psycho and A Bay Of Blood laid the foundations of the slasher genre, but prior to Halloween, Black Christmas is truly where the formulaic slasher plot devices originated. My very favourite parts in this film are the phone calls from the stalker/killer, which contain a shocking level of depraved viciousness.

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008).  Martyrs is a genuine ordeal. It is also brilliant, massively thought provoking, uncompromisingly brutal, relentless and smart. The film moves through sections, each different in pace and prevailing mood. Few films can claim to really get under my skin, but Martyrs did exactly that with a finale that that made the gruelling experience worthwhile. The whole film is savage and shocking, but exceedingly beautiful as well. Extraordinary.

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AE: When and why did you first become interested in horror films?

NM: I think a number of formative experiences helped to manifest my interest in the genre. I remember being given the Alien graphic novel by an aunt when I was 8 or 9 years old, and the double page spread of the stomach bursting scene, with much blood and guts and swearing, really made me sit up and take notice! Other things that left a lasting impression include: the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the steamboat ride in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, that scene in Disney’s Pinocchio where the boys are transformed into donkeys, The Elephant Man, Ray Harryhausen’s animations; particularly the skeleton fight in Jason and The Argonauts [An early favourite of mine, too – Ed.]. All of these films contained moments of otherworldly terror and fantasy that really appealed to my young brain. I also read a lot of Stephen King and James Herbert books as a child.

AE: What was the first horror film to make a huge impression on you? For me, it would be hard to be specific but I recall Saturday night double-bills of old Universal, Amicus and Hammer films on Saturday nights in the ‘70s. It was these that introduced me to films such as Theatre Of Blood, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, White Zombie, Freaks, The Circus of Horror and far more besides. I just liked the whole thrill of meeting this strange and wonderful world!

NM: John Carpenter’s The Thing. A friend’s dad rented it for us when we were 11 or 12 years old. That film completely freaked me out at the time; I think I had nightmares about it for a year or so after. In spite of being mildly traumatised by the experience, I was deeply fascinated also. I spent the next few years renting and watching a lot of horror films, most of which were awful but a lot of fun. Prior to this I seem to remember seeing bits of the kind of films you mention above, as well as things like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, and King Kong.

AE: You have quite a diverse selection of films on your list of present favourites, yet the vast majority are from what is often regarded as a high point for the genre, meaning the 1970s and early ‘80s. Given that you’ve also included the much more recent Martyrs, would you agree that the genre has lost its edge these days, largely? Why do you think that is?

NM: I think it’s simply very difficult for horror films to be as good, overall, as they used to be, but I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the genre as a whole has lost its edge as there are great horror films still being produced. The 1970s and early 1980s were undoubtedly a high point for the genre. Nearly all of my very favourite horror films come from this period, but comparatively recent films such as Let The Right One In, Rec, The Mist, Antichrist, The Orphanage, and Pan’s Labyrinth (okay not strictly a horror film, but certainly dark and scary) would all make a definitive list of personal favourites. Martyrs is a truly astonishing and important film. One of the very best horror films in years.

AE: Whether by design or default, Martyrs is considered a part of the new wave of horror films dubbed torture porn. As you know, other films such as Saw, Hostel and Frontiers have been likewise deemed a part of this. Personally, although I have different feelings about each of the films swept aside as thus, I feel we’ve been witnessing quite a strong resurgence of decent horror films more recently these form only one part of. What are your views on this so-called torture porn wave?

NM: I think the term is horrible and misleading. I deliberately avoided watching the Saw films and the Hostel films for years, mainly due to this term. I was completely caught off guard when I eventually watched Saw and thought it was brilliant. I’ve seen all of the sequels, apart from the last, and have loved them all. Even if I’ve often little idea what is actually going on! I recently saw Hostel 1 and 2 as well, and after expecting to hate them, thought they were both great films, especially so the second film, which I thought was mostly hilarious with some incredible set pieces and scenes. Martyrs is a masterpiece and a work of great art, the majesty of which a term such as torture-porn gets nowhere near to describing. I really enjoyed Frontiers, too.

AE: One thing for sure in more recent horror films is that the levels of violence have become far more graphic. Is that a good or a bad thing? Without doubt, there’s a nicely woven dark humour to the screen deaths in the Saw series, which counterbalances their graphic nature, but other films hinge on the realism of such scenes. Should there be a limit? And what of the old argument even proposed by certain old genre directors themselves that contemporary films leave nothing to the imagination?

NM: The violence and gore are way more graphic and realistic these days. Sometimes nauseatingly so, [but] I think that’s okay for the most part. As much as it’s good for the viewer to fill in the gaps, or imagine that what they saw was worse than was actually shown on screen, sometimes it’s also good to be shown. That said, I frequently find myself starting to turn away from the screen if it gets too graphic, which happens with many contemporary horror films. Some of the gore in films such as Hatchet, Haute Tension, and Frontiers is truly brutal, for example. Theoretically, I don’t think there should be a limit to the violence; it’s only fantasy after all, even when depicting things rooted in real life.

AE: There has also been a shift in the way horror films are perceived or consumed now, don’t you think? I mean, in the early ‘80s, a large number of horror films were seized from the rental shops and banned. Most of them were low budget, badly acted, had wafer-thin stories and gore scenes that were quite amateur and even cartoon-ish by today’s standards, and yet they led to this reaction. These days, most primary school kids probably know of Saw et al (if they’ve not even actually watched them!), plus I understand there’s a Saw-themed ride at Thorpe Park now. Has a generation become desensitised to onscreen violence?

NM: The whole video nasties thing in the early ‘80s was crazy. I was too young to really appreciate what was going on at the time, but the issue was obviously more politically motivated and an overreaction of the media than anything else. I haven t seen many of the official video nasties, but of the ones I have, some are great, some not so. It’s amazing that a lot of this stuff was banned though. You couldn’t even get an official uncut copy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the UK until the very end of the ‘90s, which is really hard to believe only eleven years later. It’s probably recognised now that the real world is far more frightening and dangerous than anything one can be witness to in a film. I think each generation, in various ways, can handle things more than the last. I really must try and go on that Saw themed ride at some point!

AE: It’s ironic, really. When I was a kid watching those old horror double-bills, I always felt disappointed by some of the violence not being depicted much in them (says a lot about my state of mind at the time!) and these days I find myself physically squirming when it comes to graphically violent scenes (not only in horror films, but in others also). However, I still find myself defending a filmmaker’s right to push such things as far as they choose to (even if in some cases there appears to be no point to it) in this area. In a perverse way, I enjoy wondering how some such scenes are even done. No matter how squirm-worthy, for example, the infamous scene was in Antichrist, I still found myself equally gripped to the extras on the DVD concerning it. Is it the same for you?

NM: I increasingly view violent gore scenes as great artistry. Just so happens instead of a brush and paint, these guys are using fake knives (or fake bodies) and corn syrup. However, I too, sometimes get quite anxious and nervous during these scenes, although that is part of the thrill. Like being at the peak of a roller coaster before it plummets down the track. I am yet to actually see the infamous scene in Antichrist fully as I was watching through my fingers! DVD extras actually go some way to lessoning the impact of some of this work I think, yet at the same time give a degree of safety to the experience. Some of the extras certainly help one to sleep better at night after watching a particularly gruesome film. When it comes to real gore I often just cannot handle it. For example, I simply cannot watch any kind of operation footage on TV without any significant squirming on my part. I also find gruesome violence in more believable type films much more disturbing. I had to turn off Reservoir Dogs at the torture / ear cutting scene, for instance. I would really like to see Gasper Noe’s Irreversible, but doubt I will be able to after stumbling across the ‘fire extinguisher’ scene on the internet. I do strongly believe that any artist should be able to push things as far as they wish to go, and I actually think that, quite often, a kind of beauty and peace can be [obtained] by experiencing some of these things. Film is a safe environment after all, at least in comparison to these things happening for real.

AE: Returning to your list of films again, I see you’ve two highly understandable Romero entries. Any other favourite directors?

NM: George A. Romero has made some wonderful films. Martin is a very beautiful film indeed, and the history of film would be a far lesser, lonelier place without his original zombie trilogy. Plus, he kick-started the Italian zombie cycle, which can only be a (mostly) good thing. I love the films of David Cronenberg, Alexandro Jodorowsky, John Carpenter, and Lucio Fulci (the very few I’ve actually seen). My very favourite director, however, is David Lynch. Although containing frequent scenes of horror, his films are very difficult to categorise. I personally think the films he makes just keep getting better and better. The last few; Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire are all astonishing films. When I saw Inland Empire for the first time at the cinema, I was completely blown away. Lynch does unnerving terror, confusion, and helplessness better than anybody.

AE: It seems odd there are no real modern-day Romeros or Fulcis, though, doesn’t it?

NM: It was just a different time. Romero and Fulci were exploitation filmmakers hoping predominantly to make some quick cash from the genre. The fact they did this with such unique style and inspiration is testament to their great skill as budget filmmakers, and idiosyncratic artists. Also, in the USA alone, there were many more outlets for their product, back when they were making their iconic horror films. I would love to see Lars Von Trier do more horror, and I can’t wait to see what Pascal Laugier (Martyrs’ director) does next.

AE: You also avoided including any generally obvious genre classics, such as Texas Chainsaw, Halloween, The Shining, The Wicker Man, etc., yet going by some of our recent conversations via email, I know you herald these films much the same way as everybody else into the genre. What is it about them that keeps them at the top of the list, do you think?

NM: My favourite horror film of all time is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever see a better one, but there’s nothing really more to be said about that masterpiece. Even Tobe Hooper didn’t come close again to repeating the perfection on display in that film (although Death Trap and Funhouse are both great). Also, other classics such as The Thing, The Wicker Man, The Shining, Halloween, The Evil Dead, and The Exorcist are just so well made in every respect that it must be extremely difficult to make anything as good or as iconic. All of the ‘70s and ‘80s classics yield to repeat viewings and are simply works of art that will endure. How can one dispute the brilliance of any of these films?

AE: Do you still watch, and enjoy, the really old films? Freaks, Karloff, Lugosi, Cushing, Lee, Price et al? In today’s quest for everything being new/fresh/remade, etc., are we witnessing a decline of interest in such films?

NM: Freaks is a wonderful, enchanting film. I also really like Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete for its dark and spooky fairytale atmosphere. The original Frankenstein films are great, especially the first, with its surreal use of sets as outside scenes. There are actually quite a lot of the old films I’m yet to see for the first time, or rediscover. Films are remade predominantly for the money, but the market and audience must obviously be there for them to be remade. Mainstream audiences probably just don’t know any better, and would probably enjoy the old films if they gave them a chance. Classic horror actors, such as those you mention, played so many great roles and paved the way for so much that has happened since, that their influence will always be felt, even if it isn’t exactly remembered. But, yes, there is definitely a degree of a decline in interest, I think. I also have a soft spot for some of the black and white classics of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, such as The Innocents, Night of the Demon, and The Haunting. I love Night of the Hunter, too, which has some seriously dark and horror-tinged leanings.

AE: I rarely read horror literature now, although do return to my Lovecraft books or whatever from time to time. What about yourself?

NM: I, too, read Lovecraft now and then. In fact, I recently inherited all of my grandfather’s paperbacks, so have a huge pile of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Pan horror anthologies, and Clive Barker books to get through. But, generally, I don’t read much horror literature. Currently working my way through some great horror film books though.

AE: As a fine artist given to creating all manner of different settings often seemingly beamed from the mind’s darker places, would you say that horror has had a direct influence on your work? Of course, there are many facets to it, including a lot of (equally macabre) humour, but I’d contend there’s a lot of horror there too.

NM: My tendency has always been to create works which are a little on the dark side, shall we say. Whether this comes directly from horror though, I couldn’t say. It’s certainly not what I’m thinking about when I create my art.

AE:I know you’ve a serious horror DVD habit. How many films do you get through a week? And from your collection, which films do you find yourself turning to the most?

NM: My habit isn’t that serious! For the last few months I have been buying a lot more than usual for the simple reason that second hand DVDs are ridiculously cheap these days, and I really need to upgrade and get rid of all my old videos. But yes, I seem to have returned to the horror genre in a big way lately, and thought it time to catch up on a lot of films that previously passed me by. On average I probably watch about 4 or 5 horror films a week, but until a couple of weeks ago, sometimes I was watching 2 a day. As regards to which ones I return to the most, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing, Halloween, Dawn Of The Dead, The Shining, etc. So, it’s still the classics which endure, really. For the last few months, though, I would say it is the slasher sub-genre I have been most enamoured by, of which I have watched loads. My last serious horror binge ended with finally getting around to watching Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, which although an amazing film, was the final straw for a little while.

(Just thought I’d point out that in the 2 years since this interview took place, my Horror Film viewing habits have calmed somewhat. I’m still very much in love with the genre, but probably only see 2 or 3 films a month at present. I’ve become increasingly fond of 70’s/80’s American independent Horror cinema; Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Lemora: a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, Tourist Trap, Last House on Dead End Street, The Child, Axe, and Just Before Dawn are just a few wonderful films I’ve seen recently. I’ve been watching some fantastic Euro Horror too; The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Who Can Kill a Child, Possession………)

AE: Thanks, Nick.

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Please visit Lumberton Trading Company for ordering information concerning the Here Begins the Great Destroyer album: www.lumberton-trading.com

Sampler from album here:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Wc4PEGYvf4

You can also contact Nick Mott directly about his work at: nicholasmott@hotmail.co.uk

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