We are delighted to welcome Mike Muncer, the creator and host of the excellent The Evolution of Horror podcast, to the tackle the Exit 6 blog. The Evolution of Horror is a movie discussion podcast that covers horror movies both old and new, discussing everything from slashers to ghosts, and folk horror to hicksploitation.
Thanks for taking part Mike. First off, for those who may not have heard about the podcast, can you tell us a bit about the show and how it came about? The Evolution of Horror is something I started almost exactly a year ago but it’d been in my head for several years. I come from a TV production background and was always frustrated at the lack of film and movie documentaries on TV these days. I’m lucky enough to produce one of the last remaining movie shows on TV (Film 2018 on BBC One) which devastatingly gets fewer and fewer episodes every year. I always dreamed of making documentaries akin to Mark Gatiss’ A History of Horror or Mark Cousins’ epic 16 hour doc, The Story of Film, but realised that TV commissioners are (for some reason) very rarely interested in making content like this anymore. Meanwhile, I’d find myself absolutely devouring every movie discussion podcast imaginable, from The Empire Podcast and SlashFilm to The Faculty of Horror... I fell in love with the freedom of podcasts, of the idea that anybody could make one in any format they wanted, with none of the restrictions that exist in the TV world. So eventually I put my skills, experiences and network of contacts in the industry to good use, and came up with a podcast format that would allow me to look at the history of horror cinema, sub-genre by sub-genre. Each week I’m joined by a different film critic or horror expert to discuss a different film. We look at the film, unpick exactly what makes it such a classic and explore its place in the history of the genre. The main strive is to make it both informative and academic, but also relaxed, accessible and conversational. A tricky mix!
I’ve heard you ask this many times to your guests on the podcast, so now it’s your turn – where did your love of horror come from? My earliest memory of horror is seeing the full music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I had older sisters who owned the VHS. My parents were always pretty chilled about letting me watch stuff and I must’ve seen that video when I was about six years old. It had the full 15 minute music video directed by John Landis, in which MJ transforms into a werewolf, then later, a zombie. It terrified me but as soon as it was over, I remember begging my parents to let me rewind it back and watch it again, immediately! Even though it scared me, I found it weirdly exciting and exhilarating. After that, I must’ve watched the video at least once a day, every day for the next few years. The VHS also contained the documentary on the making of the music video, which, as I got older, I also became obsessed with.
Learning about the practical gore and make-up effects, listening to interviewees discuss the horror influences on the video, all this suddenly became equally as exciting and fascinating to me as the video itself! So yeah, I think that one 80s VHS tape not only inspired my love for horror but also sparked my love for the magic of movie making, the history of cinema, and basically shaped me as a human being. As I got a bit older (around 10 or 11), I discovered Scream, Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street... and never looked back.
Now for a tough one, if you were going to introduce someone to the genre of horror, which five films would you suggest and why? OUCH. This is hard! Ok, I think what I’d try and do is show the whole spectrum of what horror can do. Horror can chill, it can disturb, it can shock, repulse, but it can also make you think. So, for pure, uncanny fear, something that’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, I’d suggest the greatest haunted house movie, The Innocents (1961). For the quintessential popcorn horror movie, full of jump scares and crowd pleasing thrills, I’d suggest Halloween (1978). For pure, stomach churning, delicious gore (not to mention incredible monster design), I’d go with Hellraiser (1987). One of the most important aspects of horror is it’s relevance and social, historical importance, so for that, I’d suggest Get Out (2017). Finally, just for pure, brutal, relentless, visceral shocks, I’d suggest the greatest horror movie of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). But also The Wicker Man! And The Exorcist! And Rosemary’s Baby! I hate you for making me choose.
Do you think there is a still a stigma attached to horror films? It seems that if you get a critically successful horror movie, it also has a sub-genre label, such as ‘social commentary horror’ never just ‘horror’. I think that’ll always be the way. For some reason movies that provoke emotional reactions out of audiences (particularly horror and comedy) are somehow considered inferior. I’m not sure why. It’s like, if a movie makes you laugh or jump, it can’t also be intellectual? Recent horror movies like The Witch, Get Out and Hereditary have been getting some critical acclaim but it annoys me when critics act like this is something new, and REALLY annoys me when people feel the need to label these movies as something other than horror. There’s nothing more infuriating than the term ‘elevated-genre’. What does that even mean? Get Out is a horror film, a brilliant one, but still a horror film. Night of the Living Dead had incredible social commentary in 1968, so did White Zombie in 1932. There have always been horror films with something interesting to say. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of bad horror films throughout cinema history too, but there have also been plenty of bad westerns, bad war movies and, dare I say it, bad “arthouse” movies. I’m not sure why horror is treated differently. It’s always baffled me!
Exit 6 Film Festival is a showcase for amazing short films and the talent who create them, have you seen any good horror shorts you can recommend? I’m gutted to admit that I haven’t had a chance to watch any new shorts recently. It’s something I need to make more time for, as I have so much respect for filmmakers who can make a really great short film. There’s so much discipline needed to tell an effective story in a tight running time, in fact, it’s a discipline that a lot of feature filmmakers could do with learning! My favourite short film of all time is David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out from 2013. It’s three minutes long and it’s just perfect. The perfect short film. Scares me every time.
Frightfest recently took place, firstly how was it and secondly what films can you recommend? Frightfest is my absolute heaven! Five days of back-to-back horror and genre films. It’s a great atmosphere too, and such a nice crowd of people. This year had a really eclectic mix of original movies. One of my favourites was a brilliantly clever and witty Japanese zombie movie called One Cut of the Dead which starts with a 37-minute continuous single take and then goes in some really creative and innovative directions in it’s second half. I also loved the new Gaspar Noe film, Climax, just because it was so audacious and provocative. It really divided people, some of the audience walked out halfway through. I love it when films do that!
Apart from the podcast, are you involved in the film industry in any other way? For my day job I’m a TV and video producer, so aside from working on the BBC movie show Film 2018, I also make promotional video material for films. Recently I interviewed the cast and crew of Avengers: Infinity War and Star Wars: The Last Jedi for their promotional/social media content. It’s a great fun job. Plus you get to meet lots of famouses.
Finally, what can we expect to see coming up in the future on the podcast, or is it a secret?! We’re finishing up on the current series - the evolution of folk horror - and we’ve got some cracking films to cover in the final few weeks, including The Witch, The Ritual, Calibre and even Get Out. After that there’ll be a break before the next series…but I’m excited to cover some of the big new horror releases coming out during the gap. In the next couple of months we’ve got the new Halloween, the new Conjuring spin-off, The Nun, Nicholas Cage’s new film Mandy and Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria. What a time to be alive!
You can follow The Evolution of Horror on Twitter: @EvolutionPod