Horror. To some, the genre is that of cheap thrills, startles and nightmare fodder to allow entertainment to be entertaining without the need to turn on one’s brain. To others, Horror is a conduit that our deepest fears, anxieties and paranoia are visualized, hence why the community of horror fans has become as large, vocal and intertwined as any group in modern popular culture. Horror molds around our individual perceptions of shock and terror, and often times can be discussed with the enthusiasm and passion that may not apply to other genres. Therefore, Diabolique Magazine presents Talking Terror, a weekly column where we speak to actors, comedians and other public figures about their relationship to the world of Horror.
I think there’s a fair amount that can be said in terms of the connection between horror and nerd culture. Often times, the cultures intersect at a place of camp and absurdity, especially when going over the earnestness of the majority of each culture in the ’80s and ’90s, but aside from that, the fans of each often share the same habits and desires. For instance, the convention scene was essentially started by the devoted fans of each culture, which has now become the pop culture phenomenon that essentially drives Hollywood, floods Kickstarter with myriad niche projects and allows character actors to become revered stars in their own right. But foremost, each comes from a place of an underdog origin, both having dug their roots in incredibly narrow markets and to this date have pieces within each that are difficult to trace but all the more rewarding when found.
It’s that devotion to the cultures at hand that comedian/writer/actor Matt Weinhold has embraced and, essentially, used to defined his multifaceted career. A avid collector of movie memorabilia, Weinhold has used his wealth of knowledge and inherent satirical wit to carve out a following within the world of stand-up comedy, and also using that same love to contribute to a multitude of diverse television projects (including the cult MTV program The Super Adventure Team and The Nerdist), podcasts and more. But above all else, Weinhold recognizes this fandom to be something that makes his sensibilities both unique and palatable, aesthetically coexisting as both an average guy and a superfan of the fantastical. Weinhold spoke to DIABOLIQUE about his history with horror, complimenting comedy with horror and his macabre movie memorabilia…
DIABOLIQUE: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?
MATT WEINHOLD: Oh yes, since I was a very, very, very small child, when my brother made Aurora Model Kits. That pretty much sparked my imagination right then. I think my brother got every single one of them for his birthday. My dad was a pretty amazing artist and would help paint them, so they were painted very well and, of course, had a copious amount of blood. I was hooked from that point on.
DIABOLIQUE: Do you remember the first piece of film or literature that inducted you into the world of horror fandom?
WEINHOLD: I would have to say the main thing was something my friend had, which was The Pictorial Guide to Horror Movies by Dennis Gifford. It was a giant coffee table book; the jacket alone was worth the price of admission. It had this beautiful, painted collage of all the monsters, from Frankenstein to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms to Curse of the Demon. It had EVERYTHING on there.
When you go into it, it’s this very scholarly book about the origins of horror. It had everything from Georges Milies to, at the time, the present, which was the mid-70’s or whenever it was. But it was really great because the sheer amount of movies it had listed was incredible, and I had watched horror movies on TV, but when this came around, it was like, “Oh my God. There are so many others I’ve never seen!” There was a Filipino vampire movie, a Japanese Dracula, etc. That really got things going for me.
DIABOLIQUE: Has there been anything in the recent crop of horror films or literature that has particularly impressed you?
WEINHOLD: Well, it’s funny, because over the years- and this is not necessarily something that’s “new”, but this is a little story about the culmination of a boy’s dream. Around the time I was growing up, I was a big fan of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and I’m talking about the original, REAL Famous Monsters of Filmland, with Forry Akerman. I also loved the other Warren titles, like the anthology titles that were comics like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. So I read those continually throughout my youth and into my adulthood, along with the reprints of Tales from the Crypt and all the EC titles.
So not too long ago, I got a call from a friend of mine, who is a comic book artist named Derek Robinson, and he worked on a book called The Voice that’s very popular, and Transmetropolitan; He’s worked on Wolverine! But he’s my brother-in-law, and we’ve been friends for ages, so he called me up, and we’ve always wanted to work together on a comic book, and he said, “Hey, I got a call from Dark Horse, and Dark Horse is now doing Creepy! They’ve restarted Creepy, so do you have an idea for a story that I could draw?” So I pitched [Dark Horse] a couple of ideas, and they loved one, so about a year ago, I got my comic book debut in Creepy #10.
So it was very nice to have that label and that title in that genre and everything. Also, I’m a giant H.P. Lovecraft fan, so the issue [of Creepy] was the Lovecraft issue, and coincidentally, the story I pitched was a satirical Lovecraft story about a guy who lets the Evil Gods into the world through the action figures that he buys, and if you take them out of the package, it allows the Nethergods to come into our realm. So that was a nice little full circle of my bucket list, I guess! It was amazing.
DIABOLIQUE: What would you say is the biggest difference between the horror that you grew up with and the horror that you consume now?
WEINHOLD: The stuff that I grew up with, especially the stuff I initially watched on television, is relatively tame. If you look back at the old Universal horror movies, they’re great and brilliant- and Bride of Frankenstein is as beautiful today as it was then- but they’re not incredibly scary, though. Of course, growing up, I also had a big love for Godzilla and all the Toho Japanese Monsters, like Gamera and Daimajin, and those movies aren’t necessarily scary, although you can argue that maybe the first film, Gojira, is pretty creepy.
But the way my taste goes now, as to back then, is that I like to be scared, but I don’t like to be too scared. I think what brought that about was when I first saw Night of the Living Dead. Night of the Living Dead was a game-changer, for me. I grew up in the Bay area, and there was a horror movie show there called Creature Features, and it was on the weekends, hosted by Bob Wilkins, who was really great. He had a really dry sense of humor, unlike many of the other horror movie show hosts. He didn’t dress like a vampire or anything like that, although he did have a creepy room from which he hosted the show from. But he really came off as a regular guy who wore a jacket and smoked a big cigar.
He was great because he’d tell you right off the bat, before the show got underway, “Hey, you know what? You’re really going to want to go to sleep, because this one is really a dog.” You loved him for that, and he was usually right. So one night, I think he had the premiere of the movie being on TV, although I’m not exactly sure, but he had Night of the Living Dead, and before he showed the movie, he showed the trailer. The trailer was terrifying! The trailer had this music like, “DUN-DUN-DUN…. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD…” Even the narrator was horrifying!
So I was already freaked out, but I said, “Okay, I’m just going to man-up and watch this movie.” And it was terrifying. I would say that it’s probably even terrifying today. If you hadn’t seen this movie, and somebody put you in the right mood, that movie really works. I collect 16mm films, and that was one that I HAD to have. That’s definitely a part of my Top 10 Favorite Horror Movies.
But I think the change is now that I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve got a lot of friends now who go, “I love movies that are scary and spooky and atmosphere. I’m not into ‘torture porn’.” First of all, I don’t even like the name “torture porn”, because I don’t know what that means. If you’re masturbating to a horror movie, that’s a whole other problem. But Stephen King, in Danse Macabre, says that there are different ways that you can scare someone, and one of those categories is the “gross-out”.
My view is that I have no rules when it comes to horror. Do whatever you want, just make it work. If you want to torture a bunch of people, I’ve seen movies that have had that, so if you’re going to do that, you have to do that in a way that’s unique and tells a story. There’s a movie called Martyrs, and that is a brilliant movie, but as you know, there’s a good amount of torture in that movie. But the reason why that [torture] is happening, and the twists and turns in that story, makes it not “torture porn”, it’s a very unique, very strange story that deals with the nature of existence. So if you’re going to give me a story like that, I don’t care how you horrify me, just horrify me. I don’t mind gore, I don’t mind no-gore, I’ll even accept marginal acting if the story is strong! Usually, it doesn’t work the other way around, though.
DIABOLIQUE: You’re a noted collector of horror and sci-fi memorabilia. What would you say is your most prized horror or sci-fi item?
WEINHOLD: Hmmm, that’s always hard to answer. That’s kind of like the Sophie’s Choice question, like, “Which of your children do you love the most?” I have so many things that I love. Here’s one of the things that comes right off the top of my head: I don’t know if you remember this, but it was always advertised in Famous Monsters of Filmland, but it was an electronic toy called “Frankenstein Loses His Pants.” It was this battery-powered toy that was part-plastic and part-tin, and it was the Universal Frankenstein, which had a bald head and it’s raggy clothes and everything. You’d press a button, he’d wave his arms menacingly, and as he did this, all of the sudden, his pants would fall down. His face before then would be glowing, scary green, but as soon as his pants went down, you saw that he had striped boxer shorts, and all of the sudden, his face went beet red.
I loved that thing, and as a kid, you don’t have any money. I think this thing was $4, and I was like, “Where am I ever going to get $4?!” So, years later, I’m at this L.A.-based convention called Monsterpalooza, and this one leans more towards Makeup FX and Makeup Artists. They have a great museum where anybody who has a great SFX studio will submit a statue of Colin Clive or Robby the Robot or Jason or whatever; it’s always amazing. So, of course, I couldn’t get $4 together as a kid, but I did happen to get $100+ at Monsterpalooza for “Frankenstein Loses His Pants.”
That’s a favorite of mine, but I also have a lot of movie memorabilia that I collect over the years. I have a nice, original two-sheet poster of The Fall of the House of Usher, and I have a great two-sheet of King Kong Escapes, which is a Toho King Kong movie where the poster is far better than the movie. But that’s a favorite of mine. Another thing that I do is I get these posters and bring them to these shows and I get people to sign them. So I have a poster of Return of the Living Dead that’s signed by pretty much everyone besides Dan O’Bannon. I have a signed The Hills Have Eyes poster from Michael Berryman.
I’ve got a lot of movie memorabilia, and also- and I am a big fan of these items, especially right now- but there’s a guy out of Thailand who makes limited edition horror figures of things that you’ll probably never get an official, licensed figure of. The company is called “Distinctive Dummies”, and the stuff that this guy has released, although he had some rights problems for a little while, are beautiful, 12-inch, fabric-clothed figures, done very much with love. Out of the figures I’ve gotten from him, I’ve gotten a Curse of the Werewolf Oliver Reed figure, a Brides of Dracula David Peel, The Reptile, and Carl Kolchak. HE MADE A CARL KOLCHAK FIGURE. I can die happy now. It comes with a camera and a tape recorder, and he’s planning on doing [a Night Stalker] vampire next.
I’ll top off my collection rant with this: for my three-year anniversary with my wife, which was not too long ago, I got her some lovely jewelry, and she got me a Blacula action figure. That’s love! She’s a keeper.
DIABOLIQUE: Considering you’re also a successful stand-up comedian and a writer for The Nerdist specials on BBC America, do you ever find it difficult to not go too far into horror pop culture obscurity with your references and jokes?
WEINHOLD: Yes. [laughs] That does happen, but what’s great is usually that’s what’s wonderful about working on a show like The Nerdist or when you do a podcast. At this point, everybody I know has a podcast, and I’m on the brilliant Dana Gould’s podcast, The Dana Gould Hour, on a regular basis. What’s great about those shows now is that you get people who want to be there that are like you and want to hear those references.
What I’m doing right now is a Youtube show with a bunch of friends of mine, and every year when San Diego Comic Con comes around, my fellow monster geeks will go to Comic Con and then we’ll go back to one of our rooms, have a couple of cocktails and argue about Dracula or the Roger Corman-Edgar Allen Poe films. So we decided to turn that into this show, so we did the show and originally, I wanted it to be a podcast, but my friend knew a guy who had a bunch of equipment and went, “Hey, we can shoot this.”
It was fun, and we did get to do a few shows where we got to edit in clips, but you know how it is: whenever you’re filming something, it takes forever to set up. We shot it in the middle of summer, so we’re all sweating and we’re wiping our foreheads with paper towels as we’re trying to talk about monsters, so it was kind of strange. So now, what we’re doing is very soon, I’ll be launching this as a podcast. The name of the Youtube show was Monster Party, and that’ll be the name of the podcast as well.
But that’s the salvation as to doing those specific, so to say “nerd centric” jokes and to find a good audience. I did a show back in September and sometimes, you think that everybody is as nerdy as you are. I said something about my hair, like, “Every time I go to get my hair cut, they always do a terrible job because I have all of these cowlicks and my hair curls all over the place. So now, when I go to get my haircut, I just ask for something less Lovecraftian.” There was a little bit of silence and I went, “Okay! It’s not that crowd! Fine!” So I guess my Mario Bava joke isn’t going to work either.
DIABOLIQUE: The unique thing about the horror genre is that there’s a certain level of involvement that’s expected from the audience in a theatrical setting. Do you have any memorable in-theater horror movie experiences that you’d like to share?
WEINHOLD: Yeah. The last few Paranormal Activity movies, which I love and enjoy except I didn’t care for the most recent one, but I do enjoy the found footage stuff if it’s done well. It’s like any other type of movie: if you do it right, I’m there. But I would go to those and what I really enjoy is the format for those types of movies is almost like you’re going through a Haunted House Maze on Halloween. There’s a simplicity to that that I really enjoy, like you’re on this little ride or in a Halloween Corn Maze and everyone in the audience is with you and you all get the same jolts, and we all scream and yell at the same time.
I love that, but when it comes to things in the past, because I used to go to a lot of revival houses, you also get the crowds who have seen the movie. It’s great because it took me forever to see the original Dawn of the Dead, and one night, it played at one of these places at midnight, and I got an old buddy from high school and went out to see it. But you could tell the crowd had seen this movie a number of times, so people were yelling out things before they happened, so they’re walking through the mall and I hear somebody yell out, “Screwdriver in the ear! Screwdriver in the ear!!!” Then, a zombie got killed with a screwdriver in his ear, and although that’s not really a horrific moment, it is a communal one where now, it’s turning into a Rocky Horror experience.
But that’s very different from being scared, and also, I don’t mind if someone says something in the audience to try to make a funny comment, as long as it’s not the whole time. I can make funny comments all the way through a movie if I wanted to, but I don’t because there are people who are trying to enjoy the horror movie experience. If you make one little funny comment, that’s fine, but I went to see one of my favorite horror movies in recent years, The Descent, and I love that movie. I think it’s a perfect movie, especially the original version where she wakes up in the cave. It’s a movie that takes its time, builds its characters and the cave itself becomes a horror character. The claustrophobia, and also the way the movie is lit too where they do their best to try to justify all of the lighting, is just fantastic. And then you get those glimpses of the rat-like creatures, and when they finally show themselves and shit hits the fan, now it’s on.
But I remember I went and saw that in the theater with my wife, and sitting not too far from us was this woman with like three kids, and The Descent is NOT a kid’s movie. To make it worse, this woman was commenting on EVERYTHING, like, “Oh no! Don’t go in there!” It was just like the cliché. It got me to a place where there are only certain places where I’ll see horror movies, like the Arclight in L.A. where you pay a little more, and there’s assigned seating, but rarely do you have anyone yelling at the screen. That’s very important for a horror film, and I was at a point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see horror films in the theater anymore because someone would ruin it.
DIABOLIQUE: As a fan of horror, is there anything, like a trope or convention of the genre, that’ll take you out of a movie permanently?
WEINHOLD: Well, along the lines of an action movie where they’ll go “I’m getting too old for this”, hokey dialogue bugs me a little bit. But the thing that really started to bug me is that we couldn’t just have the camera set up for a while and just continue with a shot. Everything has to have this staccato cutting, which I guess came from the rock video world. There are times where there’s so much cutting, I don’t know what I’m seeing anymore. I want to be able to just follow the story. I like films that do less of that and don’t try to dazzle me with their editing ability; I’d like to see directors who can direct. Show me a scene! How can actors play out this horror within the camera? It’s okay! Try that!
Think of a movie like The Blair Witch Project, which people gave a lot of shit, but I love. I love Blair Witch because of its simplicity. I remember somebody saying, “I didn’t like Blair Witch. It was just so phony.” But all movies are phony, idiot! You have to go in there with a suspension of disbelief and put yourself in the movie, and I think they did a great job. But my thing is, like, “Why don’t you go out in the woods and make a better horror movie?” I thought it was creepy, and the little things they did with the sound, like the baby voices coming out of the forest, I loved that. It’s what you call “atmosphere”, “mood” and “tension”, and when that’s sacrificed for someone basically making their editing reel, that’s when I get really annoyed.
DIABOLIQUE: I think that’s why a lot of older fans of the genre are turning on the stuff that’s coming out now. They grew up with the work of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, who often would allow scares to come organically from static shots, and modern horror seems to rely heavily on sporadic, Saw-esque editing.
WEINHOLD: It’s become the cinematic version of you being at a crosswalk with a friend, and your friend pushing you into traffic and then pulling you back in at the last minute and going, “Saved your life!” If you’re going to scare me with a loud noise or a cat coming out of nowhere, then you’re a hack.
DIABOLIQUE: Aside from Monster Party, do you have any other projects you’re working on that are coming up? Would you consider doing more horror beyond comic books?
WEINHOLD: Oh yeah! My goal in life is to do all the things that I love as my job, and any opportunity for me to do that, I follow down that path. I have plans to pitch another story to Creepy and hopefully, they’ll take it. There’s a book that I have out right now called The Comedy Film Nerds Guide to the Movies, and Comedy Film Nerds is also a website and a podcast. I love doing their show and I’ve got a regular column on their website. I do reviews, although I’m behind so I have to run out and see a few, but I did the book and I did the “Horror” chapter. So that’s the kind of stuff that makes me happy, and any time I got the chance to work on any type of show, horror-related. Hopefully, something more will come from Monster Party.
For more from Matt Weinhold, you can visit his official website, his Comedy Central profile and follow him on Twitter: @MattWeinhold. To listen to Matt Weinhold’s Monster Party Podcast, you can download and stream episodes here, and you can see the video episodes on Youtube: monsterpartytv. To hear more from Matt, you can listen to the Comedy Film Nerds podcast, which releases weekly on iTunes, BeyondPod and other podcast hosting services as well as on www.ComedyFilmNerds.com. You can also find Weinhold’s issue of Creepy (#10) here. Check back in a few days for the next TALKING TERROR as Diabolique talks to Sirius-XM Personality and host of The Davey Mac Sports Program, Dave McDonald!
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