Calum Waddell is one of the most popular genre journalists around today. He writes for most of the major horror and sci-fi magazines in newsagents at the moment and is also carving himself a name as an author. So we thought it was time to track down this talented guy and learn how he got he got started in the writing business.
ZH: When did your interest in horror movies begin?
ZH: Did your parents encourage your interest?
CW: Yeah, because my mum had to rent these films for me! I began buying Fangoria – with my elder’s full consent - when I was 12 but by that time I’d seen all of the Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street flicks and tons more. I was also becoming really interested in special effects. But I was, and still am, a big Disney fan so for every splatter movie I’d rent there would be a collection of cartoons too. To this day I cannot get enough of classic Disney movies or the old shorts. I would put Fantasia, Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp up there with the greatest films ever made.
ZH: Tell us about the fanzine you began?
CW: It was when I was at university. I printed a horror fanzine in my own bedroom and tried to get it into some shops. It ran for five issues, looked suitably cheap, and never made a dime, but it got me my start and connected me to a lot of PR people.
ZH: How did you get your first big break?
CW: You have to make your own breaks in journalism and I travelled up to Aberdeen, on my own tab, hoping that maybe, just maybe, Robert Englund might give me an interview. You see, he was doing an autograph signing up there. This was a few months before Freddy Vs. Jason and I waited about six hours – morning ‘til afternoon – before he finished greeting people. Then he said I could chat with him and the end result was my first front cover feature: it appeared in Shivers magazine! So the risk paid off and I wrote for every subsequent issue of Shivers for two straight years. But if I had not paid out on my own train fare and decided to at least try and get this interview then I would not be speaking to you today.
ZH: How did it feel to see your name in print for the first time?
CW: It was not just my name but the cover of a nationally distributed magazine! And, even better than that, it was a feature on one of my all time idols – Mr. Freddy Krueger! I was bowled over!
ZH: You travel all over the world covering various horror festivals, do you have a particular favourite.
CW: The annual ScreamFest Festival in Los Angeles is the best! Check out www.screamfestla.com I should add, though, that I have never been to Frightfest in London but I’d bet that is up there too. The organiser, Alan Jones, kind of paved the way for a lot of genre writers with his work and I would love to make it down there one day.
ZH: What’s the idea behind your new book, Taboo Breakers?
CW: Just 18 independent films that broke taboos and created a legend: 18 because that is the age you had to be before you could see most of the films discussed! It was a chance to give the directors, and sometimes the stars, a chance to talk about such movies as Night of the Living Dead, Fritz the Cat, Cannibal Holocaust and Oldboy – and why they proved so influential!
ZH: Were there any movies you wanted to include but couldn’t for various reasons?
CW: Yeah, mainly because the book was based around interviews to a great extent! So I couldn’t get a hold of anyone connected with The Blair Witch Project although now, oddly enough, I have interviewed both Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez and even know the movie’s cinematographer! I later made friends with a great guy called Mark Atkins, a really underrated director who works on low budget films but always gives them a professional shine, and it turned out he went to film school with the Blair Witch guys! I stayed in Mark’s house earlier this year when I was in LA but, two years ago when I began Taboo Breakers, I didn’t know I’d eventually have this link! Other than Blair Witch, I regret not being able to include A Better Tomorrow and The Big Boss. (pictured left, Jack Hill at a signing in Los Angeles who is featured in Taboo Breakers)
ZH: Will there be a follow up?
CW: No. I don’t think so – writing 200,000 words on taboo breaking was enough I think! - but I plan on doing another book for the same publishing company.
ZH: You’ve interviewed countless people in the entertainment industry, who has been your all time favourite and why?
CW: Well I have a soft spot for Robert Englund for obvious reasons! I don’t really want to mention anyone else because many of the people I’ve interviewed have become close friends. Let me say, though, that one year at Cannes I was very surprised by how sweet Paris Hilton was!
ZH: What tips would you give to people wanting to become a journalist?
CW: Don’t do it! Film journalism is a long shot and it is very difficult to make a living out of it! Get a sensible job. However, if you must – you need to write for free for a while to establish yourself. Anyone who can get stuff in a professional magazine or a newspaper gets my total respect.
ZH: Do you have a top 3 of horror movies or does it change year by year?
CW: An American Werewolf in London, Suspiria and Jaws – and if Jaws is not “horror” enough for you then you can replace that with Dawn of the Dead. But The Blair Witch Project is the one that scared me the most.
ZH: So what’s next for you?
CW: Well next up is my book on the legendary director Jack Hill – out soon from McFarland Publishing – and also the documentary American Grindhouse, which is directed by a really talented guy called Elijah Drenner. And I have two more books in the planning stages!
ZH: Calum Waddell, thank you very much.
CW: Hey, thanks for interviewing a hack like me!