LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with journalist and documentary maker Calum Waddell
By James Whittington, Saturday 2nd February 2019
Calum Waddell has been involved in writing, reviewing, making documentaries and teaching about movies for over a fifteen years. His knowledge on cult movies has been used by such labels as Arrow Video and 88 Films as well as appearing in magazines such as Total Film, Fangoria and DarkSide.
We managed to talk to Calum about the ups and downs of his career and his plans for the future.
HC: When did you decide that you wanted to become a journalist?
CW: I am not sure I ever was a journalist [laughs]. Maybe just a for-hire film writer more than anything else! But my biggest inspiration about cinema was and still is Kim Newman, whose work I discovered at a very young age, and also Mark Kermode. From there, I came across Maitland McDonough, whose work on Dario Argento was just mind-blowing, and these are the three names that probably made me think about how much I would like to do this the most. I should also shout out to John Martin, Michael Gingold and Tony Timpone - who inspired a lot of us that went on to write about horror cinema, in particular. I was really eager to get that first article in Fangoria, which I always hoped I could do whilst I was in high school and then university. Then I recall one day Tony Timpone emailed me and said the next issue of Fango would be 'the Calum Waddell issue' as it had three of my feature articles in there. It was a real moment of 'wow'. So, I definitely knew I wanted to write about, in particular, horror movies from when I was about 13 or 14 years old.
HC: Can you recall how you felt when you first saw your name in print?
CW: It was in an issue of The DarkSide and an interview with Robin Hardy, which ironically came from doing my MA at Bournemouth University - one of the guest lecturers mentioned he knew Robin and asked if anyone knew who he was. I obviously lept off my seat and then after the talk, I asked if he had his contact details as I wanted to interview him for The DarkSide. I actually did not have a foot in the door of The DarkSide, but it obviously sounded like I did and next thing I knew I had an interview with Robin Hardy and that was my first piece. Also, my first cheque! And it effectively got me in the door of Fangoria and Shivers too, because I was then 'published'. But that first article was surreal - mainly because they did not spell my name incorrectly, which I half expected!
HC: You've written for many of today's best-selling magazines, which feature are you most proud of?
CW: There's a few. Maybe the top one is when I did a huge piece on Joss Whedon for Total Film - it is quite a long story, but his PR rep was quite awkward, as you can imagine, as it was whilst he was doing the second Avengers film. The interview got cancelled, then approved, then cancelled and I was like a yo-yo in this. I finally got to him in Glasgow, thanks to the absolutely dedicated efforts of my editor at the time Rosie Fletcher, and it was a real battle to be there and to be one-on-one with who was then one of the biggest directors in the world. He had only agreed to speak to three people, if I recall, and I had the pressure of having to fill four pages and a front cover exclusive - with just 20 minutes to talk to him. But the outcome was great, and it was a really good interview. Also loved my first piece with SFX, which was with the late Christopher Lee, and doing a huge Mark Hamill interview for them in Cannes - that was amazing. There are moments that were really great even if the film was pitiful - I was one of four people that got access to Terminator Salvation, out of the entire world press, at Cannes 2008 for SFX and I am so proud of how that coverage came out, which was a real exclusive at the time. I've done some eight page 'Complete Guides' for Sci-Fi Now I am really fond of - maybe the Amityville Horror one would be my favourite.
HC: How did you become involved in making extra features for DVD releases and which one was the hardest to complete?
CW: It was all thanks to Alex Agran at Arrow Films and Video. He took a chance on Naomi Holwill, who edits and produces all these things, and I ten years ago - so I owe it all to Alex. From there I was fortunate enough to have been able to get in the door of lots of other labels. The hardest documentary we ever did however was 'Images of Apartheid: Filmmaking on the Fringe in the Old South Africa' - which was shot all around South Africa, with a two person crew, in summer 2016. It is more of an academic piece to be honest, but it was very tough to put together. Otherwise, maybe it would be Category III: The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema. Koch Media in Germany came to me and Naomi and asked if we had any ideas for their Blu-Ray of Hong Kong horror classic 'The Untold Story' and I said I'd like to do a Category III documentary. I was in China at the time so, with scant budget and no contacts in the Hong Kong industry at all, we filmed this in just a few days and delivered it to a demanding deadline. It is not the last word on Category III by any means, but we worked very hard to get it done.
HC: How did you start working with 88 Films and how do you choose which titles to help them acquire?
CW: Well I was acquiring titles for them for years. I still assist where I can - and they are both very supportive. I got involved with 88 Films simply by contacting them when they launched and asking if they might want some help with extra features. We all met in London and just really hit it off. I went to the Berlin Film Market with them in 2015 and it was really good - we have a rapport together although our WhatsApp group is rather chaotic [laughs]. But I tend to veer towards getting them the sort of thing that I really love - it has been such a pleasure, for instance, bringing some of the Shaw Brothers horror movies to the UK, restored and remastered, and also some really obscure and underrated horror movies I never thought would get a Blu-ray release in Britain. I loved getting Nail Gun Massacre, for example, X-Ray, Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh, Splatter University, Hide and go Shriek, Just Before Dawn, Happy Hell Night, Scalps, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers - all of these were dug out by myself. I really appreciated organising their contracts for The Boogeyman and Nightmares in a Damaged Brain too. Lots more than that, but these are the ones that jump out and which I was grateful to see put out on Blu-Ray.
HC: Tell us about your documentary, Searching for Cannibal Holocaust and why did you choose such a controversial movie?
CW: I have always wanted to do a trilogy. So, I had this idea for a trilogy of cannibal film documentaries back in 2015, when I finished work on Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film. That went down really well, I got a personal email from Eli Roth telling me how he loved it, how he showed it to Tarantino who also appreciated it, Bob Murawski loved it and I got a lot of acclaim for it. It is just a talking head documentary, of course, but it was the first-time people heard from Me Me Lai and it did a pretty solid job of filming all the main players. So I decided that I would use the Italian cannibal cycle to explore my own evolution as a filmmaker - and we did that a little with the second one, Me Me Lai Bites Back, which was my own reflexive documentary, of sorts, on discovering Me Me Lai's whereabouts during the making of Eaten Alive and bringing her back to the public eye. Eli Roth even got involved in that documentary, which was such an honour. Then I thought that for the third and final installment I would like to get the native people who appeared in Cannibal Holocaust to talk about their own perspective on the film and juxtapose that with the American leading man, Carl Yorke. That seemed like something that would never happen because of expense and because of the unlikelihood of finding the native actors. But we succeeded on both counts because a Tokyo label bought some of our extras last year and we funded the trip on that. It is also my own exploration of cyber-bullying, the impact that Cannibal Holocaust has had on me, and more. It turns into a very real exploration of Amazonas tourism too. This documentary is not is Deodato's story and was not intended to be. Of course, I am not forcing anyone to watch it - but if I never made this, the native story would have gone untold. Only two of the native actors, and one of the native crew, could be traced and found alive.
HC: What is your opinion on censorship in this day and age?
CW: It is largely redundant because of the internet - but having lived three years in China, I saw what a good, effective state machine could operate like. In terms of film, I don't think censorship should exist unless someone is clearly and evidently breaking the laws of the land in what they are filming. That is obviously a grey area in terms of something such as Cannibal Holocaust, given that the director slaughtered real animals for the camera - and I suppose I am open-minded to that and accept it, although I would argue that a 40-year-old piece of cinema perhaps does not have to meet modern animal welfare laws in that respect and if one eats meat, one probably has no right to demand cuts. That is, however, an extreme example.
HC: Are there any movies on your wish list?
CW: I would like to work on a special edition of a few films - definitely a new 4K of Cannibal Holocaust if it were to happen, and it should, and I would be thrilled to do a documentary on the Mitchell Brothers and their theatre - I have speaking to Naomi about that and we both think that is something that would be a great project were anyone to ever do, Behind the Green Door. I would really like to tackle a new edition of The New York Ripper, but the new USA release is in the far better hands of the great David Gregory, so I'm excited for that. I wish I could have done something new on Zombie Flesh Eaters - Bill Lustig asked me, but I was coming back from China at the time and tied-up with a lot of things. Same with Synapse and Suspiria - if I had not been in China, that would have been one of our projects. I would adore doing Faceless, the Franco movie, and Tombs of the Blind Dead - there are definitely a few. On the other hand, I feel I got to do a lot of my 'wish list' movies - The Untold Story, Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Flesh-Eaters, the Arrow Video edition, Man from Deep River, Cannibal Ferox, Pieces, Tenebrae, Mark of the Devil, Toolbox Murders, Lifeforce - these were all movies I once dreamed about working on extra features for and never predicted that one day I would.
HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?
CW: Naomi and I are producing a new documentary on Spanish zombie cinema for the great guys at Synapse, and a confidential but essential upcoming release and 4K remaster, a documentary on the Nazisploitation cycle for Severin, and another confidential but essential upcoming Blu-ray from them, and we are doing a huge documentary on the legacy of The Last House on the Left, for a yet-to-be-announced new remaster of something awesome and much more. Right now we have about ten Blu-rays to produce and our 'Searching for Cannibal Holocaust' on the back-burner. I am also writing my new book, Images of Apartheid: Filmmaking on the Fringe in the Old South Africa, I have a journal article upcoming on Brutes and Savages and its placement within the mondo legacy and I just recently finished a documentary with Naomi for Cannibal Terror from 88 Films. I'm really excited to currently be writing a retrospective of the Ring franchise for Sci-Fi Now magazine right at this moment too. And anyone interested can see my documentary 'Category III: The Untold Story of Hong Kong Exploitation Cinema' at the upcoming Starburst Film Festival in Manchester, March 15th/16th.
HC: Calum Waddell, thank you very much.
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