LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KIM NEWMAN, HORROR GENRE WRITER EXTRAORDINAIRE!
By James Whittington, Tuesday 19th June 2007 Kim Newman is without doubt one of the UK’s leading genre writers with an impeccable track record of articles, books and DVD commentaries. We caught up with him to get his views on the state of horror in general and his plans for the future.
ZH: You’ve been a writer for quite some time, how did you get started in such a business?
KN: Seriously, I couldn’t get a job. I graduated (B.A. English, University of Sussex) in 1980, and spent three years applying for jobs and not getting anywhere. During that time, I did various homemade theatre projects, worked on fanzines, used a single contact with a regional film theatre to get a gig writing notes handed out at screenings and promotional booklets, kept copious notes on every film saw and sat in a bed-sit counting pennies. Eventually (1982), I sent sample reviews to the Monthly Film Bulletin and started getting a trickle of work from them – the MFB melded into Sight & Sound ten years later, and I still work for them. Then, I sent fanzine clippings and more samples to City Limits, which was a splinter magazine from Time Out, and they also gave me work (and, since it was a happening sort of place, a bit of a profile). Independent of this, I sold my first book (Nightmare Movies) to a peculiar publisher, who hired me to do more books (only the first appeared from them) before they collapsed owing everyone money. Meanwhile, I started working for other publications – with Neil Gaiman and Eugene Byrne, I wrote humour pieces for Knave and other girlie mags. My CV has a long list of odd publications I’ve written for – not to mention radio and TV gigs, which tend to come along after you’ve a print profile (these days, I do a lot of ‘talking head’ work – perhaps because there are a lot more channels with space to fill, and especially a lot more who need people to talk about the sort of things I’m interested in). I rarely think of myself as a journalist – very little of what I’ve written has been news-based. I think of myself as a reviewer and critic (different, overlapping things), at least in the non-fiction strand of my writing.
ZH: Which film or TV show grabbed your imagination that led you to be such an expert in the field you’re in?
KN: As a ‘60s kid, I was captivated by Doctor Who, Stingray, The Avengers, The Man From UNCLE, Adam Adamant Lives, The Outer Limits & the like. In 1970, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the 1931 Dracula on ITV on a Friday night, and I’ve been into horror, monsters, etc., ever since. For me, as for most of my generation, television was the way in – many of the films we liked were rated X so we couldn’t see them in cinemas, and this was well before off-air video recording, let alone commercially available videos, DVD, etc. The first film I was taken to at the cinema was First Men in the Moon, which probably set me on a route – I’m still interested in HG Wells and Nigel Kneale and Ray Harryhausen. In the ‘70s, I became an avid filmgoer, seeing horror films, art movies, mainstream cinema with growing interest. The first X certificate double bill I saw was The Wild Angels and Dr Phibes Rises Again.
ZH: What did you think of the Zone Horror CUT! Competition entries at last years Frightfest?
KN: The ones that made it through to public screening were pretty good. Short films aren’t easy to make (I know, I did one which played FrightFest one year). The ones that stand out are the ones with the freshest ideas, not necessarily the ones that are best made. And ideas are harder to come by than funding, which is saying a great deal.
ZH: Did many of the attendees approach you for a chat?
KN: Yes, indeedy. It’s hard to say this without sounding blathery, but one of the things I like most about this is getting to talk to folks about movies. Of course, the screenings I go to normally are often convivial – I have many friends on the circuit and we usually chat about what we’ve seen. This is just like that, only with hundreds of people around. FrightFest is a particularly friendly event. I’ve had people come up to me in the street and want to argue about a review I wrote fifteen years earlier – which is fine by me. I’m still mildly surprised anyone knows who I am – though the more TV I do, I suppose the more I get recognised.
ZH: Did you speak to any of the other guests?
KN: Again, yes. Some are folks I’ve known a while, and a few I’ve met after (or before) writing about their work. One British director was very friendly, though he pointed out that I’d slammed his last three films (even if I was more receptive to his most recent picture).
ZH: Are you a regular viewer of Zone Horror, if so which area of horror movies do you look out for in the schedules?
KN: I look through the schedules every month and mark the titles of films I’ve never seen – which I then try to watch (usually recording things in the middle of the night). I have a growing archive of reviews online and eventually my notes on the likes of Altered Species, The Beast of Bray Road, etc., will wind up there.
ZH: What’s your opinion on the spate of PG-13 movies?
KN: Oddly enough, I rarely even notice the certification of films. Once I turned eighteen, the rating of a film ceased to be of any interest whatsoever. Mark Kermode can get worked up about this, but I can’t. I don’t subscribe to the notion that you can’t make a good PG-13 horror film. Many of the X (18) rated horror films I saw in the 1970s were only rated that way because UK distributors begged for the certificate – because it was felt that a non-X horror wouldn’t attract the fans. I couldn’t offhand tell you what the certificate of most recent horror films was.
ZH: There’s been a huge rise in the “survival horror” theme of movies; do you like these?
KN: On a case by case basis, I think the Saw films have something going for them, but I was fairly down on Hostel. I don’t much care for the chained-to-a-chair-and-tortured brand of horror – mostly because it seems pointlessly mean-spirited. The law of diminishing returns has set in, and just now I could do without ever hearing the line ‘why are you doing this’ screamed or see some other person wake up in their underwear chained in a basement. I wasn’t taken with a couple of horrors in this mode that played FF (Broken, H9). Seen it before. Didn’t like it then. Don’t need to see it again.
ZH: You have worked with Alan Jones and Stephen Jones on a number of DVD commentary tracks recently on titles such as Halloween 3 and The Medusa Touch is this something you really enjoy and how much research do you have to do to prepare?
KN: I did a track with Alan for The Bird With the Crystal Plumage; with Steve, I’ve done Mark of the Vampire, I Walked with a Zombie, The Dead Zone, two Halloweens, two Amityville’s, Conan the Destroyer, Hands of the Ripper, Countess Dracula, The Old Dark House and The Medusa Touch. I certainly like doing these things – though Steve’s official line is that he hates it. I do a certain amount of research – often, I read the books a film is based on, and always I look at the film again, make some notes, etc. On BWtCP, I didn’t do any research since I was sitting next to someone who knew more about Argento and the film than I could hope to learn and my main job was to ask the right questions – which was the same on the tracks Steve and I did with Sarah Douglas, Angharad Rees and Jack Gold (with Ingrid Pitt, you don’t need to ask questions – she’s just like that all the time). I like using the commentary track to engage with the film, rather than just reciting stats and dates.
ZH: You write for many publications as well as authoring best selling books, how do you find the time to do so many different things?
KN: Sometimes, even I wonder. It does occasionally pose a challenge to juggle immediate commitments (deadlines coming up this week) with longer-term things (novels not needed for months). I also worry about spreading myself too thin – but I think that all my work, in various fields, ties in together somehow, and there’s not a section of it I could drop. There was once, but I dropped it – I don’t interview people any more because transcribing the tapes became too time-consuming, ill-paid and tedious.
ZH: What’s your favourite Friday night with a pizza movie?
KN: Frankly – Bye Bye Birdie. There are some films I like or admire, but which I’m not always in the mood to watch – a category that includes Ingmar Bergman and Last House on the Left. But I can always watch The Abominable Dr Phibes, box sets of The Avengers or Doctor Who (i.e. stuff I saw as a kid), Powell & Pressburger, Hammer and other ‘70s horrors, film noir, John Ford westerns, Homicide: Life on the Street, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. Recent-ish films that always work for me are Topsy-Turvy, Metropolitan, Rushmore and X2. One thing I find rewarding these days is watching movies I regard as classics with friends who’ve never seen them – it helps you recapture your own feelings of discovery but also serves to confirm (or, occasionally, contradict) established wisdom. Recently, I’ve had good experiences sharing Laura, Three Women and I Know Where I’m Going with first-time viewers.
ZH: So what’s next for you?
KN: My next book is Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, a collection of pulp-ish short stories which will be coming out from MonkeyBrain this autumn. It’s a follow-up to The Man from the Diogenes Club, which is out now.
ZH: Kim Newman, thank you very much.
KN: Thank you
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