“I like to break the genre down into films that are terror-based (rooted in reality, such as serial killers, slashers, crime) in which the outcome is predictable in the sense that it’s bound by the rules of physics; and horror, which is uncanny or supernatural, and not rooted in any firm rules of our world.” Colin Geddes
I’m very easily scared, though looking at the list of horror films I’ve reviewed, I appear to have seen far more than I thought. (Nearly 50. And look what they’ve done to my hair! When I started watching them I looked like Morticia Addams).
Halloween may be over but no one’s told the demons, vampires and restless spirits that. And with Christmas coming up, it’ll soon be time for killer snowmen, blood-spattered Santas, and our favourite yuletide anti-hero, Krampus.
Colin Geddes curates the content for Shudder, a premium streaming service for horror/thrillers (current films include Found Footage 3D). He also spent two decades running the Midnight Madness strand at the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF).
Check out out Q&A below, including how he selects his films, scary Christmas suggestions, and what spine-tingling scenes have stayed with him…
1. Let’s start with an easy one! How do you define a horror film? Or is it simply in the eye (perhaps one plucked out from its still-living owner) of the beholder?
Horror is a broad and far-reaching genre, and sometimes it’s not even a matter of content, but more of tone. Why is one film about a murderer just a mystery movie while another is horror? Often, it’s a matter of tone, of the feeling of dread that one evokes. It’s not as clear-cut a genre as, for example, comedy.
I like to break the genre down into films that are terror-based (which would include stories rooted in reality, such as serial killers, slashers, crime) in which the outcome is predictable in the sense that it’s bound by the rules of physics; and horror, which is uncanny or supernatural, and not rooted in any firm rules of our world.
Of course, that’s why characters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are so iconic – they straddle the line between those two worlds.
2. What drew you to horror in the first place and were you young?
It’s hard for me to trace my first memory of it, but I know that it was fuelled by comic books, literature, and of course by the fact that horror films were a ‘forbidden fruit’ that authority figures seemed to do and simultaneously frowned upon. So, of course I wanted access to them!
‘70s horror comics like Eerie, Creepy and Swamp Thing certainly added fuel to the fire. And of course Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which always seemed to contain an infinite world of weird and wonderful movies to discover.
3. For your horror curating at Shudder, how do you pick what goes in? Do you try to have a broad spread of horror sub-genres or is it purely on quality? Is it a very different process to when you were at TIFF?
Curating for a service like Shudder is very different from the process at TIFF. At TIFF I had to be extremely selective, choosing only ten films from around the world that were considered to be the absolute cream of the crop for that year, for the Midnight Madness selection. And that group of ten included a broader spectrum of genres, including horror, black comedy, action, martial arts and sci-fi – anything wild and crazy.
The great thing about Shudder is that I can make more choices, and even go back into the vaults and libraries to find older films and rediscover them or give them a second chance.
An example: I really loved the film Murder Party by Jeremy Saulnier, but was unable to select it for TIFF. I’ve been able to bring it to Shudder and introduce it to a whole new audience.
That’s a film that could have fallen through the cracks between the extinction of the video stores and the transition to digital – but with Shudder we were able to give it a second life.
My co-curator Sam Zimmerman and I have a few criteria for what goes in. Of course, quality is key, but we also want to make sure that all kinds of horror fans find something they love at Shudder. Some people love gory slashers, others like spooky ghost stories – Shudder should be able to satisfy them all!
4. Are there any scenes from horror films that have stayed with you (especially if you don’t want them to)? Mine would be Georgie in his yellow raincoat out in the rain in IT (I do have a 5 year old with a yellow raincoat though)
Body horror images definitely stick with me. All of the images of James Woods’ transformation in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome are so visceral that I just can’t shake them.
There’s a particular ghost in Kyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse whose dance-like movements seem like they’ve plucked out of a nightmare, and have stuck with me for years.
These days, I too have a sweet toddler at home and I’ve found that I’m much more sensitive to seeing children in peril than I used to be. So, beware future parents and horror buffs! That happens even to a hardened horror programmer like me.
5. Why do you think horror is having such an upsurge? Do you think it’s to do with using fiction to cope with current real life horrors or something more basic like the number of ways you can access films now?
To be honest, I don’t think that horror is having an upsurge. Horror has always been a very popular genre and has never gone out of vogue. However, some horror tropes and scenarios have gone much farther into the mainstream recently, in shows like The Walking Dead, so the mainstream is taking more notice.
People point to the recent success of IT, but that seems to ignore the fact that Stephen King has been a massively popular bestselling author for decades. This happens to be a good adaptation, but horror – in film and in literature – has always captured people’s imaginations.
6. Are there any horror tropes you’d be glad to see the back of? (My current least favourite is zombie babies, which I find really upsetting)
Zombie films in general, and apocalyptic survival films. I find them kind of tiresome because they’ve been overdone to such an extreme. Rarely do they bring anything new to the genre. They’re usually unfortunately derivative of better previous works.
Of course, I love being surprised by writers and directors who are able to pull a reanimated rabbit from that old hat.
7. Christmas is coming up – last year I reviewed a few Christmas horrors, often Krampus-related, though my favourite was Rare Exports. Have you got any Christmas horror recommendations, quirky or more mainstream?
I’m a bit of a traditionalist, and of course my Canadian national pride shows through, so the original Black Christmas (arguably one of the first ever slasher films) is a seasonal favourite.
My wife takes great delight in yuletide horror films so she’ll often take over the programming with festive chestnuts like Christmas Evil (featuring one of the creepiest killer Santas ever – perhaps even creepier than the one in Silent Night Deadly Night), Gremlins, and the very silly killer snowman film, Jack Frost.
I’m also pretty excited to be introducing a new Christmas horror film on Shudder in the months to come. It’s called Better Watch Out and it is great fun.
8. How is the horror sector dealing with diversity? I know its always been a haven for strong female characters, but is Get Out (which I loved) likely to be a one-off or the start of a new wave of horror films with men and women of colour? Or has that already been happening and those films just haven’t reached the mainstream cinemas (and me!) yet?
I’m hopeful that we’ll see more diverse representation in the horror genre, and I think that it is possible because most horror films are made in the indie space, where there is a bit more freedom or opportunity for organic change.
It’s been heartening to see more female directors get recognized for their work in recent years, and I’d like to see the same happen with people of colour and other voices that have not gotten their fair share of airtime.
In Canada we’ve got some incredibly talented Indigenous filmmakers and I’m excited to see what some of them are doing in the genre space as well.
That said, Hollywood’s numbers are pretty abysmal – and I don’t think the percentage of POC or female directors in the genre space is all that much higher than it is in the mainstream, so in some ways it seems like we can only go up from where we currently are.
I think all of us in the film industry have a role to play in making these changes. Producers and studios – especially those with a lot of power and money – have a responsibility to work with people whose voices aren’t being heard. And as programmers, we should not just be on the lookout for diversity in the completed films we see, but we should be actively asking the distributors, sales companies, producers and others whose work we’re watching, where the diversity is in their productions.
If we demand it, and make it clear to them that we’re interested in showing it at our festivals and on our VOD platforms, perhaps they’ll listen?
9. I know you’re a producer, do you want to write and/or direct a horror feature and if so what type of horror film would it be?
I’ve never really had the ambition or urge to be a filmmaker. I get more enjoyment out of helping bring people together to orchestrate and execute their visions. I have a couple of concepts percolating in my mind that I’d love to flesh out with the help of a writer. They all fall into the ghost or master category, but I’m not ready to share those nightmares with the general public just yet.
Thank you Colin for letting me probe the recesses of the horror mind.
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