It’s a Horror to Know You:: Justin Kerswell of Hysteria Lives and Author of The Slasher Movie Book!

It’s a Horror to Know You: Justin Kerswell of Hysteria Lives and Author of The Slasher Movie Book!

1. What is the first film that ever scared you?

The first film I remember scaring the crap out of me was the 1982 TV-movie DON’T GO TO SLEEP. Despite looking at movie posters for THE FOG, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, FRIDAY THE 13TH et al, like some lovesick teenager mooning over the latest pin up, I was born too damn young to see them at the cinema. I think just before I popped my cherry with HALLOWEEN II on Betamax I was allowed to stay up and watch DON’T GO TO SLEEP. These days 13 year olds are having gap years and running mining corps in South America, but back then was a more innocent time. The story of the girl returning from beyond the grave to claim her family one-by-one had me on the edge of my seat. The image of her rolling the pizza cutter up the staircase was indelibly burnt into my brain. For some reason Of course, it’s all delightfully cheesy now when you see it, but is still good spooky fun.

Honourable mentions also go to the Scottish set BBC two-parter NIGHTMARE MAN (1981), which was a curiously low key attempt at a British slasher/monster movie – except with more tartan and chatting about the weather. I also found the 1978 comet-destroys-Pheonix TV movie A FIRE IN THE SKY absolutely scary. Not sure why now, though!

2. What is the last film that scared you?

Easy. That would be the Australian pseudo-documentary LAKE MUNGO (2008). The central concept is quite terrifying, but the whole film has a mournful and ultra creepy vibe. It also has an outstanding scare using brief mobile phone footage. It is a film that stayed with me long after watching it.

3. Name three Horror movies that you believe are underrated.

It’s difficult to keep to just three! A varied bag starts off with the 2001 Hong Kong movie HORROR HOTLINE BIG HEAD MONSTER. Horror films from Hong Kong are not usually my cup-of-tea. That kind of zany, slapstick does little for me – but I remember this being a genuinely creepy and strange little movie – and one that deserves more recognition.

SUPERSTITION (1982) is a film that I love because I first saw it at an impressionable age. Recommended partly for having the chutzpah to try and stitch the slasher and AMITYVILLE HORROR-style movies together in such a low rent, but endlessly entertaining way. The head-in-the-microwave opener is a show stopper, but I also love the dialogue (“Shut your bitchy mouth!”) and the fact that they had the balls to end on a downer. To me it’s the epitome of 80’s video store horror movie gem.

One I watched again funnily enough last night was the British proto-slasher FRIGHT from 1971. I forgot quite how influential it must have been. Babysitter menaced by escapee from an asylum (check). Psychiatrist hot of the tails of said psycho (check). John Carpenter and Debra Hill must have had a triple bill with this, BLOOD AND LACE (1971) and BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) when they came up with the idea for HALLOWEEN (1978). Of course, that film didn’t have a conversation about Susan George’s “lovely bristols”, but it has a still shocking today showdown with a toddler with a very large shard of broken mirror to his throat. It’s funny how these proto-slashers can throw you for a loop sometimes. Interestingly – and somewhat ironically – it got a post-HALLOWEEN re-release onto American screens as I’M ALONE AND I’M SCARED to capitalise of the success of Carpenter’s movie.

4. Name three horror movies that you enjoy against your better judgment.

I’ve done a 180 degree turn on PIECES (1982). To my shame, when I first reviewed it I called it FAECES. What was I thinking? It is actually 100 per cent distilled fun – and I love it and its cheesy rollerskating chain saw massacre more than life itself. … The most beautiful thing in the world is … smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed and watching PIECES at the same time. Allegedly.

Another film that I’ve grown to like against my better judgment is GIRLS NITE OUT (which was originally released to US screens briefly as THE SCAREMAKER in 1982 before getting a second chance at, ahem, stardom in 1984). Really, the frat boy stuff is stupid fun – and the lack of a central character hurts it – but it’s hard to hate a slasher flick that has a giant bear mascot with proto-Freddy gloves as the killer. It also has a WTF creepy ending that is totally at odds with the previous 90 minutes and creates a genuinely disorientating close.

Finally, pure bad movie fun doesn’t get any more perfect than the 1980 Bigfoot bloodbath NIGHT OF THE DEMON. If you ever wanted to see a biker get his penis ripped off by what looks like Mick Jagger in a full body ginger toupee then this movie is for you.

5. Send us to five places on the Internet!

The Bodycount Continues – fun and friendly slasher movie forum run by my good friend Joseph Henson.

Scream Queenz – Hands down my favourite horror podcast (well, apart from maybe The Hysteria Continues). A deliciously camp and effortlessly entertaining joyride to horror’s glittery back passage.

Mrs Slocombe’s pussy vs. Black Christmas – Last Christmas I had too much good cheer, woke up in the morning to find out that I’d created this.

Hysteria Lives Facebook page – I know I’m a total attention whore, but I’m posting loads of old slasher movie reviews and artwork on this page.

Dina Martina – Medical College Commercial – I saw Dina a couple of summers ago performing live. Thrilling, fascinating and the only drag queen with a hairy back I’ve ever seen (so far).

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Phil Gonzales
10 years ago

I’ve been reading The Slasher Movie Book and really enjoying it. Seriously, you could write a book about each page, there is so much there.

10 years ago

What a great IAHTKY post – starting my day off with a grin.

Seems like Lake Mungo (2008) is a popular choice for “last film that scared you”. There’s something about the way that film tethers supernatural horror to a mundane but terrible tragedy – it feels like a psychological experiment. The supernatural horror element is made to ride along with unfortunately more familiar and real feelings of grief, betrayal and disgust and with the help of a (possibly genius) “it’s not really supernatural” head fake the horror is allowed to burrow deeply into unfamiliar psychic territory.

I have been mentally contrasting Lake Mungo with another favorite, The Blair Witch Project (1999) this morning. In 1999 the public was not accustomed to the found footage genre and BWP was widely regarded as a mix between a film and some elaborate, scary hoax. I think that mixing in fake documentary footage of grieving family members and emphasizing the serial-killer aspect of the story would have completely outraged 1990s audiences. However, I am left wondering if BWP could have been a darker and scarier film if they had done those things.

10 years ago

Wow, you just nipped a pending Name That Trauma in the bud for me…your description of the pizzacutter rolling up the staircase just hit me with a rush of memories. I need to watch DON’T GO TO SLEEP immediately! Also, NIGHT OF THE DEMON sounds exactly like my kind of goofiness, and I’m glad to hear somebody mention HORROR HOTLINE, which is a cool, fairly-overlooked movie!