Posted by Richard Harland Smith on February 17, 2012
Stacie Ponder, proprietor of the popular, funny and often on-the-nose-to-the-point-of-drawing-blood horror film blog Final Girl, grew up just a couple of clicks down Interstate 95 from me in Northeast Connecticut. As I did, she put in her time in the bohemian circles of New York City and also spent many years living in my current home in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. Stacie literally just lived up the street from me for a time and we both shopped in the same Ralphs but we have never met. She recently relocated to Portland, Maine, for reasons that remain clouded in mystery. As such, I have made the decision to interview her and ask a bunch of intrusive questions. Stacie always has a lot going on. She is a professional comics inker, a podcaster, a blogger, a filmmaker, an artist in her own right and an all around interesting person. You may already be familiar with her work, which includes (but is not limited to), her most recent effort, Slashers 101, a hand-drawn primer reflecting her love of that subcategory of psycho-thrillers that were pumped out in the wake of the success of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) and have never really left the building. I now present Part One of our informal and yet I hope informative and illuminating
RHS: The slasher movie is pushing middle age. If we go with HALLOWEEN as a starting point, it’ll be 40 in 2018. What does that say about the rest of us?
SP: It’s terrifying, I think. I’m not one to…I don’t know, I’ve never been one to worry about age and things like that, but the Internet insists on throwing it in my face all the time lately. I’ll be having a Facebook conversation with someone and we talk about the things we have in common and movies we both like or what have you, and I think “Gee, cyberfriends are neat!” Then I look at dates and I realize this person was born the year I graduated high school and I could be his or her mother. How did that happen? Time basically stopped for me in 2000. Everything after that is a blur- what years did I live in what state? When did I work at whatever job? I honestly have no clue- so when I see “30th Anniversary” DVD editions and cast reunions for movie from my youth, it just doesn’t compute with me or make any sense. To add to my bewilderment, Google recently decided that thanks to my search choices I’m a male, 18-24, so I don’t know what to think about anything anymore.
RHS: I was 16 when HALLOWEEN came out and I turned 19 the year FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) came out. I was the perfect age to identify with those characters but I find that over 30 years later the people who carry the slasher torch tend to be about 10 years younger than me, meaning they came to the subgenre via video tape. Is that true for you?
SP: Well, when I was young my parents would take me to the drive-in with them, and my parents love horror movies…so my first real taste of a slasher flick, I think, was FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART II (1981), when I was about 9. I think I made the subgenre my own, however, during the VHS boom. Slashers are practically made for slumber parties and sleepovers. You go to the video store, spend 45 minutes ogling lurid boxes, finally grab whatever has “massacre” or some other violent word in the title and a drawing of blood on the cover, you grab a pizza, go home, watch the crappy movie, and stay up all night scaring each other. Slasher movies usually hit that right mix of sex and violence and scares and laughs to appeal to a young horror fan. You don’t have to think about them at all, and even when they’re terrible, there’s still usually something intriguingly visceral about them. They’re just so wonderfully common denominator, you know? Even the ones that are technically terrific examples of filmmaking- yes, HALLOWEEN, I’m looking at you- are a bit base. Enjoyably so, but still. I can absolutely see why even some horror fans dislike ‘em, but they’re as much a part of my DNA as…whatever other…stuff…is in my DNA. Like my eye color and my love of old Pepperidge Farms commercials.
SP: Honestly, that never came to mind while I was making it- yes, there’s an intentional “I love slashers so much and the slasher heyday was the best” vibe, but for once I wasn’t purposely railing at These Kids Today. It’s hard for me not to all the time, though. I know it. It’s not necessarily about the quality of films from the slasher days- yes, that comes into play, but there are great movies and terrible movies in every era. It takes the good and the bad, you know- the lessons in THE FACTS OF LIFE theme song were not wasted on me. But obviously there’s no denying that the way we consume these films has changed drastically in the last decade, and I think it’s bred a different sort of horror fan. There were limitations 20-30 years ago that simply don’t exist today. When video tapes cost $100 a pop and your local video store (if you even had one) stocked eight horror titles, it meant you had to work to see what you wanted to see, or to even know what was out there in the world. I could read about a movie in Fangoria and it might be five years before I could finally see it. It fostered a kind of focused obsession, I guess.
RHS: I had the same experience a decade earlier, seeing pictures from movies in books like Silver and Ursini’s The Vampire Film or Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies and waiting decades to see the movies. Literally, it took me forty years to catch up with some of those movies, like THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (1945) and THE PHARAOH’S CURSE (1957), and I’m still catching up.
SP: FADE TO BLACK (1980) is the big one for me. It intrigued me so very much back in the day and then to finally see it decades later…it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But it was nice to cross something off of my yellowed, ancient to-do list. You’d have to write things down and memorize things and research things at the library, whereas today it takes a nanosecond to track down a movie and get it streaming over your computer. If you don’t like it, you can find something else immediately. Mind you, it’s cool to be able to easily find, say, a copy of some made-for-TV movie that I never saw during its initial run. I appreciate that, but I don’t think growing up with instant, easy access has fostered appreciation as much as it has expectation. Or maybe I’m just an Old who has misplaced pride in the fact that I didn’t have as much stuff then.
RHS: Slashers 101 is a lot of fun but it’s not just irony. There’s a lot of love there and respect for your subject, even in your use of a kind of self-deprecating humor. But beyond that, your stick figures really get to the essence of some of these horror movie situations. Most people draw stick figures because they can do no better. Yours are like kitchen stove reductions, like when you boil down a mix of things until it becomes stock and loaded with flavor.
SP: Well, thank you for sure. I don’t know if it’s fair to call them “stick figures”, but I’ve never figured out a better term so that’s what I call ‘em. But I toil- toil I say – on these drawings, absolutely. They’re not easy to do- or, I suppose, to do well- and I look back at my earliest efforts and I shudder. They’ve evolved, which is good, because art should evolve and so should my abilities. But it can really be a challenge to capture something complex using such a simple form- and that’s a huge part of what I love about them. I’ll erase a mouth ten times before I get it right, before the angle and curve and position convey the feeling. If I can create a recognizable character or emotion with the bare minimum of information, then mission accomplished.
RHS: Do you ever wonder stuff about horror movie characters’ lives before the movie they’re in? Like when Captain Rhodes in DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) says that line about “a mouthful of Greek salad,” I always wonder if his Mom or Dad used to say that. Because even though he’s nasty, Captain Rhodes was a kid once, he had a mom and dad, at least technically. So I try to imagine the first time he heard that and maybe he even thought, at age 11, ‘Someday I’m doing to use that.’
SP: Oh, sure! It’s odd that for the most part, these movies don’t seem to want you to ask those sorts of questions. I guess that’s not the point- they’re largely made to earn a quick buck- but in slasher movies especially, characters exist in a little bubble. The teenagers go off for whatever event and they’re killed, the end. If they survive to the end, that’s great! The end. I wonder about what came before and what would come after. I wonder about the families back home and how they cope with it all. These are somebody’s children being slaughtered! I wonder where Jason Voorhees’s dad was during the 20-year span that Camp Crystal Lake was closed, as Mrs. Voorhees lost her mind.
RHS: I think about all the families of the victims in BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) who will never celebrate that holiday again.
SP: Imagine how many holidays have been ruined for families in the slasher universe! Given that the majority of the films take place on holidays…I mean, Christmas, forget it. Valentine’s Day is trashed, and Halloween, obviously. Heck, whole towns have been irreparably damaged by these psychotic jerks. Businesses, too. And surely there have been some lawsuits brought about against, say, the mental hospital that Michael Myers escaped from. The implications, they are staggering! Characterization is probably the last thing on the list, unfortunately, when it comes to making slasher movies- heck, maybe with a majority of horror films in general- but sometimes it peeks through and it’s a startling reminder that hey, these are supposed to be real people. There’s a bittersweet moment in, of all things, THE INITIATION (1984), which is your run-of-the-mill slasher movie about sororities, shopping malls, evil twins, and psychic research (I love it). A character is teased about her virgin status- she’s the standard “slightly dumpy one” in the cast- and she finally says no, she’s not a virgin because she was raped by her music teacher when she was 12 and she’s never told anybody. Then later she’s I don’t know, dragged into a mall bathroom and killed or something and it’s like…oh man, that girl had such a shitty shitty life and met such a terrible end. “What is this? Stop making me feel things, slasher movie!”
To be continued!
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