Monday, April 2, 2012

April's Peculiar Person of the Month: Justin Lockwood

Teacher, writer, and devoted fan boy Justin Lockwood screams bloody murder for This Peculiar Life NYC; his self-created Facebook page offers horror fans a different slice on the slasher genre. Gutting out an open niche with his online community Monster Nation, Justin lets us in on what his one nation under ghouls will do for horror fans from all back grounds. Beginning his life in Springfield, Ma – the same town as Dr. Seuss – he has since wondered down the blood covered sorority row of horror. 

Peculiar Person of the month Justin Lockwood outside the orginal house from Halloween.

This Peculiar Life NYC:  How did the idea for Monster Nation come about?

Justin Lockwood: At one point I thought it would be fun to do an outing club or even a convention for gay horror fans, since there seem to be quite a few, and there’s been an uptick in “geeky” gay groups centered around sci-fi/comics, etc. lately.  Someone suggested I start a Facebook group to attract people that way, and by the time I put it up I decided I’d rather target horror fans first and gays second rather than throw it at a ton of gays who might have no interest in horror.  I figured my gay sensibility would shine through, anyway, and that I was ultimately more interested in befriending horror freaks in general.

T.P.L. NYC:  What all does the page offer?

J.L. When I visit fan pages and groups on Facebook, I love to click through pictures, and currently Monster Nation has over 100 photos and 22 galleries.  A lot of the galleries are more like essays as I include detailed captions commenting on great scream queens, horror directors, film series, and whatnot.  There are also links to rare music videos and various news stories or articles about horror films and television series past and present.  Whenever possible I let people know about events and screenings that they can catch in the New York area; a lot of theaters revive classic horror flicks and conventions come around here fairly often, too.  There’s also some stuff about local filming locations, like the apartment building from The Sentinel (1977), which was shot right near my workplace in Brooklyn Heights. I try to update the group several times a week if not daily.

T.P.L. NYC:  Do you feel the role of social media has been better or worse for monster lovers?

J.L: It’s a double-edged sword: on the one hand, there are tons of fan sites, news resources, and places for horror fans to visit on the web; on the other hand, there’s a lot of marketing garbage.  Ever since Blair Witch, studios think they can sell their micro-budget horror flicks through internet savvy, but not all of these movies are actually good, of course.  For every Paranormal Activity there’s an Apollo 18.  I’ve even read criticisms recently that has completely sold out to the production company that bought their first feature film, and they do host a lot of puff pieces for films of widely varying quality.  Then again, no one ever accused the internet of being a bastion of accuracy and fairness.

T.P.L. NYC: What are some of your favorite monsters?

J.L.: I have to rate Michael Myers and Norman Bates at the top, since Halloween and Psycho are my two all-time favorites and the original movies essentially gave birth to modern day horror.  I also have a soft spot for Freddy Krueger—even the worst Nightmare on Elm St. sequels have their moments, and several of them are classics—and [well there’s also] zombies [too].

Justin as the Thanksgiving Killer from Grindhouse.

T.P.L. NYC: As a horror buff, what is it about the genre that appeals to you so much?

J.L.: Ever since I was a little kid, I loved Halloween, monsters, and spooky things.  I don’t know why, they just held an intense appeal for me.  My own preschool teachers thought I needed to be evaluated because I was obsessed with them!  I remember drawing a vampire and explaining to one of my teachers that the outside of his cape was black and the inside was red.  As I got older, my dad introduced me to all the great modern horror movies, mostly on video, though we saw a few of them and various other genre flicks at weekday matinees.  I loved jumping at the “jump” moments and being freaked out by the most effective films.  The first time I watched Halloween, I thought the fan in my room was Michael Myers breathing.  I love other, non-horror movies, too, but I will forever gravitate towards the horror genre.  Sometimes, even a bad horror movie is the most entertaining option for an afternoon or evening on the couch.

Poster for one of the many Halloween sequals

T.P.L. NYC: Who are some of your influences?

J.L.: It extended beyond horror, but Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream and created Dawson’s Creek, was a big influence on me.  I wrote a couple of plays in high school that were highly influenced by his hyper-verbal style, and my closet door used to be covered in pictures of his shows and movies.  Horror-wise, he also did I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and a bunch of the dialogue and stuff for Halloween: H20.  My other favorite directors are John Carpenter (he made half a dozen movies I’ve seen multiple times), Wes Craven, and George A. Romero (mainly for the Living Dead series).  Stephen King did some really iconic stuff, obviously.  As far as actors, Tony Perkins (Norman Bates), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), and Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode and about a zillion other horror roles) top my list, along with Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasence, and Lance Henriksen. 

T.P.L. NYC:  How do you feel the landscape of horror has changed through the decades?

J.L.: It’s gone through so many permutations.  In the 30s and 40s you had the iconic Universal monsters, and it was all about style and characterization.  The 50s had more of a sci-fi bent with the Cold War/Atomic paranoia in The Thing From Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and all the alien and monster thrillers.  Things started to get darker in the 60s, starting with Psycho and Peeping Tom (the latter of which I’m still ashamed I haven’t seen) and continuing on with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.  Now it was less about larger than life monsters and more about the evil next door, or within your own family—or even, as with Rosemary, in your own body!  One of the brilliant things about horror, in my opinion, is how it can dramatize and distort real life fears; for instance, every woman who gets pregnant worries something awful will happen to her baby.  The 60s and 70s were where this type of thing really got started.  George Romero and crew said that Night of the Living Dead was just trying to be a good “monster movie,” but in the context it was released in it really resonated with all the turmoil in America: the violence of Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement.  People felt similarly about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a few years later.  And NOTLD really changed horror movies forever by upping the ante in terms of making them effective and believable.  The story is so outlandish, but because of the documentary-like way it’s shot, the interwoven news reports, and all the other naturalistic touches it feels utterly real.  The 70s gave birth to the whole slasher craze that dominated the 80s.  Black Christmas, Chainsaw, and Halloween were stylish and fun, but they were also incredibly scary.  They’re just deeply unnerving movies, and part of what makes them so indelible is that they offer absolutely no resolution or easy answers.  Even in Psycho, which clearly paved the way for them, you had the psychiatrist coming in and explaining Norman’s psyche so you could catch your breath and calm down.  All of these new thrillers ended with the killer still on the loose, and most of the cast has come to a bloody end.  There were also some great “devil” movies, namely The Exorcist and The Omen.  They’re so iconic and parodied now, but at the time they just blew people’s minds.  There were plenty of “dead teenager” movies in the 80s, most of which just ripped off Halloween, but there was a lot of really interesting, cool stuff, too.  It’s probably my personal favorite decade for horror films.  You’ve got A Nightmare on Elm Street, which turned the slasher paradigm on its head by bringing in the dream element, and Sam Raimi’s two Evil Dead movies, which were so twisted and over-the-top they fell into comic territory—and that was okay, it worked beautifully. 

Scene from Nightmare on Elm Steet 2: Freddy's Revenge

J.L.: The humor was really strong in 80s films, and you had some great horror comedies like Ghostbusters, Fright Night, and Gremlins.  And they all tried to out-do each other with the gore and makeup effects.  It was such a fun and daring decade.  The 90s were sort of strange and moribund until Scream came along in ’96.  The slasher trend had completely petered out and suddenly Scream sent it up and yet somehow kept it scary.  That led to a bunch of self-aware movies that just ripped off Scream, but it was the supernatural stuff that really made an impact.  The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense were excellent, blockbuster movies, both released in 1999.  It was like filmmakers and studios suddenly remembered that something besides serial killers could be frightening.  There have been absolutely terrific movies made since with supernatural elements, like Insidious.  (A lot of good “shaky cam” movies, too.) But the 2000s so far have been very strange for horror.  Rob Zombie came onto the scene with House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, and I don’t care what anyone says, the man’s a genius.  Sure, all his movies are like profane white trash talent pageants, but his visuals are off the hook and he’s not afraid to be vicious and nasty.  But I don’t think the past decade will be viewed very favorably years from now; we got all the torture porn that’s more sick than scary.  Saw and Hostel were both interesting films, albeit stomach churning ones, but then it was like enough is enough.  How many ways can you mutilate someone?  And of course it’s remake city.  Some of the remakes are pretty cool, but what does it say about a genre when all it seems to be doing is ripping itself off?  Still, if my totally rambling response demonstrates anything, it’s that the horror genre is incredibly elastic and ever-changing.  So here’s hoping it changes into something more interesting soon.

An evil Gremlin from Gremlins

T.P.L. NYC: Do you feel that horror movies are better now as opposed to thirty years ago?
J.L.: No.  I don’t want to be one of those “remember the good old days” types, necessarily, but I feel like horror isn’t as blessed as it used to be.  There are still really good movies being made, mostly independents, but the overall output is a microcosm of movies in general.  Everything’s a sequel, remake, or adaptation because studios are hemorrhaging money and they all want a “pre-sold property.”  So they don’t support original scripts or new talent, or they focus on all the wrong things, like “rebooting” some franchise. 

T.P.L. NYC: Do you think horror movies depend too much on movie magic as opposed to chills and suspense?

J.L.: The bad ones do.  I’m a sucker for old-fashioned slow burn suspense—I’ll put up with nothing big happening for the first hour if you build up the characters and atmosphere and pay it off at the end.  Good effects used sparingly are a million times better than wall to wall “gags.”  And while we’re on the subject, filmmakers should really use makeup and practical effects more.  I Am Legend was a pretty cool movie, but those lame CGI vampires ruined the whole thing.

T.P.L. NYC: What are some of the typical things that people discuss on Monster Nation?

J.L.: A lot of people debate the specific movies and things that I post about.  I enjoy it when people argue.  I loved this indie ghost story The Inn-keepers but other people were ranting about how much they hated it.  And some of the personal stories are great—one guy posted that he’d gone to a yard sale at Elvira’s house years back.

T.P.L. NYC: If you managed to make it to the end of the movie, which famous last girl standing would you want to be trapped in the elevator with? Tell me your favorite scream queen essentially.

J.L.: Jamie Lee Curtis, hands down.  I think Kevin Williamson really nailed it when he called her “the Goddess, the Earth mother to us all.”  She’s just such a classy, intelligent, interesting actress and she gave great performances in the Halloween series, The Fog, and all the others.  Even in Halloween: Resurrection, which is a dreadful movie, she’s great.  I also love the fact that she’s essentially retired from acting and now focuses on writing children’s books, which are best sellers and which I’ve read to my kids many times.  I really respect her for that.

Still from Halloween with Jamie Lee

T.P.L. NYC: You are also a writer, what are some of the publications you write for?

J.L.: When I was a teenager I wrote for the teen section of the local paper, including quite a few horror reviews and features.  I was probably the only kid in their bullpen who wanted to write up Ravenous.  These days I do film reviews and features, most of them art and theater related, for Next, which is a gay magazine covering Manhattan’s queer cultural scene.

T.P.L. NYC: Has the horror element spilled over into your own writing?

J.L.: I’ve gotten some cool horror assignments from Next, like reviewing a foreign cannibal movie (We Are What We Are, not to be confused with the Kei$ha song) and interviewing the creator of NYC’s Nightmare haunted house.  I got in trouble for that one: I told the guy I didn’t think the house was scary when I went, and their publicist went ballistic.  The closest thing I’ve done to writing horror fiction is a play about Vampira and her relationship with James Dean.  I have an idea for a novel about Ed Gein—the real-life inspiration for Psycho—that maybe I’ll do one of these days.

T.P.L. NYC: The site is about peculiar people, so what is the most peculiar thing about Monster Nation? Any peculiar posts that stick out the most?

J.L.: Not to conflate “gay” with “peculiar,” but the galleries on queer horror and “Horror Hunks” are probably things you wouldn’t see on too many other horror sites.  One time a guy and his boyfriend looked like they were getting into a fight over comments on something the guy posted.  Another time someone posted about Yellow Brick Road, which is a really sick and nasty independent horror flick, and the first person to comment was my mom.  (And yes, she had seen it.)

T.P.L. NYC: Being a resident in New York for so long, what is the most peculiar thing you think you have experienced while living here?

J.L.: I don’t know if it’s the most peculiar thing I’ve ever experienced here, but I recently saw what I thought was the aftermath of a real car accident on Montague Street in Brooklyn, only to find out it was for a zombie themed New York Lotto commercial!  Later that day, we were walking the kids back from the playground, and zombie extras started streaming off of Montague and walking parallel to us.  They were all made up and ashen faced, and a lot of them were staring at my kids, who were totally unaware of them!  That was a real “only in New York” moment.

The lovely Elvira

T.P.L. NYC: What upcoming things can we expect to see on Monster Nation or other projects that you are working on?

J.L.: Monster Nation will continue to post new and interesting horror content, and I encourage you all to join if you’re interested in the genre.  Stay posted for our first event posting soon.

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