You don’t get anything if you don’t ask. My guest today is one such example. I approached him via Facebook and simply asked if he was interested in an interview.
Chris Alexander is the Editor in Chief of Fangoria, one of the best read Horror magazines around. It was a real honor for me, as a horror writer to sit down with Chris for a chat. There were a great number of directions I could have taken this interview, and I had *I won’t shock you all with the real number* of questions penned, but decided that rather than focus on horror, I wanted to get to know Chris, and so settled on the broader approach.
Can you remember where you interest in horror began?
Clearly. I saw a copy of the KISS album LOVE GUN at the library. Gene Simmons, with his head back and fangs and all these vampire women draped at the band’s feet. I was transfixed. I was three years old and suddenly I was infatuated by black, silver, fog, and a kind of beauty and the beast thing, eroticism and fright colliding together that fascinated me. Gene was my first monster. That led to Dracula. Then a visit to the HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN wax museum in Canada’s Niagara Falls further pushed me into the belly of the beast, a trauma that turned into a fixation.
Then you have the movies. The 1967 movie SHE-BEAST with Barbara Steele, her double getting dipped while she screamed. It changed me. Then, the 1978 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Throw in THE TWILIGHT ZONE, reruns late at night…it never ended, it just got deeper, richer.
KISS and horror movies are still my fixations….why change?
I won’t ask what your favorite horror movie is because I can never force myself to pick just one, but what about era? Is there a particular horror era that you are most drawn to?
I like films that have poetry and real dread. Romantic, Gothic films. Morality tales. Or just plain operatic in their bad taste. The 1960’s and 1970’s, specifically films from Europe of this vintage…sexual, violent, often intellectual and visceral. So let’s say 1950’s to early 80’s. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). Again, Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Hammer Horror films. especially those from Terrence Fisher. Bava. Argento. Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, the moody, existential films of Romero. Dan Curtis. And the brilliant and bold sex and death freak outs of Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell…the list is long. I am often not very fond of slasher films or horror comedies. I like humor in my horror when it is buried, when the stakes are real but the laughter comes from the inherent absurdity of the situation.
Me too, I like to laugh at the darkness of horror, not some crude jokes written for the sake of it.
So it was really nothing more than natural progression that you headed into the world of horror journalism?
Well, I can write. I can also make music. I can draw. I can think in sound and image. And I know how to articulate myself. I am comfortable speaking publicly. Writing was the cheapest and most direct way to reach other people on a mass level. It was an outlet for me to discuss my obsessions and get feedback. Develop a style. And then suddenly there’s a market to explore with other media. To me writing is music…its rhythm, drama, style…all the liberal arts are tied to music.
Who were your biggest influences when you were first starting out?
For journalism, I would be Chas. Balun and Tim Lucas. One was the free spirit, the artist who used horror to weave adventures in wordplay, humor and again, finding that music. Chas. was the beat poet of bloodshed. And Tim’s completist, serious-minded analysis and evaluation of Eurohorror changed my life. I discovered these lads in FANGORIA and GOREZONE, my bibles growing up. That and an early read of Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND made up what I think is the blueprint of my style.
You began you career writing for Rue Morgue (another very well respected publication) were you sad to leave them behind?
Yes and no. Rue was a social club as much if not more than a magazine. And to quote Groucho, I never really wanted to be part of any club that would have me as a member. I was a bit immature in the way I handled my own exit, but the bottom line was that I was told that I could not freelance for FANGORIA on the side. Other RM writers could. I was a columnist and on the radio, so it was not allowed. When I argued this, when the limitations stopped making financial sense and I was told to make a choice. I chose to leave. It was a struggle and many of the people I thought were friends, well, were not. Such is the nature of “scenes” and social clubs. But the transition was easy. I became the Toronto voice of FANGORIA. I headed the Film History department at the Toronto Film College – I loved teaching – freelanced for The Toronto Star, METRO news and many others. I even had my own radio segment on AM radio in Toronto. I managed to build a little name for myself, on my own. And within 3 years I was asked to take over as (FANGORIA) editor. So I certainly made the right choice for me. Though again, in retrospect, especially in light of my own role as editor, I was a bit hard and self-righteous to the publisher of RM. I wish him and the magazine only the best.
Do you still have any contact with the people there?
I am friends with many of the freelancers, yes. Some of them write for me as well. As far as the core staff is concerned, not really. Though EIC Dave Alexander – for the record, absolutely no relation – did contribute a fine essay for my George Romero tribute issue. Again, I mean them no bad will.
Fangoria is one of the premier Horror publications, surely a sort of Holy Grail for a journalist such as yourself. You must love going to work every morning?
Yes. FANGO is based in NYC but I opted to stay in Toronto. I have only been to NYC a handful of times. So I oversee operations from my rather spectacular office here. It’s wild, but it works perfectly. And because I have stayed here, I’ve managed to bring some healthy Canadian content into the mag, a unique international perspective. From what the fans say by and large, the changes I’ve made and continue to make are well received.
Can you take us through the average day for the Editor-in-Chief?
Sure. Work like a dog. Take my kids to school. Answer 5billion emails. Write like a bastard (I ensure that I write a healthy portion of the editorial as well as put the content together), interview like mad, travel often, promote the brand relentlessly, design, source photos, talk writers off ledges, try to maintain a budget, navigate diverse personalities…and on top of all that mania, I have made a feature film, travelled with it, write all the music for FANGO’s horror radio drama series DREADTIME STORIES, still write often for The Toronto Star and METRO and do other fun stuff like produced content for DVD special features. There’s plenty more but suffice to say every single day is full and generally amazing, challenging, exciting and incredibly rewarding. I am living the dream and it’s by my rules.
I cannot think of any better way to go through life.
You started as a freelancer for the magazine, did you ever expect to rise to the position you have?
Never in a million years. I was struggling hard with 2 little babies (I now have three), had a house, worked several gigs and almost killed myself in a car accident where I flipped my Saturn and had all the skin ripped off my arm. So there I was with this bloated bandaged infected arm, feeling low, worried about the future when BANG I get a call from FANGORIA asking if I was interested in the job of EIC. It was a shock and really, when I look at the situation objectively, it still is.
How long does it take to put together an issue? What are the processes involved?
The way I see it is every issue of FANGO owes its blood to three people; myself, and FANGO legends, Managing Editor Mike Gingold and Designer Bill Mohalley. Hard working pros who love what they do. We all love what we do. And we all live in different cities and yet we manage to pull it off every month. FANGO is all-consuming, by that I mean, I’m working on the April issue now but I’m planning June and banking content for Halloween! So it’s an ongoing, daily, year round process…
I would be remiss if I didn’t brush over the ‘Raging Boll’ incident. Can you tell us how that all came about?
In short, I was the co-originator of the caustic critics on Rue Morgue Radio (I was the Caustic Critic on radio station AM 640 and I stole that for the show) and Stuart Andrews and I heard about Boll – who we ripped on frequently – putting the call out for opponents and I jumped on it. It was the weirdest, coolest, dumbest thing ever. I did it so Andrews and I could make a movie about critics and filmmakers. We trained with a real boxing coach for two weeks, and all of it was caught on video. Then we flew out to Vancouver, I wore bat wings and a lucha libre mask and fought him. It was a real fight. It went two rounds, the longest of all his fights. I spat fake blood on him. I got a few punches in, but then he KO’d me. The whole shameful thing is on YouTube. Sadly, that was 8 years ago. Andrews has the footage, we’re no longer friendly and he never made the film. Shame, as we had a huge cast of characters in there…Alice Cooper, Verne Troyer, Karen Black, Michael Pare…and of course extensive interviews with Boll himself. I really like the guy. He’s one of a kind…
You have been a harsh critic of Boll and his movie making, what made you take the fight against him?
It was bizarre and brilliant. I wanted to jump right in and be part of the mayhem. This was before I had kids. I would never do it now. But back then, I wanted to be part of everything, feel everything. I have never been happy being an observer. I want to be in the eye of the storm, for better or worse.
You ended the bout covered with both fake and real blood. Just how serious were the fights?
They were real. He punched his hardest. That clown Lotax, he wasn’t ready for that. He took it the worst, I think.
Have the two of you crossed paths at all since then?
Sure have. And we occasionally talk on email. He is a brute, but a smart, interesting guy.
Besides from horror movies, music also plays a rather large role in your life. You have been part of several bands and have released several solo albums. What do you prefer bands or solo work?
Solo. I work best alone by my own rules, my own vision, my own speed. I’ve never been an amazing team player when it comes to art because I only do art to please myself.
I have not actually heard any of your music, but could I hazard a guess that it was dark?
Jet black, but in a deep, dark, John Carpenter meets Tangerine Dream ambient way. Drop by 2m1 Records to hear some samples from my last album MUSIC FOR MURDER.
Thanks for the tip. I will head there shortly and have a listen.
You have also composed music for several horror movies and shorts. What is that like? Composing for a movie?
It’s fun. But it was cooler composing for my own movie, BLOOD FOR IRINA. I made the music first (also wrote, directed co-shot and edited) and designed the film around it, like an art installation or a feature length video. The film was bankrolled by Autonomy Pictures, cost little, won 5 awards and screened all over the world. It comes out on DVD and Blu-ray in North America, UK and France on May 13th. And we’re in talks to do another one…
I have it noted down and will certainly keep my eyes open for it.
I guess you have to think about a lot more than just the lyrics, am I right?
All my music is lyric free. My films are dialogue free. To me, sound and image are universal, they know no dialect. I am trying to create pure music, pure cinema. I love all movies, adore good dialogue…but when I create I have a specific sensibility.
What a wonderful idea.
You published a book back in 2010 correct; Chris Alexander’s Blood Spattered Book?
Via Midnight Marquee, yes. It is a collection of personal essays about my favorite horror films and interviews with the talent behind them. My tastes are personal…and many of my favorites are, well, not critical darlings or fan favorites…it’s a good book, I think. It is an extension of my DOA column in Rue Morgue. I’m currently working on my next book, THE TWILIGHT ZONE LEGACY, a TZ fan book/episode guide, due out in 2014.
What is your take on the ‘Indie writing scene currently?
Well, like everything in the social network age, everyone is a rock star, an actor…and a writer. That’s a double-edged sword. I see terrible writing every day. Much of it I have to re-write, re-work. Much of it, I have to scrap. My advice to writers is find your voice, read your own work out loud, diversify your vocabulary…and read. Reading is good
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me Chris, I appreciated it immensely.