February is Women in Horror Month, and we’ll be taking the time throughout the next four weeks to highlight the badass females of the genre who continue to inspire us and our love for horror. We’re kicking off the month by interviewing Susan Leighton, horror journalist for 1428 Elm and well-respected fountain of genre knowledge, about her influences, incredible column, and love for a certain icon.
Horror Geek Life: Hey, Susan! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You’re one of the most knowledgeable horror fans that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, as well as one of the greatest horror journalists on the internet, so this is a real honor for me.
How old were you when you decided that the horror genre had control of your heart? I’d love to hear which films helped set you on the path that led you to 1428 Elm.
Susan: I was 5 years old and I used to spend every other weekend at my grandparents’ house. They would actually let me watch this show that came on at 11:30 or so out of Philadelphia. Dr. Shock! Well, he ran an old Vincent Price and Christopher Lee movie called The Oblong Box. That stayed with me for quite some time. Yes, I fell in love with a film about being buried alive (laughs). An honorable mention must go to Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. That was cheesy, zombie-groovy goodness.
In my opinion, I grew up during a GREAT time in television. I was exposed to shows like Night Gallery, Outer Limits, as well as The Twilight Zone. However, there was this little show that ran in the early 70’s on NBC for about two seconds. It was originally hosted by Sebastian Cabot, who played Mr. French on Family Affair. The show was Circle of Fear. Wow, I can still remember that series four decades later!
A huge influence on me was the wonderful Darren McGavin in Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I read the books, I watched the show religiously. From there, I graduated to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left…..I am just realizing how this sounds!
In all honesty, I started out falling in love with movies in general and then I discovered horror. I think I came out of the womb predisposed to pop culture.
Horror Geek Life: Your work for 1428 Elm is incredible, and “Thoughts from the Ledge” continues to be a damn good read that everyone should check out immediately. What inspired you to come up with this segment, and which entry are you most proud of?
Susan: Thank you so much, Curt. You don’t know how much that means to me! I always wanted to have a column since I was a younger writer. My blog “Woman on the Ledge” was created so I could rant and have somewhere to put my more comedic pieces. At least I hope people found them amusing!
I wanted to do something different to honor those people that I remembered that contributed to the horror or sci-fi genre that didn’t get the press. For example, one of my favorite all time movies is Trilogy of Terror. Karen Black was always that sexy, crazy kitten-girl that showed up in quite a few Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern movies from back in the day. So, I decided to do a piece on her.
Plus, it was a way for me to wax nostalgic. I have managed to write about quite a few eclectic personalities such as Roman Polanski, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern. I just wrote an article on the brilliant David Warner. However, the entries that I am the most proud of would be the pieces I did on The Evil Dead trio of Raimi, Tapert and Campbell and the truly wonderful Anthony Perkins. Public disclosure time: I had a monster crush on Perkins. I have seen all of his movies. It was my way of saying thank you.
This is off topic, but another reason I covered Perkins, is because prior to Psycho, he was a teen idol pinup. Norman Bates made him, but it hampered him. He could never quite break free from that role. So toward the end of his life, he embraced it with the underrated series of Psycho films.
Horror Geek Life: Do you have any future “Ledge” entries planned out, or is that more of a “whenever the thought comes to me” type of thing?
Susan: I actually plan them out! Next up is Sam Neill. We have quite a few things to discuss with Mr. Neill, like Event Horizon (God, I do love that marriage of horror and sci-fi) and In the Mouth of Madness. I foresee pieces on Malcolm McDowell, Donald Pleasance (who is in one of my all time favorite movies, The Great Escape), Donald Sutherland and Deborah Foreman.
During my formative years in the 80’s, it seemed like every time I turned around, Deborah was in another horror movie. I think that she doesn’t get mentioned as much as Dee Wallace, Linnea Quigley and Barbara Crampton.
Horror Geek Life: Anyone who follows you on Twitter, or remotely knows you at all, can tell you two things: You’re far too kind and the world doesn’t deserve you, and you love Bruce Campbell more than some people love their kids. I’m going to put you on the spot and have you tell our readers about the influence Campbell has had on your love for the genre, but I’d also love to hear what your five favorite Bruce Campbell movies/shows are, regardless of genre.
Susan: Let me pull a Sophia from The Golden Girls. 1983. I was 17 years old. There was a midnight showing of The Evil Dead. Luckily, a friend of mine had cool parents because they were able to get us in. It was the type of experience that stuck with me.
I thought maybe I could make films for a living. I had been active in community theater and drama club in high school, so that movie made me believe that if you worked hard, you could actually turn your dreams into tangible realities. Prior to seeing that film, my friends and I had summer “projects” that we would do. We would actually make movies. It was interesting because I would get rooked into getting in front of the camera.
My best friend wanted to be an actor and a director. So, I would be the one that would come up with a general premise and then I would write the script by default because I was an editor for my school newspaper. Naturally everyone was like, “you can do this.” Then we would ride around and “scout” neighborhood locations. It was a team effort. We made a disaster flick film in my swimming pool of all places. So ridiculous but tons of fun.
The Evil Dead was my introduction to Bruce Campbell. He had me at “You bastards! Why are you torturing me like this, why?” (laughs) That is why I have a soft spot for it and prefer it over everyone’s favorite, Army of Darkness. I know, sacrilege, but you always remember your first or so they say.
What is interesting to me is Campbell’s career trajectory. As everyone knows, he started off doing comedy shorts. Subconsciously, maybe I used his career as a model for my vocation, but I started out writing comedic pieces for some publications in the 90’s such as Skirt! Magazine and cherrysucker.com. Segue to now and I write for a horror site, as well as entertainment sites where I can review films and discuss cult television shows.
I like the fact that he is fluid and likes to toss his hat into the ring in other areas like writing, directing and producing. Although he is known for Ash, he is also adept at comedy, sci-fi and drama. Plus, he is a best-selling author too.
Narrowing down his filmography to just five of his works is going to be hard, Curt! I will do my best.
1. Bubba Ho-Tep – this film isn’t just a horror movie, it is a treatise on what it is like to get older. We are so youth obsessed as a culture that we treat the elderly like they are completely irrelevant. No matter how old you are, you have your own special brand of mojo. Age is just a number, trust me. Bruce is perfection in this Don Coscarelli effort. His performance is subtle, nuanced and moving. He totally knocked Joe R. Lansdale’s story out of the park.
2. Running Time – I have been very vocal about my love of this Josh Becker film. I am enamored with the noir aspect of it. The story behind it, the whole one take like Hitchcock’s Rope comparisons. Once again, this is a superlative effort by Campbell. His scenes with Anita Barone are some of the best acting that he has done. He plays the underdog surprisingly well because Carl is a guy that can’t manage to catch a break. There is a bit of a love story too, so something for the ladies.
3. My Name Is Bruce – Confession time. When I first saw this flick, I didn’t really care for it. It was probably because I didn’t watch it with my B-movie hat on. The second time was the charm. I fell for this parody, hook, line and sinker. Of course, another one of my favorite character actors, Ted Raimi, is in it. I will watch anything with Ted. The whole meta movie concept is in full display with this effort. What really sells this movie? Campbell’s goofiness and his complete ability just to not care how he looks! He is a funny man and that is endlessly appealing. I would love to write a comedic role for him someday. My favorite line, “For the love of God man! I can smell her chapstick!”
4. Burn Notice – Chuck Finley is forever! This series has a very special place in my heart. I moved back east after many years of living on the left coast, to take care of my Mom who was dying. One of the things that we used to enjoy together was this show. She loved “the big guy because he is so funny and incredibly handsome.” I introduced her to the Evil Dead trilogy because she was very okay with horror. That is why I am the way I am. She let me be me and enjoy my offbeat tastes.
His character bonded us together. I can tell you, she passed away in 2012 so she never got to see the Burn Notice finale, Reckoning. So, it was kind of a heart breaker for me saying goodbye to that series. What made Burn Notice work was that the premise was unique, the characters were family and it was at the heart of it, a show about relationships and the concept of friendship.
5. The Escort – This is a quirky little slice of LA life comedy that I watched late one night. I didn’t think that I would like it as much as I did. Bruce plays Charles, a New Age songwriter who has a son with a sexual addiction. This was a different role for him because normally (The Woods would be another example) Campbell doesn’t play fathers. Imagine rugged Bruce with earrings and Buddhist prayer beads and you have this cat. He is totally believable and my favorite scene is when he smokes weed with his kid.
Honorable Mentions: The Woods, Wayne Weinsider on The X-Files, Ash vs Evil Dead, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs……I told you. There are too many.
One quick aside, when I talked to Bruce in September, we had a chat about a movie called Highly Functional that he is in. He plays a country singer and he actually sings in it! It is a road trip flick and I am sincerely hoping that it gets released in the US. It is actually in Germany on Amazon, I believe. So, come on Marc Forby, Tom Dibble and the powers that be at Headlong Entertainment, let this film escape to use one of Campbell’s favorite phrases.
Horror Geek Life: As someone who’s been around the horror community for a couple of years now, I’ve seen first hand the importance of women within the genre. Be it filmmakers, actresses, or journalists such as yourself. These distinct voices keep the genre thriving, and I’m in constant awe of the showcased talent. What does being a woman in horror mean to you?
Susan: I am very proud of being in the horror genre. Since I was a kid reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz, I dreamed of someday writing about all of the paranormal stuff that I enjoy. This community that I am in has embraced me and allows me to be who I truly am devoid of artifices and pretense. As a matter of fact, the genre embraces diversity and champions it.
There are SO many talented women that I am humbled to be among them. It is an honor, and most of the time I can’t believe that I get to do what I love each and every day and write about the tremendously gifted folks who populate the community.
Horror Geek Life: Thanks so much again for taking the time to have this conversation. You’re probably the most supportive person I’ve ever been acquainted with, so before I let you go, do you mind shouting out some of your favorite female horror journalists? Who inspires you? Whose work should people be following? Nobody knows these things better than you
Susan: There are quite a few hot women scribes on the scene. I recommend your very own Melissa Ann, Tori Danielle of PopHorror and Horror Geek Life, Patti Pauley of Nightmare Nostalgia, 1428 Elm and Bloody Disgusting, Shannon McGrew of Nightmarish Conjurings and 1428 Elm, Heather Wixson of the Daily Dead, Rachael Rumancek, The Graveyard Shift Sisters, Sarah Jane at Talk Film Society, and Michelle Swope of Horror Geek Life and HorrorNewsNet. I feel like I am missing so many other talented ladies. My apologies but if I didn’t mention you, it doesn’t mean I don’t admire your work.
Horror Geek Life: And lastly, where can people follow you on social media?
Susan: You can follow me on Twitter @SusanontheLedge, @1428_Elm, @thatsmye, @Cult_Faction, @VHSrevival, as well as TheQueenOfStyle.com and my Google + page. I also have an announcement coming out later in February that I am pretty psyched about. So, stay tuned.
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