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Slashers, Showers and George Osborne - an Interview with Calum Waddall

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The slasher film – usually involving a psycho chasing a screaming girl through the woods – is one of the most enduring genres in cinema. For decades, boys have dragged dates to the cinema for an excuse to put an arm around them when the cunning young lady pretends to be scared.

Slice and DiceSlice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever, a new documentary that pays homage to Psycho, Scream and everything in between, is an entertaining look at the genre for those unfamiliar with it, and a real nostalgia trip for die-hard fans.

When talking to Calum Waddell, a young Scottish journalist and the director of the documentary, it’s easy to see why Slice and Dice feels like such fan service. Calum’s passion for slashers is infectious, and despite not being a fan of them myself, it’s impossible not to get swept up in his enthusiasm.

“Have you seen Psycho?” he asks. I haven’t, apart from the iconic shower scene that, presumably, the entire world has witnessed at some point. “Go and watch Psycho,” he says firmly.

“It’s a fantastic film, even if you don’t like slashers it’s fantastic. And even when you know that that shower scene is coming – even if you’ve seen it on ‘Top 100 Best Thrills’ or whatever Mcguffin Channel 4 is trying to sell people – it’s still so, so shocking in the context of that film. Even today, it still makes you go ‘Holy shit’ you know?”

The scene in question features heavily in the documentary, and Calum says that’s because every slasher since is indebted to Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. “I think everyone’s trying to better it but it’s a hard film to better! Something that shocking, that horrifying, is so iconic. And I think that’s what everyone owes to Hitchcock, the mentality of ‘I’m gonna beat that, I’m gonna shock you more than Psycho did.’ You see that kind of one-upmanship everywhere.”

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is another big film in the documentary, and Calum’s favourite slasher of all time – but his reasons for it differ quite a lot from the household film-making names interviewed in the documentary. “It’s very, very political. I don’t want to get all academic or anything but you can’t have ‘Texas’ and ‘Massacre’ in the same title without making a political movie – that’s just from the basic history of Texas as a state. But people forgot about that when it came out, you know, even now reading the reviews they talk about meathooks and Leatherface and the actress being chased through the forest, but very few people draw attention to those words together in the title. There’s a lot going on in the film that draws attention to that era, that Vietnam, Watergate sort of era, so it’s a very interesting film, it’s my favourite.”

Slice and Dice started life as a DVD extra for another feature, asking some of the slasher film industry’s most familiar faces for their top tips on how to survive a slasher movie. Calum’s own advice is fairly comprehensive: “Don’t go out. Don’t have a social life and sit at home listening to the Smiths. Be the typical bedsit English student! Stay in, write your own poetry and preferably remain celibate, that’s my advice.”

After a few responses from writers and directors, it became clear that this was too good a topic to pass up on. “It just grew from that really. I grew up with horror films – and when I say grew up I mean I can remember watching Friday the 13th when I was 5! Slasher films have that really strong nostalgic pinch for me. That’s why I wanted to do it, and it blossomed into its own thing.”

The documentary discusses why ordinary men seem to be so much scarier than the monsters in slasher films, and I asked Calum for his take on the issue. “That’s what the remake of Haloween got so wrong – casting a 6’10 ex wrestler as Michael Myers. I mean of course that’s scary, I would leave a bar if this guy walked in. It’s better when it’s just the normal guys are creepy – if you were talking to me and casually slipped in that you had your girlfriend’s remains in your basement that’d be pretty creepy you know? I’ll give you an example. I was on a Megabus  - don’t ever go on a Megabus it’s terrible – and this old guy started getting really aggressive. I mean here was this harmless, drunken old guy who I’d paid no attention to before he opened his mouth. Bizarrely he was shouting these really racist remarks at me. I mean first off I was like dude I’m as Scottish as you, but secondly that’s really fucking despicable, we’re not living in the times of slavery or anything. I wasn’t used to hearing things like that, he was too drunk to do anything but it was still pretty scary. And he’d seemed so ordinary. Also, look at George Osborne – the guy’s a complete psychopath, right? He’s terrifying, he’s on TV and he puts on a front but he’s destroying people’s lives with how little money they have to live on. And he goes home and he knows, he knows he’s doing that to people and he’s fine. He’s a complete nutter.”

To finish off I asked Calum something that has always baffled me personally. What is it about slashers – about people getting brutally, violently murdered – that people find has such enduring appeal? His answer is simple. “Because they’re fun! They’ve crossed the gender divide recently too, I went to see the Saw films and most of the cinema were young girls. My partner edited Slice and Dice – she’s a girl – and we ended up getting together because she’s a big fan of these movies you know? She doesn’t adhere to any stereotypes, she doesn’t dress in black or listen to Sisters of Mercy or anything, she’s just your average cinema-loving female. And she loves these films. Hardly any slashers are mean-spirited, they’re just trying to be fun, and I think they always have been. That’s why they’ve endured”.

Calum’s passion for films, and slashers in particular, is evident in his work; Slice and Dice is an entertaining look at a world of cinema that is often ignored as cheap entertainment. Before he went I asked if he had any advice to give to the aspiring journalists here at The National Student. “Write as much as you can, get your opinions out there. From there it’s a great deal of luck really. But I really wouldn’t advise it as a career, not to anyone. Bit of a dead end really.”

Ah. I’ll give up on the whole journalism thing and go rent Psycho instead. 

Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever cuts its way onto DVD on 13 May. 




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