Followup Questions: An Interview with Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came From Within!

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books / film

Last week I reviewed the ten year anniversary edition of Caelum Vatnsdal’s classic Canadian horror retrospective They Came From Within. It’s an excellent book, well worth checking out if you’re into Canadian film or horror movies in general. I approached Vatnsdal’s publisher, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, about an interview and was lucky enough to ask the talented scribe a few questions about one of his favoured topics. Read on for a fun conversation about the state of Canadian horror flicks!

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Caelum Vatnsdal

This Nerding Life: Going from the assumption that not every remake of a classic horror film is inherently bad (see Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead for an example, at least in my mind), which of the films you profile in your book do you think might benefit from a modern re-imagining? How would you ideally go about doing this?

Caelum Vatnsdal: Some of my favourite movies are remakes: The ThingThe Fly, a few others. (I’m not as wild about the Dawn of the Dead one, myself, though it wasn’t bad.) There are a few candidates for remakes in the Canadian horror world. I myself wrote a remake of Cannibal Girls, and though the treatment apparently met with the approval of Ivan Reitman’s company, I’m not sure it’ll ever get made. The original, of course, was made on a shoestring; the ad-hoc plotting means it doesn’t make all that much sense, and there are a lot of things left hanging. This seemed like an ideal launching point for a remake, and so I made up a whole, epic story for how and why this little Ontario town got into cannibalism. It would be one of those remakes that are barely recognizable as such, but it would also require a budget somewhat heftier than the name recognition of the title would attract, even with Ivan Reitman’s name on it.

It would be interesting to see some Bill Fruet pictures get the remake treatment, particularly Spasms and Killer Party. He’s a director I like, but those two movies were both heavily interfered with, and probably didn’t have the most coherent screenplays to start with, so with the right approach they could certainly be improved upon.

But please, movie remakers: stay away from Cronenberg!

They Came From Within cover

TNL: The films you go into detail on in They Came From Within straddle quite a few horror genres, like body horror, fear of nature/survival, mystical occurrences, and hauntings, to name a few examples. Is there a horror subset that in your recollection has not been tapped in any real way by Canadian filmmakers? If so, why do you think that is?

CV: Well, I complain a lot in the book about there being no great Canadian Sasquatch movie, which would seem a natural subgenre for us to tackle and do very well at. Rituals is of course an excellent example of survival horror, but I’m surprised we haven’t had more of that kind of thing. Gothic horror, on the other hand, is a natural genre for us to suck at, and the few examples of it in Canadian horror history tend to confirm that. But as for the Sasquatch, again, I have a treatment (this one co-authored with a friend) for what could be the definitive Canadian bigfoot picture, were it ever to get made.

TNL: What are the top 5 Canadian horror films featured in They Came From Within that you’d point uninitiated but interested viewers towards? Bottom 5?

CV: The top five I’d point people towards are probably the same ones anybody would point people towards: Black ChristmasThe Brood (though almost any early Cronenberg would do), My Bloody Valentine, maybe Pontypool, and probably The Mask for its historical value, or maybe Playgirl Killer just because it’s so unusual and exotic.

The bottom five – well, when thinking of bad Canadian horror movies one thinks of Things, but ultimately it’s too bizarre to be on that list. (“Bizarre” is a quality I cherish in movies.) The real stinkers are the boring ones made mainly as cynical cash grabs. Now I can’t say that movies like Ripper: Letter From HellReaperBelieveWitchboard: The Possession or that remake of Black Christmas were made for purely mercenary reasons, but I can report I had a tough time getting through each of them. There are lots of pretty bad movies on the Canadian horror landscape though, and that’s what makes the good ones so special.

TNL: One thing I’ve noticed, which also crops up in the new chapter at the end of the book, is that Canadian horror right now is kind of looking back to the past. Films like Hobo With a ShotgunThe EditorWolfCop, all of these point to a grindhouse-type aesthetic that was prevalent during the tax shelter years and before. How long do you think Canadian horror filmmakers are going to stay in this mode? What do you think lies in the future for Canadian horror film?

CV: It’s hard to say how long this will be the Canadian house style, but it’s got a few years left in it yet, I think. The Editor, the new Astron 6 film, should be out pretty soon, and WolfCop 2 is shooting in the spring, and I’m sure there are other examples on the horizon. It’s understandable that current filmmakers would look back this way, as the tax shelter era was kind of our glory days, or what stands in for our glory days.

Predicting the future is a mug’s game of course, but I’m hoping for at least six real superstar filmmakers to come up: people who have a devotion to the genre and whose next movie you’ll be able to count on being good. That would be a great core from which to build an unimpeachable Canadian horror identity and, though I hate to use the word, a brand. On top of that, it would be great to see David Cronenberg return to the genre in a big way, once or twice more at least. I feel like he will. And of course we’d all like to see Guy Maddin finally raise the money for his game-changing horror epic The Necro-Pants.

TNL: Let’s say you had Doctor Who’s TARDIS and were able to assemble any Canadian horror filmmaking team you wanted and get them to make a movie together. What would be your ultimate CanHorror dream team?

CV: I think if you had someone like Julian Roffman, the Canadian horror pioneer who hated horror movies, producing this hypothetical movie, you might have an interesting dynamic right off the bat. It would be nice to have a David Cronenberg script, but have somebody else direct it, just to see what would happen – to see if the old Cronenbergian voice rang through. Of course Mark Irwin should shoot the movie, and I think a big makeup effects crew, with all the current Canadian makeup stars heading up their own sub-departments and working on different sequences, the way they used to do it on movies like From Beyond, would be pretty cool.

As for the director of this project, it would be nice to bring Bob Clark back from the grave, or maybe the famously irascible Peter Carter; or else hand it to currently living directors like Bruce McDonald or Vincenzo Natali; but you know what? I’ve always thought Lawrence Zazelenchuck, the auteur behind The Corpse Eaters, got a pretty raw deal, and I’d like to see what he might do with a big budget and a real crew. It would probably be a disaster, but Canadian cinema almost always plays it safe, and with a few exceptions has been virtually disaster-free since 1931 At this point in our moviemaking history, I think maybe we could use a disaster or two.

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Thanks again to Caelum and the publicity staff at Arbeiter Ring for agreeing to talk with me. They Came From Within can be found wherever good books are sold.

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The Author

Matt Bowes is a self-proclaimed cultural commentator/arbiter of good taste from Edmonton, Alberta. He enjoys movies and books, and writes about them sometimes at thisnerdinglife.com.

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