It’s an open secret that many of our contributors, film or otherwise, can be found on the online film community Letterboxd. For the past six years, one of the site’s most popular users, Cinemonster, has been running Hooptober, a film-watching challenge based around the concept of watching 31 horror movies leading up to Halloween that takes its name from Tobe Hooper, one of the genre’s foremost auteurs. Our Editor-in-Chief, just about to finish his third year of participating in the challenge, picked Cinemonster’s brain on the legacy of Hooptober and the larger horror landscape.
Hey Cinemonster! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. You’re a bit of a celebrity around these parts, as most of our staff is on Letterboxd in some form or another, and this will be my third consecutive year participating in Hooptober! We’ll start things off easy: who is the Cinemonster?
Cinemonster was born in LA and grew up in Texas. He lived the bulk of his adult life in Austin and now resides in Zombie Ground Zero Pittsburgh. I’m called David by most that know me. I am a huge baseball, boxing, and tennis fan. Music (I love ‘70s soul, Prince, Springsteen, and Delta Blues), literature, graphic art, and of course film are my major interests, although politics is somewhere in my DNA. My pups, good wine, and good tequila are what keep the day-to-day going.
When did your passion for horror begin? Any particularly formative moment/experience/film that kicked things off for you?
I saw James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN when I was around five. I used to sneak into our den and watch TV after my folks went to bed. It was the first film that scared me and the first film that made me want to “learn” about film. My brother told me there were other “monster movies,” and the next time I went to the library, I pestered the librarian and learned that there were Universal Monster kid books that were out at the time and I made a note of other movies to look for in the TV guide.
What is it about the horror genre that personally speaks to you?
The genre has been a great place to masquerade bold ideas, politics, and social criticism for some time. You can take them for what they are on their surface and enjoy them as escapism, or you can dig into what the filmmakers are dressing up.
What’s the most scared you remember being in any horror film?
My folks took me with them to ALIEN when I was a little kid. That was a cruel thing to do.
What’s the horror film you’d take with you to a desert island?
JAWS. If we are going more traditional, then DAWN OF THE DEAD.
I know you were recently busy with the Romero Lives event, would you say that Romero is your favorite horror director? Any other masters of the craft you’d point to for someone who hasn’t taken the genre too seriously before?
I was involved with Romero Lives through the George A. Romero Foundation. In my short time working with them, I have found them to be wonderful and passionate people. Suzy Romero is a fantastic, engaging person whose vision for what she wants for George’s legacy is both ambitious and inspiring.
George made my two favorite traditional horror films so it is hard not to say George. I love MARTIN and KNIGHTRIDERS outside of that and the recently released THE AMUSEMENT PARK. I have strong Feelings about James Whale, Mario Bava, Jacques Tourneur, Tobe Hooper, Todd Browning, Ken Russell, Terence Fischer, Bill Girdler, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, Hideo Nakata, David Cronenberg, Clive Barker, Frank Henelotter, Philippe Mora, and Alexandre Aja. Of course Craven/Carpenter/Argento. Recently, I like Issa Lopez, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Benson and Moorhead, and Jordan Peele. I can’t wait to see what Shinichiro Ueda does next and what Yeon Sang-ho’s TRAIN TO BUSAN follow-up looks like. Na Hong-jin too.
I’m sure you, as has almost any horror fan, been met with incredulity or derision for liking a genre that’s perceived as violent, unintelligent, and base. How would you defend horror from the haters and the parents who just don’t understand?
I think we are beyond that a bit. Genre has become mainstream. Comic book, sci-fi, horror, etc… occupies a lot of what fills screens now. Some people clearly try to justify their attendance of or enjoyment of a horror film now by tagging it “elevated” or attaching some other dopey prefix to horror, but we all know what it is. I don’t feel the need to defend it, but it seems like the last genre standing that can usually get original ideas financed.
What’s your favorite subgenre of horror?
I have a soft spot for agitated animal films. I consider Universal its own thing and have always been a fan. I like “wrong place at the wrong time” films too.
What decade was best for horror, and what techniques or common themes from that time make you believe so?
That’s like picking a favorite dog. I like the technical experimentation of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘70s. I like the super stylized films that were draped across the ‘60s and ‘70s from Italy. I like the “we’ll finance anything” ‘80s. The impact that George’s sole horror film of the ‘60s had on cinema here and abroad. The trend back to darker in the ‘90s. The Asian contributions of the ‘90s and aughts. Not a question I can answer with any brevity.
Do you make it a point to keep up with newer horror films, or do you find the modern horror landscaping lacking?
I still keep up with modern horror. Certainly more so than film in general. Modern horror to me, like action films, is being done better outside of the States. That’s not to say that good films in both genres aren’t being made here, but the most original and kinetic stuff is coming from Korea, Mexico, Poland, etc.
What’s your take on the recent “elevated horror” movement coming from A24 and the like? Do you appreciate the fact that horror is now gaining attention from critical and popular circles that wouldn’t have historically engaged with it, or is there a certain sense of community or camaraderie missing now that “anyone” can like horror?
I think subdividing something into acceptable and non-acceptable is a deplorable social action. I think doing it betrays how you look at things generally.
Places like A24 get the “elevated horror” because studios are so clogged with belching out licensed product that smaller companies get things that would have been studio films in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. All the lower mid-to-upper mid-budget projects have found home at Focus, A24, etc. over the last decade-ish. ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST, and some of DePalma’s stuff would probably be A24 today. I like that horror can generally still find space in a multiplex.
Do you ever find yourself plateauing in terms of enjoying the genre since you’re so well-versed in it? Or can a good horror film still reach you no matter what?
There are still new ideas and clever takes. Just this year: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, CRAWL, and CULTURE SHOCK. Horror is the best place to address the now internationally. Along with sci-fi, it always has been. The world is always changing and there is always new bullshit or the return of old bullshit. Fresh eyes and minds make new art from it. It is a genre that will always remain relevant and vibrant.
Obvious, I know, but we have to ask: How did Hooptober start? What inspired you to create the first Hooptober challenge all the way back in 2014?
I moved into an old spooky house and had a backlog of Blu-Rays to watch and the 4K of CHAINSAW was about to come out. I’d done some interactive stuff on Letterboxd previously and had a decent amount of people involved. I’m also at a point in my life where 31 films in 31 days is tough, as it is to a lot of us now. So I thought “Why don’t I do something that starts a little early, clears some of my list out, and has some parameters that don’t feel like I am handing out an assignment.” I grew up in Texas, Tobe is close to my heart, and with all the Hooper I owned and the 4k coming out, I decided to christen it with his name. You can’t spell October without Tobe.
How do you come up with the criteria each year?
At this point I look back at past years so that I don’t repeat myself, and I look to the current year for inspiration. Is there a film from a subgenre that was prominent? Was it a strong year for output from women, Mexico, Asia, black filmmakers, and so on. I may focus on FX creators, an actor or writer on a whim. I try to keep an eye out for blind spots I haven’t covered.
You’ve been doing Hooptober for six years now – what are your general thoughts/impressions on how the Letterboxd community receives and participates in this challenge? Any wild experiences or encounters you’ve had with what we both know can be a very passionate group of people?
There has always been a lot of interaction, and I’d say it has been bordering on 100% positive. I continue to do it because people enjoy it, it helps newcomers to the site find people to engage with, and I want people to explore all of horror. It’s a community. I may set criteria, but it’s other users, as much as me, who help lead people to things.
There’s been a couple of fun arguments about what qualifies and what doesn’t, but nothing bad. There is some chowderhead on Twitter who badmouths people on Letterboxd that they deem popular. It is an anonymous account and it can get foul. I don’t get upset by wankers though. Life is too short.
What’s your opinion on how the context of a challenge changes a viewing experience?
I’m aware that it can, which is why I don’t dictate 31 specific films. I allow some breathing room, especially if you’re creative enough to whittle it down to the low-to-mid-20s. That gives you a chance to slot in some things that you want to see, which makes the whole thing seem less like homework.
Would you say you see value in pushing people to explore things beyond the scope of what they usually watch, or do you think it’s just fun to add a slight game-ification or competitive edge to something that’s somewhat passive in nature?
I am a firm believer generally that the more context that you have to put anything in begets more meaningful and enriching experiences.
Any big plans for the Hooptober future?
The last two years I have said that the release will be via livestream. Maybe I’ll finally do it next year. I’d also like to flip it into a festival one day.
What is the definitive Cinemonster answer for the best film in the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises?
Sticking with original iterations: Part 1, Part 3, Part 3. Nothing too controversial there.
What’s your favorite Halloween candy?