Gavin Schmitt Interviews Jason Paul Collum
Jason Paul Collum has received a reputation as the “gay horror” guy, which could be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it is a subgenre that has not been properly explored. How many horror films do you know with a gay couple? Maybe none. But on the other hand, it could be a niche market and nothing more: even the most open-minded horror fans, if they are straight men, would prefer a film with plenty of breasts and a little less sausage. Topless women has always been a staple of horror.
But don’t pigeonhole Jason. He has done far more than that, being an advocate of the genre for a long time, writing countless articles in some of the biggest horror magazines out there. He has also written a book with interviews and filmed a documentary on the Slumber Party Massacre franchise. All this when he’s not working on films with B-movie legends David DeCoteau and J. R. Bookwalter.
J. R. Bookwalter and Gavin, 2019
And then, he STILL has time to lecture about film at Wisconsin’s University of Parkside. Besides a love of horror, Jason and I also share the same state, so that is where the interview begins…
GS: You’re from Racine, Wisconsin, but left the state for a while. Why would you come back to this state?
JPC: Family. Plain and simple. I had moved from West Hollywood to Chicago to work for Cinefantastique and Femme Fatales magazines. When those shut down – and with the extreme cost of living in Chicago – I decided I wanted to go home and live a “slower” life. Well, here I am 10 years later and definitely fighting that itch to head south again. I’m only an hour north of the city, so it’s not like I really moved that far away from culture…
GS: And of all places Racine? Last time I checked, Racine and Kenosha were fighting it out to see who had the most crime, biggest gangs, and most abandoned factories… though still neither of them come close to Janesville’s murder record.
JPC: Racine actually has some very nice places. I know it’s referred to as “Rancid” and “the toilet bowl of Wisconsin,” but this is where I grew up. It’s definitely a different place from my childhood. I felt very safe in this city up through my college years. It certainly did change for the worse in the years I was gone. Factories left town. The drug and gang trade seems to have worsened, partly because we’re squished between Chicago and Milwaukee. Our unemployment rates are the highest in the state. We also have a local political office more interested in making only certain parts of the city, like the lakefront and downtown, attractive to vacationers. Problem is you have to fix the city as a whole, and I personally have no idea how to do that. However, there are so many different cultures within the city it really is a great place for a filmmaker… dreamy lakefront, somewhat cultured downtown, ghetto, lower class (there is a difference), middle class, upper class, farms 10 minutes to the west… just a big hodgepodge. Janesville can keep its record vs. giving it to us, though it’s a shame we even have a place like that in this beautiful state.
GS: Your book “Assault of the Killer Bs” has interviews with some of the cast from the “Slumber Party Massacre” trilogy, and you have also recently (2010) filmed “Sleepless Nights: Revisiting the Slumber Party Massacres,” a documentary on that franchise. What is the obsession?
JPC: I’m not really sure. I really didn’t even like it that much the first time I saw it. It’s certainly not a masterpiece. It’s really not even all that scary. But it’s a fun 80s flick, and after repeated viewings it just kept growing on me. Partly it’s the sisterhood element. Groups of girls who are friends from the opening moments who bond together. They’re party girls…the kind you wanted to hang out with in high school. There’s also a really dark sarcasm underneath, especially in the first film. The original is also my introduction to who Brinke Stevens was. She was the first celebrity I encountered who struck up a pen-pal type relationship. I was also a huge fan of sequels back then, so I had this desire to write one. Can’t really explain why. Why does every single movie have at least one major fan even though said movie is a complete piece of crap. I know people who LOVE “Crazy Fat Ethel II,” which I think most people would agree is a fairly awful movie. My brain is just wired to enjoy the “Slumber Party Massacre” films.
GS: I imagine you’re biased in favor of Brinke Stevens, especially after casting her a few times now, but who is the more awesome 80s scream queen: Brinke or Linnea Quigley?
JPC: Now you know I can’t answer that, because to confirm one would be to insult the other. I adore them each for their own qualities and their roles in making b-movies what they were in the 80s.
GS: And then there is Debbie Rochon, one of the scream queens featured in your documentary “Something to Scream About.” I can think of no other actor or actress who goes out of her way to promote independent film like she does. Your thoughts?
JPC: Agreed. Debbie is probably the most determined actress I know. She works hard. She will work long hours for such little money and in some really dire conditions and usually without complaint. And she’s been hurt physically as a result. She’s certainly earned her fame and reputation. She’s extremely reliable. She came to the set of “October Moon 2: November Son” well prepared and eager. I’m hoping to get to work with her again some day.
GS: You worked for Tempe, J.R. Bookwalter’s company. How great is J.R.?
JPC: Hands down the most trust-worthy producer and distributor. I made the mistake of stepping away from Tempe with the initial release of 'October Moon 2: November Son.' (affiliate link) Everyone said Tempe didn’t release wide enough. And what happened? I got bit in the ass. So now I have happily – joyously – returned OM 2 to J.R. and Tempe’s care.
J.R. was the first to believe in my abilities as a director. He gave me that first real shot with “Something To Scream About.” He’s been a great guiding hand throughout the last 12 years since I first met him at Brinke’s annual BBQ. He always follows through on his promises. Just a truly, truly awesome and big-hearted guy.
GS: Among other work, you were an assistant director and production coordinator for David DeCoteau on “Final Stab” (2001). While not one of my favorite films, DeCoteau is a B-horror legend. Any stories about him or the set?
JPC: I actually worked with David on 6 films: “Voodoo Academy,” “Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy,” “The Brotherhood,” “The Brotherhood II: Young Warlocks,” “Final Stab” and “The Frightening.” David’s talent lies in creating films in 4 days very efficiently and with little chaos. There’s a certain method to the madness on his sets. His crews are usually well-versed in coming in and getting the job done. You can tell the newbies because of the shock on their faces with how rapidly everything moves along.
“The Brotherhood” was the hardest film to work on behind the scenes because I had to pull a lot of loose elements together for him so he could concentrate on the things happening in front of the camera. Some of the crew on that production weren’t used to his sets, so I picked up a lot of slack. I lost 10 lbs in 4 days. But I also thoroughly enjoyed that set and process. It was a great cast.
Ironically, “Final Stab” was hands down my favorite DeCoteau experience. Such a wonderful, fun group of people. Lots of joy and laughter on that set.
GS: “October Moon” and “October Moon 2: November Son” are obviously the cornerstone of your creative work on film. They have been marketed as “gay horror”. Do you see that categorization as a strength or a weakness?
JPC: Originally I saw it as a strength. It remains an untapped market. DeCoteau had been doing the homo-erotic stuff, but they were still pushed as “horror for women.” “October Moon” and “Hellbent” were the first two films pointedly called “gay horror.” I honestly thought that because it was a non-existent market both films would make a shit-load of money – that gay men would eat them up. Both films did “okay.” There were a bunch of really cheap gay horror films that came out right after, like “October Evil” (mmm hmmm) and the “Model Kill” which just had guys show up, get naked and die. There were a few genuine efforts like “Socket” and “A Far Cry from Home” – but there haven’t been any knock out financial hits.
So these days I see the label as a weakness. It limits who’s going to watch it. I had designed both “October Moon” and “October Moon 2” to be appealing to gay and straight viewers, but how many straight men want to watch a “gay” horror film. I suspect the sub-genre will never be viewed as a money maker, but 20 years from now will receive kudos for trying something different. I’m still holding out hope that one day there will be a gay horror film that goes mainstream. I’m also holding out hope that there’s another film or documentary in my career that moves me beyond being known as “that guy…”
GS: You have referred to some aspects of “October Moon” as “Spielberg touches”. Can you elaborate on that?
JPC: Trust that I’m not likening myself to Spielberg. The “touches” refer to this quality of fun – playfulness – that Spielberg puts in his films. I know Tobe Hooper is the director of “Poltergeist,” but it’s really so much more of a Spielberg film. That fun house element. Most people think Spielberg directed “Poltergeist.” So it’s THAT touch that I’m referring to in reference to “October Moon.” Taking itself seriously at important times, but overall just having fun with the audience. “Jaws,” “E.T.” and “Indiana Jones” – even just the Spielberg-produced stuff like “Gremlins” have that touch of fun to the mayhem. That’s what I’m referring to… not that I’m anything like Spielberg himself… so please don’t start sending hate mail my way.
GS: “Shy of Normal: Tales of New Life Experiences,” “Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era,” and “Safe Inside” are your latest projects… what do we need to know about them?
JPC: Well, “Shy of Normal” is the first comedy I’ve directed. No horror elements to speak of. It’s also the first film I’ve directed which wasn’t entirely written by myself. It’s based off three short stage plays I saw at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I thought they were so charming and funny that I optioned the rights from the students, adapted them for the screen, wrote a wrap-around sequence to tie them together and hired most of the cast direct from the stage to reprise their roles for the camera. The essential idea is that an author (Brinke Stevens) has lost her mojo, so her friend (Felissa Rose) suggests she goes out into public places and make up stories about people she observes. It’s all about new life experiences. The film has just started festival screenings which will run through the Spring and I expect it should be on DVD late Summer.
“Screaming in High Heels” is about the rise of the home video market and the three ladies best known for beginning the “scream queen” trend as we know it today: Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, plus other frequent players in that era like Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau, Richard Gabai, Ken Hall and Jay Richardson. We shot in Los Angeles in February and it’s currently being edited for what I expect to be a Summer 2011 release to theaters/television.
As for “Safe Inside,” it’s in the very early stages of pre-production. I’m still pulling the funds together, but hope to have it going later this year. It’s basically a thriller in the vein of my short film “Julia Wept,” but has a supernatural vs. reality twist. I can’t really say more than that for now. I’m also looking to get “October Moon 3” scripted and rolling within the next year, so 2011 is just proving to be a busy year…
GS: I have also been hearing you are working on film guides and — if I read this correctly — children’s books?
JPC: You are correct. It’s an ongoing process constantly being put on the back burner. I write for a few weeks, then get caught up in film world again. It’s rough trying to multi-task so many projects. I’ve found that writing takes so much more dedication because it’s all on yourself. You can’t rely on assistants or your production team. So once I find – or should I say – make a block of time to finish those up, I’ll let everyone know.
GS: Thanks, Jason… I hope you find away to get those out in time for Christmas!