I’m joined by Adam Rockoff, the author of the excellent, recently released The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead.. Which I recommend you pick up!
What can you tell us about your latest book?
For better or worse, it was the exact book I wanted to write. Although there are a ton of other horror topics I’m passionate about—Friday the 13th, Dario Argento, giallos—the definitive works on those have already been written. There is nothing more I could bring to the table. But a memoir, that was unique to me. I’m not self-centered enough to think my life is so incredibly interesting, but I hoped that my memories would trigger like-minded ones in horror fans of my generation.
How did you get your start as a writer?
As a professional writer, it began during the summer after I graduated from college. I stayed in Madison, WI (where I went to school) and wrote a book entitled The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time. It was awful, genuinely awful, and got rejected by every publisher I sent it to. However, a few years later, McFarland Publishers contacted me out of the blue. The editor in chief remembered my book and inexplicably liked it, even though they had opted not to publish it. He asked if I had any other ideas I might want to pursue and I immediately suggested a comprehensive history of slasher films, which became Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film.
In addition to your books Going to Pieces and The Horror Of it All, you’ve also been the screenwriter for Wicked Lake and the I Spit on Your Grave remake. How is the writing process different when writing for the two different mediums?
It’s like night and day. I realize that screenwriters are extremely defensive because people tend not to consider them “serious” writers like novelists and essayists but, at least for me, screenwriting is like being on vacation. It’s fun, exhilarating, and relatively easy. The entire process of writing books, however, is anxiety-inducing. The irony is that although I consider myself a far better screenwriter than non fiction writer, I’ve had much more critical success with my books.
I’m curious about the writing process for I Spit on Your Grave. What are the challenges of bringing older source material to a modern audience? Did you have certain plot points you had to keep from the original? Were you nervous about updating a notorious cult classic?
On one hand, it was completely liberating that the original I Spit is one of the most hated films of all-time, at least by mainstream film critics. This lowered expectations. It was kinda like, “Well, there’s nowhere to go but up!” On the other hand, because it was I Spit and came with all the baggage (most famously, Ebert’s vitriolic review) I knew that no one would give it a fair shake. So there was a sense of pessimism combined with resignation. That said, I was absolutely shocked when the film came out and started getting some very positive reviews, especially from the horror press. I couldn’t believe how much people liked it. The entire process of writing it couldn’t have gone better. Meir Zarchi, the writer/director of the original, was an absolute delight to work with. As was the director, Steven Monroe, and the entire production team at CineTel Films.
Have you considered writing horror fiction?
I’ve considered it. And then quickly reconsidered. In fact, I can give you the exact moment I had my reality check. I was recently reading Dean Koontz’s False Memory. Now, when I’m watching a movie, I’m obviously aware when a screenwriter is much more talented than me. However, rarely do I think to myself, “You know, there’s no way I could ever have written anything like that.” But when I was reading False Memory it was abundantly clear that Koontz is in a whole different league. Granted, Koontz is one of the most successful writers in history, so obviously I’m going to suffer by comparison. I just didn’t realize until then how much I would suffer! That said, I think any writer who grew up on horror stories has always fantasized about writing the Great American Horror Novel.
Who are your favorite authors and which of their books mean the most to you?
This going to be a rather boring answer, but on the classic front, Poe and M. R. James. For popular horror fiction, it’s got to be King and Koontz, although back when I was a kid and a voracious reader I loved John Saul, Robin Cook, and Michael Crichton. I wish I had time to give the modern masters like Jack Ketchum and Joe Lansdale a legitimate read, although Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is one of the most devastating novels I’ve ever read. As far as a single book, none has ever meant more to me than Koontz’s Strangers. I had read all of King’s early works at that time, but Strangers just blew me away. I literally forced myself to slow down and savor every word—not because I was so scared (although I was) but because I never wanted it to end.
I know this is a tough question, but can you give us your top 5 horror movies?
It changes almost daily, but I can tell you unequivocally that these five will always be near the top of my list: Creepshow, A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original, obviously), Friday the 13th (even more obviously), Nightmare (the Hammer psycho thriller), and April Fool’s Day.
Do you remember the film that first ignited your passion for horror?
Disney’s The Watcher in the Woods. And I don’t say this ironically or tongue-in-cheek. To this day, I find it an absolutely terrifying film. I still won’t watch it alone at night with the lights off. But as scary as I found it, I found I loved the feeling of being scared even more.
What scares you?
Probably the same things that scare most people my age. Getting older. Getting sick. Losing your memory. Losing your mind. Something happening to my children. Having said that, I’m a relatively happy person!
What are you currently working on?
Horror-wise, I just finished pilot scripts for two television series. The first, Vlad the Impaler, is as the name would indicate, the real-life story of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. The second, Hellspawn, is about a heavy metal band, circa 1984, that sells their souls to the Devil. I couldn’t be more excited about both projects. They’re among the best things I’ve ever written.