Q&A: Housecore Head and Horror Lifer, Philip H Anselmo
“I gotta apologise, as once we start talking about horror films, I can go off on tangents. What are you even going to write about? What kind of interview is this?” laughs Philip H Anselmo at the end of almost two hours of talking horror, barely stopping for breath along the way. What began as a simple chat about the upcoming HOUSECORE HORROR FILM FESTIVAL quickly became an evening spent comparing and listing titles, as Anselmo dug through thousands of his VHS tapes, growing ever more excited when he would find an obscurity that this FANGORIA scribe hadn’t yet seen.
Since the late 1980s, Anselmo has put blood, sweat and tears into his work, resulting in a rich and varied musical career. His turbulent path has been the subject of much media attention, but we’re here to get to the root of Anselmo’s lifelong passion for horror. Having his hands full with two successful current bands on tour (DOWN, PHILIP H ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS), and the aforementioned film festival on the horizon (Austin, TX: Oct 23-26), Anselmo graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with us, and we’re certainly glad that he did. We soon discovered was that there are few rock stars who understand and celebrate the genre with such genuine passion as he.
FANGORIA: Does it make a nice change to be asked about horror, as opposed to the usual subjects that journalists tend to rake up when they speak with you?
PHILIP H ANSELMO: People can view me in several different ways. They can look at how the media has built me up over the years, and how they subsequently tore me down. My interests in life have always been very consistent; boxing, horror films and music. Not necessarily in that order either. Horror has been something that I’ve always loved talking about since the beginning of my career and now I have the opportunity to speak with you about it, and what type of films have left a great impression on me. It’s always fun to talk to another person who is immersed in the genre and who knows what they’re talking about historically. It’s a blast, man, truthfully.
FANG: What initially attracted you to the more macabre elements of culture; the darker sides of music and film? Was it escapism, the thrilling sensation of fear?
ANSELMO: Escapism is a fantastic way to put it. When you’re younger, the films actually scare you. These days, I’m 46 years old and I can put on Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, just enjoy it aesthetically and use it as escapism. However, the first time I saw BLACK SABBATH is a whole different story. I was living with my mother and her sister in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was a Sunday and the house was empty. I was at home alone and it came on television in the middle of the afternoon. I was already a Karloff freak, for obvious reasons, and there he was. It scared the fucking Hell out of me. That first episode, with the dripping water, the witchcraft, and the Tolstoy story; that blew my mind.
The early television horror, and even suspense to a certain degree if you think about THE TWILIGHT ZONE and that type of thing, they got me. Shows like Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY especially. That was one of my favourites.
FANG: What other delights did you manage to catch during those formative years?
ANSELMO: I remember being three or four years old, always begging my mother to let me stay up late and watch horror films. I was brought up at a time when, on Friday nights they had a creature feature of some sorts play late at night. Saturday afternoon there was a horror matinee and then magically, they used to have this thing called the Sunday Morning Movie, which was always either one of the Japanese Godzilla films, or they would sneak in some of what I would consider classics like HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN (1970). I saw that when I was a very young man, along with the original DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973), movies like that really, really left an impact. I like those drab, made for TV movies of the ‘70s like BAD RONALD (1974), which stars Scott Jacoby, who was Mario from THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976), another favorite.
I was raised when horror was flourishing and appeared on television quite a bit. I sat and spent a lot of time in front of that tiny black-and-white TV set that we had.
When I was younger, they would show THE EXORCIST (1973) on mainstream television. I got to see it in its full and unedited state, which was both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Maybe that comes from being raised in a Catholic city. These days, possession films do nothing for me, because I know it’s just bullshit; fake crap that could never happen. When you’re young enough to appreciate these films, that’s when it leaves a mark of aesthetic beauty upon your mind. Films like THE EXORCIST hit home fantastically. It changed my whole perspective of horror for the better.
FANG: Was your love of horror shared by your family, or was it more of a solitary interest in which you found solace and comfort?
ANSELMO: The rest of my family liked a good horror film. Especially the classics like Alfred Hitchcock, who I still adore, either his thirty minute, or hour long shorts, and his films as well. I know they were popular and probably had a bit of staying power with the folks, but you have to understand that by the time I was a young teenager, the slasher films that were ushered in by the original HALLOWEEN left a void for them, whereas I ate that up.
So to a certain degree you are correct that, at one point or another, it became a very isolated thing for myself. It’s a generational gap. I can see where my folks would be concerned with me being absolutely mesmerised by a masked slasher. I was the type of guy that would buy the paperback novelizations and underline all the murder and the sex parts. My folks would find the books and they would be like ‘Whoa, you’re really interested in this stuff, aren’t you?
FANG: You’ve mentioned on several occasions that you have an undying love for Italian genre movies and the classic Video Nasties. How did you get into those scenes, as they are a far cry from late night TV horror?
ANSELMO: When I was still living at home, my horror passion was out of control. I would sneak out with my friends and sneak into films like DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1979). I still love that fucking movie; it’s Dan Grimaldi’s best work. I saw that at the theatre, along with films like SILENT SCREAM (1979) and BLACK SUNDAY (1960).
Once I left home, I had zero money and when I finally moved to Texas and started playing with Pantera, we would gig every weekend and make enough scratch that I could get an apartment and live pretty modestly, within reason. I got my first VHS player and that’s when I started collecting as much as I could, both boxing and horror. There was a magazine that I would get whenever I could find called Film Threat. They covered a lot of independent horror and that’s where I first heard of James Van Bebber and all these cats that I know so well now.
The Italian stuff, as far as Fulci goes, once again it was Film Threat in the mid ‘80s. I would read about all these films and be like ‘My God, I’ve got to see this.’ I definitely ordered from a lot of pirate sources. You’d be getting absolutely non-official movie outlets. The first film I saw from Fulci was HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) and I waited like a month for it to arrive to the house and I didn’t get to watch that until the early days of Pantera. We weren’t exactly touring yet, as we weren’t signed at that point, so there were lots of movies watched. I missed a lot of Fulci’s films when they originally came out, but once I got into him and found THE BEYOND (1980), those movies came smashing down upon me in the latter part of the ‘80s.
Honestly, I prefer Fulci over Argento and maybe that’s blasphemy for some people. Argento’s films are beautiful to look at, but for me, my favourite of his movies is THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970).
FANG: What do you think it is that makes you veer towards the Fulci side of the camp?
ANSELMO: Maybe I have strange tastes, but either way there is something about Fulci. As incomprehensible as his plots may be, what did it for me at the time was the gore. His gore was groundbreaking and at the same time, stylistic; visually insane to look at. I’m thinking about the death scene in HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY now, which makes no sense. She gets stabbed in the neck and the pulsing blood coming out is so very graphic. Some people might point to ZOMBIE (1979) and the splinter in the eye being more intense, but honestly, I didn’t see ZOMBIE until after HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, so maybe it’s just the way it came to me. I’m not sure if I answered your question or not, because here I am rambling on about Italian Horror again.
I drive across that bridge from THE BEYOND every time I go to New Orleans, it’s right down the road from me. I just went to a horror convention and met Cinzia Monreale, who played the blind girl Emily. She’s beautiful and she was also in Joe D’Amato’s BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979), the Italian title is BUIO OMEGA , and that movie is fucking insane. That’s one of my favorites of all time. The GOBLIN soundtrack to that is fantastic.
These days, at 46 years old, gore is gore, and you’ve seen it, I’ve seen it and it is what it is. If that makes you flinch or you feel grossed out, then more power to it, but still, gore does not a film make. The Italian films always offer more than just that.
FANG: What would you regard as some of your all-time favorites, the kind of film that you’d show someone if they were round for the evening?
ANSELMO: I’m sitting here looking around all my fucking films. Where is it? I’ve got a library here that I’m staring at. Okay, here are some of the greats. You paying attention? THE BEYOND, RETURN OF THE ALIENS/THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983), LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971), THE CHANGELING (1980), FAUST (1926), INFERNO (1980), WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), DRACULA AD 1972, THE HAND (1981), REST IN PIECES (1987), AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (1983), DERANGED (the one that was made by the porno people), TROG (1970), DEATH SHIP (1980).
We could go on forever here. BAY OF BLOOD (1971), THE SINFUL DWARF (1973). I love that movie. You want to take a shower after you watch it, it’s incredible. CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), wow, what a great one.
FANG: To what extent have these tastes shaped the ethos of the Housecore Horror Film Festival?
ANSELMO: I didn’t want to be obliged to play certain things. I wanted this to come straight from my experiences and the many films that I love. If I had had the opportunity to show every film that I love, we’d be there for three months. I did not want to have to show anything for perks reasons or anything like that. I wanted to show the real deal.
FANG: Do you think that formula and shock have replaced experimentation and craftsmanship within modern horror?
ANSELMO: I think to a great degree they have. The basic movie rule of classic genre films means there has to be solid character development, which makes you actually give a flying fuck about the people you see on the screen. That is almost completely lost and forgotten.
It seems like these days, either intentionally or not, you are looking at a group of teenagers in the woods and what comes next is hackneyed, overdone and you just can’t wait for these annoying individuals to get offed. That’s not a good feeling for me, it doesn’t work. Look at a movie like POLTERGEIST (1982). A big, mainstream movie, but they developed those characters so that you cared about the fate of that child, and the plight of the family. You gotta point to Spielberg for that aspect.
I think that copious amounts of gore, hackneyed ‘seen it before’ plots mean that they can never top a well-rounded, well-acted, well executed, experimental, genre pushing film. You mentioned experimentation, and where is the method in today’s film? There’s not much experimentation. People might look at this generation, and see THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) as the start of the Found Footage phenomenon, and maybe they’re right, but where did BLAIR WITCH get that from?
FANG: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, of course.
ANSELMO: CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST! Which is a far superior film. I hated THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; I think it’s one of the biggest steaming piles of shit I’ve ever seen. The same cannot, however, be said for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. There are great method actors and actresses in that film who you can tell were put through the ringer whilst making it. The difference between the two is night and day.
It’s not a classic horror film; it’s not about ghosts, it’s not about demonic possession, it’s not about a haunted house. It’s a gore fest and there are real animal deaths in the movie, which is shock value at its finest and most pure. The revelation of there being still tribes out there hidden amongst the jungles of the Amazon that are cannibalistic tribes, could be considered a horror, so to speak. So it’s not a classic horror film thematically, but does it belong in the horror genre? I say yes.
The soundtrack is great and droning. There is an important message to that film. It’s what the white man did, assuming control over supposedly more primitive cultures and desecrating their entire camp. At their own whim, they burn down their huts, they put fear into them. The cameraman rapes that girl who is then taken up for adultery. The lone female on the crew is disgusted. They do pay the price in the end, and it is a revenge film. The guy who tracks down the lost footage. That’s his main plight as to why the films should not be shown. It’s an amazing movie on so many different levels. I mean what a statement. What a visionary Deodato was.
FANG: Do you think that the creativity will come from the indie scene? You certainly celebrated indie filmmakers at last year’s event.
ANSELMO: I know that Quentin Tarantino came out and spoke out about the lack of creativity in today’s film scripts. I have to agree with him. No matter what the genre, there is a lot of rehashed crap out there and it’s neither creative nor original. Where is the imagination? Which, really in a way makes me very excited about some of the submissions from the lesser known directors out there, which I have the opportunity to screen.
Whether it be short, mid-length or full feature, there are some directors out there who are really trying to break new ground and do something different within the horror film. That to me is very important. If you’re an established horror fan, or the new school, modern day horror fan, I can’t wait to get the reaction from people again. There are a couple of shorts that I have in mind that I thought were really excellent and these directors have a great career ahead of them. A lot of times, as we both know, what is underground surfaces eventually. Some of these directors will be very well known one day. Especially to the horror film fan.
FANG: At what point did you see problems appear within the genre? As a fan you must have noticed a shift at some point.
ANSELMO: When horror reached that turning point in the early ‘90s that was a problem. Had they made one A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) for example, that would be a classic. They made how may sequels? It became the Robert Englund character dishing out one-liners until it just became cheeseball. Too dumbed down. I hated the whole pasteurising of the concept. If you want to call it out, I think that NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET owes a lot to a film called DREAMSCAPE (1984). It’s about a guy who goes into your dreams and he even has knives for fingers. He’s played by the main bad guy in THE WARRIORS (David Patrick Kelly), who is an awesome character actor.
FANG: Is it safe to say that you’re a man who prefers tangible, old school SFX to digital?
ANSELMO: It’s obvious what I prefer, but look at John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982). I still think to this day that those special effects are unparalleled. Look at something which is just painted with CGI, and it’s boring. It’s like you’re watching a movie and then for the most part, they may as well just trot out a Scooby Doo character. It’s not impressive to me. Even used in small doses like the American remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), the GCI in it is just so unnecessary. It’s funny you bring it up, because there are computer graphics used in certain films and even in some of the submissions which I have been raving about, but they have been used in a way that it doesn’t interfere with the watch. It does not stick out like a sore thumb. It’s not intrusive. That’s fine with me. I’m not going to crucify a film if it’s good and the CGI is palatable, but I think that the reliance on CGI is definitely overkill. If you have a gigantic budget and you’re going to make a horror or a sci fi movie, it can be expected at this stage that we’re going to see a shitload of cartoonism.
FANG: Maybe some of the mystery has been removed. It was always fun to discover how those old school gags were set up.
ANSELMO: It’s hard to beat THE THING as far as tangible special effects go. Without a lick of computer technology. That to me was so super creative and unparalleled when you think of the tentacles bursting out of the dog. When you see how they did that, with air hoses and so on, it makes all the sense in the world. It looks fantastic, whereas, the remake of THE THING had so much potential. It still comes across as a damn weak film. Whether it was the characters or the actual CGI they used. Maybe they could have taken a page from Carpenter and tried to emulate something which he started, but they just went straight for the computer graphics.
FANG: They didn’t give us a monster; they gave us a video game.
ANSELMO: Exactly, and do you know what? I don’t play fucking video games. I don’t like them. They’re boring and a waste of fucking time.
Take THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988), when they have that dream sequence and the snake comes out of the corpse’s mouth. That’s creative right there. That was shocking and at the time, gave you a jolt. It was a fantastic visual effect. These days it would have been a CGI face on the corpse, a wide open video game mouth and a cartoon snake. I’m with you 100%. That is a lack of Goddamn creativity and it’s amazing.
FANG: It seems like you have a genuine passion for sharing your knowledge and this is certainly evident in the way in which you have put together the HHFF.
ANSELMO: I’ve always loved sharing things with people. Whether it’s an obscure demo that I get, or a movie. There is so much that I see in common with film and with music that it’s really unbelievable. If I run across a film or a music demo that’s obscure, the first thing I want to do is to turn on my closest friends, who I know will enjoy it, be it music or horror. I want to show people. This festival is doing that on a massive scale, and this is the ultimate payoff for all those years that I’ve been championing the horror films and underground music.
At the end of the day, it’s a common theme amongst horror fans that we’ve all travelled a similar path. From discovering these films and developing our love for horror. It’s amazing how similar we can be.
Follow Philip H Anselmo on Twitter and on Facebook. Find out more about The Housecore Horror Film Festival, which takes place across several venues in Austin, Texas from Oct 23rd-26th, at their Official Site Facebook.