Sidesplitters: Joe DeRosa on “Hellraiser”, “Hostel” and His Favorite Horror Movie Kills!
Horror and Comedy go together like masks and murderers, both set out to evoke reactions from even the most immovable of audiences. Therefore, it’s no surprise that so many funnymen are ardent fright fans. In our new column, Sidesplitters, FANGORIA chats with comedians who love horror as much as they love humor.
Some comedians have a very strange relationship with death, making jokes about the ways we expire in the same way horror filmmakers craft them onscreen. Few comedians attack death with such sardonic, sharp wit as Joe DeRosa, the co-author of the non-fiction book CHEAT and a veteran of the New York comedy scene. DeRosa also prides himself on his horror fandom, which he’s expressed over the years on such programs as THE OPIE AND ANTHONY SHOW and Robert Kelly’s YOU KNOW WHAT DUDE? podcast. DeRosa opened up to FANGORIA about his favorite fright films and what makes Pinhead a cooler villain than either Freddy or Jason…
FANG: Having been a lifelong fan of horror, is there anything you’d like to see come back to the genre that’s gone away or been phased out?
DEROSA: Well, it’s funny that you ask that because I just saw the PHANTASM V: RAVAGER trailer and I couldn’t believe it. I’ve always loved PHANTASM and I rewatched it on HBO-GO the other day and immediately, I googled “PHANTASM V.” All I could find was, “Nope, it’s not happening.”
But I was at my job at THE PETE HOLMES SHOW today and I talked to my friend, Matt McCarthy, who’s a huge horror fan and a great comic. He turned to me and said, “Did you see the new PHANTASM V trailer?” I said, “There’s no way that it’s real.” But he showed it to me and I said, “Angus Scrimm looks older… Reggie looks older… Wait a second, is this happening?!” It was real and I couldn’t fucking believe it. It was really cool that it was kept quiet for two years. I’m really psyched for it now.
FANGORIA: What would you say is your favorite horror film?
JOE DEROSA: I always say THE EXORCIST is my all-time favorite since it’s the only one that continually creeps me out every time I watch it, and the only horror movie I won’t watch by myself. It’s also one of those horror movies that’s a film; it’s not torture porn and there’s not a lot of boring suspense or pointless gore. It not only balances all the elements of a great horror movie, but it also balances the elements of a great film. I just love it and I think the best horror movies are made when someone approached it with clear respect for the genre.
You can always tell when someone making a horror movie doesn’t respect the genre and treats it like porn. “As long as they get their money shot, they’ll be happy.” I always think it’s a shame when that happens because I like it when filmmakers take horror seriously. One of the reasons I like Rob Zombie and what he does is that he takes his horror very seriously. James Wan is another guy who takes horror seriously, and it’s good to see people making horror as films again.
FANG: Absolutely. When a filmmaker approaches horror films with full knowledge of their craft, they’re never as cheap. To that point though, is there any horror movie you outright despise?
DEROSA: I’ve never been a big fan of really intense slasher stuff and what people describe as “torture porn” or whatever. For me, horror is an escape or a fantasy that you can watch and get away from the reality that you’re in. Horror is a place where there’s monsters, demons, magic and witchcraft, so whenever it goes too far into hardcore slasher territory, where there’s just a lunatic doing horrible things to people, I’m not as big of a fan.
That stuff never seems too interesting to me and it’s like, “Well, I could see this stuff on the news right now.” It’s not fun at all to watch. It’s just in my face and brutal, and that’s not enjoyable to me. There’s exceptions to that rule, though. One of my favorite horror movies ever is THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE; in fact, it’s one of my favorite movies ever and you can say that it fits in that genre.
The same thing goes for HOSTEL, which I love, but I didn’t like HOSTEL: PART II that much. HOSTEL had this great social commentary and it morphs into a revenge movie. There were high stakes, there was an action element to it and you were rooting for the character to escape at the end. There so many different levels of things going on in that film that whenever someone goes, “HOSTEL is just torture porn,” I have to go, “No, you’re wrong.” That’s certainly an aspect of it but that’s not really what it is.
Actually, in HOSTEL, there’s you see far less violence than you think you’re going to see. In HOSTEL PART II, when there’s a close-up of a man’s dick being cut off, you’re just like, “Alright.” I also found the central characters to be less likable, with the exception of Heather Matarazzo from WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. They were really not likable characters, and the other main characters are the guys who are paying to kill them, so I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to like in that film. They kill the one likable character halfway through the film so I don’t know who to root for at that point.
People might say I’m crazy for saying this, but I also wasn’t a fan of that Takashi Miike movie AUDITION. Everybody was telling me forever that I had to see it because it was so disturbing and intense. I watched it and to me, depraved isn’t disturbing. So she pukes in a bowl and makes the guy eat it? Sure, that stuff makes my skin crawl and everything, but I don’t care.
Compare that to HOSTEL, where Jay Hernandez figures out how to leave the place by putting that glove over his hand, which is agonizing because he’s missing fingers. Then, he leaves but he needs to go back for the girl because otherwise, he’s just as bad as the people killing her. Then there’s the stuff with the girls and the train station, but the stakes are so high and you’re so invested in those characters that you’re rooting for him. Whereas in AUDITION, I was like, “Okay, she’s crazy and is going to do terrible shit to this guy. Hopefully, somebody saves him.”
I’m not trying to discredit AUDITION as a film, but it just didn’t do it for me. I get the point of the film, but there’s nothing beyond this guy trying to get beyond the death of his wife and landing in the worst case scenario. In ANTICHRIST, which is the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen, you see the point of it all at the end. I don’t know; maybe I missed something in AUDITION.
FANG: Well, despite the film’s hype, I personally found the torture scenes in AUDITION to be not as scary as the film’s stylized second act scenes, with the abusive old man and the girl’s past. But I get what you’re saying in terms of if the lead character died in the end, I’m not sure if it would have had an impact.
DEROSA: I think another reason is just because the scenario itself is so terrible. It’s not like a twist of fate, where he’s been pursuing these women for the wrong reason and is getting his comeuppance. It’s just an innocent guy trying to do the right thing and he finds a girl who is awkward and quiet. He doesn’t go after her for her looks or for sex; he goes after her because she moves him. I just don’t like movies that are too pitiful in the sense of, “Look at all the stuff we’re going to do to these nice people.” It’s hard to enjoy that.
I don’t mean that in a slasher sense because I know that happens in the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series all the time, but that’s at least conducive to Freddy’s mythology. You need to add some excitement to that, like how THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE does. But it’s not like it’s bad filmmaking either, by any stretch of the imagination.
FANG: What’s your favorite horror movie cliche or trope?
DEROSA: I love twist endings, no matter how much people make fun of them. I remember THE BEN STILLER SHOW had a sketch called “Bad Twist Ending Theater,” where he did a complete parody of Jerry Stiller’s episode of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. But I love twist endings and whenever they work, I love them. I’m a huge TALES FROM THE CRYPT fan and I love THE TWILIGHT ZONE and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. I love twist of fate endings and when done right, they’re amazing.
FANG: Adversely, is there any horror cliche that you can’t stand?
DEROSA: Bad jump scares. I know that’s a cliche answer to the question, but it’s true. Actually, scratch that. My answer is the disregard for logic instead of bad jump scares, because there can be good jump scares, too.
A disregard for logic really pisses me off. Just because you’re writing something in a realm of fantasy doesn’t mean rules don’t apply to it, and in horror films, that can amount to really lazy writing. They try to justify it by going, “Oh, it’s a horror movie and they’ll just have to accept this.” No, that’s a stupid excuse. If I catch myself watching a horror movie and saying, “Well, why didn’t he do that the whole time?” and someone says, “Well, then the movie would have been five minutes long,” that’s bullshit.
To make a video game analogy, it’s like the bosses in a video game. When you play a game, the bosses are supposed to be harder as the game goes on, but the cheap way of doing it is just throwing more stuff at you while you’re fighting the boss. That doesn’t make the video game hard; it makes the boss impossible to defeat. A hard video game is one that has a real challenge and a logic to what makes it difficult. Then you have to maneuver and come up with a strategy, but if you’re fighting some guy who is throwing shit at you and can kill you in one hit, that’s fucking nonsense.
Why not just have that guy come out at the beginning of the game, so then I’d know right away how shitty the game was going to be so I could save myself some time? The presence of logic is what, to me, defines a really memorable horror movie while the absence of logic is a red flag for a really bad one.
FANG: What’s your favorite kill from a horror movie?
DEROSA: That’s easy: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES. It’s actually a tie but they’re both from that movie. The first one is at the beginning when he punches through Horshack from WELCOME BACK, KOTTER’s chest and Jason’s hand comes out of his back, holding his heart. The other one is when Jason’s in the RV killing the girl in the bathroom while the guy is driving with the music blasting, and he slams her face into the metal wall so hard that it leaves an imprint on the other side. I also like the one in the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake where he hangs the kid in the sleeping bag over the fire because it’s insane.
By the way, PART VI has my favorite FRIDAY THE 13TH moment, where The Gravedigger finds out what happened and says, “Why’d they have to go and dig up Jason? Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment.” Then, he just stares at the camera [laughs]. That’s great.
FANG: Out of all the horror franchises out there, which one do you love most?
DEROSA: My favorite franchise is probably HELLRAISER. I’ve seen all of the HELLRAISER movies and even the entries that aren’t so great have moments that I like in them. It’s got such a cool mythology and it has to do with Hell, which I’m always into; I’m a fan of anything that’s related to Hell or The Devil.
The first two HELLRAISER films are beautifully directed and really creepy. All that stuff about “pleasures of the flesh,” “earthly indulgences,” and “sins of passion” gets under your skin. It’s so biblical and it makes for a great horror movie setting. Of course, the Cenobites are just the coolest monsters, like they’re regal ambassadors of Hell who look so crazy. Clive Barker figured out a way to make you believe those things came from Hell, from the way they look to the way they talked, to the way they dressed. Not one piece of them was identifiable to a certain time period or lifestyle; they just looked timeless.
Pinhead had the best lines, too, out of any horror movie ghoul. “Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell.” That’s the fucking most sinister line I’ve ever heard. In fact, on the same album where Sir Mix-a-lot did “Baby Got Back,” there’s a song where he samples Pinhead.
But what I love the most about Pinhead, and maybe they went off the rails with this in the sequels, but at least in HELLRAISER and HELLRAISER II, Pinhead is like a judge. He’s fair, and I love that he’s not this blood-hungry behemoth. He’s literally like, “You opened the box. You wanted this. Now this is what you get.” But when they find Kirsty and realize it’s a mistake, he legitimately contemplates punishing her. That makes him so cooler than somebody who’s just swinging his fucking arms around.
Pinhead is like a gangster, but a true mafioso-type of gangster. He’s the kind of guy that’ll tie you to a chair and go, “What do you know about the money?” He’ll honestly consider what you’re saying but then has to decide, like, “He’s telling the truth so let him go,” or, “This guy is lying to us. Kill him right now.” Pinhead has this weird sense of morality to him and that makes him so interesting, like when he lets that mute girl go in HELLRAISER II.
FANG: Do you have anything you’re currently working on at the moment that our fans might be interested in?
DEROSA: Right now, I’m writing for THE PETE HOLMES SHOW on TBS, but I also want people to check out my podcast, DOWN WITH JOE DEROSA. It’s me and one guest and we sit around talking about one topic that’s important to both of us. It’s really funny and interesting, so check it out on iTunes. They’re free and they drop every Monday.