Despite recently graduating from Harvard with a degree in Psychology, no money could buy Gala Avary's film education, going toe-to-toe with her father, Roger Avary, and Quentin Tarantino each week on The Video Archives Podcast. Having recently wrapped its hugely successful first season, listening to the three (plus occasional guests) talk about movies is an education for us all; Ms. Avary striking the perfect balance between the voice for all of us while also never being afraid to share her own opinions. Before the interview begins, it becomes immediately apparent that not only is she an extremely positive soul, but she provides the eclectic taste one would expect from a tight family of film addicts; one moment we're discussing Gaspar Noé, then the artistic influences of the recent Spider-Verse movie. It sums her up; on the one hand, she loves how fun movies can be, yet is never afraid to explore more challenging aspects, "We have to talk about difficult themes in cinema, because if we don't, how are we supposed to talk about them in real life? You have to open up the conversation." Gala is a natural conversationalist and hound ― recent homework having watched over 70 movies for Arrow Selects ― therefore, it was no surprise that once she had poured through FANGORIA's magazine archives, she immediately sourced the original copies…
There's nothing like sniffing those pages.
Funny you should say that because that's exactly what I was doing while reading them [sticks her nose in a copy], "Mmm, smells good." [laughs] The thing for me is that when you hold the physical thing in your hand, you kind of get the essence of who held it before you. Some of them smell like cigarettes. Okay, so maybe this was an older gentleman with his (smokey) FANGORIA collection… or a fine lady, I don't know… but there's a story of who held it before me. I love that. Initially, I bought them for the covers, and then as I'm reading the stories, I'm like, "Oh, wait, there's a story on The Running Man… and I've never heard of this movie, I have to add it to my list." And that's what I love about a magazine, as it just takes you to where you're going with all the different voices held within.
When did you first become aware of FANGORIA?
I guess my first introduction is via my father. Obviously, he was always a film fan and had the magazines. Pulp Fiction may be what he's most known for, but he loves horror and even went on to write the Silent Hill movie. I told him I had this opportunity to curate some magazines, and he said, "Oh, who's it for?" I told him, and he shouted, "Oh my God, it's for FANGORIA?! That's so exciting!" [laughs].
Looking at your FANGORIA curation, did you pick the movies first or the covers?
The first thing that always attracts me to any piece of physical media ― whether it's a VHS box, a DVD, or a magazine ― is the cover or the poster, that first image that you see. So, when I was going through the archives for FANGORIA ― which, by the way, are pretty amazing ― I realized that people don't have the chance to look at these magazines physically unless they hunt for the originals. The online archive is a really beautiful thing to have. To be able to access the issues in full, it's an incredible resource that people should know about. At first, I tagged a bunch of covers but started to pick up on ones I hadn't necessarily seen before, such as Halloween III. I can't help but love those little Crites so had to at least touch upon Critters 2. And then Prince of Darkness is the scariest movie I have ever seen in my life. So, following a similar approach to Quentin's, the choices ended up based on a movie I had seen before working on the podcast, one I knew about because of the podcast, and then a movie I'd never seen.
Now that you have seen Halloween III for this chat, what about the film would you like to weigh in on?
I think now, in 2023, there are a lot more fans of this movie, but when it first came out, people didn't like it at all. I always remember my dad saying, "Halloween III is my favorite, it's the best!" The original I can admire for what it is, but it's not one of my top Carpenters, and I didn't like the latest entries. Finally, this was the perfect excuse to watch this more obscure entry and find my foothold in the franchise. You know what, I loved it. First up, I like that it's an anthology and completely different, and, secondly, the science fiction aspects of it. Even in the FANGORIA article, they talk about the differences, stating that if the first one is a "knife" then this one is a "pod", naturally relating more to Invasion of the Body Snatchers; especially Kaufman's '70s version, which is my favorite.
Which feeds into today's sense of paranoia.
"Are you watching me? Can I trust you?" Etc. But then there's the goofiness and the silliness, which I also love. One of my personal philosophies about movies is, "If it's not fun, why should I watch it?" With Halloween III I was having fun. It had a lightheartedness that wasn't in the others, especially the recent ones. I feel like this was a point where the franchise could have gone one of two ways. Imagine the versions we could have had based on all the different aspects of Halloween.
The Black Mirror of the Halloween universe.
Exactly. But it's all part of how it has retained its cult status, whereas with Michael Myers, it has become this huge commercial entity. What I also loved is that in Halloween III it's our universe ― one in which the original film is this huge success ― and I love imagining that we are dealing with our universe and these are our fears. Then there's all of this encoding with the number three ― the "Halloween Three," the music [sings], "Three more days to Halloween, Halloween…" ― and the use of snakes is gross and scary. The article in FANGORIA taught me a lot about the movie I would never have known, such as when they shot at a milk factory and weren't allowed to shoot inside or set off smoke and explosions because of the risk of contamination. So, ingeniously, they shot in the factory making the film's masks, which I thought was fascinating. There's also still the Carpenter connection with the music, which ― people may shake their fingers at me ― is my favorite of his scores. I miss silliness in movies, and this is fun. Also, in this issue of FANGORIA, they had the wonderful Beastmaster with Don Coscarelli. I love Don, he's an amazing guy, and that was so much fun to read. [Pauses and thumbs through her copy] And I loved seeing all these old advertisements, the classifieds, the clubs… even the Halloween III masks you could send away for!
What do you find so scary about this particular Carpenter movie?
I have to take you back to when I was twelve. We used to play this game in my family, where my dad would lay out ten movies, and each one of us would remove one until you're left with the movie everyone wanted to see. One night we were playing it, and my brother was the very last one, and he knew that I wanted to watch Uncle Buck. He knew it. And so what did he do? As a devious ten-year-old, he removed John Candy and replaced him with the Prince of Darkness. The film was, by far, one of the scariest experiences I've ever had. On top of this, weirdly enough, I was experiencing a haunting of my own.
It's a long story, but we lived in this house that had something inside of it. Dad had to get an exorcist. The Kabbalah Centre even came. It was the only time in my life I have sleepwalked. I never knew about the exorcist, but as soon as they did what needed to be done, I stopped sleepwalking. So, yeah… imagine being twelve and haunted by a ghost. That was the first time I watched Prince of Darkness.
With added dimension!
In the movie, there's a ringing in your ears, and it's a way to connect you to your past self or another dimension. I started having the same ringing in my ears and thinking: Oh, my God, I'm being contacted by someone in the other universe. It scared me so much. Even now, as an adult, if I'm going to sleep and I get a tone in my ears, I have to say, "It's okay. It's not Prince of Darkness. It's not coming to get you." In terms of how it was made, though, I think one of the reasons it scared me is because John Carpenter had spent several years studying quantum physics and then went on to make this and They Live back-to-back, both films dealing with something more scientific and existential. What he was studying made it all the more real and plausible, and that's why it was scary because there was this reality to it.
There's also his nihilism as a filmmaker, most evident in his "Apocalypse Trilogy." But he is always so thoughtful in the execution.
He is thoughtful. I think maybe he's a nihilist, but he is, strangely, very tender in his movies at the same time. Starman, for example.
His Spielberg movie. Such a beautiful and tender piece of work.
He deals with real human issues and emotions, whether Starman or The Thing, with the question of the imposter feeding into our anxieties. Can you trust people? With Starman it's very romantic but it is, most importantly, about the loss of someone that you love and having to deal with grief. But, coming back to Prince of Darkness, it terrifies me so much I'm still afraid to rewatch it. For two reasons: one, maybe it won't be as scary, that it was the perfect experience to watch that movie at that time. Or two: it's going to be even worse as an adult. Maybe I'll be so terrified that I'll start sleepwalking all over again!
With cinema, you can have a liminal moment when you watch a horror movie at a young age that scares the hell out of you and you can never return to. Then you could watch a contemporary film, something more brutal but have little impact. Horror movies have a specific effect on us that runs much deeper.
For sure. I also think that it's all about the time and place that you watch something. It's why going to a movie theater is so important because you are giving yourself to cinema and the communal aspect. The experience of watching a movie is what makes it so important. It doesn't matter even if you rewatch the same movie the same day. It's going to be a completely different experience; how you watch it, who you watch it with, your mindset, your age, and what you're dealing with in your life, all because you're able to relate yourself to the art. This is one of the reasons why I love the horror and science fiction genres so much, we're able to talk about things in our lives by feeling that little bit removed.
[Thumbs through] I also just loved how John Carpenter, in this article, talked about how he put his team together. He was on a four-picture deal at the time with smaller budgets, and because Prince of Darkness was built from pre-sales, he knew when they started shooting that he could remain on budget and on time. But, he couldn't use his DPs from his previous projects, Donald Morgan and Dean Cundey, due to cost.
His flippant remark on how expensive Dean Cundey had become.
[Laughs while reading from the magazine] "I helped to price Dean out of my own category." I love that, it's a compliment. And the fact Dean at the time was making Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was great to read about Carpenter's success, and he wasn't full of himself in this article, he just comes across as really approachable, "Hey, this is what I've learned for the past four years, I'm going to make a cool movie in this creepy old church in Los Angeles." It's a weird one because even though I am scared to return to it because of its impact on me, for that alone, it's my favorite Carpenter movie. And I'll champion the film because maybe people don't give enough time to it.
From a creepy church basement to FANGORIA's own strange artifacts and text… how important do you feel archives are in today's world?
I've been writing about all the films for The Video Archives Podcast to provide supplementary material. It's been so much fun compiling all of this film history, and one of the major things I've loved while doing it is having access to these old magazines, and that's where I'm finding the best information. I can go online and use the AFI catalog, but when I find an original magazine, and I read the interviews the editor has collated, well, that's one of the best tools I've had access to. FANGORIA and STARLOG, in particular, I've enjoyed reading so much.
But, to summarize, I think the best example I can give is I'm going to see Rollerball tonight at the New Beverly. In that movie, there is no access to archives and no access to media. It's all about "Who shows you what." You only get to see what they want you to see. And I don't believe in that. I believe you should be able to gain access to an archive or go out and buy the latest magazine, look through it and see whatever you want. Reading the written word is one of the most important things you can do. It's really important, not just for the functioning of your brain but for your own inner voice.
You also can't smell the Internet.
No… I don't think I'd want to!
As Mick often says (with a wink): a "timeless classic".
It's true! I had the chance to meet Mick on his Post Mortem podcast and he is, by far, one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. He did a great job. It has everything for me: it's an Easter movie, I'm really into vegetarian horror movies, Mick's vegetarian, and I'm a vegetarian. Therefore, Critters 2 is a pro-vegetarian movie.
One funny thing about Critters 2 that I learned from the article was how far out they make Valencia feel, and it's now a metropolitan area. How times have changed. Massively. And the guy that went and interviewed Mick, it comes across that he didn't want to be there. You would never get away with some of the comments he makes now, especially on the internet. Again, comes back to having these magazines and seeing the differences in language, conduct, and approach.
The food fight scene… again, fun!
I loved how Mick and the Chiodo Brothers brought all of this characterization to the puppets.
Quite different from animating Marcel… that shell with shoes on.
They did that?! Oh… Marcel was even scarier [laughs].
Not really, but I can see why people loved the film. I think one of the most important things that I've been able to do on The Video Archives Podcast is that I'm able to have a voice. I'm able to talk with these two titans of industry, and even when we really get into it ― such as the Coma episode and after the show ― we're still friends at the end of the day. That's what people need to remember, you can disagree about art. And it's okay to change your mind. You like something, then you don't, you don't, then you do. That's okay, you don't have to die on a hill. One of our goals was that anyone who listens should feel like they have a seat at the table and can jump into the conversation and give their respectful opinion. Be heard and be understood. We hope it fosters this feeling of social awareness that if you don't like something, you don't have to rain on someone's parade. You can find why a person appreciates a film because you appreciate them.
You can do your own FANGORIA archive deep dive with the first 120 issues available for free right here, with a new Volume 1 issue added every week. And be sure to check out Gala Avary, Roger Avary, and Quentin Tarantino on The Video Archives Podcast.