Michael Gingold Talks Frightfest’s Guide to Monster Movies
If you’re a horror fan, you probably know the name Michael Gingold. He worked at the late, lamented Fangoria for 28 years as an associate editor, then managing editor and finally editor-in-chief, and recently has leant his mighty pen to such fright mags as Rue Morgue and Delirium. He’s just penned a new book for FAB Press and Frightfest titled The Frightfest Guide to Monster Movies, which is a handsome 240-page resource featuring lots of cool photos and Gingold’s vast knowledge of all things beastly and creaturific. The book spans the earliest days of cinema through the Universal Monsters of the ’30s and ’40s, the atomic monsters of the ’50s, Hammer and Corman horrors of the ’60s, drive-in trash of the ’70s, the mainstream success of the ’80s and ’90s all the way to the present. We got to interview Gingold about the book, his love of monsters and the current state of the genre!
ComingSoon.net: How did Frightfest approach you for the Monster Guide? Were there certain stipulations they needed or was it dealer’s choice as far as which movies went into it?
Michael Gingold: I’ve known FAB Press’ Harvey Fenton and admired his work for many years. He approached me at the Fantasia festival in Montreal in 2016 about writing a book for his new Frightfest Guide line, and of course I said yes immediately. It was an honor, and exciting to write the “Guide to Monster Movies,” because those were the kinds of films I grew up watching as a kid, before getting into other kinds of horror as a teenager. Then came the task of figuring out which 200 films to cover. Even after removing vampires, zombies and werewolves from consideration, since FAB is planning separate books on each of those, that left a lot to choose from. Between myself, Harvey and the Frightfest team, we came up with a list that we felt represented the best, the most influential, and in some cases the most notorious movies, as well as hidden gems we felt deserved more exposure.
CS: After the intro, the movies are covered in chronological order, so the book has the added benefit of actually seeing the evolution of cinematic beasties. What do you think connects the earliest monsters like The Golem or Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein with their modern-day counterparts like “Cloverfield” or “The Babadook?”
Gingold: The quality that links the great monsters, from those early days to modern times, is that they represent or speak to issues beyond simply being scary and/or destructive forces. “The Golem” and “Frankenstein” deal with questions of religion and science, while “Cloverfield” offers a metaphor for current fears of urban attack and “The Babadook” puts a supernatural spin on parental anxieties. A monster just being a monster can be fun, but the ones that endure have something to say as well.
CS: Universal is currently attempting (key word, “attempting”) to revive their roster of monsters with the Dark Universe movies like “The Mummy” and Bill Condon’s “Bride of Frankenstein,” and Legendary has their own monster universe with Godzilla and King Kong. Do you think these monsters tend to lose their spark once the budgets start crossing the $100 million mark, or do big budget monster movies have their place?
Gingold: It depends on the monster. Giant, city-rampaging beasts can certainly benefit from big budgets. I love Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” and can’t wait to see what King Ghidorah looks like with a nine-figure budget behind him in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” But reimagining the classic Universal creatures as tentpole characters in megamovies feels like a mistake. Throwing all that money at them risks losing all the nuance and “personality” that made them appealing in the first place—that’s certainly what happened with “The Mummy.” Now that Dark Universe has been all but disbanded, Universal should turn the properties over to Blumhouse and let some of their stable approach them on smaller budgets in more personal projects. For example, it would be great to see what Jordan Peele could do with “Frankenstein” or “The Wolf Man.”
CS: Do you prefer monsters as villains or heroic figures?
Gingold: I don’t really have a personal preference there; I enjoy both villainous and sympathetic monsters. It depends on how the filmmaker deals with those qualities. A heroic monster can have more depth than an evil one, but when a villainous monster is done right and truly scary, there’s nothing better!
CS: What do you think is the most significant monster film of the last ten years?
Gingold: I don’t know if it’s the most significant, but a recent film that points the way toward a new approach to monster movies is Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal.” It uses the familiar trope of a giant creature attacking a city in very intriguing ways, making it a key element of an entertaining and moving personal story. It’s an evolution of the monster as metaphor, and hopefully we’ll see more movies like it. “A Monster Calls” is another example of that approach.
CS: When you were growing up you had Famous Monsters of Filmland, and later Fangoria (which you then worked at for several decades), but now there are dozens of online and magazine horror outlets, not to mention theater chains like Alamo Drafthouse that embrace horror culture. How do you see genre fandom evolving in the years to come?
Gingold: I think genre fandom is as strong as it has ever been right now. When I was growing up, being a monster or horror fan put you in a small minority; now, those genres have been completely mainstreamed. One thing that’s changing is that the rise of video and streaming services means that a lot more people are seeing these movies at home as opposed to in theaters. While those services give exposure to a lot of films that can’t get theatrical release in the current marketplace, there’s still nothing better than seeing a really good horror or monster movie with an audience, sharing that collective experience. I’m fortunate that I get to see a lot of these films at festivals, and it’s cool that specialty houses give people the chance to catch them on the big screen, so hopefully, those opportunities will never go away.
CS: When I was growing up if I wanted to see a movie I read about in magazines or cult movie books I had to wait until it came on cable at 3am and make sure I had the VCR set to record. It was a real loss if I saw I missed something, because chances were good that meant I may never see it! But now there’s so many streaming services like Shudder and revival Blu-ray labels like Scream Factory or Kino Lorber putting out amazing, obscure films from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ‘80s. What are some older films you cover in the book that you would recommend for fans trying to up their game on older cult classics?
Gingold: Anyone who hasn’t seen them should catch the Ray Harryhausen classics—”The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” “Jason and the Argonauts.” Those were formative films for me that still stand as great entertainments, and Harryhausen’s effects are still amazing. The Hammer films are equally important in the history of horror and monster films, and some cult favorites in the book that I’d especially recommend include “Monster That Challenged the World,” “Fiend Without a Face,” “Island of Terror,” “Horror Express,” “Alligator,” “Q,” “Brain Damage” and “Killer Clowns From Outer Space.” A more recent one is “Grabbers,” a really entertaining and clever film that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.
CS: You’ve visited a lot of horror sets over the years. What’s the coolest monster scene you ever actually saw being filmed?
Gingold: It’s a werewolf movie, so it’s not covered in this book, but I got to visit the set of Adrián García Bogliano’s “Late Phases” while the transformation scene was being shot. They had a huge motion-control rig set up to film the transformation in pieces—an arm, a leg, the face—with the camera always making the exact same move so they could be put together into one long, continuous shot. It was fascinating to watch.
CS: If there’s a young budding horror filmmaker reading this right now, what advice would you give them about crafting a project that would stand out among all the dreck that saturates the marketplace right now?
Gingold: Tell a story that’s unique to yourself. A lot of horror fans making their first features over the past couple of decades have made homages to the classics of the ’70s and ’80s, and while that’s an understandable impulse, and certainly makes them easier to market, an original story and approach to the genre is what will make your movie truly stand out. To be blunt, we don’t need any more homages to “Night of the Living Dead” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” We need more movies that, like those films, found new ways to tackle horror and push its boundaries.
CS: You’ve been a freelancer for over a year, after working at Fangoria for 28 years. Was that a difficult transition? It seemed like a lot of other publications like Rue Morgue embraced you right away!
Gingold: It was indeed difficult to be dropped from the magazine that I’d devoted my professional life to, because I had such a personal enthusiasm for it as well. It was sad to see what happened to Fangoria, but the support I got from fans and the horror community was really reaffirming, and meant so much to me. Freelancing isn’t always easy, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s been giving me the opportunity to work on a lot of different, interesting and creative projects. And I’ve enjoyed the chance to write about films in genres outside the horror realm for some of those outlets. I’ve got another book coming up that should be ready to announce soon, and I can’t wait to let people know about it!
CS: You’re currently working alongside director Dante Tomaselli on a film called “The Doll.” Has there been any movement on that?
Gingold: We’ve got a script done that we really like, Dante has started the preproduction work and we’re currently securing the financing. We hope to be in production in the first half of 2018. It’s a very dark, eerie story, and it was a lot of fun writing for Dante’s particular horror sensibilities. We really want to creep people out with this one!