Even for David Cronenberg, ‘Slasher’ Felt Like Something ‘Different’
A conversation with director David Cronenberg goes to dark places, naturally. He is one of a handful of filmmakers who can rightfully be considered the ancestor of a sub-genre – body horror, a cinematic journey into carnal transmutation and the grotesque – that has influenced generations of directors, including Julia Ducournau, Jordan Peele and James Wan.
But there was mirth, not a hint of macabre, in his giggle when I broke this news to him in a recent phone conversation: a cafe is going to open in Chicago called “The Brewed”, a homophonic riff on ” The Brood, ”his 1979 sci-fi horror film about mutant children.
“It’s awesome!” he said. “I remember there were a few video stores in the 80s called Videodrome.”
Such a cult cult of Cronenberg’s work is not shocking given its indelible imprint on the creepy, which regularly appears in the horror landscape. But it wasn’t the staging or his reputation that Cronenberg wanted to talk about. It was acting: He stars in season 4 of the Canadian horror anthology series “Slasher,” which debuts Thursday on AMC horror streaming service, Shudder.
In the new season, subtitled “Flesh & Blood,” Cronenberg plays a rich and brutal patriarch who reunites his dysfunctional family on a remote island – then pits them against each other in gruesome tests to determine who gets his heavy legacy. That is, if they can prevent the masked killer from stalking the premises.
“There is almost no aspect of this character that matches my own perception of myself,” he said. “It’s always exciting.”
Cronenberg, 78, has been directing since the late 1960s when he first made a splash in underground cinema circles in his hometown Toronto. In the decades that followed, terrifying films like “Shivers” (1975) and “Videodrome” (1983) defined what came to be called body horror. But he’s also pushed the boundaries in other types of films: spooky contagion dramas (“Rabid”, 1977), renegade telekinesis (“Scanners”, 1981), sinister romance (“Dead Ringers”, 1988) and violence. gangs (“Eastern promises”, 2007).
“Slasher” isn’t Cronenberg’s first time on camera. Over the years he has appeared in a few of his own films, most notably as a gynecologist in The Fly “(1986) and an obstetrician in” Dead Ringers. “He has also appeared in numerous televisions, most notably as a doctor on “Alias” and reverend on “Alias Grace.” Most recently, he played the mysterious Kovich in the final season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” a role he will reprise next season on Paramount +.
Adam MacDonald, who directed everything “Flesh and Blood”, said he was nervous about directing a director “on Mount Rushmore of Filmmakers”. But he said he felt free to treat Cronenberg like any other member of the cast.
“I never felt like he took himself too seriously,” MacDonald said. “He took the job seriously. He was very prepared.
Cronenberg initially refused to say anything about “Crimes of the Future,” his first feature since “Maps to the Stars” debuted in 2014. (“I haven’t done it yet”, he said.) But in a follow-up. email, he said the film, which stars Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, is “absolutely not based” on a short film of the same name that he made in 1970.
On a phone call from Greece, where he was scheduled to start filming “Crimes of the Future,” spoke at length about acting, the TikTok generation and what is so scary in Canada. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What do you like about being an actor?
It’s an interesting challenge to become a different person and to interpret a script as an actor rather than a director. It’s also a way for me to connect to the cinema without having to devote two years of my life to it. As an actor, you can get in there, and it might be a week. Yet you are there with a crew, the cameras and the lights and you are still living the life of the cinema.
What drew you to the role in “Slasher”?
I was drawn to the fact that they asked me. I’ve done a lot of acting, and I usually end up playing scientists or doctors. It was different.
The other thing – and it’s external to the series – is that this was going to be the first production that had Covid protocols in place, and looking forward to the movie I’m making now, I was curious to see how that works. I asked myself, could I make a movie? Was it too expensive, awkward, impossible? I was happy to see that after a while you get used to it. It explained very clearly what would be involved and how it could work.
I’m not Canadian, but there seems to be something very Canadian about “Slasher” as a series. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
We have a reputation for a certain type of horror film that is uniquely Canadian. Is it the water of Lake Ontario? [Laughs.] I am not sure. It was oddly comfortable working on the show in this weird, nationalistic way, but without anyone making a big deal out of it. I think we have our own take on things in the dark.
“Slasher” as a series has been very diverse, with actors and characters of assorted races and sexualities who have not always found their home in horror. This season, there is a character who identifies as non-binary and queer.
I can only say that in all of my films, including my first underground films, I have always had non-binary and gay characters, so for me this is nothing new. It’s just a natural thing. It was not from social pressure.
I think one of the reasons people love horror is that horror digs beneath the walls of normal society, and people need to feel and see and experience that, even though they can only experience it in art forms and not in their life. It’s only natural for horror movies to connect with what normal society suppresses.
Do you enjoy working on episodic television the same way you do feature films?
Episodic TV is a lot more like a novel in that you have time to develop characters and delve into their pasts. You don’t have time for that in a feature film. It’s cinema, but it’s another form of cinema. I find that very intriguing. I wouldn’t mind getting involved in a series.
As a director, it’s awesome when a director can direct the whole series. It is a real commitment of time and energy. I think David Lynch directed all the episodes of his comeback in “Twin Peaks”, and it’s amazing.
Is there a series you would like to direct?
I wrote a novel called “Consumed”. It’s my only novel. I think it would make a good show, although I’m not sure because I didn’t think of it that way. I have to say it’s as close as I just put a name on some series.
How much did horror influence you as a child?
I had a very optimistic and happy childhood. I loved nature, insects, animals. As a kid in the 1950s, the movies I watched were westerns. It wasn’t like I had studied all the cinematic genres out there and decided that horror was a place a young filmmaker could make an impression.
But horror was one of the few genres open to independent cinema that could come from Toronto or Montreal and make an impression. “Scanners”, a low budget movie, was the # 1 movie in North America for a week. I cannot claim to have ever understood it.
Do you see any creative similarities between the young people who make movies with their phones and the filmmakers you partnered with in the 60s?
Technology was then very difficult to master, such as the simple thing of synchronizing sound with images, which people who shoot with their phones don’t think about. At that time, you had to really want to do it because it was not easy.
I like the fact that access to these kinds of images is easy and available. You still have to have talent to do something good. The fact that technology is less of a drag doesn’t change the fact that some people will make great movies and cinema, even if it’s TikTok cinema, because the talent is there. You don’t know where it came from.
John Waters said recently that you should be directing Covid’s first exploitation film.
It’s not exactly at the top of my ambition list, but it was very kind of him to say that. In a way, I think I already did this with “Shivers”. Maybe he should.
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