"The Slasher Movie Book": Interviewing Author J.A. Kerswell

J.A. Kerswell is the author and creator of "The Slasher Movie Book"; a glorified history anthology focused on the slasher sub-genre. The book includes a detailed and comprehensive timeline for the slasher genre and its global releases. Not only are there descriptions for each movie and time period, Kerswell includes theatrical posters and B-movie images. I have to say personally that I love my copy and hold it as a totem to horror! Fans of the slasher genre will get a kick out of what it teaches. Kerswell also co-hosts the movie review podcast "The Hysteria Continues" and is also the creator of the website "Hysteria Lives!".

Can you tell us where your fascination with the slasher genre began?

I think I was born with it! Even as a child I had a longing to watch horror movies. I started by catching late night double-bills in the early 1980's on British TV, but those were usually Hammer films and other movies from the 1960's and early 70's. They were fun, but not what I was dying to see. What I really wanted to watch, but I was too young to, were the films at the cinema at the time. I still remember seeing the posters for "Happy Birthday to Me", "Friday the 13th Part II", "He Knows You're Alone" (and many more) displayed outside the cinema from the window of the school bus. Back then they were all X-certificate (in Britain that meant only for people over 18 years of age). It wasn’t until VCR's became available that I managed to catch up with those slashers, as it was pretty lawless back in the early days of Betamax and VHS in Britain (before the whole ‘video nasty’ debacle). The first ‘modern’ slasher I saw was "Halloween II" (1981) on a friend’s clunking Betamax machine as his Mum made us dinner! It must have been about 1982 or 1983. I loved it and soon made up for time.

When putting together "The Slasher Movie Book" how was the process of tying the timeline of releases together?

Many people did think, and some still do, that the slasher movie appeared fully formed in 1978 with John Carpenter’s "Halloween" (1978). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still probably my favorite film of all time, but much of what made it so successful was already cliché. It was what Carpenter did with those clichés that was so remarkable. Certainly, I soon discovered its predecessors once I’d exhausted the treasure trove of films that emerged in its immediate wake. Films such as "Black Christmas" (1974) and "Blood and Black Lace" (1971) (a film with an opening scene almost identical to "Halloween").Then I started looking further back and asked myself what exactly is a slasher movie? At its very essence is a group of people stalked and killed by a murderer; often mixed with blood and grue. Whilst I do believe that the modern slasher movie we know today was born with "Halloween", there are many films that came before it which could be dubbed proto-slashers. I was also aware that a gazillion pages had been written already on the big franchises. For me the most interesting stories left to tell are from those unfairly neglected movies. Also, it was fun to examine the influence over the years of films such as "Thirteen Women" (1932), Agatha Christie, the Old Dark House movies, German Krimi of the 60's, the Italian Giallo of the 70's, British shockers of the early 70's and North American Grindhouse. And then what came after the Golden Era of 1978-1984; both good and bad. I found the journey fascinating. I hope readers of the book do, too. However, I do regret the book wasn’t longer (the original edit was 10,000 words longer) – but I’m hoping to do an expanded version one day if there’s enough interest.

Where did you find the amazing movie posters and stills that you included throughout the book?

I’ve collected them over the years from places like Ebay. I have an embarrassment of slasher memorabilia! I try and make it a rule not to spend too much on anything (but it’s a rule I sometimes break!). I just nabbed a UK quad-sized poster for "Slumber Party Massacre" for about $10.

In an interview with Adrienne King from "Friday the 13th" you mentioned the idea of making a book about the Final Girl concept. Is that book still in the works?

I’d certainly like to one day. To make it work I’d need the involvement of Jamie Lee Curtis, I reckon. I thought that would never happen, but she’s recently opened up about her horror heritage. So who knows?
J.A. Kerswell is the author of the impressively extensive "The Slasher Movie Book". Essentially a glorified history on the slasher sub-genre of horror, Kerswell created a coffee table style book complete with historical facts, descriptions and theatrical posters. Not only an author, Kerswell is also the creator of the "Hysteria Lives!" horror news website and is the co-host of "The Hysteria Continues" podcast similar to our lovely BGH podcast. I had a lovely interview with Mr. Kerswell to see what putting together his book looked like. I just have to say on a personal note that I absolutely love my copy of the book and will keep it as a totem to horror!

How do you feel about the state of horror today? And more specifically, the slasher genre today?

It waxes and wanes. I saw "You're Next" recently and greatly enjoyed it. A fun throwback to 80's slashers, but with a modern indie sensibility. However, at the moment the vogue in horror is for supernatural creepfests. I not opposed to those; and enjoy many of them a lot. But the slasher is just resting. Still, "You're Next", although a general disappointment at the box office, still made back its budget several times over in its opening weekend. Slashers are generally cheap to make, and that has certainly helped with their longevity. Also, there will always be a fresh audience every five years or so of teens who want to watch facsimiles of themselves die on screen.

Tough question: Can you give us your top 5 favorite in the slasher genre?

Tough indeed. It changes all the time, but today it’s: "Halloween" (1978), "Black Christmas" (1974), "My Bloody Valentine" (1981), "Hell Night" (1981) and "Friday the 13th Part II" (1981).

Can you tell us more about your site Hysteria Lives and what people can find there?

Lots of reviews of slashers, interviews with people that have been involved in the subgenre and more. I also co-host a slasher movie podcast called "The Hysteria Continues". You can check it out at: href="http://www.hysteria-lives.co.uk">The Hysteria Lives!

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