Friday, September 01, 2006

Creepy Crawls

Today marks the official release of my pal Leon Marcelo's great travel book Creepy Crawls! To celebrate the occasion I'm posting a slightly abridged version of our sprawling interview which will appear in its entirety in the upcoming issue of Destroying Angels!! Enjoy this interview and don't forget to order your copy of Creepy Crawls here!


Dennis Dread:
Welcome to Destroying Angels #9, Leon! I thought I should point out before we begin that I have compiled these ghastly questions on July 7th which, according to your new book Creepy Crawls, is the very same date back in 1967 that George Romero began filming Night of The Living Dead!


Leon Marcelo:
Ha! Eeek-cellent! And thanks - or should I say, "Fangs!" - for the interview, Dennis.

Now, the first thing I noticed about your book is the cover. You originally commissioned monster cartoonist Eric Pigors to illustrate the cover. Did the publishers intervene and suggest a photo? What is your opinion of the final cover?

I like the cover a lot, but it took me a little while to "warm up" to it. The biggest response I got from those I showed it to early on, yourself included, was that it was very "classy" and I feel that that was actually my biggest reservation about it. It's not that I wanted something garish or "vulgar"! No. A HUGE influence upon the book’s narrative "voice" is horror TV hosts like Zacherley, Doctor Morgus, and Elvira, horror comic book icons like the Crypt Keeper and Uncle Creepy, and horror culture gods like Vincent Price and Forrest J. Ackerman. Creepy Crawls is oozing with puns, alliteration, "horror" words, "gross" words, "medical" words, and so on. Because of this, the cover that I had in mind when I was putting together the book proposal (which was about July of 2005) was something along the lines of an old Creepy or Eerie cover, replete with corner box, lurid slogans running across the top or bottom - "Shocking!" - and, of corpse, some sort of “ghastly one” who would host the reader to all the horrors within. Basically, it was a cover that would be a visual manifestation of the book's narrative: something that just oozed ... "HORROR!" Well, after I was contacted by Santa Monica Press with an offer for publication (which was only about two weeks after I sent out the proposal, which still is a shock), the cover was the first thing on the chopping block. I have known Eric Pigors for a few years now and have been - and AM! - a BIG fan of his art. Being the super NICE fiend that he is, he illustrated a "host" for Creepy Crawls who we came to call "Eee-Gore." He put Eee-Gore in a few cemetery photos I had sent him earlier and made some mock-up covers for me to include with the proposal - ALL for free. Well, the publisher dug the art but didn't want to use it for two reasons. First, he wasn't sure how big of a "draw" Eric's name would be - especially if he was going to lay out, say, a thousand dollars to commission a cover from him. Second, he didn't want to take Creepy Crawls in the "all out HORROR!" territory for fear of losing potential readers with "weaker stomachs" (i.e. luke warm horror aficionados). So, unfortunately those plans of mine for the cover, in particular Eric’s art, were out. While it was all a relatively painless experience, it was a good lesson for me early on not only about how MY expectations might depart from those of my publisher, but also how to pick my fights, so to speak. So, yes, I do now dig Creepy Crawls’ cover a lot. Eric actually likes it a lot himself! What do you think of it, Mr. Mad-Mad-Mad-Monster-Artist?!?

Eric Pigors has a fun style and I like the character he created for Creepy Crawls, but I'm sticking to my guns and actually prefer the final cover. After reading the book I'm more convinced than before that the photo is more appropriate for your material. I really like the art on the Creepy Crawls website homepage. Did Lou Rusconi draw that?

I'm happy you dig Creepy Crawls’ website! Yes, that main page art is Lou Rusconi's. He did a GREAT job with that.

Ok, I want to set the record straight. Many readers may be familiar with the basic premise of your book through Rue-Morgue magazine's popular column, 'Travelogue of Terror', in which writers visit locales of horrific significance. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you were the very first writer to contribute to this column and was it not your own submissions to the editor of Rue-Morgue that prompted this idea?

That is indeed the way it happened. If you ask Rue Morgue, I don't know what they would say, BUT I had submitted travel articles to the editors of Rue Morgue as early as spring of 2001. My ‘Poe's Baltimore’ article comes to mind. I thought that would be PERFECT for their magazine, given its very own very “Poe-etic” name. They had no content of this nature amidst their pages. Nothing. After almost a year - or so it SEEMED! - I finally heard back from the head honcho over there at the time, Rod Gudino. He really dug what he read and wanted to use them but didn't know exactly HOW they could use them because, again, they didn't really have a column in which to publish "travelogues." Then MORE time passed. FINALLY, around the spring of '03, I was asked by Gudino if I wanted to take bits and pieces of some of my other film-related travel articles (many, if not most, of which had been published before in the pages of Chiller Theatre's very own magazine) and contribute the resulting "hack-and-slash" job as the debut installment of their "Travelogue of Terror" column. I was thrilled, as I had never written for a magazine the size of Rue Morgue before. I had written two pieces for Fangoria, but they only appeared on Fango's website. But at the same, I was a little pissed off! My travel articles had been on Rue Morgue's desks - and creeping through their heads – for almost TWO years and - lo and behold! - they are going to do a "horror travels" feature in their newly expanded issues. But what could I do about it? Nothing. So I took Rue Morgue up on their offer and the debut was VERY popular. I was hoping that Rue Morgue would feature more and more of my travel writing but ... no. To date, I've only done the "Travelogue of Terror" column one other time and that was with a piece on Dario Argento's "Profondo Rosso" shoppe in Rome. You can actually eyeball an unabridged and re-written specimen in Creepy Crawls. After a few headaches thereafter, I gave up trying to be featured in Rue Morgue, let alone "Travelogue of Terror." But I do DIG Rue Morgue a LOT and read it every month…

The Profondo Rosso Shop in Italy sounds awesome! It seems surreal to me that Luigi Cozzi was just hanging around working the counter when you visited! I love Alien Contamination (the movie AND the Engorged song)! Speaking of Dario Argento “fandemonium”, I first read your travel writing in Chas Balun’s acclaimed zine Deep Red back in 2002 and a revised version of that piece on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre appears in your book. When did you start visiting locations and how many years of travel does your book cover?

Let me first just say that being published in Deep Red- DEEP FUCKING RED! - was a TRUE honor for me. I had met Chas Balun at a Chiller Theatre convention a few years ago and always sent him my latest travel articles, along with dirt my "black bride" and I had dug up from the Chainsaw locations, Friday the 13th's "Camp Blood,” and so on. Well, in the spring of 2002, Chas called me on the phone one morning and asked me if I wanted to write something for the 15th anniversary issue of Deep Red that Blackest Heart Media (R.I.P.) was going to be publishing. For someone like Chas Balun - a horror writer and artist whose work has had a HUGE influence upon me – to personally invite me to contribute to a legendary underground horror magazine like Deep Red was -and still is- a BIG thing. If only Chas had written a foreword for Creepy Crawls like I begged him to do...Ha! To get to your actual question though, the book covers, roughly, eight years of "creepy crawling": from the earliest with Poe's Baltimore to the most recent with London. My wife and I began doing our "creepy crawls" with our honeymoon to New Orleans in June of 1998. The chapter on New Orleans would have been the "oldest" in the book if it hadn't been cut out. It would have been in the first part of Creepy Crawls that features the "historical/cultural horrors" but, because of Hurricane Katrina, a lot of the attractions (such as walking tours or stores) were no longer in business. Besides that, because we hadn't been there in almost SEVEN YEARS, the "stuff" of that potential chapter was by no means "up to date," so I simply did not feel comfortable including that chapter. "We gruesome twosome" DO want to visit New Orleans again very soon so you can very possibly look for something about "The Crescent City" in Creepy Crawls: The Return! Again, I've been doing the "horror travel writing" thing for almost EIGHT YEARS now. I can't say that the "genre" was born with yours cruelly (I actually first read something of the sort in Chiller Theatre's magazine a year or two before I mailed Kevin Clement my VERY first travelogue in the fall of 1998) but I can - and WILL! - say that I not only "popularized" the form, publishing LOTS of this "species" of article in LOTS of different magazines, but also ... "perfected" it? My gray matter PULSATES ... Ha!

Did you ever visit Forrest Ackerman's museum? I heard he started selling off his collection on ebay a few years ago to pay the bills.

No, I never have but wanted to SO badly when we were in Los Angeles a few years ago. But, alas, we didn't have the time for it. And now that I too have heard that he has started selling his famous - FAMOUS! - sci-fi/horror collection, I wonder if I EVER will! I read that he has been VERY sick lately so perhaps he had to begin selling his treasures off to pay for his medical bills? As a rabid collector myself, I can't believe how HEARTBREAKING that must be for poor "Uncle Forry" to do that! The way Forrest Ackerman wrote in ‘Famous Monsters’ all those years ago was a HUGE influence on Creepy Crawls’ narrative. His use of puns and alliteration might sound "corny" to "hardcore" horror hounds for whom "humour" has no place, but it's the same reason why I LOVE The Munsters or The Addams Family: it's FUN! I love it ALL. I love extremely nasty Horror such as Last House on Dead End Street or Cannibal Holocaust or, more recently, Hostel, but I also love Zacherley, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, or "The Monster Mash." If it's "HORROR!" I LOVE it!

All fun alliteration aside, it is your tireless research that makes Creepy Crawls such a remarkable achievement. The opening section detailing your exploits in England, for instance, is downright educational in its distillation of such a broad range of European history. Bodysnatchers, bubonic plague, bare-knuckle fighters, bedlam! If I had a history book like this in grade school I may have paid more attention! How much research went into each section of your book?

A LOT! Ha! Creepy Crawls took a lot of time to write not only because of the construction of all those puns and all that alliteration (which was almost like a MANIA that possessed me at times!), but because of all the RESEARCH that I had to stitch together like Frankenstein's Monster: "facts," history, popular myths, cultural "artifacts" like films and literature, and so on. So I'm VERY happy you appreciated that fact. Before my wife and I undertake a "creepy crawl," we do a LOT of research on our proposed destination. This takes the form of sifting through piles of guide books for all the "charnel" that makes we two "horror fiends" drool, but also doing some hunting on the internet as well. With the latter, however, you have to do as much "judging" as you do "digging" because of simply how much FALSE information there is out there on the "netherworld wide web." For instance, when we were in London last March, I wanted to see the home Dracula was said to have bought upon Piccadilly in Bram Stoker's novel. From a review of a London "walking tour," I read that it could be found at 138 Piccadilly, which was, in fact, but next to London's "Hard Rock Cafe." We visited the location at the end of a VERY long day, so the walk there from the Tube stop was GRUELLING. But when we arrived before the Count's supposed dwelling, we took our photos and yours cruelly even posed for a few, doing my best "Vampyr" impression. Well, at the time, I was actually also reading Stoker's novel for the very first time. The following night - lo and behold! – I came to the very passage whose events chilled that very same stretch of Piccadilly - or so I thought! Because, according to Stoker himself, Dracula's home was at "347 Piccadilly," which was almost at the OTHER end of that VERY long road. It made me want to scream, mostly at myself for not looking to the primary source FIRST! But after a "creepy crawl," perhaps even more research is done when I sit down to write about it. I want an article (or, in the case of Creepy Crawls, a "chapter") to not only be well-researched but, simply, FUN to read, so there is a lot of "weighing" that must go into the whole process. How much "research" is TOO much to include? When does the research for some given location I'm writing about need to be "beefed up"? It all depends upon exactly WHAT is being written about actually. With the first part of the book that deals with horrors from history, of corpse, more "historical" research went into those chapters. With the third part of the book that features "creepy crawls" to film locations, however, there still is a good deal of "historical" research, but it is much more about the history of the films' production and reception, which always seems "easier" to write about for some unknown reason. In the end, though, I can thank my "academic" background for helping me not only with the actual research I did for Creepy Crawls but my digesting and "puking forth" of it as well. But unless you want to have it read like an "encyclopedia," that's where the Crypt Keeper/Zacherley/Uncle Forry-esque "flavouring" comes in!

I really enjoyed your section about Sweeney Todd! I still remember the television commercials that aired when the "Demon Barber of Fleet Street" musical opened in New York City! I was very young and those ads were TERRIFYING! I finally had a chance to see the play performed at the Circle in the Square Theater (off Broadway) when I was in 8th grade and it was amazing! A total gore fest with blood spewing all over the place during the throat slitting scenes! They even made this great set with Sweeney Todd's chair fixed with a trap door. I imagine it's as close as I'll ever come to the old Grand Guignol.

"The Demon Barber"! Yes. Seeing his reputed "barber shoppe" (as well as Mrs. Lovett's Bell Yard pie shoppe) was at the VERY top of my list when we were making our list of what we wanted to see whilst in London. However, the only way I have seen Steven Sondheim's "penny dreadful opera" is, alas, on video: the Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou version that used to air on PBS all the time. I also saw, on television, a "stripped down" version that was performed in San Francisco not all that long ago. "Doogie Howser" was actually there in the part of the "young suitor" of Sweeney's long lost daughter. I believe this was the beginnings of the version that is now playing on Broadway? It was REALLY good though! I would probably love ALL versions of " ... Todd." There was even news not that long ago that Tim Burton was going to direct a film adaptation. I would LOVE that like it was my very own baby! Have you ever read the first chapter of Neil Gaiman's "The String of Pearls" serial that was in TABOO back in the '90s?

Nah, I don’t remember that one…

I am lucky enough to have a copy of the "penny dreadful" promo that Steve Bissette published through SpiderBaby for it. For those out of the "know," it would have been Gaiman's answer to Alan Moore's From Hell - but using Sweeney Todd rather than "Saucy Jack" as the ghastly zeitgeist of down-and-dirty Victorian England. However, it never saw more than that first chapter.


I don't recall from my initial reading any mention in your travelogues of the werewolves of "London Town". Did you discover anything about the British roots of lycanthropy or explore any locales connected to this popular folklore while in England?

A VERY interesting thing about London was, indeed, the distinction between "London" and "London Town." There were actually the remnants of the Roman wall, which used to separate the two. This is what made the Jack the Ripper slaughters even MORE heinous: his "invasion" of London Town, which was then the home of London's "old blood" (with WHICH murder I cannot recall off the top of my head - you'll have to read Creepy Crawls I suppose!) But did I discover London’s "werewolves"? Unfortunately, NO. The closest we came to lycanthropes whilst in London was traipsing through the Tottenham Court Road Tube stop, which was featured in An American Werewolf In London! But the thing about London is that there is an ENDLESS slew of "Horror!"-ed locations you could feast upon whilst there. You could spend whole tours dedicated exclusively to London's "black magick" past, London's "vampire" past, and, apparently, London's "werewolf" past. But, yes, I would LOVE to have unearthed London's links to lycanthropy. Actually, I remember from a History Channel special one October that a lot of the "werewolf" mania in Medieval Europe took place in Germany or France, as with the case of Peter Stubbe.

There are certainly references as far back as the Norse sagas to Germanic “wolf shirts” or berserkers, but I was actually wondering if there might be any historical basis for songs like Warren Zevon’s hilarious 70’s oddity ‘Werewolves of London’ and Ian Read’s ‘Werewolves of London Town’. Probably not…

Despite my lack of werewolf "creepy crawling" in London (the SHAME!), I AM fascinated with werewolves. ‘The Howl’ just so happens to be my favorite Samhain song and I actually bought Montague Summers' The Werewolf after hearing Glenn Danzig refer to it in Danzig's first home video. I'd have to say my favorite werewolf film is The Howling, although I LOVE Paul Naschy's "Waldemar Daninsky" wolf-outs! And EVERYONE should read Neil Gaiman's "Only the End of the World Again," which is the best Lovecraftian werewolf short story EVER written. Do you have a favorite, Dennis?


I LOVE 'The Howl'! Who could not worship that opening drum beat and eerie bass line (no pun intended!)? Those are also some of Danzig’s best lyrics! Favorite werewolf film? I love the original Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and Curse of the Werewolf with Oliver Reed! I also love American Werewolf In London and, most recently, Dog Soldiers. What did you think of The Hills Have Eyes remake ? I've tried to ignore most of the recent remakes but I REALLY enjoyed The Hills Have Eyes! In fact, I've watched it three times and I like it better than the original (gasp)!

It is almost like confessing to a "dirty little secret" that I admit that I REALLY dug some - some! - of the much vilified "remakes" that I have seen within the last few years, specifically Dawn of the Dead, Chainsaw, and, yes, The Hills Have Eyes. I sat down wanting to HATE these three but was surprised at how much I enjoyed each of them. I can't say if I dug Alexandre Aja's remake MORE than Wes Craven's original, but I WOULD say that it is definitely a much more vicious and violent film and I believe that is the "key" that defines the "effectiveness" of some of these remakes for me. The same goes for the Chainsaw remake. It's just utterly GRISLY in parts, you know? Perhaps knowing that they have a LOT to prove, the directors of these remakes, in particular Aja, intensifies the sheer gruesomeness, the grotesqueness, of what they put before an audience. When you compare the original to the remake, Aja's film is simply so much more brutal and bestial, you know?!? Like when Michael Bailey Smith's "Pluto" is sucking the milk from that young mother's teats ... EGADS! It was just such an utter grotesquerie - I LOVED it! But does that mean that I DON'T love Craven's original? Of corpse not. They are almost DIFFERENT films. The original seemed to want to focus upon the "inner-workings" of the mutant family (setting up a more direct contrast to the "American Pie"-ness of the all-too-unfortunate "normal" vacationers), while the remake wanted to focus upon that post-Sawney Bean family's MONSTROSITY. But all that said, as much as I must admit that I have indeed enjoyed some of these remakes, I STILL do not see the purpose for them. WHY not simply make a NEW film? The Dawn of the Dead remake was SO different from the original (despite the basic "human survivors living in the zombie-surrounded mall" trope) that it could have been just another zombie flick. Had they done that, the film-makers could have saved themselves from the vitriol of a LOT of "hardcore" horror fiends. But, in the end, it's about the NAME of the original. THAT is what's important. They seem to need that MORE than the original story or characters. But some horror aficionados are SO caught up in this "I HATE REMAKES!" drama. Simply put, there is NOTHING you can do about it so, if you don't want to see them, DON'T. And, in the end, as John Landis said at last October's Chiller Theatre convention, the "remake" is NOT a new thing! And to tell you the truth, I am REALLY looking forward to Rob Zombie's "prequel"/"sequel"/"remake" of Halloween. I dug his first two films a lot and want to see what he can do with John Carpenter's "boogeyman."

Will Santa Monica Press be sending you out on any promotional tours for the book? It would be great if you could arrange some readings and book signings!

Indeed! That would be a LOT of fun - at least the signings! Given the Crypt Keeper-ish way Creepy Crawls was written, it would probably be VERY embarrassing to have to read it out loud! I'd have to PAY a Vincent Price-impersonator to read it for me! But about the signings, I don't know what kind of money Santa Monica Press has to do that sort of thing. They have been a GREAT company to work with and were definitely the perfect "home" for Creepy Crawls, given their eclectic/weird catalogue of previous titles, especially of the "travel" variety. However, in truth, they are NOT Simon and Schuster or Penguin or some other book publisher who has a million-upon-million dollar budget to work with. But we'll see! I would LOVE to sell and sign copies of Creepy Crawls at conventions here on the East Coast, such as HorrorFind, Monster-Mania, Fango, and, of corpse, Chiller Theatre. But with table costs beginning at $300, I would have to sell a LOT of books simply to come away "even," you know?!? I WILL be selling signed copies of Creepy Crawls myself. I already have a coffin-full of little Halloween trick-or-treats that I want to mail out with them. I also want to put together some kind of "barf bag" to toss it all in. I believe I have more "FUN!" obsessing over those sorts of details, promotion and "goodies" and such, more than I do with the writing of the actual WORK it's all meant to accompany!

I love your list of "13 Rules" for the would-be Creepy Crawler. Rule #8 admonishes, "If you are bringing a fiend...along with you...be sure they won't be a drag...If they don't have ANY interest in where you're going and what you're going there for...they'll become dead weight VERY fast!" I get the feeling you are referring to a personal experience. Do you have any horror stories about friends joining you on your creepy crawls?

UGHHH! Well, that rule is VERY true, Dennis. And I know all-too-well from "personal experience." That "rule" was basically the product of my experiences with one former "traveling companion" - who is a "friend" NO more and was finally seen as the untermensch that he always was, and NOT because he was simply "dead weight"! -who whined about how cold it was when we walked through the Evans City Cemetery from the beginning of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. After belly-aching without end about the subzero Pittsburgh temperatures, he begged me to let him sit in our "butchermobile" with the motor, and heater, running while we finished our tour of that legendary- LEGENDARY! - tomb yard. This experience and, unfortunately, MORE made me want to poke my thumbs through his eyeballs while bellowing in his blood-dripping face, "WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU HERE?!?" More than that, though, it made me yell at MYSELF for choosing my "traveling companions" so unwisely. It was a good lesson to learn. So yes, Destroying Angels Reader, should you want to undertake a "creepy crawl" of your very own, when deciding who to go with - or NOT go with! - answer two questions VERY honestly: first, "Will I PUKE if I have to stare into the face of this potential traveling partner for hours, if not days, on end?" and second - and this is VERY important! - "Will this potential traveling partner HELP me to celebrate my LOVE of Horror?" If not ... BEWARE!
You have been warned...

3 comments:

Liam said...

Cool interview! Where's the website? That book could come in handy.

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Ryan S. said...

Awesome news!
Great interview as well!