An Interview with Author/Director Frazer Lee
I’ve gotten to know Frazer Lee thanks to our being in the same horror fraternity, Samhain Tau Chi. He’s definitely on my “To Have A Beer With” list, but until we meet at some remote bar, I thought it would be a good idea to have a little chat with him about his amazing new book, The Lamplighters, horror in general, his deepest secrets (ok, maybe not deepest) and Halloween. So sit back, have a nice bottle of chianti and some fava beans and enjoy…
1. Your latest book, ‘The Lamplighters’, will be out with Samhain Publishing’s horror line this November. Can you tell us what a lamplighter exactly is and what drew you to make them the subject of your book?
‘The Lamplighters’ are essentially caretakers. In the world of my novel, these lucky young people are hired by a consortium of billionaires to look after their glamorous island homes. It’s a dream job because all they have to do is turn on a few lights (hence the name) and cook and clean in order for the rich employers to maintain their residency status (and tax breaks). If the concept of a lamplighter sounds far fetched, I assure you these people really exist in places such as Monaco where the super-rich go out to play. And while I was working on the novel, a news story broke about a contest looking for a caretaker to look after a lush tropical island, proving fact is often stranger than fiction! In essence the lamplighters formed the basis of the book because they embody that “be careful what you wish for” vibe – which is what The Lamplighters’ particular horror premise is all about.
2. What did you enjoy most about writing ‘The Lamplighters’?
I also work as a screenwriter/script doctor so I have to say I most enjoyed not having any budgetary constraints to deal with! If I wanted to include explosions, underwater sequences, multiple (expensive) locations and “visual FX” they could all go in to ‘The Lamplighters’ with no-one from production getting all hot-under-the-collar about it. (Laughs) Aside from that I really enjoyed getting to know Marla and The Skin Mechanic and all the other characters. I enjoyed the surprises and discoveries they sometimes threw my way as the story revealed itself through them.
3. The horror genre is new to Samhain. What drew you to them as a publisher and how has the experience been?
I first heard Samhain was branching out into horror via Brian Keene’s website, around the time I was finishing up work on editing the manuscript of ‘The Lamplighters’. Like you Hunter, I admired editor Don D’Auria from his work with Leisure/Dorchester. I’d submitted my full manuscript to Leisure on request after Don saw the synopsis and first three chapters. The shizzle then hit the fan over at Leisure, so I followed up with Don over at Samhain. I’m glad I did because a few weeks later I got a very flattering email from Don inviting me to publish with them. The experience has a been a pleasure, really, from having input into the cover design to working on the final text. It’s been bloody exciting to see the marketing around the new line with banners and flyers at events like Comic Con, and ads in Fangoria and Famous Monsters. There is a real buzz for the new line, with authors and horror fans alike Blogging and Tweeting and Facebooking about the titles. I also like the fact Samhain offers ebooks and paperbacks so people can choose depending on their preference. Likewise I think it’s a smart move for the line to offer some familiar names like Ramsey Campbell, who is one of my absolute faves, along with new blood like us guys. It’s an honor to be in such esteemed company and I’m excited to be part of the first wave of Samhain Horror authors.
4. The popularity of horror books comes and goes in waves, though the tsunami of bad horror films just keeps on smashing onto our shores. Where do you think horror literature stands today and what’s your prognosis for the future?
I kind of wish you hadn’t asked me this, because I feel a slight rant coming on! I don’t know, I think the good stuff bubbles to the surface regardless of any tidal waves of trash that poison our shores.
You mentioned bad horror films. Now, one thing that really gets my goat is that independent filmmakers are now jumping on the bandwagon and remaking existing movies. The studios – you expect them to churn out remakes because their business model is minimum risk/maximum return, after all. And if audiences didn’t pay to go see these things, they wouldn’t make them and spend millions marketing them – but they make gazillions of dollars back, so someone is out there watching them! True, a bona fide visionary filmmaker can bring something fresh, new and amazing to a remake (John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’) but visionaries like him are few and far between.
Indie-kids remaking horror classics? That sucks, really, because the low-to-no budget world is where the real IDEAS should be coming from. The indies should be the source of the studio remakes and the franchises of tomorrow, see? Homage is great and all, and nothing exists in a vacuum, every creation has its influences of course. But if you’re an independent filmmaker and if for whatever reason all you can dream up is homage and replication of someone else’s work, that just makes you a fucking hack in my book. I truly believe it is the duty – the DUTY – of indie horror filmmakers to at least try and create something original and brave. Sorry, I said this would be a rant! (Laughs)
Now, in the case of horror literature, I actually think the remake culture in horror cinema right now is positive for horror authors. Many folks are just exhausted seeing so many of their favorites being rehashed, exploited and toned down for a quick buck that they may turn to outlets like Samhain Horror to try something fresh. And there’s a crossover happening there between books and films. A couple of my recent film favorites, ‘Pontypool’ and ‘Let The Right One In’ were both sourced from fantastic novels, both very fresh takes on very established sub-genres. Who knows, maybe some of the new Samhain horror novels could be the new horror movies of tomorrow?
Popularity is cyclical, I agree, but the underlying fanbase for all things horror is certainly solid and loyal. And dare I say it, whatever your poison – insatiable.
5. You write and you direct films. Which gives you the greatest satisfaction? On a side note, what was it like to work with Pinhead (Doug Bradley for those of you who aren’t aware that Cenobites are not real)?
When I’m writing, I love to direct. And when I’m directing, I love to write. (Laughs) Both keep me on my tippy-toes in different ways and neither ever fully satisfies me as there’s always something more to learn, always somewhere further to go. That’s, I guess, what keeps me doing both. Of late the balance has tipped more in the favor of writing, but writing is one helluva enjoyable way to scratch a living so I am not complaining! On that side note of yours, it has been a real pleasure to work with Doug Bradley. He is a true professional and good friend who brought so much to the film projects we worked on together. We keep regular contact and I’d work with him again in a (hellbound) heartbeat.
6. Why does it appear so difficult to get great horror books to translate into great horror movies?
I believe it only ever works if an adaptation is just that – a truly adapted work. Because the mechanics of novels and movies are so vastly different a movie of a book can only really succeed to my mind if it stops trying to be a book and just focuses on being a movie already! Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ is a great example – while not to everyone’s taste (including it seems, the author’s!), it is an adaptation of the novel into film form in the truest sense. The Shining is a novel by a visionary writer and The Shining is also a film by a visionary filmmaker – ‘and never the twain shall meet’. Be honest, how many movie adaptations have you watched and thought to yourself, “they could’ve cut that part” or “they could’ve shown that in a visual way rather than telling it in reams of dialogue lifted straight from the book”? Adaptation is far more bloody difficult than many people seem to perceive it to be, it’s a fine art. Add to that the complexity of fans of the book wanting the movie version to be word-for-word what they saw in their head when they were reading it – it’s never gonna happen. In my experience, take 10 different filmmakers reading the same source material, screenplay, whatever, and you’d get 10 very different movies as an end result. The trouble is, if we’re already fans of a book we’re ‘making the movie’ in our heads at least as we read it – so our expectations of any subsequent movie version are rarely, if ever, going to be met. And interestingly, the translation of movie screenplays into movie novelizations can be just as difficult a task, although the inclusion of “8 pages of color photos from the film” can sweeten the pill somewhat!
7. What’s one secret you could reveal about yourself that would surprise people the most?
To those who know of my enthusiasm for splatter and gore, it may surprise them to learn I have been a vegetarian for 21 years (although I started eating fish again a couple of years ago so I guess that makes me pescatarian now). Anyone who REALLY knows me will not be in the least bit surprised to know I prefer the taste of human flesh… (Winks)
8. As many people will know, Samhain Publishing is named for the ancient tradition that became every horrorhead’s favorite festival of Halloween. What would make for your best ever Samhain celebration?
Oh Halloween is my favorite time of year, hands down. Best ever celebration would be the same thing I enjoy doing every year… Carve some pumpkins with the family, cook up and devour a batch of pumpkin soup and some tasty ‘dead man’s fingers’. And then, when the little monsters are tucked up in bed, kick back and watch John Carpenter’s classic ‘Halloween’. Aside from that, maybe a game of ‘wake the dead’ at the Horror Stars’ Cemetery in which Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasance and other dear departed f(r)iends wake up and come out to play for just one more night… A happy Samhain for one and all!
About Hunter SheaI’m the product of a childhood weened on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and In Search Of. I don’t just write about the paranormal. I actively seek out the things that scare the hell out of people and experience them for myself. My novels, Forest of Shadows, Evil Eternal , Swamp Monster Massacre and Sinister Entity are published through Samhain Publishing’s horror line. I live with my family and untrainable cat close enough to New York City to get Gray’s Papaya hotdogs when the craving hits. I’m also proud to be be one half of the Monster Men video podcast, along with my partner in crime, Jack Campisi. Our show is a light hearted approach to dark subjects. We explore real life hauntings, monsters, movies, books and everything under the horror sun.
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