By Cleaver Patterson.
Emily Booth has a wealth of experience both in front of and behind the camera. As a result, the British horror actress and face of television’s popular Horror Channel is better placed than most to comment on the current state of the horror genre, and its place in contemporary entertainment. Embarking on another year reporting from FILM4 FrightFest on behalf of Horror Channel, she took time out of her schedule to tell Cleaver Patterson why she believes horror is still important in our culture and how she finds the real world much more disturbing than anything ever shown on the screen.
Cleaver Patterson: What scares you?
Emily Booth: To be honest, real life scares me. The news scares me way more than any horror film. I think about this all the time. I’m a mother of two children and it does make a difference. I still love my horror movies through and through, but the more I see of the real world and the news the more I realise how much fun horror is because it’s usually pure fantasy. On film though, zombies, werewolves and vampires don’t scare me. Humans, men, scare me and also good old fashioned supernatural. In terms of dreams, the concept of war and the knowledge that a plane with bombs is coming and there’s nothing you can do scares. At least with a serial killer you could outrun him, you could fight back. You might actually make it if you’ve got some savvy and a knife blade or a good punch. You could potentially survive a madman. But a plane loaded with bombs. No, you’re not going to do very well.
What place do you think horror has in the wider field of entertainment?
Horror has always had a massive place in popular culture, particularly with fairy tales. Horror is just the film version of what storytellers back through time told by word of mouth to their children in the villages. Horror is very relevant, we need stories because they reflect who we are and horror has traditionally reflected what’s going on in the real world and society. You can read all kinds of social commentary in horror films. I think it’s very important for how we understand ourselves and cope with the horrors which are around us. Horror is cathartic. The closer you are to death the more alive you feel and that’s the basic premise behind why people enjoy watching a film at the cinema, because of that knee jerk reaction when you watch a scary movie, the jump and then relief that everything’s fine. It’s necessary to us psychologically and culturally.
Do you think there’s a point horror shouldn’t cross?
Yes. It’s a very difficult question because you’re raising questions of censorship which is a really tricky one, and it’s not black and white. I’ve dealt with censorship issues for years. I worked for Nigel Wingrove at Redemption Films and Salvation Films and his whole thing is anti-censorship so I’ve had it drummed into me that we shouldn’t have censorship, which I guess I pretty much do agree with. But of course there are places which we shouldn’t go to. Animals and children I don’t think should be mucked with for the sake of entertainment. I don’t think anyone wants to see that. People say there are taboos and they’re there to be broken. It’s the same question as what’s freedom of speech? Freedom of speech is one thing, but it doesn’t mean you have the right to go out there and spread hate. You have to look within yourself and say okay, that’s not acceptable. It’s not entertaining or saying anything, so you have to draw the line. I don’t think many subjects are off limits, but how you treat it and show it. But then how do you police it?
Does acting and an interest in horror run in your family?
Not really. The only person in my family who likes it is my brother who is a massive horror fan. Collectively as siblings we got into the whole horror scene together. He’s older than me so he influenced me massively, because he was the one who was able to go to the video store in the 1980s and checked the films out. But my parents weren’t interested. They were antique dealers.
How did you get into acting?
My first job was Pervirella. I was studying at Goldsmiths University doing film and media, so I was just a student. My brother met this insane group of people, Josh Collins and Alex Chandon, and they were making this film Pervirella and needed a lead to play Pervirella. So I auditioned for about three hours and got the part, and which was a very strange, low budget, trippy film and not commercial or mainstream at all. Then I did Cradle of Fear with Alex Chandon again, and then met Jake West and did Evil Aliens. Then I did Dog House and a few other little movies as well, like Inbred and The Reverend, and lots of little things. Then I did presenting.
What’s the favourite role that you’ve done yourself?
The most fun I’ve probably had was Pervirella because she was the most outlandish, unusual character. She was three months old, but her physical progression happened within a few seconds in some strange Victorian machine. She was a crazy, naughty little sex pot and I had fun with the costumes. It was a very experimental film.
Which director would you most like to work with?
It’s never going to happen, but Neil Jordan. I think his films are very female and his adaptations of novels are very good. He always chooses novels by women as well so I think he’s really into the female psyche and I love his imagery. I’m a big imagery person, so to work with him would be a treat.
If there was one horror star from the past who you could have worked with, who would it have been and why?
Christopher Lee. I’m very upset that I never met Christopher Lee. I think I would have melted though because he had the most penetrating and hypnotic stare. He could have out-acted anyone, so I would have crumbled but would have been amazed to have worked with him.
What is your favourite horror film, and why?
I don’t have one favourite. There’s modern horror that’s amazing and things from the 70s and 80s too. But I do love Company of Wolves because it’s so seductive and lavish and poetic.
How did you get involved with the Horror Channel?
I wrote to them saying that I really wanted to work with them and I had a good background in horror and knew my stuff. I’ve done it a couple of times where I’ve sold myself but I’ve only done it where I thought I wouldn’t muck it up. I write all the links and voiceovers for the Horror Channel, so I had to give them writing and voice samples. Then I got the gig to do all their continuity and presenting.
What exactly is your role with them — do you have any input into what the channel shows?
The Horror Channel has changed quite a lot over the years. I can’t tell them what films to get as that’s to do with acquisitions and distribution. But I come up with ideas for seasons, etc. and they do special nights, including a whole night of my films once. I knew Doug Bradley through doing horror and said we should do a Doug Bradley Night, so we did Hellraiser I, II and III with interviews and fun stuff with me sitting on Doug’s knee talking about Hellraiser, and I produced the whole night. They used to let me do a lot the behind the scenes stuff and interviews and things, so I’ve produced a few things for them and do all their writing for the voice-overs. We do a month’s material in advance including all the voice-over and in-vision material.
They show vintage Dr Who on the Horror Channel. Would you like to appear in it?
I would love to be in Dr Who, if asked to be an alien. The storylines are so incredibly complicated and scientific. They’re so out-of-this-world and original.
Do you prefer cinema or television, and why?
They both have their pluses. It’s difficult because these days people are quite fussy and like their home environment with their big screens and amazing sound systems, so they’ve made the experience of watching films quite good at home. But I think it would be a massive shame to loose the whole institution of the cinema, as it’s where films are born and you get the collective audience experience. The experience is stronger and lasts longer if everything is bigger.
What involvement do you have with FrightFest?
I was in the festival in 2001 when Cradle of Fear premiered at FrightFest, which was the first time I came here as an actress. Then Evil Aliens was here, so I suppose I was here first more as an actress. Then when I joined the Horror Channel my first presenting job was to report from FrightFest. I’ve been doing it every year since, so it’s been a good relationship.
What films have you seen so far at this year’s festival which have really impressed you?
I’ve only been able to catch a few but We Are Still Here I really liked. Road Games and Never Let Go, which is not a horror at all, it’s a thriller but very pacy. I didn’t see it but everyone says check out Bite. There are a lot of gems.
You met this year’s FrightFest Special Guest, Barbara Crampton, who is something of a horror legend. What was she like?
She’s stunning. She looks younger than me so has clearly been bitten by a vampire. She’s lovely and really knows her stuff. She’s really intelligent, sassy and warm. I love women like her and Caroline Munro who aren’t these spiky media types. They know about acting and take it very seriously, and aren’t just one-hit-wonder scream queens.
How important are festivals like FrightFest – what role do you see them playing?
FrightFest and other horror genre festivals are very important as they make the link between the directors of films and the fans in the audience. They cover a community, which is what I like about the horror genre. There aren’t many genres where you get this strong sense of community, both real and on-line. The industry needs these events as it’s where material gets discovered. Gareth Edwards is a case in point. He did one film, Monsters. Brilliant, he did it off his own bat. Someone saw it at a festival and that was it. He had a meeting in Hollywood and he was hired to do Godzilla. So without the platform of a festival like FightFest screening his film to fans and distributors, he might never have been discovered.
How important are fans to you and what do you personally get from meeting them?
The fans are really important. They’re so friendly and loyal. I’ve always found the slightly ironic thing is horror fans are not the degenerate, heathens they’re often made out to be. They’re the most clued-up, politically aware, warm and nice people I’ve ever met and are usually, on-the-whole, amazing and intelligent. They’re the ones watching and supporting the movies.
Tell us about your writing — you contribute to Scream magazine, and you’ve written films like the fantasy short Selkie? What do you like about writing?
I write and blog. I write for Scream and used to write for Bizarre, but it’s usually Horror Channel-related things. I try putting my own spin on things. I wrote the story for Selkie but my brother adapted it for a screenplay. I came up with the idea and short story, but the screenplay format is very different, so my brother did that. Selkie was a love letter to Hastings and a very personal project. I write like I talk so I hope you can hear my voice in my writing, though I wouldn’t call myself a particularly creative writer. I don’t have these amazing ideas which I have to get off my chest or anything. It’s just another way for me to express myself.
From which of your roles, as an actress or a television presenter, do you get the most satisfaction?
Presenting is my bread and butter and I like it because it’s part of who I am. My personality comes through with presenting. Acting couldn’t be more different. You’re not doing your own personality, you’re not being yourself, you’re being someone different. With presenting you engage with the camera. Acting you have to act like the camera isn’t there at all. So they’re like opposite jobs. I find it easier and more natural presenting. But acting in a film, the result of that you can’t really beat. Acting has longevity, presenting is yesterday’s news once you’ve done it.
As an actress what is it like to see yourself on screen?
It’s quite painful. In a way it’s quite an honour because not many people get to see what they were like ten, twenty, thirty years ago. It feels odd because you don’t feel that connected to that person. You know they existed obviously, but I feel quite removed from the twenty year old Emily doing Pervirella and the mature Emily Booth on Horror Channel. But they’re two completely different people. It can be awkward and you do judge yourself a lot and become quite self conscious.
What do you have lined up in the future?
As long as Horror Channel will have me I’ll probably work for them. There’s talk of another film but I’m waiting for that to be green lit so I shouldn’t really say anything on that.
What would your advice be to anyone wanting to get into horror entertainment?
You have to be a bit of everything and know your stuff. You can’t just be a presenter, or just a journalist. You have to be professional and passionate. And like me you have to go knocking on their door.
Cleaver Patterson is a film journalist and critic based in London. He is News Editor for Flickfeast website, and regularly contributes to a number of other publications and websites including Rue Morgue and Film International.
Emily Booth can be seen presenting a selection of the weird and grotesque each night on the Horror Channel, further details of which can be found at: http://www.horrorchannel.co.uk.