Mike Schiff - Mike Schiff
"Metal and Horror--Exploring Relationships"

Film Producer Mike Schiff talks about exploring the relationship between metal and horror in his documentary "The History of Horror and Metal"
By: Greg Watson  |  Published: Friday, January 15, 2016
Mike Schiff
Throughout the years, heavy metal music and the horror genre have shared a very symbiotic relationship. In the early 70's, Alice Cooper began including horror and theatrical elements such as fake blood, the use of a guillotine, and an electric chair in their stage show. Since Cooper's brilliant decision to incorporate those elements to their shows, countless bands have taken that idea and expanded on it and made it even more gory and bloody. Then you have bands like Goblin, who in the 70's and 80's provided the soundtrack to several Dario Argento movies. Anima Morte is a current outfit that creates music inspired by horror; songs that offer that special ambience of dread and fear. Add to all this the myriad of songs that reference and borrow from horror movies as well as albums that are purely dedicated to specific films and the genre itself and it's easy to see why this marriage has been so perfect and lasted so long.

Enter film producer Mike Schiff, who is undertaking the making of a documentary entitled "The History of Horror and Metal" to further explore the relationship between these two genres. Mike was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and give us the information on his documentary, his likes, VR technology, and a band that really gives him the creeps.

"I brought all kinds of bloody stuff to school to freak people out. Yeah, I was that kid." --Mike

Trying to learn a little about Mike, I asked him for a brief little biography about himself. "I grew up and still live in the Bronx, NY. I studied film and video production in high school and college, and then began working freelance, doing camera work and editing. I worked on some short films and other projects for a while and then landed a full time job at the Howard Stern Show for eight years. Now I'm finally getting back to film work, just finishing shooting a horror/comedy directed by John Russo (Night of the Living Dead). I originally wanted to be a special effects make-up artist, and got pretty good at it. I brought all kinds of bloody stuff to school to freak people out. Yeah, I was that kid."

Seeing the list of actors and musicians that Mike has listed on his website, I was incredibly intrigued and onboard. Wondering where the idea for this project came from Mike told me that, "My friend, Robert Lucas had brought me onboard to attend and film some horror conventions, including Rock and Shock and Kirk Von Hammett's Fear Festevil. Those conventions were full of both metal and horror. It then occurred to me that there hadn't yet been a documentary that explored the connection between the genres. I spoke to Robert about it, he loved the idea, and agreed to help produce it with me."

In regards to the folks he'd been able to contact and interview for the documentary, Mike said that "I knew there were quite a few metal artists who were huge horror fans. Those included Alice Cooper, Kirk Hammett, Corey Taylor, Jonathan Davis, Chris Jericho, etc. I had already met several of those guys before, so I just needed to reach out to them directly or through management. Having worked at the Howard Stern Show, many connections were made over the years. I began compiling a greater list of artists and inquired about them through various sources. I was given contact info to artist's management and was fortunate enough to have been granted interviews. Some interviews took place locally, some I had to fly out for, and some I captured at big metal festivals and conventions."

The History of Metal and Horror
As a fan, I imagined what it would be like for me to sit down and talk to actors and musicians that I idolized and loved and realized that Mike probably had a blast doing this. Wanting to know if any of his favorites were part of the group interviewed for the documentary, I asked Mike to tell us who his favorite bands were and what his favorite horror movies are and he said, "In no particular order, The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Prince of Darkness, In The Mouth of Madness, The Ring, etc. For metal--Metallica, Pantera, Slipknot, Slayer, Gojira, Avatar, and a bunch more."

Those of us that are big horror buffs have been really excited about the rise of horror series on TV such as AMC's "The Walking Dead", FX's "American Horror Story" and Starz' "Ash vs. Evil Dead". I asked Mike about what he felt those shows could offer that a feature film wouldn't be able to and the potential longevity of this format. "There's so much more story to tell with a series. A regular zombie film is done in under two hours and maybe there will be sequels, but The Walking Dead can continue on for years, with hours upon hours of content. And throughout the process, more story is added and things can change depending on public demand. A film is much more limited in that sense. If it sucks, it sucks. A series can get better, even if it starts slow or has a weak season. I think the series is here to stay."

Sticking with the TV angle for a bit, we wondered if spinoffs and spoofs like MTV's "Scream" and Fox's "Scream Queens" that reveal some of the horror secrets hurt the genre on a mainstream level. Mike tells us that "I think people have become tired of having their intelligence insulted with dumb horror films. We've demanded smarter horror that's less silly. The 90's became a major low point in horror but things changed a bit for the better. Many horror films are still kinda lame, but the bar has been raised in some ways. That's a good thing."

Digging in a little deeper, fellow staffer Eric Compton said the 30s gave birth to visual icons like Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein via Universal. The late 70s and early 80s gave us what would be considered the modern "creature features" the slasher big four of Michael, Freddy, Jason and Leather. Do you think horror will invent other visual icons in the future or do you think the low budget trend of "found footage" has ruined that notion? Apparently this had been on Mike's mind recently as "I've been thinking about this recently. There really haven't been any new horror icons out there. I think the horror market became so overly saturated with slashers that no characters stood out anymore. It's not easy creating a character that has the awesomeness of Freddy, Jason, Michael, etc. I don't think found footage films necessarily had anything to do with that, since the creation of horror icons basically stopped in the late 80's."

Mentioning the characters above, it is very hard to think of a character that could really even compete with "Big 4". And when you think about it, Hollywood has resurrected all those characters in a newer attempt to reintroduce these storied characters to a new audience. Yet there is few new characters being introduced or created. Taking a break from the deeper digging, Mike was asked what band scares him and when I read the response, I both laughed and then stopped laughing and realized there might be a bit of truth to that, which is kind of frightening. Mike said that the band that scared him: "The Rolling Stones. I'm convinced all those guys died and were resurrected years go."

"I think people have become tired of having their intelligence insulted with dumb horror films. We've demanded smarter horror that's less silly. The 90's became a major low point in horror but things changed a bit for the better. Many horror films are still kinda lame, but the bar has been raised in some ways. That's a good thing." --Mike

Delving deeper, I have always felt that there is something about horror movies that draw people in like moths to the flame. For me personally, I've loved the storytelling that takes place in the movies and just the overall atmosphere created by some of my favorite films. When asked his opinion on the matter, Mike says that "There are lots of reasons. It's partly the same kind of curiosity we experience when looking at an accident on the side of the road, a fascination with the dark and morbid, and the adrenaline rush we sometimes get from feeling scared. Horror stories have been around for thousands of years. The fascination with the genre is deeply rooted."

Deciding to fire up the DeLorean, we stepped into the realm of VR technology. This technology has really made some pretty solid advances with devices like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear offering users the ability to participate in various activities and be transported to different locales worldwide. With there being several frightening horror apps already available for VR devices, Eric Compton wondered what effect Mike felt that VR would have on horror. Mike thinks that "There will probably be a place for VR horror for a while. Once the technology really gets to a high point, I think there will be a whole new level of terror. To be surrounded by a full, virtual horror environment can be very scary. The scares won't just be in front of you, but all around. Nightmares will be on the rise for sure."

After refueling and recalibrating the Flux Capacitor, we returned back to present day and the subject of extreme horror came up. Eric asked Mike if he felt that films like "Human Centipede" and "Martyrs" had pushed the boundaries of violent cinema to the absolute edge and if Mike felt that the summit of extreme horror had been reached? Mike's responded by saying that "Filmmakers will continue to try and make "the most shocking film in history." Some will succeed in getting attention for something outrageous, but we've become so desensitized, that it'll just be harder and harder to shock anyone."

"Horror stories have been around for thousands of years. The fascination with the genre is deeply rooted." --Mike

When it comes to the horror genre and heavy metal, we fans have our own ideas of the iconic images and songs from our favorite movies that hold a special place inside our dark hearts. Deciding to put Mike on the spot about his Top 5 Horror Images and Soundtrack Songs he answered, "The dead twin sisters in The Shining, Regan turning her head in the Exorcist, Nosferatu rising from his coffin, Leatherface slamming the steel door in Texas Chainsaw, and The chest burst in Alien. Songs--Pet Sematary (The Ramones, Pet Sematary), Feed My Frankenstein (Alice Cooper, Friday the 13th VI), Fatal Charm (Billy Idol, Elm Street 4), Angel (Love/Hate, Elm Steet 4), Cry Little Sister (Gerard McMahon, The Lost Boys)."

Musicians have not just contributed songs to horror films, some have even made the jump on to the big screen. We wondered if more metal musicians were attempting to act in horror movies now and Mike told me that, "Somewhat. I know Corey Taylor is working his way into the genre and will end up doing more. Lots of others want to break in, but are a bit slower in making that transition. It's tough when they're so busy with writing music and touring."

For those that aren't familiar with 1986's "Trick or Treat", that movie featured Ozzy Osbourne and KISS' Gene Simmons and it's either loved entirely or hated with every fiber of its existence by horror fans. Wondering where Mike falls within that spectrum we asked him about it and he says that "I haven't seen it in so long. Where's my Netflix?"

Wrapping things up with Mike, I wanted to know what he felt has kept horror going and staying fresh and creative through the years and he said that "Trying something different and having a TRUE understanding of what scares people."

Horror films and heavy metal music have a very rabid and dedicated fanbase that will continue to pump life into these genres that have been declared clinically dead so many times that we've lost count. "The History of Metal and Horror" is something that I hope will help those people that are ignorant or confused as to why these styles are so beloved gain some understanding and perspective on this. I feel that it will also bring in a whole new batch of horror fans as well as adding fuel to the fire that burns inside all us die hards out there.

And remember, there are no such things monsters, ghouls and boogeymen, right?

Mike SchiffGreg Watson1/15/2016"Metal and Horror--Exploring Relationships"


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