TRANSCRIPT Switchblade Sisters Ep. 110: ‘Prince of Darkness’ with ‘Black Christmas’ Co-Writer and Switchblade Sisters Host April Wolfe

April Wolfe, host of this show and co-writer of Black Christmas, switches seats and becomes the guest as she and film critic Katie Walsh discuss John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.

Podcast: Switchblade Sisters

Episode number: 110

Transcript

music

"Switchblade Comb" by Mobius VanChocStraw. A jaunty, jazzy tune reminiscent of the opening theme of a movie. Music continues at a lower volume as Katie introduces herself and April, and then it fades out.

katie walsh

Hello! And welcome to Switchblade Sisters, the podcast where women get together to slice and dice our favorite action and genre films. Every week here on the podcast, we invite a new female filmmaker—a writer, director, actor, or producer—and we talk in-depth about their favorite genre film, maybe one that influenced their own work. I'm film critic Katie Walsh, and today we have screenwriter, film critic, podcast host—you know her, I know her—April Wolfe is in the studio, on the other side this time! [Laughs.]

april wolfe

Hello! I'm looking through the mirror! [Music fades out.] Which is going to get relevant when it comes to talking about this movie, which I'm very excited about.

katie

We're gonna go through the portal of the liquid mirror, and, uh—

april

Yeah.

katie

[Laughs.] It's gonna be amazing.

april

Yep.

katie

So! We all know April Wolfe. But I'm gonna read a—I'm gonna do April's bio. Gonna give her the respect she deserves. [Laughs.]

april

Sure, sure, sure.

katie

April Wolfe is a native Michigander. She got her undergraduate degree in playwriting and an MFA in fiction-writing from Boise State, publishing a bunch of short fiction and journals, editing a literary journal called Cold Drill, and being awarded the A Public Space Fellowship for Emerging Writers and the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni for her short stories. She then worked in publishing for a short stint as both a publicist and an acquisitional reader before settling permanently in Los Angeles. In LA, she began her film career as a story analyst for production companies including JKE, Aldamisa, and Goldcrest Films, before getting burnt out and becoming a journalist. Great way to not be burnt out. [Laughs.]

april

Exactly! That—that's a sense of humor. I wrote my own bio for Katie. [Both laugh.]

katie

She worked the social justice beat, reporting for multiple outlets, and then joined LA Weekly as the lead film critic and reporter. In that time she also founded One Axe Plays, in which she developed and brought a series of short and full-length plays written and directed by women to the stage. She also performed in storytelling shows all over the country, with a few of them ending up on PRI's Snap Judgment. In 2017 she began the hugely popular podcast Switchblade Sisters, which you're listening to. [April laughs, Katie stifles laughter.] April has written and directed a handful of short films, including Widower, The Test, and Escalation, a tryptic of psycho-melodrama following extremely desperate women. In 2015 she was associate producer on the feature film Molly Takes a Trip, directed by Annika Kurnick, and in 2019 she teamed up with director Sophia Takal to co-write a re-imagining of Bob Clark's classic slasher Black Christmas. The film tells the story of a group of sorority sisters stuck on campus during Christmas break when a masked person begins murdering them one by one. Black Christmas hits theaters on Friday the 13th. April has a ton of projects soon to be announced in 2020. Yay!

april

Mm. It's weird to—you can't talk about things, but you're like, "There's stuff happening!" [Laughs.]

katie

[Laughing] You're like, "I swear I'm not just doing this one thing! There's stuff happening!"

april

Well, then you—yeah, you just have to wait for everything to be official, so...

katie

Of course, of course.

april

Yeah.

katie

Well, we'll wait until all the "t"s are crossed and the "i"s are dotted—

april

Yeah!

katie

—and the ink is dry on the contracts. So today, April has chosen John Carpenter's 1987 supernatural Satan movie Prince of Darkness. The second movie in his Apocalypse Trilogy, which also includes The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness. So why Prince of Darkness?

april

There's a lot of reasons.

katie

Okay.

april

First off, I should give a little bit of a tip of a hat to my friend Chris Hatfield, who is also a composer. He is the person who sat me down and was just like, "No, you should definitely see this one." 'Cause I'd seen so many of John Carpenter's films, but I hadn't seen this one!

katie

Mm-hm.

april

For some reason. It was the only one in the trilogy, too, that I hadn't seen. And so in that way, I was just like, "I don't know how to connect The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness." But this is the kind of key that puts the two of them together in a strange way. And so yeah, he sat me down. I watched it and I was just like "Oh, yeah, this is the movie that I've been waiting for."

katie

Amazing.

april

There is so much talking. [Katie laughs quietly.] And there is so much science and philosophy, and the kind of reasonable metaphysical discussions that happen in this, it's like—definitely—you know, like, almost done all in a single location, but there's just people kind of talking about the philosophy of reality and life while other things are happening around them. And I don't often see movies like this. It's just—it's—also I would say, you know, John Carpenter, he works with a variety of interesting actors. But in a lot of his films at this period of time, he was ending up working with a lot of stage actors. Actually a lot of people who would be imported from San Francisco, too. And you know, that's how you get, um, Victor Wong.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

Who plays the professor, who was a, you know, wonderful character actor. And he allows the actors in this to be... stagey. And by that I mean weird. Like there's a kind of artiness to this that doesn't always exist in his films, but he allows that to happen. And I'm excited to get into...

katie

Yeah!

april

...some of that stuff.

katie

This was actually the first time I had seen this movie!

april

Great!

katie

Okay, so, spoiler alert for those of you who haven't seen Prince of Darkness. Sorry we already discussed some stuff. Uh, today's episode will contain spoilers, but that shouldn't stop you from listening before you watch. Like we always say, it's not what happens but how it happens that makes a movie worth watching. But if you wanna pause this episode and watch it, now is your chance.

music

"Prince of Darkness Opening Titles" by John Carpenter begins playing. Low and darkly dramatic.

katie

So I will describe the plot of Prince of Darkness, and I—

april

Good luck!

katie

[Laughs.] Will do—

april

Was so happy I didn't have to write it! [Both laugh.]

katie

Will do my darnedest.

april

Okay.

katie

[Laughs.] So as I said, Prince of Darkness is the middle film of John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy, released in 1987. He wrote the film under the pseudonym Martin Quatermass. And he also, obviously, wrote and performed the score. The film blends science and the supernatural when a group of quantum physics PhD students under the tutelage of Professor Howard Birack—Victor Wong—convene in a church to run tests on a large, [stifles laughter] pulsing green cylinder at the behest of a priest played by Donald Pleasence. Do not follow Donald Pleasence to a second location. [Both laugh.] That is a rule for life! Using computers and equations, they decipher text next to the cylinder, which informs them that the cylinder is filled with liquid Satan, [stifles laughter] and that Christ was an alien sent to warn everyone about it. [Music stops and does not resume after the clip.]

clip

Lisa: The container was buried somewhere in the Middle East eons ago by—gets a little wild here—the father of Satan. A god who once walked the Earth before man but was somehow banished to the dark side. Apparently the father buried his son inside the container. This was a section someone was trying to erase. Now later on here, Christ comes to warn us. He was of extraterrestrial ancestry, but a humanlike race.

katie

He was ultimately killed for being crazy, and his disciples kept the secret until science caught up with them. So essentially the Roman Catholic Church is a ruse to cover all of this up, placing man at the center of it but concealing the truth. And Pleasence has a great speech about how religion has just been like, salesmen selling a product for years, which—and that product is essentially a lie.

clip

Priest: A stupid lie. We were salesmen, that's all. We sold our... product to those who didn't have it. A new life. Reward ourselves, punish our enemies. So we could live without truth.

katie

And I—that speech is so interesting, 'cause I was like... "Yeah. Yep. He's really, like—" [April laughs.] "He's nailed it. Carpenter nailed it." Alright, so one of the scientists, Susan—Anne Marie Howard—is exposed to the liquid inside the cylinder. It basically squirts onto her face. And so she becomes possessed by the evil liquid Satan inside of it. And she starts spreading it to all of the other scientists. Also going on is that if you fall asleep, everyone has the same dream, which is sort of like this broadcast transmission. It's a warning from the future, the year "One-nine-nine-nine." Uh, 1999. Which shows a figure emerging from the church.

clip

Unknown Speaker: [Distorted] You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one-nine-nine-nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing.

katie

Pleasence says that this is also the same dream had by the Brotherhood of Sleep, which the priest who dies in the beginning—who was holding the key to the cylinder—he was part of the Brotherhood of Sleep. And outside, not to mention, there is a group of... transients, led by Alice Cooper, [stifling laughter] who murder everyone if you go outside!

april

Yeah! There you go!

katie

With scissors, and bugs! Anyway, as the evil liquid spreads, things go haywire and Kelly, one of the other scientists—played by Susan Blanchard—eventually absorbs all of the liquid into her body.

clip

Walter: She's changing again! The swelling's gone down! As if the liquid was absorbed into her system. I can see tissue changes on her face. Also, I think her bone structure is changing! Professor Howard Birack: Maybe this is the only way he could actualize his power... a parasite growing into its host. This could be some kind of gestation period.

katie

And then she attempts to bring the evil Satan's father, who killed him in the cylinder—[laughs] uh, who is like sort of the Anti-God, as they refer to him—they—she tries to bring him through this like, liquid mirror into the earthly realm. But Catherine—Lisa Blount—tackles her through the portal, ultimately sacrifices herself. Keeps evil on the other side. And then they close the portal, save the world.

clip

Priest: We stopped it... We stopped it here. Through the grace of God.

katie

But... perhaps Catherine herself is the Anti-Matter Daddy! Um, this movie has everything. [April laughs.] Hot and horny physics students. Contagion plot. Scissor murders. Satanic water puke, psychic dreams, Alice Cooper. [Stifling laughter] Half the cast of They Live and Big Trouble in Little China. Lots of bugs. And of course, Donald Pleasence talking about eeevil. [She and April laugh.]

april

It's so good.

katie

[Laughing] I'm like, I don't even know if that was in any way coherent.

april

I—well, here's the thing. I've seen this movie, like, probably three times now. And I actually don't know if I understand it still.

katie

[Laughing] Yeah!

april

I'm still kind of processing it. I know that there is a—an abiding logic, but I think every single time I watch it there's something new that I'm like, "Oh! [Laughing] Oh, I definitely missed that!"

katie

[Laughing] For sure! You know, Carpenter really was reading these books about theoretical physics and atomic theory. But then he's like, "Eh, it's just mumbo-jumbo. It's just a horror movie." So he like, embeds it with all this like, knowledge of—[laughs].

april

Mm-hm!

katie

I mean, I don't think he like, really is a theoretical physicist, but there's a basis for it. There's not—it's not made up. It's a total—you know. It comes from his—him studying this stuff.

april

Yeah. It's funny because, you know, I think the way that we classify things as supernatural is... sometimes a misnomer, because we want to classify everything as supernatural, and while there are things that are supernatural in this, like, there is definitely just—it's just a different way of looking at the natural.

katie

Yeah!

april

There's—because there is—it's interesting to me that John Carpenter is using things like, um, insects.

katie

Yeah.

april

To kind of—to evoke horror. Because it seems like there is something natural that exists that was there, and—you know, in the same way that like, evil is always there! It's like, these are things that already exist. There's an order to the world, and here is the order. And it's just kind of challenging what we think is natural, because we're so used to—and maybe that's the—why he's using the transient characters, too. 'Cause I'm trying—I'm always trying to figure out, like, what they...

katie

Yeah!

april

...mean in this movie.

katie

Yeah, I still don't know that I've totally figured out... what's going on with them. [Laughs.]

april

It's like they're—they're certainly controlled.

katie

Yeah.

april

So they're controlled by this thing that is—that they are in proximity to.

katie

Right.

april

And that's something that I also appreciate, that he doesn't completely explain.

katie

Right! Like, you can see that they're sort of in a trance; they're drawn to this building. You know, it's like, the moon and the sun are coming together [laughs] in the day, and...

april

Yeah!

katie

All this stuff that's like... not out of the realm of possibility. It's not like, you know, anything that—it's just odd.

april

Yeah.

katie

And strange, and... yeah, I love that you are—that all of the stuff that happens is natural. I mean, and so many of the effects are practical.

april

You're—okay, so you're touching on something that I find really interesting about this movie, and that is how the conversations—you know, like, I always talk about like, tonal friction, and I love how the conversations of these people who are in contact with something that is inexplicable—how they are even more rational. So it—it's almost like the more—like, the stranger things get, the more rational these people are when they talk about it?

katie

Yeah!

april

Like, they're just like, "Oh, I don't know! Well, here's the readout. It's strange." Because they're quantifying things in scientific... means.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

In a way that seems counterintuitive, but it's actually realistic. Because that might—that would be exactly how you would encounter and react to something that is absolutely, uh, insane.

katie

Yeah, I love that John Carpenter chooses to tell this story, like, with a bunch of scientists! Who are like, "Yeah, let's just plug it into the computer and do a reading on it and see what comes out." And they're just like, "Oh, these equations are weird." [Laughs.] Like—and... It—yeah. It's—it gives it like a—the tonal friction, like you said, of sort of like, this—all of these insane things are happening and then the scientists are like, "Let's measure it!"

april

Yeah! And I think that that's—okay, so, you know, when we were working on Black Christmas

katie

Mm-hm.

april

—that's something that we were thinking about. I—you know, not on like, the top of our heads, but just in the back of our minds. Just like, the way that Sophia works is—you know, she has these very realistic things that happen that slowly get blown out of proportion. And trying to approach that in terms of like—you know, like, a slasher that has a lot of—like, a kitchen sink of things happening to it. It's just like, how can we ground these people?

katie

Yeah!

april

As much as possible? Of like, how would they actually react? How would they actually talk? And hopefully there's some kind of friction in those two things as they encounter these really in—uh, you know, unbelievable experiences.

katie

Yeah, that's so interesting, and even... like, Sophia's movie Always Shine

april

Mm-hm.

katie

—has certain elements of like, "Is that what's really happening?" But it's always grounded in... you know, there's always like a reasonable explanation.

april

Yeah. Yeah.

katie

For what happens.

april

Yeah. So even though—even though there's a lot of... I mean, once you see the movie—

katie

Mm-hm.

april

—there's just a lot of stuff happening all the time. [Laughs.]

katie

Mm-hm.

april

You know, like, the—the women are still talking to each other like, how they would normally talk.

katie

Yeah!

april

How they would—you know, how two friends who are arguing while something really, really terrible is happening might relate to one another. Because like, the argument's still not dead. It's just like, they're under stress, and then it just like, evolves into a different thing, so...

katie

So when you and Sophia were having these discussions and writing, you know, were you constantly saying to each other, like, "How—like, how would we react to this in a realistic way?" Or "How would this character react to this in a realistic way?"

april

Yeah. I think—you know, one of the things that we did is we went to Sophia's house, and Sophia's husband is also a writer/director and an actor, um—uh, Lawrence. He would read with us.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

So we would all take parts, and we would sit down and just act it out and read it aloud. And do edits in real time if we didn't feel like it felt... real, or was a real reaction in that moment.

katie

So that must have been interesting once you got... actors saying the lines that you had been performing and working on and sort of—not performing, but you know, that—it's like "Oh, how would you deliver this line that we've been honing down to something really realistic and believable?"

april

Yeah, it's a really interesting thing. Sophia would show me some of the audition videos that we had when she was casting. And you know, just to get a feel of like, "Oh—" 'cause we were still doing revisions as we were—

katie

Right.

april

You know, we were writing up until the time and through the shoot. And we would listen to those and then she would be like "All of these women who auditioned all read it the same way, and it's not the way that we had intentioned it to write—uh, to write it, or to have it sound. So we might be doing something wrong."

katie

Oh, interesting!

april

"Or... they're doing something wrong; we just haven't found the right person." But it's just kind of knowing, and—and because these women who are auditioning, they are actually the ages.

katie

Right.

april

They are 21, 22. And so you're trying to kind of pay attention to how someone of that age might interpret the material that you have, and like—you know, I'm in my 30s.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

We're both in our 30s.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And it—sometimes you lose a little bit of touch. I try to keep up with what the kids are doing. [Katie laughs.] How they talk.

katie

The references. [Laughs.] Yes.

april

But sometimes I miss it, and so yeah, we had to kind of react to some of those things sometimes. And of course, you know, Sophia sometimes would be like "Nnno, I think that this is gonna stand, and they just have to figure it out." But it—it depends.

katie

Right. When you were on set, working on perhaps revisions or refining things, like, what was that process like while you were in the shoot, trying to kind of tweak the script?

april

So it was really weird, 'cause I was in New Zealand during prep. So prep was a month—uh, a month out before the shoot. And then I left like right—the day before they started shooting, and so I would do some revisions just, like, long-distance if they needed things.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

What ended up happening, though, was most—because we were doing such intense re-writing during prep, there didn't have to be that many re-writes—

katie

Oh, that's great. Yeah. [Katie responds affirmatively several times as April continues.]

april

—while she was on set. Which is good, because you know, she's a director with like, a larger budget for the first time, and you know, a lot of crew to manage, and so I think it would have been like, even more intense. There were only a few times when, um—you know, it was just like, "Oh, an actor needs this. Can you write something very quickly?" And then it's just like "Okay. Yeah. I'll do that right now." Even if it doesn't end up in the shoot, it's just like, "We need this as an intro into this, and maybe it will work and maybe it won't."

katie

So during prep, when you're re-writing, are you working on, you know, how to make things more efficient for the shoot? Or working on backstory, or just like, fleshing things out for the characters?

april

I think people would be amazed at how many large changes you can make right up until the very end.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And you know, that's something that—you know, we were doing everything. There was like, scenes that would be completely deleted that we thought that we needed, condensed scenes, a lot of stuff that we were doing was backstory. We were like, trying to find more surprises, trying to work with what we had in terms of character and budget and location. But during prep, a lot of the re-writes had to do with action.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And that was because everything is dependent upon location.

katie

Yeah.

april

And we just didn't know where we were gonna shoot. The house, as it is in the original Black Christmas, is extremely important.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

Because you have to have the architectural geography that makes sense for what you're writing. And that process was actually probably the more frantic, of just like, "Oh, shit! We got this house; this house fell through so now we have this house, so we have to re-write it for this house."

katie

Oh my god.

music

"Switchblade Comb" begins fading in during April's next line.

april

But it ended up being that the house that Sophia found was so much closer to the original vision that it was actually easier once we finally got that.

katie

Oh, great. Alright, we are gonna take a break! And when we come back, we are gonna talk more Black Christmas and more Prince of Darkness. [Music continues until the promo.]

promo

[A telephone rings.] Hotshot Hollywood Producer: Listen, I’m a hotshot Hollywood movie producer. Music: Fun, grooving music begins to play quietly in the background. Producer: You have until I finish my glass of [articulating] kom-bu-cha to pitch me your idea. Go. [Slurping sounds.] Ify: Alright! It’s called Who Shot Ya: a movie podcast that isn’t just a bunch of straight, white dudes. I’m Ify Nwadiwe, the new host of the show and a certified BBN. Producer: BBN? Ify: Buff Black Nerd. Alonso: I’m Alonso Duralde, an elderly gay and legit film critic who wrote a book on Christmas movies. Drea: I’m Drea Clark, a loud, white lady from Minnesota. Ify: Each week, we talk about a new movie in theaters and all the important issues going on in the film industry. Alonso: It’s like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets Cruising. Ify: And if it helps seal the deal? I can flex my muscles while we record each episode. Producer: I’m sorry, this is a podcast?! I’m a movie producer. [Disdainfully] How did you get in here? Drea: Ify, quick! Start flexing! Ify: [Dramatically] Bicep! Lats! Chest! Who Shot Ya, dropping every Friday on MaximumFun.org, or wherever you listen to podcasts. [Music ends.]

music

"Switchblade Comb" plays again, gradually fading out as Katie speaks.

katie

Welcome back to Switchblade Sisters. We are with our intrepid leader, April Wolfe!

april

[Laughs.] Hi!

katie

[Laughs.] Who is also the screenwriter of Black Christmas! And we are talking about John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. [Music fades out.] I also love that John Carpenter is doing religious horror and then just being—like, making it totally scientific.

april

Yeah!

katie

'Cause I love religious horror, and as soon as the movie started and it was like, you know, all these candles and... you know, gothic Catholic imagery.

april

I love gothic shit.

katie

Yeah.

april

Love it, yeah.

katie

I love it, and I was like, "Yes! John Carpenter doing religious stuff!" And then he's like—they're like, "Uh, Jesus was an alien, and, um, this is like—[stifling laughter] Satan liquid." [Laughs.] I was like—

april

Yep!

katie

"Yes, I love it! Great!" It's amazing take on it. [Laughs.]

april

Yeah, definitely! I mean I'm—yeah. Obviously I'm—as every person knows, I'm a Catholic, and I love Catholic horror so deeply.

katie

I think anybody who grew up Catholic, as I did as well, is... either obsessed with horror and also obsessed with Catholic horror—[laughs]

april

It's our identity. [Katie laughs.] [Laughing] Our birthright is horror!

katie

If you grow up singing songs about drinking Jesus's blood—[laughs].

april

Yeah! [Laughing] It's pretty fucked up!

katie

There's only one way to go.

april

I do like, though, that when it comes to like, the kind of Catholic hoarder—horror, what you're seeing, too—something that we were talking about earlier is like, order, and then kind of... critiquing order and what we think of as ordered in the universe, and like, "Here are the things that are ordered," and just being like, "No." And then also this idea that there is something so much larger than us, that like, we think that we are so much smarter than it, but it always wins because it exists, and it has always exist, and it is an order than we don't understand whatsoever. But it's—it's there, and we will be defeated non-stop.

katie

Yeah, and it's this idea that like, it sort of strips away this—like, man's ego. In the sense that it's like "Oh, we've created all of this, like... pomp and circumstance and we're the arbiters of good and evil and blah blah blah," but—

april

Mm-hm.

katie

—it's like, "No. There's something much bigger than you," and it's this question of identity and existence that I think is like, at the heart of the movie, of—of... when this thing gets inside of you, it changes who you are, but that you can't tell from the outside necessarily.

april

Mm-hm.

katie

And it's—I think the horror aspect of this movie is like—and I think the horror aspect of The Thing, as well, is like... when you can't—when it erases your identity and takes over your body and like, that idea of like, non-existence.

april

Yeah!

katie

But still seeming to exist, and it's kind of like—the end—the ends of both movies are similar in—if you kinda think about like, when she comes back in the dream. Um, Catherine, and she comes out and she's like, holding her hands up. She's got this—it's like, "Okay, who is she? Is she evil? Is she coming back? Is she gonna like, come after her boyfriend?" You know. And this—I—this idea of... you don't know if this figure, this person, is evil or good.

april

Yeah! [Laughing] And that's the way that it is in the real world!

katie

Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!

april

That you don't know! But it's also kind of like the scariest part. And—I don't know, that's something that we tried to play with in Black Christmas, too.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

This kind of like... you know, "Here is this person who seems very normal." Or "Here are these circumstances that seem very normal, but what if there's something very, very sinister underneath that you just like—you're not visually cued into?"

katie

There are some interesting—I saw—I read some interesting things about connecting this film to Lovecraft. And again, these ideas of cosmic horror and... existence. So Oren Gray at Strange Horizons wrote a piece where he was saying that "cosmic horror is less the horror of some specific boogeyman, and more the horror of a cold, uncaring universe in which humans are of no importance." Carpenter has said many times that he is a fan of the works of Lovecraft, and two years before he made the Apocalypse Trilogy, he was already doing some references to Lovecraft, like in The Fog. But I think this idea of like—yeah, this like, huge, universal idea of the thing that we like, can't even put our arms around...

april

Mm-hm!

katie

It's not even, like, just a dude. But it's like... Anti-God, [laughs] which is kind of what they were talking about, you know?

april

Yeah.

katie

The father of Satan who put him in the cylinder—you know, naturally, but—[laughs]

april

Yeah!

katie

But the—yeah! This idea of like—yeah, "We are so insignificant," and in a way it is sort of like... you know, if you go in the other—it's like the opposite of religious belief, of believing in God. It's like, "Ah, this huge thing that like, controls the universe," but—

april

Yeah!

katie

[Laughing] Not in a good way.

april

Yeah! I mean, I think—there's like, another movie that does that really well is Event Horizon.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

I really fucking love that. But they're kind of in that same vein of nothing really mattering to humans.

katie

Right.

april

It's interesting the—[sighs]. 'Cause like, the way that we approached Black Christmas is almost—it's almost antithetical to that, but it feeds into that idea because we're kind of playing with the idea that humans think that they're all-important, and that, like, they are wrong, but they really, really think that they're all-important and deal with things in that manner.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And the big idea that is like, existential and terrifying to us in that movie is misogyny.

katie

Yeah!

april

And it's another thing that you can't wrap your head around, 'cause it's like a many-headed snake.

katie

Yeah.

april

And you don't really know what to do with it. But it's terrifying and it can have many different kinds of manifestations. It's a different kind of cosmic horror.

katie

Definitely.

april

Where like one group seems to feel like humans are it. "Humans are everything. I—because I am flesh and blood, I am important."

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And like, you know, [laughing] maybe that's not true.

katie

Right! And this idea—you know, one of the quotes from Oren's piece is like, "A universe in which mankind is far from the center," and that's like the Lovecraftian idea of horror.

april

Yeah.

katie

But it's like—okay, so what's super terrifying to quote-unquote "mankind"? That we're not all-important. And... you know, what is so terrifying to misogynists is maybe that they're not...

crosstalk

Katie & April: All-important. April: Yeah! [Both laugh.]

katie

So trying to create a film in which you're like, puncturing the falsehood of that idea, or like, saying like, "This is—I'm gonna de-center men..."

april

Yeah!

katie

Is super radical!

april

It's a—it's a different way of looking at things, I think. I don't know that Sophia and I really thought about that when we were writing this, but there was a time when we got towards the end of it, we were just like "Oh, this might make some people mad!" [Both laugh.] You know? Like that's—

katie

Do it! Make people mad!

april

But it's also something that felt really innate to our experience, and something that we felt like we needed to write, and we didn't—you know, like when I'm talking to you, Katie, like—

katie

Mm-hm.

april

—if we're having a conversation, like, we have a shorthand of like, what it is to have a kind of um, presenting-feminine experience in this world. Right? And so we have that. And the idea of kind of sharing that and—with mainstream was something that I don't think we understood how dangerous it was while we were writing it, and then... now that we get closer, you know, to it being part of the world, we're like, "Oh. Okay." Not—you know, like, maybe not any—everyone has the experience that we do with this kind of like, open talking about it, and yeah.

katie

It's really interesting, because it's like the danger of it comes from asserting that someone is not all-important, right?

april

Yeah.

katie

And so... the fact that that is like, becoming—I don't know. The fact that that is—that someone is... cannot deal with that is—and that it becomes dangerous in sort of the discourse around the film is like, that is—obviously that's crazy to us.

april

Mm. Yeah.

katie

But that's really at the kernel of what you're—all you're saying is like, "You're not all-important."

april

Yeah! I would hope that like—I don't think—I feel like Sophia and I, the way that we worked, we didn't want to be absolutists?

katie

Of course. Yeah.

april

About things, and it felt like—even though it's a slasher film; there's not really that much room for nuance—there is—like, there are scenes where people are discussing really important topics. Really important topical things that no one has the answers to.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And in—it felt really... we felt very strongly that we needed to have those things in there, and—hopefully I'm not losing my train of thought. Um, and that also plays into this whole thing of like, Prince of Darkness.

katie

Mm-hm.

crosstalk

April: People having these like, conversations while other things are happening. And— Katie: Yeah! About the real world.

april

Yeah! And so—like, there's real, real things happening there, and we were hoping that the way that we presented both male and female characters is that each has points.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And they're both desperately trying to get this into the other person's head, but there's just still kind of a divide, and so we hope that we—we tried to treat all of our characters with a certain kind of respect. You know?

katie

Yeah. Yeah. Well, yeah! And everybody deserves to be... heard and put on an equal playing field.

april

Yeah.

katie

I was gonna say it seems like, you know, from a feminist take on Black Christmas—you know, like, it's coming from this really rooted in the existential questions rather than like, "Rah rah, girl power!" [Laughs.] You know? Which is—can feel so false.

april

[Sighs.] Aw, man, I hope it is! [Both laugh.] I hope it is! I think, you know, there's always a kind of... you know, like the industry is still kind of male-dominated at these higher echelons of decision-making. And so you hope that the things that you are trying to say about women don't come off as just, like, nineties girl power kind of thing.

katie

For sure.

april

But at the same time, you know, like there's—there's still a kind of demand for certain kinds of quote-unquote "female empowerment" stories.

katie

Yeah.

april

And how to market those, and like, the thing is that like, people do know how to market those!

katie

Yeah.

music

"Switchblade Comb" begins fading in.

april

And sometimes they do satisfy an audience, and... so you're just trying to juggle all of those demands, and hopefully you can like, fulfill enough of them for everyone.

katie

Yeah. Well, we are gonna take a quick break, and when we come back we will keep talking to April! [Music continues until the promo.]

promo

Music: Upbeat, fun music. Lisa Hanawalt: Hey, if you like your podcasts to be focused and well-researched, and your podcast hosts to be uncharismatic, unhorny strangers who have no interest in horses, then this is not the podcast for you. Emily Heller: Yeah, and what's your deal? [Lisa laughs.] I'm Emily. Lisa: I'm Lisa. Emily: Our show's called Baby Geniuses! Lisa: And its hosts are horny adult idiots. We discover weird Wikipedia pages every episode. Emily: We discuss institutional misogyny! Lisa: We ask each other the dumbest questions, and our listeners won't stop sending us pictures of their butts. Emily: We haven't asked them to stop! But they also aren't stopping. Lisa: Join us on Baby Geniuses. Emily: Every other week on MaximumFun.org. [Music ends.]

music

"Switchblade Comb" plays again, gradually fading out as Katie speaks.

katie

Welcome back to Switchblade Sisters. We are talking Prince of Darkness, 1987, John Carpenter, with the amazing April Wolfe. [Music fades out.]

april

Hi.

katie

[Laughing] Hi. What's it like sitting in that seat?

april

It's a different view! [Katie laughs.] I see the sun shining on your face.

katie

[Laughs.] Amazing. I'm getting that good light.

april

Yeah!

katie

So we were gonna talk about some of the many, many characters in Prince of Darkness, 'cause there's like 20 of them.

april

Oof.

katie

Also—[laughs] like, these are the hottest, horniest physics PhD students I've ever seen.

april

I love that so much. [Katie laughs.] One of my favorite scenes is when a woman—I can't—which character is it? Susan Blanchard?

katie

Uh—

april

Plays Kelly?

katie

Yeah.

april

Yeah. When Kelly goes in and—or Susan. Anyway—Anne Howard. Anne Howard playing Susan. I think it's Susan. So she goes and talks to a guy, and the guy starts flirting with her, and she like tries to back out of the room, and then another guy comes in and is just like, "She's married!" And, uh—

katie

Yeah, and he holds up his fingers like the cross, like—

april

Like a cross! [Katie laughs.] Like "You're not—no, you're not allowed," and then he's just like, "How married?" [Laughs.]

katie

I know! And then whenever people—when people start disappearing because they're being possessed by the... Satan juice, it's like, "Oh, yeahhh... They're both gone..." Like, kind of indicating like, "Yeah, they're fucking."

april

Yeah!

katie

Like, "They've got the right idea." I'm like, "No, they're literally like, [laughing] facing off with evil in some corner!"

april

But that's—it's one of my favorite kind of like, misdirections, is like, all of these people are just kind of focused on their dumb human things, where just like, "I just wanna get laid on this weird weekend trip with my physics—like, classmates, you know?"

katie

[Laughs.] I know! Oh my god. And like, we talked before about when Jameson Parker, who plays Brian—with an amazing mustache, by the way—

april

Mm-hm!

katie

Like, could sweep a floor with that thing. Um, you know, he's kind of being... he's like "Yeah, I'm a confirmed sexist."

sound effect

[Whoosh!]

clip

Brian: Every theoretical physicist I know wonders why it is that no one who looks like you ever seems to settle down in our end of the building. Catherine: That's not true, and that's an extremely sexist thing to say. Brian: Confirmed sexist and proud of it.

sound effect

[Whoosh!]

katie

And then, you know, she kind of agrees to a date with him. And then they're—she's like, "Yeah, let's get coffee sometime." Cut to waking up in bed. [Laughs.]

april

Exactly! It's one of my favorite cuts. I love it. 'Cause they're just like "Yeah, let's get coffee," aaand they fucked. [Laughs.]

katie

That is like such an eighties trope, just like...

april

It is.

katie

The earliest sort of indication of something; cut to, like, them in bed.

april

Oh, yeah. It's—

katie

[Laughing] That needs to come back!

april

Grad students, oh my god.

katie

All they're doing is drinking coffee and getting laid. [Laughs.]

april

Yes! I wanna point out something that John Carpenter was particularly good at throughout his career, especially during this point, is like the... kind of, uh, diversity of actors that he was working with?

katie

Mm-hm.

april

Just in the terms of—I'm not even talking about just like, the color of their skin. But just like, their body types. Their personalities. Like, they're a lot of character actors who are just really interesting. And I know that we talked a lot about Victor Wong, but he's—

katie

Mm-hm.

april

He was such a fascinating actor.

katie

He really is.

april

Very short, he had kind of a—like a lazy eye, ish, and he—you know, he's got like a... he's got like, long, kind of stringier hair, and he's—he's just got an interesting vibe to him. But he's not played in any kind of camp way. He's a professor.

katie

Yeah!

april

He's like, an Asian-American man with like a distinct and clear accent, who's not played for comedy. He's played as the kind of straight man of this story.

katie

Yeah, I love that he chooses to cast him in this, like, leadership professorial role. Sort of across from Pleasence. You know, it's like the man of the cloth and then the man of science, and that—

april

Yeah.

katie

They have a lot of scenes together where they're sort of like, trying to wrestle things out of what's going on. Carpenter really play—like, he's dealing with these like, kooky existential ideas, but also just very much in a horror movie, um...

april

Mm-hm.

katie

Not, uh—like, in a horror movie format, with tropes that we understand from horror. But he's like, placing these huge, crazy ideas sort of in a genre that we can understand, and I love the way that genre can be a way that we can like, talk about other things. Like wh—

april

Larger discussions, yeah.

katie

Right! Like, even Black Christmas is like... "Here's a slasher movie that's about misogyny." And it's like coming at it—it's like packaging it for you.

april

Well, I mean, that's—that's why I've always been attracted to genre!

katie

Mm-hm.

april

Is, you know, because it has these covert mechanisms to treat really sensitive things in, you know, ways that you can kind of blow them up and—with a magnifying glass, you know? And in a safe way. You know?

katie

Right. You can like, smuggle it in—

april

Yeah!

katie

—but you're like, dealing with it super directly.

april

Yeah. I think the thing that I look forward to most is like, I hope that people are scared and have so much fun with Black Christmas, because our abiding principle through all of it is just like, we want people to go to the theater and have some fucking fun.

katie

Yeah!

april

And you know, if we didn't—if we felt like it was getting away from fun, then we had to kind of see like, "What's our quotient of serious to fun? Can we come back on this?" And you know, the idea though is that people come away talking about something larger.

katie

Yeah.

april

And... you know. It's nice when you get to do that on a large scale when your movie actually gets like a wide release, because there is a potential for that kind of dialogue. So when you have that opportunity to have a wide release, then you should say something!

katie

You better take it. [Laughs.]

april

Yeah. Otherwise what's the point?

crosstalk

April: [Laughing] I don't know what the point is! Katie: [Laughing] Exactly!

katie

But yeah, I love that idea that it's like... "We're having fun. We're enjoying, you know, a great Christmas slasher movie. But we're also, like... you're gonna, like, sneak some vegetables in there." [Laughs.]

april

Yeah. And sometimes it won't even be sneaking. Sometimes it will just be like, plain, overt. Because it's like, "Well!"

katie

Yeah.

april

We don't live in a subtle time right now. [Laughs.]

katie

No, we don't! We don't. Subtlety is out the window.

april

"Well, sometimes we don't have time for subtlety, so..." [Laughs.]

katie

[Laughs.] Yeah! But yeah, I love that about genre. Like, you know, Western movies have always been used to talk about war, and, you know, [laughing] colonialism and—

april

Yeah!

katie

You know, on a literal scale, and it's at once literal and symbolic, and... metaphorical. It's like—it's always—creates this way for us to like, get in without being lectured to.

april

Yeah.

katie

Without, um, knowing that that's what we're getting into. And suddenly you're like "Oh, wait! I just got a lesson in feminism," or... quantum physics, [laughs] or religion.

april

Yeah.

katie

Or you know, like the Vietnam War or whatever it is that like, is sort of like, coming in, and that's what I think is so great about genre, and all of the genres.

april

Yeah! All of a sudden you remember these weird facts and you're like "Oh, okay! I guess I just needed some sugar with my medicine."

katie

[Laughs.] Yes. Needed some, uh... Like...

april

Some blood!

katie

Alice—some Alice Cooper impaling a dude. [Laughs.]

april

Alice Cooper is so great in this movie. I'm so happy he's in it.

katie

He's really great.

april

'Cause when he shows up on the screen you're like "Yes! I love this!"

katie

Yeah.

april

And I think some people—[laughing] some people were saying that about Black Christmas when they saw the trailer. They're just like, "Cary Elwes! I love this!" [Laughs.]

katie

[Laughing] Yeah!

april

My mom in particular was just like, "[Gasps.]" [Laughs.]

katie

Ohhh.

april

Like, gasping, you know? There's just like, certain people who have a certain kind of charisma on screen.

katie

Yeah!

april

That, um—because you don't need name actors primarily for genre movies, which is something that I've always appreciated.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

It's nice; we've got—um, Imogen Poots is leading Black Christmas as a film, and she's a fantastic—

katie

I love her.

april

—you know, trained actress.

katie

Yeah.

april

You know, can bring something really great to the role. But then the other women who are in it, the other people, like either they're—you know, Kiwi natives that we cast there, or they're people that Sophia really felt strongly attracted to who came from—maybe like, TV?

katie

Mm-hm.

april

Like a couple of them have more of a TV background. And this is like—oh, they get to have a big break in a feature film! And—but the way that you can do that is by putting a little Cary Elwes in. You know?

katie

Right. And did you shoot in New Zealand because it was winter there?

april

Yeah, so Sophia—I think the guiding thing was like, "Okay, well, it's winter there or it's cold enough where it can hold some fake snow."

katie

Yeah.

april

Because you know, we—they were shooting in the summer, and I think that—the—it's just—it's hard to control when you've got snow in your movie. Even the original Black Christmas that we talked about on this show, like, they had to make their own snow on that.

katie

Mm-hm.

april

And they shot in winter in Toronto! And they still had to make their own snow.

crosstalk

Katie: Oh my god, yeah. April: So it's like finding a place— Katie: To give it that look.

april

Yeah.

katie

'Cause it's not freshly...

april

Exactly.

katie

Freshly, uh, snowed everywhere.

april

Yeah, so find a place that's cold enough that can hold the snow. [Laughs.]

katie

Yeah. I love that you're like, "We're going to the southern hemisphere!" [Laughs.]

april

It was so—it was so weird. All of a sudden Sophia was on a plane to New Zealand. She's like "Okay, guess this is happening!" [Laughs.]

katie

Yeah. Well, they also have an infrastructure for shooting stuff there.

april

They do. The weird part, though, is because Avatar is shooting there right now, they have the majority of cast and crew locked down there right now.

katie

Damn you—damn you James Cameron! [Laughs.]

april

Yeah! Like, because—I mean, they were doing like—like, two through five all at the same time!

katie

Oh my god.

april

So that means that like, people were employed for like... years.

katie

Yeah.

april

Doing Avatar, and were just like, not gonna—you know, do anything for—[laughing] for our movie. [Katie laughs.] They're not gonna leave Avatar for Black Christmas. [Both laugh.]

katie

Well, this has been an absolute delight to sit across from you and have this conversation about Prince of Darkness.

april

Yes!

katie

And about Black Christmas.

april

Yeah!

katie

And thank you for introducing me to this movie, 'cause I had never seen it, and it was... a trip.

april

It's deeply weird.

katie

It's deeply weird and so worth watching.

april

And I highly recommend watching it again, because you will miss things, and you'll be like, "Wait, they said what?" [Laughs.]

katie

[Laughs.] I know. And, you know, Carpenter makes it fun! He gives you this deeply weird Lovecraftian cosmic horror with... alien juice.

april

Yeah.

katie

Or Satan juice. And you're like "Oh!" But like... we're making sex jokes.

april

Yeah.

crosstalk

April: Make it fun. Katie: Alice Cooper is like, [laughs] impaling someone, and ants are eating a dude's face, and... yeah. It's fun.

april

Yeah! [Both laugh.] And Black Christmas is in theaters starting Friday, December 13th, and then I'm not sure about when it will go on sale for DVD or Blu-ray and then streaming, but that will be down the road. But definitely—

katie

It's in wide release though, so get those tickets!

april

Yes!

katie

Opening weekend, Friday the 13th.

crosstalk

Katie: No better way to spend a Friday the 13th. April: And—and let's say—

april

Let's say that, you know, Star Wars is sold out the weekend after, you know? Like, maybe try Black Christmas! Take your family!

music

"Switchblade Comb" starts fading in.

katie

[Laughs.] Yeah. I'm gonna bring my family! I'm gonna go with them!

april

Oh yeah, bring a family! [Both laugh.]

katie

You'll be home over Christmas break. You'll be bored. Go see it on Christmas Day.

april

Mm-hm.

katie

Alright. Thank you guys so much for listening, and thank you April for being here!

april

Thank you!

katie

Thank you for listening to Switchblade Sisters with me: Katie Walsh! If you like what you're hearing, please leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. If you wanna let us know what you think of the show, you can Tweet us at @SwitchbladePod or email us at switchbladesisters@maximumfun.org. Please check out our Facebook group, Facebook.com/groups/switchbladesisters. Our producer is Casey O'Brien. Our senior producer is Laura Swisher. This is a production of MaximumFun.org. [Music finishes.]

clip

Catherine: That's not true and that's an extremely sexist thing to say.

music

A cheerful guitar chord.

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About the show

Switchblade Sisters is a podcast providing deep cuts on genre flicks from a female perspective. Every week, film critic April Wolfe sits down with a phenomenal female film-maker to slice-and-dice a classic genre movie – horror, exploitation, sci-fi and many others! Along the way, they cover craft, the state of the industry, how films get made, and more. Mothers, lock up your sons, the Switchblade Sisters are coming!

Follow @SwitchbladePod on Twitter and join the Switchblade Sisters Facebook group. Email them at switchbladesisters@maximumfun.org.

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