Home Interviews Legendary director David Cronenberg talk’s Shudder’s ‘Slasher: Flesh & Blood’
Legendary director David Cronenberg talk’s Shudder’s ‘Slasher: Flesh & Blood’

Legendary director David Cronenberg talk’s Shudder’s ‘Slasher: Flesh & Blood’

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Shudder, AMC Networks’ premium streamer for horror, thrillers and the supernatural, will premiere both the penultimate episode and the season finale of Slasher: Flesh & Blood, starring horror legend David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome), on 16th September. With the premiere of the final two episodes, the full box set of the eight-part season will be available to binge view.

AIPT said the series “will appeal to more than just horror fans,” whilst Nightmarish Conjurings commented that “from the gruesome kills to the mystery who-done-it storylines, there is something to keep viewers hooked.”

The event series Slasher: Flesh & Blood follows a wealthy, dysfunctional family that gathers for a reunion on a secluded island only to learn they’ll be pitted against one another in a cruel game of life and death, all while being stalked by a mysterious masked killer. Nothing is what it seems, and no one is safe as the tension – and body count – ratchets up.

As we reach episode seven, entitled ‘Goldfinger’, the contest continues, and even more members of the extended Galloway family meet an horrific end. The Gentleman, the mysterious killer stalking the island and dispatching his prey, has found an ally in one of the family members but he is finally unmasked. In ‘Kindred’, the eighth episode and the season finale, the surviving Galloways take matters into their own hands to complete the competition and escape the island. With his identity now known, The Gentleman commits another gory killing, despite sharing a penchant for bloodshed with his victim. The remaining Galloways must face some horrific truths about the competition and their relatives, and the heir to the family fortune can finally claim his or her prize.

Slasher: Flesh & Blood stars Cronenberg alongside cast members from previous instalments of the Slasher franchise in brand new roles, including Paula Brancati, Jefferson Brown, Patrice Goodmam, Sabrina Grdevich, and Christopher Jacot. New to the franchise are Rachael Crawford, Jeananne Goossen, Sydney Meyer and Alex Ozerov.

Series director Adam McDonald recently sat down with the legendary David Cronenberg who portrays Spencer Galloway in Slasher: Flesh & Blood, for an intimate discussion on the series and the craft of filmmaking and cinema fans will find their chat very interesting.

Adam MacDonald: With Spencer, when you’re playing him, where do you think that came from? When you were playing him, where did you reach into for the inspiration to go there?

David Cronenberg: I reached into what I would love to be able to do [BOTH LAUGHING] but it’s not my nature! I mean, it really isn’t. I’m excited for my kids to see this and say, “see what you escaped? You see, I’m not like that, right?” But what if I had been?

AM: It’s really good to see you again.

DC: Good to see you. It’s been a while. I know you guys have been doing well I’ve been doing other things and apparently my character has been doing some things without me.

AM: Yes, for sure. What a strange world, seriously, we live in because, if someone told me a year and a half ago there was going to be a pandemic, you’re going to direct a series in a pandemic and David Cronenberg is going to be acting in it. He’s going to be acting in it and then you’re going to sit down and talk about it. I’d be like, “you’re crazy, you’re nuts.” But that’s what it is and here we are.

So, I remember Ian Carpenter, the show runner of the show and Aaron Martin the creator, they were looking for this major character. It’s not a small character. That’s what people have to understand. It’s not just some walk-on cameo. It’s a major character.

DC: Well, just let me mention if people don’t know: a call sheet is where you have all the characters listed by number and this was the first time that my character was number one.

AM: Finally.

DC: I mean on Star Trek on character number 29.

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it is a major role. So, when the pilot script came out and we’re reading it, we were really excited, to be honest. We were throwing around names and when someone brought up your name there was instant clarity – it seemed perfect. So, I thought, let’s go for it because I knew you’d acted before. So, eventually, the script went to you and then you met Ian and me. I’m curious to know, how was the show introduced to you?

DC: I think it might’ve been through Deirdre Bowen, who is a casting person who I’ve worked with forever – she’s terrific – and I read it. As an actor, you look for something that you haven’t done before. I tend to be cast as doctor or a scientist and generally not emotional. Generally, kind of cool. But this was a very emotional role. I mean, I got to yell at everybody. And humiliate everybody. It was fabulous!

AM: I know, I know.

DC: And these are the things that I don’t get to do in my real life, I have to confess. It was very cathartic to be a patriarch of a family who rather enjoys humiliating his family members and manipulating them. But it was also a challenge. I thought, “okay, they’re offering me this because they think I can do it, right? So, I guess I can do it but I really don’t want to be the big flaw in this project. I don’t want to be the worst actor in this show.”

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

DC: I’m just hoping, you know… I’d say some of the lines to myself in the mirror and yell at myself and I thought, “yeah, I can do this. I can do it. I really can.”

AM: And David, for real, you did it with flying colors.

DC: And I appreciate that about you. You’re a very experienced actor and most directors aren’t. I mean, they’re really not actors at all. So, despite the fact that they’re always working with actors, there’s a separation if they haven’t actually done it themselves. So, I felt that you had my back.

AM: Thank you very much.

DC: I know that you realised – well, you actually said so – that if there was a problem or if there were any difficulties, you understood what those were as an actor, and you could help me with them. So that is part of why this performance may well be the best one that I’ve given.

AM: I’m going to say it right now – I think it is! Only because, again, we’ve never seen you in this way; being this big patriarch of a family.

DC: Well, that certainly will be different.

AM: Yeah, and the role is so pivotal. Everything hinges around your character. That’s why I can’t stress enough that that’s why I’m so excited. That’s why I wanted to sit down and talk to you about it. Because people have seen David Cronenberg come on and give a cameo but here, you’re one of the major, major characters in this piece.

And you have to deliver such big monologues. I can remember one in particular. It was a big scene in front of the whole family. It’s the starting point of what’s going to happen in the whole series, essentially. You turn that key.

All right. Let’s talk about Spencer for a second, because he is so different from you. I was doing a deep dive on your interviews before talking to you here and you always come off as very calm, stoic, together. You never seem rattled, ever. It’s weird.

DC: It does take a lot to rattle me. Yeah. I guess it’s a kind of existential approach.

AM: No, it’s amazing. It’s great. But it’s funny because Spencer, your character in the show, gets rattled.

DC: Oh, yes. He’s not like that at all.

AM: Exactly.

DC: He’s the patriarch of a family. He’s a successful businessman. He thinks that he’s established a dynasty and he has a family that he is manipulating because he wants, as he gets older, his legacy to continue. He’s totally unforgiving. He’s merciless when it comes to his family. He loves them, of course, but he’s ruthless with them as well.

AM: Because even when you did do those scenes that were very emotional, it didn’t seem mechanical at all. It didn’t seem artificial. It seemed like you went to places that were real. You even teared up in a scene, you really did. It was very emotional because you run the whole gamut. You’re vicious in many ways, but also emotional.

DC: Spencer is not a cool customer. He is very hot and he’s very emotional. He restrains it because of his sense of dignity in himself and his sense of propriety given that he is the patriarch, but he is very emotional and he’s romantic. He’s weirdly romantic.

AM: Yes.

DC: He has very romantic ideals about himself and his women. So that’s an interesting combination because if he were only mean and nasty, like a villain, that’s only half interesting.

AM: That’s what’s so beautiful about the writing. I remember when Ian [Carpenter] and I had a meeting with you over Zoom and you said you were excited because you loved the writing. And that your character has peaks and troughs. He’s not just a villain; he’s not just yelling all of the time. He’s not a cartoon character. One of my favorite scenes with you is you just sitting on your bed, alone in your thoughts. It’s very emotional. Just sitting there. And you see this other side to him.

DC: Well, that’s one of the lovely things about a series as opposed to a movie which makes it attractive. You can really take time with a character and have scenes that go on for a long time. But in a movie, you wouldn’t have that time. You know, I’ve written many scripts and directed 20 movies, and there is always a lot of pressure to be concise. You know, in a strange way, I think movies are more like short stories than they are like novels whereas a series can be more like a novel where there’s a lot of room to move.

AM: Right. In that interview you gave where you’re with [John] Carpenter and [John] Landis you talk about how violence doesn’t have to be gratuitous; that there shouldn’t be violence in films for no reason. That you shouldn’t just be gross and shocking when there’s nothing that underpins it. I find the show does that even though it is pretty gory at times.

DC: Yes, yes.

AM: But hopefully you felt we’ve earned it.

DC: You know, I’m very body conscious as a person and as a director and as a writer and for me, human existence IS the human body, so I know it’s a big deal for me philosophically and emotionally – and in every other way. In a way, I’ve been defending the horror genre since the beginning, even when I wasn’t making horror films, because horror films are very body focused and to me, that is existentially – and I’m happy to be pretentious about it – what it means to be human. I’m interested in the essence of what it is to be human and the reason that people respond to horror films and the horror genre in general is, I believe, ultimately because of the awareness of the primacy of the human body. I mean, the human condition is the body.

So, I don’t think it has to be justified. I mean, when you’re talking about gratuitous, that depends on your point of view. You could think any violence is gratuitous in a movie and then it is. It’s very subjective.

AM: Right.

DC: So, I don’t see any problem with that.

AM: You said something that really struck me. Because you’re so body conscious, the killing of someone is the ultimate destruction.

DC: Well, it is. It is. Violence has consequences and there are many philosophical or religious approaches to violence, which suggest that the killing of a person is the killing of an entire world.

AM: Yeah, that’s what struck me.

DC: Yeah, because, and as I say, when you’re a parent and you see the evolution of a child into an adult and the complexity of that and it just reiterates that point. I can’t accept the killing of a person as an inconsequential thing. I think it’s a huge, huge, huge thing. We read about it all the time, “29 people died in this, you know, there was a fire or a tornado, a mass killing,” and to me, it’s just plain horrifying. So, rather than it being gratuitous, it’s like of the essence.

AM: We do that in Slasher, and I think we do it in that same vein. We say: “You’re going to see it. You’re going to see how bad this gets and we’re not going to shy away from it.”

DC: To do that in your art is reminding you, taking you to the edge and testing your courage. In a way, it’s also testing your response, as a rehearsal for your heart, to what might ultimately happen in your life. People in your life are going to die and that’s the ultimate tragedy. But it’s not really a tragedy because it’s an inevitability. These are all to me very philosophically heavy things that are also very emotional things.

AM: Did you find peace – have you found peace in that?

DC: I think I have actually, yeah.

AM: Now they’ve gotten older, do you think?

DC: Yeah, yeah. Well, you have to deal with it. I’ve lost many, many people who were important to me in my life and it has been going on for many years and it will continue. So, you either find philosophy or you take Prozac or something!

AM: [LAUGHING] Sorry!

DC: The philosophy of Zoloft or whatever.

AM: So, whatever you think about it, you are a legend in the horror genre. But, I did my homework and I’d forgotten that you appreared in Nightbreed.

DC: Yes. Until Slasher, that was my biggest role, I think.

AM: So, Clive Barker just calls you and says: “You want to be in my movie, even though you’ve never acted before?”

DC: Pretty much.

AM: And you said “sure”?

AM: When we started making films here in Toronto, it was in the sixties and our inspiration was not Hollywood. It was the New York underground. You know, Andy Warhol and Ed Emswiller, those guys. It was the sixties. It was like, just grab a camera and do your own thing. You don’t have to go to film school, which I never did do.

AM: Neither did I.

DC: Just be self-taught and just learn it by doing it. All of us here acted in each other’s films because we couldn’t afford real actors. So, I got very used to being either behind the camera or in front of it. But at one point, John Landis, who became a friend, asked me to act in a movie called Into the Night, which was one of Michelle Pfeiffer’s first movies and it also starred Jeff Goldman – that’s where I first met him.

John flew me down to LA to do a scene, but I was terrified really because suddenly it was not underground filmmaking with your friend shooting – it was a real Hollywood movie with a serious cast and, a union crew. It took me a while to get my heart rate down while I was saying these lines of dialogue. So, by the time Clive asked me to do Nightbreed, I’d had that experience. I knew Clive because we both made horror films and we got to know each other.

AM: How does that happen? I’m just curious, like John Landis or John Carpenter, back in the day. Did they just call you up?

DC: Well, we would meet each other, you know, at film festivals or screenings and get to know each other. There was a real kinship amongst horror and sci-fi filmmakers.

AM: In that famous interview with you, John Carpenter and John Landis – you’re all wearing the same jacket.

DC: Well, that was…

AM: It was great!

DC: That was the one where, after that interview was over, I noticed that they were all looking at me and they said, “You called yourself an artist in that interview.” I said, “Well, yeah.” And they said, “We would never do that.” It was like they were just journeymen, you know, genre guys and to talk about yourself as an artist, a creative person was considered obnoxious and self-aggrandizing.

For me, it was just business as usual because I didn’t see a separation there. I didn’t think that making a horror film meant that you couldn’t also be creating art. But for them, it was the Hollywood thing; it was just that you’re in the business, you know. Don’t get on your high horse and talk about yourself as an artist. That’s changed now.

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. While I was shooting with you, I was curious to know, how do you run your sets? I guess you could call it a ‘A Cronenberg Set’. Not the pandemic part of it. What’s different about your sets to the set we ran when you came on as an actor?

DC: Yes, I’m always curious to feel the tone of the set, which is generally at first established by the director’s temperament. Is the director a maniac who loves to yell? Is the director so insecure that he can’t take any criticism?

AM: All right. Right. [LAUGHS]

DC: And you passed the test with flying colours. I like a set to be calm, collegial, kind… And I have found that that works for everybody. For me, it’s touchy, feely, lovey, mushy, I have to say. But it’s not exactly New Age.

AM: And laughing a lot. I heard that about your sets.

DC: Oh yeah. And funny.

AM: We laugh all the time. That’s how we get through the day.

DC: It’s not that we need the laughter to balance the darkness. It’s just natural. When you’re creating something, you’re like kids. I never lose sight of the fact that this is like kids playing in a sandbox. You’re dressing up. You’re pretending to be people you’re not. You’re inventing stuff and you’re playing tricks on each other.

AM: So, your sets are similar?

DC: Yes, my sets are similar.

AM: So, this is something that I’ve always wanted to ask you. Evil Dead, for me, is the movie that changed my life. I saw it when I was about six or seven years old, and I’ve been chasing that ever since. It really just made me turn a corner. Do you have a movie that, for you, that you saw when you were younger, did that? A movie that finds its way into your own films? A movie that just triggered everything?

DC: No.

AM: Good for you!

DC: It’s been a bunch of movies. For example, one of the scariest movies I saw as a kid was the original Blue Lagoon. It’s a story about a boat that sinks and only two children, a boy and a girl, survive. They’re on an island with a drunken sailor. And then there’s a skull and a snake comes up under a skull and lifts it up. And the drunken sailor backs out of a cave and falls to his death and these two children are left alone on the island to survive. And then they grow to be these beautiful people and they have their own adventures – and that film terrified and fascinated me.

It’s partly because they’re separated from their parents. Now, when you’re a kid, one of the most horrifying things you can think of is being separated from your parents forever. So, a movie that most people wouldn’t think of as a horror film, for me was a horror film. Now, that’s illuminating for me because what is a horror film and what is not – that isn’t always engraved in stone. You know, it depends on who you are and what your experience of life has been. As a kid, I saw a million westerns. Mostly when people got shot in those movies, you didn’t see any blood. They would just fall down.

AM: Right.

DC: They’d clutch their chest and fall down. And suddenly there were a couple of movies where the impact of a bullet was really felt in a realistic way.

AM: Which goes back to my point before about the consequences of violence.

DC: Yes. So, as a kid you could see a million people getting killed because they’d just fall down and it’s no big deal, but when you saw the bullet hit and you saw blood spurt and you’d see the impact of a bullet, suddenly that really changes you.

AM: So, you did that in your films then? Like the exploding head in Scanners, to just name one. It’s shocking.

DC: Yes, that seems to hold up, strangely enough. That’s because everybody feels like their head is going to explode or something.

AM: I have to confess, I’d never seen Scanners until a few days ago.

DC: Oh really?

AM: Yeah, I know. Isn’t that brutal? I just admitted that. I just never saw it for some reason and then I watched it and I’ll tell you it absolutely it holds up. It’s a special film.

DC: Well, thank you. I’ve often said, the essence of what you want to be as a filmmaker is to become an “adjective”. You know, Fellini-esque, Bergman-esque, Kafka-esque. There’s a sensibility that you bring to your art that is unique and that people recognize, and it means something to them.

AM: Let’s just say there’s an aspiring filmmaker watching this right now and they’re going through a rough patch. Was there a moment in your career where you thought you were done, but you got over something and continued? Perhaps when you were younger? Did you have that moment where you felt you might just give it up?

DC: With Shivers. We shot three days and then I was sitting there watching the dailies, because we couldn’t see them before, and I was looking at it and thinking “I can’t do this. This is terrible what I’m seeing.” It was a physical thing. It was like the size of the close ups is all wrong and the angle and the lens I used is all wrong. And the dialogue is not working, and I thought “I actually can’t do this. This is not going to work for me. I’m not a filmmaker.”

AM: Amazing.

DC: And then, fortunately, there were two more days of stuff, and I could see it getting better and better and better and I thought, “okay, I am working it out.” And when young filmmakers talk to me about that, I say: “Look, I didn’t go to film school. You can see me learning how to make a film if you watch. You’ll see me figuring it out.”

So that was really the moment where I thought, “No, I can do this.” And from that moment, I just knew I could do it. So that was it.

AM: Amazing.

DC: Coming up next, I haven’t directed a film for about six years. So, my next film might be another moment when I say “Actually, I’ve forgotten how to do this!”

AM: Line up a shot! [LAUGHS] Which could be great though.

DC: It could be good.

AM: Thank you, David.

DC: Oh, this was lot of fun; really, a lot of fun. I haven’t done an interview for a long time.

AM: What a pleasure, what a pleasure.

DC: Oh, thank you.

AM: I’d shake your hand, but… Thank you, David. This was so much fun. I loved it.

Image: Shudder