Dave Hastings Interview Part Two
Walsall for All (WfA): You’ve mentioned your obsession with horror and how it led you into filmmaking, and in our email exchange how that genre has always had a strong LGBTQ following - that wasn’t something I was aware of.
Dave Hastings (DH): For me as a kid, films were escapism. I mean I grew up on Hammer horror films and Halloween, Friday 13th and all that sort of stuff, and for me felling like an outsider as a kid, these films were that pure escapism I needed. But the more I looked at films, the more I wanted to learn more about them. I started to notice certain themes, like the final girl – if you want to get theoretical – is an outsider. So this girl, or person, who faces up against the monster at the end is this outsider, the ones who have been very reserved throughout the plot so far, are bullied or don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves.
So there are a lot of studies that have gone on in the last few years about that and with the advent of social media, there are lots of LGBTQ horror groups that have sprung up because for years I never really thought much about it, I just thought it was me, but actually, seeing them and meeting other LGBTQ Horror fans, I wasn’t surprised so much as just glad that I wasn’t the only one feeling like this. People identify with the monsters … like the monster from Frankenstein, he was created out of spare parts, he’s a freak of nature, he doesn’t know who he is and he just wants to fit in and belong – those kind of ideals - the outsider, the monster, the feeling of being on the fringes of society and looking at what is supposed to be ‘normal’. A lot of Gay people, people from that community, identify with that more. It’s almost like us looking in at what’s supposed to be acceptable, and coupled with a similar fictional character that personifies how you’ve felt for so long - you’re drawn to it. It took me a few years to get it but yeah.
WfA: Is it a conscious thing do you think?
DH: In some films it is, I think the one everybody talks about the most is Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - it’s called ‘Gay Nightmare on Elm Street’ basically. There’s so much talk about it, there’s been documentaries made about it and everything. At the time, they say they didn’t know they were making a film that was so overtly homo-erotic, but it is, there’s some stuff in there that … yeah [laughs].
So the main character is not a girl, it’s a guy, Jesse, but he’s questioning himself you know and if you look online -- Mark Patton is the guy who played him and he’ll talk about this a lot better than me, but I’ve met Mark a couple of times and he’s lovely. It’s a big thing now, Elm Street 2 is seen as the big Gay Freddy Kruger film and the fact that Freddy wants to ‘get inside him’ and stuff like that is just amazing. We went to a screening of it a few years ago, they did a marathon in London of all of them, and the second one, everyone just had so much fun with it. It wasn’t like a condescending thing at all, or anything remotely homophobic, it was just, wow this was there all along, this is amazing, this is something we need to celebrate.
I think with the horror community as well, even heterosexual horror fans that I know and am close friends with, they know what it’s like to be outsiders as well because people are like, “Oh horror fans are all freaks and weirdos” so they understand being that outsider too from a differing perspective. I’ve had so much love and support, as a Gay man and I know other Gay people have as well, from friends in the horror community because we all know what it’s like just to feel a bit different sometimes for liking this stuff. You like Freddy, you like Michael Myers, but you’re not going to go out and kill someone, it’s just entertainment at the end of the day, but for us it was escapism, it was a way to relate – some of these characters were the outcasts, they didn’t quite fit in with their friends and stuff and we felt like that as well.
Whether you’re heterosexual or you’re homosexual, the whole community just comes together and I’ve never had a bad experience with my friends who’ve come from this fanbase because they’re just so accepting. And yet if you look at newspapers and stuff, they’ll say these horror fans are weird and dangerous and stuff and I’m like, “Well, weird and accepting rather than normal and boring. And not constantly belittling other people because of who they’re sleeping with or what they like.” So I’m forever grateful to the horror genre, not just for the films it makes, but just because it’s so accepting on so many different levels and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
WfA: I can definitely empathise with that feeling of being an outsider and taking solace in the escapism of science fiction, horror, comic books etc.
DH: A lot of the horror films now play it up to it so if you look at Creepshow for instance, the parents are saying you’re not to have these comics they’re too violent and stuff.
WfA: There was a book written by a psychologist [Dr.Fredric Wertham] in the 1950s, Seduction of The Innocent I think it’s called, that linked horror and crime comics in particular with delinquency in young people.
DH: I usually find that when someone writes something like that, it comes out about a year or so later that they’ve been doing something naughty themselves, more so in the last two years than anything. These books that are written about horror causing problems, I’d argue that most of the time it’s religion. I’m not religious, my parents are, but I don’t mind if people believe in a God/s - go for it. I wish I did to be honest, but I find most of the problems the LGBTQ community face are from religion … that and BREXIT, the amount of homophobic attacks that have happened since BREXIT has risen, my partner won’t hold my hand in public still and we’ve been together for near 13 years -- unless we’re at somewhere like PRIDE.
WfA: There are certainly a significant number of hate crimes directed at the Gay community, many of which go unreported sadly.
DH: That’s where I think, as a filmmaker, I can challenge it – that’s my weapon, to try to make these films and educate people and that’s not an egotistical thing, that’s just what I can contribute, whether it works I don’t know – I do know that Willem is now being shown in French schools as an educational film. It was originally part of a film festival in Paris and then the French government got involved with it and said, “We want to expand this out, can we use this as an educational piece?” And I was told last year that Willem was being used in schools across France and it’s nice for me because in a way it feels like the spirit of the real Willem is still doing something and I think he’d be happy with that. Reading about him, his spirit and courage I think he would really appreciate that his story is being used to tell people that it’s okay to be Gay. That’s the biggest thing for me, knowing that that’s out there now.
I’m quite a shy person, I don’t like being in the spotlight a lot and I’ve always been like that. I’m just quite private, I usually let the actors talk, but as a director and a filmmaker, I think that as my films are delivering a message somewhere, that means a lot to me. And I’m really happy for the actors and stuff because we do all this for free, we don’t get money for this kind of stuff. So as long it’s out there doing something and GRID is as well and Sunshine one day, then I’m happy with that. It means we did something that even if just one person said, “I like that”, then that’s our job done.
WfA: But equally you’ve won some awards for these and other films haven’t you?
DH: Yeah, yeah, erm … but -- you see I’ll deflect it until the end, I’m just very shy. Yeah … I just … when we did Screaming Death I had to go and get the award and I’ve never done that before and I remember I got really nervous because we were shooting in this haunted house in West Brom, the Manor House, and I didn’t have a speech or anything, I didn’t think we were going to win so I got up and thanked the ghosts [laughs], I’m not … my colleague, Kaushy, he accidentally swung the camera in my direction once on set and my automatic response was to dive into the bush that was next to him to avoid being seen! I’m very grateful for any award though. I just don’t think I deserve it, but that’s just me that is.
WfA: I was hoping my 12 year old would watch Screaming Death with me because she likes a good horror movie, but I couldn’t convince her and ended up having to watch the Purge instead which was remarkably unimpressive.
DH: I’m more of classic horror fan, the Hammer films I love, I grew up on Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, my favourite horror film is Halloween, the original one and a film called Black Christmas which was made in 1974.
WfA: I’d not heard of that, I need to try to check that out.
DH: It’s actually on YouTube in its entirety, I watch it every Christmas eve - it’s a tradition. I’m actually co-writing a book about the making of Black Christmas at the moment - whilst we were in lockdown last year, myself and co-author Paul Downey had been interviewing as many involved in the film as we possibly could - who are still with us - because it’s nearly 50 years old now, so a lot of the last year has been spent on Skype together writing out chapters and researching. It should be out next year.
WfA: There’s something I wanted to ask you about and it relates to a recently discovered film by the late George A. Romero.
DH: Right, yeah I love Night of The Living Dead – I’ve seen stuff about but it’s all a bit scattered on Facebook and stuff.
WfA: It’s called The Amusement Park I think and it was actually commissioned as a public information film to address ageism in society, but the resulting film was so disturbing that it was shelved by the commissioning body and I wondered if, like Romero, even when your films aren’t part of the ‘horror genre’ that horror play a part?
DH: Yeah, Sustain, like I said, is not a horror as in vampires and monsters and stuff it’s more about the human horror. There are people out there who think being a different colour or a different sexuality gives them the right to persecute you and I was very interested in dealing with that and showing that monsters are usually humans. And again with Sunshine these kids and their adult counterparts – the two stories – they are surrounded by persecution - the people who are bad in them are the people who are misguided. One of the characters, his dad is a ‘product of his generation’ and stuff like that. I mean with Willem, the Nazis, they’re the ultimate horror so it’s not a horror film per se and I think the more I read about the world, the more it annoys me and the more it saddens me because we seem to be spiralling to madness! BREXIT is the same, BREXIT has brought the worst out of people. People who previously wouldn’t have said anything, or would have just whispered it, BREXIT seems to have given them the opportunity to think they can say what they like and I find that horrendous.
The film we’re doing after Sunshine is called Advent, it’s a Christmas story and again it’s an anthology. The one I’ve done, it’s not LGBTQ or anything, it’s set on Christmas eve and it’s about the stranger that keeps coming to Midnight Mass and every year they’re all like, “Who is he?” Every year he just sits at the back and doesn’t say anything and the more he comes, the more the other parishioners try to talk to him, and the more they do the more they realise that something happened to him and he just comes here for solace. The reason I wanted to make this film is this notion that immigrants are bad people. That’s sickening! They’re not! They’re human beings - they’ve probably gone through more trauma than you’ll ever think of or ever have to go through in your life, but we demonise them because they’re from a different country. My life is a lot more cultured, it’s a lot more fun and a lot happier because I have so many friends from different backgrounds and cultures. I’m a better person because of them all.
WfA: That kind of answers my last question which was what’s next for you?
DH: Well, Borderland is one of my next projects. I’m not directing this one, I’m producing, and I’ve written it because a friend of mine, Ben Thompson, who’s worked with us on other films as DOP wanted to direct a film and we both wanted to go back and explore LGBTQ cinema and genre. It’s a very topical and disturbing script that revolves around the alleged concentration camps in Chechnya.
So many stories there I researched are simply heart breaking and so Borderland is about highlighting these so-called concentration camps where Gay people were being taken, tortured and even murdered it would seem. I’d researched it all and immersed myself in that world and had to keep taking breaks from it, but Ben’s got the first draft which he’s reading at the moment so he’s going to come back to me with any suggestions and then that’ll be next year.
Then it’s back into horror as I’m getting to work with a friend of mine who is fantastic, Liam Banks of Superfreak Media. He’s directing that one but we’re going to write it together - we’ve got the idea we want to go back to 80s horror because it’s fun, but again there is going to be a prominent Gay character in it. Not because it’s a tick box thing but we’re just intertwining them as if nothing is wrong from the get-go.
WfA: It’s interesting that you say that because I often feel that Gay characters in film and/or TV are there because they are Gay and that’s their purpose in the narrative whereas in the real world of course that is incidental.
DH: For us it’s more about representation and that’s it, because we exist. It’s not like we’re going to go on about how he’s slept with loads of guys - it’s really just incidental that he’s Gay, it’s just part of the plot, he’s looking after these kids, something happens, this horrible serial killer comes into it, that it. It’s not a big deal, it’s just a Gay character, that’s it. It’s not ticking a box, he doesn’t have to be defined in a certain way - we just made a decision that we wanted that diversity in there because that doesn’t happen a lot, so why don’t we just try it and see what we can do with it and put our little stamp on the genre.
WfA: Also for younger people it does a lot to address the negative messaging that they’ll be receiving.
DH: I think if you can put a character in like that and it stops a kid who’s seen lots of horrible things about – you know anti-Gay stuff – and it stops them feeling bad, it encourages them, gives them courage in some way even, to never feel bad about how they feel or who they love, that is a very positive message and it can help their mental well-being. Show them the world is not an awful place and you are wanted and loved.
WfA: I can’t thank you enough for giving up so much of your time to talk to us, it’s been fascinating and an absolute pleasure to meet you.
DH: No, no thank you for asking me.
Walsall for All would like to that Dave Hastings for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us and for being so frank, open and honest with his answers.
All of Dave's films mentioned can be streamed via Amazon Prime. We look forward to seeing You Are My Sunshine in the coming months and will post more information on when are where you can see this once released on our social media channels.