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HEATHER WIXSON'S KILLER JOURNEY

BY MO MOSHATY, JANUARY 10, 2024

From cruising the horror aisles of Mom and Pop video stores to crafting books celebrating horror's finest masters, creators and artists, it's been a long, strange (and horrifically wonderful) trip for Heather Wixson, and she's nowhere near finished.

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MM: Forgive me for fan-girling but I'm so excited to chat with you! We all know and love you as a managing editor in the horror space, but can you take us back to little Heather's journey into horror? 

 

HW: That’s quite a trip! My journey began decades ago as I had the good fortune of being a kid growing up during the ‘80s, which meant there was a lot of killer horror to enjoy, but also, it was a time when maybe parents weren’t as discerning as they are these days about what their kids were watching so I fell in love pretty early on. I also had the good fortune of being able to spend hours traversing through video stores too, so that meant that I had a lot of opportunities to discover older movies. But one of my earliest theater memories is seeing An American Werewolf in London, and kind of not being able to process the theater scene in it because we were sitting in a theater and that kind of blew my tiny little mind (I was three years old).

But I always had a reputation amongst my friends as the girl who loved “weird” movies and I can remember at one point, during the big run of vampire films during the ‘80s starting my own vampire hunting club which I managed to talk a few of my friends into joining. I’ve always loved movies as a whole (especially because I grew up watching everything that the adults in my circles were watching), but horror became a huge outlet for me at a time when I really needed it.


I’d definitely say that coming up during that era of horror primed me for being able to co-write the In Search of Darkness companion book, because I was fortunate to live that experience every single day when I was growing up. 

 

MM: Same, being a latchkey kid in the 80s afforded me a lot of screen time! As a fixture on horror documentaries, is there anything we're not talking about or a perspective we've not seen in that space that you wish we'd delve into?

HW:  If you asked me this question five years ago, I’d probably have a much different answer than I do now, but thankfully, there has been a lot of growth in the world of horror documentaries that has been extremely awesome to experience and inspiring to see as well. I think what’s great is that there are quite a few now that feel extremely passionate, or have a very specific viewpoint to it so that you’re getting so much more than just generalized fodder (akin to the horror series that mainstream cable channels would trot out every October as a means of appeasing genre nerds). 


The one thing I would like to see more of though, and it has gotten better but it could always be better, is having more women being invited to participate in these types of projects because I feel like those are voices and perspectives that should be explored more (it’s something I tried to push for on In Search of Darkness when I produced the first installment). Really, adding even more diverse participants, in general, would be fantastic, just because some of the white dude talking heads we’ve been watching for decades now aren’t really saying anything new. I respect them and they’re smart and great with words, but new perspectives are what keep things interesting for me (this probably goes for documentaries both in and outside of the genre world, as I am a fiend for pop culture-themed documentaries).

 

MM: Well your knowledge of horror is clearly expansive, what's one topic you can absolutely geek out on? We're talking TEDTalk status.

HW: Oh wow, I would say if I wanted to go the opposite route of the books I’ve been working on for years now, the subject I could probably do a TEDTalk on is Wes Craven. My best friend (and amazing writer) Patrick Bromley and I started the Cravin’ Craven podcast during the pandemic which was tied to how we initially became friends as kids (a mutual friend introduced us because we both loved A Nightmare on Elm Street) and we thought it would be fun to go through his entire filmography to explore some of the throughlines that were present throughout most of his filmography.


To me, many of Wes’ films explored the struggles of familial dynamics in an ever-changing society and we see that present in so many of his movies. He was also great at working with socio-political issues in his films, too, which you see in everything from The Last House on the Left to Scream 4 and so many films in between. But yeah, give me a few hours and I could go on and on about the genius of Wes Craven.

MM: I absolutely adore Wes Craven and most fondly, The People Under the Stairs and it's spotlight on the slumlord and putting an African American kid at the center of the story. Outside of the subject of Wes, you've been able to geek out about your love for practical effects, which I'm also a huge fan of. Tell me about your road to Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Conversations with Cinema's Greatest Artists Volumes 1 & 2.

 

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HW: This was a journey that started for me all the way back in 2015 (which honestly feels like a lifetime ago now) when I was working on a series for Daily Dead called “Stan Winston Week.” I decided to do an article celebrating Stan as a boss and mentor, beyond anything movie-specific, and I was getting all of these amazing stories that you just never really had heard shared before since most conversations that effects folks were used to getting were more about the process behind their work, and things of that nature. When someone said to me at one point, “I’ve never been asked before about this kind of stuff,” that’s when the lightbulb went off and I realized that these artists worked so hard to make movie magic for us fans, and most of us hardly knew anything about them beyond credits we can read on IMDb.


So with that directive in mind, I embarked on my first book, Monster Squad, which came out in 2017. I was proud of that book, but it wasn’t totally how I wanted it to be, and I had more artists’ stories to share, so initially I was going to do another series with Fangoria, but that unraveled in 2020 when they decided to stop publishing books. So, I was connected with AM Ink/Dark Ink and they gave this series a new home. It’s been an incredible journey so far and my favorite part is hearing from people who say they learned something while reading these first two books, because I just want folks to continue to champion these artists the way I have been championing them, because they deserve it (and so much more, really).

MM: Can you pick a top three from the films discussed in either volume?

HW: Oh, this is tough because I imagine this is the same feeling parents have when asked to choose between their kids. I will say that the big three that left a huge impact on me when I was a kid and was honored to be able to celebrate them in the Monsters, Makeup & Effects series were The Thing, The Fly remake, and the original Planet of the Apes. All of those films hit me in different ways when I discovered them, so being able to speak with the artists behind why those movies were so impactful was a huge honor for me as both a writer and as a horror fan in general.

 

MM: That had to be so incredible and also a bonus when meeting your heroes works out for the best! How do you feel the horror genre has helped you creatively and personally?

HW: This genre has helped me find myself time and time again – both as a kid and as an adult. I was at a bit of a crossroads when I was in my late twenties, and when I realized I could put the work in to become an entertainment journalist who specialized in horror and sci-fi, it was like discovering this piece of me that I didn’t realize had been missing. I had loved writing ever since I was like 5 years old (I won my first Young Authors award in kindergarten, which is bananas to think about now), and had loved horror for about as long, so being able to bring these two passions of mine together in a way that felt meaningful to me has been a wonderful experience – both the ups and the downs.

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MM: Can we talk about the new work you have coming down the pike?

HW: For sure! This year, I have two different books coming out, which is nice since I didn’t have any in 2023, and that made the overachiever in me pretty sad. But this year, the In Search of Darkness book will be released as well as the third volume of the Monsters, Makeup & Effects series, too. 


The ISOD book was a huge, years-long undertaking, and I was so excited to be able to work on that book with my co-writer and Horror BFF, Patrick Bromley. We put a lot of work into it because we wanted readers to get even more ‘80s horror awesomeness beyond everything featured in the documentary series so there was a lot of research and time spent just making sure we gave people something new to enjoy. That’s another situation where if someone comes away from it learning something new, or discovering a new favorite movie, then I will feel like I did my job as a writer there.


And the third installment of the Monsters, Makeup & Effects series will be celebrating 20 more artists whose work made me love the horror genre even more. That should hopefully be out sometime this summer and I’ll be announcing the participants in the next few months, but there are some extremely rad artists featured in this volume (much like in the first two).



 

I’m also about to start working on my first documentary project, but it is outside of the genre world. I’m really excited to take this next step though and even more excited about being able to talk about it when the time is right. But it’s a long-time coming, and I just hope I do the subject matter justice.

"All of those films hit me in different ways when I discovered them, so being able to speak with the artists behind why those movies were so impactful was a huge honor for me as both a writer and as a horror fan in general."

MM: I'm sure you're more than capable of absolutely smashing it! You've been captivated by this genre for most of your life. Can you tell me what you love most about the horror community?

HW: I love that it’s a way for all of us to find our “people,” so to speak. Growing up, I always felt like an outlier, so I love that horror is something that has brought so many of us together. I love seeing people get so passionate about this genre, even those I may not agree with, just because it’s evident that there’s something about horror that resonates deeply with them. Just being able to geek out with other people who love this stuff is truly the best feeling in the world. I’m generally an introvert but nothing turns me into an extrovert quicker than a conversation about the horror genre.

MM: I get incredibly hyper when someone asks me about horror so I truly relate! As a creative, we deal with the highs of new projects and the lows of rejection. Coming back to creating horror works, what advice would you give your younger creative self? What mantra or ethic do you follow now?

HW: I think the biggest thing I would always remind myself over the last 16-plus years of my creative career is to remember why I decided to follow this path in the first place. The decision to take this leap and start working in this field came from a place of love and enthusiasm for horror and for sharing stories, and I never wanted to lose sight of that. And I think if you’re true to what motivates you to keep going, you’re only going to find success. It might not be the success you were hoping for, and it may not take the shape you were expecting, but if you never lose your focus, good things will come. Something else that is important to remember is that patience is always key. For anyone out there looking to follow any kind of creative pursuit, I will always tell them to just go for it. If you want to write, direct, act, create art – whatever fuels that fire inside of you – like the saying goes, just do it. And keep doing it. Finding your voice and finding your audience will take time, which is why it’s important to just keep at it, but if you put in the work, you will get there. But you do have to put in the work – if you don’t, people will catch on.


Another thing that I try to do is that I continually strive to improve. I’ve been writing steadily since I was 5 years old, and I’ve been writing professionally for more than 16 years now, but I know that I am still learning and continuing to improve even after all these years. I am confident in my abilities (saying that took a lot of effort on my part, since I’m so self-deprecating about my work) but I know I can always be better, which is why I’m always trying to push myself in new ways. This includes watching a lot of movies/series/projects and reading a lot of books and articles from other writers out there, too. I really try to discover something new every week about some piece of media so that it helps me further shape my worldview and make it more well-rounded. The one last thing I’d add to this is a mantra from Road House: Be nice…until it’s time to not be nice. The reality is that in this world, sometimes you’ll have to be your own advocate, and you will probably have to be ready to stand up for yourself, which can be a challenge. But in the meantime, just be nice. Be supportive. If people want advice, share it. If someone’s looking for feedback, take the time to share it with them. Create opportunities if you’re in a position to do so. We’re all in this together so creating a network of support for others is an important and worthwhile venture.


Most importantly though, don’t be afraid to lift others up – it costs you nothing. Between creating Indie Horror Month and the extensive gift guides I did for nearly a decade (not to mention countless other articles, etc.), I’ve spent a lot of time over the years championing other writers, artists, filmmakers, creatives – you name it. That was my way of paying it all forward because I realized how genuinely lucky I have been in my career. So if I have the chance to use whatever platform I’ve built, I want to use that to showcase other creatives out there making a name for themselves whenever possible. I’m terrible at promoting myself, but really great at promoting others I have found (LOL).

Heather Wixson is the Managing Editor at Daily Dead and producer of In Search of Darkness (2019). You can find Heather's books, Monsters, Makeup and Effects Volumes 1 & 2 here or wherever you shop for books and be on the look out for In Search of Darkness The Book Series later this year!

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