Memory Lanes #9 – James Secker
Week three of our exhibition down Memory Lanes closes off with some choice cuts picked out by honourable guest James Secker, award-winning filmmaker behind The Summoner (full short available below), events consultant for the UK’s Retro Future Festival and editor for Synthwave TV. Fueled by
Week three of our exhibition down Memory Lanes closes off with some choice cuts picked out by honourable guest James Secker, award-winning filmmaker behind The Summoner (full short available below), events consultant for the UK’s Retro Future Festival and editor for Synthwave TV. Fueled by a love for DIY movies of the retro variety, his past work include films such as Commando Ninja (co-producer) and Escape from North Korea (Film Marketing). As the Associate Producer for the upcoming Masebrothers’ short Cyborg: Deadly Machine, he is also getting ready to unleash some post-apocalyptic sci-fi action that is sure to hit a bullseye through the heart of every retro movie enthusiast. We caught up with the blood, guts and synths thrillseeker to ask for some top-shelf chilling horror to sink your teeth into.
So what’ve you got to recommend to our readers today?
I’ve chosen two film recommendations. I brought the 1986 horror film Night of the Creeps. It’s probably one of the most criminally underrated Eighties movies ever made it’s a mix of science-fiction, cheesy horror and laugh-out-loud comedy and the director delivers everything in spades. It’s one of the first horror films that I can remember watching and I can’t recommend it enough to the readers! I remember getting it at a video-store. The VHS cover stood out to me. I used to spend a lot of my childhood around video-stores, which is where I got my love for films. I used to rent a lot of films. The first job I wanted to do was to be a film director. I always remember that as one of my first memories.
The second film that I think everyone should watch is a 1986 film called Chopping Mall, which has an incredible Synth soundtrack by Chuck Cirino. It’s batshit crazy. It’s got out of control robots, awful dialogue and exploding heads, all within a shopping mall in the Eighties. It’s best watched with beers and a few friends. I must’ve seen the film between the time I was ten and thirteen.
Can you identify what draws you to old-school horror, as a director and as a fan?
I think it’s the atmosphere. Modern horror doesn’t have the atmosphere of Eighties horror. It’s got some kind of schlocky vibe with an undercurrent of pulsing synths. Nothing today measures up to the horror movies of the Eighties and early Nineties. That’s what I think, anyway. I very much like DIY style horror, where you can feel like the movie was a passion project. John Carpenter’s Halloween was a really low-budget, for example. The same goes for Chopping Mall and Night of the Creeps. They are not the churned-out unoriginal money-making machines you see in cinemas today.
I know the film-rating system is pretty harsh in the UK. Were these horror films easy to get a hold of when you were still a child?
There were a lot of films that were banned in the Eighties in the UK, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist. These films were re-released around the 2000s’. The schlockier, lower-budget films that weren’t really that “harmful”, were released on videocassette. It was only the ones that had the blood and gore and various things that people thought could “harm the public” that were banned. There was a politician called Mary Whitehouse, who basically banned a bunch of films due to what she thought would cause violence. A lot of these films were just 18+ films. Our films rating system goes from U (for all audiences) and PG (Parental Guidance) to 12+, 15+ and 18+. I remember watching Clownhouse and Halloween when I was very young. My mum and dad didn’t really care about showing me things like that. If you’re born a certain way, you’re going to turn into a psychopath, but I don’t think TV violence turns into a killer.
Did you have a lot of friends that were into horror? Or were you the odd one out of the bunch in school?
I was the kid that people used to come around to the house to. I had hundreds of VHS tapes. My parents bought me them. They used to watch Terminator and Halloween around my house [Laughs] without their parents knowing. People used to come to my place after school to check out all of the newest horror and action releases that they couldn’t see anywhere else.
How did you pick out the movies you’d watch?
The thing is that you couldn’t really tell if something was really good back then. You just had to go off the poster artwork, whereas nowadays you get to read reviews online. You had to go through a video store and browse around. It was the same with CDs in the Nineties. When an album was released, you didn’t know what the rest of the album was like. It basically boiled down to luck. I still have a lot of terrible VHS tapes in my house [Laughs]. You paid quite a lot of money back then for a new release, too.
Has your relationship with horror movies changed since the digital age or have you kept somewhat of an old-school approach to consuming horror?
I still watch a lot of horror movies, but I don’t really listen to anybody’s reviews or opinions on it, because I think that horror is very much in the eyes of the viewer. You’re either going to really like it or you’re not. That’s why I go to a lot of horror festivals, as well. I don’t read about the films that are showing, I like going in with an open mind. It’s just nice to find something new and refreshing that someone else has picked out in a horror festival, as opposed to sifting to loads of stuff that you’re not sure is going to be good. I still read reviews of horror films, I just don’t really trust them. A movie that I’d been really looking forward to might come out and get loads of bad reviews, but I might still enjoy it. There are a few films that I’ve watched when I was growing up that have terrible reviews that I love.
Do any examples come to mind?
I’ve got two, actually. Sam Raimi released a western in the Nineties called The Quick and the Dead and it’s absolutely incredible. It’s one of the most underappreciated films ever made. I think that everyone should definitely check that. I think that it’s Sam Raimi’s best work. It’s fantastic. There’s also Money Train with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson. It’s got a fantastic script and loads of memorable one-liners. Me and my dad used to watch it all the time on the weekends when I was growing up.
So what’ve you been up to and what’ve you been working on lately?
I’m developing my first feature film while I’m in lockdown. It will be a brutal thriller with a lot of action involved. I’m looking forward to sharing that with everyone soon. I’m also currently working on the marketing for a film called Lieutenant Jangles, which is an Australian Synthwave movie. I’m also helping on a film with the Masebrothers called Cyborg: Deadly Machine. The film is going to be dubbed over into English and I’m basically polishing up the translation. I’m also working on Commando Ninja II soon with Ben Combes, which should be exciting. The lockdown has given me the time to work on all of these projects, and we’re also hoping to set some Synthwave festivals again in 2021 for which I can get some acts. The other organisers Will and Simon of Retro Future Fest are hoping to put something on next year in the summer.
Be sure to check out James’ work via his IMDB page or his Instagram to catch up on his latest filmmaking projects.