It's is isn't every day that the vice president of TV station turns out to be a huge friend to the horror community. Well, that's exactly what Mike Ruggiero, VP of Original Programming for STARZ, is turning out to be. Spearheading Going to Pieces, a documentary on Slasher films based on Adam Rockoff's book Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978 to 1986, the film features some of the premiere talents who have worked in the genre, as well as going behind the scenes of some of the seminal Slasher films.
Mike Ruggiero recently took some out to talk about this project that is very important to him.
How did Going To Pieces come together?
Michael Ruggiero: As a life-long fan of the horror genre who grew up on a steady diet of slasher films in the 80's I had always wanted to give these much maligned films there due. When I first joined Starz this was one of the projects being considered so I quickly moved it to the top of the list. Luckily my colleagues also saw the potential in the project so it really didn't take much convincing. The film was initially conceived by producer and fellow fan Rudy Scalese who was inspired by a documentary called American Nightmare about horror in the 70's. He started researching the subject and came upon the book by Adam Rockoff. Ironically I had been working at IFC during the time that American Nightmare was made and had also been thinking that a doc about 80's horror would be a good idea.
Was it your goal to the make the definitive slasher film documentary?
Michael Ruggiero: Yes. As a true fan of the genre there was no other way to do it.
Is there anything you learned about these old horror pros you didn't know before?
Michael Ruggiero: I never realized how often Wes Craven uses real life stories from the newspaper as inspiration. Turns out the Nightmare On Elm Street was loosely based on the true story of a boy who was convinced that if he fell asleep he would die and that's exactly what happened! After he died his parents found pots of coffee and bottles of sleeping pills that he had never taken in his closet. When I met Wes in person for the promotion of the documentary he also reminded me that The Hills Have Eyes was inspired by the story of a real life family of cannibals who lived in a cave in Scotland (I think). Truly scary!
Michael Ruggiero: We really did try. Unfortunately we ran out of production time and were not able to catch up with everyone we wanted.
Why do you think horror films are so popular?
Michael Ruggiero: They're fun! For me it began when I was a kid and wanted to kind of test myself to see if I could take it (the scares). It may be an over done analogy but they really are like roller coasters. You know what's coming when you strap in and it scares the hell out of you when it happens but you always leave high on adrenaline and with a smile on your face.
What is the most important thing you learned about slasher films through making this documentary that you didn't know before?
Michael Ruggiero: Well, it's kind of silly but I was fascinated to learn that the chillingly familiar theme music from Friday The 13th was achieved by taking the "ki" from the word, "kill" and the "ma" from "mommy" when Mrs. Vorhees is saying, "kill her mommy", running it through an echo machine, and turning into, "ki, ki, kiiii... ma, ma, maaa..." It's revealed in the doc by the film's composer Harry Manfredini.
Seeing as how this was based on Adam Rockoff's book, was getting all the information across ever an issue?
Michael Ruggiero: Adam is a great guy and a true fan of the genre. He was there at the development stage and played a key role in getting the project off the ground. As source material his book was so strong in the way it breaks down the conventions of the genre that all we really had to do was stick to the formula that he had already laid out. We definitely went a little further by making the film a kind of "latest edition" to include recent films like Hostel and Saw but at the heart of the doc is his book. He wrote me a nice e-mail to me saying how pleased and proud he was with the final film which personally meant a lot to me.
What do you think is the one key ingredient to making a horror film that works?
Michael Ruggiero: Subverting or surpassing expectations through misdirection or explicitness. Shock goes a long way in horror. I also like a little realism which is why CGI horror bores me to tears.
Since the 80s the Freddy Krueger Halloween costume has outlasted them all and remains to be one of the most popular costumes you could dress in during this time of year. Obviously pretending to be a slasher has a big allure. Do you think the slasher film is the most important type of horror flick?
Michael Ruggiero: Tough to call it the most important type of horror but it certainly has had the most long lasting appeal.
What's your take on the more "campy" style of slasher film, ala Freddy vs. Jason?
Michael Ruggiero: Personally I prefer my horror straight up, no chaser but I do think when done right camp and comedy can work well within the genre. Sam Raimi did a GREAT job mixing scares with laughs in Evil Dead I and II. I also think that Shaun of the Dead really worked. Mostly because the guys making it knew the genre in and out and were NOT simply making fun of it.
Do you have a favorite type of slasher film within the slasher film genre?
I tend to like the hard core stuff. Maniac maybe the sleaziest horror movie ever made but to me it's the Taxi Driver of the genre... A true classic.
Going to Pieces has an encore presentation on STARZ on October 31st.