Monster Outbreak: The Horror of Covid-19

As society struggles to survive these trying times, I had the opportunity to chat with a diverse, eclectic, and truly talented group of individuals who all currently work within the horror genre. In this interview we take a look at how Covid-19 has affected not only the independent horror community, but life in general. History will one day speak of a time when everything in the world shut down and life was put on hold. What will be said about the countless lives ruined and lost to this unprecedented outbreak? Monster: How has the horror community been affected during the recent crisis, with cancellations and postponements of film festivals and the closings of theaters throughout the world?

Tom Lee Rutter (West Midlands, England): Every aspect of the horror community has been affected. I’ve personally had to postpone film shoots and film screenings which have taken a lot of organization and energy and it really sets you back. I think the worst and possibly most frightening aspect of it all though is that it is isolating us from our communities. There are means of gathering and connection online in social media but it’s really not the same. For film festivals and screenings, it’s about coming together to be with your own kind on a social level. What’s more, making films is a way of connecting with people, connecting with communities, commenting on societies. We don’t know how long this pandemic is going to go on for, and how bad it will ultimately affect or break down our societies and communities. As a film-maker, there is nothing scarier than making films with no purpose. No social connection means no audiences and without them, there is no fundamental reason to be doing it in my opinion. On the positive side no matter how bad and worrying it gets, for all the stress and anxiety it brings us it will ultimately be a source of inspiration to all creatives. I feel like we’re living in a dystopian nightmare already and there is something perversely inspiring about that! Monster: As panic and fear have set in and taken hold of humanity over the past couple weeks, what’s the atmosphere been like being so close to where the virus is said to have originated? What’s it feel like living in a real-life horror movie with everything shutting down all around you and people being quarantined and going into isolation? 

Manuel Urbaneck (Landau, Germany): It’s an incredible situation, at least here in Germany. People were fighting for toilet paper. For toilet paper! Man, that’s completely crazy. Everything still gets delivered, so nobody needs to panic. And if it’s really about survival, what’s the use of toilet paper? I have completely different problems. No, I’m not worried about what I wipe my ass with, but what I eat, what I drink, where I sleep safely. Toilet paper is only useful in civilization. As my film describes it well, the real danger would not be the undead, but the other survivors. Because man is able to do cruel things, especially when it comes to his own head and collar. In America, they are now hoarding weapons and ammunition everywhere. I would be really scared. At least they only hoard things like flour or toilet paper. That is bad enough.

Take a look at the elderly in the supermarket who want to buy something and there’s nothing left. What are they doing? They are at the bottom of the food chain and nobody cares about them. But do you know what makes me happy? When the going gets tough, the hamsters go first. There are always enough who have fewer but are much more unscrupulous. They already know where to get something. When you see how headless some people react, that there are security guards in front of the supermarkets and that they have to guard the toilet paper, that shakes me.

Monster: You’d recently screened your new film Live and Let Die at a couple of festivals before the current outbreak hit. What are your thoughts on making a film about the apocalypse just before what some people believe might actually be the end of the world as we know it?

Manuel Urbaneck: I never thought that my script would become a reality so quickly and that people would go so crazy. I also believe that everything will be fine again. The question is when? Because the current crisis is only the first stage before the actual crisis, when our economy is weakened, when many small companies go bankrupt, when people become unemployed – that is all still to come. After all, nature is recovering due to everyone isolating. It’s astonishingly quick. By the way, my survival backpack is still packed in the corner and ready to go. You never know. And who needs toilet paper in the wilderness when there are the three seashells. Monster: How has Covid-19 impacted horror fiction and book sales at the moment, especially that of stories based on outbreaks and pandemics?

Peter Blakey-Novis (East Suxxex, England): Personally, I haven’t written any post-apocalyptic stories, or anything related to pandemics, but I know of authors who have reported an increase in sales for this sub-genre. I would certainly say I’ve seen an increase in sales of my books in all formats, but especially audiobooks, which I can only put down to people being off work and having more time to read/listen to books.

I think this event will lead to an increase in outbreak-related stories but that is quite a heavily saturated genre (not to say there aren’t many excellent post-apocalyptic stories because there are). The real downside (from a writer’s point of view) is the cancellation of so many events. We’ve seen postponements and cancellations of a number of large horror events, as well as the Brighton book fair which I co-organize. While a lot of authors are doing their best to run ‘virtual’ versions of these on social media, many of us have already paid out for quantities of books with nowhere to take them for the foreseeable future. It will definitely be interesting to see what new books emerge from writers who are isolating themselves for long periods of time and how much the current situation influences the stories. Monster: It’s one thing to hear the shelves are empty like you’d see in some apocalyptic horror film, however, it’s another thing to witness the insanity of the situation first hand. What’s it like seeing it up close and trying to wrap your head around the true terror and panic of it all?

Mj Dixon (Milton Keynes, England): It’s strange, you know? I never thought we’d see a day like this in our lifetime, but I feel foolish for ever having thought this, looking back I feel like this was inevitable, we’d been warned about it for years. I think that watching hundreds of films about this over the last 30something years, I would feel more prepared, but the harsh reality is, we’re just not ready to cope with this mentally as a race and the public are proving that with their actions.

Watching society devolve the way it has over the last few weeks is terrifying, but knowing that on top of that, on top of not being able to get food, supplies, medicine, there’s a very real danger that someone close to you, or even YOU, could contract the virus, it is becoming increasingly obvious that it can kill just about anyone, healthy or not. We’re living in something worse than any horror movie right now because it’s our reality.

Monster: Do you think these dark and tragic times in society are going to inspire the direction and future of the horror genre, and what type of films and books do you think it will produce in the years to come?

Mj Dixon: I do, I think we’ll see thousands of isolation/Lockdown/Virus movies come out of this, littering the shelves in 18 months or so, cheap stuff that’s really just about anything, other than taking your money with nothing real to say. I think, honestly, it’ll be the inevitable saturation point that breaks the Indie Market. I can’t see it being anything but a bad thing.

However, there is an interesting outlook outside of that. I do wonder how it will affect the narrative of stories going forward as the War did. Will this now be a cultural moment that we embed in future films and books like the Nazi’s, something too hard to ignore even in fantasy? It’s got me curious, should we live to see it. Monster: How has the spread of this disease curbed filmmaking where you live, and what effects do you think it will have on the industry, putting millions of people out of work for an unspecified amount of time?

Alex Paterson-Churchyard (Essex, England): Well clearly we’re seeing a halt to lots of big/medium-sized productions and the industry itself seems to have started to shut down essentially. The same is likely true for the indie and micro-budget industry as well and in fact, a friend of ours recently announced on social media that they are postponing shooting the end of their movie.

For us personally, we had stuff in the pipeline which we may now need to postpone shooting – we can use it as an opportunity to get some writing done though – it wouldn’t be a surprise if many others ended up doing the same.

Of course, we are also seeing lots of bigger films being postponed, but less is written about all the film festivals that will also get delayed or canceled and the impact that will have on us and filmmakers like us. We’re lucky that we have had a couple of screenings already this year, but it is worrying going forward.

We feel for all of our industry friends and anyone whose work has been affected and is struggling as a result.

Hopefully, when this is all over we will see a lot of production resume; projects in development coming to fruition, and although it is disappointing, it’s not the end! Monster: What does a catastrophe like this do for streaming services and what kind of result will it have on independent horror films that usually garner their target audience once they touch down online?

Troy Escamilla (Texas, United States): My guess is that streaming services are thriving during this time when people are home with possibly more time on their hands than they’re traditionally used to. Personally, I have watched more shows and movies via streaming services in these past three weeks than I have perhaps in the past three years.  Now is a perfect time for indie filmmakers to get their films on digital streaming platforms and for filmmakers who already have films available on these platforms to PROMOTE PROMOTE PROMOTE them! There is probably no shortage of people at home right searching for the next horror film to watch, and they’re certainly more willing to watch a film they might not otherwise have given time to in the past.

Monster: With so many amazing low budget films out there right now and the majority of the nation practicing social distancing, do you think creativity within the genre will take a serious hit, or do you think it’ll flourish and we’ll have a lot more content once we recover from the threat?

Troy Escsmilla: I do not think creativity will take it a hit at all.  I know myself and many other filmmakers and artists are taking this time to create.  The social isolation has allowed me the time and motivation to work on a few new scripts and I see a plethora of other artists doing the same: taking the opportunity to be creative.  With hope is that any filmmaker who was planning to produce and/or shoot a film anytime in the upcoming months takes this opportunity to have another evaluation of the project. Give the script another read and maybe send it to a few trusted individuals for some additional feedback.  Is it truly the best it can be? Reevaluate marketing and fundraising if funds have not been fully secured. While crowdfunding in the past has been beneficial to many indie filmmakers, myself included, this current climate may not the most ideal to rely on donation and pledges to your film as many people continue to lose their jobs. I don’t say this to discourage, but to point out that this does not have a situation where projects are abandoned, but rather a situation allowing the project to be assessed one final time to improve it.   With that said, once this coronavirus threat is past, I have a strong feeling there will be many indie filmmakers itching to get back behind the camera to produce new films, many perhaps that were written during this stay at home time! So, in the next few years, I expect to see many new, creative genre films to emerge! Monster: Having produced a sweded version of the 1959 Hammer Horror film, The Mummy, where an extensive amount of time was spent dressing and wrapping the main antagonist in toilet paper, what’s it like trying to survive the chaos with everyone buying up all the necessities?

Christine Parker (North Carolina, United States): Well I’m starting to wish we’d kept all those wrappings! I think we went through at least a 12 pack of toilet paper. I have to say, this is not at all what I’d expected from a pandemic. Where are the wild mobs fighting for food, the looters, the people just losing their minds? Not how the movies depicted this at all! It’s rather underwhelming when the most chaotic thing happening is people hoarding toilet paper. Of course, we are early into this so maybe in a few weeks we’ll all start to devolve.

Monster: How has this virus affected your multi-award-winning female film company Sick Chick Flicks at the moment and everyone you employ under that umbrella?

Christine Parker: Well, to be clear we don’t actually employ anyone. We all volunteer our time to create together. So no one is out of work from my company, most of us have day jobs that I hope they are able to keep. However, we had just started on an anthology “Sisterhood of The Damned.” My ladies had written some truly wicked short films that they were going to direct this year. We had even gotten to the casting phase and were about to launch our fundraising campaign when this hit. So all of that is on hold at the moment. I certainly don’t want to be asking people for money right now with all of this going on. People need to pay their bills before donating to us! I’m also hoping this won’t affect our upcoming Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival in October. Hard to think this thing may last that long but it just might. I do have a plan B for doing it online if the filmmakers are game. We’ve also slashed our entry fees until the submission deadline to hopefully ease the burden for filmmakers who are struggling right now to get their films out there. Monster: Being a proprietor and provider of scares yourself, how do you see this all playing out? Do you think humanity will persevere and become stronger after all of this is said and done, or will we ever recover from such a severe assault?

Domiziano Cristopharo (Rome, Italy): This is something that will for sure change our way to see the future. We are learning year after year, that the world and society and politics are not following a straight direction; we still have a lot of incognito in front of us. And fear is the natural reaction man has in front of the incognito.

Some people will improve after all this and become a better person. Most of the people sadly will forget everything very soon. But in any way, a culture will make a jump forward.

In Italy for example, many people learned to trust and use online shopping, and also many industries tested and developed the “smart working” from home. It’s something very common in many countries, but Italy in those things is like 20 years in the past.

Monster: As a director known for utilizing heavy eccentric gore in your films, what’s it like witnessing those near you die from this infection?

Domiziano Cristopharo: I do horror movies because it’s fun to make them. Actually, I’m not so much into gore or a gorehound in private life. The saddest and scariest part of this situation is the fact that this virus is highly contagious.

So, people infected stay alone all the time without human comfort and pray to survive…because if not, you die alone. And your beloved can’t even give to the body the last “goodbye”.

Posted by Donovan Smith

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