How I Letterboxd: Cinemonster

Hooptober’s head honcho opens up to Jack Moulton about his love for Texas-born horror director Tobe Hooper, the joys of running Letterboxd’s most beloved Hallowe’en community challenge, and the “terrifying, magical” experience of seeing Frankenstein at the age of four.

You can’t spell October without Tobe.” —⁠Cinemonster

Cinemonster, known to his family and friends as David Hood, is a restaurateur in Pittsburgh by day, and the head honcho of Hooptober by night. Now in its seventh year, the horror film challenge sees participants set their own 31-day viewing agenda of 31 films, curated according to a list of criteria set by its creator.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), directed by Tobe Hooper.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), directed by Tobe Hooper.

With over 5,000 films logged on Letterboxd and a growing collection of posters, DVDs, Blu-rays, laser discs and film memorabilia, Cinemonster is a literal monster of cinema. He has created more than 500 lists, including a ton of year, director, actor, actress, franchise and memoriam lists.

What brought you to Letterboxd?
David Hood: I found Letterboxd while I was doing a Google search for a horror film that I had forgotten the name of. I ran into a list that Hollie Horror had made and wound up starting a profile and it went from there. That would have been a little over seven years ago.

How freakin’ cool is last year’s Hallowe’en Easter egg with the dripping blood from our logo? [Pro members get this added to their pages by mentioning #horror in their bio.]
I’m a fan.

Unfortunately I haven’t heard of a single one of your four profile favorites! What’s urging you to highlight these films?
They are just lesser-seen and have something good or great about them. Eyeball is a great little underseen Umberto Lenzi film. Death Machines is an awkward, weird and wonderful film with kung fu and blood. Massacre at Central High is one of my favorite films and sadly lacking a disc release of any kind—anyone who has seen Heathers will recognize a couple of things if they watch it. Rituals is a criminally underseen stalked in the woods film from the ’70s.

In this list description, you explain how the original Frankenstein (1931) hooked you into horror at four years old. Can you describe what you most remember about that life-changing experience?
It was both magical and terrifying. The space, the creature, the little girl. I had trouble sleeping for weeks afterwards. No matter where I am in the world, if there is a screening of Frank, I’ll go. I watched most of the major universals by the time I was six or seven. I saw Alien and Jaws 2 with my folks and those stuck with me. Cable and a local UHF station showing Hammer films on Saturdays are what really allowed me to get sucked in.

Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale.
Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale.

The horror films of 1980 and 1981 were the most impactful and are the ones that mean the most to me to this day; Fade to Black, Night School, Motel Hell, The Fog, Alligator, Altered States, Terror Train, Death Ship, Scanners, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, The Funhouse, Dead & Buried, Hell Night, Wolfen, Ghost Story, The Pit and Evilspeak. I saw all of them five to ten-plus times on cable as a kid. They’re still all high on my list. I am glad that Fade to Black is on Shudder. People need to watch it. More relevant now than then.

What exactly provoked you to start Hooptober seven years ago?
I moved into an old spooky house and had a backlog of Blu-rays to watch and the 4K of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about to come out. I’d done some interactive stuff on Letterboxd previously and had a decent amount of people involved. I was also at a point in my life where 31 films in 31 days is tough, as it is for a lot of us now. So I thought ‘Why don’t I do something that starts a little early, clears some of my list out, and has some parameters that don’t feel like I am handing out an assignment?’ I grew up in Texas, Tobe [Hooper] is close to my heart, and with all the Hooper I owned and the 4K coming out, I decided to christen it with his name. You can’t spell October without Tobe.

What’s the most members that have participated in a Hooptober?
The number of people who participated was a little more than I expected, but that wasn’t what I was surprised by. I never thought of it as a recurring event until I started to hear from people the following summer about ‘the next one’. I just kinda chuckled after about a dozen people had asked and I said out loud to no one, “I guess I’m doing another one of these”. We are well over 700 this year, and still climbing.

Fade to Black (1980), directed by Vernon Zimmerman.
Fade to Black (1980), directed by Vernon Zimmerman.

Where do you get the ideas for the rules for films to consider watching?
At this point, I look back at past years so that I don’t repeat myself. I look to the current year for inspiration. Is there a film from a sub-genre that was prominent? Was it a strong year for output from women, Mexico, Asia, Black filmmakers, something cultural, and so on? I may focus on effects creators, an actor or writer on a whim. I try to keep an eye out for blind spots I haven’t covered. Shudder, archive.org, the big streamers are all resources. Sadly, rarefilmm no longer exists.

In last year’s interview with Merry-Go-Round magazine, you mentioned plans to turn Hooptober into a film festival. How’s that going? In a post-pandemic world, how can we keep independent niche film festivals thriving?
The world has not been agreeable, obviously. I’m not even sure how viable something like that will be next year. I’ve been taking a look at streaming options. Post-pandemic will require more creativity and outside-the-box thinking, and will probably continue to feed some drive-ins. Been a while since more than a handful of people wanted to put money into a drive-in, which is nice to see.

I’m going to do a tweet along to The Witch Who Came From the Sea in October, and I’ll give you an exclusive here: The George Romero Foundation and I are doing online Horror Trivia on October 11. I had been doing it live with them here in Pittsburgh until the pandemic.

Based on this year’s rules and conditions, if there was one essential you-can’t-miss film you could force all your participants to add to their challenge, which film would it be?
Demons, Eve’s Bayou or The Witch Who Came From the Sea.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976), directed by Matt Cimber.
The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976), directed by Matt Cimber.

What have been your own greatest film discoveries through your Hooptober adventures?
A Tale of Two Sisters, I Drink Your Blood, Blood Diner, and though it is a bit of a cheat to list this one, The Amusement Park. It’s cheating because it didn’t exist as something that I or anyone else could have watched, prior to when I saw it.

Do you have any acclaimed horror movies still lingering in your list of shame?
Eyes Without a Face, Upgrade, Cure and Scream 4.

Have you ever completed one of your own Hooptober challenges yet?
Errrrrrrrrr, one. I’m on track this year.

What about the participants over the years—any Letterboxd friends you’ve made who would you like to give a shout-out to?
Aaron, Sarah Jane and Chris Duck are people that I talk to outside of Letterboxd. There have been a few others over the years. Slappy McGee has helped me with Hooptober the last two years. They are great. Javo and David Lawrence are pretty great, too.

Before Hooptober, many of your lists invited discussion with your followers. In what ways is Letterboxd the ideal forum to foster a community of film fans?
Fans exercise their fandom in so many ways. The platform is so flexible that it allows you to utilize it in a small and personal way, in a promotional way, or to dive into the community pool and see who’s out there that shares something with you or can show you something. The more people that we are exposed to and listen to, we are all the better for.

Which of your review—from any genre—are you proudest of?
The Invisible Man or The Hustler, probably. I have a capsule of Hud that I like.

So, you’re the horror guy. Nobody is denying that. You are Cinemonster, after all. But when I look at your top movies list and see that Singin’ in the Rain is your all-time number one, I’ll need you to explain yourself.
I go back and forth between that and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They are 1A and 1B in some order. Singin’ in the Rain is a perfect film and the studio system at its best. I will ignore your implied insult. ;)

Fear of a Black Hat (1993), directed by Rusty Cundieff.
Fear of a Black Hat (1993), directed by Rusty Cundieff.

It’s true, even a horror aficionado needs some levity in their life. What other comedies pick you up from a dark place?
Fear of a Black Hat always does the trick. Same with The Awful Truth, Murder by Death, Hollywood Shuffle, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Blazing Saddles, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Black Dynamite.

Who has been keeping you company during this tough year?
I have watched thirteen Spike Lee films so far this year. I’ve taken a break the last few months, but I’ll probably knock out five or six more. With the exception of 25th Hour, everything is a revisit. It’s been a joy to go back through everything. Crooklyn is much stronger than I remembered, and Bamboozled just gets better and more impactful as time passes. I have loved Spike since the day I saw School Daze. His films have always connected with things that are important to me and to those that have been around me. Lee is still grossly under-appreciated as a narrative film director and a documentarian.

We’re bowing down to your epic Blu-ray and DVD collection. Which ones are your most prized possessions? Make us jealous.
I have an Anchor Bay DVD of Dawn of the Dead signed by the cast and George A. Romero, a steelbook of Battle Royale, the first Slumber Party Massacre set before they had to reprint the box, the original Star Wars trilogy on Blu. I’m sure there are things I’m not thinking of. I have a lot of out-of-print and laser-only stuff. I’ll never get rid of my Holy Grail, Ghostbusters and Akira Criterion laser discs.

A selection of Cinemonster’s signed memorabilia.
A selection of Cinemonster’s signed memorabilia.

I have a copy of Painting with Light signed by John Alton, John Waters and Steven Soderbergh I’ll send you a picture of. I used to collect movie posters, and I have the original Revenge of the Jedi one-sheet and the Drew Struzan Squirm poster. I do love those.

From your top directors list, let’s put one horror director on a pedestal. Who does the genre better than anyone else and why?
George. They’re always topical, intelligent, thoughtful, personal and sometimes prescient. At their best they hold up both a mirror and a crystal ball. He was writing found-footage scripts in the early 70s, for god’s sake. Tobe is grossly under-appreciated. James Whale and Mario Bava could scare you in so many ways.

So, thinking beyond Ari Aster, Robert Eggers and Jordan Peele, which up-and-coming horror directors are you most excited about?
Issa López, Gigi Saúl Guerrero, Benson and Moorhead, Shinichiro Ueda, Na Hong-jin, Julia Ducournau, Nia DaCosta, Jeremy Gardner and Leigh Whannell.

The 2010s were a great decade for horror. We have more money on-screen, moving away from the low-budget films of the 2000s. Which favorite horror film of the last decade inspired you the most?
Get Out. What Jordan did for generations to come is unmatched in this century.

Chucky from Child’s Play (1988).
Chucky from Child’s Play (1988).

Which probably-too-long horror franchise gets too much flak and is top-to-bottom a great time?
Child’s Play. Chucky has always been treated generally as second tier. [That franchise] has tried a lot of interesting and out-there things during its lifespan that had no business working, but did.

I know it’s been a slow year but you haven’t logged many 2020 movies yet! Which is your most anticipated horror movie of 2020 or 2021?
Peninsula, for sure; I love Train to Busan. Then Candyman, The Dark and the Wicked, Grizzly II: Revenge, Bad Hair, #Alive, After Midnight, The Platform, Bulbbul, Underwater, Shirley and Swallow.

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