How I Letterboxd: Joe Lynch

Self-described cinedork and Mayhem filmmaker Joe Lynch tells Horrorville’s Brett Petersel about cinematic sausage, getting to direct Creepshow episodes and being a three-star starter on Letterboxd.

Even when I watch what I would think is a real stinker, I also consider that there were many people involved in that film who didn’t walk on set going ‘okay people, let’s screw this up today!’” —⁠Joe Lynch

It is always a pleasure to find film directors lurking on Letterboxd. Joe Lynch is a bona fide, OG member, having racked up more than 1,500 diary entries, giving half-star reviews to his own work, and creating lists of the movies that have influenced the making of his films.

There are the films that were in Lynch’s subconscious when he made Mayhem, a workplace splatter led by Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving. There are the movies he watched while researching the Salma Hayek-starring Everly. And this just in: films that influenced The Right Snuff, one of Lynch’s two episodes for the new Creepshow series—based on the 1982 horror-comedy classic and its sequels—which premieres on Shudder April 15.

Like so many of us, Lynch took time during the pandemic to catch up on films he had neglected to watch in spite of a previous career as a video-store clerk (a Criterion Channel subscription helped him get on top of the backlog). In this edition of ‘How I Letterboxd’, Lynch discusses how those classics have informed his craft, who his Letterboxd faves are, and why the horror genre is the future of the industry.

Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving in Joe Lynch’s Mayhem (2017).
Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving in Joe Lynch’s Mayhem (2017).

How long have you been on Letterboxd?
Joe Lynch: I remember when Letterboxd was in its beta phase way back in good ol’ 2012 and I couldn’t wait to sign up, breathlessly waiting for an invite to the party. At the time, I had a digital database where I would log movies I’ve seen, but it was always subject to whatever laptop or device I had handy and would just be a mess of titles with no rhyme or reason.

When a member follows you, what should they expect?
I put it right up top in my description: “I am not a critic”, just a lover of cinema. At first I didn’t want to write “reviews” in the description, especially since I first started using the service whilst in the throes of a horrible experience making a film that I thought would bury me and I’d never work again. I was like, and I still feel this way, “who am I to rip on a movie when someone can throw it right back at me? Like ‘dude, you directed Knights of Badassdom, sit down’.”

I’ve always had the highest regard for filmmakers who can get anything made. So even when I watch what I would think is a real stinker, I also consider that there were many people involved in that film who didn’t walk on set going “okay people, let’s screw this up today!” but instead were trying their best and circumstances just got in the way, which always happens. Having made a few films and TV now, I’m fully aware of the trials and tribulations that go into making a movie and have all the respect in the world for anyone who can steer that ship to completion. It’s hard making movies and even harder making one that is your original vision [and] that is widely embraced by an audience.

I have very weird tastes so don’t be shocked if you glance at my recent activity and you see Casablanca, The Silence of the Lambs or Bigger Than Life right next to The Legend of Billie Jean, Con Air or Candyman 3. I’m usually bouncing all over the place in terms of what kinds of movies I’m screening. From films recommended to me, to films that I may be watching for research, or even just how I’m feeling that day and maybe need a good laugh or a good cry or to be scared stiff. I like that kind of variety. There’s something out there for everyone and every emotion. If anything, I’d say expect the unexpected when it comes to my viewing habits.

What’s your favorite feature to use and why?
One of the residual effects of working at video stores as a kid was my desire to siphon people’s tastes in movies and possibly recommend films to others as well, so my favorite feature is the ease of use in logging films and being able to quickly recall those films as well in the event someone asks me “what’s something I should watch?”. Getting older, the “employee’s picks” in my head is getting a little harder to cross-reference than usual so to have the ability to whip out my phone and say “oh man, I just watched Possession and it was awesome!” is exponentially helpful to a cinedork like myself.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)—a five-star film says Joe Lynch.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)—a five-star film says Joe Lynch.

How do you rate the films you watch? For example, what type of film is worthy of a five-star review?
Funny, I always start out on three-stars mainly because I’m so proud of the filmmakers actually getting it completed! I’ve been there! I’m somewhat biased in my reflections because I’m always rooting for the artists and from there, it’s usually gauged on both an emotional level and a technical level. I always get made fun of while watching movies because I can point out hidden cuts or when a shot is reversed but [I’m] not trying to point out flaws, it’s just how my brain is wired at this point. When you pull the curtain back enough to see how the cinematic sausage is made, it’s harder and harder to objectively watch a movie without trying to dissect how it was done. I try so hard to shut that part of my brain off to just passively enjoy a movie but it’s tough. I usually skew towards the positive.

The films I’ve given five-stars are movies that have continually affected me over the years and have inspired me as a person and a filmmaker, which is everything from The Empire Strikes Back, Dawn of the Dead and When Harry Met Sally… to Big Trouble in Little China, The Blob, The Last of the Mohicans. I looked back at my five-stars and it’s mostly movies that made a significant impression on me from an early age and continue to do so, maybe even more so as I get older and I view these movies in a different light.

The anthology show Creepshow returns to Shudder this month. Tell us about the two episodes you directed for the series, ‘Pipe Screams’ and ‘The Right Snuff’.
Both Creepshow and Creepshow 2 were important films in my youth and even today, they were some of the first movies I remember where I wasn’t quite sure if I was supposed to be scared or laugh. These films proclaimed we could do both! As a disciple of George A. Romero, Stephen King and Tom Savini, Creepshow really shaped how I watched movies and how I made them—consider the anthology I did a few years back, Chillerama, as a prime example. So when Shudder announced the show, I had to do everything on my part to convince them I could take the baton from these masters of the macabre and do them and the many fans proud.

To come to the table and say “I want ‘The Right Snuff’ to feel like 2001: A Space Odyssey crashed into The Andromeda Strain, and ‘Pipe Screams’ is my homage to The Blob and Delicatessen” —⁠and then everyone just immediately getting it—was a dream. Between the casts I was lucky enough to work with and the amazing crew, especially the FX geniuses at KNB, it really was one of those dream jobs I’ll never forget. I hope audiences dig the madness we conjured up on those!

Season 2 of the Shudder series Creepshow returns to the horror streamer this month. A third season has been ordered.
Season 2 of the Shudder series Creepshow returns to the horror streamer this month. A third season has been ordered.

If you were to expand the Mayhem universe, what would it look like?
We tried! I pitched the producers the idea of the ID-7 virus in other locations and situations because in essence the idea of being uninhibited by mental and emotional constraints is so ripe. My favorite was the idea that it would get loose in a Wal-Mart or a mall on Black Friday when consumers swarm to these department stores for the best deals. You’ve seen the videos, it’s just mass hysteria. The footage already out there would have been perfect to use already and those people aren’t even infected!

Sadly it didn’t come to pass, mainly because they asked “how do we get Steven and Samara back?” and I didn’t want to force those characters into that scenario, Die Hard 2 style. Plus they’re both huge stars now and likely unavailable for the next twelve years. But the ideas people have thrown out to me show that it was impactful enough to warrant variant scenarios in a “what if?” way that’s really exciting. Who knows, maybe the ID-7 virus could find its way onto the set of a movie production…

What excites you about the future of filmmaking, especially in horror films?
The world is embracing new faces and voices more than ever and it means we’re getting stories that may not have ever had the chance to flourish and be seen and heard before. For the longest time the system was much more rigid because executives and producers thought that the audience was much less accepting of a wider world view in cinema and I think the last ten years has proven them wrong. There shouldn’t be any more “token” character or “strong [insert non-white-male] character” descriptions in development meetings. I hear it less and less, which is great because that’s not our world and since cinema—especially horror—is and always should be a reflection of our culture and times, it should reflect these evolutions as well.

When I made Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, the discussions over how one of the characters—a Black character played by Texas Battle—survived at the end was not in the original script but I pushed for it mainly because it was rare for the Black character to do so in a horror film. That shouldn’t be an anomaly! Why can’t there be a ‘final guy’ or have the survivors be LGBT+ or a POC and not the usual stereotypes?

I think now it’s more commonplace to see this and it excites me for the future of the genre that artists are being more welcome to express themselves without it feeling like it’s a gimmick or a twist on the norm.

I think generations of kids growing up with horror now are gonna see these strides in the storytelling—and who’s telling the stories—and push it even further. Places like Netflix and Shudder are willing to take chances with new voices more than the studio system, now more than ever, and that’s only going to produce some great stories now and in the future.

Erica Leehrsen and Texas Battle in a scene from Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007).
Erica Leehrsen and Texas Battle in a scene from Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007).

How has the pandemic affected your creativity and influenced your work moving forward?
Aside from losing a bunch of gigs due to the shutdown and being delayed on shooting Creepshow—which was a blessing in disguise considering the time we took to further develop the scripts and design of each episode—one of the main effects of the pandemic was how it gave many of us the time to catch up on a lot of films, mainly older ones. As you’d see from my diary entries on this very site, my viewing habits changed from a lot of modern films in that rat-race of catching up with the latest release, to mainly watching films I loved in the past and a lot of ’40s to ’70s films that I never got around to.

We have the tendency as film lovers to keep a mental list of films we’ll eventually get around to as if we have all the time in the world, but with the threat of the apocalypse and no real new content coming our way at the usual rapid clip, it was so gratifying to buy an annual subscription to Criterion Channel and start watching films like The Old Dark House, The Crimson Kimono, Contempt and many others.

All of these films impacted how I view film now and have bled into future projects I’m working on—especially on the technical side, when the world wasn’t influenced vicariously through MTV coverage and letting scenes play out in masters or longer takes, relishing in the performance or the mise-en-scéne. So, silver linings!

Before we go, who are some of your favorite follows on Letterboxd?
I’m a big fan of Sean Baker, who I’ve known for almost 20 years now! We worked together in NYC and I was already a big Greg the Bunny fan but our mutual appreciation for fringe and exploitation films, especially international horror and genre films, seems to have bonded us for life. I love when he posts what he’s watching. Even if he’s just saying he screened something on Blu or streaming, his thoughts on cinema are always enjoyable and engaging.

In the same breath, filmmaker Jim Cummings has the best perspective on modern filmmaking and he’s clearly a big fan of using Letterboxd, so whenever I see peers like them using the app it makes me feel less like an obsessive movie dork myself, who should be getting back to work.

Some of the other follows I really enjoy are cineastes like Elric Kane and Brian Saur, who are the hosts of the New Beverly podcast Pure Cinema. Writers Anya Stanley, David Chen, Walter Chaw and Lindsay Blair Goeldner, musician and filmmaker Brendon Small, writer and critic Brian Tallerico, author Glenn Kenny, filmmaker Rodman Flender—just to name a few people who clearly love film and love sharing their thoughts on films in a very thoughtful way.

More times than not, I’m getting some great advice for what to watch next in my “new from friends” section! Because, like being at the video store, it’s casual conversations like the ones on Letterboxd that I love and always steering me to new films or revisiting old ones with a new perspective.

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