With a lot of heart (and a lot of guts) Shudder’s talk show offers a loving look at all things genre.
Ever wondered what goes into a practical effect? Ever gushed about how unnervingly well-shot The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is? Ever grinned your way through a director’s commentary?
You might want to check out The Core.
A Shudder exclusive co-produced by Uproxx, The Core is a talk show by genre nerds for genre nerds and there’s never really been anything like it. Earnest interviews give way to deliciously gory set pieces that in turn give way to joyful FX tutorials. It’s a total goddamn blast.
Talk shows tend to reek of this distinctly off-putting sense of “I’m contractually obligated to promote my thing and if that means putting up with Jimmy Fallon, so be it.” But The Core does not have an insincere bone in its body. Every element of the show is infused with an indisputably genuine sense of appreciation that fans of genre film will recognize — an eagerness to revel in what you love, to learn more about it, and to bring others into the fold.
The audience finds a surrogate in Mickey Keating, the show’s fresh-faced host and director of the genre films Carnage Park and Psychopaths. With none of the douchebaggery of your local cinema snob, Keating is always engrossed in the expertise of his guests and eager to learn something new. For a talk show host and a film dork, Keating’s sense of respect is a breath of fresh air and completely contagious.
There’s a similarly giddy reverence in series regular Jim Ojala, the show’s special effects guru who leads tutorials on everything from head crushing to Tom Savini-style stomach ripping. Even Shudder curator Sam Zimmerman, who returns regularly as a stoic Overlook-Hotel-meets-John-Wick VHS proprietor, is utterly gleeful.
The result is a talk show that’s tripping over itself to share its passion with you. It’s a phenomenally accessible and fun intro class for folks looking to wade deeper into the genre swamp without feeling condescended to. And with interviews with big names like Mary Harron and Texas Chainsaw DP Daniel Pearl, there’s absolutely something there for the seasoned vet, as well.
To whet your appetite, here’s a rundown of this season’s episodes so far:
Episode 1: Steve Ellison AKA Flying Lotus
The Core comes out swinging with a look at the uncomfortable, the boundary-pushing, and the freaky. After an interview with Kuso director Steven Ellison on why film school messed him up, his collaboration with “Salad Fingers” animator David Firth, and how there’s always room for an emotional center in the gross and depraved, we’re spirited away to an unnervingly appetizing introductory class on how to whip up fake vomit. The Core’s first episode is a gooey start, and it packs a punch.
Steven Ellison (Kuso), Venice Beach Freakshow proprietor Todd Ray, and Venice Beach Freakshow performers Jessa Olmstead and Bob Heslip.
The episode’s interview with the owner and performers of the Venice Beach Freakshow offers an insightful and compassionate look at the allure of the unique. Jessa Olmstead (The Bearded Woman) shines.
While recommending the infamously debauched Cannibal Holocaust, The Core reminds us that director Ruggero Deodato was charged with murdering his actors, who were missing after production and presumed dead. In reality, they were under contract to go into hiding for a year to fan the “wait, did this really happen?” flames. The cast eventually broke their contracts, and Deodato was cleared of the murder charges.
Episode 2: Simon Barrett
Episode 2 features my favorite how-to segment: “Acid Burns and Amputations.” It’s as educational as it is very gross, walking the viewer through all the goopy steps that go into making a stomach-churning effect a reality (even if you’re on a budget). The segment is a great tension cutter in an episode full of deep dives into cinematic suspense and the chilling reality of how likely your loved ones are to murder you.
Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, Blair Witch), and criminologist Dr. Bill Sanders.
Three words: Blender. Russian. Roulette. Keating grills Barrett about the craft of building tension while the two stick their hands into blenders that could potentially switch on after every question. It’s a great bit and it adds an illustrative layer of stakes to the interview.
While talking about the stakes of famously tense scenes, Barrett describes the pan shot in Inglorious Basterds that reveals the Dreyfus family hiding under the floorboards as a tragically human version of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous “bomb under the table” theory of suspense. Barrett’s observation is unnerving, illuminating, and a perfect illustration of the cinematic literacy at play in The Core.
Episode 3: The Soska Sisters
Tackling the gory goodness of practical effects, Keating sits down with the Soska Sisters to talk on-screen carnage and gender in genre film. And because it’s a Soska Sister episode there’s a fair amount of body modification and prosthetic dicks getting ripped off. Their brand is strong.
Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary), and body modification artist Luna Cobra.
There is a montage of the Soska Sisters’ favorite dick mutilation scenes that has to be seen to be believed. Also, it’s followed up by an F/X tutorial because of course it is.
The twins got into filmmaking because of their bad experience with film school: “it made us so pissed off we made Dead Hooker in a Trunk.”
Episode 4: Mary Harron
The iconic Mary Harron joins Keating under the shadow of a dangling piano (no, really) to unpack what goes into manipulating an audience. The interview is the gemstone of the episode and an enlightening ride through Harron’s filmography, influences, and fluency with on-screen tension.
Mary Harron (American Psycho, The Moth Diaries, I Shot Andy Warhol), and mentalist Kevin Viner.
Halfway through the episode Keating and Harron find themselves at a dinner table, where Harron (commanding the use of the surrounding cameras) illustrates how movement, placement, and framing can affect something as mundane and familiar as sharing a meal with someone.
When Christian Bale first tried moonwalking in the rehearsals of American Psycho’s infamous “Hey Paul!” scene, Harron fell out of her chair in hysterics.
Episode 5: Leigh Whannell
You can’t talk about modern horror without talking about jump scares. While they’re considered by many to be a scourge, Episode 5 does its due diligence in unpacking the guts of a good sting. Leigh Whannell’s charm does a lot of heavy lifting calling cinema snobs to task and reminding us that not everything has to be Hitchcock.
Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious), and the creative director of Heretic Horror House, Adrian Marcato.
The 1950s Fallout-style instructional video “How Not to Jump” is a fucking hoot. It’s cheeky, to the point, and cathartically illustrative of the best and worst that jump scares have to offer.
Whannell owned a script of Se7en that he treated like a screenwriting bible.
Episode 6: Rodney Ascher
I watched Rodney Ascher’s Primal Screen on a whim last summer and I’m still thinking about it. At only 30 minutes long, the Shudder original delves into the traumatic power of pop-culture artifacts, more specifically (but not exclusively) ventriloquist dummies. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch Ascher’s The Nightmare and honestly hearing Ascher and a bonafide medical professional talk about the “borderlands between waking and dreaming” is probably about as close as I’m going to get.
Rodney Ascher (The Nightmare, Room 237) and sleep expert Dr. Raj Dasgupta.
Hearing Ascher list off his influences is a real treat since, as Keating points out, Ascher’s unique style makes his cinematic roots somewhat tricky to pin down. In particular, Ascher calls attention to Bruce Conner’s mash-up masterpiece A Movie as “kind of the one that started it all,” citing its innovative remixing of archival footage, unconventional scene transitions, and heightened sense of connectivity, ligature, and overlap.
Ascher had a first-hand experience with sleep paralysis and called it a “horrifying supernatural experience,” which sounds about right.
Episode 7: SpectreVision
Elijah Wood has been singing Shudder’s praises for a while now, and it’s a goddamn delight to see him nerd out with Keating about genre film. It’s especially lovely to hear Wood talk about his eclectic production house SpectreVision, the folks behind A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Greasy Strangler — offerings that have “heart and balls in equal measure.”
SpectreVision co-founders Elijah Wood (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore), Josh Waller (Raze), and Daniel Noah (Max Rose), as well as Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, executive director at the Virtual Reality Medical Centre.
There’s a lot of heart lurking in the cracks of genre film and hearing the panel lay that out plain is incredibly validating to hear as a horror fan.
Ojala is back with an F/X tutorial on how to crush a head. Along the way, we learn about “nernies,” the technical term for rolled up, organic-looking tendrils of latex used to mimic viscera. Yum.
Episode 8: Hooper / Romero Tribute
Episode 8 is a tour de force: offering insightful commentary, educative know-how, and a palpable love for the cinematic legacies of Tobe Hooper and George A. Romero. There’s gore, there’s gratitude: Episode 8 is a must watch.
Henry Zebrowski (Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell, Last Podcast on the Left), SFX artist Gabriel Bartalos (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), cinematographer Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead).
Episode 8 is the most jam-packed entry of the season and there’s a lot to love. That said, the anecdote-packed interview with Daniel Pearl is really special and worth seeking out.
Ken Foree was a good friend of Duane Jones. Before Dawn of the Dead began production, Jones warned Free about the racial climate in the Midwest which was, as Foree tells it, not great.
Because The Core doesn’t fuck around it’s got not one but two holiday specials: one a full-length episode dedicated to John Carpenter’s Halloween and a terse celebration of all the Christmassy goodness horror hath writ. Where the Halloween Halloween special is a full-on deep dive into the granddaddy of mainstream franchise slashers, the Christmas holiday bonus offers a festive curator’s corner, with recommendations including wild ride Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, ultimate holiday slasher Black Christmas, and the John Waters-recommended Christmas Evil.
Danielle Harris (Halloween 4, Halloween 5, Rob Zombie’s Halloween & Halloween II), Adam Green (Hatchet), and Halloween scholar Sean Clark.
SFX-pert Jim Ojala gleefully scalping, dismembering, and melonballing a bonkers elaborate prop head is a goddamn blast that deliciously culminates with Ojala lighting a candle in the final product and mounting it like a Jack O’ Lantern. Bless this man.
Carpenter originally intended for Halloween to be an anthology series with each unique installment taking place on Halloween night. This is ostensibly why we got the madhouse that is Halloween III: Season of the Witch.