Extreme Horror Author and Director Matt Shaw on Writing Books, Making Movies and Turning Stomachs

Over the past few years, the Squid has bought you behind-the-scenes news and reviews from Matt Shaw and his horror films such as Monster and Next Door. Boasting over 300 stories, including fan favourites F*ked Up Shorts, Sick B*stards and Octopus, it’s not hard to see why Matt is known as both a prolific and controversial author. We thought it was time to catch up with the man himself and explore the plethora of perils he brings to the table.

Emily: Hello! For those who aren’t familiar with you, how and when did you get into horror?

Matt: I’m 40 years old with the memory of a goldfish. I blame a rather naughty childhood for my broken brain and mostly missing memory. The truth is I don’t really know. I mean, I remember sneaking A Nightmare On Elm Street on when mum and dad went out once. I found the VHS (video tape for you youngsters out there) on top of the cabinet and whacked it in. I watched about ten minutes and turned it off because it scared the shit out of me. So, my love of horror didn’t start there. Although… Imagine if they’d just put one of their sex tapes up there. I would have been scarred for very different reasons…

Anyway, I came back to Nightmare a few years later, but even then it petrified me. Same with Robocop. I watched that when I was young and the acid man gave me night terrors. So how I ended up working in it, I really don’t know. I mean, I’ve always had a dark sense of humour but never actively hunted all things horror.

Emily: What got you into writing horror?

Matt: When I was in secondary school, I used to sit at home and write books. In college, I sat at home and wrote screenplays. They were always darker in tone (hitmen, ghosts, suicides, etc). I am surprised mum and dad never got me put into therapy, but there you go. I ended up putting myself into therapy when I was in my twenties because my thoughts were too dark for my own comfort and troubled me. Just how I acted around people (I was aggressive) and how I would hide away from people (loner)… How I wanted to kill myself… Am I ticking any boxes here?

So anyway, the doctors got me writing down my feelings in a mood journal, and it was boring. I thought, “Sod this, I’ll write a book instead”. And I did. I wrote The Autobiography of a Nobody as a way of trying to figure out where my life went so wrong and where my darkness came from. Tut. Listen to me. Such a tortured soul.

I wrote about my childhood (sent to school where my head teacher was a kiddy fiddler and how he used to take me on holiday), I wrote about my love of cocaine (I’m a good boy now), my love of hookers… I wrote about every little detail I could think of. When I finished, I told the doctor I couldn’t be bothered to write for him. They were annoyed with me but, unbeknownst to them, I went ahead and released the book via self-publishing means. I renamed it Im Fine (typo intentional). The response was great and I enjoyed the writing process. I started adapting my old college screenplays into novellas. They just happened to be horror.

Emily: What’s your favourite type of horror?

Matt: Supernatural. Supernatural horror done right. There’s way too much shit out there. They rely on jump-scares and cheap thrills. Scariest thing I’ve watched? The stage show of The Woman in Black back when I was about 14. It played on my mind for ages. Same with The Blair Witch Project (original). I watched it and thought it was absolute crap but then, then when I was walking home (I went to the midnight showing on Halloween and it was an eight-mile walk home through the woods), my brain kicked into overdrive. A great feeling!

Emily: Wow! Why do you think horror interests people and how do you take that on board with every story?

Matt: I very, very rarely think of my readers when I write. I just do my stories because I like them and they’re in my brain. I write for me primarily, and it’s just a massive bonus that I found an audience (whom I love, by the way). One book I wrote for the readers was How Much To. I am on these groups on Facebook where they discuss horror books, and I wasn’t really seeing my name mentioned anymore. More splatter punk authors had come on the scene and got their attention so, yes, I stopped what I was doing and wrote How Much To to remind the readers that I’m still here.

Emily: What drives you to push boundaries? Are there any controversies even you wouldn’t approach?

Matt: It’s funny to me when people pick my work up without really knowing me. They then leave a really, really angry review. I mean, that kind of inspires me to write more messed up stuff, if that makes sense. I like the idea of people stamping their feet and demanding to know what is wrong with me. Is that bad? As for topics I wouldn’t touch, there are none. I am a horror author. My job is to make people uncomfortable. That means going to any dark spot I fancy. Some bits are harder for sure, but I don’t shy away from them. That is just cheating the reader. Although, that being said, I did write How Much To and the sequel, and there are chapters in there that give readers the option to skip them, due to the content. There is then a “friendly” recap in the next chapter so the reader knows what happened but wasn’t subjected to it. See, I’m kind of caring if you think about it.

Emily: What’s your favourite story that you’ve written?

Matt: For non-horror: The Missing Years of Thomas Pritchard. For horror:The Octopus Trilogy or How Much To and How Much 2.

Emily: Who or what inspires you and your work?

Matt: Roald Dahl. His work is brilliant. Even his children’s books have a darkness to them, but his adult stuff? It’s great. He is the master of the surprise ending. Example? A landlady who kills her guests and stuffs them. She then continues to care for them. Great, great author. Comedy side of things: Billy Connolly and Rik Mayall massively influenced my humour.

Emily: What a way to go! What’s your favourite movie death scene?

Matt: I like the start of Ghost Ship. The film is terrible, but the start with the cable slicing through everyone? That is great.

Emily: Easily one of the best opening scenes in a horror! What’s a favourite death scene in one of your own books?

Matt: Oh Jesus. I mean, I’ve written almost 300 now. Just one? It’s not a death scene as such but the whole experience the lead character goes through in Splattered Punk. That is really messed up and the ending is proper bastard. Made me chuckle when I wrote it.

Emily: What’s next for the Matt Shaw universe?

Matt: Suicide. I’ve done all I can. Goodnight. Okay – a few more things before that moment: I have just finished filming Box. I directed it, it’s based on my book, and I starred in it. It made sense because we’re in a pandemic so I could film it with a small crew. Keep it simple, get the job done. It actually turned out really well and it’s shaping up to be a tough watch for people. I’m excited for it. And because the format went so well, we’re doing another film called The Call in a couple of months (currently funding on Indiegogo) where Maria Lee Metheringham is going to be put through her paces. I’m on draft six of the script so far and it is brutal. She’ll regret laughing at what I went through in Box! We have The Call in funding at the moment, so if you’re feeling generous, go support it here!

As for anything else, I would just love it if you give any of my books a go on Amazon. I mean, come on, they’re only 99p each or free on Kindle Unlimited, and if you like horror, chances are you’ll get a kick out of them!

Emily: I see you have a Matt Shaw fan group – do you have a name for your followers? Like Slipknot call their fans their Maggots; Justin Bieber calls his fans Beliebers

Matt: Matt-A-Fans. I occasionally drop in and drop them a Matt-A-Fact. I actually despise the term “fans”. I just think of them as readers and, in some cases, friends. I am actually pretty open to talk to with my readers.

Emily: Is there a story you’ve written that haunts you?

Matt: The Missing Years of Thomas Pritchard, just because it’s so damn sad. My horror books tend not to haunt me. I write them, I release them. I work on the next one and forget the last. It’s embarrassing really. People come along and ask me about the books and half the time I can’t answer their questions.

Emily: What draws you to using social gripes to alarm your audience? For example, that infamous chewing scene from Monster.

Matt: I just like upsetting people (in a non-serious way, I hasten to add. For example, I wouldn’t upset them by mocking a serious situation). I watched Monster in Seattle, and it got to the chewing scene and people walked out. People gagged. I cracked up. In Box, we took that to the extreme, and there’s a four-minute sequence in it that is just foul. It works because I was really ill when filming it so you can hear my stomach working overtime. It’s grim!

‘Monster’ (2018)

Emily: You have managed to build such a lovely horror family – tell us about them. How does one make the cut?

Matt: Well, not just when casting films but in my life in general, I try and surround myself with the same kind of people. What do I look for? Passion. Justin Park and I have a similar mindset on life. We share similar passions. We hit it off from the first time we met back at a convention years ago. I respect him for who he is and what he does. Maria Lee Metheringham is just… Well… She just doesn’t stop, you know? She’s always working on films and little projects and nothing really seems to bother her. The stuff I have put her through for the films (she can always say “no”), but she just keeps coming back for more. It was her who introduced me to Jamie Walker. His passion was obvious from the start too. It makes me feel like we belong on the same crew. Then of course you have Rod Glenn – he auditions for literally everything… Oh, and relatively new to my life is Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic. I met him having made a Nightmare on Elm Street: Up All Night last year. He did the sound and music for it, and since then has helped me with Next Door, some shorts, working on Box and They Came From The Sky, I Saw Them! Not only is he a genius with his music design but the passion… He is always working! We’re similar like that. We get an idea and we blast through with it but, on top of that, he’s just a nice, nice guy.

With casting in particular, I look for people who can follow instructions. If you send me a private message about a film after I have asked specifically for an email then I know you’ll be a nightmare on set. Follow the instructions and it’s a good start. If I don’t know a person, I look for how well they embody the character with their audition. If it is someone I know and they don’t do the best audition (but it’s good) then I tend to go with them because I know we will hit it off on set and I’ll be able to direct. I’ve had some great actors in the past who have just been a nightmare on set. Never again.

Emily: Monster was your debut production – what led you to making the film?

Matt: Michael Bray (fellow author) and I were really close at the time, and we noticed another author had big news to share. We sat there thinking “It better not be a film” because we all have that friendly rivalry. Anyway, it turns out the guy was leaving the industry but, by then, we had set up a crowd-funder because we thought “Hang on, let’s make our own film!”

Emily: How would you like to be killed in a story?

Matt: I was killed in a film! I had my throat slit! I won’t say what film because that is a spoiler. In real life, I want to be killed in a room full of naked ladies who are all covered in strawberry jam and completely up for it.

Emily: Other than Freddy, is there any other fan fiction on the horizon?

Matt: No, because you can’t actually make money on it. Nightmare on Elm Street was fun – I got to work with Mick Strawn for god’s sake! He was production designer on 3 and 4, Boogie Nights and Blade, to name but a few. I got to sit there and watch how he just made everything work. It was amazing but, other than that and meeting the actress Rebecca Tarabocchia, I got nothing from the experience that would make it worthwhile to spend that much time and energy on a non-profit item.

Emily: Are there any functions or conventions we will see you at?

Matt: On September 6th, I am hosting a convention at my house. We’re going to have a premiere of Box, we’re going to play arcade games and, yes, I am taking people I have worked with, too. So they can meet Maria, Justin, Mark Cassell, Laura Wilson, Rod… I’m only selling 20 tickets though, because too many people would be a nightmare (tickets are on Eventbrite).

The Squid would like to thank Matt Shaw for taking the time to give us this candid interview, and we look forward to seeing his upcoming creative projects!


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