Being gay and a horror fan hasn’t always been complimentary. Most horror films I grew up on usually addressed the gay topic with half puns or soft derogatory comments. It wasn’t until much later in life that I began noticing more positive and focused attention given to gay characters within the film’s context as friend, fellow victim within the nightmare, or strong contender for that final “girl” title. Of course I guess it would have to be “gurrl” instead if it ever gets to be a gay character in a mainstream film who kills the killer! The industry often ignores anything more than gay stereotypes in most movies, which is something we, as gay horror fans, have come to accept in order to continue loving a genre that strokes our pleasure centers. It actually wasn’t until most recently that I really understood just how far horror has come for and within the gay community. We now have out and proud Directors, Actors and Writers in the horror community, not to mention our own indie festivals that promotes the genre to the LGB&T community. So now I don’t feel so bad for not being bothered by all those past offensive moments in my favorite genre that put queers in such a negative light- especially now that those stereotypes are being written and acted by fellow homos. Which brings me to my current article and interview with Roger Conners.
Roger Conners is an Actor, Director and Writer who has been in several successful horror films as well as being dubbed the first “Scream Queer”, a title coined to describe that exceptional creature who’s characters continue to give us joy, as they scream out in pain only moments before a bloody and brutal death. Something that Conners has done time and time again in such films as “Hellementary: An Education In Death” (which played in heavy rotation on Chiller for a few years), “Hellweek”, “Voodoo Rising” and “Chill”. Roger Conners does not shy from the gay stereotype, instead he grips it with the vengeance of a drag queen fighting for the title of Rupaul’s next drag superstar. He takes that character, runs with it and often steals the show-the sign of a true queen unleashing her talent for an eager audience. It is characters like the ones Roger Conners plays that elevates the gay persona in the horror industry to a new level that, now as times truly are changing, have given me and many other gay horror fans material to really enjoy-guilt free-while also somehow feeling justified for our love of this place we call horror.
ASouthernLife: At 18 you decided to pursue a career in the film industry, was your intention always to become an actor or was there another aspect of the industry you were interested in?
Roger Conners: You know, for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to pursue a career that some-how incorporated my love for acting. Whether it be stage or screen, I have always been a fan of the spotlight. When I was a child I was always forcing my friends to put on amateur stage productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and became very controlling at a very, VERY young age. I think that was the gay in me… I demanded perfection, even when I was in kindergarten. I demanded nothing less!
ASouthernLife: Do you remember the moment that you made the decision to get into the film industry? Was there a specific moment?
Roger Conners: Not a specific moment per say but a specific film. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is what sparked my passion for horror. If it wasn’t for that film I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to pursue the horror-film route from an early age. I’m sure I’d still have felt the bite from the acting bug but I doubt it would have manifested in such a specific genre.
ASouthernLife: Because of your memorable death scenes you have received the nickname "The Scream Queer", Do you remember the first time the term was associated with you?
Roger Conners: I do. I had formed a very close friendship for a time with another Cleveland-based director who fell in love with the fact that I was so willing to play such over-the-top and gaudy gay-characters. He was straight but had a passion for memorable characters and felt they had a very prominent place in the horror genre so he wrote me in to his sophomore film-endeavor. I took the part and ran with it and the character ended up sort of stealing the film. The term Scream Queer came up while filming a big, dramatic torture scene and sort of just stuck. I’m opting to not reveal the name of said director or the title of his film because he and I have gone our separate ways since then and the project ended up being scrapped after six long years of unwarranted post-production. Disappointing, but when it comes to this business… there really does come a point when you just need to call it quits. Sadly, hard feelings can spark from such actions… There’s a lot of passion that goes into all this. A lot of passion and a lot of ego… Feelings get hurt very easily. Such a shame.
ASouthernLife: In 2009 you landed a role in "Hellementary", since then you have gone on to star in "Hellweek" and "Voodoo Rising", not to mention "Dark Of Moon". Was it always going to be horror? Did you grow up a horror fan or did that come after getting in the industry?
Roger Conners: Technically, “Hellweek” would be classified as my FIRST horror film based off the actual distribution date and I prefer acknowledging it as such. “Hellweek” took years to wrap and I only have a minor cameo in it which I actually filmed long after I had wrapped “Hellementary”, in which I have a far more prominent role. “Hellweek” is acknowledged as one of the worst horror films ever made and rightfully so. It’s bad… Really, really bad… But there’s an endearing quality that I feel stems from the BLATANT low-budget production value. Basically, a bunch of nobodies wanted to make a movie and they did it. Good for them! That takes balls. And hell, who cares HOW bad it is because its became a cult-staple on Netflix and has been seen by a shit-ton of people! That is respectable!
As for “Hellementary”, I filmed that back in 2006 and it was my first venture into the world of indie film. Honestly, I just got lucky. The guys behind that film just knew what they were doing and made something good enough to get onto Chiller. That was mind-blowing for me. I was about 23 when it debuted on national television and I just couldn’t believe it. My first film and it actually DID something. Not just like… self-distribution either. People across America were seeing it! Its been shown over twenty times on Chiller since its original broadcast. Crazy shit, man. I still can’t get over that.
ASouthernLife: Right now you have "Chill", a slasher film, in distribution negotiations. Tell me about the film and your character? The film has gotten some positive reviews from early screeners.
Roger Conners: Ah “Chill”… or as I call her, the little indie that could. I’ll tell you man, we worked our ASSES OFF on that bitch. And I think it shows. The comment I hear most for “Chill” is “it looks far bigger a budget than $3,000” and honestly, that’s how much we spent and all out of pocket. No donations. No fund-raisers. No kickstarter. Just this tiny cast and crew pooling our extra funds together in hopes we could produce something that looked somewhat legitimate. And I think we did it… Between Noelle Bye’s top-quality gear and expert camera-work and Meredith’s solid script and the passion and drive of the rest of that crew, I think it certainly comes well deserved. That was a devoted little group there. It really was.
As for Kyle, you know its funny but for all the interviews I’ve done on the movie thus far I’ve never really had a chance to get into his head. I feel bad for Kyle. He’s really a naive little guy who lets himself get used by his “best-friend” who is just a selfish dick, but that isn’t to say Kyle is totally innocent. He knows from the start of the movie what he’s getting into. They’re reviving this very taboo game that is known for having caused the deaths of multiple students back in the 80’s and it sparks a lot of controversy and flares up a lot of heated emotions from the locals. Kyle is clearly aware of that. He has to be. But I don’t think he intended to hurt anybody. He is clearly written to be the lesser of two evils out of the two male leads. He has a conscious and it eats away at him throughout the entire film. I know he regrets his actions, but by the time he voices that it is clearly too late.
ASouthernLife: You are also co-writer for "Chill", is writing something that you always intended?
Roger Conners: I love writing and have been working on a few scripts of my own but I didn’t really expect to help out with Chill as much as I did. That wasn’t my project. I was just brought on board as an actor. However, due to my involvement throughout the course of production is was sort of unavoidable. When you’re on set EVERY DAY you start to get into the mind of your character as well as those around them. It was easy to help with the writing aspect because, by that point, I knew who these kids were. Certain changes and additions to the script just made sense by that point because they had gone from just being words on paper to living, breathing human-beings. We were lucky to have such a colorful group of characters to write for. It made all of the last minute tweaks pretty easy for us.
ASouthernLife: It has recently been announced that "Chill 2" is in the works with you rumored to play Kyle Carpenter once more, can you talk about that project or is still too soon?
Roger Conners: No, I can definitely share a little bit of it. I can’t say what exactly is going to happen with this one, because the first film is still in talks for distro, and god knows what will end up happening. But I feel confident there will be a follow up sooner than later. When that happens I know it will maintain its focus on Kyle and Jarred. The basic idea they’re toying with is that it is several years after the incidents of the first film and both characters have gone completely separate ways. Kyle has basically started his life over whereas Jarred is still attempting to cling to the coat-tails of the murders that happened several years prior. The thing is, people don’t really care anymore. It’s that sort of fifteen minutes of fame that anybody experiences when they’re involved with such a massive headline and Jarred is craving more. But, at this point, the murders are old news and he’s running out of options. Until the murders start happening again… Perfect timing, right? And of course this pulls Kyle back into it against his will because, like it or not, his life is in danger. And from there shenanigans ensue…as they always do.
ASouthernLife: Another film that has my attention is the cult based horror "The Melon Heads", you not only have a role in the film but you also co-wrote this one as well, tell me how that came about? Tell me about your character in "The Melon Heads", can we expect a bloody, extreme death from your character in this film as well?
Roger Conners: Poor, poor Melon Heads. I wish I could tell you more about this one but sadly there is nothing to tell. The film was scrapped… a trend I’ve seen from this specific company. Time wasted on everyone’s behalf. Disappointing… But hey, a lesson learned that’s for sure. And not even just one! Hell, I learned a LOT of lessons from that experience. Don’t trust “filmmakers” who shoot on Wal-Mart brand camcorders. That’s a GREAT piece of advice right there, believe me!
ASouthernLife: What has been the most memorable death you have experienced out of all the characters you have played?
Roger Conners: Honestly, it’s probably my death from “Hellementary” mainly because I’m actually recognized for that scene. I dare say I have the best death in the movie, and not for the gore factor. It’s more the build-up to it all. I love suspense and those guys really drew it out. Since it screened on national television I’ve had tons of people say things like “didn’t I see you get killed while pissing in a bathroom in that horror film in a school?”… Vague, I know. But hell, I’ll take it!
ASouthernLife: You have also recently added Director to your resume, with the project "What We Saw". Was this the next inevitable step in your career? Is it where you see your career taking you in the future?
Roger Conners: I am so pumped for “What We Saw” you have no idea. The script is something I’m really proud of. Like I said I love suspense and this one is just chock full of it. I want to create a really well crafted, visually stimulating piece of horror CINEMA. I don’t want to just shoot a movie and be done with it. I want people to see this and be like “whoa… this is really well crafted!” I may not have a massive budget but one thing I’ve learned by this point is that, honestly, if you have a solid script to work off of, that doesn’t matter! I’m really excited to give directing a shot. I know I can do this. Some things just come naturally and I have a great eye for these things. I have the right temperament too. I know I can communicate what I see in my head in a manor that will come across clear to my crew as well as my talent. I cant wait to see that translate to film. I haven’t been this excited for something in a long time.
ASouthernLife: How important do you feel it is to have strong gay characters in film, especially in the horror community?
Roger Conners: I wouldn’t say it’s so much important at this point as it is expected. Gay has gone mainstream. It just has. It is no longer a taboo topic and people almost sort of expect it by now. From Glee to Gaga, major pop-culture staples have really pushed gay into the forefront of media and its becoming part of the norm more and more. So for me, it’s not so much about HAVING a gay character as it is surprising the audience with the TYPE of gay character and how they affect the story. I’m tired of just using gay for comedic relief. I love the idea of a butch of burly male characters that also HAPPEN to be gay. Stereotypes are funny and all but, come on, let’s be real… they don’t apply to all of us. Give me a burly bear character. Make him hairy and muscular and let me see him kick some ass. That would get me pumped!
ASouthernLife: Do you ever see a time when gays will be so well encompassed in the industry that it will no longer be a concern to portray strong gay characters or influence in the industry?
Roger Conners: Well I feel that, due to our being a minority, there will ALWAYS be a sort of stereotypical role for us to play in mainstream cinema. It’s kind of like that “token black-dude” joke. He’s just there to crack black jokes and die no later than half-way into the film. Well, there’s a certain way the majority of moviegoers perceive us gays. Kurt Hummel from Glee… that’s it right there. At the end of the day, I really don’t know what the future holds for gays in mainstream cinema. I’d love to see a major motion-picture that doesn’t really DEAL with a gay storyline but offers a strong gay lead just for the hell of it. Who says there can’t be a movie like Superbad, about a dude and his gay best-friend going about their daily adventures and conquests, and MAYBE the occasional gay joke because the best friend just HAPPENS to be a homosexual? But, I don’t know man. I’m gay so I’m certainly partial to that ideal. Would that work for the overall majority out there? It’s hard to say… Would they accept a movie with a little person in the lead? Or a Muslim female in her traditional attire? Or somebody with a physical disability? Our culture is so quick to judge anything that is even slightly different from us, but ideally, we will evolve beyond our all-too-common judgmental mindsets and learn to really embrace diversity… Easier said the done though.
ASouthernLife: The LGB&T community often seems to go unnoticed in horror, do you think it is because there just isn't enough material out there or is it because people still don't think the community is actively vocal in the horror community?
Roger Conners: I think that, when it comes to horror, there’s a very standard series of formulas people are used to. For example, slashers tend to follow the final girl mentality which is so common it’s even been spoofed before in movies such as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. So when you introduce something new to the genre like, maybe the potential for an openly gay male lead… viewers automatically don’t know how to respond. It’s not the norm and horror movie fans are very predictable. We like what we like and that normally includes a lot of well crafted gore and a plethora of boobs. So does a prominent gay character throw a wrench in that formula? Well, I don’t know because HONESTLY… Nobody has TRIED YET! Can you think of one mainstream horror film that actually gave it a shot? I can’t off the back of my hand but that isn’t to say it hasn’t been done at least once. But still, I can’t think of a single PROMINENT example so I think that goes to show something.
There’s a gay fan-base out there. Hell, I’m part of it. I know we exist and I know we deserve more then movie like “Hellbent”. No offense to that movie but it’s exactly as I’d expect from a low budget gay film seeing as how it is OVERTLY gay! I mean, the killer is a muscle-bear running around shirtless showing off his abs and killing pretty boys. Who is going to want to watch that ASIDE from gays? I want a movie that can be viewed and ENJOYED by ANYONE that offers up a gay character who is easy to relate to by viewers gay or otherwise. I think that we go unnoticed in this genre because the mentality with gay horror is always go big or go home! It’s always either gay excess or none at all. I think we need to find a happy middle-ground that doesn’t turn off other viewers and then maybe we can start introducing more prominent and memorable gay characters into more mainstream films.
ASouthernLife: I haven't set out to pick gay directors in the horror industry as favorites but it has turned out that way for me personally, Who are some of your favorite directors and are they out gay directors or is that important?
Roger Conners: Well as mentioned earlier I love George Romero but that’s mainly based off his earlier work. The guy has balls and he stands by his indie roots which I admire. Aside from that, I love Stanley Kubrick because I think his usage of color and imagery is absolutely breathtaking. The Shining is one of my top five favorite films. It is just so visually stimulating from beginning to end. Every single shot looks planned out. That right there is an example of a real film-maker. Dario Argento is another one. His movies are complete mind fucks. They look like total acid-trips. I love when a movie can make me think “what the FUCK am I watching!?”