TORONTO - Slash may have an appetite for destruction, but bloody carnage? Not so much.
That's why the first film from the legendary Guns N' Roses guitarist's production company — the upcoming "Nothing Left to Fear" — favours jolts of the ominous, cerebral sort over the ever-escalating graphic violence that has become de rigueur in modern horror.
"I'm not a big gore guy," says the 48-year-old Friday in an interview in Toronto, his bountiful curls stuffed under a black hat, with a pair of Ray Ban aviators fixed to his face.
"In horror movies ... the element that I love the most is the tension. And that's sort of like, the introduction and building up of the tension and release. That's probably one of the reasons why gore for gore's sake doesn't mean anything to me. It's unnerving to watch, but it's not scary. What's scary is that tension of what's going to happen next."
And Slash is certainly knowledgeable about the genre, with an appreciation that long precedes his work on "Nothing Left to Fear."
For as long as he can remember, he's been exhilarated by spooky material across all formats. Born in England (as Saul Hudson), Slash was raised on a childhood diet of the scarefests churned out by Britain's Hammer Films while also acquiring an early appreciation for the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, care of his father, Anthony Hudson, who designed album covers for the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and whom Slash calls "one of the most well-read people I've ever met."
As it turns out, his mom — costume designer Ola Hudson — was also a horror aficionado, so when Slash moved Stateside he continued his voracious consumption of all things spine-tingling. As he delves into his past of frightening delights, he proves his film-buff bona fides by excitedly bringing up such obscure fare as 1970's "Trog" (Joan Crawford's final feature film, about a rampaging troglodyte) and the 1961 curiosity "Konga," a British "King Kong" ripoff in which a furious ape runs roughshod over London.
"It hit a nerve with me," Slash says of the genre. "I've always liked monsters. I've always liked dinosaurs. I've always liked reptiles.... I was just born with it. So all the scary movies and all those characters were just fascinating."
In town for a Saturday appearance at Fan Expo Canada, Slash gradually lost interest in horror in the mid-late '80s as the genre became "dumbed down" by "very campy" franchises, with 1988's "Pumpkinhead" standing as the last fright flick to capture his attention until 2004's "Saw," which he thought had a "great story."
It's probably not a coincidence that the decline of his interest in horror was timed with the rise of Guns N' Roses' career, and all the subsequent jet-setting that enabled. But listening to his evocative guitar style, it's not hard to see the influence of his horror obsession. Consider the iconic intro to "Welcome to the Jungle," for instance, its dread-imbued cascading notes setting the stage for something at once sinister and thrilling, with Slash ratcheting up the tension as expertly as a horror maestro.
"In songs, I've always liked that introduction that builds up a certain suspense and then it kicks in," he said with a smile. "So there's gotta be some correlation there. That's probably a personality trait that you don't think about, it's subconscious, but it starts to come out in your work."
After forming Slasher Films in 2010, "Nothing Left to Fear" was always to be his first feature production project.
Directed by first-timer Anthony Leonardi III, the film casts Dartmouth, N.S., native James Tupper as a pastor who moves his family to the sleepy town of Stull, Kansas (with his wife in the film portrayed by Tupper's real-life partner, Anne Heche). Soon, the family's view of this seemingly placid rural idyll turns as the town's eerie past scrapes to the surface. (Stull really is the subject of myriad urban legends, thanks to long-circulating rumours claiming that its cemetery is a supposed gateway to Hell).
With a Blu-ray and DVD release scheduled in Canada for Oct. 8 after a limited theatrical run, "Nothing Left to Fear" was made in 20 days with a limited budget. The film harkens back to an era in horror that was based more in atmospheric chills than heaps of meticulously crafted bloodshed.
His notoriously hard-living days long behind him (at one point, he even denies a java refill offered by an aide, saying: "I have to pace myself with the coffee"), Slash threw himself into the project with conviction. In addition to his logistical duties as producer, he co-wrote the film's score with Nicolas O'Toole and performed its titular track with Myles Kennedy.
He was grateful to have the chance to get his hands dirty creatively, particularly given the interminable delays he endured in trying to get the project off the ground. He busied himself with his music career — releasing his platinum-selling solo debut in 2010, with sophomore effort "Apocalyptic Love" following in 2012 — but concedes that wading into the film industry demanded a new level of patience.
"Admittedly, there were moments of anxiety and anxiousness in certain parts ... waiting to get going," he said. "The thing I learned about the movie business is that until the money starts getting spent, (it) can take forever. It's really, really slow.
"Luckily, I was working," he adds. "I couldn't imagine just sitting around waiting for (stuff) to happen."
Working behind the scenes, however, suited Slash. Soft-spoken and seemingly a little shy, Slash doesn't seem to relish attention. He calls his impending public chat at Fan Expo Canada only a "tolerable part of the job" after conceding: "I don't necessarily like talking that much."
This is a guy who, finally granted the spotlight in the form of his solo debut, gave the record over to a star-studded roster of singers. And discussing his ongoing writing for a new album, he modestly claims: "I never consider myself what you call a songwriter anyway, because I sit and I compose ... but I don't sing. It's not like Neil Young sitting there, singing a song. So you can't call me a proper songwriter."
"I've always liked the side guy aspect of (things) as opposed to being the front guy," continues Slash, whose long-standing feud with Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose was considered off-limits for the interview.
"I don't think I could handle the pressure if conceptually, that's what I thought I was."
So while Slash is currently eyeing his next production project — and he's again looking for "intelligent and story-driven" horror fare — he's unnerved by the prospect of actually appearing in one of his films himself.
"Yeah, people are (asking): are you going to direct or are you going to act in anything?" he says, shaking his head. "I want to be responsible for putting something up there that I think is really good. But I don't necessarily want to put my face on it."
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