Name: Chris Peckover
Birth Place: Montreal, Quebec
Notable films: Undocumented (2010), Better Watch Out (2016)
When did you know you were queer? When did you come out?
Chris Peckover: I had a particular talent for self-delusion growing up (comes in handy as a storyteller!), so I didn’t actually know that I was gay until I was 19. I came out two months later. Everything before that was “experimenting” or a “phase” I thought I was going through. Because if you look at the depictions of gay people in film and TV in the 90s, it wasn’t flattering and it certainly wasn’t me. So I figured I must not be gay.
Then along came The Mexican and James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Winston Baldry, the gay hit man. I don’t remember the plot of that movie, or anything about Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts, but I remember seeing this masculine, tender bear of a man break down sobbing about being gay and I went “Uh oh. Oh boy. Yup. I am definitely very very gay.”
How did you get into filmmaking?
CP: I grew up in Rockwall, the smallest county in Texas, as a Canadian foreigner. Most people didn’t take kindly to outsiders there, so I used movies as an escape and as a way to connect. Boys in Texas in the 90s didn’t really show affection or vulnerability or even have close friendships.
But after watching a movie together, that would completely change. Especially after a horror movie – suddenly most kids opened up. They would be energized going over what happened, talking about their feelings or fears in a way that they’d never typically do.
Maybe it’s the shared experience of having survived something, or just the power of film, but I always felt closest to my friends coming out of a movie together.
As a horror creator, what is it about horror that attracts you?
CP: Writing horror is a big part of how I process and deal with all of the bad stuff in my life. What I’m going through, what my friends or maybe society as a whole is going through. It’s a way to talk about it, and maybe conquer it.
I wonder if it’s the same draw for audiences. We escape into somebody else’s nightmare and make it our own, keeping it with us after. It’s a very empathetic genre.
What films (queer or not) have made a significant impact on you and your work? In what way?
CP: I’m picky. When I sit down for a movie, it has my full attention, so it’s not enough for the plot to work and for there to be cool set pieces.
I need to feel challenged: emotionally and intellectually. I need films to engage me.
Jordan Peele’s work has impacted me recently. He goes the extra mile, saying something meaningful beneath the fun and the thrills. I think many audiences feel the same, and that’s why his movies do so well. So I’m impacted by movies that engage my mind (ie. Psycho, Get Out, Annihilation) or my heart (The Exorcist, Poltergeist, A Quiet Place, etc.)
How progressive or welcoming is the industry for queer creators right now?
CP: It depends on what you mean. As an openly queer creator, I’ve never seen anyone bat a lash. But queer content is fuzzier.
We’re at the point where the industry is finally welcoming gay characters and even gay protagonists. It no longer has to be art house. But I worry that they’re accepting only in as much as those characters are neutered. They can’t be sexualized. They can hold hands, but don’t kiss on the mouth. I don’t think a studio today would allow a gay kiss in a $100 million movie.
There are lots of ceilings left to break through. Somebody needs to write the gay American Pie and shatter the taboo of it all by normalizing the awkwardness and humour around gay sex. Because it’s funny. Gay…straight…sex is funny.
Do you believe that your sexuality informs your films?
CP: Up until now my sexuality has informed my films tangentially. Undocumented is about illegal immigrants getting treated poorly (to put it mildly), and that came from my feelings of being an unwanted outsider.
Better Watch Out follows a main character who has been hiding their true nature. I’m not brown, nor am I a sociopath, but being gay has certainly helped me to step into different kinds of shoes and write about it.
Looking forward, my sexual identity seems to be taking root more directly. Now I feel mature enough to say something meaningful. I didn’t ever want to exploit that side of myself, not until I had something to say. And I do now. So get ready.
Although Better Watch Out is principally about Luke’s entitled, toxic masculinity, I can’t help but get a slight queer vibe from Garrett’s willingness to do anything to appease his friend. Am I off the mark?
CP: Great observation. One of my regrets is what I was willing to do to be accepted by friends when I was in the closet. I felt so cut off, so ready for everyone in my life to turn on me at the drop of a hat, that my moral compass was off. I bullied people sometimes; I was relieved that the focus wasn’t on me.
That’s definitely where Garrett starts in the beginning of the movie. And as that behavior starts to show its teeth, he starts to change. He grows up.
Have you interacted with many queer horror fans of your work? What has that experience been like?
CP: I mean…I’m a queer horror fan. And I interact with myself all the time. That experience has been very nice. Very.
As for other queer horror fans, those interactions are nice too, but in a different way. It’s comforting meeting people who are as weird as me. I feel at home around us goons.
It’s been a few years since you delivered one of the best holiday horror films on the market. When can we expect a new horror film from you?!
CP: Working in the industry is like deciding to stay in an abusive relationship. “Awww, I love you, you’re so talented and valuable and I’m going to take care of you and we’ll build something incredible together.” Then SLAP. Something or everything falls apart, someone wasn’t honest, or lost interest. It’s completely out of your control, and you’re left picking up the pieces, alone, reminding and justifying to yourself why you love being there in the first place. I can’t tell you how many times you have to go through that for every movie that actually survives.
Thankfully, my abusive lover is in a generous mood at the moment. I have two jaw-droppingly exciting projects moving forward. They could both fall apart tomorrow (one did in May, then bounced back in June), but for now, if you’re in LA and spot a big dude skipping down the sidewalk, clicking his heels in the air, it’s probably me.
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