The spooky season is upon us. In honor of this time of year, the Writers’ Program reached out to our resident horror specialists to ask them about their relationship to their chosen genre.
Executive producer, writer, and Horror Instructor Guillermo Escalona kicks us off.
Tell us about your background, (where did you grow up, etc?)
I grew up in Barcelona and Valencia, Spain in a working-class family. My parents worked hard to make sure my sisters and I were educated and cared for. I went to catholic school and then on to business school but somehow on the way I got bitten by the film bug. An Economic History teacher liked my essays and told me about a summer program for writing for film, I took that summer course and never went back to business school. I got a scholarship to go to film school in Cuba as a screenwriter and then another to attend NY Film Academy and never came back to Europe, went on to live in Chile and Brooklyn NY, always making movies.
Tell us a bit about you as a writer please.
I’ve worked as a screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles for the past decade. I co-created and wrote the HBO Max series “A Thousand Fangs” and have collaborated as a producer on award-winning independent films. Storytelling through film and TV is my passion. I love crafting narratives that resonate across cultures and shed light on diverse perspectives.
What brought you to writing?
I’ve always been drawn to storytelling, I think first it was poetry, Spanish poets like Machado or Miguel Hernandez and Civil War songs then I discovered a fanzine that specialized in movie reviews of cult and classic films, and I started going to the cinematheque to watch those kinds of movies and I was blown away. From Billy Wilder to Tarkovsky every movie has been an adventure and to create those worlds has always been a dream job. This drive led me to study filmmaking in Cuba, then New York, then here.
How did you find your way to horror?
I’ve always been fascinated by the horror genre. My film thesis for school was a modern spin on the story of Ajax, a 2000-year-old play about “the blindness “- this terrible thing that gods have at their disposal to send to any of us who defy them and not do as we are supposed to do. I used guns and pigs (no one got hurt) and I realized that horror is the best vehicle to explain that impossible relationship between us and our destiny. The unknown is cosmos-size, and we have very limited tools, but one of them is storytelling, the catharsis that the Greeks called. We can experience intense emotions through storytelling and by living them we can kind of move through them. You can argue that with many other genres you can have similar intense experiences, but I think horror is the paramount. When I was given the opportunity to write with Jaime Osorio, an established horror writer, by my dear friend and Cuba alumni producer Federico Duran I was thrilled to put catharsis to the test, and we did “A Thousand Fangs” 8 hours of pure survival horror.
What is your all-time favorite horror movie(s)? Please go into detail.
My all-time favorite horror film is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I’ll admit it took me years to finally watch it all the way through because it terrified me so deeply from the start, getting under my skin in a way no other horror movie has. The reason is that as a writer you sometimes become unhealthily obsessed with your characters. The way that the movie is set up blurs the lines between fiction and reality. The ominous soundtrack, the overbearing sense of isolation, Nicholson’s iconic unhinged performance – it all builds unrelenting tension that at the same time explores family trauma, addiction, and the dark grip of madness in a meaningful way. The story works on so many levels. It’s horror craftsmanship at its peak.
Do you think there is a commonality in all great horror films/TV?
Yes, whether it’s the fear of death, the unknown, or losing control, horror is all about our inner anxieties. But it is also about deeper social issues and cultural phobias. The possibility to blend raw terror and social commentary makes the greatest horror films. Here are some favorites for you. Think about Get Out, a movie about a Black man who goes home with his white girlfriend to meet her family and finds a seemingly inclusive family on the outside, but under the surface a racist-fueled horror lurks, targeting him and numerous other Black men. Think about Parasite’s discussion of the cruelty of the wealthy and the ever-worsening gap between the wealthy and the impoverished. Think about Promising Young Woman’s depiction of rape culture and victim blaming, and the way women are often punished in society for the actions of men.
What do you find (in real life) truly horrifying?
There are so many horrifying things in real life that it’s a tough question. Violence and abuse are truly horrifying. Probably war is the most horrifying real thing, as it ravages countries, people, and animals. Also, the notion that we may just be a simulation, or the dream of a dead universe truly chills me. The idea that our existence lacks meaning, or substance is deeply unsettling for me.
As Halloween season approaches, is there anything you like to do to get in a spooky mood?
Having grown up in Spain, I didn’t experience Halloween until later in life. Our traditions involved dressing up for Carnival rather than Halloween. Even now, I don’t go all out for Halloween decorations or costumes. The holiday always makes me think of the Mexican Day of the Dead, a reverent time to remember loved ones who’ve passed. I tend to appreciate the solemnity more than jump scares. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I find myself more unsettled thinking about ghosts with unsettled business than having fun with pumpkins and candy. The season is a good time for me to watch thought-provoking horror films!
Thank you, Guillermo for sharing with us.
Look for Guillermo’s name on future course offerings!