Given the sometimes-cinematic sprawl of Animal Collective’s music, it should come as no surprise that one of the group’s chief songwriters is a film buff. David Portner, a.k.a. Avey Tare, has been drawing inspiration from the movies since at least the mid-’90s, when he and his bandmates were swapping material as budding high school musicians. Since then, Portner has poured his influences—some of them first discovered through the ancient magic of VHS—into a variety of projects, including Animal Collective’s psychedelic “visual album” ODDSAC, which makes use of both his musical talents and his acting abilities.
Portner’s latest endeavor is Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, a new collaboration with members of Dirty Projectors and Ponytail. The experimental supergroup released its debut album, Enter The Slasher House, earlier this month. In June, the trio will embark on a fledgling tour of the U.S. and the U.K. (While there are reportedly no overt movie references in the music, the video for “Little Fang” contains plenty of them—including a few nods to the 1962 creep-out classic Carnival Of Souls.) In honor of Slasher Flicks, The A.V. Club asked Portner to program a 24-hour marathon of cinematic favorites. The resulting selections betray a refined, adventurous taste in the medium: Those expecting a daylong dose of Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger should take that new band title a bit less literally.
The A.V. Club: This is a very eclectic lineup of movies. Some are horror, but many defy easy categorization. Can you explain the theme or organizing principle of the marathon?
Avey Tare: This program is based partially on my life around 2003 and 2004, and also on my early youth, as an 8 or 9-year-old boy. Aside from various all-night psychoactive drug experiences, some of my strongest all-night memories come from early sleepovers with my cousins Matt and Nick Baetz. We’d be quarantined to a bedroom and decide to stay awake for that glorious suburban sunrise. Talking, getting ridiculous, getting grouchy, getting delirious and laughing a lot—none of it sounds too far off from later experiences with LSD. I've also at times been a big fan of the wake and bake. Around 2003, I was getting free videos at Kim’s in New York and watching a lot, so this list could very well take up one of those days. I think 10:00 a.m. would be an easy time to start—with breakfast or around it. You don't have to wake and bake. I’m no pusher. [Laughs.] But I can't really imagine doing this sort of run in any other environment than a home.
10 a.m.: Saragossa Manuscript (1965)
AVC: The day begins with a famous and famously unusual Polish film, based on a 19th-century novel by Jan Potocki.
AT: This one’s a good way to transition out of sleep actually. It’s built on a pretty out-there dreamscape. The book it’s based on is great as well. Stories are intertwined and melt into each other. Travelers, heroes, and thieves trek across the Spanish countryside encountering storytellers. There are erotic forays with ghosts and one of the most spooked-out atmospheres I've seen in a movie. Not in an “I’m so scared” way, but more like believing that ghosts exist with us here and that I might have actually talked to one without knowing it. I think the black-and-white print has something to do with this. There's something about ghost movies in black-and-white that makes them seem more mystical or something. Like a realm we can't really visit, but that exists nonetheless. Side note: I do believe in ghosts. Also, I've sampled this movie for music.
AVC: Why do you believe in ghosts? Have you had a paranormal experience?
AT: I feel like I saw a ghost once. My bandmate Josh [Dibb] from Animal Collective and I rented a house. I awoke one morning, one of the first times I stayed there—my girlfriend and I were staying in a room, which didn’t turn out to be the bedroom that I normally used—and I’m pretty sure I saw what I thought was a guy sitting on the edge of the bed, for a brief second.
AVC: That’s very frightening.
AT: Other than that, I grew up in a house with older siblings, and they would always tell us stories about faucets going on and off. I didn’t really take that too seriously when I was younger. But then one of my close friends, a roommate of mine for a while, grew up in a haunted house that his mom tried to get exorcised a few times with not too much luck. And he has crazy stories about this ghost that he saw all the time.
AVC: You talk about old, black-and-white ghost movies seeming more mystical somehow. I wonder if that has anything to do with the quality of faded celluloid, which can feel like a transmission from an older world.
AT: Yeah, it feels ghostly to begin with. I stumbled upon a book once of early paranormal photography. It was pretty cool, those early film tricks to capture ghosts.
AVC: In what songs or pieces have used samples of the film’s soundtrack?
AT: I didn’t sample any of the music actually, just some of the atmosphere and the dialogue. Not for this new project, Slasher Flicks, but some earlier stuff I’ve done.
AVC: Do you find that you draw inspiration from cinema often?
AT: Oh yeah. I have this one benchmark moment in high school of seeing The Shining. I watched it with a group of friends. My bandmate who’ve been friends with since I’ve been young had never seen it before. It had a profound effect on him that he wanted to watch it again all the way through, so we watched it twice. The next morning—we were trapped in this house in Baltimore by a snowstorm—we started talking about how we wanted our music that we were writing and working on even in high school to make us feel like that movie. Drastic shifts in mood. A real nice blend of light and dark. Movies like The Shining and The Exorcist, I consider metamorphic or transformation films, you know? And I often liken that idea or aesthetic to music, in the way it can transform over time.
AVC: Have you seen Room 237, the documentary about obsessive Shining fans?
AT: I have! I kind of know Jeff [John Fell] Ryan, who worked on it.
AVC: A lot of people writing about Saragossa Manuscript have made the claim that “you need to be high” to appreciate it. Do you agree? Have you experienced it both high and sober?
AT: I have experienced it both ways. [Laughs.] I’m not the kind of person to say you need to be high to do anything. Everybody’s different. The more you talk to people about different art forms, the better you get the understanding that people perceive things in totally different ways. I find it enjoyable both ways.
1 p.m.: The Stunt Man (1980)
AT: This movie enters from the complete opposite end of the color spectrum in every sense. It’s like a childhood prankster friend that can't let you sleep in the morning and wakes you by lighting matches in front of your eyes or by putting old gum in your mouth. R.I.P. Peter O’Toole. I’ll always think fondly of his performances in What’s New Pusscat? and this. Two of my favorite psychedelic comedies.
The Stunt Man follows a Vietnam vet turned criminal as he literally wanders into a job as a Hollywood stuntman in order to conceal his identity from the police. It's probably one of the most perfectly absurd movies I've ever seen. The shifts in mood and emotion are so psychedelic that it makes me want to yell, “That leprechaun’s on acid!”
3:30 p.m.: Horror Express (1972)
AT: There was a weekly TV program on the USA Network, I think—I’m a child of cable—on Sundays at around 2 p.m. that would show old horror films. I can remember seeing a lot of Stephen King adaptations like Silver Bullet and Salem’s Lot. I liked watching a horror movie in the middle of the day with the sun blazing through the window and blinding most of the imagery, my family usually cooking and doing things in the vicinity. A real family bonding experience.
This movie is great for the “creature” aspect, the way it kills passengers on this train. The effects are amazing. You get a taste of the classic Hammer acting combo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with a direction style that pushes psych shock gore and the kind of colors that are in a lot of Italian horror from the ’70s. I can also really appreciate a movie that’s confined to a small space, such as a train.
5:00 p.m.: The Conversation (1974)
AT: This is the first movie I’m choosing where sonics come a little more into the picture. The first time I saw the opening of The Conversation, I was immediately into the sound design. It was like watching a movie adaptation of a Luc Ferrari or a Robert Ashley piece. I love spoken word stuff and sound poetry. The way speech patterns, vowel, and consonant sounds can become something other then how we define or normally process them by using loops and certain effects. The hook with The Conversation is that the sound is used by Francis Ford Coppola to build on the paranoia, which twists into knots by the end of the movie and makes me question if the sounds I'm hearing have any meaning at all. I wish all modern pop music was like that.
AVC: This is definitely a film about how we hear. As someone who I’m guessing spends a lot of time with headphones over the ears, do you feel like this movie spoke to you in a different way?
AT: Music to me is so much about the process. And I feel like that movie, aside from the paranoia, is very much about Gene Hackman’s process. My music can make me paranoid at certain times. There’s a tendency with making music and being a perfectionist to over-listen to things. I’m sure any musician who’s used to recording or being in a studio will tell you that the more you listen to something, the more it transforms and becomes something else. For me, it’s about finding a balance in what you’re doing, because you can totally drive yourself crazy. Beyond that, you can just lose perception of what you’re trying to do.
AT: That’s certainly what happens to Hackman’s character in The Conversation. He’s almost too close to his process.
AT: Yeah, and that happens all the time with making music. I’ve worked on records where I’ve gotten too into it, and too obsessed, and it can ruin it. It can stop making any sense.
7:00 p.m.: Targets (1968)
AT: This is a nice dramatic portion of the run and as the day shifts into the darkness, I need to shift into the horror stratosphere. Slow subtle shifts can be the best—in music, life, or whatever. I tend to like horror films that cruise on a nice psychological drama. Targets definitely doesn't explode with macabre confetti, but there's some tucked in there. It stars Boris Karloff from Frankenstein as an aging B-horror movie star trying to keep his career going and also stars [film director] Peter Bogdanovich, who plays a director in the movie. I like movies that are self-aware, especially if they’re dramatic. I think that's why Scream 3 is a pretty sweet horror movie. It's similarly cool in music when a style can be poked fun at, but still sound awesome. I think The Kinks did this well with ’20s and ’30s music. With Slasher Flicks, in a way I’m trying to reference music I like, which I don't really try and do too often. It's probably not something I could continue with, songwriting-wise, but it's a nice experiment.
AVC: The comparison between Targets and Scream 3 is interesting. Both are movies that play on their audiences’ collective familiarity with horror films.
AT: Definitely. As a huge Boris Karloff fan, that really attracts me. But there’s also the idea, in both films, of the director being involved in the making of the movie within the movie. I think that’s so cool. That’s really what tied the whole Scream trilogy together. I didn’t see beyond the third one.
AVC: When the first Scream came out, there was talk in some corners of how radical that self-aware approach was. But Targets did something at least somewhat similar three decades earlier.
AT: Exactly. And it’s still able to function as a suspenseful, interesting film too.
8:30 p.m.: Halloween (1978)
AT: There are plenty of horror films I could put on this list. The Shining and The Exorcist are actually two of my favorite movies of all time. But I'm sure the classics appear in these things a lot so I'm trying to sway the course. However, John Carpenter to me is a true genius, and so I feel obligated to include at least one of his movies here and one that has meant something to me for most of my life. The classic “nighttime” horror movie of my youth was Halloween—and Halloween II, which is basically part of the same movie to me. I had the Halloween 4 poster. That was the one when Michael Meyers returned after the bizarre Halloween III, but nothing for me held that suburban Halloween-gone-wrong vibe better than the first.
One of the pluses of Los Angeles is that I can walk around neighborhoods like Pasadena and Glendale and feel like I'm on the set of Halloween. This is the first movie that showed me that a stalker is just as scary in the daytime. The scenes where the masked Michael is standing in the yard and behind a bush in the middle of the day are still some of the creepiest stuff shot. That William Shatner mask looks insane and perfect. This movie also pretty much solidified autumn as the season of the witch for me. Though it's good to note how many ghost stories of the past occur in a dreary autumn.
10:00 p.m. Possession (1981)
AVC: Here’s one that really toys with the definition of horror: Andrzej Zulawski’s notoriously strange psychodrama, with Sam Neill as the concerned businessman and Isabelle Adjani as his missing wife.
AT: As midnight gets closer, I personally just want to get heavier and headier. This movie is probably one of the first I ever saw that I thought, “What the fuck is going on and why do I love this?” I'm not sure what about this movie makes it a masterpiece in my mind, but every viewing stands the test of time. I remember the second time I saw it was on one of those old VHS tapes from the ’80s during the second Animal Collective tour. When I was a kid I used to obsess over the VHS covers in the video store and my dream job was to design graphics for horror films. The ’80s cut I saw was totally different from how I remembered it on DVD and the movie seemed even cooler on an old worn-out VHS—though the difference was really due to the director’s cut from the DVD being different. It's such an alien movie and yet so human. It's like the mind of a psychologically crippled human sliced open so you can see it all in fragments. Therein you also find a psychotic video collage about growing the perfect lover. You can't figure out if what your watching makes sense any more.
12:15 a.m.: Dead Ringers (1988)
AVC: This is an all-time favorite movie of mine, and maybe David Cronenberg’s best. Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists. How did you first discover it?
AT: I was at NYU for a really brief period of time, in the Gallatin School, which is kind of do-your-own-major. There were all these special-credit classes, and one was on horror. I was really into horror at the time, but had never taken a class or anything on it. I found it really interesting that this movie was included. It was actually a point of the professor: What’s your take on horror? This isn’t Texas Chainsaw Massacre or a slasher movie. It’s not a typical horror movie. But you feel this seedy discomfort kind of seep into the room.
This movie has the ability to make me feel really dark and disturbed and kind of disgusting and sick, and I still enjoy it. There's something about the Cronenberg world that's tilted slightly off its hinges. It’s rooted in fantasy, yet somehow grounded and still believable. There isn't really anything else like this movie. What’s more perfect, plot-wise, than the idea of mutant body parts and specialized medical tools that also pass for post-modern sculpture, backed by the decaying psychology of two brothers obsessing over a pill-loving sexual masochist?
2:15 a.m.: Deranged (1974)
AT: Here’s one for when the late, late night moves on and you enter another slow shift into dawn. The delirium is echoing off the walls. This is a true story, he is out there somewhere. Probably somewhere I've never been, but maybe I have driven past his house or even walked by him on his way to try some new skin on. I think I saw one of his kind at the mall once, just creeping.
The star character, Ed Gein, has inspired a few screen criminals, including Leatherface and Norman Bates. But this adaptation of his story is a little more historical and almost documentary-like, with a narrator that pops in at awkward moments while church organs accompany his commentary. It’s almost a black comedy, but way less stingy with the gore. The mother's death scene alone is a gem in the ancient-effects department.
3:45 a.m.: “The Grandmother” (1970)
AVC: I’ve never seen this one. It’s one of David Lynch’s earliest films. He made it before Eraserhead.
AT: I just saw it recently. For me, it’s a visual highpoint in art filmmaking, whatever that may be. Those colors on that negative space make me very happy. The mood is set just right.
AVC: Like Cronenberg, Lynch knows how to scare people without resorting to the common tricks of genre cinema. He’s kind of a horror filmmaker who doesn’t make horror movies.
AT: Yeah, he’s a horror director with a weird art background. I’m not an obsessive David Lynch person. I’ll like one here and there. But I saw Inland Empire in a movie theater. I’ve talked to a lot of people that didn’t get into that movie. But for me, maybe not being the biggest Lynch fan, I was blown away by it. It made me feel like I was watching some weird horror movie. It’s really creepy. And “The Grandmother” has that same power. It’s really visually and sonically interesting, and has all these elements that make it, like you’re saying, part of a different genre, but with horror elements.
AVC: Some of his strongest work has this free-associative quality. Inland Empire is one of his most experimental movies.
AT: The fact that it doesn’t make a lot of sense makes it freakier. Why is this little cut-out bit in here? I don’t get it, but it’s freaky. [Laughs.]
AVC: What do you think about Lynch’s use of music in movies?
AT: I’m into it. I’m a sucker for ’50s and ’60s music, like girl groups and doo-wop. I find that it gets used a lot in horror movies—and in John Waters [films]. Lynch also relies on the contemporary pure-sound, drone vibe I’ve always liked musically. It all works for me.
4:30 a.m. “Kustom Kar Kommandos” (1965)
AVC: This 3-minute short, by famous experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, is a great choice for 4:00 in the morning. I think if someone were to really do the marathon, it would play like a commercial break.
AT: Totally. This is probably my favorite “music video.” [Laughs.] The colors and those reflections and the fact that the cleaning sponge just becomes some free-form space object floating along a fantastic metallic surface. And oh man, “Dream Lover,” by the Paris Sisters.
AVC: Are there other avant-garde filmmakers you like?
AT: It’s hard to see a lot of full Harry Smith stuff. I just haven’t had the opportunity to, but I’ve seen bits and pieces, and I feel like I like Harry Smith as a character, just for all of his interests and all the things he’s written about and said. He seems like a very intriguing character from history. So I’d say Harry Smith. I like some of the stuff that the Whitney brothers did. I like a lot of late-’60s stuff. I like some Bill Viola, some video stuff. I like the VHS aesthetic, which is maybe why I like some of David Lynch’s work too. It tends to use it as a medium for promoting records. It has a really crazy, freaky quality to it.
4:45 a.m.: The Raven (1963)
AVC: Now, this isn’t the 1935 version with Karloff, but the comedic 1963 version, also with Karloff.
AT: The first couple times I watched this, I didn't even think it was classified as a comedy. I thought it was just a really bizarre, eccentric attempt at a horror film. But yeah, I guess it is a comedy. Vincent Price is the king of horror actors. There's no replacing that guy. I wish he lived at my house in a guest room and was my permanent Ghoul Teacher. I guess it pays to be a necromancer after all.
Here his dandy side places him as an eccentric magician who is led by a raven into battle with a black magician, played by Karloff, over his lost love Lenor. It's a goofy take on the Edgar Allen Poe story, psychedelically led by three of the greatest horror actors ever, plus an absurd early Jack Nicholson performance. A favorite, for sure. I think Roger Corman nailed the psych side of horror. Especially with the earlier films like this one. The colored, oily credits, those sweet reds, and the silly effects and dialogue, give the light and the dark a nice coexistence.
6:15 a.m.: Phase 4 (1974)
AT: Depending on where you are watching this and what time of year it is, daylight may just be beginning or it may still be dark. This is a perfect one for greeting the day after a night with no sleep. It’s a drama about ants taking over the world, set in a hazy, lonely future desert. Plenty of early macrocosmic shots of ants and fuzzy radiated sun shots. Has anyone looked outside yet, I wonder? Are there windows in the room you are in? At this point, I wonder what several years in a bunker would do to my mind. I wonder if I could totally rearrange my sleep schedule or if it would be dependent upon everyone around me. Or what if I was alone? How would my music change without noticeable shifts in light? I can't imagine music without night.
AVC: You mentioned earlier that you had a brief interest, in your youth, in becoming a VHS box-cover artist. This is one movie that had a very memorable cover, that picture of an ant crawling out of the palm of a man’s hand. It’s as vivid as any shot of the movie.
AT: Oh, no, totally. There’s a lot of sense-memory recognition when I see one of those covers. With Possession too: I had no memory of the movie, felt like I had never even heard of it, and then I saw the cover, and it came back to me—being a kid in the ’80s and seeing the box in the store.
7:45 a.m.: Lifeboat (1944)
AT: Not sure why this movie should go last, but I somehow feel it's right to end with a classic. Actually, I'm also including it because it’s not typically a classic I ever hear about. But I guess my feeling is that Alfred Hitchcock is such an awesome director that his classics even overshadow his other great movies.
Back to a confined space. All the elements of a good Hitchcock movie, trapped inside a tiny lifeboat in the wilderness of the ocean. I once took a Hitchcock class that an English teacher of mine offered after our regular high school day. He turned our auditorium into a movie theater and screened Psycho for us. I skipped soccer practice that day so I could see it. Psycho on a large screen? No doubt in my mind. Sad to say, when our soccer team photos were passed out at the end of the year, the message from my coach was one of disappointment about misguided priorities. Classic coach. Awesome year.