Father Gore (a.k.a C.H. Newell) was honoured to get a chance to speak with Heather Buckley— one of the producers of The Ranger— courtesy of the fine people over at Shudder. A perfect time to talk about the film, given the streaming service is adding it to their line-up today, May 9th.
Here at Father Son Holy Gore, we’ve already featured an article about The Ranger. It was doubly fun to talk to Heather about her role in the production, the response it’s gotten from fans since its initial release, punk rock, and plenty of other fun stuff.
For those who don’t already know, the movie’s a fantastic cross of punk rock and slasher horror. That’s what makes someone like Heather— a legitimate punk in her own right— perfectly suited to be a part of the production’s team.
Let’s cut the shit and get down to business, shall we?
C.H. Newell: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I loved the movie. One of my favourite horror flicks of the past few years. So it’s great to chat with someone who worked on the production. I was looking at your extensive list of credits. You’ve been busy over the past few years.
Heather Buckley: Absolutely. It’s crazy.
CHN: How exactly did you come to be a producer on The Ranger with [director] Jenn [Wexler] and the likes of the great Larry Fessenden?
HB: Jenn and I are friends. She came to me with the script and asked me to read it. So I did, and I loved it. Before I was ever brought on as a producer, I told Jenn, “Let me pitch this to investors.” I come from an advertising and marketing background, and I’m part of the punk scene, and have been a long time, so I thought I could kind of bridge those two worlds. I also just believed in the movie. One thing led to another. From there, Jenn brought me on as a producer under the Glass Eye [Pix] label. But I’ve written things, I’ve done interviews, all sorts of stuff— I’ve been connected to the film world a little for a while.
I also had a key meeting with John Fasano— director of Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare— who’s no longer with us. I was at Boston Underground Film Fest. He was like, “Heather, based on the type of person you are, your background, no more of this advertising stuff, no more of this effects stuff. You should be a film producer.” And that’s why he’s thanked in the end credits of The Ranger. I come back to it all the time, what he said to me during that meeting, why I should go into film as a career, as like a second career after my time in advertising.
CHN: I think that’s an amazing trajectory for a career. It touches on a lot of different bases, which is great in the role as producer that you’re taking on right now. Great background to come from, as far as bringing projects to people.
In terms of taste and your background, what are some of the horror movies that drew you to the genre when you were young?
HB: Well, that’s a very funny question. I was very scared of horror and Halloween masks when I was very young. But I was always very curious about it. So I would look at Stephen King’s book Graveyard Shift, with the eyes and the hand, and run away. My father was always watching disturbing shit on the TV. I was like a free-range horror child, seeing Poltergeist with the face ripping scene and The Fly when he’s falling apart, and more of these things I shouldn’t have been seeing.
It wasn’t until a lot of my metal friends from middle school were like, “We want to talk about horror movies with you, you just need to get over them being scary.” And I just felt that I was so much of an outsider. It wasn’t until I watched Friday the 13th: Part V that I understood I was Jason Voorhees— tall and in charge from Jersey, and, you know, spirit of vengeance against the popular kids. That was the beginning of the journey. I think it was my interest in the imagery, the archetypes, the antihero, how someone from a punk rock background views horror through a counterculture lens.
For me, looking at the haunted places, the haunted people— the people with their special outfits on— it’s like, well, all my friends look iconic with their special outfits on in CBGBs and things like that. So I just relate to the genre. I like that it’s elevated from reality. Because we look at reality every day but this a heightening of it. Same reason I like Westerns, and film noir, some very stylised war films.
CHN: I’ve always felt that, horror and punk rock, at their core, share much of the same spirit. There’s an anti-authority element to them both. Would that be fair to say?
HB: When I was really young, I’d see punks and goths out in the world, and I didn’t know what they were. Then when I first listened to [the soundtrack] of Fear No Evil and I heard the Sex Pistols, I saw what they looked like, and they looked like this damn look I’d been obsessed with since I was a little girl. It’s like, how is that possible?
When I first stepped into CBGBs, I realised not only do these people like the music that I like, they’re all horror movie fans. I didn’t know that was going to happen, but that’s my experience. It wasn’t a lot of their gear, it just came up in conversations. They spoke about [horror movies] with such joy. So, my why— I can only speak to my experience— is that it’s a celebration of darkness. It’s an inversion, the celebration of Halloween imagery. What are your thoughts?
CHN: I mean, one of the first punk rock bands I got into was the Misfits, and it’s because they were the Venn diagram where my two biggest interests as a young dude met: punk and horror. It’s that idea of celebrating the darkness, the weird, the grotesque, and these things give you a safe environment where you can let your weirdness out.
HB: Exactly. That’s a form of rebellion in a society that says “This is what’s beautiful.” Also, the Misfits are very important to me, because I’m from New Jersey, and they are, too. They really do horror-punk very well. I think I sing “Last Caress” nearly every day.
CHN: Getting back to The Ranger— for me, it’s perfectly punk because the Ranger, as a character, stands in for authority. More than that, the movie’s story feels decidedly from a feminine perspective, because the Ranger’s also a male authority. It makes the whole thing very unique. What was the response like to the movie, particularly from women?
HB: A lot of times during the film fest run, I noticed guys really like the movie, but girls were able to run up to Jenn and really talk about the coded content within it about identity and oppression. That’s why your essay is very strong. See, with Jenn and I while the movie was being made, we’d talk about the scenes in it, and what’s amazing is that, when I see an essay like yours— and there’s other essays out there, too— able to find the context in the scenes, it means the movie was able to be a vessel and telegraph these nuanced themes without us standing next to the film or giving commentary. It’s right within the frame. I think that makes Jenn’s work highly successful.
Also, when it comes to representation, a lot of the females in the audience were very amazed and inspired that Jenn— director and producer— made this. Like, the idea that she made, I helped get this made, it was inspiring for them. If you talked to Jenn she’d probably have more insight into those interactions throughout the film festivals. I did see it myself. There was great celebration.
I was surprised by how many punk rockers enjoyed the film. As we know, if you do punk wrong, punk rockers will love it. If you do punk sincerely, slightly off, punk rockers will have a problem with it. So you need to be wrong or you need to be right, no in-between. We’re mostly on the right side, in terms of authenticity of the the outfits. But when I was reading the script, I had no idea— because I, myself, am a punk— that the text itself was so punk rock. Because my friends, when they saw it, they got the gallows humour. They laughed in only a way a punk rocker could laugh. I just wanted to make sure the outfits and the music were right. But the very soul of the film is a punk rock movie, and that was a discovery, even to me. So many people came up to Jenn and I and said, “This was me when I was young and I was a skateboarder,” or whatever the case was. It was awesome.
CHN: I think it’s great to have the punk scene coming back into movies more and more. I really loved Green Room, which is a bit of horror but mostly thriller. And, even though the two films are different, they’ve both got the punk spirit. With politics, and the state of things in general today, do you like punk, and horror too, is needed more today? I feel like when things get shitty, punk and horror are my biggest go-tos.
HB: I think that being political and taking action and singing about it in these clothes and forming community is very important. Punk is always needed. I need punk— I need it for personal reasons, because when I first listened to it I found the frequency of my existence. It’s a very physical relationship to the music. Also, I always liked the lyrics that were political, and I loved the simplicity of it. My dad was a greaser, so I listened to like country, rockabilly, and surf before I came to punk music. I love how punk is just critical intensity— short songs, that blast of power, you can only sustain that intensity for so long. And I do love the look, I love walking around wearing my gear, the hair. It’s important to me.
CHN: I’m from Newfoundland, up here in Canada, and downtown we do have a nice little scene here. There’s a bar here called CBTGs, obviously modelled after the famous CBGBs. And on Fridays, Saturdays, you can see all the punks— from the young ones to the lifers— out on the deck where there’s a bunch of clubs together, and it’s so awesome to see the gear, the hairstyles, and you hear the music wafting out. I didn’t hang onto the scene, like a lot of other people I know, but I love to see others who cling to it, who live it, who feel it.
HB: Yeah, I used to make punk tapes for my friends. I still have some of the first ones I made and tapes that were made for me.
CHN: I did play in a punk band when I was younger. I didn’t carry on with it like others did. I know people who genuinely live it. Like you said, it’s a lifestyle, it’s something you connect with on a deeper level. And it’s one of those communities where you can find a sense of belonging.
HB: Where you can belong but you can also remain an individual, which is very interesting.
CHN: To get back to why I love The Ranger, I feel like Chloe’s character [Chelsea] goes through this struggle, where she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere: she’s not at home totally with her punk friends, neither is she wholly a part of that natural, fucked up world of the Ranger. And so, she’s caught between them. I feel, just as you said there’s a sense of belonging while also still that individuality, and that’s the feeling I get when Chelsea’s standing there at the end, looking at the wolf as a symbol of belonging to something, like a pack, but also that free-spirited sense of being a lone wolf, the wild self, too. Super good image.
HB: For sure. It’s about authenticity, and even if you’re a part of a community, you can remain yourself.
CHN: I think that’s why The Ranger connects with me so well. It represents that whole struggle of identity, of wanting to be connected to others and also wanting to not lose yourself. I can’t say it any better. The whole movie just really nails that idea, and that’s part of what punk is about, so the entire slasher horror and punk together thing works great.
HB: Thank you.
CHN: It’s not often that a film can get all that across without nailing you over the head with it. Like you said earlier, you don’t have to sit there and explain “This is what the movie means” for people to draw things like this out of it. And it’s punk rock through and through. Even the length— it’s not a two hour movie, it does what it needs to do and gets out.
HB: Yeah, because punk rock songs are short. And the reason we had such a big festival run is because if you have a punk horror movie, it has to go on tour, right?
CHN: I love that. Really glad Shudder’s premiering the film, so more people will get their eyes on it. I really dig the novelisation idea, too. Such a throwback to the ’70s and ’80s, when it was a bigger thing. I’m curious about how that whole concept came about.
HB: Jenn was doing the teaser, and she needed someone to do a voice-over who had a certain sort of voice. So I said, my friend Ed Kurtz, who’s like a noir writer, should do it. It was Ed’s brilliance that suggested the novelisation. He went to his publisher, pitched the idea, and Haverhill did it. Jenn felt that this movie should’ve been made in the ’80s. That’s why there’s a lot of the merchandise. We thought, let’s market it like it was made in the ’80s, which is why it’s got the novelisation, the VHS aspect to it, there’s the record, and a cassette coming out soon. We’re trying to correct the overall genre timeline and place this movie back in the ’80s. It’s really cool we have a novelisation for a super indie, punk rock film, and Ed is just an amazing writer, too.
CHN: It’s extra cool because it’s not a big franchise movie. It isn’t like the original novelisations, like Alien and Star Wars and these other huge movies. It’s this, like you said, relatively small, indie punk rock horror movie.
HB: There’s also stuff in the novelisation that’s based on the screenplay, so there are things that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie that are in the book. Very cool to have all this stuff. And it all came from grassroots, like LunchMeat getting the VHS out there, and Ed, who’s part of a whole different scene, but I kind of dovetail into the literary scene a bit and I met him on a podcast long ago. Again, it’s the punk rock community, the film community— communities of artists coming together.
CHN: I’m curious if you’ve got a favourite scene in the movie?
HB: Hmm. I really love when Jeremy [Holm] crawls up to the wolf cage and says that [Chelsea’s] home. Another reason I wanted the film to exist was because when I read the script, I said, “I wanna play the Ranger.” He’s hilarious and also frightening.
CHN: That’s part of what I love about the Ranger himself. He’s a perfect slasher villain. He’s ridiculous and scary at the same time. Reminds me of why I love Freddy Krueger.
HB: There’s an absurdity about his character, which is interesting. Jeremy did such an amazing job. I used to drive people back and forth to set in my horrible punk car, listening to horrible punk rock music, and hang out with Jeremy while everyone else was in back. Wonderful experience.
CHN: The showdown that the Ranger and Chelsea have near the end is fucking classic. Just a great finale for a villain and the protagonist. I can’t picture two other people in that scene, because I love them both— Jeremy’s a great actor, and Chloe’s such a fantastic, interesting young actress.
HB: Jenn’s casting eye is very, very strong.
CHN: I’m really excited to see more from Jenn. Everything she did with the film is incredible, from casting to the attention to detail. I love women in horror. Nowadays, we’re finally getting more representation, in front of and behind the camera. I think it’s a perspective desperately needed in horror. When people complain it’s a tired genre, I tend to wonder if maybe it wouldn’t solve things to have less dudes stories being told.
This may be a tired question, but as a woman who’s producing, and in the horror world, do you still find that it’s a ‘boys club’ or do you think that’s gradually starting to shift?
HB: I think it’s the job of producers to elevate stories and voices to create a better view. Because the powerful position is who holds the stories of the world, and the idea to be someone to allow for diverse stories of all backgrounds is very key when it comes to producing. You have to be inclusive of everyone. Even when you don’t understand the narrative. That’s part of why we’re putting things out there as artists. And my point-of-view as producer is to teach people about the world. You only know the world if you see and hear everything, even people outside your strata.
CHN: I was thinking about your career trajectory again. Any plans to do a narrative short or a feature? Or are you content with what you’re doing right now?
HB: Many people have brought this up. But at this time, I enjoy helping people make their movie. Because of where I come from, a world that’s sort of business and art together, it’s what I like doing. I don’t feel I’m done with that stage of my life, of being there creatively for my artists, and also understanding the marketplace, the business of stories, the business of spending money to realise your art. As a draftsman, I just need a pencil and a piece of paper to draw up an idea. But you’re raising a whole army to make a movie. To me, that’s an interesting process. And so much of it is grassroots.
CHN: Yeah, especially nowadays, filmmaking’s more accessible to people. Then there’s the online landscape, which is a lot different for promoting movies, and horror particularly, than it was maybe thirty years ago— fifteen or twenty, even.
HB: Very true. There’s a lot of stuff you see in theatres today that you might’ve only seen at a film festival years ago. There’s more drama-focused horror from big studios being shot beautifully, too. But I think, in general, people are starting to accept what the rest of us have always known, that horror’s for everyone, it’s everywhere, and people enjoy it. I’ll always watch horror at any kind of level— from studios, from indie labels. If there’s a horror movie on TV, I keep it on. I’m very attracted to it.
CHN: I’m always interested in the ways different communities, whatever they’re based around, react to horror, and what different people are afraid of, and how it brings people together in a sense. I’m sure there have been negative responses to the movie, that’s only natural. But there’s clearly been a connection, from women to punk rockers, and more, with the movie.
HB: Both negative or positive, critiques help you learn. That’s how I look at press, especially as someone who’s interviewed lots of people, and still does, and someone who writes about film— I’m always curious about peoples reaction to things. Because I see the horror fans of a certain section on my social media, for instance, but there’s a global fanbase, and everybody’s different. I think you don’t know what type of movie you’ve made until other people see it. Again, I go back to articles like yours, and you were able to see what we made, what we were aiming for, and that’s super cool.
CHN: Mainly, I think about my friends, who are mostly women, and a lot of them would’ve loved to see a protagonist like [Chelsea] in a slasher movie when they were younger. There have been great roles played by women in horror in the past. There’s just something different here. Chelsea changes those Final Girl rules, for what type of girl or woman is ‘allowed’ to survive the male slasher.
HB: The girl in the leather jacket who does drugs— yes. It’s a correction of Nightmare on Elm Street 3. She could’ve been the Final Girl. And that’s the reason people look at me and go, “You’re gonna die in a horror movie.” The Ranger helps correct that. She’s like, “No, I won’t.”
CHN: There’s a lot to love about the movie. It doesn’t have to be pinned as a feminine horror movie, or whatever label you want to stick on it. You can read it a lot of different ways. Still, I think it has a strong message underneath it that’s great for the genre, and great for women. I love seeing tropes in horror deconstructed, or changed, move forward, because that helps the genre grow and survive. The movie does that really well.
HB: Thank you. It’s been a wonderful, thoughtful interview. And we got to talk about the punk rock, which is great.
CHN: Thanks again, Heather. Super grateful for you taking the time out of your day to chat. Take care and good luck with whatever’s next.
The Ranger is available on Shudder now