FREAKY FRIDAY: An Interview with Film Critic, Matt Donato

By Jordan Gerdes

Today, I get to bring you a conversation with one of the funniest film critics in the horror community. Matt Donato was an early follow in my introduction to horror film twitter, and continues to be one of my favorites. From chatting about bizarro films to handing out friendly advice to anyone wanting to get into the community, this man is the follow for you. So here he is, Howlin’ Matt Donato.

FoF: First and foremost, tell us about yourself.
Hello, Features Of Fright! Everyone calls me “Donato” or “Nato” because there are too many Matt’s already, I’m aggressively Aries, and spend every waking moment outside day job monotony immersed in everything the horror genre offers. Other hobbies include brewery tours, finding the world’s greatest cheeseburger (OK, any type of food), skee-ball (seriously, I’m in a league), and jammin’ some crunchy guitar blasts out my amplifier (when it’s early enough).

FoF: What do you do? And why do you like it?
I’m a film critic! Film journalist? Whatever you call it, I write about movies on the internet with a ravenous focus on horror. My reviews/features/interviews can be found on /Film, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, (in) Fangoria, Atom Tickets, We Got This Covered, Flickering Myth, SyFy Wire, and Fandom. As I said, I “words” a lot – but it’s what fuels my lust for life and pursuit of navigating horror cinema’s landscape in an ongoing effort to provide the most complete, leveled, valued recommendations your way.

FoF: Explain a little bit of your process? Where do you find your inspiration?
I…don’t know? I graduated from Hofstra’s business program with a BA in “Business
Management” – nothing to do with filmmaking or communications – but somehow ended up falling in love with cinema along the way. I’m driven by the passion of filmmakers and what it unlocks inside myself, as movies have transformed from mindless entertainment to these keys that unlock understanding, comfort, and countless thrills. Despite what Twitter trolls might argue, film critics adore cinema, and that’s what keeps us/me going. Whenever a random message comes through from someone saying “I watched and loved [insert movie] because of your review,” my heart flutters. Whenever I touch down in a new festival city, it’s like summer camp all over again – surrounded by amazing critics/creators I now proudly call friends. Whenever an
indie director reaches out not only to thank me for writing about his/her movie, but watching it in the first place, that’s where it’s all worth it.
Also, pull-quotes. No shame. That shit’s cool and I don’t care what others think about critics who love to see their work in trailers or on posters. Journalism is mostly a stress-inducing, unstable, thankless, neverending gig (rollercoaster of highs and lows) – you’ve gotta find perks somewhere!

FoF: What drew you to horror in the first place?
I grew up afraid of everything. No moms or dads introducing 80s nostalgia classics way too young or me sneaking downstairs past midnight, popping in a contraband horror rental whilst everyone sleeps. Throughout my childhood, I was an anxious wreck (my mom still busts my chops for being terrified of the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids 3D experience at Disney because – if my memory serves me – I was afraid a giant spider would appear). Chucky from Child’s Play was my nemesis for so long (went long-form on that history already for /Film). Even his stiched- up Seed Of Chucky sparked hyperventilation as I dodged the “Horror” section at my local Blockbuster. Then, one day, an ex got me riding roller coasters and challenging preconceived barriers in a way dared chase thrills. Life’s worth livin’, right? From there my world became macabre humor, slasher classics, and anything that’d fill the adrenaline void left by comfort zone
fluffiness. I’ve discovered so much about myself thanks to horror; overcome fears. Horror’s not about the blood and guts. It’s a genre bursting with empathy, boundless creativity, ingenuity, practical effects mastercrafts, and screamy Saturday nights with friends after discovering a newfound trashterpiece. Plus what other genre has dedicated festivals, cons, and comradery? None.

FoF: What is your favorite horror work? (Movie, Show, Art, Book, whatever you want)
Damn – the question every film critic skirts around (too many answers). I’ve gotta go movies because, well, obvious reasons. But my favorite horror movie? Over the last few years, it’s become more and more clear. My favorite horror movie of all time – at this moment – is Dan O’Bannon’s The Return Of The Living Dead. Horror comedies are the prime intersection of my personality represented on screen, but the additions of punk-rock soundtracks and practical Tarman makeup elevate this anarchistic zombie flick well above laugh-barrel yucks. James Karen, Linnea Quigley, Clu Gulager, Miguel A. Núñez Jr. – character actors flood this graveyard rave, but never make a mockery of the
horror genre. Pitch-chaotic humor draws malicious laughs while undead attackers phone for more “Brains,” adding dialogue into Romero’s mythos (read into the film’s production backstory – quite interesting). So many quotable lines – “You think this is a fu**ing costume…”/“I like death with sex…” – and infinite needle drops, none better than 45 Grave’s “Partytime.” There’s a reason my first live Drinking With The Dread event was to The Return Of The Living Dead, and no surprise when it brought Videology’s cinema down (yes, I create monthly horror-themed drinking games for Dread Central).
Sorry, I could go on about this movie all day – and have.

FoF: What has been your favorite thing you have gotten to work on doing this?
The list runs deep. Spending a weekend in Miami interviewing Dwayne Johnson? Traveling internationally for film festivals? Collaborations with genius genre voices on some super cool projects? But my favorite “thing” I’ve worked on that my writing opened doors for is the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. I’m just a cog in the larger machine of directors, programmers, and so many devoted minds to the cause, but there’s something so fulfilling about being part of the magic. Three years in and BHFF is compiling lineups that can compete anywhere across the globe, and the entire crew couldn’t be made up of bigger rockstars. I’m a lucky man for many reasons – my ties to BHFF are eternally life-giving.

FoF: What role do you think your specific style of art/work plays in the community overall?
This is an interesting question to answer because I’m not egotistical enough to believe my reviews can make or break a movie – nor do I *want* them to destroy a filmmaker. Truthfully, I want my place in the community to be the constant promotion of underseen horror gems and trustworthy critique. An always-blipping radar for exciting releases on the horizon. I want to connect with readers on a conversational level while also offering sharp criticism and understanding of the horror genre as it evolves, reflects modern climates, and thrives as an art form. Whether you’re reading a positive or negative review of mine, my goal is for the reader to leave with a verdict on if they’ll like the particular movie or not. Especially when writing a negative review, I try and highlight the kind of crowds who’d enjoy the very title I did not (every film has an audience). That, to me, is most important.

Also, I’m here to cut through the bullshit hot takes and hit pieces that circulate internet culture, because ya boi gets feisty sometimes. I want my dying contribution to this rocksteady community to be a lifetime of work defined by passionate, articulate, worthwhile horror cinema coverage. That’s it.

FoF: Anything you are working on that you want to highlight?
At the moment, I want to highlight my constant stream of writing! Follow me on Twitter to keep up with my weekly reviews/features, including my coverage of over 7 (?!) horror film festivals peryear, premiere events, and interviews with horror creators. I also have a Christmas horror themed podcast hosted by Dread Central called “Silent Night, Deadly Podcast,” because who *doesn’t” want deep-dives into Xmas depravity two times a month, all year? I’m a 24/7 machine, hop on board.

FoF: Anything else you’d like to say/add?
Can I just say how rad it’s been to get involved in the horror community? The level of support and friendship and collaboration is out of this world. From opportunities like this very interview to lifelong relationships I’ve found, no single genre roots itself in unification like horror. It’s not just freaks who worship the devil as mistaken outsiders might want you to think. I’m grateful every day, and can’t stress that enough. I hope, through my work, I can express even *half* the gratitude that swells inside me. Much love, fam!

You can keep up with Matt’s writing at his website as well as all the following spots,
SlashFilm | We Got This Covered | Bloody Disgusting | Dread Central | Flickering Myth Twitter | Rotten Tomatoes | Metacritic | Instagram | Letterboxd | Atom Tickets

A huge thank you to Matt for coming on and chatting with me, and you need to follow him. He continues to be one of my favorite film journalists in the community and he is funny as hell.

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