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An Interview with Tyler Smith, Director of Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2021

Films directed by Tyler Smith on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new documentary Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror - in a few words, what is it about?

 

This documentary was intended as a defense of the horror genre. As a Christian myself, I've heard countless objections to horror, with people calling it "ugly", "evil", and even "demonic". They see the narrative and thematic interaction with the darker elements of life as potentially dangerous. I wholeheartedly disagree and wanted to make the argument that horror can allow both artist and audience to engage with these elements in a thoughtful and helpful way. I wanted to help a Christian audience see the value in a genre that they've been very comfortable dismissing.

 

What inspired you to make this documentary in the first place, and are you personally a fan of the horror genre?

 

I really like horror. I think that the extreme nature of the stories and imagery can allow filmmakers to explore certain concepts and principles in a more frank and imaginative way. There are horror films that have been so emotionally effective for me that they've actually changed the way I've looked at things like happiness, grief, and faith.

 

Going through your filmography, one can't but notice that you've come back to the topic faith and filmmaking ever so often (including a talk show of just that name) - so why is that, and, if you don't mind a personal question, do you consider yourself a religious man, and your take on (organized) religion as such?

 

I was raised in the Christian church and came to accept it as my own in my teens. As I've gotten older, I've definitely come to understand that, while I do believe that Christianity is true, many of its followers (including me) are very broken people who try to embrace extremes that aren't actually found in the Bible as a way to deal with some of the more abstract and difficult aspects of the faith. This definitely has impacted the way a lot of my fellow Christians have approached film and has sometimes put me at odds with more mainstream Christian understanding of art and culture.

 

Do talk about the research you did for Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror for a bit!

 

This wasn't necessarily a research-heavy project so much as an analytical project. As we discuss the various themes that horror movies explore, we certainly read about lesser-known examples of those themes. We wanted to be somewhat comprehensive within our specific boundaries, so we tried to incorporate as many smaller titles as we could.

 

What can you tell us about your movie's co-writer Reed Lackey, and what was your collaboration like?

 

Reed is my go-to resource for horror. He's a brilliant writer and a very out-of-the-box thinker. I first met him as a fan of my podcasts Battleship Pretension and More Than One Lesson, and we became fast friends. Soon, he was one of my co-hosts for More Than One Lesson, which approaches film from a Christian perspective, before going on to host his own podcast, The Fear of God, which explores the intersection of horror and faith. When the time came to make this film, there was no question in my mind that I'd want him to be involved in some capacity.

 

Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror covers a lot of ground when it comes to horror and faith - so are there any stories you regret not having covered in your movie?

 

Yeah, I decided early in the process that we'd be focusing primarily on western horror, specifically horror movies produced in Europe and the United States. This was partially to keep the runtime down, but also to keep our intended audience interested. It was already a tall order to ask them to entertain the notion that there is value in horror, but I think they would have specifically lost interest if we started to incorporate horror from Eastern countries. I feel bad about that, because obviously countries like Japan and Korea have made huge contributions to the world of horror, but we opted to go with what might be seen as more accessible.

 

Do talk about Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror's host Bill Oberst jr [Bill Oberst jr interview - click here], what made him perfect for your movie, and what was working with him like? 

 

I first interviewed Bill on my podcast More Than One Lesson several years ago. I was fascinated by his story. It's one thing to be a Christian who likes watching horror movies, but it's quite another to be a Christian actively working in that world. I know that Bill has had to put up with a lot of criticism in the Christian world for his career choices, but he speaks so eloquently about it that I thought he might be interested in the project. He was very enthusiastic about it and was a joy to work with. He was always willing to do multiple takes because he so believed in the purpose of the film.

 

What can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

I don't consider myself much of a director, really. These aren't narrative films and aren't even really traditional documentaries. They're more like video essays, which I see more as an extension of my film criticism than something inherently artistic. Nevertheless, I suppose my approach to this film, both in the writing and the editing, was to seamlessly flow from one topic to another, showing how horror can connect so completely to itself.

 

The $64-question of course, where can Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror be seen?

 

The film is available on the ReDiscover Television streaming platform and on Vimeo on Demand.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror?

 

So far, there hasn't been much reaction. The film is very small, but the handful of reviews that we have received have been mostly positive. They seem to understand and sympathize with what we were trying to do with the film, which I appreciate.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

No projects on the horizon. As I said, I don't really consider myself a filmmaker, so I'm not actively looking for another film to make. I work primarily as a college professor, teaching film history and aesthetics. If another idea comes up, I'll pursue it, but I don't see that happening for a while.

 

What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and documentary filmmaking at that, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I have a Bachelor's Degree from Columbia College Chicago in Film and a Master's Degree from UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies, so I at least have some understanding of how to make a film, but my concentration was mostly on film theory and analysis more than production. I first moved to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter, but moved away from that pretty quickly when I discovered how much I love film criticism. I really see this film - and my previous one, Reel Redemption: The Rise of Christian Cinema - as an extension of my criticism.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror?

 

I made a microbudget documentary called Reel Redemption: The Rise of Christian Cinema in 2019. It was released in 2020 and received some very nice reviews. It is about the relationship between Hollywood and the Christian community, ultimately culminating in the emergence of faith-based film in the last 20 years. I'm pretty proud of it.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

There are scores of filmmakers that I find inspiring in general, but the two that most inspired this film are Thom Andersen, who made a marvelous documentary called Los Angeles Plays Itself, and Rodney Ascher, whose Room 237 was a huge stylistic influence on this movie.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

My personal favorite top ten movies are: Lawrence of Arabia, 12 Angry Men, Werckmeister Harmonies, Alien, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Night of the Hunter, Bicycle Thieves, Jaws, Citizen Kane, Nashville.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

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Great Britain (a.k.a. the United Kingdom)  amazon.co.uk

Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

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Struck by Lightning, Vice, God's Not Dead, Demolition, Sausage Party, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, just to name a few recent ones.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

tylersmith82.com

battleshippretension.com

morethanonelesson.com

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Nothing I can think of.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD