Sitting in a Toronto hotel suite, bedecked in low-pulled poorboy cap, Phantom of the Paradise T-shirt and signature black aviators, former Guns N' Roses guitarist Saul (Slash) Hudson exudes pride in the first movie he's produced. It's called Nothing Left to Fear, and it's a horror movie made in the creepy minimalist tradition on which Hudson was raised. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray next month, and this week he presented the movie in Toronto at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas as part of the nationwide Sinister Cinema event.
He starts our chat by saying how he comes by horror honestly: "I was born in England and I lived in this really small little village called Stoke-on-Trent, and it rained pretty much all the time. And if it wasn't raining, it was this thick fog, and in that setting my dad was a big horror guy."
His dad would play him cassettes of Orson Welles's radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, and take him to Peter Cushing and Vincent Price movies.
"As a kid, I was naturally attracted to anything involving witches and goblins and all that stuff," Hudson says. "So snakes and spiders, all of it was just a fascination for me. I couldn't define it. It was just the way it was."
When he moved to L.A. to live with his mother, Hudson's propensity for scary things was further nurtured.
"My mom was also a big horror-movie fanatic. She turned me on to all kinds of cool stuff. So between the two of them, I saw a lot."
Was there a defining horror-movie moment? One that might point the way to a superstar guitarist's sideline interest in scaring the heck out of people?
Hudson thinks for a moment. "The one defining moment that I do remember, like very specific, was seeing Night of the Living Dead on a double feature with The Exorcist. It was not too long after The Exorcist had come out, so I could only have been like eight years old. And I saw it in the back of a Volkswagen Bug at a drive-in with my mom and her best friend. The Exorcist didn't scare me, but something about the gritty, sort of brutal nakedness of Night of the Living Dead just scared the shit out of me."
A classic of no-budget, suggestive horror that spawned the walking-dead craze that still marches on, Night of the Living Dead did more than scare the young Slash: It convinced him that less is more when it comes to giving people the creeps.
Shot in 20 days on a low budget by first-time director Anthony Leonardi III, Nothing Left to Fear is about a minister's family arriving in a small town that's slightly out of sorts. Demonic possession ensues, and then a sacrificial frenzy that the whole town might be in on.
For Hudson, the script was a direct hit in his personal horror strike zone: "I liked having that innocent family on this seemingly Will of God kind of trip in this nice rural community, being welcomed by all the neighbours and that kind of thing, and then the dark turn. And that's inherently influenced by movies from the seventies and late-sixties. I think Rosemary's Baby was the universal thing that Anthony and my producing partner, Rob Eric, and I all loved. It's a slow burn, and then things happen. But it wasn't the kind of Friday the 13th kind of thing, it was a more subtle and cool and haunting, almost sombre kind of creepiness."
Hudson helped compose the score for the movie, mostly because he wanted to preserve that sense of low-level, everyday menace – a sinister hum just below the surface of normality.
"The most important essence of horror movies, I think, is just that," he says.
"It's the things that you see every day all of a sudden going freakishly wrong and being inexplicable. And I think that's what scares us."
While the movie was challenging to finance, and favours had to be called in to get it finished, Hudson is keen to do it again. While preparing for a third solo album, he's also on the prowl for scripts that demonstrate the classic Night of the Living Dead sense of skin-crawling restraint. Slash may be 48 now, but he vividly remembers that kid who couldn't resist those bumps in the night.
"When I was a kid, I always loved that house in the neighbourhood that nobody lived in," he says. "I was always intrigued by that. Actually there was one next door to the school that I went to. I don't know if I was [in] like first or second grade, but for some reason I ditched school that day and I spent the entire day in this abandoned house with all the weeds growing up. I always loved that kind of stuff.
"In this story and in the future," he adds, "what I'm looking for is trying to find that thing that scares us to our core, besides just being knifed to death."