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Schlock & Awe: A Chat with Horror Icon MICK GARRIS

Schlock & Awe: A Chat with Horror Icon MICK GARRIS

We’re doing something a little different this week in Schlock & Awe, because this column is not just about celebrating movies, it’s about celebrating and championing the people who make them. I’m not ashamed to admit that quite a few of the movies I’ve featured in this column over the years were introduced to me through the site Trailers from Hell, which allows filmmakers to do mini-commentaries over their favorite classic genre movie trailers. One such TFH Guru is writer-director-producer Mick Garris, creator of Masters of Horror and host of the new podcast Post Mortem. Mr. Garris was kind enough to speak to me about horror ambassadorship, anthology series, and adapting Stephen King.

“Well you know, I really just love doing it,” Garris said to me when I asked how he liked being one of horror’s great ambassadors. “As you know, nobody wants to possess their genre more than the people in horror. And I feel that way too. It’s a passion. Let’s face it, most of us are or were outsiders at the time of our media consumption height in childhood and young adulthood and the like.” And no matter how many he watches, Garris says every new horror flick refreshes his love anew. “It’s not like I’m choosing to be the custodian or curator of horror or even an ambassador,” he said, “but just that I’m as passionate as ever and I’m still as inquisitive as ever, which is why I continue to do interviews and things like that. It’s fun, it’s not to make a living, believe me.”

MG image_ photo credit Ryuhei Kitamura

Garris is part of a group of horror filmmakers that have supported each other’s work over the years, and many of those people have taken part in Trailers from Hell, started by Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins). It’s this kind of camaraderie that led to the creation of Garris’ late, beloved Showtime anthology series. “There are a series of dinners that I’ve been putting together and curating for many years that led to the creation of Masters of Horror. It was just a social thing where we’d get together around a table, the only requirement being that you’ve made horror movies that have been released.”

Because of this single stipulation for joining, the dinners are an ever-growing group, though one that’s taken a hiatus following a very sad occasion. “The last one was in honor of Wes Craven,” Garris shared. “There were 35 horror movie directors all in one place, but they ranged in age from nearly 80 to mid-20s, people who were making movies — and that’s been an important thing. A shark must swim or die. I think filmmakers in any community need to continue to evolve or die.”

Mick-Garris-Valerie

For those unaware, Masters of Horror was a two-season series from 2005 to 2007 in which each episode was a standalone story directed by different horror directors, a true anthology. This was followed up by one season of the NBC series Fear Itself, which had the same format but was done for broadcast TV (so swearing, violence, and nudity were right out). Garris’ first writing gig was the 1980s series Amazing Stories, so clearly he has an affinity for the anthology format.

“Now, ‘anthology’ means the same cast for one season story arc on a series like American Horror Story and it’ll be a totally different story arc next season,” Garris said, “but for me, I was raised on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and Tales from the Crypt; I want a different story every time.” After seeing filmmakers come in and do mini-movies their own way on Amazing Stories and Tales from the Crypt, Garris created Masters of Horror as a way to give his friends and contemporaries a chance to do movies their own way. “I was able to say to these great filmmakers, ‘not much time, not much money, but you can do whatever the f**k you want.'”

Masters of Horror‘s freedom even enticed John Carpenter to come out of his self-imposed retirement. “He’d been treated like s**t by the studios,” Garris said. “Then he had so much fun on Masters of Horror that that’s why he went back and did The Ward and that turned out to not be his favorite experience either… But we got Tobe Hooper to do great stuff, John Landis, Joe Dante. We were able to bring people over like Dario Argento and go to Japan and do it with Takashi Miike and it was really an amazing kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Mick-Garris-Shining

Garris teased that his next film will be an anthology horror film, in the vein of the recently released XX, of which he was a huge fan. “I’m working on putting together an anthology movie that will be coming together very soon. It’s kind of secret right now but we are well into it and just making something I think, for genre fans of which I count myself one, will be very, very happy with and excited about.”

Mr. Garris has the distinction of directing eight different film, TV movie, and miniseries based on the work of Stephen King. And King is a notoriously hard writer to adapt properly. Garris has done it successfully several times — the 1994 miniseries The Stand and 1997’s The Shining — and he says the key to making a King adaptation is not focusing on the scares. “It’s drama first and the horror is layered on top of that,” Garris shared. “If you don’t treat it like a very real world with very real people then what’s the point? If it’s all about the boo moments, I mean, you can do that anywhere, but if you get good actors and good performances and believable storytelling as the books have, then you’ve got it. King works so well because he has a very unique voice and it’s set in a world we can all identify with and we all live in.”

On top of King, Garris has also adapted the work of Clive Barker — the Masters of Horror episode “Valerie on the Stairs” — and he shared how different their approaches are. “They both are amazing, fantastic people,” he began, “but they come at storytelling from opposite directions. Stephen King takes a very real world and takes a left turn to where the unreal fits very comfortably into that real world, whereas Clive creates a very unreal world but makes it real. It comes from entirely the opposite direction but still creates a genuine sense of terror and fear and humanity. So I think basically it’s all Shakespeare.”

MG image 2_ photo credit Joe Russo

I honestly could have talked to Mr. Garris all day, and if you feel similarly, you’re in luck! He has recently launched a bi-monthly podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, in which he interviews horror luminaries. His first three episodes are currently available at time of writing (with interviews with Rob Zombie, a political discussion with Joe Dante and John Landis, and a talk with two of XX‘s directors, Jovanka Vuckovic and Karyn Kusama) and more are on the way. “I’m gonna be interviewing Walter Hill,” Garris said of future episodes, “and we also have things on tap with Stuart Gordon, Don Coscarelli, and Eli Roth.” (The Walter Hill episode was just released as of publication.)

Thanks, Mick Garris, for providing horror nerds like yours truly with even more to sink our teeth into.

Images: Trailers from Hell/Anchor Bay/Lakeside Productions/Ryuhei Kitamura/Joe Russo


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!


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