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INT: Mick Garris

Aug. 21, 2001by: The Arrow

The Arrow interviews Mick Garris

I always dug Mick Garris. The man is obviously a fan of the genre and his affinity for it shines through his films. Witness the morbid but beautiful feel of "Sleepwalkers", the taboo-breaking "Psycho 4" or his "tour de force" adaptation of Stephen King's un-filmable book "The Stand" (he filmed it and it came out great!) and be convinced. I'm happy we have Mick on our team, that's fer sure. I got to toss a couple of questions his way and this is what he had to say.

1- What's your favorite horror movie?

MG: Thats a tough choice. I dont really think in favorites, and if I did, it would have to be in specific kinds of films. My favorite old Universal classic would probably be either FRANKENSTEIN or its BRIDE. My favorite recent, serious horror film might be SIXTH SENSE or STIR OF ECHOES. Favorite 80s humorous horror might be AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING; serious 80s stuff might be DEAD RINGERS, THE THING and THE FLY. In the 70s, probably THE EXORCIST and CARRIE. PSYCHO for the 60s, the obvious stuff.

2- Looking back, how do you feel about "Critters 2"? Do you think it improved on the original? What would you have done differently today on that picture?

MG: It would be disastrous to think Im going to go out and make a BETTER damned CRITTERS than "Critters". All I could do was make the best sequel to a low-budget "Gremlins" rip-off as I could. Im proud of the movie, which I think is better than a $4 million little creature feature could have been. There are some nice, surprising moments (at least in the context of its time1988) and some good performances. And it was nicely shot by Russell Carpenter, who won an Oscar for shooting TITANIC. It was my first movie, and I was just starting to learn.

3- "Psycho 4" wound up being a pretty good film for a sequel to a 1960 film. It was very daring (that incest stuff) and the cast was spot on (props for the Henry Thomas casting). Any funny set stories that you can share with us?

MG: There wasnt a lot funny going on at the time. It was shot in 4 weeks at the Universal Studios in Orlando, and was really more a theme-park attraction for the studio than a movie (at least in their eyes, I think). So we would be shooting an intense scene outside the Bates house, and 50 tourists in sandals and Bermuda shorts would be quaffing beers and watching from behind a tape 50 feet away. Not real easy on the actors.

The cast was pretty remarkable, and it was great to have a script by Joe Stefano, who wrote the original PSYCHO script. Olivia Hussey was wonderful to work with, as was Henry Thomas. Henry got so into one of the slashing scenes that he hurt himself. As his Norman is committing a kill, he slams a butcher knife into a piece of balsa wood at the bottom of a bucket filled with movie blood. He hit so hard, that the blade of the knife slid right through the meat of his palm, and required stitches. But never a complaint. Id love to work with him again.

Perkins was sick with AIDS at the time, although he claimed not to be. The tabloids were pronouncing it at the time, but we were quite satisfied with his denials when it came to insurance and all. He was quite a character, and, thank God, really liked the movie when he saw it finished. He had wanted to direct it, but the studio was not happy with PSYCHO III, and wouldnt let him. So I came on in a less-than-inviting atmosphere.

4- "Sleepwalkers" was also pretty daring (more incest stuff). I have to ask this: The corn on the cob murder...who was responsible for that: King or you?

MG: That was in Kings script, and was very much his brilliant idea. But we committed it to film with relish.

5- Congratulations on "The Stand" mini-series. I never thought it could be done...but you did it. The film came out pretty good. Looking back, what was the hardest thing about doing that picture?

MG: Everything was hard about doing that picture. Ive talked about it plenty over the years (and theres six hours of commentary from King and a bunch of the actors and me on the DVD), but it shot for five months in six states, where the weather NEVER cooperated, with a cast of 126 speaking roles. We prepped for three months in Salt Lake City before shooting, and did all the post-production in New York for five months. I live in LA, and I was away from home for over a year. That was probably the toughest part of all. Though my wife Cynthia had a nice part in the film, it still kept us apart more that it brought us together. Its difficult in a way you dont think about when you think about what its like to make a movie.

6- I've heard that you prefer your version of "The Shining" to Kubrick's version. Can you expand on why? How did King feel about the finished project?

MG: I have never said I prefer our SHINING to Kubricks. I like the film a lot as a Kubrick film, though when it came out, I was very disappointed with it as a film version of Kings book, which was, to me, a masterpiece. It was great to be able to make a film from Kings own script, and he claimed to be very happy with it. It is no secret that he was not entranced by the Kubrick film. After the success of THE STAND, ABC came to Steve and asked him what hed like to do next. It was his idea to do THE SHINING, more directly based on the book.

7- Having directed many genre films for TV, how much did the censors get in your way? Did you ever have to give up a precious shot to appease the censors?

MG: Always. And not just for TV. I had to cut parts of 9 scenes to get an R rating for SLEEPWALKERS. It went back to the MPAA 5 times before we finally got our R. The network was pretty hard on THE STAND, but not at all on THE SHINING, which was much more brutal. We only had to make two small trims for them.

8- So far you've done mostly sequels ("Critters 2", "Psycho 4") or Stephen King adaptations ("The Stand"," The Shining"). When are we going to see an original film written and directed by Mick Garris? Will it be horror?

MG: I wish I knew. Ive done a lot of work outside the genre, but little of it has ever been produced. I would love to do an original, but its the King work and other material by best-selling authors or high profile producers that goes in front of the camera. I would love to do original work of my own, maybe adapting some of the stories from my book. If it wasnt in the horror realm, it would still be, uh, not exactly mainstream.

9- Speaking of King, I heard that you have two King-related projects coming up: "Desperation" and "Talisman". Care to comment on them?

MG: DESPERATION is the most on-again off-again project Ive ever been involved with. We were going to do it with New Line a few years ago, but they backed out. I think people are afraid to do pure, pedal to the metal horror that isnt sprinkled with self-referential humor centered around teenagers. And it should be rough. Its possible that it might become a miniseries, but who knows?

10- Of all the films you have directed which one is the closest to your heart and why? Which one do you wish you had never done?

MG: If I wished I had never done it, I didnt do it. I have a fondness for everything Ive made, for various reasons. You dont dislike a child because hes not handsome or bright. You love the geeks, too. But my favorite bounces back and forth between THE STAND and THE SHINING. I think THE STAND because it touched such a nerve. I never thought Id get the chance to make something that everybody saw, and most of them apparently liked. But THE STAND seems to have found that place. It keeps getting voted best miniseries, and people always talk about it with me.

I think THE SHINING is actually a better example of pure filmmaking. It was made in a much more controlled environment, and I think thatat least to meit shows. It was the first time I worked with Shelly Johnson as director of photography, and it really feels pretty complete. Of course, that said, there isnt a film Ive done that doesnt make me wince and wish Id done it all much, much better, including the above.

11- What horror movie era do you prefer? I personally think the 80's had the best horror films. Then again, I grew up with them in that time frame.

MG: Well, the 90s, with a few exceptions, was pretty dismal, filled with timid little formula copycats. The 80s had a lot of verve, imagination, intensity. Of course, they also had all those shitty, unimaginative slasher movies, but thats the price you pay. There were notables from every era, and like I said in response to the first question, there is much to like about each era. I really couldnt choose.

I'd like to thank Mick for his time. Come back to the page anytime and keep up the great work!

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