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INT: Mick Garris

11.01.2006by: Matt Withers
JOBLO.COM/AITH INTERVIEWS MICK GARRIS

Got a chance to join in on a teleconference with Mick Garris last week since Season 2 of the MASTERS OF HORROR premiered Friday night. Gotta say that the man was a really engaging and knowledgeable guy, who didn't even get mad at some of the amateur hour questions being posed (seriously folks, do your research before an interview). I've tried to whittle it all down to just the juicy interesting stuff, and leave out boneheaded portions such as someone asking a man who is directing an episode he wrote, why he didn't write the episode he's directing!

Anyway, on to the meat!

Did the fate of Imprint last season have any direct impact on the freedoms for the directors this season, or the approach they all took to picking projects?

You know, absolutely not. I know a lot of people were afraid that that might be the case, but it was very specifically a cultural thing. It aired in Japan, as well as played theatrically in Japan. It aired unimpeded in Australia, in the U.K., in several other nations, but in North America, both in the U.S. and in Canada, it did not air.

It's very much a Miike movie, the movie Miike wanted to make, and the reason why we wanted Miike in the first place was to express his vision. And Showtime doesn't produce the show, they license the show. They have the right not to air any episode, but because they don't produce it, they can't come in and make changes. So, everybody felt – everybody on the producer's side felt, anyway – that we would much rather have it unadulterated and be true to what the series was founded upon, and bring it out on DVD the way it was intended.

I know that Miike San was disappointed that it didn't air in the United States, and might have even been willing to make some changes to get to air, but we really didn't want to set that kind of a precedent. And to Showtime's credit, they did not try to talk us into making changes. It wasn't a choice that we made, we would much rather have had it air. But it did not influence anything this year. I think you'll see we do stretch the envelope as much as ever. Just maybe not to the point of Imprint.

Going over the titles of some of the episodes you have this season, Pro-Life, Right to Die, things like that, it seems like you're definitely pushing that controversial content a little this year, like you did last year with the Joe Dante one.

The success that Homecoming had last year certainly inspired other people to go for controversial topics. Nobody is out to preach. Homecoming might have been a little preachy, but in a way I found endearing. But I think John Landis put it really well last year, when he was interviewed, he said, "When we were told we could do whatever we wanted, Joe did something important and I did something silly with Deer Woman."

And this year, I think other people thought it would be interesting to tackle social and political issues, but never at the sacrifice of the story. I mean, Right to Die is a definite horror story, it's a ghost story that is set in that field. Pro Life is a monster movie, but it has that theme at the heart of it. So, yes there's – and The Washingtonians is something that is also politically relevant right now. So I think the filmmakers felt free because of what happened with Homecoming, to tell stories that would straddle issues.

Why do you think horror films have seen such a resurgence?

Well, I think in times of social and political strife, they often seem to come up again. The horror film is something that, like its subjects, will never die. It will go into remission for a while, but then blooms again in its own form.

As in the case of the post-nuclear big bug movies, the post-World War II Universal Pictures, 1930s Universal Pictures that happened starting with the market crash in '29 was followed by a huge resurgence in that, and with what we're going through now, there will be a popular horror film that kind of touches on the national psyche. And people want to see more of it.

I would love to think that Masters of Horror may have been influential in having people's attention peaked again.

Do you think Masters of Horror was trying to bring it to a higher level, to be more than just shock value?

Well, that's what we would like, is to have the broadest possible definition of horror. Horror can be literate, it can be smart, it can just be rude and assaultive. We'd like all of them to be smart and scary, but we also don't want the umbrella. It's not Mick Garris's Masters of Horror. It's the Masters of Horror because each of these guys has a personality, a cinematic personality that they can best express. And so, we don’t get in the way of what the story is that they want to tell. What we ask for is smart and scary. And some of them are more literate, or literary than others, but we are drawn from a lot of literary sources this year. We have stories by Clive Barker, and Poe, and Bentley Little and all these published authors that are the antecedents to the films that come from them.

Do you think there are any more taboos that haven't been broken, like Hitchcock broke it by having a toilet flush onscreen. But now when Takashi's Masters of Horror was banned and then they released it on DVD, what do you think is the next taboo to be broken?

I don't know. I think Imprint goes as far as I want to see, and even a little further in some cases. I'm sure there are taboos to break that I would not want to imagine. I would imagine that one day a snuff film will become a reality. I don't know if it will ever be broadly distributed or available legally, but I'm sure that that's going to exist. There are certainly taboos that are going to be broken that none of us are going to be happy with at one point.

Could you talk a little bit about the premier episode, The Damned Thing, and why you chose that one to kick off the sixth season?

We had to choose from one of the films that was completed. And Tobe is such a grand master of the genre, we wanted to start with one of the real major names. And the Ambrose Bierce story is a true classic. Admittedly, this is a loose adaptation of that Bierce story, but it has a lot of classic elements that I think are what we want to represent the show with. There's a lot of tension in it, there's a lot of mystery in it, and it's a true Tobe Hooper film. It's very Texan in its outlook, and we just felt that it was a really – a great way to start the series, with this kind of classic Tobe Hooper telling of this classic Ambrose Bierce story.

Do you find yourself getting calls from directors who want to be a part of the series, or are you still going after people that you haven't heard from yet?

We definitely get lots of calls from people who want to be a part of this, and there are a ton of people that we've been in conversations with that we've not been able to get yet, that it's all a matter of timing. Because of the way the show is made, we shoot them all back to back like a television series with continuing crews. Every ten days we start a new one, so it has to fit specifically into that slot. And that's one of the biggest problems, is getting all of these feature film directors to take a couple months out of their life and commit to doing this.

The people we've talked to who we haven't been able to schedule yet are people like Guillermo del Toro and Rob Zombie and Wes Craven and a whole bunch of other people that we hope we'll be able to get if we get a third season.

Would Eli Roth be one of the directors?

Yes, we definitely talked to Eli, but he's in Prague shooting Hostel 2 right now, and once you have a hit film, getting two months out of your life to do a ten-day shoot and the pre and post production, it becomes incredibly complicated. But we'd love to get Eli to do one.

How did you select the new directors? Was it purely a case of availability, or were there particular quirks or traits that you were looking for?

Well, we want to get the broadest definition of what horror is. And we've tried to get as many different types of horror filmmakers involved as possible, which is why we've reached internationally as well. Peter Medak is somebody we reached out to, because I think The Changeling is probably one of the great ghost films of all time. Tom Holland is someone I've known for years; he did Child's Play, he did Fright Night, and those are just classics of the genre, and have these very specific personalities.

I've known Ernest Dickerson for a long time and I thought he would be a great contribution and bring a new form to it, and was delighted that he chose the script that I had written to attack. And then Rob Schmidt is our Lucky McKee this year. Rob came in, and he had done a great job with Wrong Turn. He's a terrific guy, and a very good filmmaker, and he came in to do Right to Die and made it very much his own, did a great job with it.

How much input do you have into the DVD releases?

Not a whole lot. I mean, I could certainly ask for things to be changed if I wanted to at a certain point, but Anchor Bay has done a fantastic job with them. So I haven't really needed to have much input. They did a great job. The only thing I was not happy about – I like the style where all of the packaging matched, but I really wasn't thrilled with the artwork. Some of the other directors felt the same way. Some of the artwork, the drawings of the directors themselves were not the best. But other than that, as far as all the content on the discs themselves, I couldn't be happier.

Any episodes from this season, outside, of course of the two you're directly involved in that you're particularly looking forward to?

I know this sounds like smoke, but I really think Season 2 is even stronger than Season 1. Some of the things that are really unique that don't kind of fall under the normal rubric of the standard horror film. I'm a huge fan of Brad Anderson. He did The Machinist and Session 9. And those are very intense, very personal, very quiet horror movies that don't have much to do with blood and guts and thunder.

And he did an episode called Sounds Like, that I think is a masterpiece. I think it's really great. Joe Dante's Screwfly Solution is one of the least humorous things he's ever done. It's the darkest thing he's ever done. And I think it's great. Stuart Gordon did something really unique with The Black Cat, in that he blended the life of Edgar Allan Poe played by Jeffery Combs, and his 14 year old cousin who was his wife, the story of their lives, he blended it with the short story of The Black Cat and did something really special and powerful and unique there.

I think The Damned Thing is extraordinary; I think Family turned out really well, John Landis's. That script was the least funny thing I think John has ever directed, but you can't get a John Landis film and not have humor show up in it. The Carpenter thing, Pro-Life, I think, is really good. I really do think it's become a much more adventurous year of horror films for the series.

So was that a conscious decision to head toward darker episodes? Because I know a lot of people were complaining about the more comedic aspect – I love them myself – but a lot of people were complaining that it was sort of more of a Tales From The Crypt-ish kind of thing, you know, funny episodes.

Right. Well the last thing we wanted to be was Tales From The Crypt, because that had an attitude that was the same every week. Which was great for that show, but we wanted this to be much more varied. And, yeah, there was humor. I think the ones that had humor worked really well, there were plenty of them that didn't. Like Toby's episode last year, Dance of the Dead and some of the others. Certainly, Dreams in the Witch House was not a laugh riot.

But I think what happened was, when the show worked, Season 1, and it was well received by the fans and even got, to our astonishment, great reviews by the mainstream press, I think it unlocked the filmmakers to go for something, to realize, "Oh, we really can do what we want, and we really can make something that's kind of quiet and personal if we choose, or something more overt, if we choose."

And I think it allowed them – and again, with people like Joe Dante doing Homecoming and other kinds of shows that were done, it made them think, "Well, what else can I do that's really, really going to be different and really going to reflect my filmmaking personality?" Yeah, it's darker this year.

I just watched Halloween, and I still think it's better than most of the films that I've seen in the last 10, 15 years, in terms of horror. Why do you think that is, that the originals stand up so much more than the remakes?

Well, it's interesting. I am of an age where my hair is gray, and so I don't know if it's the nostalgia factor, but I would love to take someone who's 20 years old, and completely a blank slate, take them to see the original Halloween and see how it plays with them. Take them to see the original Hills Have Eyes, Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho, all these things, and see. Because they've got a history of increasingly desensitizing stuff.

And I just wonder. We're not making these shows for teenagers. We hope that they'll embrace it as well, but we think there are people who are my age and even older who are horror fans and are interested. And maybe it's the opportunity. But a show like Sounds Like, the Brad Anderson one, is more about internal horror than it is about blood and guts. But I don't know. I can't speak for how the other films play now. I agree with you that I'd rather see Halloween than I would a movie with a number at the end of it that came out this year. I think part of it also has to do with marketing. I think everything is about the trailer and the 30-second TV spots and getting kids in on the weekend. And to do that, you toot the horn of the familiar and hope that that's a clarion call to the zombie walk to the theater. How's that for mixing a dozen metaphors?

Speaking of Halloween, do you think Carpenter's new episode may be too much of a blood fest?

Well, that's just entirely a matter of taste. I think there are movies that are just blood fests, and that are not stories being told. I think Carpenter's is a really terrific story and it's a really good screenplay that does go over the top at times. But again, horror is supposed to be transgressive and make you uncomfortable, just by its very definition.

However, I would love tension and suspense to play a major part of it, and I think in most of our shows, it does. And I think in most of the theatrical horror films of recent years, it's not been a big part of it.

When you guys were at the dinners, what was your big – did people share with you? I'm sure they want to challenge themselves as filmmakers.

Those dinners were mostly social events, but we did talk about it, and we did talk about, "Boy, wouldn't it be nice to make stories that we would like to tell." Carpenter doesn't work that often, not because he doesn't get offered movies, but he doesn't have to work if he doesn't want to. And he's certainly not getting rich doing a couple of Masters of Horror episodes, where we pay scale to the directors and to the writers.

But there were a couple of stories that he really responded to, and he had a great time doing the first one and realized, you know, this is really fun. And came back and did a second. And yeah, we definitely – that's how the show came about. We talked about the frustration of what the genre had become a couple of years ago, and it was pretty distressing and disappointing. I'm somebody who used to go to the movies three or four times a week, and if I go once a week, that's a lot, these days. And it's not just horror, I think movies in general have definitely hit the skids, creatively, for a while, and I think the studios have kind of brought it on themselves.

And why did Showtime respond, do you think, when you first –

I think, for me – for Showtime, they weren't looking for a series when we got the commitment. A company called IDT, which is now Starz Entertainment, Starz Media, they own the Anchor Bay DVD company. And we were going to make the movies even without a network. But we knew it would be better if we had one. Showtime wasn't looking for this program, but when it came to this doorstep, they saw the value of it. And, you know, part of this is a real star fucking thing. We've got John Carpenter and Toby Hooper and John Landis and Stuart Gordon and all these...

But it also gives a series – an anthology horror series – a hook that you can hang on to, and a sort of guarantee of quality, if you like the show. If you don't like the show, maybe not. But –

Do you agree with John Carpenter that the films you see when you're like 12 and 13 are the ones that have the most influence?

I think so, to a point. I think it's hard to – Well, that's an age... They are the Wonder Years for a reason, and it's definitely people, as they reach puberty and adolescence, that's when things kind of stick. For better or for worse.


Make fun if you will, but this f-ed me up more than any other movie in my youth!

Have you heard anything about Season 3? Do you have plans, or are you waiting to see how Season 2 is received?

It really is all a matter of Showtime and Starz Media deciding when to go forward. We are optimistic about a Season 3. The show is very successful around the world. I've been taking it to film festivals in various places, and it's unbelievably well received, and it's – I guess it's all a matter of selling DVDs, which I'm told we just hit the million mark on selling Masters DVDs. But we're hopeful and optimistic for a third season.

I had a question about the desensitization of children and teenagers to horror. I mean, they're expecting so much more... What do you see happening next?

I don't know what the next stage is. And the people who understand the genre the least think that It's all about throwing entrails at the screen. Certainly that works for a while, but again, you're right. The desensitization is important when that's the kind of movie you make. Now, if you're telling a story, I hate to trot out The Sixth Sense again, but that's an incredibly suspenseful, extremely successful movie that doesn't do any of that. And Brad Anderson's Sounds Like is another one that doesn't do much of that. So if you are making films that are all about the kills, or all about the splat, or all about the blood, then yeah, you have to keep going further and further and further.

And in the case of Masters of Horror, yeah, we go far, because it's unfettered. Some of the filmmakers feel that that's where they want to take it to get the reaction they're going for. Dario Argento's episode is a perfect example of that. It's quite bloody and gruesome, and there' s a grand tradition of Grand Guignon, and this is definitely following in that tradition.

But people, I think, -- not everybody – but people like to be safely confronted by their fears. And the body – I don't know how many of you have seen – probably most of you have seen Toby Hooper's sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's one of the most wonderfully profane films I've ever seen. You know, it says, "You think the body's a temple? No, the body is meat, and here's how." It just confronts you with it in ways that make you go Eeeeyow! And it's so effective, and yet it's really witty in the way that it does it.

So I'm not one who would ever call for any kind of ban against distasteful material, but I think there's a great way to do it, and there's a not so great way to do it. And I'm not going to be the arbiter of that.

In the case of your casting, you get some of the most wonderful people. How many of them come to you and how many do you approach?

Many of them come through the directors. Most of us filmmakers on the show have relationships with a lot of the actors that we'd like to work with again. When I did Chocolate last year, Henry Thomas and I had just made Desperation right before that, and 15 years earlier had done Psycho 4 together. Christopher Lloyd and I had done a movie years ago called Quicksilver Highway. Matt Freuer and I have worked together many times. I know that's been the case with a lot of the other actors as well. But something like the Screwfly Solution this year, Joe Dantι's episode, that brought in Elliot Gould because he loved the script so much. And Michael Ironside was somebody I had met at a film festival earlier this year, and recommended him for The V Word. So, a lot of it comes from relationships, but we have had a lot of people, particularly in the second season, come to us because they are, a) fans of the genre, and b) fans of the series.

Cool. Just two thoughts, if there's a third season. James Gunn and David Cronenberg.

James Gunn we have talked to, and he was very busy this year. David Cronenberg, we've talked to a lot. He seems to be sort of open to it, he's making another movie in London now. Sort of open to it, but a little resistant. He's very iconoclastic, and I get the feeling he doesn't like to think of himself as a horror director. Even though he's one of the greats.

David and I have been friends since Scanners. I worked in publicity on that film way back when. And he's very much the big fish in Toronto. Being part of a group is not his thing.

Are there any plans for the release of the Season 2 DVDs yet?

Yeah, they will be out within – it'll be the same sort of schedule as Season 1. It'll be probably two or three months after the first one that they start bringing them out.

Are there any plans for a box set of the first season?

I'm sure there will be. I think all of them will have come out individually within the next month. I think Haeckel's Tale is the last one to come out.

What about Stephen King? Is he possibly going to be involved?

Well, Steve and I have a long history together, and I would love to bring him into this, but he had his own show, the Nightmares and Dreamscapes that were based on his stories. And most of his material has been optioned, and a lot of it was only being allowed to be used for that show. So I don't know if there are going to be more or not, but I would love to get King in to do one.

I actually was the first one to adapt one of the Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and wasn't able to shoot it because we got our second season in. So maybe I can pry it away from them to do for our show. But we'll have to see what happens with Nightmares and Dreamscapes. I'd love to get him to direct again too, to have him direct one of these, so I'm trying to talk him into it.

Do you have any projects outside of the Masters of Horror season that you'd be excited to share a little bit about?

My first novel just came out this month, called Development Hell, and that's really exciting. And something that I may well be adapting, either into a limited series or a feature. And there are other things coming up, but I'm hopeful that Season 3 will happen, which will kind of make it hard to concentrate on other things. But I'm just now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of Season 2. We're wrapping up the Japanese episode for the next week or so. And so yeah, I'm starting to take meetings and starting to talk to people about various projects. King and I are talking about a couple of things together, and we'll see.

And is Development Hell something that you pictured also for television, or for a feature?

Well, the original reason to write it in the first place was to do something that did not count on budgets and personalities and Standards and Practices and all that. It was just to write for the page. But now, seeing what we were able to do with Masters of Horror, it would be great to do it with an HBO or Showtime, or somebody as a series of nine one-hour chapters. There are nine chapters in the book. Or as a feature film. But it's ironic that I'm thinking of it that way, because the whole reason I wrote it in the first place was to not be chained to all of that stuff that you have to think about.

Presumably you're not going to want to stay as the main guy organizing all the Masters of Horror stuff, ad nauseam? Have you given any thought to how far out you'd want to keep the reins before you pass it on?

Well, I would always want to be involved in the selection process and who's there. It is Masters of Horror, and it really has to be people who have made influential horror movies, influential and/or successful horror movies. And I'd always want to be involved. Whether it would be 24 hours a day, as it has been for two years, who knows? If there's a third season, I'll certainly be as involved as I have been. But beyond that, it would be nice to get back to making movies again, and to do things that aren't a part of something else.

A lot of the episodes have gotten a chance to screen in theaters. It must be great to get the audience reaction.

Well, you know, horror and comedy are best shared with an audience, because they both go for a physical reaction. In the case of comedy, it ain't workin' if they're not laughing. And in the case of horror, it's not as constant, but you want to see people gripping the edge of their seat. You want to hear the scream. You want to sit in the back of the theater and watch the jump from the collective fear. It's much greater sometimes than when it's all by yourself in your living room, when you're making trips to the bathroom and the refrigerator. Or you have family and friends around chatting, the phone ringing, and all of that stuff. But the shared experience is an important part of horror films.

You know, I watch it too. The good job that I'm able to do, is to keep my hands off of other people's films and to keep other people's hands off of them, and to allow – Showtime and Anchor Bay have allowed us to let people make movies this way. These people know better than anyone else how to make these films, and so I couldn't be prouder of being involved with this show, and with these movies, these unbelievable filmmakers have gathered together to make. I mean, it's quite humbling.

How do you feel about the inevitable Masters of Horror imitators?

Masters of Fear, I've heard about, and that's the one that really bothers us the most. They changed one word, and it's the same concept. I don't think that's going to happen. Masters of Sci-Fi is a spin-off of Masters of Horror by a couple of the other producers involved. I'm not really involved in that one. And it's for commercial television, it's for ABD, and it's not all about the directors, it's more about the writers.

Because the only three Masters of Sci-Fi directors would be Lucas, Spielberg, and Cameron. And I don't think they're going to want to do scale one hour – or 42 minute TV shows. But imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I'm told that the Masters of Italian Horror may not be happening after all. I don't know if it is or not. But it's nice to be influential, and I'm not used to that.

So thanks to you guys, and again, it's so important that you guys have helped us out. Just the fan sites have been so great, and there's been so much interest. And I really appreciate the coverage and support that you've given us.

A big thank you has to go to Mick Garris for being so damn patient and gracious. What a great guy!

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