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Set Visit: Masters of Horror - Mick Garris



I thank Bill and push through the doorway and nearly run head-long into the man himself; Mick Garris. He recognizes me instantly and erupts in a toothy smile. I hold out my bloodied hand for him to shake and he hesitates for a moment, not sure how to take the gesture. I let slip that I just finished delivering some strange ladies baby and Mick busts out laughing - It is only after making with the truth behind my sticky red hand does Mick give it a hearty shake.

Mick reiterates the heads-up that Bill Vigars gave me about the time constraints of our interview and I assure him that it is not a problem. He leads me past a network of camera equipment and over to a veritable parking lot of directors chairs. We both sit and I begin:


How’ve you been, Mick?

Great! Exhausted but great!

Tell us a little bit about "Valerie on the Stairs".

It’s a story about imagination, the story of a young, hopeful writer who has yet to be published. His life is a mess and he ends up getting this phone call offering him room and board – free - at a retreat for writers…but only unpublished writers. Once you’re published, you’re out! The trouble begins when out lead character starts to hear sounds, almost instantly upon moving in, and those sounds turn out to be coming from…a beautiful young woman that he sees sitting on the stairs at night.

Of course he asks around the place but nobody knows anything about his girl so… Clive Barker wrote the original treatment for the show, he loves the series and has been very supportive of it, but his original draft would have cost about forty-million dollars to make, so he gave it to me to adapt and do whatever I wanted with it…he gave me free reign with it. I didn’t want to dismantle the house of cards in paring it down for the show so; really, all we lost were some incredibly imaginative effects sequences witch, to a certain degree we still have, but in a much tighter space.

I was scanning through the script I was handed and it definitely feels a whole lot more visceral that say Chocolate was last season.

Yeah, I mean I think Chocolate had its visceral moments but I know on the internet that the real, die-hard horror fans HATED Chocolate. Personally, I’m very proud of the movie and I think it turned out incredibly close to the way I intended it t be. But yeah, there’s no question that the backlash against Chocolate influenced me to make something a little bit messier, something that is more easily defined as a “horror” film. Once people get a look at Tony Todd as Othakeye, there’s no denying that this is a horror film!

Chocolate, to me, was very much a horror film, its just that the horror wasn’t worn on the sleeve, it was internalized.

It’s interesting that Chocolate and Riding the Bullet were both very much the same type of movie in that they both externalized the internal and both of them had the same kind of reaction.

The Body Politic, Haeckel’s Tale and now Valerie on the Stairs, it’s safe to say you’ve probably adapted more Clive Barker to the screen than any one person on Earth, what attracts you to his writing?

<laughs> I’ve done more (Stephen) King than anyone else too!

Be honest, Mick, you’ve cornered the market on King!

<laughs even harder> Seriously though, I love what Clive brings to his fiction, it’s so…it’s just a unique voice, and it’s so unafraid. I love the brutality of it, the sexuality of it. I mean, we don’t share the same orientation, but the willingness to cross that line. Something else that I really love, and it’s something that quite different than say what King does, is there’s a mythological sense to it, he creates this mythology, he builds these worlds and rules and kingdoms and it all comes from such a left-field place that’s really unexpected and I really like that. I also love the theme of the body being meat. The body literally houses your humanity; it’s not the human being itself, it’s just the flesh-carpet that carries it around.

That’s a very common Cronenberg theme as well, the idea of the flesh and the perversion of it.

Exactly, I LOVE Cronenberg! The whole Descarte-dualism of flesh and spirit fascinates me, and Cronenberg and Barker both share a lot of those elements.

Is there any reason why Clive hasn’t stepped in to do an episode himself?

He hasn’t really had the time but he told me this year that he’ll definitely do one for next season.

(I think I smell exclusive! Remember where you heard it FIRST folks: Clive Barker. Masters of Horror. Season three.)

So it seems like about every ten years or so, you manage to work with Christopher Lloyd…


Yeah, he starred in the Go to the Head of the Class episode of Amazing Stories that you wrote in ’86, then Quicksilver Highway in ’97 and now Valerie on the Stairs in 2006. What’s your relationship like with him?

My God, you're right! But it’s really just a work relationship. I don’t think I even met Chris on Go to the Head of the Class, I watched a little bit of the filming from a distance but really, it was my first job writing for them…I was very timid back then. And then when we worked together on Quicksilver (Highway), we had a great time but he’s a very quiet person, I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to speak with him?

Unfortunately, I’m not getting the chance.

Yeah, he’s a very shy guy. I hadn’t really talked to him since Quicksilver Highway, not because of choice, but that’s sort of what happens you know? You become a close family during filming and then it dissipates and you move on to the next project and you adopt a new family. But we get along great, I love his work and he really seems to enjoy the…chewy dialog <laughs> that I give him and he’s having fun with it. I just love what he does, you get something different every take, but in a good way you know? You get a lot of choices with Chris and they’re all really interesting. But yeah, unfortunately our relationship has been confined to a work relationship. 

Now aside from Christopher Lloyd you’ve also got genre-god Tony Todd, have you worked with Tony before?

No, I’ve met him before at various conventions and things, but this is our first time working together and I love the idea of him playing a mythological character of Clive’s design.

I asked Tony for the mane of his character and he said I’d have to ask you for the correct pronunciation.

Othakeye. Pronounced: Oath – ah – kai, it’s very Clive Barker isn’t it?

Very much so. It’s very fantastical. Like you said, there’s a mythology to it. Less Hellraiser, more Nightbreed.

Exactly! Totally! He’s a part of a perfectly realized, and very believable fictional world.

I noticed that the last remaining directors slots have been filled, care to comment on the choices?

Well we’ve got Peter Medak who’s The Changeling, I think, is one of the greatest ghost stories ever put to film and, coincidentally, shot here in Vancouver . He’s doing The Washingtonians which we are all in love with. Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn) is our Lucky McKee this season, he’s our newcomer, and he’s a very nice guy and a wonderful filmmaker.

As I said the last time you and I spoke, we had a lot of big-time horror directors all lined up to do an episode for this season like: Wes Craven, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Romero, and they all dropped out for one reason or another so Rob (Schmidt) is our pitch-hitter. He’s got a really great take on John Esposito’s script Right to Die and he’s gonna make a meal of it. And then finally we’ve got Norio Tsuruta (Ring 0) whose episode is actually going to be a feature in Japan and for the rest of the world we’ll present it under the Masters of Horror banner and maybe, who knows, we might put out the feature length version on DVD.

Looking ahead to season three are there any carrots you care to dangle for fans as to who we might expect to see behind the camera?

We’ll have a lot of returning directors I would think, as well as people who’ve said they want, and intend, to do one, including guys like Guillermo del Toro and George Romero. Ken Russell has said that he wants to do an episode as well so…fingers crossed!  

At this point in our chat, Mick is stolen away from me to go and tape his interview piece for the eventual DVD release of Valerie on the Stairs. He apologizes for having to cut the interview short and I concede, thanking him once again for his time.

As it turns out, Mick and I share the same route to our respective destinations (him: DVD interview. Me: my car) so I am able to ask him when we might expect to see "Valerie on the Stairs" go to air. He explains that the schedule is still being worked on, but they (Showtime) should have something concrete fairly soon, at least as far as the launch of the season goes, but he assures me that his episode won't see the light of television screen until sometime next year. With that I thank Mick for about the hundredth time and peel away from him as he ducks through an open doorway, “See you next season, man!” he promises. And with that my second visit to the set of Showtime’s Masters of Horror comes to an end, but not without the promise of reprise.

As of this writing, Showtime has in fact nailed-down the launch-date for season two (it’s Friday, October 27th @ 10pm ET/PT) starting with Tobe Hooper’s The Damned Thing, followed by John Landis’ Family (Nov 3rd), Ernest Dickerson’s The V Word, written by Mick Garris (Nov 10th), Brad Anderson’s Sounds Like (Nov17th), John Carpenter’s Pro-life (Nov24th) and Dario Argento’s Pelts (Dec 1st).



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