Adapting to horror: an interview with Mick Garris, pt. 1

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Mick Garris is a man of many talents, most of them seeped in the inky blackness of good old fashioned horror.  That being said, he certainly is no one-trick pony.

As a filmmaker, most horror fans will know him for his Stephen King adaptations (Sleepwalkers, The Stand mini-series, The Shining mini-series, Riding The Bullet, Desperation and Bag of Bones).  He also directed Critters 2: The Main Course and Psycho IV: The Beginning, Anthony Perkins’ final stab at the role of Norman Bates.

As a writer, Mick helped create one of my all-time favorite family friendly spook films, Hocus Pocus.  Garris actually has four credits in the film, truth be told.  He then created my favorite horror mini-series anthology of all time, Masters of Horror, a collection of one-hour horror films that premiered on Showtime in 2005.

So, basically, Mick Garris is who I want to be when I grow up.

A 1986 Edgar Allan Poe Award winner for his work on the television series Amazing Stories, Garris has lived and breathed horror for as long as he has been able to.  He also happens to be one of the most well-respected interview hosts in the horror world, even dedicating a whole website to his chats with horror icons throughout the years.  In case you aren’t jealous of the man’s fantastic career yet, he also is a member of the board of advisers for the Hollywood Horror Museum.

Garris is a gentleman who does not have the word ‘complacent’ in his vocabulary.  Whether it is pitching an idea, discussing working on a project in a different country and filmed in a different language, or brewing up some new ideas on how to revolutionize the horror anthology world again, Garris simply cannot- and will not- slow down.  A horror fan making horror films, Garris has had an incredible thirty-plus year career that is still piping hot.

I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Garris recently while he was in his California office and below you will find the first part of our two-part discussion on a variety of topics, spanning Mr. Garris’ illustrious career.

 

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Mangled Matters:  Were you a big horror fan growing up?

Mick Garris:  I actually was.  You know, I had many interests growing up, but that was always my primary focus of interest.  I was that oddball, outcast like so many of us fans of the genre, that was really drawn the dark side.  Not to the exclusion of other things, but professionally, once you get painted with the horror brush, it’s hard to shower it off. (pause) I’m going to have to make a t-shirt that says that.  I came up with that one right on the spot there.


MM:  I like that.  I’d definitely buy that shirt.  Was there any specific movie or moment in your childhood that really cemented the love of horror within you?

MG:  Well it wasn’t really a horror film but the first movie I remember seeing was The Son of Kong.  My family watched it together when I was very young.  My mother saw it on a re-release in the theatre when she was a tiny, little girl and it scared the shit out of her.  I was one of four kids and we all watched it together, as a family, with mom and dad.  You know, King Kong was a really incredible, adventurous film but The Son of Kong is really a comedic film, outside of the heartbreaking ending.  So she was kind of embarrassed, watching it again, that she ever made such a big deal about the film in the first place.  I was captivated by it.  The gorilla looked jerky and artificial but there was so much magic to it.  I couldn’t have been more than six years old and the world, the creative world, really opened up to me after seeing that film.


MM:  How and when did you get into the filmmaking business?

MG:  My introduction to it, my first job, was as a writer on Amazing Stories and I got to watch Robert Zemeckis work on a script of mine.  Getting to watch Steven Spielberg directing, Martin Scorsese directing, it was just a revelation every time.  It was my first job in the business and it was just such an incredible resource each and every time I had the chance to work alongside these men.


MM:  What inspired you to create the Masters of Horror series?

MG:  Well, really, it all started when I had put together a series of dinners.  A lot of the genre filmmakers meet one another at film festivals and conventions and such, and there’s always this thought of “oh, we should do dinner sometime”, you know, so I realized after a couple of years of this, nobody is going to do these dinners unless I do. (laughs)

So I took about a week to figure out a schedule that would work for about a dozen of the filmmakers.  It took forever to finally pin down a date that worked for all of us, but it was me and John Landis, William Malone, and Guillermo del Toro, Tobe Hooper and Stuart Gordon.  There was a dozen of us and it went so well that about a month or two later, we met up again and it took about an hour for us to decide and agree that this was a project we could all get behind.  I came up with a format that I thought would work great for both the audience and for the filmmakers.  You know, it was “we will do this series of really explicit, wonderful horror stories if you, the network, don’t interfere” and we were able to do it because it was the chicken and the egg thing- ‘well, we can’t sell the show without the filmmakers and we can’t get the filmmakers until we’re committed to a show’.  You know, lightning struck.  We pitched it to three places and the first place we pitched it to said, “how much and when can you start?” and we were off and running.  The dinners, I haven’t had one for a while now, about a year, but they still continue and that first one was a dozen years ago.  The last one, we had about thirty-five directors.


MM:  Lightning definitely struck.  This was one of the coolest projects I ever remember seeing.  Would you ever consider tackling a new round of Masters of Horror?  Has that been something discussed?

MG:  I’m really happy that we made twenty-six really special one-hour movies with these amazing filmmakers.  It was really one of the best experiences of my life, too, because not only was I able to bring in a lot of people I hadn’t met before like Takashi Miike, but really my job was to give them creative freedom and be a cheerleader.  I took pride in protecting them and giving them the opportunity to do something that really had never been done before.  It turned into an international success.  That show had such an impact all around the world.  I still feel like I’m twenty-one years old and starting, with the enthusiasm of a rabid fan.

That project gave me the chance to be a fan, a creator and a contributor to a project that I felt was really important.  It was so great to see so many different approaches to creating a film, because, as you know, directors don’t work on other director’s movies so you don’t see how they all work.

And then, Fear Itself, which was a spin-off of sorts, really went the wrong way.  It got watered down.  There were studio notes and network notes and I ended up leaving because of the writer’s strike before the first one even started.  I didn’t go back because I could see that things were going to go south in a hurry.  That said, I would love to do another project like that and I’m working on an anthology series of horror stories in the similar vein but has a little bit of a different take.  I can’t tell you how many people suggest, “you should do apprentices of horror!” or something along those lines, but I want to do something unique in that field that would still give creative control to the filmmakers.  We might be close to getting something like that off the ground.  The timing is just not quite right for me to be able to really talk about it yet, though.


MM:  That’s exciting.  I’d love to see something come out of that, because I loved the series and would love to see more.

MG:  Me, too! (laughs)


Garris at the Stanley Hotel. photo by Richard Alden Peterson

Garris at the Stanley Hotel.
photo by Richard Alden Peterson

MM:  You mentioned earlier being a rabid fan of the genre yourself.  It’s always refreshing to hear someone who does this for a profession still have such a zest for the craft.  Horror fans making horror films make the best horror films.

MG:  What’s great is this genre, more than any other, is encouraging.  Because we are kind of lumped into a ghetto, a gutter, in a way.  The horror genre is only respected at the box office.  You know, if you have a successful horror film, fantastic.  Otherwise, you are an adolescent, because Hollywood sees horror as meant for kids, teenagers and college kids.  Whereas, everywhere else in the world, it is not looked at that way.  It’s just another genre that is looked at with a respect and appreciation.  It’s not all about slasher films.  Some of the greatest literature and cinema has been in the horror world.

You don’t have Western film festivals and comedy conventions, things like that.  We feel like outcasts and when we are able to be together, we encourage and support one another.  Plus, filmmaking is always in a state of flux and evolution and if you don’t embrace change, you’re going to be left behind.  Your brain is going to get gray, as well as your hair.  I don’t ever want to see that happen to me.  I want to be contemporary, I want to be a part of my time.  I love classic filmmaking styles and techniques, but I want to evolve as the planet does, just like all storytellers do.


MM:  Speaking of storytellers, you have quite a famous relationship with Stephen King.  I won’t even put this in the interview, but if I can fan-boy for a moment, you’ve done some of my favorite King adaptations, including The Shining mini-series and Desperation.  I love both of those.

MG:  Oh, put that in! Definitely put that in! (laughs) Thank you very much.


MM:  I love the work you’ve done of Mr. King’s, definitely.  I’m curious, how did the friendship come about?  You and Mr. King are pretty closely knit, having worked together so often.

MG:  It all started with Sleepwalkers, which was not a King adaptation, obviously.  I had just made Psycho IV.  So, I got a meeting at Columbia, which was making Sleepwalkers, and it went really great.  I was a young filmmaker with two small movies and a few television scripts under my belt and it went really well.  I really respect King’s work and the studio didn’t quite get it, but they knew they had a Stephen King script.  So I left the meeting with them saying “this went great, we have a few obligation interviews to do but this is going to be great. We’re sure you’re going to do a great job” and I left thinking I got the job.  Then they hired one of the guys they had an obligatory interview with. (laughs) So I kind of moved on and then I got a call to have lunch with one of the producers.  It was a weird meeting and they said the filmmaker had taken it into a totally different direction than what King wanted and King had director approval.  He wasn’t happy at all with it.  They wanted someone to come in and bring it back into the King world.  So we talked and I gave them some of my ideas on revisions and such.  What I didn’t know was, after lunch, they led me to an office- my new office- they had hired me without me even knowing!  I moved into an office on the Columbia Pictures lot and started work right then and there, so it all worked out well.


MM:  Sleepwalkers has received criticism both positive and negative, but it’s a real cult favorite.

 
MG:  It was a tough movie to make.  The studio didn’t understand and appreciate it, and I get it- it certainly isn’t King’s best work or my best work but it was the number one movie the weekend it opened.  It was huge.

We went back to the MPAA five times to get an R rating, re-cutting it each time because they weren’t going to give us a rating.  We finally got the R rating.  But King, his wife Tabby and I are the only ones who’ve really seen the rough cut of the film I envisioned.  It was just the three of us in a theater in New York, and I’m screening him the rough cut, my cut of the film, and they’re having the best time!  He’s laughing and clapping and screaming (laughs).  It was just amazing.  He was so happy with it that even after the cuts kind of adulterated the movie, not much but there was still some adulteration, he was the one that said “We’re gonna make The Stand. Would you be interested?” so he asked me and me being this young and cocky filmmaker, “well I make movies, I don’t do TV” (laughs), I thought it out and got this giant phonebook of a script delivered to my door and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever read.  Something that had never been done before like that, I was just thrilled to do it.  It turned out to be the highest rated TV series in history and it turned out great.  So we met on Sleepwalkers and really became friends on The Stand.

 

SLEEPWALKERS, writer Stephen King (left), director Mick Garris (center), on set, 1992. ©Columbia Pictures

SLEEPWALKERS, writer Stephen King (left), director Mick Garris (center), on set, 1992. ©Columbia Pictures

 

 

Stay tuned for part two of my conversation with Mick Garris, coming soon!

 

 

 

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The Night They Hit Back hits hard with a trailer and press release!

Slightly up north from where I reside, a film crew has been busy creating one of the most intriguing zombie films of the year.  And now, we have a trailer and some shots of the film!

The Night They Hit Back has been director Jason Thorson’s true labor of love over the last few years.  I’ve had the pleasure of writing for Thorson’s horror website, Ravenous Monster, for a little over four years now.  I can’t think of anyone else more up to the task of putting out a kick ass new twist on the zombie genre.

Thorson brings us a film that answers the age old question- what’s cooler than a mobster movie?  A mobster movie with zombies.

 

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Please see below for the official press release and link to the trailer!

 



 

Janesville, Wisconsin – August 11, 2015 –A trailer for The Night They Hit Back has made its way online.  The forthcoming horror short marks the directorial debut for longtime media journalist Jason Thorson and it stars Wisconsin-based genre stalwarts Matt Kenyon (IDS RisingHole in the Wall) and Greg Johnson (Incest Death Squad series, MediatrixHole in the Wall).

The Night They Hit Back tells the story of Sonny (Kenyon)—the hapless son of The Don (Rich Peterson)—and his reluctant muscle, The Goon (Johnson) as they embark on a mafia hit just as a zombie plague begins devouring the country.

The micro-budgeted passion project is years in the making.  According to writer/director Jason Thorson, “I studied film and screenwriting in college and parlayed that into several freelance writing gigs covering cinema and television over the years, including the establishment of RavenousMonster.com, but I always wanted to apply that knowledge toward actually making a movie.”

In January 2012 Thorson reached out to eventual co-producer/cinematographer Chris Haag—an old friend and fellow cinema enthusiast—about making a short film.  Soon thereafter, Thorson wrote the script, passed it around to few people he’d met through Ravenous Monster and by the end of that summer The Night They Hit Back had an experienced cast and a partial crew.  But that wasn’t the end of the film’s arduous preproduction.

“It took a couple years to buy the equipment we needed to do this and to fill out the rest our crew,” said Thorson.  “And, frankly, there was an impossible learning curve to overcome for me to move beyond film writing and wrap my head around film production and the monumental task of directing.  I was very fortunate to have an incredibly talented cast and crew to lean on, many of whom had done this before.”

Thorson and company were finally able to shoot the movie in southern Wisconsin during the summer of 2014.  “We made one hell of a fun flick.  The experience was incredible and I’m thankful to all the talented people who helped make it happen.”

The Night They Hit Back is currently finishing post production and will be submitted to festivals later this year.  It is produced by Ravenous Monster Productions in association with Lane Productions.

For more information on The Night They Hit Back, please like us on Facebook 

 

 

So keep your eyes peeled, folks!

 

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Wolfmen of Mars vs The Mangled Dead: an album celebration in interviews, pt. 4

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Devon Whitehead is one of those lucky guys who gets to draw for a living.  The freelance artist resides in Los Angeles, California and has a sterling portfolio available for us all to gawk at over on Instagram and Facebook.

Many horror fans will know Whitehead’s work if they own the Night of the Demons soundtrack, either on CD, vinyl or good ol’ audio cassette.  The artwork is also a staple of the horror convention scene on T-shirts.  One of the most spectacular pieces of horror art on the scene, the album work caught the attention of many in the industry.  Fortunately for Wolfmen of Mars and The Mangled Dead, Devon decided to climb aboard and provide the stunning album artwork for Wolfmen of Mars vs The Mangled Dead.

In this, the final installment of a four-part interview session that celebrates the split-LP from every facet, I had the privilege of chatting with Mr. Whitehead about his influences, his style of art and his favorite tracks off of the album.

 

You can check out Part One of this interview celebration, featuring Wolfmen of Mars HERE

You can read up on what The Mangled Dead had to say, in Part Two, HERE

Artist Kevin Spencer dishes on his contributions to the album in Part Three HERE

 


MANGLED MATTERS:  What was your first commissioned piece?  Is this your full-time job?

DEVON WHITEHEAD:  After I graduated Otis College of Art and Design, I worked as a concept artist for several companies, including Sony Games and Universal Studios Theme Park.  Then I worked at an illustration company doing lots of toy box art and game covers.  After I left that job, I began doing freelance full time.


MM:  Who are some artists that influence you?

DW:  Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Gerald Brom, Drew Struzan, Ralph McQuarrie, and Crash McCreery.


MM:  Is there a specific medium or style of art you prefer to work in?

DW:  I started out with traditional methods, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic mostly but eventually got into painting on Photoshop, which I love.

I still do figure drawing, usually with charcoal, at least once a month, if not once a week if I’m able.  Figure drawing is my favorite thing to do.


MM:  How did the Wolfmen of Mars and The Mangled Dead get in touch with you for the LP artwork for their split album?

DW:  Email, I believe?  I have an Instagram and a Facebook page as well, but I’m terrible at updating. (laughs)


MM:  If you had to choose a track from each band off of this LP, which one is your favorite from each?

DW:  Favorite tracks from the LP-split would be “Devil Women in Heat” by Wolfmen of Mars and “Phantom of the Motorway” by The Mangled Dead.

You can also find Devon on Instagram at @devondraws

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Wolfmen of Mars vs The Mangled Dead: an album celebration in interviews, pt. 3

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“Face-melting marshmallow roast orgy”


 

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing artist Kevin Spencer for a few years now, so it didn’t surprise me one bit when he announced that he was going to be contributing art to an upcoming project featuring Wolfmen of Mars and The Mangled Dead.  An album this hard and insane needed artwork that was eccentric as the bands represented.  In that regard, Kevin Spencer and these two bands from Boston, Massachusetts were a match made in heaven.

With Devon Whiteside contributing the front cover album work, Kevin was given the opportunity to create some unique back cover art as well as the vinyl art.  And he absolutely knocked it out of the park, as you can see throughout this interview.

I was fortunate enough to have worked with Kevin back in 2013 and 2014, as he did the cover art and illustrations for my short story collection.  I consider Kevin a great friend and an even better person, so it was especially interesting to dig into his brain a little and see what he had to say about this latest project of his…

Check out part one of this interview, featuring Wolfmen of Mars, here

Check out part two of this interview, featuring The Mangled Dead, here


MANGLED MATTERS: How did you get involved with this project?

KEVIN SPENCER: I had been a big fan of Wolfmen of Mars for quite some time thanks to them lending a tune for the opening of a podcast that I listen to and had done some logo work for called The Screamcast.  Likewise, it seems, Luke of Wolfmen had dug the work I had done for Screamcast, so he asked if I would be interested in doing some art for the album, and of course I said yes.

It’s actually kind of funny how that worked out as I keep a running list of people, bands and authors I’d love to collaborate with and they were pretty much at the top of that list. Funny coincidence.


MM: The artwork you provided veers away from the Basil Gogos/”splatter drop” look of pieces many people know from you.  Were you given any direction on what the band was looking for or were you able to guy go at it and see what you came up with?

KS: Well, truth be told I got a super early peek at Devon (Whitehead)’s amazing cover so I had that as a reference.  I based the characters off of his designs obviously and then just felt the project needed to look cleaner than the normal stuff I do, so I went for it.  Not trying to copy Devon’s style, but as we shared art duties and his cover was so stunning, I obviously wanted the art to all be cohesive.  I feel like we accomplished that (or would like to think so, anyway).

 

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MM: How old were you when you decided art was the way you wanted to go in life?

KS: I have no idea.  I have drawn and loved drawing for as far back as I can remember.  I was always “the kid who drew”, and to me, as far back again as I can remember for me personally, the art was more about me using it as an outlet than as something I wanted to do with my life.  I mean, I did end up going to school for it and giving it a go as a profession but in the end I just saw more value in doing my art for me and if people dig it that’s awesome and if not, no worries.


MM: How about a quick review of the album, in ten words or less?

KS: Face-melting marshmallow roast orgy.


MM: What are your favorite tracks from the LP, one from each band?

KS: “The Nefarious Dr. Karswell”, by Wolfmen of Mars and “Ladies of the Night”, by The Mangled Dead


MM: You’ve done album artwork, book cover art work and are all over social media showing off new pieces constantly.  What projects are you currently working on?

KS: Well, honestly I had to drop a few things recently due to my day job and life responsibilities being a bit more involved than normal.  I felt my sanity starting to give out, so at the moment I just have a few smaller things that I am working on as well as maybe something else in the works with Wolfmen… and by maybe, I mean 100%.  I am just being sly… or trying anyway.  More on that another time.

 

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MM: Do you have any conventions/art shows coming up where people can check out your art or meet you?

KS: Nothing at the moment although I hope to be back at Monster Mania in New Jersey next spring.  I’ve missed the past few and miss all my convention fam.

If you know where I live you can always just come knock on my door.  I guess you could meet me that way.  Or at WaWa.  I am almost always at a WaWa… That’s a Northeastern joke.

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Wolfmen of Mars vs The Mangled Dead: an album celebration in interviews, pt. 2

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“Fuck that, we gave it our all on this one.”

Split albums are always cool for audiences.  A daunting task for any band, there may not be two bands more destined to have been put together than Wolfmen of Mars and The Mangled Dead.

With a joint-LP out now (nothing beats the feel of a vinyl record in your hands) and the album also available digitally (with the bands allowing you to NAME YOUR PRICE for the digital copy, no less), there’s really no excuse for anyone not to check out two killer bands who are just doing what they love- and doing it loud, fueled by the horror films of yesteryear.

I recently had a chance to chat with the rotting brains behind The Mangled Dead.  This is the second part of a four-part interview celebration that will touch on all four aspects of this album- both bands and both artists who contributed to the album cover and album artwork.  Check out the first part of this interview, featuring Wolfmen of Mars, here.

Read on…

 

 


MANGLED MATTERS: You’ve called your music “dirty, beer soaked cemetery punk”. Who are some of the bands or musicians that influence The Mangled Dead?

THE MANGLED DEAD: The Misfits for sure, that should be fairly obvious I guess. Nervous Eaters, Ministry, Butthole Surfers.  B-Movies and Horror movies are a big influence.  Sometimes I watch one while writing stuff.  We have a little TV with a VHS set up where we record so we always play some weird ass shit on that.


MM: Who approached who, regarding the collaboration with Wolfmen of Mars for the LP?

TMD: The Wolfmen approached us with the idea.  We’ve been digging their stuff for a while now and although the genres are different our music is very similar in vibe I think.  They definitely have their shit together more than us.


MM: If wolfmen from Mars and the living dead really duked it out, who wins?

TMD: Hm, good question.  It depends on a few things, I guess, like do the wolfmen have advanced technology?  Lazers and shit?  Hovercrafts?  They would probably win if that’s the case.  If it was just hand to hand combat then I bet the living dead would win.  BUT, if there were enough of the dead that they just kept coming and swarmed the wolfmen then maybe it’d be the other way around.  Also how resilient are the dead?  It would make an awesome movie either way.


MM: How long did it take to put this album together?

TMD: I think it was four or five months?  I could be a little off, maybe it was six.  We didn’t have anything written for it so we just made new stuff.  Some of it was off the cuff and a few tracks we had rough ideas for.


MM: Has there been any talk about doing some live gigs together?

TMD: Not yet, but hopefully.  We contacted the wolfmen about doing a show before this album happened, actually, but neither of us really play out all that much.  We usually do a few shows during the Halloween season.


MM: What is your favorite Wolfmen of Mars track from the album?

TMD: I really dig “Take Heed, They’re Everywhere”.  It makes me feel like I’m getting ready to fight an end boss or something.  Or a preparation montage for fighting vampires maybe.


MM: What were some of the challenges of creating a collaborative LP with another band?

TMD: It’s tricky with splits because you don’t want to make something that will be at odds with the other band’s stuff, but you don’t want it all to sound the same either.  A lot of bands use splits as an excuse to get rid of their “throw-away” tracks, they don’t want to use their best material on a split.  Fuck that, we gave it our all on this one.


MM: What’s next for The Mangled Dead, album-wise?

TMD: Not sure at the moment.  I’d like to do another cassette 4-track album, no frills.  Maybe a little more garage rock-ish but with the same weirdo horror lyrics and vibe.


MM: Any upcoming gigs or events for the Mangled Dead?

TMD: Nope.  We’re looking into doing a few shows soon.  We just have to work out the details.  With any luck, we can pull it together enough to make a new video too.  The fall is usually good for getting us in the mood.

 

 

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