Exclusive: Steve Niles Talks Wake the Dead and More!
DC: Do you go into that experience thinking, “Ok, this ain’t going to happen.”?
SN: Always. I always say, “I’ll smile when I’m watching it on the screen.”
DC: So, Wake the Dead… you’ve compared it to modern day Frankenstein. Is that pretty much the synopsis?
SN: You know, where this came out of was frustration with - I’m gonna say it, “Grampy Niles is comin’ out” – the fact that kids today won’t watch the original Frankenstein. They won’t watch anything in black and white. Christ, they won’t watch the Hammer Frankenstein, and they don’t want to watch period pieces. I have a whole opinion on that that I won’t go into, but… I remember, at the time, they were doing all of these Shakespeare comedies disguised as teen comedies right under kid’s noses. They called them something different, but basically they were telling Shakespearean stories to kids and they were eatin’ it up and not even knowing it. That gave me the idea to try to do that with some classic horror stories. Really, what Wake the Dead is… it’s not the novel, it’s not any movie that we’ve seen. It’s the entire Frankenstein legend formed into a new story. It’s about a medical student who decides to start playing with bringing back the dead and things go awry, of course.
DC: You previously mentioned Wake the Dead's director, Jay Russell. Here’s a guy who’s not exactly known for his genre work. Waterhorse, Ladder 49, Tuck Everlasting aren’t really genre-friendly titles. So, I look at that and I think about him doing Frankenstein and I think, “Ok, that’s interesting… he could potentially bring something totally new to the property.” How does someone like him come aboard?
SN: Well, some of the best horror movies are made by so-called “non-genre” directors. I don’t know why we have to have directors specifically delegated to do specific genres. I mean, Steven Spielberg made Jaws, which was one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
DC: Or Duel…
SN: I will lay money – and I’m sure somebody will argue with this, but - at least ninety percent of the people making films today, the biggest stars we have, the biggest directors, all started out in genre films. And then it just becomes the ugly step-sister, and I don’t understand why that happens. There have been some real successes. Jay doing a horror movie intrigues me more than just about any horror director doing it because of what he will bring to it. Plus… he made My Dog Skip which… I can’t watch that movie. It brings me to tears. He understands that fundamental thing about horror, too, which is that you have two kinds: you have the kind where you just line up the teenagers and you put numbers on their chests and you hack them to bits one by one OR you tell a story in which you care about the characters so that you’re invested in it. When that happens, the horror is so much more potent.
DC: In the marketplace there’s so much PG-13 product, and I was talking to Clive Barker recently and he had said that it was because of the age of people who are going to films. A lot of the audience who are older are of the opinion that the whole “theater-going experience” is such a nightmare. So, when studios do exit polls to see exactly who is going to theaters, they find that it’s mostly thirteen-year-old girls. As a result, they end up making films for thirteen-year-old girls, and we end up with movies starring actors who star in television shows that are aired on The CW.
SN: Yeah. The biggest problem right now is instead of trying to bring the audience to the creators, we’re being put in the position to pander to the whims – and frankly, the laziness – of the audience. “But I don’t WANT to read Let the Right One In. It has subtitles…” So, they remake it. That’s the reason. Americans won’t read movies. So, they remade Let the Right One In. You can do a remake… whatever, I don’t care. But THAT is the dumbest reason of them all. “They don’t want to watch the original Nightmare on Elm Street, so let’s remake it.” Hey, you know what, fuckers? If you don’t remake it, they’ll watch it because it’s the only thing out there.
DC: It’s iconic.
SN: There’s just all this pandering going on. The second anybody whines… “I don’t wanna….” It’s like, “OH MY GOD!!!” I think focus groups have almost destroyed movies entirely.
DC: Agreed, because you can’t please everyone.
SN: You can’t… and you shouldn’t try. Ever.