Mick Garris is a Jack of all trades. For the past few decades, the author, filmmaker, producer and musician has covered every avenue in horror and sci-fi, making a name for himself as not only the nicest guy in horror, but a true master of the genre.
Having helmed films like Critters 2, Sleepwalkers, The Stand, and the TV miniseries version of The Shining, Garris also went on to create and produce Showtime’s Masters of Horror series as well as hosting his very popular (rightfully so) podcast, Post Mortem, in which Garris speaks with legends of the genre about their careers.
Also an excellent novelist, Garris has teamed up with Fangoria to release These Evil Things We Do, a collection of short stories about awful people and the actions they take.
We thought we’d catch up with Garris, to chat These Evil Things We Do, as well as carrying on the legacy of horror via interviews. It was a great conversation, we hope you enjoy it. Read on!
Dread Central: In the introduction to These Evil Things We Do, you mention that at the age of 12, you began to take writing seriously, more than before. What was it about that special age that you think made that the turning point?
Mick Garris: I think it was also a turning point as a reader. I discovered the love of books at that time as well. That year, I read everything Ray Bradbury had ever written. As much as I was a child of movies and especially television at that age, when I discovered reading and the power of words, people like Bradbury and Richard Matheson just knocked me out. Before that time, I concentrated on drawing, which I had a little bit of talent at. My father was a schooled artist who never made a living at it. I was really into drawing and was becoming pretty good at it, but once I discovered reading, I kind of gave up on it completely.
DC: You mention that most, if not all, of the book consists of stories you wrote right after filming a movie, almost like a way to sit down and create stories without having to hear from studios or other factors influencing the work. Can you speak a little on that: making stories that are just you and the word?
MG: It’s pretty great, because there’s nothing between you and the reader, except for the page, whether it’s electronic or paper. With a movie, you’re writing a blueprint; you’re not writing for the love of words. You’re writing a blueprint for the actors and everybody else to use as a basis for their individual jobs. Something I mentioned in the introduction for the book, Richard Matheson saying “Books are internal and movies are external.” The idea that you can write about what’s going on inside somebody’s head is the real allure of that. It’s the big difference between writing movies and writing fiction. I love wordplay as well, and not having to think about schedules or budgets or even egos. Fiction is pure, for better or for worse, it goes from my brain to yours (laughs).
DC: The story “Free” is such a fun one. It really speaks to that inner monologue a parent can have. Having kids and being a parent isn’t easy and there can be that inner thought of, “What if I went down that other path?” It touches on that. What led to the creation of that story in particular?
MG: I have a friend who has twins, who drove her crazy and I saw the anxiety growing. I know it’s something every parent deals with, and I’m not a parent, but the job of every writer or filmmaker or storyteller of any kind, is to be an empath. So, I wanted to challenge myself to see it from not only the point of view of a parent, of complicated children, but to do it from the perspective of a female, which is even harder. If you make a choice like that, to leave your home and family and your children, for a man to do it, it’s fairly commonplace. Not necessarily a good thing (laughs). For a woman to do that, it’s sinful. The mother is the bridge between the child and its life and its existence. The father, in the traditional family sense, is the breadwinner while the mother raises the children. So the idea was to see what it would be like to put myself in the shoes of the suburban mom, who wanted to be an artist with her husband and both having failed at that, gave into the traditional family life. That drives them crazy and she’s literally on a border of insanity and seeing if she can contain that or not. She makes a choice that has dire consequences.
DC: It’s a wild one. Right from that opening sentence of “Revelation hit me like a punch to the face…”, you know you’re in for something. While the story itself doesn’t deal with it, that kind of speaks on how we live our lives today; horror has always had the ability to take our worst fears and channel them into stories that help us address those fears. With how crazy 2020 has been, do you see the opportunity to take this collective fear we all feel and turn it into great art?
MG: The best horror reflects the time in which it’s made. The nuclear era of the 1950s that led to the giant monster movies. In the ‘60s, the demons weren’t supernatural, they were personal, they were more like Norman Bates, people who could very well be your neighbor. In the ‘70s, horror was a rebound against the participation in things like Vietnam, you had people like Tobe Hooper or John Carpenter coming out with movies that while they weren’t overtly political, could not help but be tainted by the social conventions of the era. So, I think this is definitely a good time, not just because of the Coronavirus. More because of the influence of real fascistic politics. The Dead Zone was so prescient, Greg Stillson is SO close to Donald Trump, that it’s kind of horrifying. It seemed like an exaggeration back when The Dead Zone was written and then when the movie came out. Now, it’s not exaggerated enough to really cover what’s truly going on. So horror reflects that. Zombie movies have been dealing with it for quite some time. Dawn of the Dead was addressing people and their shopping mall culture. In particular, I think a movie like Host reflects this Coronavirus horror just beautifully. They set out to tell a small, scary story, but it’s set in a world we’re all trapped in right now. It’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen lately.
DC: Host and Gretel & Hansel are my favorite films of this year, thus far.
DC: I really loved that you included your story, “Ugly” in These Evil Things We Do. A few years back, I picked up a copy of it when it had that hardcover limited release, when it was at Burbank’s Dark Delicacies. It’s such a fun one, a real cautionary tale of sorts. What led to you wanting to include that one in the book?
MG: Being someone who was born and raised in Los Angeles and someone who has worked for a few decades now in the film business, you run into a lot of arrogance and entitlement; the wealthy who think the world is there, just to circulate around them. The Maserati scumbags who steal handicapped parking spaces (laughs). Those people. You may have noticed that almost everything written in the book is written in the third person. It allows me to tap into what I think are my worst features and amplify them times a thousand. Doing that and putting myself in the POV of the expensive loafers-wearing Beverly Hills Esthetician who is all about external beauty and has no moral center or humanity himself. It was a lot of fun and was funny for me. The collection of novellas that make up half of the book is called Awful People, not all of them ARE awful, but they all have things about them that are and things that they’ve done that they’re not proud of. This guy, the guy in “Ugly”…he’s an awful person. He just gets away with whatever he wants. My favorite line from that one is, “What, you thought this was a fucking love story?!” (Laughs).
DC: “Tyler’s Third Act” is such a wild story, it really speaks on the Hollywood machine and how it takes parts of you, this time in a literal sense.
MG: None of us are conscripted into Hollywood. We volunteer. We give our lives to be able to tell stories for a living. Particularly in screenwriters, who are the least heralded links in the chain of filmmaking, there’s a lot of the sense that they’re being wronged…that their brilliance is not being recognized and appreciated. You can be the screenwriter of the month, the new flavor in Hollywood… but then your shooting star goes out. There’s a lot of resentment, even though when you do well, you’re incredibly compensated, people just have no idea who you are (laughs). There’s this resentment that resides within so many of the writing community and a little bit in myself, but, I must admit again, I took things that were negative about this industry and amplified them in a very, very selfish way. In this case, here’s a guy who won’t go out and get a regular job, he insists on being a screenwriter or dismantling himself in public because he thinks he’s getting back at a world that’s treated him ill. The key is to go inside of him and understand his work and how he thinks and how he performs and what he does, to make him a sympathetic character. I didn’t necessarily make the plastic surgeon in “Ugly” sympathetic, but everybody else I hope is sympathetic, despite the awful things they do. I do like the sense of pulling back a curtain on the fabled industry in which I’m able to make my living. Everybody says, “Write what you know, “ so I’ve kind of taken it on myself to touch on the entitled Hollywood horror sub-genre and to try and give you a peek behind the curtain of what ugliness lies there.
DC: I do have to ask: Is there a possibility of getting an anthology film, featuring some of these stories? They lend themselves so perfectly to that.
MG: Well, I’ve adapted Snow Shadows into a feature script called Missing Miss Featherstone, so we’re talking with people in England about doing it. If there ends up being a Nightmare Cinema 2, which is a hope that we are working on, I’ve already written a script for “Tyler’s Third Act” to be my segment. I would love “Free” to be a feature film. I think it’s a little too complex to be a short. “Ugly” would be a great Nightmare Cinema episode as well. I would love that to happen at some point. That said, there’s no plan beyond one of them being included in the second Nightmare Cinema, should it come to pass,
DC: I was talking to my friend, Justin Beahm a while back about how we both think interviews can act as a way to remember the creative people that we admire and love. It’s kind of like a snapshot into their creativity that will never go away. Your show, Post Mortem, is quite easily the best example of just that. In-depth conversations with the legends we all love and appreciate. Some of those legends, unfortunately, are no longer with us in a physical sense, but it’s wonderful to be able to relive that creativity by watching these really in-depth conversations. Do you think it’s important to have these conversations for creators to talk about the films that they’re leaving in the hands of their legacy?
MG: I really do. You know, I did it originally just because I was curious. I started interviewing for magazines like Cinefantastique and newspapers when I was in high school. My first interview show was on the Z channel, which was LA’s first ATV channel. I had Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter and people like that on there. I was interested in these people and learning about that. I wasn’t a filmmaker yet. I had hopes, but I never thought that would happen. I started working within it and it gave me an ability to conduct interviews in a more intimate sense that did not necessarily feel like a journalist having a conversation, but more of a peer. I mean, I won’t call myself a peer to some of the people who’ve been on my show, but we work in the same field. So I can maybe ask questions that would not necessarily come from another source because of my familiarity with the work we’re discussing. Even more importantly, what motivates the work that we’re discussing, you know? For me to be able to contribute to cinema history, particularly within this genre that you’ll always have these time capsules of who these people were, where they came from and where they were at the time of our conversation. I did it because I was interested in the beginning, but now we’ve got like a hundred interviews you can access for free anytime that you want and I’m really proud to have been able to create that kind of forum and to be the guy who is able to extract really wonderful pieces of information about how these really creative minds operate: where it originated from and what their intentions are and all of that and how everybody works in a different sense. It’s thrilling to me and I’ve learned something from every single interview I’ve ever done.
DC: It’s definitely one of the best shows of its kind. Mick, I won’t take up much more of your time, but I have one more question for you. I love how there’s always been a group of filmmakers who have, in many ways, been kind of the cinematic stewards of the work of Stephen King. Filmmakers like yourself, Frank Darabont more recently, Mike Flanagan. You three, in particular, have really helped bring King’s special stories to audiences. What is it about King and his work, to you, that really makes these stories so interesting to bring the life?
MG: It’s the humanity. Before King, most horror was about the subject, about the monster and the circumstance. With King, it was about the people that these circumstances happen to. I like to say that, with King, it’s not about the monster in the closet, but the people who own the house that has the monster in the closet, and there’s a sense of humanity and a sense of hoi polloi. The people aren’t necessarily privileged and entitled people who are at the center of it. A lot of them are writers because, again, “Write what you know,” but yeah. A lot of them, they eat at McDonald’s. They shop at Walmart. They’re real humans. They represent us rather than something more exotic than what we are. King and I are a few years apart, but we’re still of the same generation that grew up on comic books and Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, watching the old Universal classics on TV and reading Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, seeing George Romero and John Carpenter and all of those people happening. I think there’s a shared experience there. Even though King and I have a lot of differences, we have so many similarities. We were both brought up by mothers who were divorced. We both grew up at the same time, watching a lot of the same things. We both grew up in less than advantageous financial circumstances, so there’s just a lot we have in common and we really get along great. You know, I read something by King and I just feel connected to it and I think almost everybody does. I’ve been lucky enough to actually have it as a major part of my career and I’m lucky enough that my career is my life as well. My work is also my passion and I’m so lucky to be able to do what I do and make a living at it. To be able to work with people like Stephen King, who is the greatest collaborator you can imagine. Working with him. Working with John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg and all of these people. I feel like I’m going to get busted for it. One of these days, they’re going to find out that I really don’t belong there.