Interview: Geeking Out Over CREEPSHOW with Greg Nicotero
Guys, we geeked out. Seriously! We have interviewed some of the best in horror, and we have enjoyed them all. But when you get to interview the man behind some of the best practical effects in horror history, you quietly geek out for five minutes, then you bombard him with every question possible. How did you make this in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers? How did you make that thing move in Scream? What is it like every day on The Walking Dead? Literally, there was way too much we wanted to ask the genius known as Greg Nicotero. However, we mainly focused on the highly-anticipated revival of Creepshow on Shudder.
Creepshow premieres September 26th, 2019 on Shudder.
Read below to see what we uncovered.
Dread Central: Creepshow is your first time working as a showrunner. What has that been like?
Greg Nicotero: I think I had a pretty good proving ground working so intimately with Frank Darabont, Scott Gimple, and Angela Kang on The Walking Dead. But everything is a different animal. I think the trick for me with Creepshow is that I really felt a tremendous obligation to not only be respectful to the original material but also to develop new stories with up and coming writers and directors. It was intense. I think that was probably the easiest way to say it because we were super ambitious. The fact that we wanted to do two stories in each episode as opposed to one story in each episode meant that every three and a half days, we were creating a new universe with new sets, new casts, and new material. I don’t really think I had thought it all the way through when I stepped into this. But truth be told, it has been an amazing experience.
I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve been in the business since 1988. I love the idea that I am still learning and still evolving as a filmmaker.
DC: How has it been working on this while working on The Walking Dead and other special effects projects?
GN: It is definitely a challenge. We shot Creepshow during The Walking Dead hiatus. While I was wrapping up season 9, we were already in development for a lot of the stories on Creepshow. I think that I finished editing the finale of The Walking Dead like December 14 or 15. Then, I had a little vacation with my family for Christmas. Then in January, we went right into it. [There was] press for a month in Atlanta, then we shot February and March. So, there was no stopping, and there was no taking a breath or anything like that. Once you are in production and you gotta feed the animal, it’s just pretty insane.
DC: With all the anthology series coming out, how do you feel that Creepshow stands out from the rest?
GN: I think the big thing is that Creepshow has a very unique tone and style to it. Whereas with The Twilight Zone, you’re always waiting for the twist ending. The thing I liked about the original Creepshow is that the stories were all a little different. Some of them were scary. Some of them were suspenseful. Some of them were gross. Some of them were funny. So, I really do feel like that’s what we are intending to continue. It’s like going to a great restaurant and you have no idea what you want to order, but you’re going to be happy with whatever shows up in front of you. I think it is exciting that we get an opportunity to explore a bunch of different scenes and a bunch of different stories, and even just the vibe of the story in general.
Listen, I was born in 63 and I’m kind of a kid of the 70s and early 80s: American Werewolf in London, The Thing and Dawn of the Dead. There’s a really specific style for which those movies were made that people have tried to emulate. And that is one of the things that I really wanted to do with Creepshow. It doesn’t necessarily need to feel like a period piece; but, that there is a specific style. That is something I was really excited about. We’re doing the comic book page turns and the dissolves from the comic book to live-action. I think that some of the most fun that I’ve had has been in designing the retro ads that we are putting in the comic book and all of the retro covers. I really think that I did a deep dive, not only into obviously the original Creepshow but what inspired Stephen and George because Creepshow is originally an homage to E.C. Comics. To go into this and do Creepshow again, you’ve gotta go back to the source. You’ve gotta go back to what inspired these guys. E.C. comics were outrageous and a little crazy and a little funny. That was kind of fun.
DC: Can you talk about your influence from Stephen King?
GN: I’ve always been a massive fan of his books. I’ve read everything that he has written. When Pet Sematary came out, I read the entire book in a day. I couldn’t put it down. I love The Stand. I love Salem’s Lot. I’m really just a big fan of his work. So, when I found myself in the movie industry, it seemed sort of ironic after reading Pet Sematary and reading The Mist, and reading the stories that he had written, I found myself standing on set next to him, working side-by-side with him.
I think it is one of the reasons why The Walking Dead came out of the gate so strong. Frank Darabont and Stephen King were great partners, and they were great partners for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that Frank loves ensemble character pieces with strong characterization. And Stephen has had a career creating relatable characters. Any of his books that you read, there is somebody in there that you can relate to. And I think that that’s what made The Walking Dead the mammoth success that it started out to be because those characters were all relatable. Any Stephen King story that you read, there is something, even if these characters were despicable. There is something about them that you love. There is something about them that you can identify with or can relate to. So, I’ve always loved his books. I was always terrified by them. I couldn’t put them down. It was like a thousand pages, but I just couldn’t get enough.
So, as soon as Creepshow happened, he was really the first call. I didn’t think that we could do this without a King story. To be able to continue the tradition, and to continue with Joe Hill, brings it full circle to me.
DC: From the previews, I can see that there are practical effects that are in the spirit of the original. Was that the original plan?
It was definitely the intent to capture the charm of the original Creepshow. Knowing that we have stories that have scarecrows, werewolves, creatures, and monsters, I wanted that stuff to be practical. I wanted it to feel real. One of the greatest compliments I got from Juan Carlo and Tom Silvan when we shot Gray Matter was that it looks real. Nowadays, people walk onto a green stage and they react to a green ball, and then everyone goes, “Don’t worry. We’ll put the backgrounds in later.”
Giancarlo, when he walked on set into Richie’s apartment, said, “It didn’t take much for me to get there, where I needed to be emotionally because I felt like I had walked into the weirdest place that I had ever been in terms of the mold overtaking the apartment.” It’s so important, and I think a lot of people tend to forget that it is such an immersive experience.
For me, I wanted the creature stuff to be practical. It’s funny because in this video game age that we live in, a lot of people don’t know how to look at practical stuff without immediately thinking that it doesn’t look like a video game. I’ve experienced people who don’t understand that when you see a practical effect, that’s the way it was intended to be lit. That’s the way it was intended to be shot. That’s the way it was intended to be framed. So, I really had a good time doing all that stuff. And the guys in the shop were so over the moon that we got to build so much creature stuff. That was really fun and exciting.
DC: What tone did you want to establish for Gray Matter?
GN: What’s funny about that is that it is a really complex story. On the surface, it’s this guy and he drinks a beer, and he starts metamorphosing into this creature. But what I found interesting when I read it is that it is really much more a story about alcoholism and codependence. The story is being told through the eyes of Timmy, his little boy. The unique aspect of the story is that it is really about the relationship between the son and his father. And the father doesn’t know any other way to deal with his grief other than through alcohol. And the little boy really doesn’t know what else to do; so, he ends up enabling his dad. When you sort of boil the story down to that, I really wanted there to be this connection between them. You are kind of jumping back and forth between watching Timmy and his dad’s relationship dissolve. Then in the present day, you realize that Timmy is sending Chief and Doc into this wasp nest and you don’t know what is going to happen.
DC: Thanks so much for spending time with us, Greg. We know Creepshow is going to be incredible.
GN: Thank you!
Based on the iconic 1982 film written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, Creepshow stars David Arquette (Scream franchise), Adrienne Barbeau, Tobin Bell (Saw), Big Boi (Scream: The TV Series), Jeffrey Combs (Star Trek, Re-Animator), Kid Cudi (Drunk Parents), Bruce Davison (Longtime Companion, X-Men), Giancarlo Esposito (Better Call Saul), Dana Gould (The Simpsons, Stan Against Evil), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica, Lucifer) and DJ Qualls (The Man in the High Castle, Supernatural).
The first season will feature segments based on stories by award-winning and acclaimed writers including the Stephen King story “Gray Matter,” “The House of the Head,” by Josh Malerman, “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” by Joe Hill, “The Companion” by Joe R. Lansdale, Kasey Lansdale and Keith Lansdale, “The Finger” by David J. Schow, “Lydia Layne’s Better Half” by John Harrison and Greg Nicotero, “Night of the Paw” by John Esposito, “Bad Wolf Down” by Rob Schrab, “All Hallows Eve” by Bruce Jones, “The Man in the Suitcase” by Christopher Buehlman, “Times is Tough in Musky Holler” by John Skipp and Dori Miller, and “Skincrawlers” Paul Dini and Stephen Langford. Note, the story list is not in episode order.