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Interview: Director Mick Garris Talks ‘Nightmare Cinema’

June 19, 2019Ben MK

From Creepshow to V/H/S, anthology horror films are something of a long-standing tradition in Hollywood. And if anyone should know, it's filmmaker Mick Garris.

An icon among his peers and a huge fan of the horror genre himself, Garris has worked on such projects as Tales from the Crypt and The Stand, and even hosts a bi-weekly podcast called Post Mortem with Mick Garris. But he's perhaps best known as the man behind the popular but short-lived series Masters of Horror. Now, Garris is back with an all-new anthology film titled Nightmare Cinema, and this time he's bringing with him fellow genre filmmakers like Joe Dante, Alejandro Brugués, David Slade and Ryûhei Kitamura.

I sat down with Mick Garris ahead of Nightmare Cinema's premiere at last year's Toronto After Dark Film Festival, to chat about the movie and to find out more about his filmmaking process.

It's been something of a long road getting this film made. How did Nightmare Cinema come to be?

Garris: When we finished doing two seasons of Masters of Horror, they did a spinoff [called] Fear Itself for commercial TV, with censorship and commercials and all of that. I left the show, because it became something awful, but I always wanted to do an international version of Masters of Horror. The initial idea was to do a weekly show [with] each [episode] shot in a different country, with a director from that country. Cuz I've been going to a lot of film festivals over the years around the world, and have been exposed to all this great creativity and cultural differences that make for some really grownup horror stories, rather than teenage slasher movies.

So the idea originally was to do that series. That was too ambitious, and so [we] thought maybe an umbrella — like Nightmare Cinema presents a series of feature films. But that was hard to get off the ground as well, so the idea [came about] of finally compacting five different stories into one feature film so that it was self-contained. We were able to get the funding for that, and the filmmakers were enthusiastic about it.

Speaking of which, how did you choose these directors — David Slade, Joe Dante, Alejandro Brugués and Ryûhei Kitamura — to be a part of this film?

Garris: Our budget was such that we had to use people in Los Angeles. But I wanted to get people who represented a cultural mix. Alejandro was born in Argentina, raised in Cuba and lives in Los Angeles. Ryûhei — [with] his Japanese background — lives in Los Angeles. David Slade, from the UK, lives in Los Angeles. Myself, because it's my football. [laughs] And Joe Dante, just because he's a great filmmaker and was willing to. Each of them really has an individual voice, and it's a guessing game as to who directed [each segment] until the credits at the end.

It was really lucky to get these people, cuz you don't often get an opportunity to make what you want to make, and without interference. [With] television in particular, there's lots of interference. The creative process is tough, and our budget was tight. But it was also such that [I could tell them] if you want these guys, then leave 'em alone. And it worked out that way. The time commitment was very short because each of the directors had five days to shoot their movie, and then all the post-production inherent in that. So they really attacked it with gusto. [laughs]

Each segment in Nightmare Cinema is tonally different from the next, but they all come together nicely. Was it a challenge to balance those tonal differences?

Garris: It was, because the point was to say, "Make whatever you want, and make it yours, and don't think about any of the others." But my job was to think about all of the others. [laughs] So even though it doesn't necessarily tie them together, the wraparound segments provide a sense of linkage. And all of the scripts were done on their own, before the wraparound concept ever came up.

Then I had to decide the order, which was a tricky business as well, and then the concept of what the wraparound would be. I'd had that crumbling old movie theatre in mind not just because it's a great location, [but also because of] the line that Mickey Rourke [who plays the projectionist in the wraparound] says in the movie: "I'm the curator of 100 years of nightmares trapped in a silver screen that never forget." It's a metaphor for the death of cinema; there will always be movie theatres, but people consume their movies on different platforms.

Speaking of Mickey Rourke, I imagine you probably have something planned for the future arc of his character?

Garris: If this becomes a series or a sequel or a franchise — God forbid, the F-word — I don't know if he'll be back. But one of the heads of the company that financed the film is friends with him. Mark Canton used to be the head of Warner Bros., and so he thought, "Guys, what do you think of Mickey Rourke for this? Because how 'bout having an Oscar-nominated actor for your wraparound segment." [laughs]

It's meant to be mysterious and it's meant to ask questions about what he's all about, in the hopes that there will be more opportunities to answer those questions. And there are some hints in there; the things he says tell you a little bit about what he's about, and the gatekeeper that he is. So hopefully we'll find out more. I know who he is and what his purpose is, but I'm not telling you yet. [laughs]

It sounds like you have the seeds planted for future installments. Do you already have in mind some of the directors you want to work with next?

Garris: I would love to get some more female directors. I would love to get more people from other cultures and countries and ethnicities and different points-of-view. That's kind of the point of the movie as it is; even though it's a pretty white film [laughs], the characters aren't. We have an African-American cast in mine; we have a Latino cast in the exorcism [segment]. But I would love to get somebody like Jennifer Kent, who did The Babadook, and Coralie Fargeat, who did Revenge. Ernest Dickerson would be great; he did one of the Masters of Horror [episodes] and has done tons of great movies and television, and is African-American. What I get to see at festivals around the world, I wanna share that with everybody in North America.

Of course, your love of the genre extends to more than just making films, but also to interviewing your peers as well. How has that experience informed your own filmmaking?

Garris: A lot. I've often had directors come in to do cameos and stuff, and just watch how they work. But just getting perspective about what motivates people to do what they do, and how they do it, what their influences were, what happened in their lives... Even if it's not information I put to use myself — and sometimes it is — it's a new way of seeing things. What has been a filmmaker's experience of life and death? What were they like as kids? Were they outsiders? Most of us seem to be. [laughs] Happiness and popularity do not necessarily make for great artistry later in life. [laughs]

I started doing interviews when I was in high school. My first interview was Ray Bradbury, who was my idol, and Rod Serling was right after that. Then I got into music, and, again, when I was in high school I interviewed Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and people like that. It's out of curiosity, just about artists I care about. And now, with Post Mortem, it's more about creating a historical document of who these people were. We're not promoting a movie, like so many podcasts or articles. This is an opportunity to just talk about a career and a trajectory, and where they're going and where they're coming from.

I've got these old TV interviews I did from 1978, 1979 with Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, and they're online. You can go to a website and check them out, and they are still fascinating insights into filmmakers, people who I admire. It's an hour-long conversation rather than an hour-long interview so much, and the difference between from when I did it back then as a journalist and when I do it now is it's filmmaker talking to filmmaker. It's not better or worse, but it's a different perspective that you get, so it makes it unique.

Last but not least, what's next for you?

Garris: I've just written a pilot for a series from a Stephen King story that looks promising. I'm 100 pages into a new novel. I've got more podcasts coming up to do. So despite the age of my hair [laughs], I still keep active, I'd say. And the good thing is I do it now out of passion and love, because I've been lucky enough to make a living at this all of my life, and live a very conservative life — other than politics. So I can just say yes to what I love, and not have to do something I don't. Every day, I'm grateful for the opportunities that I get and have had, and even the ones that have smacked me in the face have helped me grow in different ways too.

Nightmare Cinema is in select theatres and on-demand June 21st, 2019.

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