Scream, The Ring, and Let's Scare Jessica to Death all inspired Clay McLeod Chapman’s new novel.
Clay McLeod Chapman’s new novel The Remaking tells the story of a young girl and her mother who were burned at the stake — but it does so through a variety of styles and formats.
“It’s a ghost story told four ways,” the writer tells EW. “Every 20 years, we reconnect with the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek, Jessica Ford, and her mother, Ella Louise Ford. You start with the ’50s campfire tale, fast-forward to the early-’70s drive-in schlocker, and then the polished ’90s remake, and then the true-crime Serial-style podcast. [It’s] an exploration of who has the right to tell thest types of stories. Who owns them? Do the fans own it? Do the storytellers own it? Do the stories that the people are about [own it]? Do I even have the right to tell this story? Probably not! I’m by no means off the hook here.”
The novel is inspired by a true story.
“There is a Little Witch Girl of Pilot’s Knob from Kentucky,” says Chapman. “I turned it into Pilot’s Creek in Virginia, just to avoid any litigious witches. But you could, right now, hop in a car and head to Kentucky, and you could find the grave that’s buried under six feet of concrete, that’s wrapped in a fence of crucifixes. The story goes that if you went to her grave at midnight, you could see the Little Witch Girl wandering about.”
Chapman was also influenced by a number of horror movies. Below, the writer talks about the book’s five most important cinematic inspirations.
The Fog (1980)
CLAY MCLEOD CHAPMAN: I have to give credit to John Carpenter’s The Fog. Part one of the book is just a complete ripoff of that intro. I love that first shot of the watch, and it snaps, and John Houseman. I just remember watching that movie on VHS and saying, “Oh my God, that’s what I want this book to feel like.”
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
CMC: I’m a huge fan of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. It is one of my top five favorite horror films. I remember finding the VHS and nobody had heard of it. But I thought it was just such a wonderful kind of tone poem. It’s about a young woman who is relased from a sanatorium. She and her husband move to a farmhouse that they get for a steal. They move in, and this is going to be a fresh start for them, after she has this kind of nervous breakdown. But there’s a squatter in the house, who’s this beautiful woman, and this woman kind of ingratiates herself into the dynamic of Jessica and her husband and their best friend. And she could quite possibly be a vampire/demon/ghost that used to live in the house centuries ago and has cast her spell over all the inhabitants of this small town. I wanted my writing style for the novel to replicate the style that the film chooses, which is this kind of heavily layered voice-over. Jessica has her own internal monologue going, and you hear that in voice-over, but then you also hear this kind of spectral voice-over that’s coming from someone else. You don’t know if it’s this other potential ghost/potential vampire, or is it Jessica, some sort of fractured personality within her own mind.
Ringu (1998)/The Ring (2002)
CMC: I remember Ringu coming out in ’98 and stumbling upon it, and you watch it and you think, there’s something dangerous here. I remember the first time watching Blair Witch, it was the same thing. But when the remake came out, I was taken by what they took out, what they rinsed away, culturally speaking, and it made me ask, if Sadako was real, and the film Ringu was based on her story, how would she personally feel if there was this American remake? That was honestly the genesis for the whole book, because of Ringu and its remake. I at first wanted to figure out if I could do the J-horror version of The Remaking, but it didn’t feel like I was the proper person to tell that story. So I looked to American folklore, and that’s when I found the Little Witch Girl of Pilot’s Knob.
CMC: I feel like I have to lay claim to Scream just because of its meta high jinks. In Scream, you’re being told the rules of what it’s like to watch a movie, and in The Remaking I wanted to explore the idea of, what is it like to be aware of reading a horror book? And what is it like to read a book about being aware of a book that’s about a movie? And I wanted to pay homage to Kevin Williamson and kind of bow down at this altar.
The Remaking is out now.