Mick Garris discusses the 12-year struggle to make the movie, and being 'intimidated' by Mickey Rourke
Nightmare Cinema is the title of a new horror anthology movie making its world premiere July 12 as part of the opening night of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The producers include Mick Garris, who previously oversaw Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, and who must find the film’s title doubly appropriate, given that he spent more than a decade getting it off the ground.
“Let me tell you, it’s been at least a dozen years,” says Garris, whose other screen credits include directing Psycho IV and the miniseries version of The Shining. “When I finished season 2 of Masters of Horror, I wanted to do an international version, because we did an episode each season in Japan. I thought, ‘Why don’t we do a show where every episode is in a different country?’ And everybody else had less ambition than me! [Laughs] They were a little frightened of that possibility. So I tried to do it as a series of $5 million feature films with the umbrella title of Nightmare Cinema, and tried to do it as a TV series, like Masters of Horror.” The project eventually evolved into a five-segment movie produced by Garris, Courtney Solomon, Mark Canton, and Cinelou Films, which provided the finance. “After all these years of getting close and trying, what we came up with was the idea of doing it as an anthology film,” says Garris.
Although the project’s five segments were all shot in Los Angeles, Nightmare Cinema boasts an international lineup of directors, with Cuban filmmaker Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Japanese auteur Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Downrange), and the British David Slade (30 Days of Night, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) joining Americans Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Garris himself. The latter pair are longtime friends, while Garris knew the other three directors through the Masters of Horror dinners he periodically organizes in L.A.
“Alejandro came in with John Landis one time, David Slade came to one of the dinners, and I invited Ryûhei after I’d met him at a screening of Midnight Meat Train,” says Garris, who also hosts the horror-themed interview podcast Post Mortem. “I knew I wanted people from around the world. We shot the whole thing in L.A., but they brought in the sensibility of their cultural upbringing, and the way they learned to make films, and the like. So, yeah, they were all people that had gone to the dinners, but they were people I liked as human beings and admired as filmmakers.”
The film’s five segments certainly feature an array of subgenres and styles. Brugués’ opening segment, “The Thing in the Woods,” is a knowing tribute to slasher movies, while Dante delivers a freakish warning about the perils of plastic surgery in “Mirari.” Kitamura offers a tale of possession at a Catholic school in “Mashit,” which was written by Mexican author Sandra Becerril and is the bloodiest of the bunch.
“You’d never know to meet this beautiful young Mexican woman that she had all this slaughtering in mind when she came aboard,” Garris says. “But it was her idea, and her sensibility, mixed with Ryûhei’s sensibility. I mean, it is the bloodbath movie of the five, for sure.”
Slade’s segment, “This Way to Egress,” is perhaps the film’s most psychologically disturbing. It follows a mother of two who is hallucinating — or is she? — that the people she meets are transforming into monsters. Asked how he got involved in the project, Slade replies simply, “Mick asked me.”
“The thing is, when Mick asks you, you usually say yes, because he’s such a lovely fellow,” the British director continues. “My segment is something that I’ve been wanting to make for many years. And Mick came to me one day and said, ‘We have this thing. You can do pretty much whatever film you want to make as long as it’s in the horror genre. Are you interested?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely, it sounds lovely.’ It was a lot of fun, even though mine is actually quite traumatizing!”
Garris himself directed the film’s final segment, the supernatural saga “Dead,” as well as the movie’s linking scenes, which star Mickey Rourke as the Projectionist, a mysterious figure who screens the film’s segments at a cinema.
“It was intimidating at first,” Garris says of working with the Iron Man 2 and Sin City actor. “I was hearing stories about him. But I called Robert Rodriguez [who directed Rourke in the Sin City films] and he said, ‘I’ve heard those stories, but I had a great time with Mickey.’ I’ve got to tell you, so did I. I think he came in just expecting it to be a gig and he was surprised at the way the film was being made. I was there to encourage him, not to tell him how to do anything, and he was able to get to do things that he doesn’t get to do either. It’s sort of a Crypt Keeper role, I don’t think that’s a spoiler if I say that. But, you know, when you hire Mickey, you get Mickey Rourke. There’s nobody like him, and there is a scary and intimidating quality about him that works great for the role of the Projectionist, I think. You don’t know what secrets he’s got or he’s guarding!”
The film’s cast also includes Dr. Kildare actor Richard Chamberlain, who stars in Dante’s segment.
“Richard had retired, and he was so moved and blown away by the fact that Joe Dante sought him,” says Garris. “Joe loves to cast people from memorable things in your childhood, and Dr. Kildare playing this plastic surgeon was such a brilliant idea. He was so nimble and had so much fun playing something very different from anything he’s done before. He was grinning every day.”
Garris has hopes that Nightmare Cinema can become a franchise — one way or another.
“The ultimate would be to set it up as an hourly anthology series for Netflix, or HBO, or somebody like that,” the director-producer says. “That, or a series of feature films you do every year that have four or five stories in it. Or as just an umbrella where you do a series of 90-minute feature films.”
With all that blood flying around, an umbrella of some sort does sound like a good idea.
“A big one!” Garris says with a laugh. “And you don’t want a see-through one either!”
For more details about Nightmare Cinema’s premiere, visit the Fantasia Festival website.