From Critters 2 to Nightmare Cinema: Mick Garris' life in horror
The writer, director, and podcaster has spent much of his career tingling spines.
Mick Garris has written horror movies like The Fly II, directed horror films such as Critters 2 and Psycho IV, and interviewed horror notables on his Post Mortem podcast which returns on Oct. 28. He was even one of the co-writers on Halloween favorite Hocus Pocus, which topped the box office chart earlier this month almost three decades after it was released. "Isn’t that amazing?" Garris marvels to EW. "Twenty-seven years after it flopped at the box office, it’s No. 1. It’s pretty cool."
In addition to Post Mortem, Garris has a new book, These Evil Things We Do: The Mick Garris Collection, which rounds-up his noir novel Salome and four chilling novellas including the U.K.-set Snow Shadows. "It's about an American teacher, teaching in a snowbound art school," he says. "He and his wife went to the U.K. after their baby was killed in an auto accident, they’re starting over, he meets an acting teacher from France, they become entranced with each other, have an affair. The results are ghostly and less than happy. Hi-jinks ensue, as they say!"
Below, Garris talks about his life in horror.
CRITTERS 2 (1988)
Garris's directorial debut was this underfunded monsters-featuring sequel to the 1986's Critters.
MICK GARRIS: It was my first feature film. I’d only ever directed an episode of Amazing Stories before that. I’d always thought I would hold out because I didn’t want to do something with not enough money, or something with a lot of special effects, or stunts, and all this stuff. Kids. Everything that’s difficult about making a movie is in Critters 2. So, no money, everything difficult. Special effects. Working with kids. Animals. Puppetry. We were working in Santa Clarita in the coldest winter in a hundred years in southern California, shooting a scene with Roxanne Kernohan in 22-degree weather. It was really rough, seeing everybody’s breath, working with all these puppets, running back and forth between the second unit and the first unit and dealing with things I’d never dealt with before. It was incredibly difficult but incredibly fun. We were able to just go for it and kind of make a Warner Bros. cartoon out of it as well as a Spielbergian sci-fi epic on a tiny budget.
THE FLY II (1989)
Garris wrote the Eric Stoltz-starring sequel to David Cronenberg's horror classic.
MG: The interesting thing about working on The Fly II was that it helped ignite internecine studio warfare during a regime change. My exec on the project was Scott Rudin, who later became one of the best and most tasteful of producers. Producer Stuart Cornfeld and I wanted to do something smart and adult in the realm of the brilliant Cronenberg movie that preceded it, and Scott was completely on board with us. But Leonard Goldberg, producer of The Love Boat and other such TV shows, was inducted as the studio chief at Fox, and he wanted a teenage monster movie. Something completely other than what we planned. We had to give in, though, and I tried to do something as good as possible under the circumstances, and did a couple new drafts along those lines. But when the opportunity arose to direct my first feature film — Critters 2 — I bolted, and the rewrites were done by Frank Darabont and the Wheat brothers [Ken and Jim Wheat].
PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING (1989)
Psycho horror icon Anthony Perkins reprised the role of mommy-loving Norman Bates once again in this Garris-directed sequel.
MG: That was my first experience working with a true movie star. It was challenging. It was complicated. He was a guy who had played Norman Bates three times before, knew more about the character than anybody, but had directed Psycho III, which was both a critical and financial flop for Universal. He wanted to direct Psycho IV and the studio wouldn’t let him. So, here he is, they hired the guy whose last movie was Critters 2, after he’d worked with Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock, and William Wyler, and every other great director of the era. So, he tested me a lot and it was complicated and difficult at times but it was always for the right reason. He wanted to know that I wasn't just setting up cool shots and doing things that would look good but [that it] was for the story and would enhance the emotions of the scenes.
The most gratifying thing was showing it to him in the Alfred Hitchcock Theatre at Universal when it was finished. He went on and on and on about how it was the best sequel and how surprised he was. So, it turned around all of that hard hard work of going into verbal discussions of the meaning of ‘camp’ for 45 minutes and things like that.
SLEEPWALKERS (1992), THE STAND (1994), THE SHINING (1997), RIDING THE BULLET (2004), DESPERATION, (2006), BAG OF BONES (2011)
Garris has repeatedly collaborated with Stephen King on both films (Sleepwalkers, Riding the Bullet) and mini-series, most notably his small-screen adaptation of King's epic apocalypse novel The Stand.
MG: Before I ever met Steve, I had this studio meeting at Columbia on Sleepwalkers. He had director approval. He saw Psycho IV and really liked it. I knew his stuff really well. So, he took a chance on me and it turned out he really enjoyed what I did with the movie, was very happy with it. He's a few years older than me, but we still had a lot of cultural touchstones that were the same. We were both raised by single mothers, we were raised in less than optimal financial circumstances, very very blue-collar upbringings, and we share a history of horror comics and Twilight Zone and Outer Limits and the Universal classics and Hammer films, and all those things that were a part of our early lives.
That led him to asking me to do The Stand, which was an amazing thing. Amusingly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, because there was a lot of snobbery about the difference between television and movies. But it was The Stand, it was Stephen King, it was one of my favorite books of all-time, so I would have been an idiot to turn it down. That’s where we really became friends. He was an actual executive producer, he was around the set for at least half of the shoot, and so that led to a really nice both personal and professional relationship, which continues to this day.
MASTERS OF HORROR (2005-07)
Garris created the Showtime horror anthology show which featured episodes directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and Stuart Gordon, among other genre legends.
MG: It was an opportunity that came out of these dinners we’d put together with a bunch of genre filmmakers who were kind of frustrated with their lot in life. Masters of Horror gave the best people in the genre the opportunity to do whatever they wanted, without creative interference. None of them had had that for a long time. It was like giving the keys of the asylum to the inmates, but it worked out really well.
NIGHTMARE CINEMA (2018)
Mickey Rourke played a sinister projectionist in this horror anthology film which boasted segments directed by Garris, Joe Dante, Ryūhei Kitamura, Alejandro Brugués, and David Slade.
MG: The intention was to do a series, each hour [episode] shot in a different country with a genre filmmaker from that country. That was a little too ambitious. People were afraid of globe-hopping. Nightmare Cinema eventually evolved into a feature film with five stories and very international. Two Americans, but a Japanese director, a Cuban director, and a British director. We are in talks with Shudder about a Nightmare Cinema 2. The coronavirus basically shut that down and we’re just starting to have conversations again.
POST MORTEM PODCAST
MG: It will be our season 5 and we’ll be starting with Joe Hill. It’s a great interview with Joe. Then we’ve got Patton Oswalt and Jonah Ray from MST3K. I have another interview with Mike Flanagan and we’ve got a bunch more planned that we haven’t recorded yet. But I am so glad to be able to uncork these wines for everybody.