One of my favorite films to come out of 2018 Fantasia Film Festival has been the horror anthology NIGHTMARE CINEMA. Conjured up by Masters of Horror director Mick Garris, the anthology features some of the best names in the genre including Joe Dante (Gremlins), Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train) and David Slade (30 Days of Night). Following its World Premiere at the acclaimed film festival, I had the chance to speak with writer/director Mick Garris about NIGHTMARE CINEMA, working with Mickey Rourke, and the process of bringing four other directors on for this anthology.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hello Mick, it’s such an honor to speak with you today! To start things off could you tell us the inspiration behind NIGHTMARE CINEMA and how the other four directors came together for this project?
Mick Garris: What inspired it was having such a great time doing Masters of Horror and having that creative situation of being able to give filmmakers, who have their own style and substance, the encouragement they needed without interference. We were able to do two seasons of Masters of Horror and immediately after that ended I wanted to do an international version similar to Masters; however, each episode would be in a different country with a director from that country. Unfortunately, my ambitions were not met by the industry’s ambitions so ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do that, combining the anthological aspects with the international ones. I thought of doing a series of feature films that would be under an umbrella of Nightmare Cinema Presents but then the idea of doing this as a feature with multiple stories and a wraparound device was the last version I came up with and that’s the one we were able to get the funding for.
As far as the other filmmakers, before there was ever a Masters of Horror there were dinners that I had put together for genre directors and filmmakers within the horror field. It took me about a week to get a hold of 11 other directors to invite them to dinner. That first dinner was John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, Guillermo Del Toro, Stuart Gordon, Bill Malone, and more. At the restaurant we were at somebody was having a birthday party and so they starting singing “Happy Birthday” and all of us joined in and at the end of it Guillermo Del Toro stood up and said, “The Masters of Horror wish you a Happy Birthday!” (laughs). So that’s where we took the name and then the series came from that. Ever since that series ended I’ve just wanted to have the same experience in letting creative people do it their way.
With all that said, how all the directors for NIGHTMARE CINEMA came to be was in wanting to do an international film and have the filmmakers be from around the world. These were all guys whom I had met at the Masters dinners, or in the case of Ryûhei Kitamura I had met him at a screening of Midnight Meat Train, and they were all guys who had a point of view and represented different cultures. Everyone was my first choice and everybody was ready to jump on board.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Your portion of the anthology is a supernatural short titled, DEAD. What was the process like in bringing this to life (no pun intended)?
MG: The idea was to have as much variety in this movie as possible and to start with a bang. In the original idea, I was going to do DEAD if there had been a third season of Masters of Horror. I liked the idea so much that when Masters did not go for a third season, and Fear Itself happened instead, I took the idea and turned it into a feature screenplay. People might want blood and thunder for the last story of the anthology, but I don’t think you have to remove emotion from horror, I think if you add it, it can be even more potent. DEAD may or may not have been the right story to end it with but I wanted to do something that was scary but was also very human. I had originally written something much punchier and more grotesque based on one of my books for my entry into this film but the original producers who were financing the development of the script had read DEAD and loved it and asked if I thought it was possible to compress that into the anthology. I was really happy with how it turned out and for discovering actor Faly Rakotohavana, who is from Madagascar and plays the lead in the short.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Along with DEAD you also directed the wraparound story which stars Mickey Rourke. How did he come on board and can you give us a little more insight into his character, The Projectionist?
MG: The whole idea is in the hopes that there will be at least sequels to this movie but at best we would love to see it turn into an anthology series, like an international Masters of Horror. There are plenty of clues in there as to what the purpose of The Projectionist is and what he’s doing, not the least of them being the last shot of the movie. Mark Canton, who is one of the partners at Cinelou films, which financed the movie, is friendly with Mickey Rourke. He had a relationship with Mickey and thought it would be great commercially to have an Oscar-nominated movie star in the lead role. I was intimidated by the idea because I’ve heard stories about him and he’s an ex-boxer, well he still boxes but not professionally. I had called up Robert Rodriguez and he said he had a great time working with Mickey but I also had a neighbor who had worked with him and said he had not so great a time with him (laughs). But my experience with him was I don’t think he expected to have a great time. I think he thought this was probably a money job, but from the very first meeting we had we got along great and he really had fun with it. With an actor like Mickey, you just encourage him to be inspired and do what he feels comfortable doing. Some of the things he did in the film were entirely of his own device and that was great with me.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What were some of the challenges you faced in bringing this anthology to life?
MG: This movie, with the same script, could have cost $15 million dollars. I won’t say what it cost but it was substantially less than that. Everybody had a handful of days to shoot, it was like 5 day shoots for everybody on location. They were written to be done tightly, so there wasn’t a lot of locations in them. But when you look at Ryûhei’s episode, everything happens in that real church when the ultimate battle happens, or in Alejandro’s episode with all the spider effects, those things cost a lot when you are making a movie. Everyone had makeup effects, everyone had stunts and physical effects and CGI and all those things that are time-consuming and budget consuming. Luckily, we had a great group of people that ranged from the directors to the actors to KNB to Vincent Van Dyke, who did the makeup effects, and those who did the CG effects. Everyone did it from their heart, nobody was in it to get rich, everybody loved the idea of coming together and doing it because they wanted to make something they could be proud of. That made what was difficult a lot easier to swallow – that was our spoonful of sugar. All of it was demanding, but for me personally, I was working with a 12-year-old kid, so the hours you can work him are not as long as adult hours. Those things, personally, were complicated. Also, working in real locations where you had to be in and out at a certain time. David Slade’s was shot in a government building in downtown LA and we had to do it on weekends. All that stuff you see on the walls and the slop everywhere, that’s real (laughs). There was a lot of time and effort put into applying it and even worse unapplying it and cleaning it away. Everything was a challenge but it was all worth it. We were all really happy with what we made and hope that people, like you, share it with others.