I love horror-cons, specifically panels because there’s something fun and comforting about listening to artists talk about what scares them in horror. And since there’s a global pandemic going on, it gives us all a little something to think about besides the true horrors happening in the world. Fortunately, we had the SCARY GOOD TV: A CONVERSATION WITH HORROR’S TOP SHOWERUNNERS panel to fill the void.
The SCARY GOOD TV: A CONVERSATION WITH HORROR’S TOP SHOWERUNNERS panel, presented by Shudder, my favorite app, featured Don Mancini (“Chucky”) Greg Nicotero (“The Walking Dead”, “Creepshow“), Meredith Averill (“Locke & Key“, “The Haunting of Hill House”), Jami O’Brien (Joe Hill’s “NOS4A2“), and Nick Antosca (“Channel Zero”) moderated by Tananarive Due, writer, educator and an executive producer of Horror Noire, a documentary for Shudder.
Tananarive Due teaches a class on horror at UCLA: “The Sunken Place: Racism, Survival and the Black Horror Aesthetic”, with a focus on the Oscar-winning film Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele. Also, she was a journalist for the Miami Herald and has written several novels in the Horror, Mystery and Science Fiction genre, and a nonfiction book about civil rights, “Freedom in the Family.” Due introduced the speakers before starting off the SCARY GOOD TV: A CONVERSATION WITH HORROR’S TOP SHOWERUNNERS panel with the first question: “What’s the first time you remember being really scared by horror on television?”
Don Mancini, one of my favorite filmmakers for creating the best characters in the genre, and two of my favorite sequels: Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, said for him it was “Dark Shadows”. Particularly the episode when the vampire Barnabas Collins hired an artist to age a portrait of Angelique Collins, who screamed when she saw that her withered hands…matched the painting. Look at your hands! “Dark Shadows” is streaming free on Tubi TV, so you can watch the series and catch the episode that scared Mancini as a child. I have to add that there was a Chucky doll poised ten feet behind Mancini the entire time —staring menacingly at us while holding a knife, which added something fun and spooky.
Greg Nicotero, legendary showrunner for “Creepshow” and executive producer and director on “The Walking Dead”, said that the first time he had nightmares was after watching a Trilogy of Terror, a made-for-television anthology horror film, directed by Dan Curtis. He said he was scared watching a doll chase Karen Black around, the star of the three-part anthology. Yes, I love Karen Black, she also has one of the best last names ever. Trilogy of Terror is streaming on Amazon Prime, if you’re inclined to see the black and white horror series, written by Richard Matheson of “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”, The Last Man on Earth, and the novels, “I Am Legend” and “Hell House.”
Meredith Averill, co-showrunner for “Locke & Key“, said that her earliest scariest moment was watching the opening credits of “Tales from the Darkside”. She said that the music in the credits was simple but creepy. I remember watching a few episodes a few years ago, so I checked out the opening and it’s as wonderfully eerie as she said, with a creepy monologue: Man lives in a sunlit world…that he believes to be REALITY. The film version of the show Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is streaming on Apple TV (but not the tv series) though full episodes can be found on Youtube.
Nick Antosca, creator and showrunner of “Channel Zero”, a horror anthology series, said that his first scary moment (that he remembers) was watching “The X-Files”. Specifically, an episode that he watched in elementary school, where a liver-eating guy popped out of the vents in a house which made him hesitant to go near vents… afterward. I can relate, I remember seeing Jason crush a man’s skull in a shower in Friday The 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter and I was terrified of taking showers (while standing up) for months.
Jami O’Brien, showrunner of Joe Hill’s “NOS4A2“, who grew up in New England, said that her first scary moment came from watching “Creature Double Feature”, a horror movie marathon show that featured classic monster B-movies. She remembers seeing one about a vampire that scares her to this day — she said she pulled the sheets over her head because she believed that a vampire wouldn’t be able to bite her neck and kill her. I need to watch “Creature Double Feature”!
Due agreed saying that there were great horror tv shows in the past, but asks: Why are we in a horror renaissance now and why is horror thriving? And with more scrutiny of cop tv shows, what is the future of horror on television? I felt the implication was fewer cop shows, more horror shows — yes!
O’Brien said that this question is asked a lot because there was a period when there wasn’t a lot of horror on TV but that horror returned with the success of “The Walking Dead”. The pilot was great and super scary and since the whole series was fantastic, it could be the reason for the resurgence of horror on television. She said that she too looks for a psychological reason for the popularity but she thinks that maybe it’s because horror is fun!
“And profitable,” Nicotero pointed out that the popularity of Halloween has risen steadily in the past ten or fifteen years —to almost surpass Christmas as the most popular holiday. Nicotero also said that he thinks the resurgence of horror television is due to the popularity of horror video games and the kids who played Resident Evil or House of the Dead. It’s no longer just fans of Romero — it’s horror gamers as well, who were introduced to zombies in shooting games that are interested in watching zombies as well as other types of horror.
For Antosca, the movie that made him want to tell stories was Night of the Living Dead though he didn’t understand at the time the social politics and allegory that existed in the film. I wonder if the subtext is understood deep in our subconscious even at a young age? I felt that he was referring to the socio-political theme about racism in Night of the Living Dead. Antosca says there are other examples of this such as The Shining — a film which is really about an abusive father (with an ax) or The Exorcist, which is about your daughter changing, and that it’s our overall sense of pervasive dread that’s ultimately explored in the genre. Yes, I feel that.
Mancini pointed out that it’s weird to think that The Shining wasn’t popular when it was first released, but it is now. It is weird! And to think that John Carpenter’s The Thing was a commercial flop when it’s one of the greatest horror films ever made is unreal. The world sometimes comes late to new ideas if they’re ‘creepy’. Just ask poor old Edgar Allen Poe, who died homeless and drunk.
Later on, Due asked the panel: Is there something about kids and horror? Since there’s so much interest in telling horror stories from the perspective of children or about children? Greg Nicotero, who lives in what looks like an elegant horror museum, said that it was interesting that so many writers on “Creepshow” pitched stories about children, who are often difficult to shoot due to time constraints.
Nicotero also said something cool about Stephen King, he said that working with Joe Hill (who he adores) is a lot like working with his father, Stephen King. Nicotero met King when he was eighteen years old. That information was worth the entire panel! I’m fascinated by Stephen King. He was my first love in horror. My first true scare. I slept with his books. Nicotero has led such an interesting life. He grew up next door to George Romero. Horror definitely runs through his veins.
One of the interesting writing tips that came from the SCARY GOOD TV: A CONVERSATION WITH HORROR’S TOP SHOWERUNNERS panel was from O’Brien, who said that character is important — we have to care about the characters. And you have to balance the supernatural and the real world. There’s a whole fantasyland in NOS4A2’s Christmas land, but there’s also a kitchen sink drama happening. So, the writer’s room has to agree on the ‘rules of the supernatural’ which was present in the book as well. So, any time you have a supernatural character or a character in the supernatural world, they need to be grounded with a real-world need. This is so similar to comedy writing. It blew my mind.
Averill, a bit later, returned to that thought and said that writing on “The Haunting of Hill House” was so much about the characters and their lives. How much of what happened to Nelly was destined? Or the house itself? She said they spent time thinking about the background and inner mind of Nelly. Mancini and Antosca later agreed. Mancini saying that any kind of comic book or novel or episodic television show demands that kind of richness of character.
All in all, the SCARY GOOD TV: A CONVERSATION WITH HORROR’S TOP SHOWERUNNERS panel was one of the most interesting panels for those interested in horror television. Please check out the original horror shows which inspired the showrunners, they can be found on streaming channels or Youtube, except for “Creatures Double Features”. I could only find the opening credits for the show despite being in syndication but it’s worth it, it’s so fun and creepy.
Be sure to check out the SCARY GOOD TV: A CONVERSATION WITH HORROR’S TOP SHOWERUNNERS panel, which is still uploaded on Youtube, so you can check out the Chucky doll behind Mancini and Nicotero’s incredibly spooky house for yourself. Also, I heard a rumor that there’s going to be a lot of cursing in the new “Chucky” TV series, which is set to air in 2021. You have been warned!
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