“I almost never remember my dreams but maybe that’s because my job is dreaming awake,” Mick Garris says in a phone interview for his new film “Nightmare Cinema.”
In addition to producing, Garris is one of five international directors helming the five-part horror anthology. While each story differs in style and temperament all the characters are united by their interaction with a character simply called The Projectionist who seemingly controls their destiny from the balcony of the Rialto movie theater.
Garris, who was the showrunner of the Showtime anthology series “Masters of Horror” (2005 – 2007), envisioned “Nightmare Cinema” as a follow-up series. The production took 12 years to finally get off the ground.
“My first episode of ‘Masters of Horror’ was based on a dream I had where I experienced what it felt like to kill someone. It was not myself but someone else who was murdering someone with a knife and I felt the hot blood running down my arm. I am glad to say that was repulsive to me,” adds Garris.
“I had a very ambitious plan to have each episode use a director from around the world,” says Garris.
“Nightmare Cinema” contains individual episodes directed by David Slade from Britain who gives a dark spin to a woman’s trauma over loss with the monochromatic “This Way to Egress;” by Alejandro Brugués from Cuba with the alien invasion genre masher “Thing in the Woods;” by Ryûhei Kitamura from Japan with the demonic possession themed “Mashit;” while Joe Dante’s “Mirari,” sends up plastic surgery with a surreal twist; and Garris directs “Dead,” the tale of a boy who dies on the operating table but comes back to life, as well as the projectionist segments that bridge the film together.
History of Horror Anthology Films
The omnibus film containing macabre stories bracketed by a framing story goes back to the silent era and the 1919 German film “Unheimliche Geschicten.”
One of the most highly regarded films of this genre is the 1945 film from Ealing Studios “Dead of Night.”
“Particularly the Michael Redgrave segment with the ventriloquist dummy,” notes Garris about that British film.
Another British film company Amicus Productions made anthologies like “Tales From the Crypt” (1972) and “Torture Garden” (1967).
“They were very influential but so were television series like ‘The Twilight Zone,’ ‘The Outer Limits’ and ‘Tales of the Unexpected,’” says Garris. “You didn’t have to know and love a TV family that came on every week, it was like a mini-movie every time.”
The 1980’s included Stephen King inspired movie anthologies like “Creepshow” and “Cat’s Eye.” More recent excursions into terror-based stories include “V/H/S” and “ABCs of Death” and their sequels.
Podcast and Beyond
Garris hosts a popular podcast, Post Morten, that is sponsored by the newly revised Fangoria, a horror magazine popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s that has recently reinvented itself as a stand-alone print publication.
“Podcasters don’t do it for money, every show my guests talk about things they’ve never discussed before. We’re not there to talk about their latest movie but rather a career, or what makes people tick. It’s a conversation rather than a sales pitch,” says Garris whose recent guests have included Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
The day we spoke to Garris he had just returned from the Overlook Film Festival where he presented “Nightmare Cinema.”
“The first night was half full. But then the next day we had a 4:30 screening that was sold out. We also did a live podcast afterwards,” says Garris.
Overlook actually started at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which was partially the inspiration for Stephen King to write “The Shining” and was a location when Garris directed “The Shining” mini-series for ABC television in 1997. The festival currently unspools in New Orleans.
“It’s become the premiere US genre film festival,” says Garris. “In Canada it’s Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal and internationally in Spain it’s Sitges Film Festival. For me those are the top three.”
“The projectionists scenes were done last,” says Garris. “We had to shoot around the schedules of the directors, there was a month or two where we shut down because David Slade was off shooting ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ in England.”
The movie theater used in the film, the Rialto, is located in Pasadena and was one of the last single screen theaters in the Los Angeles area. “It had been closed down for a dozen years and is now a church,” says Garris. The Rialto was used in films as diverse as “La La Land” and Robert Altman’s “The Player.”
Garris had never met Mickey Rourke who plays The Projectionist until the first day they shot. “I’d heard stories that he can be intimidating but he was great, he had his little dog with him.
“We knew there would be a shots that would be opening or closing each of the stories, so I would know how to approach that in the wrap around sequences that take place in the theater,” adds Garris.
All of the segments have brilliant moments that in one way or another pay tribute to genre conventions that will be familiar to fans.
“Mashit” uses subliminal shots mixed with an Italian Giallo style, with a sly nod to “The Exorcist.”
“Thing in the Woods” has a crazy point-of-view of alien spider legs chasing after its scared protagonists.
“Brugués used a Go Pro style camera that they rigged into a kind of lawn mower device, someone was pushing it from behind. It rotated and made the legs appear to be running. They called it the Arachnicam,” says Garris. “He came up with that on the spur of the moment.”
The Dante sequence winks to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled “The Eye of the Beholder” as well as resurrecting Richard Chamberlain in his medical whites. Chamberlain who starred in over 190 episodes of the classic 1960s television series “Dr. Kildare” plays a plastic surgeon that has serious designs on an unsuspecting patient.
For the segment “Dead,” Garris notes, “I wanted to have an extraordinary experience.
“It stretched the envelope,” Garris says about the character’s heart stopping for 17-minutes. “Usually beyond four minutes you’re done. He was a musical prodigy but his death was so extended before he came back to life that it helped justify the new abilities he had.
“Nightmare Cinema” opens exclusively on June 21 at the Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra.
— michael bergeron