Mick Garris on Mutating ‘Masters of Horror’ Into ‘Nightmare Cinema’

At the Overlook Film Fest, we chat with the filmmaker about the restorative power of the anthology film.
Nightmare Cinema
Cranked Up Films
By  · Published on June 6th, 2019

The Shallow Pocket Project is a series of conversations with the brilliant filmmakers behind the independent films that we love. Check our last chat with Erik Nelson (The Cold Blue). Special thanks to William Dass and the other Dorks at In The Mouth of Dorkness.

There are no guarantees, especially in the cold arithmetic steering film and television production. An artist gives their lifeblood to a project, filling every frame with their very being, but when the studio flicks the switch that energy is obliterated in the span of a breath. For two glorious seasons on Showtime, Masters of Horror presented a playground for an eclectic blend of filmmakers eager to experiment under the broad umbrella of the genre. Audiences clicked on every week to discover top tier magicians like John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Don Coscarelli, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, and Takashi Miike revel in their talent. With a third season promising contributions from Guillermo del Toro and more, its cancellation hit hard amongst the fans, but maybe none more so than show creator Mick Garris.

After nearly forty years in the business, the director of Critters 2 and The Stand is used to seeing creative enterprises morph, mutate, or die. One movie gets away from you, but then you’re on to the next one. That’s the job. With Masters of Horror, Garris felt the sting of cancellation a little more painfully and when it was resurrected into the disappointing Fear Itself, the desire artistically to amend the concept in another arena strengthened. His latest anthology film, Nightmare Cinema revitalizes the Masters of Horror conviction of freeing talent to run wild.

Alongside Garris, Nightmare Cinema features Alejandro Brugés, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura, and David Slade behind the camera crafting short films from their distinct points of view while Mickey Rourke‘s Projectionist stitches their tales together. No segment feels like another, and no matter what flavor of horror you enjoy the most, you’ll find something to satisfy. The ultimate excitement stems from the freedom Garris provides his fellow filmmakers, allowing them to let their freak flag fly.

We spoke to Garris on the practically abandoned second floor of the International House Hotel in downtown New Orleans during the Overlook Film Festival. From the get-go, he expressed that he has never been more proud of a movie, “It really comes from being able to exercise the same philosophy that we did on Masters of Horror.” It’s not a complicated idea, but it is a rare one. “Get great filmmakers – this time from around the world – and give them a platform. Not much money, but complete creative freedom to do whatever they want.”

Nightmare Cinema is an undying passion finally realized. Cobbled together on a tight budget, but cobbled together nonetheless. Garris toured the festival circuit for the past year, and the film is ready to see a theatrical release day-and-date with VOD on June 21st. He’s thoroughly enjoyed watching the reactions from the crowd but now he’s eager to get it out to the rest of the world. “The fact that I had the opportunity to make this,” says Garris, “years after I conceived it far outweighed all the grief of having it fall apart as Masters of Horror.”

Masters of Horror and Nightmare Cinema are extensions of Garris’ celebratory nature. You dig gore? Ryûhei Kitamura will deliver. Looking for classic movie reverence with a twinkle in its vision? Joe Dante has you covered. Garris wants to “let the inmates run the asylum and not worry about stylistic similarities, but encourage them to be different.” Each film has a unique cinematic personality and Garris gets to join in on the fun, but more importantly, he’s there to act as a cheerleader for these other authorities. “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager,” he says. “The first guy I interviewed when I was in high school was Ray Bradbury, and the second was Rod Serling. Then I became a music journalist, and I interviewed a lot of dead rockstars.” Feeding on art and artists is his nourishment.

When Garris is not making movies, traveling to festivals or writing books, he is podcasting every week with Post Mortem. Sitting down with other creatives is a restorative process and fuels his fire if required. “I’ve always had a curiosity about the creative process and being in a very specific genre,” he says. “I respect the world of horror. I know that 90% of it is shit, but that 10% is better than anything and I love that. I am happy to be an evangelist when it comes to such a potentially imaginative genre.”

For Garris, Nightmare Cinema represents everything he adores about the realm he works within. “I don’t make horror movies because I think that’s going to make money,” he says, “I make them because I think they’re important and that’s where the most creative filmmaking can be found.” It’s about extremity; pushing past accepted means of storytelling to uncover the new. “In most decades, you have boundaries broken and new cinematic language created in the horror genre that you can’t in a more grounded atmosphere.”

Horror never dies. There may be a waining year or two, but it always comes back. “Like the living dead depicted in the movies,” describes Garris, “if the horror genre dies in popularity it’s eventually going to revive, and usually revived with something new and fresh and different.” Just when you get tired of The Conjuring sequels along comes a Hereditary to knock you on your ass. Garris simply loves the cinematic opportunities offered by horror’s incredibly large canvas. “I love stories that get so personal that they go beyond the external and go to the internal,” he says. “The things that scare me will hopefully scare you when I share it with you and get under your skin. People have different fears, but the route of those fears all come from the same place.”

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)