Nightmare Cinema’s Mick Garris talks anthologies and elevated horror (Fantasia 2018)

We talk to genre legend Mick Garris about his new anthology horror Nightmare Cinema

In the great tradition of the horror anthology, Nightmare Cinema is the newest entry in the sub-genre. With a wraparound story featuring Mickey Rourke as the ominous Projectionist, this international collection of shorts brings together some of the greatest talents of horror. ‘The Projectionist’ is directed by Mick Garris, who also contributed a short called ‘Dead’, about a young boy who suffers a horrifying act of violence that leaves him clinging to life in the hospital.

Along with Garris, Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Joe Dante (Gremlins), Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train) and David Slade (30 Days Of Night) were given free rein to direct the horror stories of their choice, bringing cinematic nightmares to life.

Mick Garris is a legend of horror. He began his career as a receptionist at Lucasfilm in the 1970s and at the time hosted a Los Angeles cable access show called “Fantasy Film Festival” which featured guests like Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg and William Shatner. He got his big break directing an episode of the anthology show, Amazing Stories, and two years later made his feature film debut with Critters 2.

Since then, Mick Garris has directed films like Sleepwalkers (1992), Stephen King’s The Stand (1994) and Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990). In 2005, he also created Masters Of Cinema, an anthology TV series where horror directors were given a small budget and carte-blanche to tell whatever story they wanted.

The film had its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival where he sat down with SciFiNow to discuss his new film and his relationship with the horror genre.

What is it about horror that is so suited to the anthology format?

Mick Garris: Horror stories can be short and sweet. They’re punchline stories. There is a tradition of horror anthologies from Tales From The Crypt in the 70s, the Amicus movies and back to Dead Of Night in the 1940s. The tradition of multiple scary stories even goes back to campfire stories. Campfire stories are always scary stories.

Why is the communal aspect of horror so important?

The line that Mickey Rourke says in the movie is, “A curator of a hundred years of nightmares trapped in the silver screen that never forgets.” That is the screen of our shared experience. All of those nightmares collect and gain weight in that screen that’s been there in this ancient movie theatre and the shared experience of fear.

Fear and comedy are best shared. To see a horror movie alone you lose fifty percent of its impact. Comedy is the same way and you don’t feel as much laughter, even if it’s funny, as you do when you’re surrounded by other people. A full house, like last night when we screened Nightmare Cinema here, that shared experience is much more potent and sharing fears is something that makes it universal. The whole appeal of the horror movie in the first place is to confront a fear safely. A successful horror movie can tap into things that all of us feel uncomfortable with. They’re also rude, horror was never meant to be the Oscar-winning sort. Horror is supposed to be confrontational and rub things in your face!

Do you feel a bit of apprehension towards some horror in recent years that some people have called “elevated horror”?

It’s offensive for people who make horror and who take it seriously. When I’m writing a horror story, I’m not writing for the gutter, I’m not lowering myself to write a horror story. I’m putting everything I have into it. All of the heart and soul. It is as much a drama as it is a horror story. A good horror story has to be a good story first. “Elevated,” I understand films like Hereditary and even A Quiet Place, people use that term, but it’s saying “cause you know most horror is shit, but this is the good stuff!” I resent that, even though most horror is shit! (laughs) Most everything is shit.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a brilliant horror film but I wouldn’t call it elevated horror, it doesn’t have that snob-value. It’s super dirty but every bit as artistic as any horror movie ever made. It created a lot of the tropes a modern horror film is and it should be called “elevated” horror because it elevated the quality of filmmaking in its day. A great horror film is a great horror film. Elevated just says that everything else doesn’t deserve the distinction of being classified a film, “it’s just a horror movie.”

Dead deals with grief. What do you think it is about horror that is such an effective vehicle for dealing with difficult emotions?

[Dead] is about our mortality, and that’s the thing that we put in a box and put under the bed. I have become a better human being and a deeper artist by living my life not through television and film but really living; by falling in love, by having your heart broken. I’ve lost my parents and two of my brothers, that stuff puts you in touch with something that you have to cope with. If you build a wall around yourself to protect from the pain that you feel upon a sense of loss then you’ve also built a wall that protects you from the good stuff, from participating on anything other than a very superficial level. I would rather live life deeply and allow myself to feel the pain of loss. Horror movies are a fantastic way of either whistling past the graveyard and going “Nah, nah, nah, I’ll live forever!” or appreciating the life you have before it ends.

The most frightening thing to me is not movie monsters, it’s the health and safety of my loved ones. Dead is something personal, you get to know this little boy at an age where he’s not a child and he’s not an adolescent. He’s having to take a step into adulthood before he’s ready and being confronted with mortality which isn’t supposed to happen until much later in life.

Nightmare Cinema screens at Fantasia International Film Festival 2018.