Tom Holland has forever left his mark on the horror genre as the man behind Fright Night and Child’s Play. In 2012, the writer-director created an anthology horror webseries for FearNeat called Twisted Tales. Starring genre heroes like AJ Bowen, Angela Bettis, Ray Wise, Danielle Harris and William Forsythe, the shorts range in tone, from comedic to terrifying, and show Holland having a great time with the medium.
Twisted Tales is now available on DVD in the UK, and we took the chance to talk to Holland about the freedom of digital, how the horror industry has changed, and what’s going on with his movie of Stephen King’s The Ten O’Clock People.
Were you excited about the opportunity of working on short films?
Yes, I was because it was a new form to me. For the first time in my life somebody was telling me that I could write any length that I wanted. So I wrote them from about eight minutes to about 40 and there are nine of them, and each one is different. It was a challenge to me as a writer, it was interesting as a director, but the question was how much story, or how involved could the story be, under 10 pages, under 20, under 30? So I learned a lot about the short story, or what I could do with different length episodes. But it was very challenging.
They vary a lot in tone as well.
Well, what I learned was that if you go 10 minutes or under you’re almost into a monologue. It’s even hard to get a two-hander. To get a character arc in ten pages or under is very difficult. It’s more like doing a comedic sketch with a black out line. So what I learned is that in 18-20 pages, which is like a half hour without the commercials, is that you could really do a full story with some changes and with some character resolution. I make it sound like it’s building a house, but that’s what I learned. I found it very challenging, difficult; I think the length as much as anything else probably determined a lot of the tone of what I was doing.
Did you pretty much have total creative freedom?
I did but I had no money! [laughs] Which severely limits you. If you notice, most of them are like one act plays in the sense that I think two or three of them really move around but four or five are really in one set. ‘Fred And His GPS’, that moves around, I could do that there, but it’s still just inside one car driving around town at night. It was that kind of limitation.
Were you a fan of anthology horror series?
Sure, because I grew up on Twilight Zone. Hitchcock too, but Twilight Zone really is one of the great cultural experiences of my teen and pre-teenhood. So I think anthologies, and I had played with it in Tales Of The Crypt, I did three of those, and I did one of the Masters Of Horror. But that’s where you had a lot of money, and as you know digital has changed the business and crushed the cost of production, so I had more freedom with Twisted Tales but I had no money for production value. So there were all kinds of challenges of how to make something that would hold somebody, and how do you monetise it. We’re certainly involved in some kind of distribution revolution, as you well know.
The cast is brilliant. There’s people like Angela Bettis, AJ Bowen….
Well I can’t say enough about the entire cast, I think Angela Bettis is genius. I think she’s an Academy Award-worthy character actress. Because she’s in genre I don’t think people realise how talented she is. But I could say that about so many of them. Ray Wise, you don’t get any better than William Forsythe, AJ Bowen should be a huge character actor but he’s still working away in genre. This is a long discussion! Everybody in ‘Shockwave’; Angela Bettis, Amber Benson, my son Josh Holland, James Duval. There’s this terrific group of actors. Take a look at the job Noah Hathaway does in ‘Boom’ which is a suspense piece built around a Rube Goldberg machine. I can’t say enough about the actors that I worked with; I think they were just all terrific.
And what happens is when you’re doing a short and you’re shooting in LA ,which is where people can sleep in their own beds, and also because, I pat myself on the back, but I have a lot of good relationships with actors. But I found that I had a lot of terrific people who were willing to come in and work with me for three or four days for really very, very little money. SAG minimum. I was blessed with the actors. But if you don’t have production value you can’t blow the world up, you’re not doing the $200 million CGI film, you’ve got to depend on the face that’s in front of that camera. The actors have to carry it.
A lot of filmmakers are talking about how there’s now mid-level budget horror movies anymore, it’s either super-low-budget or huge. Have you found that to be the case?
I think digital’s ripped the mid-list out of everything, from books to movies to television. You either have them done for really very, very little money, or you have $200 million. I mean, there is no mid-list. Which would seem to me that it would be creating a huge opportunity but it doesn’t seem to be happening yet. But at the same time you can feel the genre right now seems to be peddling in place so I suspect that somebody’s going to have to come in and give it a real dose of creativity.
What’s nice about horror is that in a lot of ways it’s the most creative. Because horror’s a metaphor for whatever’s going on in society. Look at the concerns of Twisted Tales. It’s touching on what’s going on. Horror can constantly reinvent because it can be done very inexpensively. So the state of the business now, we’re treading water a bit and we’re in the middle of a huge distribution and marketing revolution because of digital. On the one hand it’s crushed the cost of production so anybody can shoot. And you can get distribution. But you can’t market. You still have all these huge corporations that can only market worldwide. So the gatekeepers still have a crushing grip on the film genre and on creativity.
Finally, can you tell us what’s going on with The Ten O’Clock People? Is it still in the works?
Yes, it’s still in the works but I’ll tell ya, it’s been set up three times and three times it’s fallen out. And I loved the script. I have a great script, Stephen’s short story, that’s your metaphor. I turned 10 O’Clock People into a metaphor about the surveillance state and I don’t know why, except maybe it’s too politically dangerous, because we’ve had it set up three times now and I don’t have an explanation for it. We sold it twice at Cannes. What’s happened is we haven’t been able to get the right group of international actors involved to finance.
Twisted Tales is available on DVD on 15 June and you can buy it for £11 at Amazon.co.uk. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.