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Exclusive Interview: Dennis Etchison On His Unmade HALLOWEEN 4 & The Ghosts Of The Lost River Drive-In

Dennis Etchison is prolific. No… legendary. A true renaissance man. He wears the hat of novelist, editor, screenwriter and film historian whose cadre of collaborators ranges from John Carpenter to Stephen King to David Cronenberg. He’s also one hell of a human being. On a dreary, wet and miserable November night in New York City, I phoned Dennis in Los Angeles to gain some insight and the gory details on a screenplay he wrote in the mid-80s for a HALLOWEEN IV the world did not deserve. While I learned everything I could ever have imagined learning about the unfairly terminated sequel, I also gained something so much more, something ineffable… the musings of an artist as he reflected upon his career.

dennis

Blumhouse.com: So how did you and John Carpenter first meet?

Dennis Etchison: One day out of the blue, I got a call from somebody at John’s office [Pumpkin Pie Productions] who said, “John Carpenter would like to meet with you.” Well, that was good news because I was a great fan of his. And I said sure and I went in the next day and met him and Debra Hill. Debra took me into another room and sat me down said they needed a novelization for THE FOG. Somebody else had written one but she didn’t like it and they weren’t going to use it. She said, “He [the other writer] had a reporter having sex with ghosts on the beach! It’s terrible. We don’t have much time, and we need someone to do it, and someone recommended you.”

poster-the-fog-no-title-2

BH.com: What was the writing process like for novelizing THE FOG?

DE: I’m very visual when I write, and I didn’t want to visualize it in a way that was different from the film. At some point in the next few days, Tommy Wallace, I think, showed me a couple of reels of it [THE FOG], the opening, so I could get the flavor and the look of it. And then I got a copy of the script and I studied that. The deal with Bantam Books was that they needed it in exactly six weeks, and I said, “Okay, I can do that.” And I sat myself down — I was working on a manual typewriter at the time — and I figured, “I’ll do a draft and then I’ll mark it up and then I’ll re-type it once, and if I do a certain number of pages a day, like thirteen, I can get it done by that date.” So I signed and started and I finished it six weeks to the day.

BH.com: And how was it that your involvement in the HALLOWEEN films came into play?

DE: It [THE FOG] went through eight printings. It did well. John asked me if I’d like to novelize HALLOWEEN II and then HALLOWEEN III, and so I did those. At some point, after HALLOWEEN III, on Christmas Eve, I got a call from John, and he said, “Debra and I would like you to write the script for HALLOWEEN IV.” And I said, “That’s wonderful!” A few minutes later, Debra called and said the same exact thing. And I was just ecstatic. I started meeting with John and we talked about what would be in it. We agreed that it should start ten years after HALLOWEEN,  and the story would concern the two little kids Laurie Strode was babysitting, who were now teenagers, grown up and still living across the street from each other.

BH.com: Tommy and Lindsay?

DE: Right, Lindsay Wallace and Tommy Doyle. The idea is that the town, after all those terrible murders ten years earlier, has banned Halloween. They don’t recognize Halloween as a holiday; they don’t allow Halloween masks and costumes or Halloween candy. And you know Hunt, the deputy from the first two films?

BH.com: Totally! Hunter von Leer.

DE: Hunt is now the sheriff. And ten years of repression and suppression have boiled to the surface and there are some hints that HE’S BACK! So I foresaw on the poster the words, “The night he came home…again!” (The original poster said, “The night he came home.”) And I had this set piece in mind where Michael Myers comes bursting up out of a big lot full of pumpkins. Erupting out of this orange mound. That would be a nice shot to use on the poster.

halloween4_poster

BH.com: What was your writing process for HALLOWEEN IV?

DE: I did three drafts of it. For the last draft, I went over to John’s house and we sat down cross-legged on the floor opposite each other. He gave me a Xerox copy of the script, and he had one in his lap, and he took out two Carter’s Marks-A-Lot pens and we started reading through it. And he would say, “All right, take out that line there, you don’t need it. Okay. And on this page, you need a couple lines to explain why they’re going over there,” and other small but not unimportant things like that. And at one point there was a speech — they have a town meeting and everyone is up in arms about whether they should have Halloween or not. And the guy who runs the local drive-in, the Lost River, which is the name of a real drive-in… John grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky and he said there was a real Lost River Drive-In, and Haddonfield was also based on a town in Illinois where Debra had grown up. So there is this town meeting where everyone is arguing, and the guy who runs the drive-in says, “You can’t ban a night of Halloween movies! I’m trying to make a living here! Kids wanna see horror movies!” “Well, maybe they shouldn’t,” some people are saying.  “Maybe it’s better if they don’t see them.” So the whole idea was repression versus acknowledging the bad things in the world. And then we got to one speech in there where someone sort of explains the meaning of all this, and John said, “Take this out, or two-thirds of it.” And he started blacking out some lines. I said, “Well, I kind of like that speech. It sums up the meaning of the whole thing.” And John said, “Yeah, but you don’t need it, because a couple of pages earlier you have a shot of their faces, and we’ll be able to see that.” So you see, I thought I was visual, but he is even more visual. He was thinking about what the shots would be. So he taught me to be even more concise than I already was. He taught me to take out explicit things that don’t need to be stated because the camera’s gonna show them. So the final draft of the script came out to be even leaner.

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BH.com: Once you came to that draft of the script, what happened?

DE: A few weeks later, I stopped by Debra Hill’s office to pick up a copy of the final retyping of the script. She had a tall stack of them in front of her and said, “We’re sending these out to the investors.” And then, sometime later, I got a call from her, saying, “I just wanted to tell you, John and I have sold our interest in the HALLOWEEN franchise and unfortunately your script was not part of the deal.” Who knows why. Apparently the partners hired something like ten other writers to work on it after me, and I lost a Writer’s Guild arbitration over the credits, even though I was the first writer on the project. So my name’s not on the picture.

BH.com: All in all, what was it like to work with John Carpenter?

DE: He’s the last honest man. A straight arrow. I’ve seen him a few times over the years since, and I did an interview with him that was published, and he is the best guy I’ve ever known and worked with in Hollywood. He is 100% honest, loyal and true. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t cheat people. His goal is to make good films. And on the set of some of his films — I was on the set one day for HALLOWEEN III, and on the shoot of PRINCE OF DARKNESS a couple of days — and I would have lunch with the crew, and they’d all say, “Oh, I’d work with J.C. anytime!” They called him J.C. on the set. “I could be making three times as much on another show, but I’d rather work with J.C. He never yells. He never chews anybody out in front of the crew. It’s a pleasure to work for him.” I watched him direct scenes, and he even gave me some tips about directing, because he knew that’s what I’d always wanted to do. He’s a prince of a man.

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BH.com: The producers of the HALLOWEEN series mentioned adopting the anthology format for future sequels after HALLOWEEN II. They began to head in that direction with HALLOWEEN III. Would your version of HALLOWEEN IV have taken the series in a completely different direction in terms of what would have come next?

DE: My HALLOWEEN IV picks up on that night in Haddonfield again, ten years to the day after HALLOWEEN II ends. It simply ignores the existence of the third HALLOWEEN, which had nothing to do with the first two movies and was an anomaly, though it’s a very interesting film in its own right. He [John Carpenter] wanted to work with Nigel Kneale, a writer he greatly admired, but it ended up being rewritten. I’ve never seen the script he [Kneale] did, so I don’t know why.

BH.com: Let’s talk about the first pages of your HALLOWEEN IV. What would have the opening scene have looked like?

Dennis starts to read. His voice is eloquent, deliberate… a testament to the golden age of the radio drama.

MAIN TITLE SEQUENCE:

Open on a black screen. Superimpose in dark red letters:

HALLOWEEN IV.

End main titles.

FADE IN TO:

 

EXT. NIGHT – MYERS HOUSE – SUBJECTIVE POV (PANAGLIDE)

 

ANGLE FROM BEHIND BUSHES. Standing. Moving forward. Crossing the overgrown lawn toward the abandoned Myers house. Around the porch…to the back door…and entering the house.

INT. NIGHT – MYERS HOUSE – SUBJECTIVE POV (PANAGLIDE)

Moving through the dusty kitchen, the dining room, toward a dark, shadowed stairway. Climbing the stairs, through cobwebs, to a bedroom. Panning right to a dusty box springs. Panning left over peeling wallpaper…an old chest of drawers…to a vanity table and a cracked mirror on the wall.

Moving to the vanity table. Sitting down. Now we see dim reflections of parts of the room behind, as two pale hands from below frame appear in one jagged piece of the mirror and bring up a white featureless mask. The screen goes black for a second as the mask is pulled on. Now, through the eyeholes, we see a figure in the mirror. Tilting his head as he considers his reflection. The costume is complete. It is THE SHAPE.

FADE IN TO:

BLACK SCREEN

SUPERIMPOSE: Haddonfield, Illinois – October 31, 1978

 

BH.com: Holy moly! That’s so freaking cool!

DE: The rest of the story focuses primarily on Tommy and Lindsay and on the fact that the town has repressed and suppressed Halloween for ten years. And the idea is, if you repress something, you are almost causing it to come into being.

BH.com: What inspired you to take the sequel in this direction?

DE: I was not allowed to read horror comics as a kid, so I had an unusual interest in them, and in science fiction movies like THE THING, the original Howard Hawks version. I was not allowed to go because my mother said, “Oh, I hear it’s very scary. Too scary for you.” So naturally I grew up with a great interest in scary movies. The more you repress something, or try to repress it, like sex among teenagers, the hotter they get, right? So for HALLOWEEN IV, the town is trying to deny all this, but it’s actually bringing him [the Shape] back into being. I don’t want to go on forever about this, but may I read you a page I found in the HALLOWEEN II novelization?

BH.com: Please!

DE: Here’s a page I wrote near the end of the HALLOWEEN II novel and it sort of sums up everything. It’s on page 218 in the paperback…

And so it was now, one more re-run on the Late, Late, Very Late Show on Halloween night in this particular town, acting out the last reels of its relentless stalking of the heart of the American dream. It was always so. Variations of figures like it had come again and again to towns exactly like this all across the country and would continue to come in endless variety and profusion whenever the days grew short and the horror of an unburied past returned to haunt the long night of the human soul. They would come to movie theaters and TV screens over and over in untiring replays for as long as people turned away and pretended it was not really there; that very refusal gave it unopposed entrance to their most inner lives. Nothing ever stopped its coming and nothing ever would stop it, not for as long as people deferred the issue of its existence to the realm of fantasy fiction, that elaborate system of popular mythology which provided the essence of its beachhead. For now, it came on and on.”

BH.com: Wow! All kinds of chills!

DE: I think originally, when I met with the guy John had in mind to direct HALLOWEEN IV… It was going to be Joe Dante, and I met with him at the old Schwab’s Drugstore in Hollywood. It’s not there anymore, but it’s where Lana Turner was discovered in the 1940s.  We [Joe and I] met and we sat and talked about what we might do with HALLOWEEN IV. I took out HALLOWEEN II and read the paragraph that I just read to you. And when I was finished he looked at me and said, “Would you consider that a digression?” And I said, “Well, uh, no. I thought it summed it all up.” So I don’t know the reasons, but Joe did not direct HALLOWEEN IV. Just as I don’t really know why my script for HALLOWEEN 4 was not used.

BH.com: How do you feel about the script upon revisiting it for this interview?

DE: There are some scenes in there that I really like.

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BH.com: Would you be willing to share any scenes that were your favorites?

DE: Well, there is a scene where he [the Shape] comes out of a pumpkin patch that I really liked. And Robert Mundy, the TV announcer, I brought him back, too…

BH.com: In the HALLOWEEN films, especially the second one, there was a body count.  So was IV a body-count film, or was it quieter and more in line with the original HALLOWEEN?

DE: Well, several people get killed, but I can’t give you a count. Let’s see… They’re decorating for the school Halloween dance, but they can’t call it that. They can’t have anything that suggests the supernatural. Lindsay, now — no it’s not Lindsay, it’s another girl, D’Arcy  —  she’s gonna go out on a triple date with three guys and two other girls and they’re going to the Lost River Drive-In, which is having a triple-feature shown on three screens simultaneously. It’s an outdoor multiplex with the three screens angled away from each other. And every kid in two counties is going to go there tonight. So she’s promised she’ll have a surprise for them. What she’s gonna do is bring pumpkins for each of them with their faces carved on the pumpkins.

And then, without warning, Dennis’s beautifully elegiac narration begins once more…

EXT. DAY – PUMPKIN STAND – LATE AFTERNOON

Beyond the city limits where Halloween is in full observance. A pumpkin stand in a lonely corner at the edge of town, just outside the Haddonfield line. On the other side of the street a sign: “Welcome to Haddonfield.” On this side: “Welcome to Harding.”

AS D’ARCY WALKS UP.

She touches a few of the pumpkins uncertainly, as if she knows what she’s doing.  A WIZENED OLD PROPRIETOR watches her.

PROPRIETOR

Use ’em, don’t bruise ’em. Some of
’em is mighty ripe.

D’ARCY

How much?

 

PROPRIETOR

Ten cents a pound. Cash and carry.

That one there looks to be about thirteen

pounds.

D’Arcy digs into her jeans and counts her money.

PROPRIETOR

‘Course you could get yourself a little baby

one. But they’re not much fun, are they?

D’ARCY

I…wouldn’t know.

 

PROPRIETOR

Then you must be from Haddonfield.

Don’t know how to have any fun over there.

CLOSER ANGLE — D’ARCY:

as she smooths her hand over the surface of pumpkins. All are elongated and misshapen. She makes a face back at each one. They aren’t quite right.

D’ARCY

(to herself)
Richie, Keith, and Lonnie. Uh-uh.

 

Suddenly a knife swoops down and stabs the pumpkin in front of her.

WIDER:

PROPRIETOR

This one’ll carve up real nice!

The Proprietor is standing next to her. He buries the blade to the hilt and starts sawing out eyeholes to demonstrate.

D’ARCY

How much if I buy three?

PROPRIETOR

Depends. You could make me a deal.

See anything you like?

 

He sticks his own face in front of her and grins. She looks away, repulsed. He turns back to the pumpkin, cutting a nose and grinning mouth.

D’ARCY

I…don’t think so. Thanks, anyway.

She starts to leave, but he is in front of her with his knife blade dripping juice and seeds.

PROPRIETOR

You don’t like ’em? He’s my favorite.

I call him Freddy.

D’ARCY

Uh, you wouldn’t know another…Forget it.

 

PROPRIETOR

Where you going? I got everything you

want right here. Take a look.

He goes to the side of the stand and gestures at the lot behind.

ANGLE TO INCLUDE THE LOT:

Behind the stand is a vacant lot with hundreds more pumpkins, trucked in for the holiday like a Christmas tree lot that is full once a year and empty the rest of the time. Mounds of pumpkins, all sizes and shapes. All very ripe and deep orange under the setting sun. D’arcy walks forward into pumpkinland, dazzled.

D’ARCY

Wow. You mind if I …?

 

PROPRIETOR

Go ahead. Feel ’em! Rub up against ’em!

Take your time!

She walks away as the Proprietor pulls a half-pint out of his hip pocket and unscrews the top. Empty.

PROPRIETOR

I’ll be back. Two minutes!

D’ARCY

Whatever.

Behind him, the Proprietor crosses the street to a liquor store.

FOLLOWING D’ARCY INTO THE LOT:

She steps into the lot, still dazed. More pumpkins than she has ever seen before. Walking as if on eggs, she finds a nice round one, bends over to pull it out — and the whole stack collapses around her! She gets up awkwardly and steps on a ripe one. Her foot sinks into rotten pulp. She shakes it off and steps down on another one.

D’ARCY

Shit!
She hides the broken pumpkins, then carries the one she chose to the edge of the lot. She goes back, selects a second, then a third. Standing there satisfied, her back to the lot.

LOW-ANGLE — MOVING (PANAGLIDE):

Fast track at ground level, following a single pumpkin as it breaks loose from the stacks and rolls faster and faster toward D’Arcy. She hears it coming, starts to look down…

ANGLE ON D’ARCY:

Too late! It hits the backs of her legs like a bowling ball and knocks her off her feet. She sprawls backwards… SPLAT! Smashing pumpkins. She tries to get up, slips on wet pulp. Now more pumpkins rain down on her in a chain reaction. She is half-buried.

D’ARCY’S POINT OF VIEW:

A DARK FIGURE towering over her.

ANGLE ON D’ARCY:

She fights her way out from under as the DARK FIGURE falls on her! She SCREAMS — but it is only a SCARECROW in a black coat. Part of the display. She pushes it away and gets up, her hands and arms dripping with chunky slime. Cracked pumpkins all around. Standing amid a battlefield of broken shells, she looks to the street. Still no sign of the Proprietor. The three pumpkins sit apart in front. She’s got to get them out of here before he gets back and sees the damage.

Now he’s coming out of the store. No time. She’ll have to get away fast. She starts to cross the lot laterally, staying out of sight behind the stand. A pumpkin rolls down and taps her ankle. She sidesteps it. Then another, another…

No time to look back. Keep moving.

Now an avalanche behind her as the largest mound erupts and THE SHAPE bursts forth from beneath! They topple her from behind like a tenpin and then the pumpkins rain down, burying her completely. Sounds of  her SCREAMING for help as her hand digs out…as the blade of a large butcher knife rises in the air, flashing a reflection of the red sunset. The knife arcs down again and again. Orange pieces go flying as the pumpkins nearby are spattered with blood.

As D’Arcy’s screams stop.

 

BH.com: That was legitimately one of the coolest scenes I’ve never seen in a HALLOWEEN film. I need to see this on the screen!

DE: It may not be the greatest film script ever written, but it’s not bad. I took it very seriously, as I did the novelizations. I gave it all I had because I respected John. I tried to do it as well as I possibly  could.

halloween-4

BH.com: What are your thoughts on the fans of the HALLOWEEN film series?

DE: In the last six months, I’ve met several people who have made me aware that there is a fan group, a cult around the Halloween films and around movie novelizations. And I always figured, compared to the books with my name on them, those movie novelizations…well, I did not do them as hack work, I took them seriously…but of all my books, those would be the least that are me because they’re not my stories, they’re Carpenter’s stories, and Cronenberg’s in the case of VIDEODROME. So I did the very best I could with what I was given. But I discovered that there are these people who say — two people in the last six months —  “HALLOWEEN III is my favorite book. It’s my favorite novel of all time. “ I can’t believe it. I teach a writing class sometimes, and I was standing outside during the break one afternoon and a guy who was a guest of one of the kids in the class came over to me and started quoting from memory an entire paragraph from HALLOWEEN III. And I kept nodding and saying “Uh-huh, yeah.” He had memorized this whole long paragraph, and he kept going, and I kept saying, “I know, I know.” And when he was finished I said, “Well, I wrote that, you know.” And he said, “What? What? You wrote that? You’re Jack Martin? You wrote HALLOWEEN III?”

BH.com: I meant to ask you…Why did use one pseudonym for HALLOWEEN and then a different one for HALLOWEEN II and III?

DE: I didn’t write the first HALLOWEEN. It was Curtis Richards, which was a pseudonym of Richard Curtis, a literary agent in New York who’s now deceased. I’ve heard that before, though. People think I wrote HALLOWEEN, but no, I didn’t.  I wrote HALLOWEEN II, III, VIDEODROME, and THE FOG. But I didn’t write the first HALLOWEEN novelization.

halloween-novelization-set

BH.com: What was it like working with David Cronenberg on VIDEODROME?

DE: It was a similar feeling [as to working with John Carpenter]. I was sent a script. Turns out that Cronenberg is the same age — same month, same year — as me. We both started out in our teens as science fiction fans and we both sent off stories to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. His were rejected; I started selling there. And then, when he was 16 or 17, an uncle gave him a 16mm camera, so he started making home movies. All I ever wanted was to make movies, but nobody gave me a camera, so I had to keep writing. Anyway, I went up there [to Canada]… I flew to Toronto and spent a couple of days there and met with Cronenberg. I saw different cuts of the film [VIDEODROME], different versions of certain scenes, and I saw him show it to an audience of people who were brought in off the street to watch it. Then I sat in on a meeting that he [Cronenberg] had with a couple of guys in suits from the Hollywood studio. They gave him a long list of questions they had about the story, which he answered very calmly and intelligently, until they were satisfied. He only makes his films in Canada or out of the U.S. because he does not want to work in Hollywood, but he could have, many times. He doesn’t want the studio guys looking over his shoulder, telling him that what he’s doing is wrong. So he goes off with his crew and he makes the film the way he wants it. Anyway, I was given three or four drafts of the script for VIDEODROME, all of which were different…no two were alike, and I saw different versions of some filmed scenes. I was able to ask him questions and talk about them. And again, my novelization of VIDEODROME includes things from all the drafts of the script. It includes some moments, like the TV set coming to life and lumbering out of the store window onto the street — that was cut from the film, but it was something he shot.  And I tried to do what I did with the others, to make it more complete rather than a shadow of the movie.  I think he’s a swell guy. He’s one of the tiny number of filmmakers currently working whom I have absolute respect for because he’s an artist trying to do good work, and that’s more important to him than what he’s getting paid. He has turned down a lot of offers that he could have had. No question about it. And I’m sure John has, as well.  But they are two, and another would be Dario Argento, with whom I’ve worked on two or three things. Those are three guys I would work with again anytime, without a moment’s hesitation, because I respect them as artists, I trust them as human beings, and I understand how they think. It would be a perfect fit, as far as I’m concerned. I was hoping something like that might happen with HALLOWEEN IV, but who knows what they’ve moved on to now.

BH.com: What else do you want the world to know about your HALLOWEEN IV?

DE: It ends up with an enormous climax. Tommy and Lindsay go on the run into the countryside, away from Haddonfield. Lindsay hasn’t been able to remember anything that happened in 1978. She has no memory of it; it’s blacked out of her mind. And her mother wants it that way. Tommy, on the other hand —  they both saw shrinks for a while when they were kids, and Tommy is beginning to get some flashes of it and begins to understand what’s happening. Whenever he tries to call Lindsay from across the street the mother never accepts the calls. “Don’t call here again, Tommy Doyle!” Because it will remind Lindsay of what happened. But they’re bonded together because of what they went through, and they’re grown up now and they kind of like each other. But she’s not allowed to see him. Anyway, it ends up with this tremendous bloody scene at the packed drive-in at midnight. It’s really incredible. And the Shape is there and he’s stalking and killing people right and left. Tommy and Lindsay get away. They wake up in a farmhouse outside of town, in the country somewhere, and she has had a dream that starts to bring it all together for her…In short, it’s not just a slasher movie. The story has a philosophy behind it.

boogeyman

BH.com: Is it true that you wrote a sequel to Ulli Lommel’s film THE BOOGEYMAN?

DE: I wrote a sequel to THE BOOGEYMAN with Ulli but it was never filmed, either. But Joe Wolf [the producer] paid me. I worked with Ulli and we just disregarded the existence of BOOGEYMAN 2 and made it THE RETURN OF THE BOOGEYMAN. We wrote a rather good script, I thought, but for some reason or other it never got made. I guess his deal with Joe didn’t hold up at the last minute.

BH.com: Your draft of THE MIST was awesome, by the way. I love it!

DE: You know I had nothing to do with the film that was made, right?

BH.com: Yes. Your draft ended up becoming a radio play, didn’t it?

DE: They used about half of it for the radio version. I sold them [ZBS Media] the right to use it; they did a wonderful job sonically with that Kunstkopf microphone that’s shaped like a human head. It creates three-dimensional sound all around you —  absolutely phenomenal. It was a very good production. They used about a half of what I’d written. My script went through several drafts, and the final final draft was the one that Stephen King finally approved. I was able to visit him in Maine and talk to him about it, because there are things in the short novel that are never explained, that are not clear. So I was able to say, “Well, why doesn’t he go in the house to see if his wife is dead?” And he [King] explained why. Why is it that the two army guys hang themselves in the storeroom of the market? The answer is, because they worked at the government research facility and they knew that they were guilty and involved in something horribly dangerous. He explained the things that he hadn’t put into the novel. The script I wrote was far too talky, too much dialogue, but I probably understand THE MIST better than anyone except King.

mist-audiobook

BH.com: I’ve heard you and King collaborated to create an ending for THE MIST, is that correct?

DE: It seemed not to have a satisfactory ending for it, so we cooked up something that might work. He modeled that whole thing on 1950s horror movies, specifically those by Bert I. Gordon — real cheap science fiction movies like THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, that sort of thing.  And he said, “I want it to look like a Roger Corman or Bert I. Gordon movie. I want it to be in color, but kind of a washed-out color. I don’t want it to look slick, I want it to look cheap!” His idea was to make his version of a 1950s science fiction movie. And told me that he wrote every day of his life, but one day he sat down and he didn’t know what to write, and he said, “Okay, I’ll write a story about the dumbest, most banal thing I can think of. What’s the most boring thing that could happen to me today? Well, I drive into town to go to the market to get some hamburger meat and bring it home. That’s pretty damn boring. Let’s see if I can turn that into something really scary!” So that’s how THE MIST became a short novel. It was his attempt to make a story out of the corniest, most boring thing he could think of, which was driving to the market to get hamburger meat. That’s where it started.

BH.com: Who would have been your ideal cast for THE MIST?

DE: Well, I don’t know about David Drayton [character later played by Thomas Jane in Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation], but he [King] suggested at that time —  we’re talking about the 80s — for David’s wife, he suggested Blythe Danner, who is Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother, and we thought she would be perfect. As the best friend who works at the market [Ollie Weeks, later played by Toby Jones in Darabont’s adaptation], he wanted Randy Quaid.

BH.com: I know that you were involved with the HBO series THE HITCHHIKER  in the 1980s. How do you feel about current HBO television shows? Have you had a chance to check out TRUE DETECTIVE or WESTWORLD?

DE: No, I didn’t see TRUE DETECTIVE. I don’t get it on my cable system, but a couple of friends of mine saw it and they liked it very much. They said the first season was great and the second season was not.

BH.com: Yeah. I appreciated both seasons. Two was definitely a nod to David Lynch.

DE: I’ve had two people approach me in the last few months, saying with great enthusiasm, “I want to do something like TRUE DETECTIVE with your stories, and I want it to be in L.A., and I want it to be eight or nine episodes and I want to connect some of your stories, and we’ll have some characters that run through all of them, like TRUE DETECTIVE…” We’ve had meetings but it hasn’t happened yet. One guy was supposed to option a bunch of stories. He’s a producer and creator of a cable TV series and I believe he wants to do it, but Hollywood is very capricious. And someone else wants to do it, as well. I would love to see it happen, because I can tell them exactly what stories to option and how to tie them together. We’ll see.

BH.com: How do you feel about the revival of TWIN PEAKS?

DE: I’m fascinated to see what Lynch is doing with the return of TWIN PEAKS. A friend of mine, Lindsay Lane, has a small part in one of the new episodes, and she was telling me that she now has on her résumé that she’s been directed by David Lynch! I’m old enough to have enjoyed the original TWIN PEAKS when it was first on, and I’ve watched all the episodes many times and have copies on tape and laserdisc. I can hardly wait, because at the end Laura Palmer whispers into Agent Cooper’s ear, “See you in 25 years.” And it’s been 25 years now! I wonder if he [Lynch] shot the new episodes on film or on video.

BH.com: He shot them all on film.

DE: Good!

BH.com: I’ve gotta subscribe to Showtime.

DE: Yeah. I don’t subscribe to Showtime either, but I’m very eager to see that. Maybe I’ll go to a friend’s house and watch it.

BH.com: What was the last thing Lynch did before the TWIN PEAKS revival? Was it INLAND EMPIRE?

DE: MULHOLLAND DRIVE and INLAND EMPIRE. INLAND EMPIRE is like all the creepy moments from MULHOLLAND DRIVE, but it’s three hours of creepy moments, and it’s too much. He needs to come back to it and cut about an hour out of it, because those moments will stand out more if it’s not all high points for three hours. He certainly knows how to achieve the creep effect, and I’ve intellectually analyzed and tried to understand why there are a couple of things in MULHOLLAND DRIVE that scare the hell out me. I’m not easily frightened by movies, but I was really scared by a couple of things in that film and I cannot understand why. It’s not rational. Do you know MULHOLLAND DRIVE?

BH.com: I do. I saw it once about twelve years ago, and I think it’s time I revisit it. 

DE: There’s a scene early on in the film where two used-car salesmen are sitting in like a Denny’s coffee shop having breakfast. They’re wearing their polyester ties and sportcoats, and one of them says, “I had a dream last night.” And he starts telling the other guy about the dream. There was something in the dumpster behind this building  — right here — in his dream. And so eventually they decide to go back and take a look and see if there’s anything there. All I can say is that the camera following them back to the dumpster is one of the most uncannily frightening things I’ve ever seen in a movie, and there’s no rational reason why it should be. But it scared the hell out of me. I’ve studied it every which way and I cannot figure out why it works. Lynch can do that —  for me, at least. He can creep me out very powerfully, for reasons that don’t make any logical sense. He’s an original and an artist.

BH.com: Speaking of art, what are your thoughts on the current state of horror films?

DE: There’s a brief window of opportunity where horror is big again in Hollywood. And most of the horror movies, 99 out of 100 of them, don’t have a single new idea. They’re just retreads of the same goddamn stuff. It’s teenagers who go off for a weekend camping trip and they end up in an old house or in the forest and there’s an evil presence or monsters or crazy people trying to kill them — and that’s it. There’s nothing more to it than that. Or they’re just hour-and-a-half to two-hour torture porn.

BH.com: Any particular horror film stand out to you in 2016?

DE: M.Night Shyamalan’s THE VISIT is incredibly intense, at least in a theater. It scared the piss out of me. That’s someone else I’d love to work with, but he doesn’t need me — he writes his own scripts. And…everyone was telling me to see THE WITCH a few months ago, and I did, with a couple of friends, Pete Atkins and Paul London, who had already seen it three times but wanted to see it again. It’s well-made. It’s intelligent. It’s not formulaic. But it’s a bit static. It’s somewhat overpraised, for some reason. It’s not sensationalistic. The guy who made it [Robert Eggers] is very interesting and I’d like to see what he does next.

BH.com: You know what he’s doing next?

DE: What?

BH.com: He was going to do a movie about Rasputin, but now he’s doing a remake of NOSFERATU.

DE: Oh jeez. Why, though? They already did SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE ten or twelve years ago. Remember that? About the making of NOSFERATU. I reviewed it online.

BH.com: Yeah. With Willem Dafoe.

DE: That was an interesting film, but why would you…It’s like, Do I want to see a remake of GONE WITH THE WIND? Why bother? Show me something I haven’t seen before.

BH.com: I would have loved to see his Rasputin story. But they’re apparently doing this NOSFERATU remake and they want to make it like SIN CITY.  Remember that movie? The adaptation of the Frank Miller comics?

DE: Sure.

BH.com: So they want to do it with like animation and I don’t know how that’s gonna go. We’ll see.

DE: Maybe it’ll work. Cross your fingers.

Michael Ryan Assip is an actor, screenwriter, lifelong horror fan, and New York City public school teacher. IG: @feckless_spectre IMDB: www.imdb.com/name/nm6395158/ 

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