Published: Thursday, 29 April 2021 22:03 | Written by SciFi Vision
Today Shudder released the season two finale of Creepshow, “Night of the Living Late Show.” The episode, written by Dana Gould and directed by Greg Nicotero, follows Simon (Justin Long), who has invented a virtual reality device that enables him to enter his favorite films. However, things don’t go according to plan when his virtual reality bleeds into his real life.
Nicotero and Gould recently took part in a round table with journalists to discuss the episode, how it was made, and much more about the series.
In the episode, Simon enters the movie Horror Express, and the integration of Justin’s character has been done so well, it’s difficult to tell it’s not part of the original film. Gould talked to SciFi Vision about choosing the parts of the movie that they used. “I had an idea for the story, and then I had to watch Horror Express, which I had seen, of course, but to see where I could physically put an actor in a way that would interact. So, the movie sort of dictated what the scenes were. That's the fun of writing a script like this; it’s backwards. You have to almost write it [backwards]; it’s backwards engineering. It looks seamless, because, I mean, aside from the technical brilliance that Greg brought to it, in terms of the script, I worked backwards. I found dialogue from the movie that worked, and then I found a way to write the script around it.” Nicotero explained some of the specifics of putting it together to the site. “…When Dana sent the script, there were specific time codes of like, okay, so if Justin's talking here, then we use this time code from one minute, nine seconds to one minute, fourteen seconds. So, it really was a really complicated jigsaw puzzle.”
Nicotero also talked to SciFi Vision about choosing what episodes to direct for Creepshow. “My criteria is, if there's a script that comes in of an episode that I want to direct, then that's good enough, and almost every script that came out, I was like, "Oh, man, I want to shoot this one." I ended up directing half the episodes for season two. But this one in particular, what I realized, is the stories that were personal to me really just sang on a different level.”
Nicotero continued to tell the site about one of the difficulties they had with the episode: securing the rights to the films they used. “The biggest surprise that we all had, and I don't even know if Dana knows much of this, is there's a list of titles online that say these are public domain, so you can use whatever any of these you want. They're not public domain!...Horror Express is not public domain. Night of the Living Dead has been re-copyrighted by Image Ten. So, we did this whole thing, and then all of a sudden, the lawyers were like, 'Well, you can't use that footage. You have to get permission because the next person that puts a DVD out, they now have resecured the copyright.'
“So, there was a minute there where I think I called Dana and went, 'We might have a little bit of a problem,' but, thankfully, [we were] able to get the rights to Horror Express, and I called Russ Streiner, who played Johnny in the original Night of the Living Dead. I called him personally and said, 'Look we're doing this thing.' I sent him the pages, and I said, 'Everybody in the world knows the famous story about Night of the Living Dead falling into public domain, because they didn't put the copyright on the movie.' I wanted to be one of the first people that actually pay tribute to George [Romero]'s movie by paying for a license and using the footage with permission from Russ Streiner and Latent Image.”
He continued on to talk about recreating one of the sets of the original film. “So, for me, one of the most exciting parts of shooting that particular Night of the Living Dead moment was we recreated the living room scene; we recreated the set from Night of the Living Dead. So, when Justin appears in the movie at the end, we built that set.
“I sat there sitting on the set with the little sort of noir film lighting, and I was taking pictures in black and white, and I Facetimed with Russ Streiner and said, 'Russ, I'm standing in the farmhouse from Night of the Living Dead; check it out.' I had goosebumps.
“Dana and I used to joke around and play this game. ‘Okay, if you could go back in time and work on any movie, what would it be?’ because you want to know, what was it like filming Jaws or Planet of the Apes? I felt for a minute there like I was working on the original Night of the Living Dead, and it really sort of rocked my world.”
The two also talked to SciFi Vision about coming up with the design for the Immersopod. According to Nicotero, “Well, the funniest thing about it was…when we were putting the comic book pages together, the graphics illustrator said, ‘It's a converted tanning bed,’ and I'm like, ‘No, no, no, no, it's not a converted tanning bed. It's a thing that he built and that he created.’ But production-wise, we bought a tanning bed and all the little octagonal pieces that are in there were put in there. That was my Fantastic Voyage homage, when they were shrinking the Proteus. I said, ‘I love the little octagonal pieces.’ So, they made that, the big giant films, and we had to paint it.
“We had painted it, and when I walked on into the set tech, props warehouse for the first time, they're like, ‘Hey, there's the Immersopod.’ I was like, ‘Oh, fuck. How is that gonna ever look like a high-tech piece of machinery that can actually get us in and out of the movies?’ But it looked great.
“Lucas Godfrey, our prop master, I think literally every time we opened and closed it, we just expected all those little cameras to just fall out all at once. We couldn't open it; we had to put a cable on it to open it and close it, because I was like, ‘Okay, guys, now close the pod,’ and it wouldn't close. So, we'd have to put a cable on it and close it and then shoot it in reverse, but it looked fantastic.
“And Justin and I realized, which Dana probably doesn't even know, but the opening scene where he's turning everything on is Marty McFly turning on Doc Brown's stuff in the opening credits of Back to the Future. So, Justin added the line in there that Michael J. Fox said. So, I think the joke there might have been an outtake where I was playing the Back to the Future theme while he was flipping everything.”
Gould, who loves the origin of where things come from, talked to the SciFi Vision about where some of the inspiration came from that he didn’t realize until after he wrote it. “…For the Immersopod…I knew that it was in a house; it was in a suburban house, and I loved the idea of. I just visually imagined the camera sliding through a door and seeing through a door and what looked like a coffin, like how strange that would look, a coffin just in a room in a suburban house. Doing it in a coffin would have been too on the nose, but the origin of that, which I didn't realize until later, is a shot from The Nightstalker when Darren McGavin is walking through the house at the end of the pilot movie. [In] the original movie, there's a shot where the camera just slides to an open door and you just see a casket in the middle of a bedroom in a rundown suburban house, and that was the origin of it.”
Nicotero also wanted to give a shoutout to the visual effects team for the effects. “…I have to give a big shoutout to the visual effects team that was able to go in and match the grain and match everything, because that's the one thing that will make or break any of those kinds of shows.”
Gould agreed. “If it doesn't look right, it doesn't work.”
Be sure to check out the full transcript below and watch the season finale of Creepshow on Shudder.
Zoom Interview Creepshow Greg Nicotero and Dana Gould
April 24, 2021
***Some unrelated content from the video was removed from the transcript***
SCIFI VISION:Can you start by talking about how you chose the scenes from the film you did and kind of how you integrated the actors in? Because it was pretty seamless.
DANA GOULD:What I did was, I had an idea for the story, and then I had to watch Horror Express, which I had seen, of course, but to see where I could physically put an actor in a way that would interact. So, the movie sort of dictated what the scenes were. That's the fun of writing a script like this; it’s backwards. You have to almost write it [backwards]; it’s backwards engineering. It looks seamless because, I mean, aside from the technical brilliance that Greg brought to it, in terms of the script, I worked backwards. I found dialogue from the movie that worked, and then I found a way to write the script around it. But the missing acknowledgement here is [Justin] is so funny.
GREG NICOTERO:Well, I'll tell you that, Dana, who, of course, I love to death, and I have been great friends since meeting him at Creature Features 3,000 years ago.
DANA GOULD:Yeah, Greg and I have known each other since [ahem].
GREG NICOTERO:That's right. I remember Dean Martin walking down the street. [laughs] We've known each other a long time, but the thing that I really learned in season two of Creepshow - I'm super proud of season two; I really feel like the show matured tremendously from season one to season two. I just felt like I kind of found my groove with the show.
My criteria is, if there's a script that comes in of an episode that I want to direct, then that's good enough, and almost every script that came out, I was like, "Oh, man, I want to shoot this one." I ended up directing half the episodes for season two. But this one in particular, what I realized, is the stories that were personal to me really just sang on a different level.
So, when Dana pitched the idea and we went back and forth, maybe one or two drafts, we fine tuned some of the relationship between the two lead characters.
But when Dana sent the script, there were specific time codes of like, okay, so if Justin's talking here, then we use this time code from one minute, nine seconds to one minute, fourteen seconds. So, it really was a really complicated jigsaw puzzle.
And, of course, the biggest surprise that we all had, and I don't even know if Dana knows much of this, is there's a list of titles online that say these are public domain, so you can use whatever any of these you want. They're not public domain!
DANA GOULD:Yeah, we found that out later. [laughs]
GREG NICOTERO:Horror Express is not public domain. Night of the Living Dead has been re-copyrighted by Image Ten. So, we did this whole thing, and then all of a sudden, the lawyers were like, "Well, you can't use that footage. You have to get permission because the next person that puts a DVD out, they now have resecured the copyright."
So, there was a minute there where I think I called Dana and went, "We might have a little bit of a problem," but, thankfully, [we were] able to get the rights to Horror Express, and, I called Russ Streiner, who played Johnny in the original Night of the Living Dead. I called him personally and said, "Look we're doing this thing." I sent him the pages, and I said, "Everybody in the world knows the famous story about Night of the Living Dead falling into public domain, because they didn't put the copyright on the movie." I wanted to be one of the first people that actually pay tribute to George [Romero]'s movie by paying for a license and using the footage with permission from Russ Streiner and Latent Image.
So, for me, one of the most exciting parts of shooting that particular Night of the Living Dead moment was we recreated the living room scene; we recreated the set from Night of the Living Dead. So, when Justin appears in the movie at the end, we built that set.
I sat there sitting on the set with the little sort of noir film lighting, and I was taking pictures in black and white, and I Facetimed with Russ Streiner and said, "Russ, I'm standing in the farmhouse from Night of the Living Dead; check it out." I had goosebumps.
Dana and I used to joke around and play this game. "Okay, if you could go back in time and work on any movie, what would it be?" because you want to know, what was it like filming Jaws or Planet of the Apes? I felt for a minute there like I was working on the original Night of the Living Dead, and it really sort of rocked my world.
SCIFI VISION:Okay, well, like I said, it was really seamless. I wasn't sure at first, because I didn't recognize the other movie. So, it was really good. Thanks a lot.
GREG NICOTERO:Now you got to go watch Horror Express, which is a really entertaining, fucking weird movie.
SCIFI VISION:Yeah. [laughs] Alright, thanks so much.
QUESTION:It's such a brilliant episode. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the timing of it, because there's a line in there that just struck me. When Justin says, "It's it's an escape pod from life," I feel like we're all in that kind of, you know, we're ready to go, ready to take off, and it's so neat that it landed when it did. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about knowing that this was going to be [not only] the season finale, but the season finale was going to air a long way after you planned it. And Dan, if you could talk a little bit about when you wrote this, and did it change at all between when you initially wrote it and now, when you were able to actually make it?
DANA GOULD:Well, it's funny that you point to that line, because that's one of those things that people put their own meaning to it. This was written during lockdown, the beginning of lockdown. And you work on things, and as Greg says, the things that reverberate with him personally, they’re like, for the writing process, sometimes you'll be in the middle of something and you'll go, "Oh, I'm writing about my dad; I didn't even realize that." And I was looking at the first draft of this and Justin's character is not happy in the real world. Really, the the only happy moment in his life was being at the movies with his dad watching Horror Express and he needs to, he wants to stay in that moment. When he said, "an escape pod from life," that was just his unhappiness in the moment. It was one of those things where I was writing the episode, and I called Greg, and I went, "Oh, I'm writing about my divorce." [laughs] I didn't even realize it. So, that was Justin [character]’s unhappiness in his situation. But then yeah, you can apply it to whatever you want.
That's the magic in writing, specifically, for me, in writing, is that what you're working on will reveal itself to you later. In On Writing, Stephen King tells the story about writing The Langoliers. You know, there's this race of people that come and they give you this gift, and you're stronger and you're smarter and you're faster, but you die sooner, and the first sign of your decrepitude is that you have uncontrollable nosebleeds. And I didn't realize until after I wrote it that I was writing about my cocaine addiction. And that's the beauty of it, is that you don't see it at the time; it reveals itself to you later.
GREG NICOTERO:So, you know, the other unique thing about it is that it speaks to a fandom at its core. At its core, those of us that love the genre, you fantasize about wanting to escape, about wanting to be in there. There's that funny [line]. The line that Dana put in is very much for me, because he knows me so well. You can go into any movie. You can go into TheGodfather; you can go into Jaws; I guarantee you every fan on the planet has one time or another fantasize about flying an X-wing, or being at Hogwarts or being in those movies, and not being a character in those movies, but being themselves and being able to appreciate and understand, "Oh my God, there's Christopher Lee. Oh my God, there's..." And I was so enamored with this idea.
And Justin and D’Arcy (Carden), I couldn't have picked two better actors, because we shot that episode in like three and a half days. We had so much fun…I've never worked with an actor like Justin in my life. The guy, I swear, I think he has total recall, because he had, I don't know how many pages and pages of dialogue, and if he missed one line, he would just go back and start over again without a hitch. I've never seen anything like that in my career, so it was really amazing.
And we would have a little bit of fun. So, I think when he's in the baggage car with the Countess, and he's talking about, "Oh, yes, England…” I just let him go. I said, "Dude, have fun."
So, a lot of those takes, some of those ad libs, I think that was one of the things I really learned when we shot “Shapeshifters Anonymous,” was I love directing comedy. Walking Dead is like, "Oh my God, this person's gonna die.” It's really heavy. Walking Dead, there's not a lot of wah-wah comedy moments. At least there's not a lot of intentional comic moments.
So, when I directed “Shapeshifters Anonymous,” and I had Adam Pally, and I had Anna Camp and Frank Nicotero, I realized that a lot of the fun was that opportunity for the actors to ad lib and have fun with it. And I think I turned to Adam and Frank at one point during “Shapeshifters,” and said, "I think I want to direct a comedy." I was laughing out loud.
I mean, I worked with Carl Reiner, and I worked with a lot of people, and I would watch them watch takes and be giggling during the take. I laughed so much during shooting “Shapeshifters” and really enjoyed directing this episode.
But that whole idea of “you could be yourself in a movie,” I think it's just something, we've talked about it 1,000 times. I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner, Dana.
And I'll give you one little last thing. So, this was intended to be like a 24-minute story, and while we were shooting it, I was having so much fun, and I was really loving everything that Justin was doing and everything that D’Arcy was doing, and the first cut came in about 29 minutes, and I thought, "Okay, well, we need 40 minutes to fill an entire episode. So, we either produce a very short additional Creepshow story, or we go in and we add a little bit more."
So, knowing that people probably hadn't seen Horror Express as many times as Dana and I had, we actually went in and added more Horror Express so that when you watch the episode, you understand when D’Arcy[‘s character] gets grabbed by the monster at the end that she's in genuine, genuine jeopardy. So, the original script, I think there were some liberties taken [so] that you would understand what was going on. So, we added a little bit more of Horror Express, and then, I was like, "Oh crap, well, we still need four minutes."
So, I wrote the nerdiest George Romero zombie video game wraparound probably ever made in history, and I went to the network, and I was like, "Okay, this is what we're going to do. We're going to start in the cemetery of Night of the Living Dead, the Creep's gonna shoot some zombies, and then we'll go into the episode. Then, when we come out of the episode, we're going to go from Night of the Living Dead, and then the helicopter from Dawn of the Dead's gonna pick them up, fly them to the mall. Then, they're going to get out of the mall; they're going to shoot, and then they're going to end up on the elevator from Day of the Dead, and they're going to go down into the missile silo." I was literally in heaven; it was the most ridiculous fan-inspired four minutes of like, "Okay, we just got to get the runtime to 40 minutes. How are we going to do it? I got an idea. Let's just create some some animation content."
So, I sent my brothers to the original cemetery in Pittsburgh, and they filmed the walkthrough of the cemetery, and we used the walkthrough as our basis for the animation.
DANA GOULD:I just wanted to add one thing to what Greg said. This was a good combination, because Greg works in horror and is a comedy nut, and I work in comedy and I'm a horror nut...and I really have to tip my hat to Justin and his performance, because one of the things about comedy that's great, that's magical about it, is that it doesn't matter what is on the page or who wrote it; the thing you come up with at the last minute on the set is always the funniest thing. If you're in the moment, and you've got your toolkit, you're skilled and you have your toolkit, whatever, there's something magical that happens in the moment, and it's always a cut above. It’s true.
And my favorite comedy movie is Dr. Strangelove. My favorite moments in that movie I have since learned were improvised at the time. That's a script written by Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick, but it's still whatever Peter Sellers and Sterling Hayden are coming up within the moment. You can feel it; there's something organic to it that makes it better.
QUESTION:…So, you were you were touching some points, I'm gonna call them surprises to keep the glass half full, like public domain issues and a lot of things that you didn't expect would have to go into production. Just to appreciate the obstacles that might have come with this production of Creepshow versus the original Creepshow, and I'm thinking of maybe new restrictions, expectancies from the audience, what do you feel surprised you when you were going through the whole process, that you somehow had to improvise and wiggle your way through and turned out being better than what you would probably planned beforehand?
GREG NICOTERO:Well, that's a great question. I think when we did season one, I felt the weight and the expectation of every fan of the original Creepshow and every fan of George [Romero]'s and Stephen King's. I felt that on my shoulders, and it was a little terrifying. I'll be really honest, because I had doubt.
You know, Dana had his show as well, and you deal with episodic, where you have characters that take you through the entire season, but then, on Creepshow, every three and a half days we have an entire new cast, all new sets and in instances, all new scripts.
And I think during season one, I always referred to it as it was a bucking bronco, and I just held on for dear life and [unintelligible] that I didn't get impaled.
But coming out of it, and coming into season two, I've felt, for me, the development process was so much more rewarding, because I had Dana, I had Rob Schrab, I had Erik Sandoval and Michael Rousselet, and I had Daniel Kraus and John Esposito. I felt like the writers that I collaborated with, it was one of the most exciting experiences, because I was able to work with these male and female writers that did an amazing job, and then, for me to throw that little extra oomph into it and have the writers go, "That's a fucking great idea!" So, I feel like the episodes are kind of like the perfect amalgamation of the scripts that the writers brought and what ended up on screen. You develop for a long time; the shoot lasts three days, and then I sit there, and I massage the cut, and I edit, and I put the visual effects in, and I do the sound. So, it's like, it's really my baby. I give my baby away to somebody for three days, and they film it, and then they give it back to me, and then I take it to college.
GREG NICOTERO:So, I'm super excited and very proud of the work that the team has put together and with Dana and everyone. Honestly, I've been in this business for a long time, and there're not a lot of instances that I can look back and say, "Man, I'm really proud of myself. I'm happy. I’m Happy!” I'm really happy with the show, and it feels strange for me to say that, because I'm not [that] kind of person. I always feel like “Well, it could be better,” but there's something about this season of Creepshow and the next season that everything lined up perfectly, and I watched it happen. It's like Die Hard when the safe opens finally, and they're all standing there. [sings] "La, la!" That's how it felt when I watched the show, and it makes me proud. It makes me so proud.
It's a hard show, and we shoot it for less than a million dollars an episode, so there's no money. We don't have any money. If I asked for a roll of duct tape or some rubber bands, I felt guilty. I would feel guilty asking you know - For this episode, we built the farmhouse, and then we built the train car baggage claim scene. We built that set; we recreated it, and I had like an eight-foot set, and I said, "Guys bring some luggage, and we'll just stick it back there." I felt guilty asking for more than a twelve-foot wall, because I knew that the art department probably wouldn't be able to do it. And they did such a great job.
Then, the scene where Renee walks into the salon, and the Countess is playing piano, and the Count is standing behind her, we recreated that doorway. They took screen grabs of the wallpaper and printed the wallpaper on their giant printer and recreated that doorway.
And just that we made Creepshow happen out of sheer will and sheer just 100% love and respect, and I couldn't be more proud and blown away by everybody's accomplishments, the DP and the actors, the production designer and visual effects.
You know, shooting Justin in front of green, and how are we going to get Justin to spin around, lean over, pull the sheet back, reveal the the dead thief? And we built one wall in the background, and we put a bunch of extras in period costumes, and we put smoke in front of them, and we were sitting there going, "What's that sign? Oh, it's Chinese for ‘train.’ Oh, because they were in the Orient." We were deconstructing things to just figure out how to make it happen, and man oh man, it was so much fun.
And we didn't shoot them in this order. So, when you have all the episodes, you have to pair all of them, and it's like putting a wedding table together and going, "Who do I sit? I can't sit that person with that person, because that will be bad, and that guy will get too drunk and that girl will hit on anybody." You know, whatever the trick is, you have got to figure out.
So, I knew the minute that we shot this episode that I wanted it to be the finale. I wanted “Model Kid” and “Public Television of the Dead” to be the premiere, because I felt like both of them had so much heart, and they sung to my love of '70s monsters and then my tribute to Sam Raimi and Evil Dead. So, I wanted the show to open that way. Then, I felt like “Night of the Living Late Show” was the absolute perfect episode to take everybody out on, because Dana is magnificent, and the actors were magnificent and I couldn't be more proud.
DANA GOULD:I have to say that the interaction between Justin and D’Arcy and the film is in every instance so much more sophisticated and intricate than I envisioned or put into the script.
It's interesting that Greg mentioned working with Carl Reiner, because Carl Reiner actually directed the movie that inspired this episode. I mean, this episode is an homage to Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which is a Steve Martin movie that Carl Reiner directed where he interacts with all of the Warner Brothers noir films, and I wrote it with that visual template in mind, which is single of Steve Martin, single of Humphrey Bogart, but, hey, it looks like they're on the same set and their dialogue works.
The way that Greg took it, and then moved it ahead an entire - by order of magnitude, it's so much more interactive. I was watching it, and I couldn't believe how good it was.
Again, though, the funniest interaction was not in the script, which is when Justin introduces himself to Christopher Lee. Well, Justin introduces himself to Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee goes "Oh, God." It's in the movie, but it's not in the script. It's beautiful; that's the beautiful part about it.
GREG NICOTERO:We found the moments, and, you know, the craziest thing is, Hannah Fierman, who plays the Countess, we had - Dana, the biggest trick was there's a whole scene where Justin's character is supposed to be kissing the Countess, and I was like, "Well, how the fuck are we going to do that? There's no footage from Horror Express." So, we cast Hannah. She looked so much like the Countess that I don't think a lot of people are going to notice that it's not the same woman.
DANA GOULD:My girlfriend did not. My girlfriend did not know it was a different actress. She just said, "How did they do that?"
GREG NICOTERO:And what was funny about it, was I was so grateful for Hannah to come in and shoot that, and I said, "Look, literally, I hired you; you're a body double. I think we're gonna see your face for like maybe two shots." And she was so down for it, and she was so great that I cast her in a season three episode, because I went, "Look, you did a great job for me. You're way too talented to be a body double or someone that you just shoot overs on." So, we cast her in a Josh Malermin story for season three as the female lead, because she did a great job, and I wanted to thank her.
You guys, just so you know, I don't want you guys to feel like, “Oh shit, you're gonna get cut off.” I'm happy to take some time and let you guys say what you want to say, so don't feel like you're gonna get cut off.
QUESTION:…I kind of want to bounce back to talk about the comedy elements. Justin is very funny, D’Arcy's funny, and levity is an undercurrent throughout Creepshow. So, what is it to you that makes comedy and horror go so well together?
DANA GOULD:…Long story short, I had a show called Stan Against Evil; it was a comedy horror show, and I addressed this question a lot. Comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin. Laughing and screaming are both involuntary reflexes that relieve tension. A great example is when you go through a Halloween maze. On the jump-scares, some people scream, and I always laugh. They're cousins. And when you're filming them, and when you're working on them, it's constructed around gags. What's the gag? It could be a scare gag or a joke, and they're all orchestrated and built. So, they're two sides of the same coin to me. In addition to telling a story, in addition to developing characters and telling a story, there's engineering involved that you have to orchestrate the audience's expectations and then pay it off either with a laugh or a scare. It's challenging and fun.
GREG NICOTERO:Well, I think, always, you think about the the world that George [Romero] lived in and Stephen King, and a lot of this stuff, like Dana said, it goes hand in hand, and I feel like after season one, [in] season one there was some heavy codependence and alcoholism. There were some heavy themes in “Gray Matter,” and some of those episodes were pretty intense.
So, I don't know what it was, I just found, like I said, I feel like I matured a lot in terms of the filmmaker that I am after season one and the stories that I wanted to tell. Because they don't always [need to be scary]; they just need to be entertaining. You just need to be entertained. I don't know if Creepshow is really like balls-to-the-wall scary; it's not intended to be. I don't even think the original subject matter in EC comics was [ever] scary. You waited for the twist. It was like, "Ooh, how is this person going to get their comeuppance? What's going to happen?"
DANA GOULD:And the movies are funny.
GREG NICOTERO:Yeah, they are funny…I had a script that I had pitched last year. It was called “That Sinkhole Feeling,” and it was about these two sort of redneck guys whose job is to guard a sinkhole that's on this guy's property, because creatures come out of the sinkhole every night, and they go, and they feast on cattle, and then they come back down into the sinkhole. That's their job.
So, I wanted Adam Sandler and Chris Rock to play the two guys who were literally just sitting there with with six-packs of beer and a shotgun and watching these creatures crawl out of this hole and then crawl back into the hole. It was really funny, and I just kind of went, "God, it's so out there."
And I just think there was something I embraced a lot more this season, [and] that was things are a little more outrageous. I feel like I pushed the boundaries in terms of the development of the stories.
I mean, “Sibling Rivalry” I was really proud of that Melanie Dale wrote. I love that it's like a teenage girl's experience in high school, and Molly Ringwald. I was really happy with the fact that every story really gives you a different experience.
I saw one review that they're like, "Man, Creepshow, they just don't know; they're just really pushing the envelope. They need to rein it in a little bit." And I thought it was kind of an interesting note that the biggest criticism I've got is is that we've been expanding, or we're branching out into science fiction. “The Right Snuff” was 100% my homage to Andromeda Strain and 2001. Like the orange corridors, which is right out of 2001.
I remember the director and the producer walked on set, and they're like, "Oh, my God, the walls are orange." I was like, "Yeah, they're orange. Didn't you ever see any Irwin Allen TV show?" Orange. Orange was the color of the '70s.
So, I love that we have a teen horror story and that we have a sci-fi story. Then, we had “Within the Walls of Madness,” which was our HP Lovecraft Cthulhu story. There's no rule that says an anthology has to be limited to just horror. We can start spreading our [unintelligible.] I was really excited about all of those different stories and the fact that the show gives you an entirely different experience with every episode.
QUESTION:…Talking about season three and looking beyond, is there any theme or setting you haven't tackled yet that you would like to give that horror/twisted slant to? Or is there something you've ever been challenged by somebody who said, "No, you can't do that; that just isn't the way to go?"
GREG NICOTERO:Well, look, I will say one thing, and I'd love Dana to weight in. The landscape is changing, and it's changing fast and dramatically in terms of how villains are portrayed. There are in past history horror movie tropes. There was a time when women were sexualized in horror movies. It's going to be challenging in terms of how you craft and you develop these villains in horror stories, because you have to be careful now, because in order to make somebody villainous and despicable in about six minutes, there are times when you would go right to the worst possible thing that you could think of for that person to do. I think that in this particular landscape, there's a lot more sensitivity now. There are movies that wouldn't be made now that were made years ago because of these sensitivities. So, I think it's going to be challenging moving forward to create content that is respectful of everyone.
But finding those moments, season three has some really unique stories. There's a story that's very political, that talks about people going across the border to get medicine to treat ailments, because they can't get it in the United States.
So, look, we try to be relevant and topical about some of our themes and some of our stories, because we've handled abuse and racism in episodes of Creepshow this year in “Model Kid” and in “Public Television of the Dead.”
The one thing that I've said to a lot of people is, if you don't watch the news, and you don't want to be spoon-fed certain agendas, I really believe that the horror genre probably addresses elements in a way that people don't feel they're being force fed. Looking at Night of the Living Dead, and looking at Duane Jones being cast as the lead, and looking at all of Romero's movies that have a strong African American and a strong female in the leads of all of George's movies for the last 40 years -
DANA GOULD:And in 1968.
GREG NICOTERO:Yeah, yeah. 1968. And Russ Streiner talked about the fact that back then - and of course, there's a scene where she's losing her mind, and he grabs her and he smacks her.
I think that we have a responsibility to continue to be socially relevant in terms of the stories that we tell, and we have to obviously be mindful, but it's challenging. It's very challenging.
But in terms of where we're going and the stories that we developed for season three, I'm just going through the stories in my head, because a lot of them relate to my desire and my hopes to tell stories that are, in some cases, a little edgy, and people might not quite be sure what to expect from them.
But I like being able to - the horror genre was born out of rebellion, and it was born out of, "Oh, you can't do that." Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead. "Oh, you can't see a zombie bite somebody in the neck, or they're getting disemboweled, so we'll give you an R rating." "Oh, really? Well, fuck that, then I'm going to release the movie unrated." The horror genre is built on rebellion and social unrest and those [kind of] scenarios. So, I feel like we have an obligation to continue to tell relevant stories, and I'm happy to do it. I don't know if that answered your question. I kind of went off a little bit for a minute there.
DANA GOULD:Let me add one thing that I think is pertinent. The original EC Comics, all those stories were morality tales; all those stories where somebody does something shitty and they get their comeuppance. That's great, and it's a common theme in horror and in satire, I wouldn't say comedy, but satire, and that lends itself to [unintelligible]. As we are now in this era, where, like in the late 60s - of social evolution is what it is. Things are growing and changing, and growing and changing is painful and uncomfortable and scary. You see this now, and there's a lot of money to be made in the anti-woke movement, because change is scary, but the beautiful thing about these stories is that the heightened awareness isn't a burden; it's an opportunity. Now we have an entirely new canvas to explore and new things to explore. The challenges are good, and they're to be welcomed.
I'll give you a really quick example, and then I'll shut up, and I get to drop a name. I was talking to Laraine Newman, who's from Saturday Night Live, who's a buddy and a huge horror nut, huge horror nut, old buddy of Toby Hooper's. She was venting about why is it, in the old horror movies, when they're running away from the monster, it's always the woman that trips and falls and needs to be helped up. Women don't fall more than men. It's not based in any physics, but it was just a trope. Yeah, they run away, the woman would fall, and the guy would help her up, but women don't fall any more than men do. So, the beautiful thing about shows like Creepshow that are anthologies that can go anywhere in any different episode is that you get to explore these things. These things aren't burdens; these things aren't barriers. These are opportunities. They're challenging.
QUESTION:As per last season, season two has a lot of big names in horror from Barbara Crampton to Justin Long, Ted Raimi of course. Do you guys find it easier to work with veterans of the genre, or does it pose challenges for that same reason?
GREG NICOTERO:There's not really that much of a difference. Having been in the industry for so long, I know most of them, if not all of them. So, it's kind of like when we got Jeffrey Combs last year, I would just text them. Even with Dana, I'm like "Hey, you want to come and play for a couple days?" So, Denise Crosby came in and did an episode, because I killed her in Walking Dead.
Most of the people, again, I feel we were really, really fortunate. Justin was great. D’Arcy I was a big fan of, because I love, love, love, love The Good Place, and, ironically, when we hired Justin, I believe Justin's manager was kind of like, "Hey, what do you think of D’Arcy?" And I went, "Oh, my God, I love her." Here's me always being like, "Nobody wants to come down here." I always feel like I'm the shy kid that probably would go to the dance alone, because I'm always a little shy and a little nervous.
So, the fact that we were able to get the people that we got - Breckin Meyer I had worked with on Rat Race, and Ryan Kwanten was amazing. Eric Edelstein. I hadn't met Eric, but he was perfect, and Barbara came in, and I hadn't seen Barbara in a long, long time, so it was always kind of fun to see who was going to fly in and land and work on the show. So, I felt like we got really lucky.
You know, the thing about “Public Television of the Dead” was it sort of lived and died on if Ted [Raimi] would be willing to do it, because that was kind of the biggest joke. So, when I got the first draft of the script from Rob Scraob, I texted Ted and said, "Hey, man, I got something that might interest you for Creepshow," and he went "Great," but I didn't tell him that he would be playing himself, and then he would have to get possessed in the episode, but he was super game for it and had such a great time.
You know what? Creepshow is like real filmmaking, man. We're down there. We got no time; we got no money, and we just want to have fun and have a good time. Ted had so much fun that he ended up staying an extra month and a half and shadowed me as a director on some of my other episodes; he didn't want to leave. So, I felt very fortunate between that and a lot of the local talent. Atlanta has a great, great acting base. So, I feel like so many of the actors that we got for the show that were here also were big fans, and that makes a huge difference. So, the cast this season was absolutely phenomenal.
DANA GOULD:What makes “Night of the Living Late Show” so special, is in addition to people like Jeffrey Combs and Ashley Lawrence, Creepshow this year is also featuring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
DANA GOULD:No other shows are featuring them this year.
GREG NICOTERO:And Duane Jones...I read a book about Peter Cushing and his final wishes were that he could be in Creepshow.
DANA GOULD: [laughs]
GREG NICOTERO: So, we needed to make that happen just for everything.
SCIFI VISION:I was just curious. We've seen in television and movies different types of VR, and I was just curious. I guess you'd call it a tanning bed, but I'm just curious how that idea came about, with the actual unit that you made. It’s definitely different.
GREG NICOTERO:The Immersopod.
GREG NICOTERO:Well, the funniest thing about it was…when we were putting the comic book pages together, the graphics illustrator said, "It's a converted tanning bed," and I'm like, "No, no, no, no, it's not a converted tanning bed. It's a thing that he built and that he created." But production-wise, we bought a tanning bed and all the little octagonal pieces that are in there were put in there. That was my Fantastic Voyage homage, when they were shrinking the Proteus. I said, “I love the little octagonal pieces.” So, they made that, the big giant films, and we had to paint it.
We had painted it, and when I walked on into the set tech, props warehouse for the first time, they're like, "Hey, there's the Immersopod." I was like, "Oh, fuck. How is that gonna ever look like a high-tech piece of machinery that can actually get us in and out of the movies?" But it looked great.
Lucas Godfrey, our prop master, I think literally every time we opened and closed it, we just expected all those little cameras to just fall out all at once. We couldn't open it; we had to put a cable on it to open it and close it, because I was like, "Okay, guys, now close the pod," and it wouldn't close. So, we'd have to put a cable on it and close it and then shoot it in reverse, but it looked fantastic.
And Justin and I realized, which Dana probably doesn't even know, but the opening scene where he's turning everything on is Marty McFly turning on Doc Brown's stuff in the opening credits of Back to the Future. So, Justin added the line in there that Michael J. Fox said. So, I think the joke there might have been an outtake where I was playing the Back to the Future theme while he was flipping everything.
DANA GOULD:Yeah, so much of those things - I love the origin of where things come from. Last night I learned, and Greg, you might not know this, the jumpsuits that the apes wear in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes [are] from the Seaview. They were the red jumpsuits from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. They had a bunch.
GREG NICOTERO:Those crazy Fox costumes.
DANA GOULD:Exactly, everything on the lot. But for the Immersopod, the origin of it - and I didn't even realize this until after - I knew that it was in a house; it was in a suburban house, and I loved the idea of, I just visually imagined the camera sliding through a door and seeing through a door and what looked like a coffin, like how strange that would look, a coffin just in a room in a suburban house. Doing it in a coffin would have been too on the nose, but the origin of that, which I didn't realize until later, is a shot from The Nightstalker when Darren McGavin is walking through the house at the end of the pilot movie. [In] the original movie, there's a shot where the camera just slides to an open door and you just see a casket in the middle of a bedroom in a rundown suburban house, and that was the origin of it.
GREG NICOTERO:God, you just may have surpassed me as the biggest nerd for about six seconds there.
DANA GOULD:I have a lot of free time.
GREG NICOTERO:That was a deep fucking cut, dude.
SCIFI VISION:I think it's cool that it's unique, because it's definitely not what we usually see for VR.
GREG NICOTERO:Yeah, nobody uses VR or time machines, as, you know. And, you know, I'll tell you that the trick too was having to determine the green screen shots. And I have to give a big shoutout to the visual effects team that was able to go in and match the grain and match everything, because that's the one thing that will make or break any of those kinds of shows. So, when I started cutting it together, I was just watching Justin in front of green, and then intercutting it with the episode, and I'm like, “Man, no one's gonna get it. The studio, the network, no one's gonna get it until it's all put together, because you got to have those elements in there.”
DANA GOULD:If it doesn't look right, it doesn't work. That's the thing. It doesn't work. Like, you look at that - you can see it on YouTube; there's an early cut of Star Wars, one of the work prints of Star Wars, and nothing works. Just nothing works.
QUESTION:So, sticking with, I guess, the tanning bed, if you will, the episode was fascinating to me, because you were splitting yourself in two. On the one hand, you were trying to envision a version of the future and where we could be going. On the other hand, there were obvious nods, a lot of heart regarding old horror and kind of also linking into what Dana was saying before that we're going through a phase of sensitivity, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's an opportunity. It's a good thing.
I guess my question is, moving forward, after the work you've already put into Creepshow, where [would you] see that balance? Because on the one hand, it helps people get through change to see something they know. A lot of horror fans have a lot of love for the old horror, the retro horror, the vintage, and they'll watch it again and again, because it provides them psychological comfort. At the same time, horror, especially Creepshow, as a format, has always reinvented scary imagery and tested the waters and gone really nuts with “what is the threat” and “how far can we push the envelope on this?” So, I guess, considering that pushing boundaries versus providing comfort with what we already know, how are you going to shift that balance in the future based on how you respond, how the audience responds, and what feels right in today's current film industry?
GREG NICOTERO:Well, you know, for me, Creepshow always has part of its DNA is that nostalgia and is that idea that you do find comfort in watching old movies. “Night of the Living Late Show,” the whole thing is Justin when he's talking about "Oh, man, that was the first movie I ever saw with my dad." Man, I just loved that he was talking about being a little kid who saw somebody attractive in a movie and had a crush on them. Every person on the planet has always been like, "Oh, man, wow. How do you meet that person?"
There's something fascinating about it, but I do think that we've been successful in mixing those. I feel like we will continue to do that, continue to mix the nostalgic elements of what makes Creepshow unique but still feeling modern and relevant. It is tricky, and I feel like we were one of the first anthology shows to hit a couple years ago. I feel like we did that back then, and we have continued to do it.
There are some episodes that lean very heavily into the cartoon style with the the red lighting and the green lighting and the comic book backgrounds. This one I didn't. I chose specifically not to lean into that stuff for the episode, because I thought the episode felt grounded to me and felt grounded in a more modern setting, so I didn't need necessarily the crazy red lights and the crazy blue lights and the backgrounds and stuff. I just didn't feel that it felt relevant.
But then some of the other ones like “Pesticide” and “Pipe Screams,” those are a lot more outrageous, and they're meant to be more like somebody throws a rabid squirrel in your living room and shuts the door kind of vibe. Which has yet to happen to me, but I feel it coming.
DANA GOULD:The day is young.
GREG NICOTERO:Yeah, yeah, Dana.
…So, anyway, I do like that. I'm a very nostalgic guy to begin with, and it all comes from who I am and how I got into the business and and the people that I've worked with, and I will continue to embrace that, because, look, I miss Wes Craven and I miss George and Toby and the people that that inspired me. I miss them. Somebody was asking me the other day about working with West Craven, and I miss it.
I feel like I got into the movie business in 1984 right at that perfect [time.] If it'd been a year later or a year earlier, I don't know what would have happened, but I got in right at the perfect time where makeup effects were just really hitting that pinnacle. And with KNB, we're the longest running makeup effects studio in the world with the same guys that have run it, Howard and I, and I'm very proud that we weathered CGI and we weathered, "Oh, well horror's lowbrow" and all this kind of stuff.
But I feel like part of who I am is that nostalgic element, and that's what you feel in the show; you feel that's really part of who I am.
I did an interview with a Pittsburgh newspaper, and they're like, "Man you're keeping Pittsburgh alive," because I use elements, either set episodes in Pittsburgh [or] use elements of Pittsburgh in a lot of the stories. I do that on purpose, because I feel like that's part of [me]. There's so much of me in Creepshow, and I think that when [I'm] on my deathbed, and I'm looking back on my crazy career, I'm gonna be so proud of the fact that everybody saw that my passion was what really came through in Creepshow, because that's all me. And Dana’s on this journey with me now. I talked him into coming in and starring in “Skincrawlers” last year, and I'm like, "Hey, do you got any ideas for Creepshow?" And here we are.
DANA GOULD:It was a fat suit; I just wanted to stress [that]. It was. Much better shape.
I just wanted to add one one thing really briefly to what you said. What I love about the horror community, [is] so much of horror - and I'm also in the comedy community, but they're not the same in this regard, trust me - so [many] people that are into horror and genre stuff have an unabashed, unashamed love of the things that captivated them in their childhood, that this was something that captivated you as a child and that you never let go of. They're very in touch with that and unaware of that. As a result, by and large, they're not encumbered with the trappings of adulthood. Most of the people who work in horror, we don't look like we work in financial services. We have long hair; we have beards, we dress...So, to the outside world, we are weirdos, because we read horror magazines, and we don't wear suits. A hundred percent, they are the kindest, most empathetic, open minded, evolved thinkers. They're always the sweetest, friendliest, most in touch people that you deal with in the business or in the world. It's the people that look normal that I'm scared of. I would much rather hang out with Kirk Hammett than Jamie Dimon, and it's not because one's richer. The awareness of that is really important, and it makes for very good people.
GREG NICOTERO:Well said.
QUESTION:…Besides the sort of nostalgic nod to “The Crate,” one of the episodes in the original Creepshow, why is Horror Express, why was it the perfect movie for this episode, and what were your associations with that movie growing up…in the '70s?
DANA GOULD:Well, I guess I'll start with this. As Greg said earlier, I thought it was public domain, and that was a big part of it. I wanted to do the horror version of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and I thought it would be very, very hard to sell a black and white episode. So, that took out doing the whole episode as Night of the Living Dead or Plan 9 from Outer Space, which are two movies that, you know, you can bury me with those DVDs. So, I was looking for a movie that was in color and was financially viable but also had an emotional pole, and this had Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It was like great, okay, I have them.
Then, I had to watch it and see if it would work, because there were other movies that I looked at that there was just nothing there to use. This one really hit the sweet spot.
Then, you know, the thing that's fascinating about mysteries is that you write them backwards. The Big Sleep, you solve the problem, and then you write it; you backwards engineer the story. That's what I had to do on Horror Express; I had to backwards engineer it so that it would fit into the scenes.
GREG NICOTERO:I'll tell you, growing up in Pittsburgh, Bill Cardille, who played the reporter in Night of the Living Dead, who was a great friend of George [Romero], used to have a TV show called Chiller Theater. So, every Saturday night, they would play movies, and I saw Horror Express when I was maybe eleven, ten or eleven years old, and I was terrified. The white eyes and the monster and the dripping blood and then the fact that the entire train gets overrun with Cossack zombies, it scared the hell out of me.
DANA GOULD:It goes to a really crazy place at the end, the universal consciousness from outer space. It's really insane.
GREG NICOTERO:It was an homage to The Thing. You know, they find this creature in the ice, and they bring it back. So, I think it was it was a weird attempt to do a version of The Thing, the original story of The Thing, but, then, they're like, “Let's set it on a train, and let's get Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.”
And evidently, I think, if I'm not mistaken, Peter Cushing's wife had just passed away, and Christopher Lee was like, "Dude, just come do this movie with me. It'll be fun." So, he talked him into doing it just because Peter Cushing was in mourning of losing his wife. So, they did it as like, “Okay, well, sure, why not?” Then, Telly Savalas shows up.
So, I remember much younger being really terrified of the movie, because of the monster.
Then, you do the rat focus and the cuts and the weird noises and stuff, and the idea that the monster goes from person to person was right out of The Thing. So, I always loved the movie.
As a matter of fact, when Justin is in his den, and he points to the Horror Express poster, that's my poster from my movie poster collection that we framed and we put on the wall. They were like, "You know, we got to get permission to use the poster." I was like, "But it's my poster from my poster collection. Why do we have to get permission?" Because it's all rights everybody's so worried about. But that was my original [poster]. I had like three different Horror Express posters, and that was the one that we used. So, it's framed. That was my poster. That's how much I love that original movie.
And you know, when D’Arcy and I, were when we were shooting that scene, where the Countess goes running through the train car, she's like, “He's mine. He's mine. You can't have him!” I was on the floor laughing, because I said, “Girls, this is like, this is a cat fight. Like you're fighting over him, so really fucking go for it.” So, she runs. So, D’Arcy runs into the room and she stops and goes, “Oh yeah, well, fuck you!” And then she looks around, and she's in the baggage claim. And she's like, “Fuck this movie. I hate this movie!” No one's ever seen Horror Express!”
DANA GOULD:Yeah. I burst out laughing at that.
GREG NICOTERO:We laughed so hard shooting that scene. And D’Arcy was like, “I've never seen the movie.” And I'm like, “Well, fuck that. Yeah, come on, like, your idiot husband brought you into this movie, because he's having sex with one of the actresses, and you went into it, and now you're here, and you're pissed.”
You know, there have been instances on this season where actors had ad lib things, or we were just joking around about something, and it became one of my favorite jokes, like Dana was saying earlier. I think Adam Pally, when we were doing the bit in “Shapeshifters,” where he realizes that he's a werewolf, and he said, “Oh, I can't take the curse off, because I think I ate her, and I ate her dog.” And then during the rehearsal, he said, “And I think I peed on her hedges.”
GREG NICOTERO:…And we laughed about it. And I said, “Say it.” And then when he said it, then, Anna Camp during the take says, “I've done that.” And I fucking lost [it]…Like Dana was saying, you know, you get in the moment, and you're having fun with it, and things come out of a rehearsal, or I'll say something, and the actress will be like, “Can I say that?” Like, fuck, yeah, you can say it. It's great. Say it; have fun with it.
DANA GOULD:I thought this was one of those things where it actually made me feel bad that I was like, “Of course, she needs to say that. Why didn't I give her that line?” I wanted to send her flowers for saying it. I was like, “Thank you for coming up with that line.”
And the the one thing that I didn't tell Greg that I wanted to tell Greg, was what really made me feel great, was, Cat, my girlfriend…she didn't read the script, and she just knew I was working on something. And then, we watched it, and she's very literate with movies. When it cuts to Night of the Living Dead, she went, “Yes!”…You can feel there's just something about that footage, that film, like when they go into that movie; it's so satisfying. It's so, so satisfying. It made me feel very good. That was it.