A Life in the Cinema: The Dark Fiction of Mick Garris

Written by Jess Peacock
(Note: Reposted from Famous Monsters of Filmland)

For most fans of the horror genre, Mick Garris is perhaps best known as being Stephen King’s preferred darling director. Since 1992’s Sleepwalkers, Garris has adapted The Stand, The Shining, and Desperation for television, as well as a theatrical production of the novella Riding the Bullet. In addition, Garris is slated to direct the film adaptation of King’s superb supernatural mystery Bag of Bones.

What some might not be aware of, however, is that Garris has recurrently dipped his toes into the volatile world of dark fiction. His collected works of short stories, Life in the Cinema, as well as his full-length novel, Development Hell, are the result of a life inspired by the fantastic. “I was a serious reader from my earliest years,” he explains. “I always loved books and movies about the darker side. I grew up on Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson…Twilight Zone, the Universal classics…all of the stuff that litters the brain of a kid my age.”

“I think a lot of people in our genre are outcasts of a sort,” Garris continues. “They turn to books and movies and television for either a glimpse of a better world… or a worse one.”

Instrumental in Garris’ development as a genre aficionado was Forrest J Ackerman’s seminal magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. “Famous Monsters was a huge influence!” he says. “This was the first time that I ever saw that there were other people like me who liked this stuff! It was a great awakening, and I hope the relaunch can instill the emotional connection to the genre that the magazine did under Forry.”

While filmmaking is Garris’ raison d’ĂȘtre, he has consistently written fiction as an outlet for his creativity. “I approach it as therapy,” he reveals. “Writing fiction is more personal than filmmaking as it only involves myself telling a tale to the reader. And the short form is a lot easier and a lot of fun.”

It was Garris’ passion for short stories that provided his first opportunity for publication with A Life in the Cinema. “I decided that I had enough short stories published that I could collect them and maybe get them published in a stand-alone book. A Life in the Cinema was a short story I originally wrote for David Schow’s collection, Silver Scream. I loved the character at the center of that story, and thought it was time to revisit him, so I wrote a sequel [Starfucker] that picked up where the first had left off.”

A Life in the Cinema, published in 2000, is a dark, kinky, and altogether twisted collection of eight stories by Garris, dragging the reader on a bizarre excursion through the author’s id. From the murderous obsession of Chocolate (which Garris adapted for his Masters of Horror series), to the It’s Alive-inspired cinematic exploitation of a deformed baby, to horrific antics of necrophilia, Garris succeeds at creating unique individual narratives that convey the confidence of a far more seasoned writer.

“Development Hell came directly out of A Life in the Cinema and Starfucker, Garris confides. “I still wanted to revisit that character and wrote another short story about him, picking up where Starfucker left off. Every time I’d finish a film or something, I’d do another story in the same way.”

Garris took the bold step of allowing friend and sometimes collaborator Stephen King to read his collection of stories that chronicled an unnamed protagonist’s exploits in the fabled land of Hollywood. “He told me that it felt ‘like a loose novel’, and then the light bulb went off,” recalls Garris. “I finished the nine stories, knowing that they would all one day get published together. Then went back to the beginning and rewrote it with the mission of making it a self-contained novel.”

The resulting work, Development Hell (“It’s been surprisingly well received, even though it’s so profane and offensive”), emerged as a riotous violence and sex filled romp through “Lady Hollywood” by way of the significantly demented, yet uniquely informed lens of the author. Garris’ brisk prose guides the unnamed protagonist through a series of misadventures, ultimately discovering that, even in death, the bottom line in Tinseltown is the unforgiving judgment of the almighty Box Office.

Despite the modest success and positive feedback stemming from his two initial forays into dark fiction, Garris assures his fans that he is, foremost, a filmmaker. “There are many filters when you make a film,” he explains. “Directing is a creative explosion, where you’re…surrounded by stimulating, creative individuals all working hard to realize your vision.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the director has abandoned the written word. “I’m writing all the time,” Garris says in response to his future writing plans. “This year I’ve written a couple of screenplays and a pilot and I’m still doing short stories. I had three of them published in collections this year. And I like all of it.”