Who says the season of scares ends after Halloween? When you really think about it, Christmas is terrifying. And the long tradition of ghost stories and frightening folklore associated with the season speaks to the underlying anxiety of dark nights, freezing cold, and mysterious folk figures breaking into your home.
Thankfully, horror films have stepped up lately to serve our need for festive fright. And this year, horror anthology film All the Creatures Were Stirring gives a stocking stuffed with bite-sized Christmas terror. The film is coming to Shudder December 13th, and I got the chance to chat with Morgan Peter Brown, producer of the film and one of its stars! We talked about the horrors of the holidays, what it was like to work behind and in front of the camera on the film, and why indie horror is where it’s at right now.
“Dave and Rebekah, they have all of these short film ideas […] They are a force unto themselves, that’s for sure!”
Stephanie Cole for Nightmare on Film Street: Tell me a little about how the idea for All the Creatures Were Stirring originated. What drew you to a Christmas horror anthology film?
Morgan Peter Brown: David Ian and Rebekah McKendry, the husband and wife team who are the co-writers and co-directors, I’d worked with as an actor in some of their shorts. I did a short film called The Barista with Chase Williamson and Amanda Fuller, who are both in the movie as well, that [Rebekah and David] directed and wrote.
I’m a producer with my producing partner Joe Wicker, our company is Fallback Plan productions. We were talking to Dave and Rebekah about doing their first feature. We were working on a couple different ideas. And as so often happens in LA, things take time, but the idea that eventually jumped to the forefront was this idea for an anthology that we could do on weekends. That’s how this started.
Dave and Rebekah, they have all of these short film ideas — and they love Christmas! They’re very festive people. Their house has massive displays both at Halloween and Christmas. They are a force unto themselves, that’s for sure! It also made a lot of sense because they also have this dark, fiendish sense of humor, and it definitely felt like something they could pull off. They came to Joe and me with this collection of Christmas stories. We took a look at it and we figured out that, given how we would shoot this, we don’t have to wait, we can start doing this pretty soon. And that’s how it started! A lot of independent projects grow out of finding out how to do this with what you have. And that’s how this happened. Then it grew over time and further developed into what we’ve got right now.
NOFS: I always found it fascinating that while horror fans obviously love Halloween, Christmas horror has always been a subgenre throughout horror for a while. And I feel that it’s becoming more prominent lately. Why do you think we’re seeing this need for yuletide scares?
MPB: I agree and I think it’s a couple of things. People love that dichotomy of joy and happiness and bright lights combined with fear and terrible things. People like leaning into that sometimes. They find the brightest thing and think, “what if we twisted that and made it weird? What if we made that dark?” But also, what was funny about the writing process for this film, it was never very hard to find inspiration. We would just isolate little parts of Christmas and find something terrifying about it. Because if you think about it, there are so many things about the holiday season that cause us stress and anxiety. That’s already the seed of something that can be mined for horror.
NOFS: Do you have a personal favorite segment of the film? Without spoilers, of course, what can fans look forward to in that story?
MPB: There’s a lot to look forward to. We do our best to vary it as much as possible, so each story looks and feels different. We’re definitely trying to have something for everybody. And when every new story starts, you’re going in having no idea what you’re going to get. Having said that, one of my favorite segments is called “Dash Away All.” It’s the second segment in the film, besides the wraparound. It takes place in a mall parking lot on Christmas Eve night — all the segments take place on Christmas Eve. It’s about a dad running out to his car after being basically the last shopper in a department store before closing. And through an unlucky twist of fate, he’s locked his keys and his cell phone in his car. So suddenly he’s left in this mall parking lot with nobody around. Have you ever been to grocery stores or places with large parking lots, and there’s a big creepy van over in the corner, just lurking there? This is one of those. He has to go over and knock on the window because there’s no one else around. And from there, things take a turn for the bizarre.
“It’s a cool script, it’s a funny, scary, creepy movie.”
NOFS: This film has an impressive lineup of talent involved. There’s a lot of great horror people in the film. What did you have in mind for casting the film? What drew them to this project?
MPB: First of all, as an anthology, it’s a massive cast. And as one of the producers, there was a running joke between us and Dave and Rebekah, where new drafts would come in of scenes and we’d be like, “This is great! Can we have five less actors in this scene please?” Dave would give us a draft and there’d be like, twelve actors in it and we’d be like “okay, can we maybe get away with six?” Thirty-five actors for an independent film is a lot. But having said that, we were able to work with a bunch of really great horror people along with some really great comedy people.
Jonathan Kite from Two Broke Girls and other great stuff — he and I have known each other for a long time. We went to college together. And it was such a joy to bring him on to a project where we knew he would just kill it. Constance Wu, the same. Constance and I were friendly and she had a week off from Fresh off the Boat, and she liked the script and wanted to work with us, so we made it happen. And then the horror people — Graham Skipper is a friend. Matthew Mercer, Jessie Merlin, and Ashley Clemons I’ve known for a while as well. These were just people that got it and were ready to come play. There are other actors that we found through casting, that maybe we knew but we still cast them to find the right people through actual audition sessions.
My segment that I’m in with Constance features three actors that are as a unit, one of my favorite performances in the film. I won’t give anything away. But it’s Stephanie Drake, Tiffany Elle, and Craig Lee Thomas. They are amazing together. And they were those sort of actors where they auditioned for us and we were like, those are them! They’re fantastic.
In a way, the massive cast allowed us the chance to work with all of these great people who we like and had always had an eye on. Actors love to work, so when you’re in Los Angeles, even if people are on a show or working on a film, as an anthology, at the end of the day you’re asking people for a maximum of three days on a project. It’s a cool script, it’s a funny, scary, creepy movie. If you want to work with us and you like the script, can you give us a weekend? And we got pretty tremendous responses because of that. We’re all here in LA, and you can sleep in your own bed, we’re not asking you to fly to Louisiana or something like that. So we got all these great horror, comedy and dramatic actors all throughout the film.
NOFS: that speaks to something that I find fantastic about the horror community. It’s a tight-knit fan community both behind the scenes and in the audience. All the Creatures Were Stirring definitely seems like a film by horror fans for fans.
MPB: I talk about that a lot actually. I think that the horror community is more a community than other that I’ve found. Whether it be comedy or independent filmmaking or anything like that, there’s something about horror, and people in horror, where it’s like “Oh you’re a weirdo too? Let’s be best friends!” It’s more supportive and enthusiastic than any other that I’ve found. And in terms of these being “by horror fans,” Rebekah actually has a Ph.D. in horror and exploitation films, there is no deeper well of horror knowledge and references than right there. Working with them is always a joy because of that. I’m a massive horror fan myself, and I’ve seen a lot, but there were still times when she’d throw out references and I’d be like “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but in it sounds interesting. And it works on screen, ok great!”
NOFS: The film has some fantastic poster art! It hints at a very cool look for the film. Can you tell me a bit about the overall look of the film and the production design for the individual segments?
MPB: We’re fans of anthologies and we’ve seen a lot of them. I think there were some common aspects of anthologies that we were directly playing against going in. As fun as anthologies are, they have pitfalls. We wanted to make sure every segment looked different and unique. An anthology can feel tiring if it’s repetitive or if everything looks the same. So we intentionally mixed it up. We’ve gotten a lot of great compliments about our wraparound being more of a story than any other wraparound recently. And that’s by design. Because we don’t want the segment to end and for the audience sit back in their seat and go, “ok let’s get ready for the next one.” Instead, we finish it and go right into the story since it fades right into our wraparound, which people seem to really enjoy.
“There’s a segment that’s very heavily Italian Giallo inspired. […] And there’s another that’s heavily inspired by The Twilight Zone.”
NOFS: Can you tell me a bit about some of the biggest creative influence for the film and it’s stories?
MPB: Some of them are big references. There’s a segment that’s very heavily Italian Giallo inspired. It’s weird and we have a lot of fun with that one. And there’s another that’s heavily inspired by The Twilight Zone. Besides that, there are also little pockets of inspiration throughout. I know that Dave and Rebekah are big fans of Messiah of Evil, which came out in 1973 and involves several scenes set in a theater like we have in our wraparound.
There’s also a scene with a really insane phone call that’s directly inspired by Black Christmas. While working on that phone call bit, we went back to Black Christmas and were reminded how dangerous and out of control those scenes feel to this day. Whenever those calls happen, it’s terrifying. We really tried to capture something like that in our segment.
So there are a few references throughout. They are great if you catch and while they’re kind of winking, I think whether or not you get them the movie works. That’s when references are and aren’t helpful. As long as the movie works in its own and it makes a nod to something, that’s the best way to do that.
NOFS: You’re a producer of the film and you’re an actor as well. Did you always intend to get involved in front of the camera as well?
MPB: Well I’ve been an actor longer — I’ve been a professional actor over fifteen years now. I came to producing because I started in theater, and something you see in the theater is you’re involved in the whole process since you’re there the whole time. That was something I started to miss as an actor in film and television. You’re so often the last person to show up and the first person to leave. I missed being there for things like watching the actors vibe together or working on sound design and effects. I knew I could do more and that’s when Mike Flanagan and I and my producing partner Joe Wicker and Justin Gordon produced Absentia (2011). That was our first project that I produced. It was that knowledge that I could do more that got me there. It’s a whole other creative side of things that I really enjoy. It allows me to be there from the very beginning to the very end if there is such a thing as an end to a project. Having said that, I love acting, I’ll always be an actor. There’s plenty of things I just act in. I do a lot of television and film. But being able to produce as well is satisfying in a whole other way.
NOFS: Your production company has always been very inclined toward horror so this seems like a very natural project for you. What draws you to produce horror?
MPB: For sure. Not only are Joe and I horror fans, but it also makes good business sense! Horror fans are incredible and there’s nothing quite like them. They are more enthusiastic and supportive than any other film community you’ll find. We also find it exciting on how much you can do in terms of genre — in horror, thriller, and SciFi. The risks you can take and the bold choices you can go with. It makes it so much fun. And I also like being able to talk about really intense, timely, metaphorical stuff. That’s always been one of the best parts of horror. You can make a two-hour movie about how racism is bad, or you can make Get Out. I find you’re always going be more effective working through metaphor. Coming at things from a different angle, you’re always going to reach more people and make cooler points.
NOFS: That’s true and I always tell people, independent horror is some of the most creative independent filmmaking happening right now. Why do you think that is?
MPB: I could argue that in independent filmmaking there’s no greater difference between what the studios are doing and what the indies are doing than in horror. And I think that’s a strength. When I started producing, I found myself very inspired by Moneyball. Basically, the idea of Moneyball is if you don’t have the money that the New York Yankees have, don’t even try to do what they’re doing. Do something else. Find something new. Do something bold and different. That’s what we try to keep in mind. Because if you’re making movies under a million dollars, you have literally 200 times less money than the Avengers movies do. So do something different. Take risks. Be bold. Tell stories that are close to you. Which again makes sense for horror, because what’s scariest to all of us are things that we can immediately relate to. As inventive or crazy as we can get with horror, if you ask me to think of the scariest thing I could think of, it’s turning in the lights in my living room and someone’s standing there that I don’t know. There are intrinsic things that are terrifying to us that don’t change and are small and relatable.
“[…] do something different. Take risks. Be bold. Tell stories that are close to you.”
NOFS: Finally, where can festive horror fans find and support the film this holiday season?
We are out on Redbox, most VOD platforms and DVD now. Then we’re coming to Shudder December 13th, which we’re really excited about. Then our Blu-ray is coming January 8th, it’s not coming before Christmas unfortunately, but we’re really excited about the Blu-ray. And we all have future projects coming. Rebekah has directed her next movie already, and Joe and I working on a really exciting haunting story with director Jill Gevargizian (The Stylist) and writer Eric Stolze (Late Phases). I’m also doing a really fun podcast called the Fear Initiative, it’s a horror/Dungeons & Dragons podcast I’m on with David Ian McKendry on the Blumhouse network.
NOFS: That all sounds fantastic! Thanks so much for talking with Nightmare on Film Street today! We are always here for Christmas horror and anthology horror just makes it better!
MPB: Of course! And Nightmare on Film Street is terrific! We love you guys.
If you’re feeling frightfully festive, be sure to check out the All the Creatures Were Stirring right now on VOD or DVD, and when it hits Shudder on December 13th! Until then, have a very scary Christmas and keep up with us here on Nightmare on Film Street for the latest interviews, reviews, news, and retrospectives in horror! Let us know what you thought of the the new of holiday horror anthology on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.