Watching horror anthologies is a great way to expose yourself to the styles of multiple directors. Nightmare Cinema is the latest to offer five visions of fear. David Slade’s segment stands out from the rest, not only because it’s entirely in black-and-white, but for its cerebral twists and turns. This Way To Egress, based on a short story by Lawrence C. Connelly, is unlike anything in Slade’s filmography so far.
I talked to Slade over the phone, though we could have met in person, since Slade was in Montreal at the time, working on his next project Barkskins, a TV series on America’s deforestation. We discussed the tragic history behind the making of his short, and I managed to squeeze in a question about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare on Film Street: How did you get involved with Nightmare Cinema?
David Slade: Mick Garris is someone I’ve known for a while. Mick, as you probably know, ran the TV show Masters of Horror, and he adopted that name and took it to a series of dinners he would do, usually in a place like the Hamburger Hamlet in Hollywood, where he would invite horror movie directors, just to get together. There would people who were very famous to guys who had done movies in the seventies and are living off residuals. And we would all hang out and chat, it was always a lovely evening. So I got to know Mick through those dinners, and he had asked me a few times to maybe contribute to some projects he would be working on at the time. Eventually, I managed to find something that would work. I said yeah, I got a short film thing that could work for this.
There’s a sense of importance to the beginnings of the short story being introduced to me. I had read that short story in a book called Borderlands in 1999. It really hit me hard. I managed to get the rights to make a feature-length version of it. I worked with a good friend of mine called Charly Cantor, and Charly and I developed it around the year 2002. And then my friend Charly was struck down with cancer and it took his life. So I had to put that project on the shelf. It’s very painful to look at. I just carried on. But it just kept coming to the top of my subconscious, every now and again. And when Mick offered me this ability to do this small anthology thing, I was just reminded of the original short story. So I contact Lawrence Connolly, who wrote the short story, who is someone I’ve stayed in touch with over the year—he even came to my wedding. And I told him, why don’t we do a really simple stripped-down version of your short story, would you be interested? And he was, so I wrote the first draft, which just poured out of me easily in a day. I sent it to Larry, who liked it, but we both thought it was a bit too short. So he wrote an additional scene for me. And then we sent it to Mick, and he liked it, and that was that.
NOFS: Are there any other short stories that you would like to adapt for the screen?
DS: Oh, good God, yes! So many that I can’t even begin. There are things that I love that I would like to adapt. I have a film called Come Closer, which is based on a novel by Sara Gran, and she wrote the screenplay for me. We’re going to make that film. If This Way To Egress is anything to account, in another 14 years and she’ll be able to see the film made (laughs). But we’ve been wanting to make that film for quite some time. I think the short story form is very interesting, particularly with This Way To Egress. One of the hard parts about adapting is that, a lot of form is content and content is form. I love prose, it’s not something that interprets into cinema. You have to look at the story and look at the feelings and emotions. Short stories are generally quite compressed, but you can get over the internal monologue by being much more expressive and much less direct, but very emotionally clear.
NOFS: I really like the look of This Way To Egress. It really does seem like a nightmare, with the feeling that it seems normal, but something feels off.
DS: I really didn’t want it to feel like you walked outside, I really wanted you to be walking inside her head. I wasn’t entirely clear with the form to begin with, when I was writing it. I realized about halfway through the process of getting it together that monochrome was probably going to be right way. There was particularly a kind of hyper-realism and a certain extreme hard contrast that makes things much more expressionist, yet at the same time, the fact that it’s monochrome somehow grounds everything. I wanted you to believe, but I didn’t want you to have to worry too much about where it took place and when it took place. None of those things were important to me. Which is also why I chose to shoot entirely in existing locations rather than building sets.
NOFS: And monochrome really works with it, especially the look of the set, with—I can’t even tell if it’s supposed to be blood or excrement all over walls. But it has a very dirty feeling to it.
DS: Absolutely. Have you ever had that nightmare? I thought everybody had that dream. Isn’t it just normal part of the human condition? There was also something quite metallic about it, and something removed. It feels like it’s straight out of someone’s consciousness. It’s somewhat melodramatic, and I like to think that it’s an emotionally-driven film.
NOFS: And this is a very small detail, but I also liked the look of the gun.
DS: (laughs) Yes, apologies to David Cronenberg. The fact that the subconscious is part of it, just seemed to make sense to me. In the short story, the gun is described quite well. When we were writing the feature-length version of it, we actually did quite a lot of expansion on Larry’s story about what that gun was and why. I just always had a clear picture of what that was, even though, in the shorter form, it makes a cameo appearance, it’s the McGuffin of it. It could have just been a gun, but I wanted it to do something else.
NOFS: While I have you I really wanted to ask you about Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. I was convinced that I’ve seen every single scene in that, but apparently there were some inaccessible scenes as well?
DS: Yeah, but don’t worry too much about those scenes. Late in the process, we changed things around a little bit, and it made a couple of scenes redundant. And when they became redundant, they became inaccessible. But we finished them anyway, so I don’t know if there’s a version of it where people will be able to see those scenes. So if Charlie [Booker] wants to go back and do a reprise or a redux, and figure out how to access those things, you will be able to. I’d like to say there’s really fun, exciting and interesting things to be found, or some codex that will make it all make sense, but they were just scenes that ended up getting lost in the process.
NOFS: It seemed like such an interesting project to be involved with. Have you ever done anything like that before?
DS: No, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a director, for many reasons that would take too long to discuss. But it was thoroughly, astonishingly enjoyable. And Charlie Booker and Annabel [Jones] and Russell McLean and the producers are just lovely people to work with. I was very grateful to have done it and would love to do it again with them.
NOFS: So what do you have going on now? I know you’re working on Barkskins.
DS: Barkskins is shooting now. I’m in talks for two films, both of which are monster horror movies. Who knows, I don’t really want to mention the titles yet, because sometimes things don’t land. I’ve been trying to make Come Closer for years and I will. Maybe this year, maybe next year. I’m very interested in a [project] called Meat, which was on the Bloodlist a few years ago. We might be able to make that soon.
Nightmare Cinema is now playing in theatres in select cities across the US, and is now available on-demand. Eventually, it will be available on Shudder as well, though no date has been released yet. Let us know if you’re excited to see a mini Masters of Horror from David Slade and Mich Garris in Nightmare Cinema on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!