We’ve been overloading you here at Nightmare on Film Street with our film coverage and reviews of the 2019 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. And though the fest has garnered quite the name for itself as a home of new and groundbreaking genre premieres, it is also home to wonderful special events, live podcasts, and performances.
One of the highlights of 2019’s festival was the return of Grady Hendrix, who was debuting a live event of Paperbacks from Hell II: Think of the Children (a vocal sequel to his bestseller Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror), and a live reading of his latest and greatest novel, We Sold our Souls. He also penned the screenplay for Fangoria’s Satanic Panic directed by Chelsea Stardust, which celebrated its World Premiere at the festival.
Nightmare on Film Street sat down with Grady Hendrix on the Saturday afternoon before the world premiere of Satanic Panic in a suite at Hotel Peter and Paul, for a candid chat about the difference between penning novels and writing for the screen, Christopher Pike recommendations, and why the world is now a bonkers, conspiracy-ridden shitshow.
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: Thanks for taking the time!
Grady Hendrix: Yeah! You have a card or anything by the way?
NOFS: You know what? I don’t think I do. I thought I might have had a sticker, but probably not.
GH: No worries. I just like to keep track.
NOFS: [..]It’s a good idea! I’ve started keeping an excel sheet for film/book recommendations. The biggest thing I put is when they gave me that recommendation, because too much time has gone by then all of a sudden, it’s worthless. Can’t read a book somebody recommended to me four and a half years ago.
GH: Well, it’s funny, I should do that- which is never read or look at anything anyone recommends. Everything – I would say for the past two years – everything I’ve read or watched has been for work. So it’s like, literally people recommend something that sounds amazing. And I’m like, well, I’ve already got 32 books I have to read.
NOFS: Where do you find time to read everything? You recently finished by the great Stephen King re-read, And now you’re doing Paperbacks from Hell II?
GH: It never dies. I’m doing the reprint line with Fallon court. And so, the first five have done so well, that we’re doing another five. But it’s digging up the books, and at this point, we’ve run out of authors we can locate or estates we can locate. So we’re trying to keep the quality of the books good – because, I read all this stuff. And you know, we had someone say recently, “how come there aren’t any African American authors in here?” And part of the sad truth is, there just weren’t many – actually, almost none – in the 70s and 80s writing horror. At the same time, even the black publishing houses like Holloway House, they did a lot of action, adventure and romance. They barely touched horror. But, I dug up a couple of books. Really seeing if we could get some color up in here. And I’m really happy we’ve gotten so many women, which is nice.
“There’s this weird myth that horror is for boys.”
NOFS: I think that’s great.
GH: There’s this weird myth that horror is for boys. And I find that horror – to me, the two great horror novels in the 20th century are Haunting of Hill House and Beloved, which are two female authors. And Mary Shelley’s was sort of the first horror novel with Frankenstein, and Ann Radcliffe was the first giant bestseller with her Gothics. I just feel the women sort of get forgotten – especially in the 80s. Everyone talks about King. Anne Rice and DC Andrews have sort of fallen off the map a little bit. And so I find this more an issue of remembering people.
NOFS: So you’re really taking up the mantle to make sure that they don’t get forgotten.
GH: Yeah, and also, it’s not just diversity for diversity sake, but also – I want to hear other voices. You know what I mean? I’ve got a good idea of what straight white dudes have to say. I know what white dudes find scary. I’ve read hundreds of those books. So, I want to know what black horror was like in the 70s and 80s. You know, what was out there? I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book – there was a Blaxploitation pulp novel in the 70s, where basically the government is running the secret facilities underneath schools and inner-city neighborhoods, and it’s kind of amazing stuff.
NOFS: Oh cool. Kind of like the Husky Tuskegee experiment?
GH: Exactly, the sort of cross with the parallax view, but like a little bit of pulp thrown in there, you know? So, there’s all this crazy stuff out there that I want to hear. I want to read it because it’s a different kind of horror. So, that’s why I sort of go after this stuff, not just because we need a ‘quota’.
NOFS: Yeah, of course. So – Paperbacks from Hell II, you’re debuting that here.
GH: Yeah. And that’s just to show it’s not a book.
NOFS: And, no plans for it to become a book?
GH: Man, I’d love for it to. But, I’ve got to see what happens. I’m just finishing up the novel that’s the last one on contract with my publisher, Quirk. So we have to see what happens next. They did a book called Paperback Crush that just came out. It covered 80s and 90s teen fiction. It did a little bit of the horror and thriller stuff, but mostly focused on like, Sweet Valley High and the series books. So, I just don’t know, are we dipping in the same bathwater? We still need to have a conversation about it. And it’s an immense amount of writing. And reading. It’s just insane.
NOFS: I was going to say, “how quickly do you have to read these books?”, but I guess a better question is – When you’re really into the Paperbacks of Hell trenches, how many books are you reading a day?
GH: When I did the first one, three a day was about average. I could do six in a day, but then I was wiped out the next day. So, it comes out to three day anyway. What I’ve realized doing these teen books is I’ve got to slow down. And I’m also working on a book right now, writing a novel. So I’m doing like two a day. Which – you know, most of these books are pre-Harry Potter. All of these books are pretty much under 200 pages and, like Christopher Pike – Christopher Pike’s been sort of the pain in my ass, because his books get so fucking weird that you have to sort of slow down and really process it. Like, there’s this one, Whisper of Death, where a girl goes to get an abortion, changes her mind, and then she comes out of the clinic and everyone in the world’s disappeared except for her and these four other kids.. and then they start dying in really grotesque ways. It turns out that they’ve been trapped in a bottle universe by the future ghost of her psychic baby. And it’s like an alternate timeline that’s traveled back to torture them all the death, but was also inhabiting the body of a student. So.. that’s a lot to unpack.
“[..]Christopher Pike’s been sort of the pain in my ass, because his books get so fucking weird that you have to sort of slow down and really process it.”
NOFS: And I’m sure that’s a reveal that happens in like a paragraph or two.
GH: Oh yeah, it’s in the last chapter. It’s like two paragraphs. I had to reread those pages, like five or six times – “so wait a minute, came back in time.. model universe..” it was a lot to process.
NOFS: My co-editor is obsessed with Christopher Pike. She wanted me to ask you a book recommendation, you know, for somebody who’s already read all the Christopher Pike, where do you dip next? [Editor’s note: YASS]
GH: Yeah. Let me think. You know, they’re not very good, but they’re a lot of fun. There were these books called Terror Academy. There were about 15 of them and they were knockoffs. The guy combined RL Stine’s name and Christopher Pike’s name and their name is “Nicholas Pine”. Like, Stine – Pike – Pine.
But the books are fucking rough, man. There’s this one where this girl moves to a new school and – they’re pretty bad, but the writing’s okay – they moved to like Port City, and they go to Central High and like the cemetery in town is called The Old Cemetery.. But, this girl moves to town and she’s really happy because she meets this really popular boy and he’s like, “Oh, let’s go on a date. Go to the dance.” And this nerd boy is like “Don’t go out with him. His last girlfriend went crazy!” And she’s like, “Fuck you, I’m gonna get a restraining order-” goes out on the date, turns out the dude takes her to a second location where his friends are waiting. They’re planning on gang-raping her. And their goal isn’t just to gang rape her, but they want to drive her crazy. They want to basically torture her overnight. She gets away because the geek boy shows up to help. She tries to go to the police, but these guys all corroborate each other’s stories.
And so, there’s nothing to be done. They’re all football players, popular. But they’re angry she went to the police, so they throw her little brother out the library second story window and then he gets closed skull injury and goes into a coma.. never wakes up. He just ends the book sort of a drooling, vegetative kid. Then she starts turning them against each other with anonymous phone calls and three of them wind up murdering each other because they think one’s going to turn rat. Then she dresses up as the girl they killed before, drives one of them insane like gaslights them into insanity. He winds up killing the perpetrator. They’re bonkers.
“Christopher Pike and these Nightmare Academy books, are the only ones that are totally bloodthirsty that I’ve found.”
NOFS: Insane! It’s like I Spit On Your Grave for teenagers.
GH: Yeah, a lot of the RL Stine books and the Point Horror books seem to have a rule about “no deaths”, or really limited to only one. Christopher Pike and these Nightmare Academy books, are the only ones that are totally bloodthirsty that I’ve found. Oh, and there’s a great book – it’s not really horror, but it’s called The Girl Who Owned a City, which is the only book this guy wrote. He was a rich house painter, and a libertarian. He wrote this book to teach kids Libertarian values, but it’s basically everyone over the age of 12 dies from a virus, and this 10-year-old girl rises up out of the ashes and starts a child army and pours boiling oil on her enemies. If you can ignore the Libertarian preaching, it’s kind of fun. So yeah, there’s tons of great shit out there.
NOFS: That’s great. We’ll have to go digging for it.
GH: Are you coming to the [Paperbacks from Hell II] show on Saturday?
NOFS: I’m going to try. I know that I won’t be able to make We Sold our Souls [Live Show]. But I absolutely love that book. Amazing.
GH: Oh, thank you. That book was such a rough ride, it was bad.
NOFS: Just for how dark it got?
GH: It got super dark. There are actually two other complete versions of it that are radically different. My publisher kept rejecting them because they were too dark. I mean, they’re darker than the final version. And they were going to kill it.
GH: In December, I had this conversation with my publisher and they weren’t accepting the manuscript because it was too dark. Because of that, they weren’t paying me the back end of my advance. And so I was kind of living on credit cards. And they were like, “Look, it’s just not coming together. It happens. We need the advance back.” I didn’t have the money. I was in tons of credit card debt. And, I sort of did this Hail Mary rewrite in like seven days and the book just sort of came together. I couldn’t give up on it. It came together and they accepted and everything but, Jesus, it was rough, man. It was like a year of my life. Which just is not financially viable, to spend a year writing a book.
NOFS: It’s kind of like you spent a year under Black Iron Mountain.
GH: I was so depressed and I was listening to a lot of metal, but my taste was going from – it started out with like, “I love power metal and 80s glam metal stuff”, but then I was getting into like.. Cannibal Corpse. Just getting darker and darker and darker. It was rough. It was rough. I sort of lived the book. It was really not healthy.
NOFS: That’s fantastic… er- It made for a great story, I suppose. And I’m sure things are better now.
GH: Yeah, well – I’ll be debt free in a few months. But yeah, it was a weird, rough ride. I wish I was more efficient at writing books. Like, the one I’m writing now, again – it’s taken me a year, and I’m just about to turn into the first draft in a week. But I’ve turned in two radically different versions already, and they’re sort of like “meh?”. And then the second [version], they’re like, “No, this is fine. This is fine.” I’m like.. I don’t want fucking fine. I want awesome. So, you know, I’m an idiot.
NOFS: Do you have a title for it?
GH: Oh, yeah. I don’t wanna I don’t want to say. We’re fighting over the title.
NOFS: Okay, good.. So every detail is a struggle. [Laughter]
GH: Yeah. I need to find a better.. a job that I’m better at.
NOFS: Well at least it’s the last one [with your current publishing deal], right?
GH: Yeah, then I jump off a building.
NOFS: Yeah, of course. So does that mean that you’re going to transition more into screenwriting at this point?
GH: No, we sort of have to reassess where things are – I signed this contract before Horrorstör even came out. So it’s like, “Okay, let’s look at my sales and reassess”, you know? What was important to me at that time was getting as many swings at the ball as possible. Like – “Okay, four books? Great.” That’s four books I have that are going to come out, be published, and be out there. And one of them hopefully, will do something.
NOFS: That’s true. Because if one of them, unfortunately, failed or something, you would still have three other hopefully successful ones that you could say like, “Okay. Overall, this is a good client to keep.”
GH: Yeah. And you know, I know my publisher is irrationally like, “The sales of We Sold our Soul weren’t as high as Best Friend’s Exorcism”.. It’s like, dude, because it’s in hardcover for $30.
NOFS: I’m typically a person who will wait for the paperback. But I wanted to read that one real quick.
GH: Thanks! So, I think if I hadn’t had a fourth book on my contract, they would have been a little sketchy about going into that one. It didn’t bomb by any measure. It actually did pretty well in hardcover, but they’re looking at the overall sales and I think that’s a weird way to do it. But what do I know?
NOFS: And it’s out in paperback soon, correct?
GH: Yeah, in June, I think. And I am also doing a lot more screenwriting. Which is.. a lot more lucrative than books.
NOFS: I would think so. It’s a completely different beast from what I understand.
GH: Yeah, it’s really different. I really like doing both, they sort of inform each other. Like- screenwriting is so stripped down. But, it’s made me a much better book writer because – I don’t fuck around as much. And I really like the idea I’ve gotten from screenwriting; outlining, and having a logline that sort of guides you through the book. You know in a sentence what the book’s about, so when you’re just sort of spinning a circle, like, “What is this fucking thing about?”
“[S]creenwriting is so stripped down. But, it’s made me a much better book writer because – I don’t fuck around as much.”
NOFS: You can just look back at the sentence.
GH: Exactly. That direction, not this direction. And it also really made me appreciate what books can do. Books are so much more interior. Which is great. And movies, you can’t show someone’s thoughts.. they have to be doing something. But both of them made me very frustrated for shortcomings. Like, I just watched this horror movie that everyone really loves right now. I don’t want to say what it is because I hate talking about things I don’t like.. But it’s like, “If there’s one more fucking scene of people thinking-” I don’t want to see people thinking, I want to see them doing things. And like, the flashbacks. Stop it. You know? This is a movie. Move somewhere.
NOFS: Yeah, it’s a visual medium. This person definitely wanted to write a book, it wasn’t selling, so maybe let’s just turn it into a screenplay?
GH: Yes. You see it in comic books. When people turn screenplays into comic books, you get these weird scenes and comics of like, two people sitting in a room talking or walking down the hall talking. You’re a fucking comic book. They’re talking? Put them on the moon, put them in the middle of robots, do something interesting. So, every medium has these strengths. It’s nice to do different ones because then you realize, “Oh, I was not utilizing that advantage that medium has.”
Ok, screenwriter of SATANIC PANIC, @grady_hendrix is here too and has an umbrella and it all makes sense, we think. #OverlookFilmFestival pic.twitter.com/heP2GFKmIW
— FANGORIA (@FANGORIA) June 1, 2019
NOFS: That’s great. Are you so excited for tonight, it’s the world premiere of Satanic Panic!
GH: I’m mostly nauseous, I haven’t seen any cut of it. And it’s so weird. Ted Geoghegan had to really put a gun to my head and make me sit down and watch Mohawk, which is great and was incredibly painful to do. But it was so educational to see how the script works on screen. And that’ll be like tonight, it’s going to be really, really painful. But hugely educational. One of the problems with movies like this is that, I wish there was something different in the production process, I wish production worked the writers in more with the process.
NOFS: Yeah. Like TV?
GH: Yeah. I want to know what the budget is before I start writing. What’s the budget and the scheduling? And usually producers will say, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” because they want you to do the best thing possible. They don’t want you to hold back. But you kind of should. Because what ultimately happens is, you wind up writing scenes the producer really wants to film and the director really wants to film because they’re fun, and they’re awesome. But you don’t have the schedule and the time, and you wind up doing a really ‘okay’ version of that scene. But sometimes it gets cut, it doesn’t quite make it, and you could have invested other scenes with more- I don’t know if that’s the case with Satanic Panic, I haven’t seen it yet.
But, I really wish I’d known that stuff up front. Because, I think I could have written them a better movie. I still think it’s good. I’m not trying to bag on my movie. I’m really just one of those people who will pick at something until the last minute and keep picking at it. I’m like “I could have.. I could have..” you know? Because I’ll hear from set like, “Oh, it took us longer than we thought to shoot that backyard scene”. I’m like, “Shit, I could have set it in the basement!” I could have like, saved their asses and set it in a basement. They could have shot it on the sound stage. There’s weather and all these things.. I’m constantly trying to do better, you know? So it’s like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Why the fuck did I set outdoor night scenes for them? Why did I write that? They could have done it inside the middle of the afternoon. Why am I an idiot?
NOFS: So you [and Ted Geoghegan], how did you guys come up with the story?
GH: So, Ted really wanted to do Mohawk. He’d done We’re Still Here. And he had another movie for Dark Sky, and they weren’t very interested in Mohawk. And I had sort of written a movie just for fun about pizza guy. And Satanists. I do dumb shit like that. No one’s paying me, I just wanted to do it. And they wanted a female-centered movie and they wanted something heavy metal, and they wanted Satanists. And I was like, “Well, shit.. I got this script”, all have to do is a gender swap. And he was like, “Oh, fuck.”
“.. they wanted a female-centered movie and they wanted something heavy metal, and they wanted Satanists.”
So we sat down, gender-swapped and spent – I would say a few weeks – he and I in my office, just sort of rewriting this thing from scratch, with a real eye on production and all this stuff. And, Dark Sky really loved it. And there was a trade announcement, we were doing it and all this.. then they called, and they’re like, “Listen, we’ve got this crew ready to go in Saskatchewan”. And it’s a crew with like horses and period stuff and “Ted, didn’t you pitch us a period thing set in the war of 1812? Let’s do that.” I’m a real war of 1812 buff, I love it. It’s a stupid war. And I was like, “You’re in luck!”
So, we had six weeks to go from that phone call to a shooting script. For Mohawk. And so we did that. By the time it was done, he was off to shoot that. And they just sort of forgot about Satanic Panic. So, I was talking to my manager, and he was talking to the Fango guys and they’re like, “Sounds great!” They read it and flipped and you know, I didn’t have a deal with Dark Sky, it was just enthusiasm. So we just signed it up and did it.
And then dozens and dozens of rewrites after that, you know, which were actually really fun. It was really nice to sit with the cast and do a table read and sit with the director [Chelsea Stardust], stuff I hadn’t thought about like, “Wait a minute. This character comes in a door behind that character but then they.. that’s a weird, messed up beginning of this shot. Can we switch it around?” You know what I mean? I love that stuff.
NOFS: So – I don’t know whether it’s going to make you more nervous or relieved to hear that everybody’s looking forward to the movie tonight. I’m very looking forward to the movie tonight. I think it’s gonna be great.
GH: I hope so. I really do. I love a kind of throwback Satanism. I think the red robes and the swords and the pentagrams – that stuff is so great. There’s just not enough of it.
“I love a kind of throwback Satanism. I think the red robes and the swords and the pentagrams..”
NOFS: I agree. I think that’s what a lot of people are looking forward to, that we have – I’m going to use this as an example – but Chelsea Stardust has also been saying the same thing like Race with the Devil type sequences. Is that anything that you were thinking of while you were putting it together?
GH: Absolutely. Race with the Devil, and also I was writing Paperbacks from Hell, or maybe it had just come out – there are tons and tons of those satanic books, like the Brian McNaughton ones, like Satan’s Mistress, Satan’s Lover, Love Child. And, all these photo covers and stuff. Like there’s a great – I think it’s called The Inquisitor, which was a series of men’s adventure pulp novels. He’s like, a heroic adventurer for the Vatican, so he’s always fighting Satan, and it has these great photo covers. He’s always like punching Satan. Really, really great imagery was all over the place. I was like, it’s too bad this has gone out of date because, it’s fabulous.
NOFS: That’s okay. You’re helping bring it back. Actually, just thinking about The Inquisitor punching Satan. Like, would you say that Satanic novels would have been very similar to World War II stuff where you just swap out Captain America punching Hitler..
GH: Oh, for Nazis? Yeah. Well, yes and no. It’s funny, Nazis- there’s always been this idea that we’re surrounded by this invisible conspiracy that controls our life. And there’s a secret 1% that benefits from the fruits of this at our expense, and life is just a rigged game and we’re all fucked. And it’s not your fault. You don’t have a membership card, you know? So that’s been like ‘white slavery’ in the turn of the century. Before that, it was Catholics in the 19th century, it was Jews many, many times. It was Satanists. It’s child molesters. The Nazis never really fit into that slot, that’s like a whole different bad guy in the sort of ‘beasty’ area of pulp bad guys. So, I think Satanism is its own kind of weird thing. Yeah,
NOFS: Now it’s like, ‘the Illuminati’..
GH: Well, I mean, if you’re on the right – you call it the ‘New World Order’ and apparently the left call it the ‘One Percenters’. It’s really fucked up. Like, everyone’s decided we live in this Matrix-y conspiracy world and when you see politicians talking about like, how the Muslim Brotherhood’s infiltrated the deep state.. and I’m like, “what the fuck, man?!” This is like conspiracy theory stuff that’s now credible, I guess? Because it’s been repeated so many times. It’s bonkers.
That was one thing it was hard for me with We Sold Our Souls, is I was a huge conspiracy buff when I was a teenager in the 80s and into the 90s. And it was really fun – like yes, there were racist white supremacist parts of it – The Turner Diaries and Posse Comitatus and all that stuff. But there was a lot of really fun shit, there was like the Anti-Circumcision League and there was a house in Southern California that seceded from the union. It was its own state and published a newspaper… all this crazy bonkers stuff. But you know, there were people who believed in Ancient Aliens and UFOs and men and black and underground kingdoms and all this stuff. And I sort of lost my interest in it around Y2K.
NOFS: Yeah, I was gonna say, Y2K was an example of everybody losing faith in any conspiracy. I think the Internet helped corroborate truth a little better.
GH: Yeah, exactly. And then also, that was when the militia movements were getting big and like those were interesting, but sort of not my bag. So, I sort of checked back into like, ‘conspiracy world’ by starting We Sold Our Souls. And it was just, it was so different. All the humor was gone. Everyone was really angry. Everyone was really pissed. Pizza Gate and Chem Trails and Deep State and Doxxing and all this stuff. Swatting. There was a whole new, really depressing world. And I don’t see a way out of it. I really, I feel like there’s this whole hall of mirrors. And like, if you kind of go down that rabbit hole, it’s really frickin’ hard to find your way back out again.
NOFS: Wow. Well, thank you for putting some humor back into society – at least with Satanic Panic. You’re a one-man army. It’s gonna be great. I’m really looking forward to it.
GH: Thank you very much, Jon. I appreciate it. Oh my god. You had that transcribing?
GH: Holy shit. That is genius.
Keep tabs on Grady Hendrix via his website and Twitter! And, if you’re going to be a creeper about it, at least buy all his books first; we recommend We Sold Our Souls, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Paperbacks from Hell, and Horrorstor.
Satanic Panic had its World Premiere at the Overlook Film Festival, and will be available sometime in September. To tide you over, check out our interview with Director Chelsea Stardust, and read our review of the film!
Lastly, looking for somewhere to chat about this interview and recommend some of your fave horror novels? Head deep into the Nightmare on Film Street community with the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook, our Subreddit, and Twitter!