Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you’ll know about Hollywood’s latest killer clown-shaped blockbuster It. Adapted from Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the movie has scared up a record-crushing £356m worldwide, making it literally the biggest horror movie ever. This is just the latest in a long line of King projects to hit the big screen. But lately, there’s been an even higher level of interest in the King of Horror than usual. A whopping 25 adaptations of his work are reportedly in progress. The newest of these, Gerald’s Game, is perhaps the most exciting of the lot.
Written over 25 years ago, the creepy psychological thriller is about a woman (Carla Gugino) who accidentally kills her husband while she is handcuffed to a bed. Trapped and in the midst of a fierce panic, the voices in her head soon drive her crazy. What follows is a brilliantly crafted suspense movie, along with surrealist, horror and gross-out elements. You’ll be gripped right up to its nail-biting finale.
We caught up with director and horror legend Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil) to pick his brains on the film critics are calling “the most haunting Stephen King adaptation of the year.”
There’s a big Stephen King renaissance currently underway. Why is he so popular right now?
“I think what makes him special, and what people are tapping into right now, is that his work is always character-focused – he’s more than just scares. He’s operating in a world that is very much like our own and the horror is developed through those characters. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often in the genre. It enables him to really peer into the corners of the soul.”
What is he like to work with on a movie?
“He was very involved in approving the script and the casting. Everything has to go through him. He has that written into his contract.”
Did he come to the set during filming?
“He didn’t. He doesn’t really do that very often these days. He remains involved, but from a distance. He’s notoriously hard on his own adaptations so getting his approval [on the script] was one of the biggest moments of my life.”
Did you speak on the phone at all?
“Not while I was writing the script. We just turned it in and crossed our fingers, but he really, really loved it. Then he wanted to wait to see the finished movie. So we sent him a rough cut as soon as we were finished and I didn’t sleep that night.”
What did he think?
“Loved it. He emailed me after he saw it and I’m not exaggerating when I say I printed that email, framed it and hung it up in my living room.”
Why did you choose Gerald’s Game and not one of King’s other works?
“It’s been my total dream project for years. I used to carry a hard copy to writer’s meetings in LA. Just in case anyone asked me what my ideal job would be.”
When did you first discover it?
“I first read it in college 19 years ago. I put the book down and had two thoughts. One was that it was brilliant, and the other was that it was unfilmable. It’s taken me 19 years just to come up with a mechanism to make it cinematic.”
Carla Gugino’s performance is amazing. Did you expect that kind of a response?
“I knew going into it that the role would either be too intimidating for an actor to play, or it could turn into the performance of their career. I think Carla did the latter. She carries the movie on her back.”
There’s one very gory scene that will make people wince. How was that to film?
“It was really brutal on Carla. I told her I would never ask her to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. So I tried to get into those handcuffs and I lasted less than five minutes. Carla was in them for three weeks. She was already pretty beat-up and exhausted by the time we got to the scene you’re talking about. It was harrowing to watch.”
How did you shoot it – with prosthetics?
“Yeah, Bob Kurtzman (make-up artist) designed everything. It’s all practical effects. Just reading the scene in the book made me feel nauseous. So we went into it knowing that if we pulled it off, people would freak out in their seats and have to look away.”
What techniques do you use to make a scene as scary as possible?
“What you don’t see is always scarier than what you do. There’s nothing scarier than silence. A lot of horror movies lean on hits and score to try and create tension, which actually does the opposite. The best scares come from a desire to see the character overcome what they’re dealing with in the scene. If you care about the character you’ll care about the scare.”
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen in real life?
“When I was a kid I woke up and saw a little boy looking into my window. He was very pale and he was smiling. I lived in a neighborhood full of other little kids so this might not have been weird. But we were on the second floor and I saw him every night for about a week. That has stayed with me all my life.”
Gerald’s Game is released on Netflix on September 29