By Leonie Rowland 

Titan of terror Mick Garris will be attending Grimmfest’s Monsters and Movies symposium at the Manchester Odeon Great Northern this November 19th–20th for a special screening of his cult classic Sleepwalkers, followed by an in-depth Q&A with lead actress Alice Krige. The symposium is running in collaboration with the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies as part of the BFI’s In Dreams are Monsters series. Mick will also be joined by special guests Reece Shearsmith, Neil Marshall, Corin Hardy, Dominic Brunt, Shaune Harrison, Charlotte Colbert, Ashley Thorpe, Charlotte Kirk and Ramsey Campbell. 

We caught up with Mick about Sleepwalkers, Stephen King and his love of all things monstrous… 

Mick Garris

With 30 years of Sleepwalkers under your belt, I’m sure you’ve told this story many times, but how did the film come about? 

It was my first and last studio feature as a director. I was called in to meet with the studio, and they said, ‘You’re perfect for this, we want you to do it, but we have another obligation to fulfil, another agent has a client that we have to meet with because of our relationship with this agent.’ So, the next day they hired the other client instead of me! That’s Hollywood. [But] this other director started rewriting Stephen King, so they ended up letting him go, and I got a call to come in and meet with them for lunch. What I didn’t know was that, after lunch, they moved me into my production office. I started work that day. I’d never met King before, [and] we didn’t meet until the day he did the cameo scene with Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper. That morning, while eating my morning craft-service granola, I cracked a molar and had to go in for an emergency cap on my tooth. He was only going to be there for two hours, and it was like, ‘I’ve got to get back to the set!’ It was a nervous day, but it went great. 

And you made it back in time to see him? 

I did indeed. We had a two-hour window with him, and the whole scene was done in one shot. It worked out really great. It’s a shot that you could cut out completely and not affect the story at all, but you and I and all of the genre fans would have been denied a historic meeting of the titans of terror! 

It’s such a joyful moment. Even now, when I know it’s coming, it’s really wonderful. And I’m glad you had a new tooth to shoot it with! 

[Laughs] It was a great experience, and it was fun to say, ‘Hey Steve, do you want to play this part? And I think I can get Clive and Tobe to come in as well.’ It worked out just great. And for it to be my first feature film with a major studio, and to be able to bring those guys in and have a cast like I did… it was a dream experience. 

I can’t resist asking: I’ve heard you speaking before about how you made up the book quoted in the epigraph of the film where ‘sleepwalkers’ is defined, The Chillicothe Encyclopaedia of Arcane Knowledge. I find this really exciting because it reminds me of the found-manuscript tradition in Gothic novels. 

Like the Necronomicon! 


Yes, exactly! I think the sleepwalkers are mentioned as the forebearers of vampire lore. I was wondering if you could talk about how Sleepwalkers was influenced by, and has come to influence, the horror genre? 

The original intent of that Chillicothe Encyclopaedia was because people were saying, well, we don’t understand why [the sleepwalkers] exist. To King and to myself ‘why’ isn’t really that important as long as you accept that they do. So, we figured, rather than writing sequences into it—flashbacks and all that—we would give it an academic background. You would be surprised how many people think the book is real and try and track it down! [Laughs] But you go in to make something as believable as possible, especially when you’re working in the world of the fantastic. If it’s grounded in a very real world, which is the appeal of Stephen King’s books, then you’ll accept that left turn into the unreal. To lie and cheat and say it was the original influence for vampire and even werewolf lore was just a one-time thing. Nobody expected anything to come of it, but it has become influential in the world of creature features, which this event we’re celebrating is taking place for. To see films that were influenced by something that you’ve done is a rare and heady experience. Having written Hocus Pocus, to see little girls dressed as the Sanderson sisters on Halloween is mind-boggling. All we’re trying to do is tell stories. If the stories we tell become so embedded in the public psyche that they embrace them for longer than 90-minutes, that’s an amazing achievement. It’s the power of storytelling. 

I think that’s really moving because it’s the desire to tell stories that makes them so ubiquitous—the focus on that rather than anything else. 

Yes, a lot of people want to tell stories or become screenwriters to get rich and famous, but I started writing short stories at the age of twelve and made little 8mm movies and was a journalist. Storytelling is the thing. It’s why I write books as well as making films and television. There’s nothing between me and you, other than words on a page or a screen. You can get as internal as you want because filmmaking is external. You watch it from the outside in, whereas you read a book from the inside out. 

We have Alice Krige joining us at the BFI Monsters and Movies event. She’s the nexus of transgression in Sleepwalkers. What was it like working with Alice on this role? 

It was one of the great honours of all time. Alice is this great Shakespearean actress trained by RADA, and she just blew me away [in the film Ghost Story]. The cool intellect and the stillness of her performance, counterpointed with the eroticism of her character. She becomes the nexus of that film. I love Alice to death. We haven’t been in the same room together in decades, so I am thrilled to be able to see her again at Monsters and Movies. 

Alice Krige

In Sleepwalkers, this sense of abandonment to character is also an abandonment to the taboo… 

[Sleepwalkers] almost didn’t get made because of that. We were in prep, and the head of the studio, Frank Price, said, ‘This studio is not going to make [this] movie as long as I’m the head of the studio!’ So, while we were shooting, he got fired and was replaced by Mark Canton, who did not have as much of a problem with [it]. But I remember screening the film for Canton and the other studio executives, and he came out saying, ‘Oh, it’s that kind of movie! It’s that kind of movie!’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he just said, ‘It’s that kind of movie!’ He never clarified. 

It's the unspeakable! 

I’ve yet to see another movie like it. What King wrote for a major studio was so taboo and so ground-breaking that I’m amazed they made it. Delighted, but amazed. 

There’s the wonderful piece of music ‘Sleepwalk’ by Santo and Johnny that plays throughout the film. It’s very beautiful and very unnerving. Does the music you use in your films change the way you make them? 

Absolutely. It was King’s idea to use that song, but the idea of going over the record payer and seeing it spin [was mine]. It does weave a dreamlike sensibility. Music is very influential, [but] now licensing songs for movies and television is prohibitively expensive. We probably couldn’t have gotten those songs today because musicians don’t make money from their records anymore. [The song] ‘Do You Wanna Dance’ introduces Madchen’s character. I wanted to do it with life and vivacity, turn it into a little musical number, which was something I’d never really done before. It was an opportunity to introduce her thrillingly, the way that Charles would see her. 

It’s one of my favourite scenes—the energy behind it. You’re automatically onboard with her character in a way that makes the rest of the movie fall into place. The fact that it’s in a cinema too! 

That movie theatre became part of the American Cinematheque years later, and a couple of years ago they had a screening of Sleepwalkers. It was so great it go back to the scene of the crime! 

I have one more question for you: what makes monster movies so effective and widely enjoyed? 

Horror movies in general are about the thrill without the threat: you can face your fears and come out safely. But with monster movies in particular, especially [for] a younger audience that feels immortal, [it’s the chance to] see the body not as a temple but as a victim, to see viscera, the body shredded, beheadings. It’s that Jekyll and Hyde quality too—man is monster, and monster is man. The Cartesian dual is exciting. I don’t want to see anybody ripped apart by a monster, and I don’t want to be ripped apart by a monster, but seeing it in the movie theatre—it’s like comedy, it’s visceral. You share it with an audience. Shared laughter is amplified laughter. Fear shared with audience members is amplified fear. That’s why it’s so much better to see a horror film in a movie theatre than to watch it at home. The shared experience—and the idea that werewolves are basically just adolescent males achieving maturity, getting hair on their palms. There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the release of the inner beast through somebody else’s experience. 

It reminds you of the porousness of the body. Fear is such an infectious thing. It’s intimate, and an interesting way to be intimate. 

Exactly! Sharing an experience is what made movies and theatre-going successful in the first place. 

Could you give us a quick plug for your Post Mortem podcast, given that you’re going to be interviewing Reece Shearsmith for the Monsters and Movies event? 

We’re in our sixth year now! I can’t believe it. All of my life, I’ve interviewed people I’ve found interesting, starting when I was in high school and I interviewed Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling. I’ve always been curious. Then I was a music journalist, and I interviewed Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin and other dead rockstars, just learning about things. Post Mortem started with the Fear Net TV show, where we did a series of ten episodes where I would interview someone, whether it’s William Freidkin or Rick Baker or John Carpenter. Then a podcasting company here in the States asked me if I would be interested in doing a podcast. It became something that nobody ever imagined would go to over a hundred and thirty interviews! I learn something from every single episode. It’s one-on-one with people as diverse as Stephen King, Clive Barker, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Stiller, Guillermo del Toro, Alice Krige—an incredible assortment of people who I admire. I really do get an education every time; even in my grey years, I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m excited to be able to do that all the time. 

Sleepwalkers will screen at 5:30pm on November 19th, 2022. Tickets for the symposium are available here

Author bio: Leonie Rowland is a PhD candidate with the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, researching commodity animism in the Japanese Gothic. Her work can be found in Japanese Horror Culture: New Critical Approaches, Fantastika Journal, The Dark Arts Journal, and is forthcoming in The Gothique. @leonie_rowland