Shortly after seeing his chilling new double bill at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, we had the pleasure of catching up with the man who has the most famous smile (and potentially forehead too) in horror. Nicholas Vince talks with The Horror Hothouse‘s Emma Knock about What Monsters Do, working with Clive Barker and what’s coming up next…
Hi Nicholas, thank you very much for talking with us. When did you get your first taste of the horror genre?
Back in the 1970s they showed the Universal monster movies on BBC2 and I really liked that, for example, the Frankenstein creature was a victim. Not really a monster. The people with pitchforks were the real monsters. They followed the Universal films with the Corman / Poe / Price films. I also read the Pan Book of Horror stories and all the Dennis Wheatley books I could.
From starring as one of the most prolific horror characters ever to writing Nightbreed comics, short stories and your book What Monsters Do, it is fair to say you’re a total horror icon. What is it that you like so much about the genre?
In terms of creating stories, plays and films; I have a dark side – like everyone else – and it’s good to let him out to play every so often. As for watching and reading, I like a good jump scare as it’s exhilarating. I thoroughly enjoyed Cabin in the Woods for that. Most importantly, horror deals with the big questions of sexuality, passion and death. Characters are in extremis and it’s interesting to see how they deal with that.
Your first credited acting role was that of the Chatterer Cenobite in Hellraiser. How did you get that role and what was it like working with Clive Barker?
I met Clive at a party in 1984 and he invited me to model for him. I’d see him around once a month and I’d pose. He used the images for the painted covers of The Books of Blood and other works. In fact, he mentioned he’d used some of the photos a couple of years ago for paintings. Clive is the most talented, kindest, funniest, sick puppy I’ve ever met. Working with him is always intellectually stimulating and fun.
What was your favourite thing about being the Cenobite?
People’s reaction when they learn who I played is great. It’s also meant I’ve met some really talented people who’ve become my friends. Recently, I’ve met a whole load of young people, who’ve been inspired by the Hellraiser movies and Clive’s other works, who are now making their own movies. I’ve got to work with a few of them and that is just the best thing, ever.
After that you played Kinski in Nightbreed, another Clive Barker creation. What was that like and how did the experience differ to Hellraiser?
The practical differences were in the makeup, as Kinski was a 5 hour make up job. I could also see and speak and had some really nice scenes in the movie. Looking back on Hellraiser, it feels like the Cenobites were put in a room for most of the shoot, so I didn’t get to see much of the movie making itself. Hellraiser was filmed in a small studio in Cricklewood and Nightbreed in Pinewood Studios, so in the latter, I was able to see more of what was going on. On Nightbreed I met other interesting people – who I often took to Madame Jo Jo’s, a transvestite nightclub in London. As you do.
You went on to write four issues of Nightbreed comics. How did that come about and what was it like to go from starring in the film to writing the comic?
I’d already contributed stories to the Hellraiser comics and when Dan Chichester finished his run, they asked a few writers to contribute stories. It was fun as Clive asked me to continue with the characters from the film, rather than completely new characters. So, I got to write more about Kinski, Cabal, Lori, Shuna Sassi and Peloquin.
You also began writing short stories for Fear Magazine and Skeleton Crew Magazine, what was it that inspired you to start writing?
Like a lot of teenagers, I wrote soul searching, magnificently dreadful poetry, which will never be published. I also wrote some short stories for my own entertainment. I’d met John Gilbert, editor of Fear, after Hellraiser and he asked me to contribute a short story to the magazine, at the time Hellbound was released. I was already contributing the Luggage in the Crypt interviews to Skeleton Crew, and had met John Bolton on the set of Nightbreed. He also illustrated (painted is a better word) one of my Hellraiser comic stories. He allowed me to have a look at some earlier paintings and The Beast In Beauty story, was inspired by his painting The Princess and the Satyr.
Was it your love of fledged career in acting?
Yes. Once I’d done the third film with Clive, I realised I had some things to say that I wouldn’t be able to as an actor. There was a chance to work on the comics and so I went with that and supported myself from writing comics for a couple of years. Then three of my titles were cancelled and I had to find other work.
What challenges have you faced as a writer?
The same as all others I guess. Getting all the ideas in your head into a form on paper that you’re happy with. These days, the publishing world has changed so dramatically with the advent of Amazon and the concept of self publishing. The ‘barrier’ of having to find a publisher to bring your story to market has gone. Naturally, others have taken their place, such as not having a publisher’s marketing department, editor, cover designer, etc.
Last year you released your book What Monsters Do, can you tell us a bit about it and what your inspiration behind the volume was?
It’s a volume of seven short stories, including The Beast In Beauty. As I alluded to earlier, when talking about people with pitchforks being the monsters, it is our acts, not our flesh, which make us monsters. I had major reconstructive surgery on my face when I was 19 as I’d grown up with my lower teeth closing in front of my upper. So, I’ve always been interested in how much emphasis people place on looks rather than actions. One of the inspirations was the movie Gaslight, which has a really nasty husband who’s driving his wife insane. Both versions are worth a watch. Green Eyes is a story I wrote back in the 1980s and revised for the collection. Colin McCracken, from zombiehamster.com said of it: “A devilish collection of short stories, that reads like Poe and Saki on an absinthe binge.” I was particularly delighted with that as Poe and Saki were writers who I read a lot.
For this year’s London Horror Festival you teamed up with Hidden Basement Productions to bring two of the stories from What Monsters Do to the stage. How did that come about and what was the process behind it?
I met Peter and Phil from Hidden Basement last year, when they interviewed me for the Hellraiser Podcast. They invited me to see their shows at last year’s festival and I was really impressed. When I had the idea of adapting a couple of stories as plays, they were the first people I thought to ask.
What did you find most difficult about adapting your stories for the stage?
First challenge was that these were the first plays I’d written. I’d acted in dozens of amateur productions before I went to drama school, and so I had in my head an idea of how these might work. Green Eyes had such a strong narrator voice I wanted him to appear on stage. What I love about theatre, is that you can have a character who narrates, moves furniture and props, is somehow, weirdly, part of the action, but not seen by other characters. During rehearsals, we had to find something to explain to Craig, who played Narrator, about who the character is. We eventually decided he’s part memory, part subconscious. I also realised that this might be what happens inside a snow-globe. Picture one of those containing a cottage. Each time it’s lifted and shaken the characters are forced to re-enact the story. The Narrator is the only one who realises this and wants to prevent it from happening again, and again.
Would you like to do more theatre?
Hell, yes! I’m currently discussing with Hidden Basement a new show for next year. This would be a full length show. I’m also talking to another director and playwright about working on a different show and possibly dramatising another of the stories from What Monsters Do.
Rather excitably, you starred in M is for Mutation for the ABC’s of Death 2 competition. What was it like being in front of a camera again after so many years away?
M is for Mutation, was for the competition and sadly didn’t make it. It was nerve wracking in some ways as it was my first time in front of the camera for over two decades, but everyone was lovely and it was fun.
It’s also just announced that you’re going to be in a new vampire short called The Day After Dark. Can you tell us a bit about that?
As I write this, I’ve just returned from the filming. It. Was. Awesome! This was three days filming in a five day shoot, including a couple of late nights, for Safehouse Pictures who’re based in Barnsley. I can’t tell you too much, without spoilers, but I got to work with a very talented director, crew and cast. Based on what I saw, it’s going to be very special.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline – can we expect a further volume of short stories?
Yes, Other People’s Darkness and Other Stories is almost completed. I’ve just got to finish the last story and do final revisions on the others. Hopefully, there will be some more acting, both for film and stage in the new year, plus I’m working on some other film projects. They’re at a very early stage, so we’ll just have to see about those.
Is there any advice you would like to give to any hopeful horror writers or actors out there?
If you’re into acting, do any and every amateur show you can and then get a good training. You can’t really train talent, but you can train your voice and body. The more you do, the better you’ll become. I saw Brian Clemens, who created the TV series, The Avengers at World Fantasy Con. He said, “Writing is simple. It’s bum to seat and pen to paper.” I’d add, that if you’re going to self publish, then you need to get a really good editor and cover artist. It’s possible you’re a really good graphic designer and can do the writing and the cover art, but you really do need a good editor. Stephen King’s On Writing is very good.
Finally, what’s your favourite scary movie?
Fall of the House of Usher, The Birds, Masque of the Red Death, The Abominable Dr Phibes, Alien, Aliens and Psycho and others…
Buy What Monsters Do on Amazon.