From Hard Candy to 30 Days of Night to the Hannibal TV series and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, David Slade has been giving viewers thought-provoking nightmare fuel for years, making him the perfect choice to be one of the five directors (alongside Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Ryûhei Kitamura, and Alejandro Brugués) in the new film Nightmare Cinema. With the horror anthology out now in theaters and VOD platforms, Daily Dead talked with Slade about his segment, This Way to Egress, including the short film's emotional journey to getting made, working with writer Lawrence C. Connolly to adapt his short story, and reteaming with Elizabeth Reaser.
Thanks for taking the time to talk, David, and congratulations on Nightmare Cinema and your short, This Way To Egress. I like how Nightmare Cinema is this grab bag of different nightmarish horror shorts, and yours is really interesting to me because it is so psychological and yet it is so visceral, too. How were you approached to be a part of this?
David Slade: I'd known Mick for a long time. He does a series of these wonderful dinners, they're big, quite a lot of people go to them. They're usually at a place that isn't too expensive. They used to be Hamburger Hamlet in Hollywood. It was a smokehouse where basically, he gets together like-minded directors that make horror movies. And so I knew Mick that way. And I've met Joe and everybody else through two of those dinners, which are great. I've been a fan of Mick's and his work and what he does for this genre. And he's asked me a few times, he's had a number of these little projects, and when he asked me [about Nightmare Cinema], I just said, "Yeah, I really do have something which could work." And so that's how I began.
So you had creative freedom to bring your own story to the table?
David Slade: Yeah, Mick said to me, "You would have complete creative freedom. Do you have a story? Basically, loosely, it's going to be this," and he kind of told me that it's basically an anthology of old-school monster movies or horror movies, going back to the Creepshows and the various things that we love. And do I have something? And it doesn't have to be anything, and the more extreme and insane the better. And I went, "You know what? I do."
Yeah, you certainly did. You adapted a short story [Traumatic Descent] by Lawrence C. Connolly, who also co-wrote the short film with you. I'm curious, what was it about that story that made you think, "I have to translate this to film"?
David Slade: I read that story in 1999 in a little book, I think it's called Borderlands . I was living in London and I was spending a lot of time on the tube and I read a lot of short stories because they were usually about the right length to get you from A to B. And I fell in love with the story and I tried to adapt it into a feature-length film, and I brought it to a friend of mine called Charly Cantor, and together, we worked on this idea. Charly wrote a feature-length version of it. And this is around the year 2000, or earlier.
And then my friend was struck down with cancer, and he died of cancer. He passed away in 2002, and so I put the screenplay to one side, and I've always found the screenplay, the feature-length version of this, a little too painful to look at. I just kind of carried on, but it kept coming to mind. And then when Mick asked me—and he'd asked me a few times and I really wanted to work with Mick, but it hadn't worked out before—it kind of just kept coming up and I wondered if I go back to Larry and if he's okay with this, maybe we could just look at the original short story and just do a very simple film that is just two or three scenes.
It was a cosmic horror in some respects, but really it's a piece about the subconscious, it's a piece about the underlying substance of someone's mind. It's about anxiety, it's about depression, it's about real things that just happen to be interpreted into a place of monsters and darkness. And Larry agreed. So, first of all, I just kind of sat down with Larry's story and it just poured out, it just came out of me really easily. I wrote the first draft. And then I sent it to Larry and we both thought, "It needs more."
And then Larry came, read it, and he said, "I love all of it. I don't want to change anything." I said, "We need another scene, though." So Larry wrote another scene for me. I just translated it into a shooting document, and then he helped me with this additional scene, which was the phone calls, which wasn't in the short story. And so that's how we kind of went [about it]. And then, it was almost a year that we spent trying to go from being told, "Okay, you can do it," to my schedule and various other things. And eventually we really shot it, methodically, in about two or three days. And on locations in Los Angeles.
And you got to re-team with Elizabeth Reaser who's really, really good in this.
David Slade: Yeah! She's astonishing, isn't she? Elizabeth Reaser is no joke.
Yeah, and everyone knows her from Haunting of Hill House now, but you had worked with her before on Twilight: Eclipse, and she's been in a ton of stuff over the years. But when you were writing this, when you were doing the later draft of it, did you have her in mind or was it just kind of a happy coincidence?
David Slade: I did. When I came to it as a short film, I kind of was like, "Well, this is very personal and quite a difficult thing to do. And I just want to work with people I know, or people that I know might be able to access what I need them to access for this. And I just thought of people I had worked with in the past. Elizabeth, Adam Godley, Ezra Buzzington, Patrick Wilson, who plays a cameo that most people don't know about—he's the voice on the phone call—we're friends, and I approached Elizabeth out of the blue and she said she would love to do it, and she's amazing.
And I did think of her. Making the Twilight movie was quite insane, and Elizabeth was always really together. She was the antithesis of insanity. I said to her, "Look, this is about someone losing their mind and you're the furthest person I can think of who would lose their mind. So, that's why you should do this." And she was astonishing and I love what she did, and she trusted me and I trusted her and I think her performance is astonishing in it.
And with Patrick, you got to do a Hard Candy reunion of sorts.
David Slade: Kind of, yeah. I stay in touch with Patrick, we email each other, and have phone calls and we meet up every now and again. I'm trying to find something one day for Patrick. I'm definitely gonna work with Patrick multiple times in my career. And so I just had this, and it was a long shot. I'm like, "It's a really big favor to ask. It's just a voice on my telephone line, but I wonder if Patrick would do it, and he said 'yes.'"
It's interesting, too, that you shot this in black and white, because it sets it apart. It's a very colorful anthology and then yours is black and white and almost has this Twilight Zone-esque feeling to it. Was that something you knew you wanted to do?
David Slade: There's definitely a sense of melodrama in Twilight Zone, emotionally. It definitely feels like it's from somewhere else. I wanted it to have a realism and I want you to believe it, but at the same time I didn't want you to think it was like the world outside your door. I wanted it to be the world inside her head. It was very much the world inside her head. And I'd shot with that monochrome camera, and I thought about monochrome when I was writing it, but I wasn't really sure. And then later I shot with that camera and I really liked it, and I just remember looking at some of the tests we did when I did another project doing it, [and thinking], "This is probably the best way to do Egress." So we did.
It enhances the earthiness of the hallway.
David Slade: The darkness, the decay, and the filth. Yeah, it does. And you can lean into the underexposure, and there's a kind of metallic silvery-ness to it. Yeah, it just seemed right. I'm not very big on interpretation and explanation, particularly for something like this. But mainly, I went with my emotions and my understanding of feelings and this had the right feeling.
I think with this we acknowledge the power of the subconscious. I believe the subconscious drives a lot more than we'd like to admit that it does in all of our lives. So, it surprises me that so few people tend to work on the basis of putting importance on those stories, the stories that happened inside the mind, [rather than the] external world.
In addition to Nightmare Cinema, is there anything else coming up for you that you can talk about or that you're excited about?
David Slade: I'm doing a television pilot for Barkskins, which is based on the Annie Proulx novel. And I swear to God, I'm going to make this film called Come Closer, which is based on the novel by Sara Gran. And there's lots of other things, but those are the two things that I want to mention.