By Amy Lignor
When it pertains to words and visuals, Eric Red has written and directed projects that have become memorable to many generations. People lose themselves in his heart-racing worlds of action, horror, and sci-fi—plots that cause pulse rates to beat out of control. A creative marvel, Eric knows what delivering goose bumps is all about, and now he has brought a new book to the scene—IT WAITS BELOW—that’s yet another notch on his ‘genius belt’ that will have audiences engaged and engrossed until the final page has come and gone.
Today, we’re lucky enough to speak with Eric Red about his string of accomplishments, and delve into an imagination that simply doesn’t stop.
Let’s begin with the mass question: movie directing, novels, screenwriting, comics… Do you sleep and, if so, where do you get all these incredible ideas?
I sleep very well, actually. And my wife tells me nothing wakes me up. It’s hard to say where ideas come from. I’ve gotten film and book ideas at the market, taking a walk, playing with the dog—almost always doing some ordinary everyday thing.
As a young man, how exactly did you begin this creative path?
I was a total movie, book, and comic geek as a child. Movies, mainly. I dragged my folks to every genre movie that came to drive-ins in Philadelphia or Times Square in New York City…the two locations where I grew up. I also spent all my spare time at stores that sold film stills, comics, and paperbacks. That was before the days of VHS, let alone DVD or Netflix, so if you were a young horror movie fan like me, you purchased fifty-foot 8MM selected scenes of monster flicks and ran them on projectors; or, watched whatever they showed on late night TV.
There’s much more access for young film fans now, but they’ll never know the magic of huddling next to a rattling projector and inhaling the scent of hot celluloid while watching, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Strangely, the older I get, the more things that interested me as a child now interest me again. My new novel, IT WAITS BELOW, was totally inspired by the pure ‘creature feature’ appeal of those great ‘50’s and ‘60’s sci-fi monsters.
It’s obvious you own the passion for this work; however, was there a mentor who helped excite you to head into this realm?
No. I was on my own. I believe, in essence, we all are. You learn by doing. Hands-on experience is the only way to write books or make films, and working in both fields isn’t something that can be learned second hand. That said, I’ve have some colleagues and friends who’ve been very supportive through the years, including author Jack Ketchum and film director Joel Schumacher, who are probably as close to mentors as I have. Both are great, great guys.
You have created eternal films. THE HITCHER is one popular skin-crawling favorite. How does it feel to know your work will literally ‘live forever’? And do you have any personal ideas as to why?
It’s cool some of my work seems to be standing the test of time, but you never know when working on a given project whether it will live forever, or even a week. One of my favorite film directors, Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen), put it best when he said, “At some point you realize your work may be discovered in your lifetime, after you’re dead, or not at all. Once you accept that, you just focus on doing the best job you can.”
What I like about horror is what Alfred Hitchcock said about the importance of pure shock value—it jolts us out of our cerebral considerations into the emotional, primal place where we truly feel. My books and films are aimed at the gut, not the brain.
DON’T STAND SO CLOSE was an outstanding read that certainly brought up some very real social issues. Do you pick projects that not only entertain but also make a point?
I subscribe to the old Hollywood adage that if you have a message, make a commercial. I’m a storyteller, but at the same time any good story has to be about something. DON’T STAND SO CLOSE was everything I had to say about youth; growing up, being a teenager…that whole period of life. That storyline about a beautiful high school teacher seducing a male student gave me a context to keep people turning the page. While the book certainly deals with issues in the news, the points I hope it generates are more universal when it comes to making the right choices as a teenager.
All good horror or thriller stories have a human theme, and deal with some identifiable basic fears or conditions. It’s an invisible infrastructure where readers/viewers don’t realize that the reason they’re so caught up in it all is because of how much they’re identifying with the people and their predicament. Readers of my werewolf western novel, THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE, tell me how exciting and scary they think the book is. They often don’t realize that’s not just because of bloody wolfman action, but also because of the pathos of three gunfighters redeeming themselves and becoming heroes—the morality tale informs the action, or it would just be another ‘shoot ‘em up’.
Speaking of that project, do you have an affinity for the western motif and the loneliness factor of the desert?
I enjoy the western motif because of all the ways to play with it; I made wide-open spaces and desert highways claustrophobic in THE HITCHER—vast, but impossible to escape. With the western locations, for THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE and WILD WORK, the epic rugged, brutal canyon and desert landscape mirror the tough, bigger-than-life characters.
To me, location is a central character, and well-rendered atmosphere is intrinsic to horror and sci-fi. It’s one of the great things about Lovecraft and Poe stories, and King and Koontz books—those authors completely invoke the chilling, grounding sense of ‘place’ for the reader. The bottom of the sea in my new book was fraught with potential for suspense and terror, because it’s as unknown as outer space. In DON’T STAND SO CLOSE, the small town farmland community was intended to impart a biblical, elemental sense regarding good and evil. Coming from directing and writing films, I’m especially concerned with setting for my novels because that’s such an essential part of a movie’s visuals.
Anime is a huge industry and comic books have come back full-force. What drew you in that particular direction?
I sold my first comic script, a five-issue ‘zombies-in-space’ series called CONTAINMENT, to IDW a few years ago. Published as a comic and later a graphic novel, it’s about to be republished by SST Publications in hardcover and digital editions. And I have a vampire western comic series called WILD WORK published by Antarctic Press. Comics are a familiar and comfortable medium for anybody who has directed films. When I direct a movie, I break the script down into a shot list—almost exactly the same process as writing a comic, except the visual vocabulary is slightly different.
And now, in the spotlight: IT WAITS BELOW is a sensational mix of history, sci-fi, and horror that grants nightmares. Could you tell our readers a little about the story?
IT WAITS BELOW is a sci-fi monster novel and sea adventure story set above and below the ocean. A throwback to those monster movies I grew up with, the story begins in the 1800’s, when an asteroid carrying an extraterrestrial life form crashes into the Indian Ocean and sinks a Spanish treasure ship. Two centuries later, a deep-sea salvage crew dives to the bottom of the Mariana Trench to retrieve the treasure, encountering the space creature…then the fun begins.
Half the book takes place undersea, where the two-man/one-woman crew of the sub gets stranded by their disabled vessel, and battles the alien. The other half takes place on the surface, where the support ship is attacked by modern-day pirates after the treasure. Things really hit the fan when a sub survivor makes it back to the surface and brings something extraterrestrial with them. It’s a fun book—a total escapist sci-fi/action ride loaded with high adventure, blood, gore, psychological tension, and insane monster action.
I wanted to write a Michael Crichton-style book that included a great deal of the science factor, with the actual deep ocean submergence material being as realistic as possible. I spent months with technical advisors, including a top Alvin sub pilot, researching IT WAITS BELOW, so readers will believe this voyage to the bottom of the sea!
Is there anything specific you’ve not yet tried that you’re intrigued with doing in the future?
I’ve long wanted to write an 800-page novel with dozens of intersecting characters and storylines. A ‘Big Summer Read’ book full of action, romance and drama. That’s the one I’m writing now. Set in Los Angeles, it’s all about the city I call home and the stories and people I’ve known over the last three decades.
There’s a favorite question I always ask to end the interview: “If you could have lunch with one person living or dead (although the dead person can certainly be living for lunch), who would it be and why?”
Alfred Hitchcock. I would love a conversation about suspense techniques with the man!
After getting to know the brilliance Eric Red owns when creating twists, turns and fear, it’s not a leap to say that Hitchcock would certainly be honored, as well.
Set the adrenaline on high, readers: IT WAITS BELOW is waiting for you!
Eric Red is a Los Angeles based motion picture screenwriter and director whose films include THE HITCHER NEAR DARK, COHEN AND TATE, BODY PARTS, and 100 FEET His first novel DON’T STAND SO CLOSE is available in hardcover and trade paperback from SST Publications. His second and third novels, the werewolf western THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE and the sci-fi monster IT WAITS BELOW, are available from Samhain Publishing. Recent published short stories have been in Weird Tales Magazine, Cemetery Dance Magazine, Beware The Dark Magazine, Dark Discoveries Magazine, Shroud Magazine, and Dark Delicacies III: Haunted anthology.
To learn more about Eric, please visit his website.