GRADY HENDRIX INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Stuart D. Monroe
We are all, to some degree, students and amateur historians of the horror genre. Everybody has their “favorite subjects”; for me it’s ‘80s horror, zombies, and all things Italian. We all know that one person that makes us a little jealous, the guy or girl who just knows damn near everything about damn near everything.
One of those fountains of knowledge is author Grady Hendrix. He’s a preeminent Professor Emeritus of All Things Horror, having given us killer novels like My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Horrorstör, We Sold Our Souls, and Satan Loves You. Then, in 2017, he announced his arrival to the big time by winning the Bram Stoker Award for Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, a literal textbook of the horror fiction boom that hooked so many of us in our youth, written with sharp wit and next level acumen. It sits on my coffee table and never fails to get a gander from guests (usually ruining conversation by being so damn good!).
Now he’s turned his hand to screenwriting. His most recent film, Satanic Panic (co-written with his good friend Ted Geoghegan), is produced by Fangoria and premiered September 6th, 2019. He’s also co-written Mohawk (again with Ted Geoghegan) and is working on future projects Horrorstör (for television) and The Black Room.
I was fortunate enough to score a few minutes of Grady’s time to dive deep into Satanic Panic as well his working relationship with Ted Geoghegan, our shared roots in the South and football loyalties, his feelings on the power of conspiracy theories, and the grind of writing. Enjoy!
Stuart Monroe: Good morning, sir!
Grady Hendrix: Hey, how’s it going?
SM: Doing well, sir. I’m just tickled to talk to a fellow South Carolinian.
GH: Oh, yeah? Where are you?
SM: Well, I live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area now, but I’m from Clemson and went to school in Charleston.
GH: Did you go to College of Charleston?
SM: No, sir. I went to high school in Charleston at Hanahan.
GH: Oh, sure! I went to Porter-Gaud, and Hanahan used to kick our ass in football all the time. Um, I still am not a huge sports fan, but it turns out that every year there’s a big Clemson bar; pardon me, a big [South] Carolina bar in New York where all the fans meet for the game right around the corner from me. So, I go attend the Clemson/Carolina game every year in November.
SM: Ah, so I have to ask: are you a Gamecock or a Tiger?
GH: You know, I’ve never felt very strongly about it, but I’ve gotta say Carolina, the Gamecocks, they’re the underdog, man! They’re always getting flags thrown on their fans for unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s like they just can’t seem to get a break. They keep getting their asses handed to them so many times! Like, last year’s game was so bad. And, I mean it was even a hardcore bar full of Carolina fans and in the 4th quarter people are just going home. The writing was on the wall. So, my heart goes out to Carolina.
SM: That’s understandable. I’ve got both in my family, but we’re all from Clemson. We do have Gamecocks in the family, too.
GH: Oh, man. A mixed family. I don’t even want to know how bad the bloodshed gets.
SM: It gets a little ugly come November, but that’s sort of a given with those college football rivalries.
SM: Alrighty. I’m burning away time on football here…
GH: Sorry about that [laughs]
SM: No, no…that’s on me. You can get me started on Clemson football, and I’ll go all day. But, yeah – I was reading an interview you’d done recently with the folks at Nightmare on Film Street (whom I love, by the way)...
GH: Oh, yeah. They’re great!
SM: I guess it was right before you’d actually seen Satanic Panic. You’d made the statement that you wished the production people worked writers in more with the process of making the movie. Now that you’ve seen it, do you feel that they got you and Ted’s [Geoghegan] vision for the movie right as far as how it turned out?
GH: Oh, yeah. So, the movie really is the script. Absolutely! But one of the things I really, well two things – one is that I have a pathological inability to see anything good. When I see a project I’ve worked on, all I see are the places I screwed up or the shortcomings I had. So, it’s hard for me. The other thing is – one thing that was really nice about Satanic Panic is I’d worked really closely with [director] Chelsea [Stardust] on the movie doing rewrites, and then I did a lot of production rewrites with the producers just to see that they were able to get this kind of house and not that kind of house. And then I was able to go down for pre-production and be there for table reads with the actors and work with a few of them and do more rewrites according to that. That was so useful and so great; writing is such a big part of making a movie, and it blows my mind how many times the producers and stars are so eager to get cameras rolling that they shortchange the script development process.
So, with Satanic Panic, it was really nice to be right there with preproduction all the way up until the day before they rolled cameras (or I guess it was two days before they rolled cameras). But, you know all I could see is like how they had a ton of rain for their outdoor scenes, and I’m like, “Oh my God, if I’d been on set I could’ve just written those as this,” or, “There’s a way we could’ve done this indoors!” But there comes a point when the writer just has to shut up and go away and let the other people do their jobs. So, this was a nice way to be involved all the way up, and the movie is what we wrote.
I always feel like having the writer there right to the bitter end is big. The script is the easiest thing to change, and it really can save you time and money and effort. It’s the same thing with my books – I keep revising and rewriting up until the bitter end. My editors sort of have to tap out and cry uncle, because I think you can keep going until you get it right. I think the Disney word for it is “quaffing it”; you just keep attacking. I’ve got a novel coming out in April called The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, and the scene that everyone who’s been reading it so far (my editors and in the house and everything) is a scene that came in in the last minute of revisions. I was thinking that I shouldn’t have added a scene right there, but I was like, “Oh my God, this would be great right here!” Sometimes you just don’t see things until the last minute. It’s also a coincidence that most of the climax takes place during the Clemson-Carolina game, so there you go.
SM: Wow. That’s kind of serendipitous. I like that.
GH: I know, right?
SM: Perfect! Speaking of Ted – how was that collaboration? I know when you work with somebody (I’ve worked with other writers on collaborations, too) that there’s no guarantee that you’ll click with them or that you’ll have that same language going on. How was Ted to work with?
GH: I’ve known Ted as a friend for a really long time. Like, we’ve been watching movies together for years and years and years. He was having some trouble coming up with what movie he wanted to do after We Are Still Here, which is his first film. And, uh, I had this script for Satanic Panic. I didn’t have the title yet; the title was his idea (which was genius). I was like, Ted, what if I swap the gender of the main character from a boy to a girl and make a few other small changes? Then this sounds like the kind of movie you’re talking about you want to do. So, he got excited and we sat down and worked on it together for a bit. And then, through the vagaries of production and film financing, we would up doing the movie Mohawk together, which is probably the only War of 1812 horror movie that will ever be. And then, when we were done with that, Ted was heading off to do something else and Chelsea and the Fango people wound up coming on board for Satanic Panic. So, Ted and I…I like working with other people. I enjoy collaboration. I get very lonely in my little stinky office all by myself just writing. And I’ve known Ted forever, so it was easy for us.
SM: Nice. Y’all definitely seem to be on the same wavelength. You can tell when it’s forced, and there was nothing there that felt forced at all.
GH: Oh, good. I’m glad that all the times when Ted held a gun to my head and said, “Type, pencil-monkeys, type!”, that none of that came across.
SM: [laughs] With the title, too, that was perfect with all of the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s that we all went through. As a D&D player, I certainly got it in the face!
GH: Oh, sure. Me, too! And I couldn’t believe that no one had used that as a film title before.
SM: Right?! It seems sort of obvious.
GH: I know. But, you know Ted was the one that said, “Holy crap! No one has ever done this!”
SM: Really, it took the idea of the Satanism scare from the ‘80s and flipped it upside down by turning the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) into the evil ones as opposed to the way everyone saw it in the ‘80s. I thought that was a nice twist, and it’s very much in the zeitgeist right now. Was that sort of the easy answer, or is there a statement being made there?
GH: Yeah, well you know it’s funny. The idea that there’s some kind of elite controlling the world and we’re all just puppets dancing on their strings has been around for a really long time. Like you said, that was the Satanic Panic in the ‘80s. Now it’s the Deep State or The 1% (depending on which side of the aisle you’re on). In the 19th century it was Catholics. In the ‘50s it was the Communists. In the turn of the century (last century) it was white slavers. There’s always been this idea that these people, these global elite, are after our children and are so powerful and depraved. So, it was really, really fun to take that literally. Because once you take it really literally, you realize how ridiculous that idea is. At the same time, there’s a bunch of stuff that really resonates because it does tap into a deep fear that I think everyone has, you know? I can’t get ahead in the world, and it’s because someone’s holding me back. And I don’t know who they are or where they are, but they’re out there somewhere.
SM: Yeah, I think we’ve all experienced that one from time to time.
SM: Satanic Panic kind of fell so neatly into place, what with you having the script just sitting around. Is there any more madness sitting around out there that maybe hasn’t come up yet?
GH: Yeah, yeah. I write for a living, so my job is to write a lot of stuff and then try to sell it. I’ve got a ton of stuff, things that are out there with people looking at it right now. There’s nothing sort of greenlit or anything. But, one of the things that I think really separates people who write for a living from people who want to write for a living and then realize it’s a real grind is that you have to write an enormous amount of material and some of it won’t ever make it. Some of it you’ll never get a check for. Some of it you may get a check for, but it’s years down the road. I have a project that got optioned recently, and because there’s no director attached yet they don’t want to say too much about it. I was sending a draft to the producer and just for fun I looked back. It was optioned in 2018! The first draft was written in 2008! You know what I mean? It’s just like…
GH: …yeah, it all takes a while. It’s a real grind. The best advice, you know, I’ve ever heard is that you have to decide what your quitting point is. And if you want to do this for a living you can’t have one! You just keep grinding on. Which sounds awful, but at the same time I sit in a comfy chair and type for a living, so it could be a lot worse.
SM: It could be, but it’s definitely more work than people think it is. I have a 40 hour a week job, too, and every minute I’m at home is spent in front of the computer. And it’s not spent surfing the internet or goofing off!
GH: Right. Exactly!
SM: Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Satanic Panic. Any time you can blend horror and comedy it clicks as the two genres are kissing cousins, but they can be notoriously hard to mix. Was there a focus on keeping it more of a fun tale? I felt like it could’ve gone in a more Get Out / Hereditary kind of way with all the social subtext. The comedy seems to be…I wouldn’t say more at the front, necessarily…but it does have a more fun rather than serious tone.
GH: That’s really just how it comes out. One of the things about horror and comedy is that they’re structured so similarly. I mean, it’s set up and delivery, right? Whether the delivery is a gore gag or a joke or a laugh, it’s a similar structure.
One of the things I find really nice about horror is that I find that I get a lot of mileage out of taking things literally. Like, okay – people are trying to kill you and you’re running for help and you’re surrounded by Satanists. But in between there are these banal exchanges of dialogue because that’s just who we are. Like, “I’m the babysitter!”, then it’s, “What do you make per hour?” We don’t ever really know what genre we’re in in real life. I don’t know if that noise outside my door is a comedy or a horror movie, you know? Am I going to go outside and it’s someone with no pants on, drunk in my flower bed? Or is there a lunatic with a pitchfork hiding behind the tree? So, I feel like, with horror, I try to apply a reality principle a little bit. And if you go too far it gets goofy; if you don’t do it enough it gets overly furious and sort of edgelordy. So, really I try to walk that line. I probably err on the side of goofy more, but I’d rather do that than take it too seriously. I take it seriously, but that results in ridiculousness more often than not.
SM: Definitely. Well said! Well, I guess we’re out of time.
GH: Yeah, sorry about that.
SM: Hey, nature of the business. Thank you so much for everything. I’ll Tweet you in November with a little “Go Tigers!”
GH: Exactly. Nice to meet you, and thank you for the coverage!
SM: Yes, sir! Bye!
Horror DNA would like to thank Grady Hendrix for the opportunity to chat with him!
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