With the release of the new horror film Sacrifice, we sat down with Paul Kane, author of the original story that the film was based upon, and asked him a few questions about the film, his writing, and horror in general.
Amy Walker: Sacrifice is based on your story ‘Men of the Cloth’ from your collection The Colour of Madness. You’ve obviously drawn upon the works of H.P. Lovecraft for that story, but how did the seeds for the story begin?
Paul Kane: ‘Men of the Cloth’ does appear in The Colour of Madness, a tie-in which was put together when the movie was originally called that – it was changed a bit later on to Sacrifice – but the novelette first appeared in a collection called The Spaces Between back in 2013. It’s about ten thousand words, and I was having trouble placing it anywhere because of the length, so I put it in a collection of other longer pieces.
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It was written a few years before that even, inspired by my time when I was teaching out in the community. I used to go out in the car to some really isolated places, teaching Painting & Drawing and Creative Writing. On one such occasion I was driving through a remote village and spotted all these scarecrows in the gardens that looked pretty terrifying, and that sparked the idea for a story about a man dragging his family back to England from America to try and find out more about his origins.
There’s actually very little Lovecraftian stuff in the original, other than a sense that something strange is going on in this community which is quite cult-like. A lot of that was put in by writer/directors Andy Collier and Tor Mian when they wrote the script for Sacrifice, as was transplanting the original English setting to Norway. There is a very Lovecraftian story in The Colour of Madness, however, called ‘Thicker Than Water’ – which is set in Innsmouth, and it doesn’t get any more Lovecraftian than that! People can buy the tie-in collection, which includes behind the scenes photos from the shoot and script extracts, from Luna Press here or there’s an audio version out from Encyclopocalypse which you can buy here.
AW: A lot of the stories that you’ve written seem to include a lot of cosmic horror, taking inspiration not just from Lovecraft, but people like Clive Barker as well; what is it about cosmic horror that keeps drawing you back to the genre?
PK: For me, it boils down to imagination, I think. Letting it run riot, go to places where you wouldn’t normally go. As Clive always says, ‘You’ve got to write your dreams!’ The main kind of cosmic horror I write about revolves around my creations The Controllers: one-eyed god-like things that manipulate humans from afar. The first story I wrote they appeared in was ‘Astral’ back in the 90s, so I guess you could say I’ve been telling stories about them for some time. I wrote the latest, ‘The Scoop’, a couple of years ago when Luna gathered together all the stories featuring those guys, which again you can find here. The other mythology that touches on cosmic horror, or at least beings who cross dimensions to mess with us, are the ‘Order of the Shadows’ tales. They span the whole of my career as well, beginning with ‘Shadow Writer’ – which has just been turned into a role-playing game by Distant Grey Gaming. The Sinister Horror Company are releasing a collection of all of those on 13 March called Darkness & Shadows and you can order that here.
The whole thing is leading up to a crossover, similar to what was done with Clive’s Cenobites and the Nightbreed in the comic Jihad. I’ll hopefully be starting that sometime this year or maybe next, depending on what happens work-wise. Then of course you’ve got The Storm, which came out from PS Publishing last year… That short novel is, first and foremost, my homage to creature features and novels like Them!, The Crabs and so on, but there’s also cosmic horror in there because the monsters which appear – via a storm that occurs near a castle on the coast – come from somewhere not unlike The Controllers’ universe. This is just their way of testing the waters, if you’ll pardon the expression, and seeing if humanity is ripe for invasion. You can still get that one in trade hardback or signed, limited edition here.
AW: Horror sometimes seems to be a genre that people overlook and don’t consider to be a ‘serious’ area of fiction, despite it being hugely popular; what is it about horror that you feel makes it a good genre to explore sometimes complex themes and ideas?
PK: I think, like SF and fantasy, authors have always used horror to comment on certain things in society. You only have to look at the anxiety surrounding radiation in the 50s, or the fear of the family unit breaking apart which permeated horror in the 60s and 70s to see that. Or the recent home invasion trend, which reflects how insecure people are about something that used to be taken for granted: feeling safe in your own little world. If you look back on how political novels like Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers and Jim Herbert’s The Rats were, or how Stephen King’s The Stand pared things down to ‘good vs evil’ by getting rid of the trappings of modern life, you’ll see the kind of thing I mean.
For myself, I think the more imaginative genres are perfect for drawing attention to issues that you feel strongly about. I recently wrote a story ‘Lifeline’ for a werewolf anthology called Leaders of the Pack, and that allowed me to talk indirectly about how abhorrent I find domestic abuse – whilst at the same time presenting strong female characters who find their inner-strength, or even inner-wolves, to combat this. It’s a subject I feel very passionate about, and a story I’m particularly proud of, so people who just dismiss horror as simply gore or violence for its own sake should probably take another look at what the genre’s doing. For me, it’s as important as any other kind of fiction and I hope one day it’s recognised as such by more people.
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AW: Do you feel that British horror is different to horror stories produced in other countries, and if so what sets us Brits apart when we do horror?
PK: I think there’s probably a healthy streak of ‘just getting on with things’ in British horror. That kind of ‘oh, this is happening now so I’d better deal with it’ kind of mentality. You see this in all kinds of British horror books. The people caught up in The Storm, for example, are suddenly tackling giant eels or lobsters or whatever, but they just get on with fighting them – because what’s the alternative? Lay down and just give up? I think that British ‘can do’ attitude shines through in fiction like this, or maybe it’s just a quiet resolve? A realisation that you can’t change things, so you just have to roll with the punches and plod on. That and the swearing, of course!
AW: You’ve been promoting and sharing behind the scenes glimpses at Sacrifice on your social media for a while now; what was the process like seeing one of your stories being made into a film adaptation?
PK: Put simply: sheer delight! Anything that’s popped up connected with the movie, I’ve shared it – from the initial location scouting to filming the underwater bits, to the editing pics. I have been and continue to be equally fascinated by the whole process and I’m loving every single minute of it. After all, it’s not every day a writer gets something turned into a feature! It helps that I thoroughly enjoyed the finished thing, which I watched the other week – and I’m honestly not just saying that because I’m connected to it.
I thought there was a kind of uneasy dread running through the whole thing which reminded me massively of movies like The Wicker Man and Midsommar – and from some of the reviews I see I’m not alone. Plus the production values, the music and the performances were terrific. I really couldn’t be happier with the film. And the wonderful thing is this isn’t the first time… I mean, it’s the first feature, but stuff I’ve written has been adapted into short movies and TV before, as well as scripts I wrote being filmed. New Year’s Day is probably the biggest of those releases, based on my story ‘Dead Time’ and part of the Lionsgate NBC series Fear Itself which screened on primetime television in the ER timeslot. Things like that are kind of ‘pinch me’ moments for an author.
AW: Were there any changes that the team on Sacrifice made to your story that you found particularly good, or that you wished were in the original story?
PK: When I wrote the story I was conscious of length, and trying to sell it – and even then it wound up being quite long. Much longer than your average short story… So, I was quite envious of the way the writer-directors were able to flesh out characters and give us a fair amount of time to get to know them. With mine, a lot of it was done in broad strokes, so it was nice to see how the main characters developed over the course of an hour and a half. I love the way Isaac – played by Ludovic Hughes – goes from this really curious guy to someone who’s obsessed with the customs of his ancestral home.
Sophie Stevens is superb as his pregnant wife Emma, by turns terrified by what’s happening but strong enough to try and get out of a dangerous situation. While Barbara Crampton… What can I say? When I heard Barbara was in the movie I was just blown away; I’ve been a fan of hers since Re-Animator and From Beyond. And she really doesn’t disappoint in Sacrifice! Absolutely pitch-perfect, full of menace but with a wonderful sense of black comedy. That’s also something you can’t really pull off in fiction, no matter how much you try. Even if you write in quite a visual way, there’s nothing like seeing actors perform a story in front of you, bringing with them their own particular set of skills. Being a lifelong film and TV fan, I’m always in awe of the creatives who bring stories to life.
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AW: There seems to be a growing trend in movies inspired by or based upon Lovecraft coming back into popularity at the moment, with things like Color Out Of Space, Underwater, and Sacrifice; what is it about these types of movies that you think keeps attracting people?
PK: I’m not sure, really. Maybe it just is that idea of something out of kilter, things which exist beyond our understanding and should definitely be feared. There’s that old saying about Lovecraft being unfilmable, isn’t there? Because he never described the threat in any great detail… So perhaps it’s just a case of the special effects catching up with what we can imagine. I know my jaw dropped when I saw the Cthulhu at the beginning of Lovecraft Country, and then the monster attack at the end of that first episode. There was a time of day when it wasn’t possible to show something like that on screen, and now we can; hell, if we can have a ‘realistic’ Hulk who looks like he’s stepped out of a comic, then anything’s possible. So maybe it’s that? Or maybe it’s just that good stories never really go out of fashion, and can continually change or be appropriated by new generations. Certainly with Sacrifice, for me it’s just really cool to see a cult who worship a weird creature with tentacles that lives underwater near their village.
AW: What upcoming projects of yours should people keep an eye out for if they want more of your work?
PK: Oh, all kinds of things! I’ve mentioned Darkness & Shadows, which I’ve been putting together with Justin Park of Sinister for a while now – that comes with an introduction by Mike ‘MR’ Carey, who wrote The Girl with All the Gifts, and cover photography by Michael Marshall Smith. It arrives on the back of a few books I’ve had out, including a collection of Body Horror stories called Traumas from Black Shuck Books; that one has an intro by John Llewellyn Probert and a cracking cover by Les Edwards and you can buy it here. The second of my PL Kane thrillers came out not long ago as well, Her Husband’s Grave from HQ/HarperCollins which you can find here. That sold out not once, but three times on Amazon and once on the Waterstones site!
Gestalt Media also brought out the tenth anniversary edition of my supernatural serial killer novel The Gemini Factor, which includes a new introduction from me, the original one from Peter ‘Hellbound’ Atkins, a prequel short story and the first episode of a TV adaptation of the book. You can get that from the publisher directly here or Amazon here. I’ve just finished an outline of a possible sequel, so we’ll see how that goes. Then there are more collections on the horizon, a couple of general ones and a themed one, plus anthologies… Our last one was Cursed from Titan about a year ago, so Marie and I are itching to do another. All this and some audio drama work, more film and TV scripting… So watch this space basically!