"(Un)Death is just the beginning" – Renfield's Interview with UnDeath's Nick Morris

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    I met Nick Morris about half a year ago when we started discussing screenwriting and the  perfect horror film. After a few conversations, he asked if I would read through his recent work “UnDeath” and give him my opinion of it. I was happy to oblige. After all, Nick and I have similar tastes in film and music so I was interested in seeing the styling of horror movies other like-minded individuals in my age group could envision. Being a raised on a healthy diet of slasher flicks in the 80’s, slasher films start congealing together after awhile, but Nick guaranteed me that his was different.  So I locked myself up for a couple of hours one afternoon and did what I haven’t done in years…read the entirety of the script in one sitting!

    Like Nick had promised, UnDeath was different than any other slasher film around! Bringing back old school slasher horror, one could tell from the start that Morris had done his homework. As a horror story that was written by a fan, for the fans, he proved his knowledge of what it takes to build a better horror story. No fillers, no pop up scares, or violence for the sake of being violent; just good old fashioned carnage that one would expect from a supernatural killing machine on a rampage!

On top of that, his formatting was correct, his character dialogue was believable and spot on, and the story’s momentum flowed like the Mighty Mississippi river. Not taking this project lightly, Morris poured a lot of thought into the story and he was out to prove it. His efforts were noticied as UnDeath qualified as a Finalist at 2013’s ShriekFest and R.I.P. Horror Film Fest, Second Round Finalist at the Austin Film Fest 2013, and a Feature Screenplay Quarter-Finalist in Screamcraft 2013.

Always a pleasure to speak with Nick, I was fortunate enough to be able to catch up him again and discuss UnDeath, country clubs, the state of horror, and what the future has to hold for the Harvester.

 

Renfield Rasputin: What inspired you to write a screenplay?

Nick Morris: I’d love to tell you that I’ve got 15 years of screenwriting experience and a pile of scripts in various stages of production, but I don’t. UnDeath is my first screenplay. I am, however, a lifelong fan of horror movies and I really started thinking about writing my own in college where I studied television production. My favorites have always been slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th. Something about those movies always felt like comfort food to me. A guilty pleasure that I felt no guilt over. I could watch any of ‘em (yes, even Halloween 5) over and over and never tire of them. Eventually I realized that I wanted to write my own movie like that. One that I’d want to revisit again and again.

RR: So it was only a given that you would write a horror movie! How did you come up with the concept for UnDeath?

NM: UnDeath grew out of my love for those 80’s slashers and evolved considerably from there. For me, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees always personified Death as an idea. And their victims, usually hapless, self-obsessed characters bouncing blissfully ignorant through life until something totally unexpected blindsides them and threatens their very existence. That’s life, man! That’s kind of how it goes down for all of us, you know? Whatever our own personal Jason or Michael may turn out to be, it’s coming. Whether it kills us or not, it stalks us always. So that’s the main idea that I really wanted to explore and to try and take to another level altogether.

RR: How long did UnDeath take to write?

NM: For a time, I wanted to produce my own film and I spent years discussing cool kills and ideas for scenes with like-minded buddies in smoky basements over beers. Only I never stopped thinking about it. In the years that followed, I’d spend hours at a time writing this thing in my head while I painted apartments or drove trucks. I finally started outlining the story on paper before realizing that I should probably learn how to write a screenplay. So I read any script I could get my hands on and studied screenwriting books, articles and blogs until I finally felt ready to take a crack at it for real.

There are parts of this story that are more than a decade old now. But it wasn’t until this past February that I finally downloaded CeltX and started actually writing it. As soon as I did though, it flowed freely. By April, I had banged out a rough draft and by July, I had it fine-tuned to the point that I felt confident enough to submit it to the ShriekFest feature screenplay competition. And lo and behold, it made it to the finals! So I flew to LA in October to attend the festival and that’s probably when I realized that this was happening for real and I loved every minute of it! UnDeath has since advanced to the 2nd round of the Austin Film Festival and it’s currently a finalist in the first ever R.I.P. Horror Film Festival in LA. So I guess that’s not bad for a first script. But even now, as I continue to learn more and more about the craft of screenwriting, I find myself returning to tweak this or that.

RR: What other inspirations did you look to while writing UnDeath outside of other horror movies? Did any of your other hobbies play an influence?

NM: Oh, yeah! UnDeath could easily be a comic or graphic novel. I read lots of that stuff and I often envision it broken into panels instead of shots. And I’d say this is definitely a heavy metal sort of horror movie. You know, if Black Sabbath and Slayer were a movie, it would probably look something like UnDeath. Hopefully that makes some kind of sense. There are some strong sci-fi influences at work here too, I’d say.

RR: Yeah I could see some sci-fi connections there, because to me, the Harvester differs largely from all other slasher villains. Explain in your words how the Harvester’s character stands apart from a Jason or Michael Myers.  

NM: Unlike Jason or Michael, the Harvester (or David) is really thrust into the role of relentless killing-machine against his will and he has to come to terms with that through several encounters with Death himself. He’s quite naturally reluctant at first, but as the stakes and implications become clearer, his will and ability to resist start to die off. By the end, he may have wracked-up the highest body count ever for a single movie! Seriously.

RR: UnDeath does have one of the higher body counts that I can remember in a horror movie! But it also contains some very interesting and unique kills for a movie that has such a high kill rate. How did you conceive some of those ideas?

NM: Some of those kills have been rolling around in my head for years. Some came from those late-night discussions with friends and fellow horror fans. But for me, the bloodier and crazier the better! I really enjoy wild and over-the-top kills and tried to come up with some great ones for UnDeath.

RR: I thought the setting of the country club and the golf course differed greatly from the typical haunted house, cemetery, hospital and the like. What made you decide to use a country club?

NM: I grew up out in the woods with real, down-to-earth people that worked hard and found happiness in relative simplicity. Then, one year, this super-exclusive, private golf resort popped up not far from my house. Only really rich people could even go in there and it had its own airstrip for mega-stars to fly in on their private jets for extended stays. And I mean, it was deep in the woods and you’d never even have known it existed if it weren’t for local chatter. Totally isolated. It seemed so crazy to me that this place was suddenly out there, literally in my neck of the woods, like weird new neighbors I’d never be allowed to meet or even see. So naturally, I thought that would be a great setting for a horror movie!

And apart from that, country clubs have lots of young staff members that often live on-site in a quasi-summer camp type of environment. Add some super-rich assholes to the mix and you’ve got a perfect setting for a blood-soaked slasher flick. It’s beautiful!

RR: And yet another reason I don’t play golf.

NM: (Laughs)

RR: What I appreciate the most is that this is not your full time job…yet! But you still managed to crank this tale out and find time to promote it in between your work and family. What kind of approach did you take to finding time to write ?

NM: By the time I actually started writing UnDeath, it was probably about 85% mapped out in my mind. So I did write it start-to-finish and fleshed out the rest as I went. That regurgitation happened pretty fast. But having worked on it for so long, I’m pretty obsessive about this story and still change little things here and there if I feel it makes the script stronger. And now as I start to outline new ideas, I’m finding that I still want to have the key beats and set pieces largely worked out in my head before typing a thing.

RR: As a fan how do you perceive the current state of horror movies today compared to the ones that you watched growing up? If you could change something about the horror genre today, what would you do?

NM: There’s lots of great, really effective stuff being produced today, but the biggest thing that stands out for me, particularly from Hollywood, is how small and contained horror movies need to be now. Everything starts to feel kind of claustrophobic and similar. I don’t necessarily need big budgets but, generally speaking, I do prefer a more cinematic approach to the current trend of single-locations, found footage and shaky cameras. They don’t feel more “real” to me. They feel blatantly cheap. I also really miss the sense of fun that used to be found in horror. Many movies today seem to be trying very hard to shock and repulse their audiences in an effort to be taken “seriously”, but they forget to be entertaining. It’s like they’re challenging you just to get through ‘em ONCE. They don’t care if you never wanna see ‘em again. I don’t know. It’s weird.

RR: Now that you have the first script under your belt, what advice can you give to anyone that wants to write a screenplay?

NM: Read scripts. As many as you can. Focus on stuff that’s similar to what you wanna do. Try not to get too caught up in the whole screenwriting cottage industry of notes and “script gurus”.

And speaking not as a writer but purely as a lover of the genre, for the love of God, write what you love! Don’t chase the trends or try to do whatever’s currently hot or selling. That’ll just result in a soulless, fake and uninspired script lacking heart and passion that real horror fans will smell coming a mile away. Try to write something that YOU personally would need to own and watch more than once.

RR: Best advice ever! So what now can we expect from Nick Morris in the future?

NM: Hopefully a whole whack of UnDeath movies! Or maybe even a TV series. But even if I can’t get this script produced, I’m working on some other stuff that I’m really excited about too. I can promise that I’ll never write anything that’s overly dour or out to shake your faith in humanity or anything like that. I don’t feel like that’s not my job as a writer. Humanity is doing just fine with that and should have already shattered your faith on its own by now. I believe my job is to write something FUN that will take you away from all of that for a while and entertain you. And I think UnDeath does that. Please check it out at UnDeathScript.com and stay tuned for more…

Check out Nick Morris on Twitter @NickBMorris

UnDeath on Twitter @UnDeathScript

UnDeath at UnDeathScript.com