Fear Knows No Limits
Steve Niles' cross-platform experiments in terror
Look up "prolific" in any grimoire and you will find writer Steve Niles. The film adaptation of his comic 30 Days of Night brought him mainstream notoriety, but the media guest at this weekend's World Horror Convention has spent more than two decades writing on the thin, bloody line between noir and nightmare. Aside from his gore-drenched vampire franchise, the wise-cracking, pill-popping gumshoe Cal McDonald of his Criminal Macabre has helped resurrect a glorious dark age of four-color horror unseen since the good old, gory old days of EC Comics. To assist in spreading his darkness, Niles has summoned collaborators as diverse as iconic horror artist Bernie Wrightson and Tool guitarist Adam Jones. Now, with his first foray into video games, he teams up with legendary horror movie director John Carpenter. The gruesome twosome has been invited to leave their bloodstained fingerprints all over F.3.A.R., the latest installment in the bestselling F.E.A.R. supernatural shooter franchise. (It will be released on May 24 for Xbox 360, Playstation3, and PC.) "I have 30 years of people saying 'no' to me," Niles said, "so when people offer me stuff now, I have a very hard time turning it down."
This new endeavor has a dark history. "I'll tell the brief version so I don't get in trouble," Niles said. He met the mad genius behind The Thing and Halloween on a movie set. After becoming friends, they both left the project. (Carpenter quit, Niles admitted, "but because I have a big mouth, I got fired.") "We were just sitting around, we got along great, but we didn't have anything to work on," said Niles. That was when the game division at Warner Bros. contacted Niles and asked him to bring his ghoulish talents to its franchise. Knowing that Carpenter is a hardcore gamer, he asked the developers, "'Can I invite a friend?' and they said, 'Who's your friend?'" With the director on board as story consultant, Niles said, "We would get together once a week and we would just come up with ways to scare people." It helps that the F.E.A.R. franchise is drenched in gore and paranormal weirdness. He laughed, "The end of F.E.A.R. 2 is so messed up, you have no idea."
After working on comics and films, Niles found games a change of pace. He said, "I was seeing the results of my writing immediately as concepts and actual game footage." That experience is "the opposite of Hollywood," where projects can stagger about like one of Lucio Fulci's old-school slow zombies. After 30 Days of Night, Niles sold the rights to seven projects, and all still languish in development hell. That may be for the best: Fellow World Horror Con guest Joe R. Lansdale has said it can be better to sell a story that never gets made than to have it made badly. "There's a certain amount of truth to that," Niles said. "Feeding your material into the current development process is about the most frightening thing that exists." He blames a system that is built around rewrites and interference. He says: "There are people in the studios who have very 9-to-5 jobs, and they're assigned to work on our project. They have to go home to their loved one every night and say, 'I did this.' And if doing 'this' is changing Cal McDonald or making the vampires in 30 Days not talk, then they did something."
The omens are still good for future movies of Niles' work. Your Highness helmer David Gordon Green is adapting Freaks of the Heartland, while former Guns n' Roses guitarist Slash acquired Niles' Frankenstein reboot Wake the Dead for his new Slasher Films shingle. Criminal Macabre is currently in development at Universal Pictures, although Niles said it needs "someone who can hit the right tone." Having written spin-offs and tie-ins for The X-Files and 28 Days Later, he knows how deadly vital it is to hit the heart of the tale. "We've discovered time and again that the more accurate a movie is to its original property, generally people enjoy it more."
The World Horror Convention runs Thursday-Sunday, April 28-May 1, at the Doubletree Hotel Austin (6505 N. I-35). Weekend and single-day passes are still available. For more information, visit www.whc2011.org.