Master of Horror: The Official Biography of Mick Garris by Abbie Bernstein
ATB Publishing (August 13, 2021)
411 pages; paperback $24.95
Reviewed by Chris Hallock
It’s widely acknowledged that Mick Garris is one of the sweetest people to grace the film industry. This is the gospel according to genre luminaries like Joe Dante, John Landis, Guillermo del Toro, Clive Barker, Tom Holland, and others who’ve attested to the integrity and perseverance that forged the legacy of their fellow master of horror. Garris is revered by his peers, but still flies under the radar of casual horror fandom, which leads to the question: How much do we really know about him?
Film journalist Abbie Bernstein’s illuminating biography, Master of Horror, gives us the answers we need, a deep dive into the life and career of the affable and modest renaissance man, collecting insights directly from Garris himself, along with anecdotes shared by his many colleagues, collaborators, friends, and family. The candid nature of Bernstein’s book makes the reader feel like a true insider who’s been invited to the table to chat with the “nicest guy in horror,” who’s more than willing to share his secrets.
Many labels can be affixed to Garris: journalist, publicist, documentarian, actor, producer, and director are samples of the plentiful roles he’s adopted throughout an extraordinary career. Significant, too, is his propensity for giving others the opportunities to shine in creative venues, utilizing their strengths to fulfill his visions for ambitious film and television programming. He’s often been ahead of the curve in emerging technologies and shifting media trends, even though the timing didn’t always work in his favor. His adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller The Stand (1994) was a television landmark that preceded contemporary binge-consumable programming by decades, while Sleepwalkers (1992) (from King’s original screenplay), despite its primitive presentation of computer-generated effects, was still a pioneering effort in the melding of CGI and practical effects. Even at the forefront of innovation, Garris has always championed story and characters, illustrated in his in-depth conversations with the author.
Bernstein, a film journalist who specializes in making-of companion books like The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road, was the perfect choice to chronicle Garris’s life and work. Not only is she immersed in the industry, but her relationship to Garris dates to when the two worked briefly together on the short-lived television series She-Wolf of London (1990-91). Bernstein’s conversational approach gives us an engaging detailing of Garris’s plentiful accomplishments (and occasional setbacks), charting his journey from roots as an aspiring rocker to the cherished member of horror’s elite that we recognize today, with all the triumphs and travails along the way. It would appear that their shared sphere made Garris feel comfortable divulging in the behind-the-scenes dynamics at play in everything from Critters 2: The Main Course (1988) to his groundbreaking anthology series Masters of Horror (2005-07), where Garris speaks openly about the rigors of coordinating dangerous effects sequences, using diplomacy to pacify contentious talents, and working intimately with industry titans like Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.
Master of Horror opens with a foreword by John Landis, and is brimming with interviews from Cynthia Garris, Joe Dante, William Malone, Tony Timpone, David J. Schow, Tom McLoughlin, and many more. Their words are accentuated with full-color production photos, most of which are from Garris’s personal collection, a veritable treasure trove for fans, and wonderful accompaniments to the stories shared within. Garris may not be a household name, but we discover that he’s much more than a hired gun or the guy who directed all those Stephen King TV movies; he’s a proven showrunner who’s earned the trust of many in his field, and whose contributions are integral to the horror genre’s continual development (and survival) in comics, television, video games, literature, and beyond.
Accessible, humorous, and engrossing, Master of Horror is an essential addition not only for Garris fans, but anyone interested in the delicate and volatile world of entertainment production artistry.