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You are here: Home - - - > Interviews - - - > A Conversation with Jack Ketchum and Phil Nutman
Exclusive Double-Header Interview: A Conversation with Jack Ketchum & Phil Nutman - Authors of "Off Season" (et al) and "Wet Work", respectively
Conducted Saturday, September 30, 2006
Interview Conducted By: Matthew Dean Hill

As I wandered around the "Vendor's Room" at the 2006 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors convention in Secaucus, New Jersey, I was pretty actively seeking a "scoop" (in that old-school freelance journalist kind of way), and extremely actively looking to spend some money on new horror-related swag. So, I filtered around, and came upon a small table, at which was seated a rather ordinary lookin' guy by the name of Phil Nutman. I recognized Phil, of course, from his numerous articles produced from his long-time association with Fangoria Magazine (which, I almost hesitate to admit, I've been reading for about 23 years now). He's also, of course, the author of an excellent zombie novel called "Wet Work". Well, this table belonged to both Phil and Dallas Mayr, better known under his pseudonym "Jack Ketchum". They were at the convention promoting not only their respective works, but also their co-involvement with a few exciting new projects. So, I snatched the opportunity to sit down with Phil and Dallas (to whom I've referred as "Jack" for the purposes of this interview) to discuss their respective projects. Dallas and Phil were also kind enough to invite me to sit with them behind their table, while keeping their fans at bay (whom were quickly lining up for autographs and stuff), so I tried to keep the interview as brief as possible. It's a good one, though... What follows is a verbatim transcript of the audio interview that I conducted at that time. "Bracketed" words/descriptions are my own.

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Matthew Dean Hill: I’m sitting here with Jack Ketchum and Phil Nutman, known to horror fans as the authors of some truly excellent horror novels. I’m going to be very brief here…let’s see…first of all, Jack and Phil, tell me about your upcoming comic, book, and film projects.

Phil Nutman: [to Jack] You can start…

Jack Ketchum: Oh, ok…[laughs] Well, Phil just approached me a few weeks ago about doing a comic version – a graphic novel version – of my first book, “Off Season”, and I think it’s the perfect place to start with Fangoria’s new line of comic books. It’s a very action-filled story; it should move really fast. I really like the way Phil writes; he’s already done a lovely screenplay for “The Girl Next Door”. I know he likes my stuff a lot, and I know he’ll do a good job with it [“Off Season” adaptation]. Having seen the initial art, I’m really happy about it; it looks like it’s going to be a great project.

MDH: Fantastic! [to Phil] Tell me some more about your involvement; how it kinda’ came to fruition.

Phil: Oh, well…it was one of those happy synergies of being in the business for a long time and knowing a bunch of people. Dallas, aka “Jack”, and I have been friends for getting on 16 years, which is ultimately what led to me having the opportunity to co-write the Girl Next Door screenplay with my writing partner Daniel Farrands who wrote Halloween 6. Dan was really the one who really pushed me and encouraged me to do that, because I didn’t know we could…I wasn’t confident we could pull off the script. Actually, Dallas wasn’t certain we could do it, either, but we did, and that was eight years ago. We finally got the movie made this summer, which we’ve just seen a first cut of, which we’re both really happy with. Anyway, beyond friendship, there’s the fact that we [he and Jack] do seem to work well with each other’s material, and as Dallas says, I understand where he’s coming from with his work, and I respect the work he does. So, when Scott ???, the editor in chief of Fangoria Comics, came to me and said, ‘I want you as editorial consultant, and I want you as one of the top writers…certainly the head writer in terms of adapting literary properties,’ I said, ‘Sure’. We got tremendous response…as soon as we announced the Fangoria Comics line, the message boards lit up and everybody was saying, ‘I wish you guys would do a Jack Ketchum comic book’. Well, the book that everybody seemed to want us to do was “Off Season”, which actually was the natural to choose as the first one to do as a comic book. This will actually be the first title we launch at Fangoria Comics in either April or May of next year [2007]; that’s yet to be determined.

MDH: That’s great! Now, I’m going to move on to the film version of "The Lost". Jack, have you seen the completed version of The Lost?

Jack: Oh yeah, a number of times. I’ve seen it a number of times, and I like it a lot. It’s, uh, budget constraints forced them to move it from the 1960’s to the present day. If you’re happy…if you really love the cat in the book, you’re going to miss the cat in the film…

MDH: [makes sound of disappointment/discontent]

Jack: …but, other than that, they kept very, very true to the characters, very true to the themes…the emotions involved. It really turned out to be a character study – a very dark character study – which is what I wanted it to be all the time. I thought Chris Siverston directed the hell out it. There’s a really great ensemble cast of young actors, and some older actors too, but especially the young people really impressed the hell out of me. The two lead young people, Marc Senter and Shay Astar, are just amazing, and so was the supporting cast. I was just really happy with it…I’ve been happy with it ever since. It’s been getting really great reception all around the country, and around the world, for that matter; they just showed it in Greece. What I’ve been finding is that, at the end of the movie, I’m hearing audible gasps from the audience, which is wonderful! [laughs]

MDH: [laughs] Yeah, yeah…absolutely.

Jack: One woman walked out the last five minutes; she just couldn’t stand the last five minutes, but she sat through the whole rest of the movie, so it must have offended her pretty badly. [laughs]

MDH: So, was she part of test audience or something? Because, I mean, why would you go to a movie with "Jack Ketchum" in the tagline, or whatever…

Jack: Well, the last twenty minutes of that film are extremely intense. In fact, I watch it with some trepidation, it’s that strong. It’s that powerful. It’s really not easy to watch.

MDH: OK…to that end [laughing], is there anything that either of you feel shouldn’t be portrayed in a book or in a movie? Anything that’s too extreme or too taboo, or…

Jack: [without hesitation] Killing real animals.

MDH: Killing real animals?

Jack & Phil: [agreeing] Yeah…yeah…

Jack: I mean, I love Cannibal Holocaust and that stuff, but that’s the stuff that I really despise.

MDH: Right…I would tend to agree…

Phil: That's one of the things that we [Phil and Jack] share a very deep bond about is that we're both devout animal lovers. Uh…you know…Dallas has got his legion of felines, and I've got my dog and my cat, and…

Jack: When we were shooting The Girl Next Door, they had wranglers for the 'worm sequence'. [We all laugh] Yeah! They had a guy come in from the humane society to make sure they didn't harm the worms! And I thought, 'That's just fine! That's great! That's just…a little wacky, but it's actually really great!' [laughs]

MDH: Yes, the semi-intelligent creatures that worms are…

Jack: Yeah... [laughing]

MDH: …I don't know if they really know what's going on…but…

Phil: But yeah…that's…I mean…you know…[laughs] It would be hypocritical for me to say, 'Oh, the rape and sexual abuse of teenagers!' But we're actually dealing with that subject matter responsibly…seriously…in The Girl Next Door

Jack: There's no subject matter that you can't deal with responsibly and seriously. Talking about shooting animals or hurting animals, that's what "Red" is about. "Red" is about…you know…it begins with the murder of a well-loved dog. So you can certainly deal with that…you just don't want to make it 'real'. There's no…there would be no justification for shooting [a film version of] "Red" and having a real dog shot!

MDH: Right…right…well, as far as things that aren't so much 'real', like 'really killing animals', but things that…issues that are just too taboo…

Jack: None…none…nothing…nothing…

MDH: Nothing's off limits?

Jack: Nothing...

MDH: [to Phil] Would you second that… 'nothing's off limits'?

Phil: Umm…

Jack: Whatever humans are able to do, we should be able to depict.

Phil: Yeah [nodding], basically.

MDH: OK. Great. Now, moving on…what advice do either of you have, if any, for young up-and-coming directors, writers, effects artists, actors…anybody that wants to get involved in the genre?

Phil: [adamantly] Perseverance. Basically. You know, it took me over twenty years in the business to get to be able to write and produce my first movie. I'd had opportunities in the past, but it wasn't going to work out the way I wanted it to be, and I wanted to do stuff independently. I wanted to have as much creative control as I wanted, so it was my choice to take that length of time to get to that point. But the fact is, you know, opportunities come and opportunities go, and the bottom line is you need to stick to your guns. If you really want to do this, whether you want to write novels, comic books, or make movies in whatever capacity, you know…you've got to persevere. Because I think, ultimately, that's what makes you win through.

MDH: Yeah, that sounds like awfully good advice, actually…

Jack: Uhh, I'll give you what Bob Bloch gave me…Robert Bloch gave me; he said, 'Unless you have to do it, don't.' Period. [we all laugh]

MDH: Yeah, actually, that makes a lot of sense. I guess either you have it or you don't, and if you don't have it, you should know within the first couple of years, so…

Jack: Yeah, probably…

MDH: OK, so last question… Both of you, in certain circles, are considered to be 'horror icons'. What does that mean to you?

Phil: [motioning to Jack] Well you know he's a horror icon. I'm just, um, I don't know…I don’t know where I fit in the parameters there. I wouldn't ever consider myself an icon. I mean, I'm known because of my twenty-plus year involvement with Fangoria Magazine as a journalist. You know, over the last thirteen years I'm known because of my zombie novel "Wet Work", so I’m sort of considered a 'zombie guy'. Now I'm getting known as a screenwriter. All of my stuff one way or another has kind of revolved around horror, but I certainly wouldn't feel that I'm an icon. I'm not…I'm not a 'name' like Jack is…

MDH: Well, I don't know…I mean, don't sell yourself short, though…

Phil: Oh…I don't know…put it this way: if somebody put me up on a pedestal, I'd get vertigo and fall off! [we all laugh]

MDH: Now that's humility!

Jack: I'm a working writer…period. That's all I am. Umm, if people love my stuff…if people love my stuff, I'm very happy about that, but I don't want to be anybody’s kind of 'icon'. I misbehave too much to be an icon. [laughing]

MDH: I guess the question is, 'Have you stopped beating your wife?'

Jack: Ahhh, not yet… [we all laugh]

MDH: OK…gotcha… [laughs] Allright, well, that'll do it. I appreciate your time, gentlemen. Thanks very much!

Jack: Pleasure! Nice meeting you Matthew…

Phil: We'll be in touch… [Phil grabs my shoulders...not in a weird way] I'm just glad we finally got to do it!

MDH: Yeah, absolutely…me too!

Later that evening, I met Phil and Jack in the hotel bar for a beer, and we chatted a bit more (off the record). I haven't met two nicer, more down-to-earth guys! Dallas, in particular, clearly has a good head on his shoulders, and while he's aware of his status as one of America's most beloved macabre authors, he spoke and interacted with me in such a way as to make me feel like an old friend, not just a slavering fanboy/struggling genre journalist.

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