Often times doing this job you come into contact with people who are just a pleasure to talk to and carry on a conversation with. Joe Harris is one of those people. Joe’s resume is quite long, having worked in both film (“THE TRIPPER”, “DARKNESS FALLS”) and comic books (“GHOST PROJEKT”, “BATMAN”, “CREEPY”). While Joe is busy at work promoting his newest endeavor “GHOST PROJEKT”, which we previewed for you earlier this month, he was gracious enough to sit down and interview with me about his old and new projects alike, comics, and film. Beyond the break you will find the first half of my exclusive one on one with Joe, where we discuss remakes, “gore-porn”, and his new story from Oni Comics.
TD: Well first I should thank you for your time yet again. I know things must be pretty hectic in your life with “Ghost Projekt” getting so much buzz, it has to have been exciting. Before we get into all that though why don’t you introduce yourself to the readers who might not be familiar with your body of work?
JH: I’ve been doing this for a little while now, at this point. I started writing for Marvel Comics some years ago, launching new Spider-Man and X-Men titles. While I was doing that, I set out to make this short horror film, TOOTH FAIRY which ended up getting bought and developed into a feature at Revolution Studios. They hired me to write the first three or four drafts of that script and Sony released the heavily re-written result as DARKNESS FALLS. I also co-wrote David Arquette’s directorial debut, THE TRIPPER which featured a Ronald Reagan cos-playing serial killer who takes out a bunch of hippies at an outdoor music festival. I’ve been attached to so many genre franchise sequels, remakes, pitches and rewrites in some way or another it’s dizzying to recall. But I’ve never really forgotten about comics. I co-wrote wrote the Fox Atomic series of graphic novels, THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY based on horror author Thomas Ligotti’s short stories. I’ve done dark, horrific projects related to BATMAN at DC Comics and have been a contributing writer to the newly relaunched CREEPY at Dark Horse Comics. And now I’m trying to bring whatever it is I’ve managed to do in the past together in launching new, original comics of which GHOST PROJEKT is the first.
TD: That’s very interesting that you’ve gotten to kind of transcend the bounds of different genres and work in so many different aspects creatively. I actually really enjoyed “The Tripper” and thought that as a throwback to the kind of 80s slasher it succeeded on many levels as a film.
Since we are on the subject of horror in cinema, let’s explore that because I don’t want to dwell on it to long, but what is your take on the state of the genre right now? With so many remakes, and ‘gore porn’ films floating around out there right now do you think the genre is thriving or possibly parodying itself at this point?
JH: You know, I’m of two minds on this. Like most people I know, I hate the remakes on principle as much as anything else. But I understand why they’re out there… and I’ve been involved with some myself at one point or another. When they’re done well, like with Aja’s “Hill Have Eyes” remake, we applaud… when they suck, we groan. I think the genre is doing fine though, overall. When we were first setting out to plot the movie that would become DARKNESS FALLS, horror wasn’t so hot. Nowadays it won’t go away. I don’t see how that could be a bad thing. Even if you hate everything you describe as being potentially self-parodying, there’s still plenty of material that makes it out there to appreciate.
Funny you mention the throwback thing. When I was watching the FRIDAY THE 13th remake, I was struck funny by the kids finding the marijuana field in the opening scene. I know they watched THE TRIPPER… which was so influenced by those early FRIDAY THE 13th sequels and which had that very setup in it.
TD: It all seems to come full circle that way doesn’t it? I too like quite a few of the remakes nowadays, but also see a lot to dislike, too. I’m actually one of the minority that like Rob Zombie’s Halloween for being what it was. I think it’s an important distinction to hold remakes and the original material separate from one another as pieces of art in order to fairly assess them.
So how did you find yourself in the field of film? Did that career present itself before or after you had established a name as an author in the comic book community?
JH: I actually went to film school and making movies has always been my pursuit. I had made a thesis film at the City College of New York called RAPSCALLIONS. It wasn’t horror. It was an edgy dramatic thing that ended up playing a bunch of fests and actually got distributed on video and I had a screening down the Tribeca Film Center here in Manhattan. My friend and frequent creative collaborator, Adam Pollina was the artist on a Marvel Comic called X-FORCE and he brought some Marvel editors down to the screening. They really enjoyed the movie and told me I should be writing for them, which I did!
So, anyway, I ended up writing a bunch of books for Marvel but I still wanted to make movies. So I started putting together a new short film. This one would be horror, about a little boy who loses his tooth and decides to try and catch the Tooth Fairy in the act only to learn there’s a terrible price to be paid when you don’t do what you’re supposed to and follow the rules. I went out to the San Diego Comic-con with my short script and a poster I’d put together to help market the idea. Just to show it around while I signed at the Marvel booth and did the panels and such like usual. At the show that year, I ended up meeting John Fasano and he loved the idea, told me I should be doing it as a feature and promptly brought my package and pitch to the attention of a company called Distant Corners who had a development deal with the newly formed Revolution Studios. They loved it as well and ended up both financing the ultra-low budgeted short film as well as hiring me to write the feature screenplay for the movie that would eventually be DARKNESS FALLS. I had written, I think, the first two drafts of that script and Revolution essentially picked the project up, brought me out to L.A. and sat me down in an office with Jonathan Liebesman, the rest of the producers and execs and extended my deal to include a third draft of the script. I hadn’t ever even been to Los Angeles before, but there I found myself. From there, the script ended up re-written a hundred times and the movie turned into what it became. But that’s how I really started doing this.
TD: Yes, ComiCon sure is a great time. Maybe I’ll even see you out there this year! So let’s talk “Ghost Projekt”. I recently previewed it, and I’m really excited for it. What can you tell us about the project?
JH: It’s a supernatural thriller and an old fashioned revenge ghost story that takes place in the former Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Russians experimented with all sorts of weapons of mass destruction and that vast country is littered with former test sites, decaying laboratories and twisted victims of leaks, exposures and tests. The United States knew all about most of the insidious things they did over there. Hell, we did plenty of them ourselves. And, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, our Department of Defense ramped up efforts to help a stretched-thin Russian government catalog and contain loose materials that might make it onto the black market and into potential terrorists’ hands.
Enter Will Haley, the best American Weapons Inspector working abroad. When he’s called in to investigate a break-in at a crumbling, abandoned Siberian facility, he crosses paths with a beautiful Russian detective named Anya Romanova who’s investigating a string of murders linked to the super-secret research and development that went on here. They don’t know much about the work that was conducted, but they know operations went on here under the project name, “Dosvidanya” which is Russian for good-bye. Ever since the break-in, people attached to the old project have been turning up dead and Operativnik Romanova suspects one of project heads of using whatever mysterious materials were stolen from that lab to pick off his fellow scientists and administrators who worked on this illegal program in hopes of covering his tracks and avoiding prosecution for any war crimes committed under his watch.
Only it’s far more complicated from that. Something has been released from that lab, but it’s something far more deadly than any sort of biological or chemical weapon Will is used to cataloging and containing. And Konstantin is responsible for far worse than anything Anya suspects. The whole investigation leads them down a rabbit hole of state secrets, deadly sins and research into the most deadly weapon of supernatural design imaginable since the Nazi’s sought the Lost Ark of the Covenant before Indiana Jones could shut them down.
The story criss-crosses the snowy Russian continent as our heroes chase the stolen Dosvidanya materials from the Siberian Taiga to Moscow’s Red Square. It’s full of hauntings, killings and one mother of a battle scene that completely devastates– well, I’ll let you read it when it comes out. I might have said too much already! But suffice to say, lots of ugly, deadly things were kept hidden beneath the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain. Nothing like a little sunlight to send the roaches scattering.
Be sure to stay tuned this week as we bring you the second part of my one-on-one with Joe where we talk in depth about his “GHOST PROJEKT”.