Posted on Monday, September 23rd, 2019 by Jacob Hall
With credits that include Community, Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Sarah Silverman Program and so much more, Rob Schrab has become a go-to director for television comedy. But his experience in the comic book world, as well as his screenplay for the creepy family horror film Monster House, make him a great fit for Shudder’s revival of Creepshow. When we visited the set earlier this year, Schrab was deep into directing his segment for the anthology horror series. Titled “Bad Wolf Down,” it follows a squad of American soldiers during World War II who are pinned down by Nazis…but it’s a full moon, they’re werewolves, they are not going down without a fight.
On the set, we saw Schrab’s line-up of lycanthropes, which included tributes to The Wolf Man, The Howling, and American Werewolf in London. He cheekily dubbed them the “Avengers” of werewolves and was able to elaborate when we caught up with him on the phone a few weeks later.
Note: this interview was conducted on a conference call with other journalists.
When we were on set, you mentioned this was sort of like an Avengers werewolf setup. Can you talk about the story and how you came up with it? And the werewolf.
Well, I had this story brewing in my head for years, long before Creepshow. I’ve always had a love for werewolves and had a love for war action. I just wanted to mash them up. When I was working with Greg and pitching this story, I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got an opportunity here to not only pay homage to horror and war comics, but also an opportunity to pay homage to all the werewolf stories.’ Greg’s a big werewolf fan, too. I wanted to see what would happen if the Wolfman, Rob Bottin’s Howling werewolf, and Rick Baker’s American Werewolf in London, what would happen if they were all in the same story together. When our guys change, I’m just looking for that comic book splash page. I really got excited when that was possible. I kept waiting for, as I was writing the script and putting it together, I was waiting for the call where either Shudder or Greg or whoever would say, ‘Yeah, we can’t afford it.’ But Greg just loved the idea and wouldn’t allow us to phone in the coolest part of this, which is the werewolves. So I’m totally in debt to Greg for having that enthusiasm and refusal to not do anything half-assed. It’s great.
One of the things we always hear from horror directors is how much they love practical effects. When we were on the set, we saw how hard it was to pull off a simple decapitation, so can you talk about the difficulties and rewards of working so practically?
Yeah. I only trust what I can see in front of me, especially when you’re a guest director. So to say, ‘Hey, we’ll do it in post,’ I’m usually not around. I have two days to edit and then I hand it off, and whether or not my edit stays is up to the producers and I’m not there to oversee a cut or an effect that’s done in post unless I’m producing the show, too. But as a guest director, I tend to like to do things practically because I like working with my hands, I build stuff, I do a lot of DIY things in my own shorts and things. I’m working with Greg. Why wouldn’t I do all the practical stuff? These guys know how to do this. It’s just when you’re working at such a low budget, you don’t have the man power to have things prepped and ready to go. You have, like, two guys who have to set it up, and it takes a while to do that. If this was, say, The Walking Dead, things would move a lot faster. The head getting knocked off, I was surprised too – it took a while, but totally worth it. In the cut, it worked exactly the way I wanted. This was an episode that was reaching. It was like, ‘Wow, we only have three and a half days to shoot this when we need six.’ We still pulled it off, too, because I think we were smart with what we concentrated on, and Greg helped out at the eleventh hour shooting a bunch of stuff with B camera. I never would have made it if it wasn’t for him. I never would have done anything if it wasn’t for him. I think it’s a lot more clever and more interesting to do practical stuff because you’re always trying to figure out how to make it not look fake or cheap, or trying to make it look as interesting, or have the ability to have people go, ‘How did you do this? How is that done? It’s obviously not CG, but how did you do it?’ It’s just more interesting, it’s more fun for me as a filmmaker. And I’m here to have fun. It’s Creepshow.
I know you’ve got a lot of experience directing comedy, and I was wondering if you found a preference between comedy and horror, or if you find there’s a lot of similarities that overlap between the two genres?
My heart is always in horror. I grew up on the VHS generation. I’ve been more influenced by sci-fi and horror than comedy. I happen to work well in comedy. I do enjoy working with the people in comedy, but my heart always goes back to monsters, creatures, aliens, things like that. I will say that my horror tastes are more of the Sam Raimi, Re-Animator, the ‘80s horror stuff is always my jam. Because it’s horror, but it’s not bleak. Even Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or Return of the Living Dead, two of my favorites, Re-Animator, or From Beyond, these movies, there’s a fun quality to it. And Creepshow, especially. It’s like, yeah, it’s scary, it’s creepy, it’s disturbing, but I’m not going to be going, ‘I hate my life. Life is meaningless,’ or anything. I’m more of the creature feature – everything that Tom Savini would do. Dawn of the Dead is very fun to me, even though it has bleak themes. I tend to love that. So I bring that sense of fun. That eighth grade boy who loves monster magazines and collecting masks and doing stop-motion animation in my dad’s basement with clay and toys and LEGOs and stuff. That’s me, and I’m living the dream. I’m an adult now, but I’m still playing with monsters. If you look at some of my stuff that I’ve done, like on The Sarah Silverman Program or Community or most recently I did Ghosted with Adam Scott and Craig Robinson, there’s monster stuff in there. I’m always trying to get killer robots, ghosts, monsters and stuff into all that stuff. So Creepshow is kind of the absolute perfect property for me to work on, because Creepshow, the tagline is ‘the most fun you’ll ever have being scared.’ ‘Fun’ comes before ‘scared.’ I think when people look at my episode, they might not be horrified by it, they might not be scared by it, but they’ll be smiling the entire time and they’ll be enjoying it, and it will feel right at home with Creepshow. That was always my goal. Let’s have this be fun, fun, fun, monster fun stuff. Not to get too heady.
With Monster House, it seemed as if you were really steeped into the literature of Ray Bradbury with The Halloween Tree and a few of his other short stories. I wonder with that literature lean in there, how familiar you are with Stephen King, especially given all the references you just mentioned before with regards to your love growing up with horror?
Well, I never really read Ray Bradbury, so I don’t even know the references as far as, we weren’t referencing anything with Monster House. I didn’t become a Stephen King fan until later in life. I loved the movies and things like that, but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I really started digging into the source material. I think Carrie is a brilliantly written book. It’s so great, and It has some wonderful amazing scenes and dialogue and characters. He’s known for horror, but his character and story stuff is so great. When I was doing Creepshow, I found the original script for Creepshow online and just read it over and over and over again. I actually would transcribe scenes. I just wanted to feel what it was like to write “Father’s Day.” I wanted to get into that mode when I wrote the script, because it’s a very visual script, and it’s a very fun script. There are times when Stephen King puts in parentheses, ‘I think this would be fun if we did it like this, totally like an EC Comic.’ You’re watching half of a conversation from Stephen King to George Romero saying, ‘Hey look, this will be fun.’ It was really, really great to get really absorbed in that world that they created and just be behind the scenes. I was watching so much director’s commentary and all the behind the scenes stuff where Tom Savini is making Clumpy and just working on “Father’s Day” and how they lit everything. I really tried to get into that headspace. I tried really hard, even in the description, maybe this is something Stephen King would say, or whatever. I don’t know how successful I was, he’s one of the greatest writers of all time, but that was my goal, to try to keep it in that Creepshow essence.
Can you talk about casting Jeffrey Combs? Did that come from your love of ‘80s horror?
Oh my God. Jeffrey is in my pantheon of favorite actors. Re-Animator, [his From Beyond character] Crawford Tillinghast, and I think he in The Frighteners steals the movie. He’s amazing. And all of his work with Star Trek, he has such a love of acting, love of theater, love of performance. He’s just such a pro. He really is. And a lovely, lovely man. I put him in the same category as like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price. He’s like the next generation of horror actors that when you see his name, you’re going to see something great and really original. There is a sense of humor, a levity, in his performance. He walks that line of something that, he’s definitely playing a villain, but there’s also a sense of fun. He plays villains that you want to be or pretend to be. His villains become heroes pretty quickly, especially with Re-Animator. So I adore him. I love Barbara Crampton, Bill Moseley – all these people who were known for that direct-to-video horror. They’re just heroes to me. When we reached out to him, I was like, ‘Is he going to do it, is he not going to do it?’ but he came back and he read the script and we talked on the phone and he was saying, ‘This is going to be fun, I really like the script,’ I’m like, holy shit, I’ve got Jeffrey Combs telling me that my script is good. He’s not going, ‘This is awful, I hate this.’ But he’s great on set. Really, really, really collaborative, and we worked together. I just adore him. I think he’s fantastic. And he brought the gloves that he wore in The Frighteners. So when you see him playing Reinhart in “Bad Wolf Down,” just know he’s wearing the Frightener gloves. Because that’s how big of a nerd I am, I thought that was the coolest thing ever because I love him in The Frighteners. I was playing with that toy in the toy box.
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