Freddy Krueger once got his own TV show. Even though Freddy’s Nightmares lasted two seasons, it was a pale syndicated imitation of the movies. Now that horror is big on television with shows like The Walking Dead, Bates Motel, and American Horror Story and others, PopTV is getting in on the game, airing Australia’s Wolf Creek TV Series.
John Jarratt reprises his role as the outback killer Mick Taylor and the films’ director, Greg McLean writes and produces the series, directing the finale. Lucy Fry stars as a girl whose family falls victim to Mick, so she sets out on the path for revenge. We spoke with McLean after his panel for the Television Critics Association over the summer.
The series is more in the polished style of Wolf Creek 2 than the raw and gritty style of the first film, right?
Not necessarily. The second one is really an action chase story. It goes into fairly comic territory as well. We’ll try and capture some of the atmosphere and sense of dread of the first one, as well as having some of the fun of the second one. So it was a little bit between both I think.
So different episodes could be in different styles?
Do you have to have Mick kill someone in each episode for it to be Wolf Creek?
Not really. There was no real mantra about how Mick should behave in the series. The story kind of evolved fairly organically once we realized the basic structure of what it could be as a revenge tale. There’s a relatively high body count but we didn’t have a mandate where we said we’re going to have a kill each episode. It’s all story driven and character driven instead of saying it’s got to end with Mick killing someone.
Was focusing on Eve a way to let Mick return to the shadows more like he was in the first Wolf Creek?
Kind of, yeah. Also by having another character who was exploring Mick, it basically enabled us to build his myth and his legend and make him scarier. In fact, the less he’s seen, the scarier he is. If you think about a movie like Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins is on screen for like 13 minutes and that performance is so iconic. Really it’s about just having him arrive at very specific moments and do intense things. You don’t really get to be with him fully until the last episode. He’s constantly there, you’re teasing him out. It’s a way of keeping his legend a mystery by not showing him too much.
Horror on television has become really successful with The Walking Dead, Bates Motel and shows like that. What do you think happened in television that made it ready for horror?
I think that horror as a genre has just become mainstream. It’s not a select fringe thing anymore. It’s a mainstream thing in cinema and in TV. It’s also just another mode of storytelling. In terms of the Wolf Creek approach to it, obviously we made two very scary films but now we’re able to go into that existing story universe and tell a drama/suspense story, or a thriller story within that context. In the similar way that Bates Motel went into the obviously famous Psycho film and then made an intense character thriller in that space. The thing I love about TV is you’re able to go into a particular subsection of a subsection genre and unpack just a section of that. So what we’ve done in the series, we use the brand Wolf Creek but are able to go into a very different kind of story that takes all the best things of the existing franchise but it’s able to explore a different set of ideas.
Has television quite simply gotten more tolerant of violence and gore?
I think because now there are so many different content providers, because you have the Hulus and Amazons, there are so many different places now you can actually tell your stories. It means I think there’s a bigger ability to talk to different audiences so that you can make a series that is a horror series and if it’s good enough it will just find viewers who aren’t into horror, just want to see a good story. So I feel like that ability to talk to different networks means you’re able to explore different kinds of genres that previously wouldn’t be explored.
As a filmmaker, how did you find the experience of doing longform television?
It was great. I’d never done TV before. I was lucky in that I work with a very good experienced couple of TV producers and TV writers who have done TV before. So all the things I didn’t know or was nervous about they were helping with. In terms of the storytelling, I thought it was great. Essentially, it was like making six little versions of the first movie. We were in the same locations. We were making it as cinematic as we could. We weren’t compromising on anything. The directive from our commissioning network was, “Make it cinematic. Don’t tone it down. Don’t make it into some crappy TV thing. Go bananas.” We’re like, “Cool, we can do that.”
The locations look very exotic to American audiences but are those common places you shot in Australia?
They are but not many shows go out there because it’s a big commitment to go take the whole crew out there for weeks at a time. One of our mandates at the start was we have to go there. You can’t half do it. You’ve got to go there and you’ve got to be there. The landscape is a big part of the show. The environment itself is one of the scariest things. Being in that space, in that isolated location is what’s scary so we’ve got to have that.
Are we going to revisit Mick’s home that we know from the movies?
Does that set still exist or do you have to rebuild it every time?
We had to rebuild it but we actually have everything in storage in case there’s a second season. I actually have two of the trucks myself because I kept the truck from the second movie. I have a lot of costume items and stuff like that so I have a shed full of everything.
Was this story ever going to be Wolf Creek 3?
No, it wasn’t. We actually have the feature scripts written for the movies and this was not one of them. After the first movie, we did a fair bit of work developing other kinds of ideas for stories. We actually had two prequel novels written by horror novelists based on ideas by myself to explore Mick’s background before he gets to the first Wolf Creek movie. So we kind of explored a pre-timeline and a following timeline. Wolf Creek 2 takes place after the first film. Then we thought, let’s explore a separate timeline in the series so that we can keep going back between the films and the series. There is a chart on my wall at home. They’ll coexist, those franchises.
So where will Wolf Creek 3 start?
At the moment, we basically have four screenplays and there’s two basically fighting for contention about which one is going to shoot first. Because the series turned out so great, we want to make sure that takes precedence because films work in a very different way. They are very much straight horror films whereas the series is exploring much more complex themes and characters. So it depends. It may be a prequel or it may be a sequel to the second film.
Could there be further seasons of Wolf Creek the series?
Definitely. We’d all love to do it. I think all of us who made it really love the show. We love making it. We’ve talked about ideas of what it could be. Hopefully it finds an audience here and people love it here. It was a big hit in Australia. I think when people first heard about it, they were thinking, “How could that be? What could it possibly be? It’ll just be some sort of slasher thing.” But when people saw this tough chick on the poster, they thought hang on, this is a different kind of thing. Then they watched it and realized it’s much more of a suspense/thriller show which makes it more intriguing. It’s hard to maintain horror as a concept in a sequential story, unless you have this overarching evil that you’re dealing with like Mick Taylor. So the show, I was able to keep an atmosphere of suspense and dread while telling a kind of detective story.
Eve is proactive right from the start but isn’t horror always about a kick-ass final girl?
Not necessarily. The first Wolf Creek movie took that paradigm and twisted it on its head because the final girl got stabbed in the spine and the boy lived. The villain walked into the sunset. I think part of the reason the first film was surprising, even though the elements seemed very familiar, was that it took those familiar elements and then flipped them around so that all your expectations are reversed. The second movie did a similar thing where it took all your expectations about what was going to happen, and we’re following these two characters who die halfway through. They’re not even the main characters. This is the main character. For me, working in the genre space, I always like to take things and twist them around and keep it interesting and try and create surprise.
Did you ever imagine that Wolf Creek would be so lucrative for you where you’re managing multiple scripts and a series?
No, I think when I made the first film I was just a struggling filmmaker trying to make a film. I was just happy to have made a movie. I had no idea that it would ever be seen outside of Australia or even seen in Australia. I love the fact that people connected to the character and it became known as a very scary film and had a great reputation. The second film, I had such a blast making that movie because I had a bit of a break. I made my first and second film, then I had a bit of a break producing stuff. Then I had so much fun directing the second movie I just haven’t stopped directing since that one because I had so much fun.
What else have you gotten to direct outside of Wolf Creek?
I’m actually in post-production on a movie now called Jungle which stars Daniel Radcliffe which is a real life survival thriller that was shot in Colombia and Australia. I’m in post on that, based on a true story. Before that I shot another film in Colombia for James Gunn and Peter Safran called The Belko Experiment for MGM, based on a James Gunn script. That is finished and I think we’re coming out this year. Before that I did a film for Blumhouse called The Darkness which was shot two years ago. So I’ve done three movies in a row and the series.
Did James Gunn have time to write you a script between Guardians of the Galaxy movies?
This was an old James Gunn script he was trying to get up before Guardians became a billion dollar franchise. I think it was something he was going to do and for whatever reason they couldn’t get it made at that time. Obviously his position in the world changed significantly and he still wanted to get this movie made. He said, “Well, I don’t have time to direct it so I’ll produce it with Peter Safran.” They put it out to directors and I pitched on it. I fell in love with the script. It’s an amazing script. I got the job directing it and had a ball making it with those guys.
Was it ready to go? Did it need another pass?
No, it was ready to go. We basically took that script and I just shot the script and had an amazing cast. Michael Rooker, David Dastmalchian, Tony Goldwyn, John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, amazing, amazing ensemble piece.
Was Rooker Gunn’s idea?
Rooker was Gunn’s idea. That was the great part about making the movie is that he’s like, “Why don’t we try this guy?” I’m like, “Awesome, can you get it to him?” “Sure.” That was great.
Was Rogue ever released in the States?
Rogue was my second movie, my crocodile creature feature. It wasn’t distributed very widely here. The Weinstein Company had the film. Another crocodile film came out that didn’t perform very well and they didn’t really push this movie as much as they should’ve. The people who see the really like it. I’m very proud of that film because I love the movie.
Why did you choose the season finale of Wolf Creek to direct yourself?
I was going to direct the whole six and then I was doing Belko here in L.A. and our post kept on going, going, going. I just couldn’t be there. So I said, “Look, let me just direct the last one, the finale.” And it was a really good one to do because Tony [Tilse] is a great director. He’s been working on the Evil Dead series. Great tone, great filmmaker so it was in good hands but then when I got to six, as you’ll see when you see it, all these strands come together as being a big finale so it was a good one for me to go into and close it off. Usually I know creators direct the pilot to set the tone but Tony and I spent a long time talking about what specifically we want to take from the films, how we wanted to maintain certain things and change certain things to give it its own flavor in certain things. We wanted to make sure it felt aesthetically in tune with the movies.
Wolf Creek airs on Fridays at 10 pm on Pop.