Joe Hill talks film adaptations, women in horror & comic books

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 01: NOS4A2 author Joe Hill poses for photos at Bookcon on June 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for AMC)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 01: NOS4A2 author Joe Hill poses for photos at Bookcon on June 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for AMC) /
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Joe Hill
Joe Hill and Jackson Robert Scott (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix) /

1428 Elm: Well, we’ll keep our fingers crossed, for sure.

Joe Hill : When I wrote it, the idea of a perfect movie, the perfect movie version of it would have been filmed about 1986, and it would have been directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell.

And we could have got…who would’ve done the soundtrack? Who would have written the music? Get Danzig to write the music! That would have been perfect!

Tawny Kitaen could play Georgia, she would’ve been awesome. That would have been great, I want to watch that film, man, that would have been so great.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine, so I don’t think John Carpenter is available to go back in time and make that movie. And Kurt Russell…you know, Jude’s a little bit of an older guy, but I think Kurt Russell has somewhat aged out of the part.

1428 Elm: I don’t know, Kurt Russell could do almost anything.

Joe Hill : Well, when you think about it, as a young guy, he played Elvis, and Judas Coyne is kind of a heavy metal Elvis, so to me, it always made perfect sense in terms of the casting.

1428 Elm: We recently talked to Jami O’Brien, and we discussed how nuanced your characters are. They’re not perfect, sometimes they’re infuriating, but you always root for them, you always want them to come through. When you write, do you base your characters on people you know? If not, how do you go about creating these complicated characters?

Joe Hill : I know that there are writers who write from an autobiographical standpoint, I try to avoid that. For me, the thrill of fiction is projecting myself into lives that are different from my own.

And just to go back to Heart-Shaped Box for a second, I mean Judas Coyne is the perfect example of that. I don’t really have anything…I mean, ultimately, I’m not a 60-something heavy metal musician who’s played arenas and recorded videos.

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All I know about that life is what I read about in Rolling Stone when I was a teenager. But it was exciting, you know, the thrill of fiction is finding your way into a life and a set of experiences very different from your own, and finding out what that’s all about.

Of course, you do have to do the homework; you have to get it right. People feel betrayed if you tackle something that’s close to their own experience and get it wildly wrong.

But, if you can pull the trick off, if you do the homework, if you can stick the landing, people feel seen, and they feel like, “Oh, that’s how it is, you know, I love that this person knew that that’s how it is.” And so, that’s kind of what you’re always going for. I will say one thing, Jami’s a wonderful writer.

She deepened the emotional lives of all these characters, and really explored them, and explored the darker corners of their psyches in a way that I wasn’t able to always touch on in the book. She did wonderful work with the characters. I do think it’s kind of interesting…

I follow along on Twitter every time a new episode comes out. And, if you took someone with Vic’s characteristics, and she was male and played by Bruce Willis, you know, a wise-cracking drunk, really tough, really emotionally shielded, relentless in her pursuit of the wicked, but not really connected to her family, sort of missing out on that emotional connection with her family, and fumbling to try and make it work…that’s a hero everybody loves. As soon as that character’s female, people become very critical, and I find that tremendously interesting.

So, maybe the sins we would accept in a male hero if they’re fighting the terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza, we are no longer as a culture as happy with, we are much more judgmental as soon as that character is female.

1428 Elm: Yes, and it’s a shame this late into our existence as human beings that it’s still that way.

Joe Hill : Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s a tough one, and as a creator, I’m always wrestling with it. Because, I think especially in the horror genre, there’s a long, long tradition of centering female characters as the protagonists. Look at any of the slasher films, ultimately the hero is always, you know, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Joe Hill
Jamie Lee Curtis (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images) /

1428 Elm: Yeah, the Final Girl.

Joe Hill : Yeah, the Final Girl, you know, Ripley in Alien is a Final Girl. But, there’s so much pressure for that character to not really have any flaws, except maybe some sense of fright, which she has to overcome. But, people should be allowed to be more complicated, you shouldn’t have to be a brilliant, perfect looking virgin to be a hero.

1428 Elm: Yes, that is true. And, that’s Vic in a nutshell, really. Now, Horns has been made into a movie, NOS4A2 and Locke & Key became series, and you were able to be involved in all three of these projects, correct?

Joe Hill : Yeah, somewhat. I didn’t have too much to do with Horns. I would say on a scale of one to ten, with ten being really maximum involvement, I would say I was probably a one on Horns, a four on NOS4A2, and about a six on Locke & Key.

1428 Elm: It’s enough for you to keep an eye on your babies, though.

Joe Hill : Enough, enough. With Horns, I felt like, you know…my Dad had had a lot of stories turned into films, and I’ve seen that happen. But it’s different when it’s your own piece of work, it’s an experience you’ve never had before, someone takes a story you wrote and makes a show out of it.

And with Horns, I felt like my job here is to shut up and learn, not to try to control the process, just to see how does this work? How do people handle themselves? I made suggestions, I read scripts. I thought Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple and Max were brilliant, Alexandre Aja who directed it, they put together a beautiful film.

The first third is so funny, it’s a black comedy, the second third is really tragic and really frightening, the final third is very surreal, it doesn’t quite work for me. And I did have a pitch about two scenes that we could film that I thought would make the ending work a little better, and Alexandre Aja loved it, but there was no financial way to shoot another five days. That’s show biz, babe!