Mike Davies gets a weather report from Frank Darabont.
In 1963, when Frank Darabont was about four years old, he discovered Saturday matinee television and all the old black and white monster movies; Wolfman, Dracula, The Mummy and so forth. From that moment on he was hooked on horror.
As he grew up he also became a fan of The Twilight Zone and the way in which the stories would serve as allegories of the human condition. In later life it was perhaps inevitable that he would be drawn to the writing of Stephen King whom he rates as one of the great storytellers of the modern age.
In his early 20s, Darabont’s had become one of King’s so called “dollar babies”, aspiring film-makers or theatre producers to whom he sold permission to adapt one of his short stories for just one dollar. In 1983 Darabont made a short of The Woman In The Room, and today he counts the horror master as one of his closest friends, collaborating with him on adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
“I love King’s examination of people in a pressure cooker of fear, and what happens when civilisation is stripped away,” he says. “Do people pull together and help each other? Or do they tear each other to pieces?”
It’s a question that fuels Darabont’s return to the well as writer-director of The Mist, taken from the King novella but, in its story of the monster within, also owing a debt of influence to both Lord of the Flies and The Monsters Are Due On Maple St, one of the director’s favourite Twilight Zone episodes.
“Stephen and I had been talking about doing it for twenty years,” he recalls. “I’d read it in 1980, then when I had my first credit as a writer on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, I seriously started thinking about something to direct. I was weighing up whether I’d ask for the rights to The Mist or Shawshank. I thought if I only had one chance to do something of King’s, it had to be Shawshank. But The Mist never went away, it kept calling to me.”
Darabont eventually answered, but this time he decided to take a different approach and make it as a low budget horror, shooting fast and recreating the look and feel of those movies and TV shows that had been such formative influences.
“We wanted a grittier, grainier look, a little more old school, like when I was a kid watching movies like Blacula or The Omega Man,” he explains. He’d also wanted to make it in black and white and while he lost that battle, he reveals that the DVD version will come with both versions.
“You can’t just take the colour out of every movie, but I’d had it in mind because The Coen brothers shot The Man Who Wasn’t There in colour and it looked so great when they released it in black & white. It was a thrill for me to watch The Mist in black and white, especially when a shot looks like The Last Picture Show or a little ragged, like Night of the Living Dead.”
Set against the staple King landscape of Maine, the film tells how a violent storm is followed by a strange mist rolling in across the lake, inside which are monsters from another dimension. Trapped inside the local supermarket, a group of locals gradually begin to turn against each other as those ready to fight for survival are confronted by those persuaded this is an apocalyptic judgement from God. It’s a raw examination of what happens to society in a climate of fear, and it comes with a different ending to the book that hits like a hammer against the skull.
“I call it my nasty little gut-punch horror flick,” smiles Darabont. “That ending was the only one that ever made sense to me, the only one that wasn’t going to be a cop-out. These are not optimistic times. This century has started off pretty shitty, and everyone is full of fear. I’m not as optimistic and hopeful as the guy who made Shawshank and Green Mile. I’ve been a little pissed off at mankind, and lately I’ve wanted to tell a different story. And I’m sorry to say that now is a particularly good time to be telling a story like this.”