History is full of true monsters who inflicted unspeakable horrors upon the world. Maybe it’s a relief to imagine that some of them were actually the make-believe kind.
That’s the premise of The Last American Vampire, Seth Grahame-Smith’s follow-up to his 2010 history/monster mash-up, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In this book, published on Jan. 13, the central figure is Abe’s supernatural sidekick from the first novel, the noble bloodsucker Henry Sturges, who leads readers through a post-Civil War chronology littered with corpses that—like the Confederacy itself—keep threatening to rise again. ”The germ of the idea was just wanting to know more about Henry Sturges and the years between 1865 and 1963,” Grahame-Smith says. ”What happened in that century? This book is the answer.”
From the lone-wolf slayings of Jack the Ripper to the mass murders of the Nazis, every noteworthy act of cruelty, madness, or greedy thirst that can’t be slaked is revealed to be the handiwork of creatures of the night. If that seems disrespectful, the author sees it as part of a long tradition of satire by way of horror. Anywhere society is inhuman, ”we find vampires,” the writer says. ”It’s always been that way, ever since Bram Stoker or even back to the folktales about vampires. They’ve always taken the place of other fears humans have, other evils.”
Grahame-Smith made his mark as a pop culture reanimator with the 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, setting Jane Austen’s 1813 comedy of manners within an epidemic of the bloodthirsty undead (the film version is due this year). The book proved to be a stepping-stone to his other passions, movies and TV. Studio executives loved his sense and sensibility: easily accessible pop-candy storytelling fused with reverence for bygone eras. That opened the door for him to work on projects associated with his storytelling heroes: Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Tim Burton, who hired him to write the screenplay for the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, then commissioned him to work on the script for Dark Shadows. And next month he’ll be at the Oscars, working as part of the ABC telecast’s writing team.
He’s happy sitting at a keyboard, but he also wants to stand behind the camera. ”That’s really what I want to end up being—the writer-director,” says Grahame-Smith, who just turned 39. ”Writing stuff for myself to direct, or rewriting things to direct. I’m trying to drive all of this to that goal.” His 2015 to-do list is one of the coolest imaginable. ”Cool is a way of looking at it,” he says, before suggesting the alternate: ”soul-crushing and terrifying.”
SETH’S TO-DO LIST
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
This Disney adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel—about two boys who tangle with a malevolent carnival that has come to their town—will be Grahame-Smith’s directorial debut. He’s updated the setting to the 1980s: ”You want the boyhood aspects to be authentic, and the most authentic time that I know how to represent is my own boyhood,” he says.
”I hope to get a draft from [the scriptwriter] in the early spring and then start trying to make it real. I would love to shoot in the fall of this year.”
The follow-up to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s ”ghost with the most” has long been a passion project for Grahame-Smith, who’s writing and producing with Burton.
Grahame-Smith has completed a few drafts of the script and garnered interest from all the principal players. ”Tim’s got to make [Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children]. We’re waiting in the wings ready to go right after Peregrine wraps up,” he says.
DUELING LEGO MOVIES
Grahame-Smith is working on two animated theatrical releases by exec-producing 2016’s Ninjago, about the LEGO martial-arts masters of ”spinjitzu,” and writing 2017’s LEGO Batman movie, a spin-off with the toy Caped Crusader (voiced by Will Arnett) from last year’s LEGO Movie.
He describes himself as part of a brain trust for Ninjago: ”I look at cuts of animatics, redrafts of scripts, and give notes and suggest changes,” the writer says. ”On Batman, I’m working much more intensely with director Chris McKay. I finished the first draft and am, as of today, commenced on a rewrite.”
STEPHEN KING’S IT
He’s producing this two-film adaptation of King’s 1986 novel about a shape-shifting evil that feeds off the fear of children—most often in the form of a bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) is directing and co-writing the first installment.
”We’re going to get the shooting [script] any day from Cary and his writing partner. Our hope is to prep in the next few months and shoot in the summer.”
THE THINGS THEY LEFT BEHIND
He’s writing a TV series based on the Stephen King short story about a World Trade Center worker who evades the 9/11 terror attacks only to find relics from friends and colleagues in his home. The drama, which he’ll produce with Greg Berlanti (Arrow), retains the 9/11 element and expands the story to include other people who died before their time.
”I just finished the first draft. Hopefully we get to make the pilot in the spring. Then hopefully we get ordered to series and get to be on CBS next fall.’
”It has a different cast of characters but acknowledges the events of the first two movies,” says Grahame-Smith, who brought the story to the original film’s exec producer, Steven Spielberg, and its screenwriter, Chris Columbus.
Gremlins must’ve gotten a little too close to sunlight, because this one burned out. ”I think we ran out of steam. Everybody got busy doing other things.”
SPEC 1 and SPEC 2
Grahame-Smith has two original ideas ”that I’m desperate to write,” he says. ”I just need the eight weeks for each one to bang out a draft. One is an old-fashioned heist movie. The other is a very offbeat way into the typical alien-invasion movie.”
”I have two folders on my desktop, which are Spec 1 and Spec 2, with ramblings on ideas, scenes, and pieces of dialogue. I’m slowly cobbling.”