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An Interview with Joe R. Lansdale, Writer/Producer of Christmas with the Dead

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2011

Films written by Joe R. Lansdale on (re)Search my Trash


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You have only recently executive-produced the movie Christmas of the Dead, a film based on your own story. In a few words, what is the film about?


The film is about a man who has survived the zombie apocalypse and has lost his wife and daughter, and just wants to have a normal life. Even if it includes keeping his zombie-dead wife in the wash room with a chain around her neck. He decides he wants to celebrate his wifeís favorite holiday, Christmas, in mid-June, which means the lights and ornaments need to go up. Itís not so much about decorations as a guy who wants the world to seem normal, even if it canít really be that way again. Problem is, the zombies are out there, and he has to work his daily routine of going to the radio station where he used to work, and the gathering of Christmas decorations, without being eaten by the monsters. Turns out, thereís worse things than zombies out there.


What were your main inspirations when writing the story?


I really am pretty fed up with zombie stories, to tell the truth. Iíve written four or five, and a novel, Dead in the West, that deals with them, so I wanted to go back more to the original inspirations for these stories, I am Legend, the novel by Matheson, and the first film, Last Man on Earth. Also, the original Night of the Living Dead, and my own sometimes humorous approach to these things. I was looking for something that was old and new again, on a low budget.


My son Keith [Keith Lansdale interview - click here], who wrote the screenplay, had the same idea, and he attacked it that way. His script is original, but reminiscent in tone to that sort of thing. It was also shot in a seventies style manner, like a lot of movies my friend, and the director, Terrill Lee Lankford grew up and admired. I think as a producer, I was thinking along the lines of sixties Roger Corman model of producing [Roger Corman bio - click here]. It was really a kind of love fest to the time when people made low budget films for the love of it, and for the money. As for the money part, that remains to be seen.


Your personal take on the zombie genre as such?


Tired of it. But Iíll still go see a good or unique zombie film. Or write a story that I think had a different edge. I have a couple coming out Iím fond of. They sort of take for granted that the dead have taken over, and in time will die out from rot, or from lack of having anything to eat. If the living can keep out of their way, the living will win through attrition. Even the living dead rot and fall apart.


Have you ever envisioned Christmas of the Dead to one day become a movie (at least more so than some of your other stories), and how did the movie project come into being?


No. I wrote it for a hardback/chapbook for P.S. Publishing. In the meantime, I was speaking with Bill Arscott of the Stephen F. Austin film department. I teach screenwriting and short story writing at the same university, and this grew out of a co-operative effort between pros and students and the film department. It was an uneasy marriage at times, but we got through all right. Weíre waiting to see how the baby turned out.


A few words about Christmas of the Dead's director Terrill Lee Lankford [Terrill Lee Lankford interview - click here], and what was you collaboration like?


It was hot. It was well over a hundred degrees, and everyone suffered, but Lee was one of those who suffered a lot, being from California. I had to keep warning him about the heat. But he was a trooper and got it done, and brought his own ideas to the film. I think he did a great job, especially under those heated circumstances. Even people from here were miserable. Lee has been a friend for many years, and I was glad we had this opportunity


As far as I know, Damian Maffei was handpicked for the lead of Christmas of the Dead by you [Damian Maffei interview - click here]. What can you tell us about him, and what made you figure he was right for the part?


I saw him a little bit part, and thought, man, this is a guy I want to work with. There were others in the play, By Bizarre Hands, I would love to work with too. Thatís where I saw them, in a production of the play in New York. It was called A Night of Joe R. Lansdale and it was great fun. I wish I had had room to afford all the people in the play for parts in the film. Iím actually trying to figure a way to work with all of them again. But the thing was, I saw Damian as a leading man in the old Brando, Dean sort of school. He came through big time. He was very good.


Christmas of the Dead was shot in June, in the Texan heat - to echo what many people must have asked: Why would you shoot a Christmas film in June?


I guess I explained that in an earlier question, but simply: He was making his own Christmas when he wanted to. In a dark, twisted kind of way, the movie is about keeping the Christmas spirit all year long. Weíd love for people to toss it in the DVD player come Christmas, watch the zombies while they tear away at Christmas dinner. We could also start a new holiday, Christmas In June.


Let's go back all the way to the beginning of your career: What got you into writing in the first place?


Comics. I read them and wanted to write them. My mother made sure I had them and she encouraged my desire to write. The desire grew from comics to books and stories, and then back to comics again. I also was heavily influenced by movies, especially low budget stuff when I was young. Those are the main reasons. I started writing very early on. Earliest writings I know I did were written when I was nine, but I played with the idea long before that by drawing terrible looking comics and writing the captions. I think I sold a few of them for a penny or something to relatives.


Though you have written in many genres, you've become best known for your work in horror. Does this at all bother you?


It only bothers me when that label is attached because itís not accurate except with a horror story, same for a crime story, a western story. I love them all and donít really sweat the labels, but writer is a better label, and as for genre, the Lansdale genre is the best label.


How would you describe your writing style?


It varies, but I think at the heart it has a story tellerís beat about it, and most of the time an East Texas flavor. You can dance to it.


You have also written quite a few comicbooks and graphic novels. Now how did that come into being, some of your favourite characters you have worked on, and how does writing for comicbooks differ from writing prose?


I got a call from DC Comics. The editor there knew of me through others, and by this time I had written a lot of fiction, including a Batman short story or two, and a Batman novel, and a Batman Young Adult. I think they figured I could do it. My first comic was Blood and Shadows, though I think Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo came out first. Probably the most famous of the comics Iíve written, and the one that added a supernatural air to the series.


Even before Christmas of the Dead, quite a few of your stories have been turned into movies, starting with the short The Job in 1997. What can you tell us about those movies?


The Job and Drive In Date were both filmed. The Job was filmed around Texas City, if I remember correctly, and I may not. I was there for a day with my son Keith. We have walk-on parts in the background. Drive In Date was like a play, and was in fact taken from a play I wrote that has been performed, a one act that takes place in a car seat. Itís the darkest thing I think Iíve written. Hell, the film and the play bother even me.


My favorite thing of mine filmed is Don Coscarelliís film, Bubba Ho-Tep. He treated the story fairly and was very good to me. Bruce and Ossie were wonderful. Everyone was good. I love it.

He also did an excellent job on his episode of Masters of Horror for Showtime. My story Incident on and off a Mountain Road became the opening story for that series, and it was very good.


Any upcoming Joe R. Lansdale-adaptations you'd like to talk about?


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Bill Paxton, Brad Wyman and myself are trying to get my novel The Bottoms off the ground and into film. We have a wonderful script from Brent Hanley. Weíll see. Greg Nicotero and I are trying to get The Drive In up and sailing. Again, a wonderful script, this time from Steve Romano. I wrote a script for Savage Season recently. Cold in July has been edging closer over the last few years with its producers. Hereís hoping. All of these are in the hopper. Time will tell.


And since this is a movie site, your favourite movies?


To kill a Mocking Bird, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Casablanca, the original version of The Haunting. So many.


Your website, Facebook, whatever else?


Yes, Iím on Face Book, and Twitter. My website is Come visit.


Anything else you are dying to mention that I have merely forgotten to ask?




Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
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Thanks for watching !!!



On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

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