‘The Core': Mickey Keating On Crafting His Gory Talk Show For Horror Hounds
Prevailing wisdom might suggest that the golden age of the talk show is over, and with Johnny Carson, Leno and Letterman all off the scene, it can feel as though there’s little freshness left in the format. That is, unless you count The Core, Shudder’s new talk show for horror obsessives. Hosted by genre wunderkind Mickey Keating (Darling, Carnage Park), The Core breaks down the talk show format to its elemental level, throws in plenty of questions tailor-made for horror hounds and aspiring filmmakers and most importantly, adds a healthy dose of gore to the proceedings.
The first season, which drops weekly on Shudder, features guests like Flying Lotus, American Psycho’s Mary Harron, The Soska Sisters, Simon Barrett and more, along with plenty of over-the-top gory set pieces to punch up each episode. Keating serves as host extraordinaire, as game to get into the psychology of horror with Harron as he is to subject himself to over-the-tope, gonzo gore. Just after the first episode dropped, I had a chance to chat with Keating about the origin of the project, how he chooses the guests for the show, his favorite set piece, what he learned from working on the first season, the guests he’s dying to have on the show (Edgar Wright!) and more.
I gotta start by asking how this just came together because it is so beyond unique, as a concept.
MICKEY KEATING: I met, just through a general meeting from my manager, Bridger [Nielsen] and Ben [Blank] – Bridger’s the director and Ben created the show over at Uproxx. And the real desire was just to make a talk show unlike anything anyone’s ever seen and have it be genre-based, talk to directors, talk to people who are behind all this movie magic, and really just kind of have fun with it. So the genesis of the idea was like doing something like Charlie Rose with a lot more blood and gore. From there, it was built and created very organically from the get-go. The goal was to make something that, if you’re not a big horror fan, you can still love the show, but if you love horror or you’re an aspiring filmmaker, the dream is that if I was 13 or 14 and this show was on, I’d be thrilled, I’d be ecstatic. I’d be watching every weekend. We just try to make something that the kids would love.
And how did you go from the talk show format to this almost anarchic, violent framework for the series?
KEATING: I think the origin conversation was, what if you bring a filmmaker on a show and it is a talk show, but halfway through the interview, they start picking at their arm and then pull their arm off. And that was kind of the jumping off point. And what Ben and Bridge and I kind of talked about from the very beginning is we wanna make something that celebrates all ethics. We wanna bring rock and roll on, we wanna talk to famous rock and rollers. We have Danzig on for one episode, and his episode is insane. So it was kind of that thing, “What are other talk shows, whether they’re on YouTube, on actual television, what are they missing?” And there is that kind of possibility of everything be able to happen and anything being able to go kind of awry. And fortunately Shudder has been really great about it, there hasn’t been an idea that’s too gory, there hasn’t been an idea that’s too ridiculous, we’ve done pretty much everything. If we get to keep going next season, with any luck we’ll be able to have bigger set pieces, more blood and gore, I’m gunning for a Temple of Doom kind of set piece. So we’ll see.
I get a hard Fangoria vibe from this, was that at all part of the conception process?
KEATING: Yeah! Absolutely. We have an amazing producer on the show, Gabe Roth, and he and his brother Eli made Cabin Fever and Hostel, all those kind of films. So the influence of the Fangoria generation really kind of shines through. So hopefully fans of Fangoria magazine who haven’t seen something like that in a long time, will come to the show and it will be a natural kind of bridge in terms of that. Because we cover all of that, conversations with the filmmakers, movie magic, special effects, different movies to talk about, so it’s really a one stop shop for everything like that.
How did you go about choosing the talent for this?
KEATING: Well, we’re very very lucky and we have so many cool guests. The goal first and foremost was to bring people on who are really original voices and strong filmmakers, who have something to say and something that’s really interesting. So we had Steve Ellison, people know him as Flying Lotus, his movie is incredible, there’s really never been anything like it. So it’s really awesome to talk to people and get inside their head about something like that. And we have Mary Harron, who directed American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page, and so we kind of range across the board. We have Leigh Whannell who made Saw and Insidious, so with any luck we’re really hitting the significant filmmakers in the genre space. I’m very much a total fanboy nerd when Elijah Wood and Spectrevision are talking about how they made their movies because I think their movies are very important. So I’m just as lucky as everyone else getting to watch.
How does the fact that you’re a filmmaker and a fan inform your interview process?
KEATING: I just want to know and learn and find out about what has to go into making other people’s movies. I personally know how difficult and kind of traumatic it is to make any single film. So what is so great is being able to examine and feel kind of that hope and optimism that it’s always difficult to make a movie and just hear the war stories in that regard. But I kind of approach this as a host, as first and foremost as a fan of these movies, even before a filmmaker. So going back to if I was 14 years and wanted to know everything about Leigh Whannell I’d just ask it. [Laughs] And we typically do, so the runtimes on the show vary, some are closer to a half hour, some of them are forty, forty plus minutes. So, until they cut me off I’ll just ask as many questions as possible.
If we’re looking at this series as a kind of learning process, what’s the biggest thing you learned this season?
KEATING: I think the thing that I’ve learned is that getting covered head-to-toe in blood and having all these fake prosthetics all over you is terrible. [Laughs] And I realized that I’ve gotten my comeuppance as a horror director because every single actor I’ve subjected to all the sticky, fake blood and guts, I’m getting that back tenfold. There’s one episode where I’m suspended in a basement. I was hoisted up in a harness, and I have real kind of piano wires around my wrists. I was up there for like four hours and the stunt guy was like, “That’s a long time to be in a harness.” That’s just the job of the host, that’s the occupational hazard. But it’s really great.
Are you gonna have to go easier on your actors now?
KEATING: I don’t think it will ever deter me from covering my actors in blood. In fact, now my argument is: “I did it, so…” And getting prosthetics for – there’s one episode where sulphuric acid falls on my face and my face melts, and that process of getting that on was a nightmare. So I feel like now I can just show any actor a picture of me doing it and say, “Look, I’m right there with ya.” We’re kindred spirits in the blood and guts department.
If you could dream up a wishlist of The Core guests, who’d be first on that list?
KEATING: Oh, god there are so many. And hopefully people dig the show so we can get more people on. A lot of directors, Quentin Tarantino, I’d love to talk to Sofia Coppola, I’d love to talk to Eli Roth, I hope that he comes on. We’d love to bring my old boss Jason Blum on, the opportunities are endless and that’s the great thing about it. Every single episode is customized and built around the guest. So whatever the guest wants to do, that’s what we’ll be able to do. So hopefully people love the first season, and we can just keep bringing on bigger and bigger, incredible and different guests.
Do you have a favorite set piece this season?
KEATING: They all were pretty great. We have an episode this season with Simon Barrett where I interview him while playing Russian Roulette with blenders. [Laughs] So our hands are in blenders, and so, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but somebody’s hand gets liquified, somebody gets covered head-to-foot in blood, someone’s iPhone in real life got ruined because all of the blood got up in it. So, that was a fun day because that was one of those moments where you’re like, “This is absolutely insane.” To have someone who is such a significant screenwriter and answer these questions with their hand in a blender, there’s never been anything like it before.
Darling was one of my favorite movies of the year in 2015, so I have to ask about what you’ve got next theatrically. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve got a new movie coming out that might be even more avant-garde than this?
KEATING: Yeah! Psychopaths comes out in theaters December 1st and then on VOD January 1st – and if you’re a fan of Darling, it’s definitely more in that vein as opposed to Carnage Park. Any idea I have from one film to another is very different, it’s very psychedelic, it is avant-garde, it’s more about the experience and going on this crazy roller coaster with the characters than it is a point a to b narrative. And that’s what’s exciting and so kind of interesting. My goal was to make something where every psychopath, you could dress up like them for Halloween. [Laughs] I’m proud of everyone’s performance, Ashley Bell, Angela Trimbur, they are larger than life in the film. We’re very excited to see it roll out and hear what people think. It’s great because if you love The Core, and you hate Psychopaths, that’s okay, if you hate The Core and love Psychopaths, that’s great too. I just want to be able to make things that people, across the board everyone can find something to like hopefully.
Obviously you work really quickly to be able to tackle so many projects in such a short amount of time. Do you have something else in the works that you can tell me about?
KEATING: After The Core wraps, it’s kind of the bottom of a mountain trying to get a movie made, so after The Core wraps, I’ve been developing a feature with Frank Langella that I’m really gunning to do next as my follow-up film. So we’ll see, as soon as we wrap I’m flying out to New York to hang out with Frank. [Laughs] So we’ll see.
Before I go, it’s been an awesome year for horror – do you have a favorite genre pic you saw this year?
KEATING: I did love It, I thought It was super fun. It Comes At Night, that got a little bit of a thrashing, but I thought it was really original. I thought Kuso was really good. In terms of broad genre, my favorite movie of the year was Baby Driver, that’s one of those movies that you watch and you think, “I can do better,” there’s even more detail you can think about to make a movie. I loved that movie, and Edgar Wright, if you’re hearing this please come on The Core. [Laughs]
Wow, a hard cosign on getting Edgar Wright on the show.
KEATING: Together we’ll get him on. [Laughs]
The Core drops exclusively on Shudder on Thursdays and streams any time. Psychopaths hits theaters December 1st.