Joe Hill, who's won numerous awards for his horror novels and stories, is long past the fear of living in father Stephen King's shadow, which had prompted him to submit his first books under a pseudonym. But with Horns, the first movie adapted from one of his novels, Hill's treading on new turf — one it took his father a long time to find his footing on.
Despite the early success of Carrie and The Shining — a movie that, despite its masterpiece status, the elder King hated for the way it played fast and loose with his text — Stephen King adaptations in the 1980s were plentiful and often junk: For every Stand by Me, there was a Maximum Overdrive and Children of the Corn. Hill, working with director Alexandre Aja, has managed the first time out to whip up an adaptation that's both faithful to the spirit of his novel and stands on its own.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig, a young small-town man who has spent a year living under the suspicions that he murdered his girlfriend (Juno Temple). One morning, he wakes to discover that his pounding headache is due to the horns that have begun to sprout from his forehead. Stranger still, no one seems to notice them, although the people around him do acquire the habit of telling him their darkest feelings, which range from comically intense to genuinely disturbing. As Ig searches for the killer, he finds all manner of secrets he never meant to uncover, and has to face the fact that a man with horns like the devil's may be the nicest guy in town.Before the movies made out of his books started getting nominated for Oscars, your father had a rough track record with adaptations. This is the first time one of your novels has been adapted for the screen. What were your concerns going in?
My theory on this was that I had already done my version of the story, and it would probably be healthiest and most freeing for Alexandre Aja if I gave him the room to do his version. They got a great scriptwriter, Keith Bunin, and when I talked to Keith and I talked to Alex, I talked about the two ways that adaptations can be terrible. They can be terrible when they go off and do a movie that has nothing to do with the source material, if which case you have to ask why they bothered to pay the money to adapt the book at all. The other way they can fail is if you try to stay so faithful that you end up with something that's dead on the screen.
I encouraged them to find a happy middle, and for Alex to feel free to make a movie — to do his version of the story. I was moderately hands-on with the screenplay; I talked to Keith a lot, we had lots of great arguments. I visited the set a few times, and I was a cheerleader while they were filming, but I didn't have much to do with that stage of things. I wanted to stay out from underfoot. And then again in the editing process, there was a really healthy back and forth where I made some suggestions and offered what ideas I had and tried not to mess anything up, because it seemed like they had something that was really energetic and powerful in its own right.Did you talk to your father about the adaptation process, or learn anything from his long road to getting the movies to turn out well?
There's this thing about novels where every time you sit down to write one, you have to figure out how to write a novel all over again. It's like nothing you learned from the last novel can be carried over to the next one. That's not really true, but sometimes it feels true. I feel like that's also true of movies. All these people come together to make a movie happen, and each one of them is like a different rung in a ladder. Any one faulty rung in a ladder can lead to a total disaster. On the other hand, sometimes those rungs can really energize each other, and you get something marvelous. Certainly my dad has had some great, great adaptations, and I think that's because he discovered some really great people to work with who've done really faithful, exciting work, like Frank Darabont and Rob Reiner.