Steve Niles talks "Wake the Dead" Film

Variety announced on Sunday that Steve Niles's "Wake the Dead" will be adapted for the screen by Holding Pictures. A modern twist on the classic Frankenstein story, "Wake the Dead" tells the tale of a college student called Victor whose goal is to reverse death.

Illustrated by Chee and published by IDW in 2004, "Wake the Dead" will be the second of Niles's comics to reach theatres following 2007's successful "30 Days of Night." The film will be produced by Charlie Lyons ("The Guardian," "Firewall") and directed by Jay Russell ("Ladder 49," "Tuck Everlasting") from a screenplay by James V. Hart ("Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Contact").

To learn more about "Wake the Dead" and the new film, CBR News spoke with Niles about his latest Hollywood horror story.

"Wake the Dead" is heavily inspired by Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." Tell us about this influence on your story and approach.

Steve Niles: At its most basic level, it's "Frankenstein" from memory. What triggered the idea was, I was watching one of these teen comedies that people put out that were just Shakespeare. And they're basically sneaking Shakespeare right under these kids' noses, and they love it, because they don't go in under the pretense of "this is a great classic" -- they present it pretty much as Shakespeare presented it in his day.

So that gave me the idea to do that with "Frankenstein," because every time people try to do "Frankenstein," they do it as a period piece. And I would like to see a movie someday that is an actual adaptation of the novel, because that has yet to be done, but I was more interested in seeing if we could make an interesting Frankenstein movie such that today's audiences would be into it -- or, as it was originally, a comic book that would appeal to people. And it worked. You know, it doesn't have all the beats of "Frankenstein," but it's something that is soaked so thoroughly into our consciousness, in everything from Frankenstein to Frankenberry, it's a character everybody knows. But not many people really know the story, so I wanted to do that.

And then the second big motivation is that I watched the original "Frankenstein," when Victor Frankenstein falls off the windmill and he's rescued, he's all treated like -- and wait a second, he's the one who did all this! He's the bad guy, not the monster! The poor monster didn't ask to be in this situation. So it's very much from the angle of, the guy who decided to mess with life is the villain, not the innocent monster.

How did this movie deal come about? "Wake the Dead" was originally with Dimension.

Niles: Originally, it was bought as a package deal by Dimension with another book I had done called "Hide." Basically, nothing happened. Bob Weinstein was a big fan of it, and he and I sort of did our best to get it going, and it fell victim to the split [between Disney and Miramax/Dimension]. Unfortunately, it just wasn't up there with their priorities, like Quentin Tarantino and those guys, you know. So it just fell by the wayside, and they were really cool about it and we got our rights back.

All through this, I'd been talking to Jay Russell. I met Jay about three years ago, I think, and we immediately started talking about projects. This was one he really focused on. I'm really attracted to opposites teaming up--not that Jay and I are opposites, but certainly on the surface that's what you'd think. I mean, here's the director of "Water Horse: Legends of the Deep," which is one of the hottest kids' movies right now. And he did "My Dog Skip," which obviously was a big success. I just loved the idea of him taking on this story as his first horror, because everybody's got a littler horror in them, and I'm really curious to see. Watching his movies, you can see in the suspenseful moments of "Water Horse" he teeters on some good horror moments. I'm excited about the possibilities.

James Hart is writing the "Wake the Dead" movie.

Niles: Yeah! An old school writer--this is the guy who wrote "Bram Stoker's Dracula," so he's really interested in taking on another classic, especially doing a sort of modern take on it.

And we have [Peter Jackson's SFX studio] Weta involved, who're very excited about working on it. I can't think of a better place for a modern Frankenstein. Because in my mind, they still haven't outdone Jack Pierce. Jack Pierce's original Frankenstein designs, people have basically been riffing on his ideas ever since. So that's another thing we're going to be really looking at: what would a man made up of dead body parts really look like, and how would you do it? It's going to get a little visceral, but I think it will be pretty fun.

How involved in the film do you expect to be?

Niles: In this one, I'm taking a producer role so I can be involved throughout. Honestly, all I want to is to be a cheerleader and I want to be there for anything they need.

What can you tell us about producer Charlie Lyons?

We have one really great asset here, and that's Holding Pictures and Charlie Lyons. He's making this whole thing possible for me and Jay and Jim to go off and make the movie we want to make. And believe me, in this town, that's no small feat. It's like I said, it's taken me years. I used to announce everything as soon as it happened, now you're lucky if I announce it when it does happen. So many things can change, and this is one that we've been steadily working on, and pretty much Jay just said, "I'm gonna make this movie." And when the article came out in Variety, he wrote me, "I told you so!"

We know it's a bit early for casting....

Niles: Yeah, it is really early. You know, it's funny, when I originally wrote it -- you remember the weird kid in "American Beauty" [Wes Bentley]? I always pictured him as Victor. But this is the kind of thing I leave to the professionals. Because with me it's always just guessing, and "30 Days of Night" showed me that the most obvious casting choices aren't always the best. I would have never, ever in a million years picked Danny Huston as a vampire and he came through as a great new villain. So I'll leave that to Jay, and if he asks my opinion I'll be happy to give it.

Have you any other comic book films in production, or that you're shopping around?

Niles: "Freaks of the Heartland" is always one we're working on trying to get made, "Criminal Macabre" is out there, has been running around in the system for a little while and we might be announcing a breakthrough relatively soon on that one. The best thing right now, I actually have an episode of "Fear Itself" coming up, the new NBC show. I adapted a script by Paul Kane, and Darren Bousman of "Saw" fame directed it, and Darren wrote me yesterday to tell me it will be airing July 17.

So lots of entertainment stuff happening. And lots of comic book stuff happening. There are a few new titles coming out from IDW that they'll be announcing real soon, including a book I'm doing with Kyle Hotz and a series with Ashley Wood. The thing that I'm really focusing on right now is "Batman: Gotham After Midnight" with Kelley Jones. The first issue hit the stands last week, and -- I don't read reviews, but the reaction I'm getting that I can see, people seem to be digging it, so I'm happy.

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