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Writer Michael Laimo Discusses Chiller's Adaptation of His Dead Souls Novel

Writer Michael Laimo Discusses Chiller's Adaptation of His Dead Souls Novel

Dead Souls is definitely the perfect example of a movie in which each member of the audience takes away from it what they personally want based upon their individual worldview. I found it to be a warning against mixing the occult and Christianity together or using dark arts to gain your own desires. However, Writer Michael Laimo looks at it as a cautionary tale for those who embrace religious beliefs at face value without questioning them.

My interview with Laimo reminds me of one of my first writing jobs. I interviewed musicians about their new albums for a Christian rock magazine. Every issue featured an interview with a mainstream rock star about his personal religious beliefs. I don't share Laimo's views on Christianity, but respect where he's coming from and celebrate the fact that he even gives thought to spiritual and supernatural matters.

Give us a brief synopsis of Dead Souls for those that haven't read the book or seen the movie.

Dead Souls tells the story of Johnny Petrie, who just after his 18th birthday, receives a letter in the mail from a lawyer stating he's the sole inheritor of an estate in Maine. Having been raised in New York by his religious fanatic mother (and having been sheltered his whole life), he sees this as an opportunity to get a new lease on life. He travels to Maine, and discovers that he was adopted, and that his biological father was a crazed minister who slaughtered his entire family during a religious/occult ritual. His return has unleashed their souls, who subsequently endeavor to complete the ritual their father started 18 years ago.

I would urge fans of the movie to read the book, as there are many subplots that were never revealed in the film that further explain the stories of both Johnny and his family.

Many of your books deal with the spiritual realm and battles between good and evil. Do you have a specific background in religion? Were you raised within any certain denomination?

I've always found the praise for the fable of Christ's resurrection (and I call it a fable because there's no solid proof of this ever happening) to be rather illogical. On the surface, the Catholic religion worships a zombie, no? For me, there was a wealth of great material that could be born out of this.

As a kid, I was forced to attend church weekly until I was fifteen. Back then I didn't see or feel anything in it, and to this day I still don't. If anything, I feel a bit unnerved in a church, perhaps because I've researched and deeply explored the antithesis of what the church represents, and have found some jarring possibilities amidst it all. This 'dark side' seems to exist everywhere, and can be plucked out of thin air, whereas the opposing goodness seems to exist only within the church and its singular embodiment. That scares me. I've been interviewed by occultists, demonologists, and other paranormal folk, who vehemently believe in this dark side and its existence. Although I'm still not convinced, I do wonder about it. Would I be so willing to attend a black mass? The folks I've spoken to believe that a dark entity would follow me home afterwards. That possibility, in and of itself, despite not being scientifically proven, unnerves me a bit. It seemed natural for me to write fiction in the religious horror vein, as it's the one form of supernatural horror that truly scares me.

It's hard sometimes to take a book and adapt it into a 90-minute movie. Is there anything that didn't make it into the movie you wished did?

Yes, of course. In the book, there are two stories that are told simultaneously, that of Benjamin Conroy (which takes place 18 years in the past), and that of Johnny Petrie, which takes place in the present. The chapters alternate with each story, which allowed me to place many similarities within each story-this enabled me to inexorably connect each story. Despite them taking place during different time periods, readers will discover that each tale is still supernaturally coupled.

When the book was optioned, there were many discussions as to which story we would tell. To convey the in-depth story Dead Souls tells, we would need about 6 hours of film. With only 92 minutes to work with, we had to decide between the two stories. We almost went with Benjamin's story (the tale of Johnny's biological family), but ultimately the decision was made to tell that story as a prologue, and in a series of flashbacks. It definitely worked doing it this way, although many readers really wanted to see some of the scenes in the book that were cut out, such as Elizabeth's scene in the town bar, and Benjamin's confrontation with David Mackey. I would agree that telling this story as a mini-series would have been more satisfying to my readers, but I am truly pleased with the final outcome.

Chiller is adapting another one of your books into a movie. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Deep in the Darkness is next up for Chiller. This book is a fan favorite--published in 2004, it has sold very well for me, and continues to perform well now in digital format. No matter where I go, at conventions or signings, readers will always comment on that book and tell me it would make a killer horror film. It is in fact influenced by the 1970's made-for-TV film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. It is about a Manhattan doctor who leaves the city life behind for a small practice in Ashborough, New Hampshire. What he ultimately discovers is that the entire town is controlled by a race of deformed human/creatures that live in the woodlands surrounding the town. Finding no way to escape the town, Dr. Michael Cayle sees no option but to fight back in order to protect his family.

Unlike Dead Souls, Deep in the Darkness follows the plot of the book very closely. A few small changes were made; since the book is told in in first person POV, we needed an extra character to get some of the inner dialogue out of Michael. But the plot and integrity of the story in the book and the movie are almost identical. Having spent a good deal of time on the set, I can confidently say that fans of the book will be VERY pleased.

I'd like to add that the popularity of Deep in the Darkness has ultimately led me to write a sequel, entitled Return to Darkness, which picks up right where Deep leaves off.

If you met someone who hasn't seen Dead Souls, what would you say to them to convince them to give it a chance over all the other horror movies and supernatural thrillers out there?

I would tell them that most supernatural horror films being made are not based off of novels-they are from the jaded imaginations of studios that rely on tired ideas and unnecessary remakes. Chiller has finally stepped up to the plate and given writers the opportunities they deserve, such as with Steve Niles' Remains and Brian Keene's Ghoul. Now with both Dead Souls and Deep in the Darkness, I can offer new viewers, especially those unfamiliar with my work, an opportunity to view a 'different kind' of horror film, one that will push the limits of made-for-TV. Plus, the first 12 minutes of Dead Souls will give even the most seasoned horror film fan the willies-I guarantee it!

Is there any certain message you were trying to get across to readers or viewers of Dead Souls?

I believe my message really stems from my religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and my confusion on how millions of intelligent people can rely on the supernatural (or a strong belief in an ancient fairy tale) to bring comfort into their lives. Like myself, Benjamin Conroy wanted evidence… and he got it, although through darker channels. Is there a true good out there? And if so, is there evil as well? I myself would like to see proof of either. So… my message is a confession of sorts. If readers or viewers of Dead Souls find a moment to question whether God or his antithesis really exists, then I suppose I did a good job.

Dead Souls is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Learn more about Author Michael Laimo by visiting his official website.