Interview by Laura Prudom for IGN, 12th February 2018
In the Arctic, everyone can hear you scream.
If there’s one network that knows how to do horror, it’s AMC — the home of TV’s (literal) monster hit, The Walking Dead. But horror comes in many forms, and some are a bit more subtle than zombies chewing on your entrails.On March 26, viewers will be introduced to The Terror, a 10-episode series that blends historical fact with chilling fiction. Executive produced by Ridley Scott and based on Dan Simmons’ 2007 book of the same name, the story is based on the real-life expedition overseen by Sir John Franklin, a British Naval Officer who led two ships — the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror — to try and discover a route through the treacherous Northwest Passage in 1845. After the two ships became trapped in the ice, they — and the 129 crew members aboard — were never seen again, until 2014, when the wreckage of the Erebus was discovered off the coast of King William Island, with the Terror discovered two years later.
What happened to the crew has been the subject of intense speculation for many years (evidence tells us that there was at least some cannibalism), but Simmons’ interpretation combines human arrogance and the punishing arctic conditions with a more supernatural foe, locking the sailors in a desperate fight for survival in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
Executive producers Soo Hugh and David Kajganich explain that while they consider The Terror a horror series, it’s a very different animal than The Walking Dead.
“I would call it a horror show, but not necessarily a monster show,” Kajganich tells IGN. “Because the monster is just one of the dozen terrors that the title could refer to … Mostly it’s allegorical to us. It is a way of talking about how hubris can put you at odds with a culture — how sailing into a place, thinking you can claim it as your own, can’t possibly not end in tears for someone.”
“And the fact that this is based on a true story as well,” Hugh agrees. “The Walking Dead, because of the fictional premise of zombies, there’s some way to, not necessarily hide, but there’s a distancing factor. The very notion that this expedition did in fact happen, these 129 men did disappear in the Arctic… Regardless of whether or not there was a monster, that itself is the horror that we really wanted to focus in on, just that true life experience.”
While the early episodes of the season focus more on building the tension and establishing the complicated dynamics between these men, the violence is unsettling precisely because it’s unexpected, and often driven by character. As in so many good horror stories, the cruelties that men inflict on each other can be the most terrifying.
“We know this expedition had bursts of violence, and we know this expedition ended in cannibalism. And those things don’t just happen one day gently,” Kajganich points out. “The violence that’s in the show and the gore that is in the show either comes from a great love of certain kinds of horror traditions that we wanted to honor — but also comes from us wanting to get a group of people that seem completely reasonable at the beginning of the show to the point, in the back episodes of the show, where we believe that they have decided to eat one another.”
“We really get into our characters’ heads,” Hugh agrees. “Our violence … even when it’s surprising, it should always feel inevitable in the sense that the audiences can put themselves in that situation. None of it should ever feel incomprehensible in terms of motivation. We really wanted our violence to be earned, meaning, ‘I may not have liked that moment, or that moment may have been bloody, but I understood that moment. It never felt capricious.'”
But while a group of men trapped in the Arctic being stalked by an unknown beast may not sound like a laugh riot, the producers promise that it’s not all doom and gloom.
“If people assume the show is going to be quite grim, [I think] that they’ll be surprised,” Kajganich says. “Because these men, most of them, are people who wanted desperately to survive. So they don’t all think they’re in a horror show. Most of these characters think they’re in a survival show and they’re going to make it. So that means that the show is a lot warmer and a lot funnier and a lot stranger and goofier than you might expect these men would have been.”
This interview was originally published by IGN. It has been reposted here for posterity.