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Glen Mazzara’s Eight Horror Inspirations for The Walking Dead

In honor of Halloween, Vulture asked TV’s reigning horror maestro Glen Mazzara to discuss the scary touchstones that have bled into his hit zombie drama The Walking Dead. Here are eight of his favorites: 

The Exorcist
“A priest walks down the hall and enters a little girl’s bedroom and sits next to the bed. It’s the scariest movie ever, and yet think about how simple that is. I’m very careful to make sure the mythology in The Walking Dead does not get too complicated. I always want the problems that our characters have to be as simple as possible. For example, in the second episode this season: We discovered some prisoners, and the question was what to do with them. ‘You give us half the food; we get you to the cell block.’ It’s not overly complicated, but hopefully it was as frightening as possible.”

The X Files
“I consider The X Files — and this might be a crazy statement, but I’m going to go on record — the most influential TV show of the past twenty years. When people sit down to think about creating new TV shows, The X Files comes up more than any other show, in my experience. Two well-defined characters, a procedural element, an open-ended mythology. It really brought horror into the modern age, where you had what we try to have: scary settings and a very sophisticated production level.”

American Werewolf in London
“My first real horror experience. I was 14 and a real geek. Someone asked my friend and I to go to the movies once on a Friday night and we were like, ‘Oh! I guess people go out to the movies.’ We didn’t even know that because we were too busy at home watching TV. They wanted to see American Werewolf in London, and I remember saying, ‘Well, it’s an R movie. My mom won’t let me see an R movie,’ and they were like, ‘Well, you don’t tell your mom, and you sneak in.’ We were real rubes, and I was a good Catholic boy. But we snuck in, and it just terrified me, and I was screaming in the middle of the film, ‘I have to call my mother! I have to get picked up. I can’t watch this. This is so scary.’ We had to take the bus home, and the bus let us off in this alley near a funeral home. It was a terrifying night but fun. That’s really what started it for me, that journey through the moors and finally to the end of that alley.”

The Twilight Zone
“What Rod Serling did here was genius, and again, it’s very simple. Most of the situations in The Twilight Zone have to do with some sort of violation of an accepted law. So you wake up and something is not making sense — what do you do? In The Walking Dead, it’s the same thing. The violation is the dead don’t stay dead, and it poses a problem for all of our characters.”

Frankenstein
“I have a Masters in English from NYU, and I read a lot of romantic literature and romantic poetry that then went into Gothic literature. This is a book I read every couple of years, and the novel by Mary Shelley is very different from the classic film. It’s a very sophisticated story, considered the first science fiction, using science to make the fantastical plausible. There’s a leap, but it feels real. That’s something we definitely draw upon. The Walking Dead is not a show that has magic, nor does it violate its rules once they’re established. This book set the bar.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Once I decided to become a TV writer, I was a big fan of Buffy in its first few years. Buffy was an incredibly fun series; it was hip, it was well done. I wrote a spec Buffy script during the first season, and as I started studying it, I realized I had a story in my spec script that captured the horror elements, but I didn’t have any of the personal story lines. What I eventually figured out was that Buffy was really a high-school drama and that Joss Whedon was drawing on his own life. He wasn’t just making a statement about some larger social issue the way The Twlight Zone did or using some horror trope of the week the way The X Files did. They were personal elements and stories infused with horror, and that was very interesting to me. In the second episode of [this season’s] Walking Dead, when Maggie says good-bye to Hershel, that is the exact conversation I had when I said good-bye to my mom earlier this year. Putting in personal elements makes it feel more grounded and real and heartbreaking. That is Joss’s influence on me.”

Alien
“You can see this one pretty clearly in The Walking Dead, specifically in the way that we designed those dark corridors of the prison, which we call ‘the tombs.’ The spaceship in Alien, the Nostromo, was a direct influence on that. It was something we had in mind.”

Apocalypse Now
“Sometimes it’s considered horror, sometimes it’s not, but it’s my favorite movie of all time. A journey upriver into Kurtz’s camp, a very simple crossing of physical space to go into the heart of darkness. That’s scary. It’s the same thing in the show: simple people, everyday people, going into the dark. When you’re a child, what’s scarier than the darkness? It’s not about blood and gore or, like in torture porn, a type of sadism. That’s not what I see horror as. The horror stories I like are modern-day fairy tales really, and fairy tales are really about going into that dark forest.