By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Last year, Amazon Prime Video investigated frightful stories from history in LORE, based on Aaron Mahnke’s popular podcast. Debuting this Friday, the second season promises to be even scarier, and we got exclusive words from executive producer/showrunner Sean Crouch about what to expect.
Crouch, a veteran of series including NUMB3RS, DOMINION and THE EXORCIST, is part of a LORE producing team that also includes THE WALKING DEAD’s Gale Anne Hurd. For the second go-round, the team delved into such well-known cases as graverobbers Burke and Hare (featuring HELLRAISER star Doug Bradley, who discusses the episode here) and “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory, as well as lesser-known horrors like Germany’s Hinterkaifeck murders, the Prague Clock, occultist/scientist Jack Parsons and Mary Webster, a woman persecuted for witchcraft 11 years before the events in Salem, Massachusetts.
What new direction are you taking LORE in this season?
Well, season one was very much like taking the podcast and putting it on TV. It worked very well, but I think they wanted to go for more horror and character in season two. So I came in and pitched that I wanted to take in more of a TWILIGHT ZONE/BLACK MIRROR direction, lose a lot of the informational aspect and try to tell, with a bigger budget—thank you, Amazon!—a series of 30, 40, 50-minute, simple stories on an epic scale. For example, the Elizabeth Bathory episode is really just the last 24 hours of a young girl’s life—Bathory’s last victim. That’s how we tried to break down this season: What is the simple character story that we can tell where you hopefully fall in love with these people, and when they get killed, you get sad. We shot in Prague, so it looks beautiful and the production value is great.
When it came to making these stories less informational, did that play into the decision to cover subjects like Bathory and Burke and Hare, which viewers might already be familiar with?
Exactly. We actually did a mix of that; we did four subjects covered on the podcast, so I’m hoping that with those, if people want more information, they can go to the podcast and listen to Aaron tell them about what was happening with the economics of Transylvania during that time. All of that is interesting information, but in a 35-minute piece, we wanted to get at the emotion of it all. And then there were two originals, including the one I wrote about Jack Parsons, a famous rocket scientist who studied under Aleister Crowley, the occultist. Being married to a witch myself and having an engineering degree, it was a perfect fit for me. I wanted to explore that mix of science and magic, and that’s one where hopefully, people will go read up about Jack Parsons and realize, “Oh my God, we went to the moon partly because of this man who believed in summoning the devil.”
The other one that’s not from the podcast is about the Prague Clock. I’m a huge horror fan, and we got Doug Bradley from HELLRAISER to be in the Burke and Hare episode, and the Prague Clock one is my man-vs.-machine story, my HELLRAISER—if you fix this clock, you’ll be cursed, just like if you solve the puzzlebox you’ll be cursed to meet the Cenobites. Basically, in all six episodes, we’re borrowing different pieces of different movies [laughs].
How did you choose the subjects for the show from among the many podcasts?
Well, the first week in the writers’ room is really fun; that’s when you can dream of anything you want. Aaron Mahnke flew into LA for that week, and helped us go through the stories. He had 80 podcasts at that time; now he’s got 110, I think. Every writer brought 10 ideas to the table—seven podcasts and three new ones—and we went over them all. In some cases, they were great stories but we couldn’t tell them on a simple scale. We got down to 15, and then Gale Anne Hurd came in and knocked that down to 12, and then we gave those 12 to Amazon and they chose the six they wanted to make.
Can you talk about how the writer and director selection process worked?
There was one new writer I had never met before, Ashley Miller, who wrote X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and THOR. But the rest of them—Alyssa Clark, Carlos Foglia, Ashley Halloran—were all people who had worked with me on THE EXORCIST and DOMINION. I like to have a team, and basically they’re my family who travel with me from show to show. Hopefully they’ll stay with me forever, or they’ll get sick of me [laughs]. As for the directors, I went after two great genre talents: Alice Troughton, who did DOCTOR WHO and IN THE FLESH, a zombie TV show for the BBC, who’s an amazing female director in the genre world. And then Christoph Schrewe came from MR. ROBOT and FALLING WATER; he’s someone Gale knew, so she picked him out. They each did three episodes, alternating them, and we have a cool, different look for each. We did six mini-movies, basically, in six different types of horror.
Alice directed our Bathory episode, which was written by Ashley Halloran, our youngest writer. It was her first writing job; she was an assistant before. So what I really love about that one is, it’s about the worst female serial killer of all time, and we have a female writer, a female director and three female actors in it; no man ever speaks in the whole thing. It’s awesome how they put all this kick-ass feminine energy into that episode.
Did you ever consider bringing in directors from the feature-film world, and also other horror stars besides Bradley?
Absolutely, for sure. If there’s a season three, I’m hoping I can go after some of the lesser-known actors, like Jonathan Tierston from SLEEPAWAY CAMP. That’s one of my very favorite movies, and I think he’s an underrated part of it, so he’s somebody I would love to bring in. I would love to cast Tony Todd; I would love for every episode to have one of these horror heroes of mine. And there are horror directors I’d love to have, like Ti West, who I brought in on EXORCIST. People like that, I’m always looking to get, and hopefully if there’s a season three, we’ll do more of that.
There are so many horror shows out there now; is it difficult to compete?
You know, it was with EXORCIST, and that’s why we didn’t get a season three. You know, we probably shouldn’t have gotten a season two, but the fans were so huge and so active that Fox brought it back. But I think there’s room for a lot of horror, so I guess we’ll see how we do. As a fan, I love that there’s more and more horror coming out, and hopefully now there’ll be those 13-year-old kids like me who grew up watching horror, like ALIEN and ALIENS, and they’ll want to see more. I believe we’re seeing that; STRANGER THINGS has opened the door for all these 6th, 7th, 8th-graders who love that show. I teach a 5th-grade class, and I was surprised that every girl in that class had watched STRANGER THINGS and loved it.
Do you think the fact that it’s based on real-life cases gives LORE a leg up on other horror series?
I don’t know about a leg up, but it definitely says, “Oh, maybe I should watch this.” Like the Hinterkaifeck murders in 1922 Germany; that wasn’t even 100 years ago, and these six people got butchered like Michael Myers took them out, though I hate to say it like that because these were real people, and they never caught the killer. That’s the third element of horror of our show: We have all the different genres, we have the splatter, but then when it’s over, and you’re at the refrigerator looking for a snack, you realize, “Shit, all of this that I just saw, in some fashion, happened. Those six people did die for real.” That’s what scares me the most, ultimately.
Do you have a dream LORE podcast that you’d really like to do on the series?
Yes, I love the H.H. Holmes podcast—the Devil in the White City, the serial killer with the hotel in 1890s Chicago. I believe AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL used H.H. Holmes as the inspiration for one of their characters and the hotel, but I’d love to really tell that story. And then there was another female serial killer named Belle Gunness, which is another one I would love to do. Those were both up on our board last year, but since we were doing Elizabeth Bathory, we figured we had our female serial killer at that point!