While Netflix’s Locke & Key showrunners Carlton Cuse and Meredith Averill aren’t borne from horror royalty, unlike series creator Joe Hill, who is the son of horror maestro Stephen King, the duo have had decades of TV series production between them, and know a little about producing hit shows in the horror genre.
Cuse previously worked on Bates Motel – a horror TV series loosely based on the true story of serial killer Ed Gein, who had a traumatic and difficult teenagerhood. Averill, on the other hand, worked on one of Netflix’s most grossing horror series, The Haunting of Hill House, which centred around a grieving family that lived in a *gasp* haunted house.
So given their pedigree, there were a few things they knew they wanted to retain from the original horror fantasy comic book series by Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez – the comic’s iconic imagery as defined by Rodriguez.
“What Joe and Gabe did in the comic is really original. Even though we’ve remixed it, it still brings forth all these elements that were part of the reason I fell in love with this comic in 2008,” said Cuse in an interview with Geek Culture. “The house is really based on his design of the house, the keys are based on his design.”
“He does such a great job at finding a tone in his drawing that is kind of between horror and fantasy that feels substantial and believable, that has mystery and this really cool quality to it. It (the comics) was really helpful when you’re dealing with a production team and you have something tangible you can show them. We might change a little bit here and there, but [the artworks] was really foundational to the whole series.”
It is without a doubt that these two individuals make the perfect partnership for a show like Locke & Key, which has had a troubled production since day one. The adaptation of the popular comic book horror fantasy has jumped across different platforms, formats and studios in the last decade, where is previously landed at 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios and at streaming service Hulu, where a pilot episode was even produced but ultimately scrapped, before landing on Netflix.
Both the comic book and show focuses on the Locke family – Nina Locke and her kids Tyler, Kinsey and Bode – and dabbles on topics such as grief, family and wacky things that don’t just exist within one’s head. The show starts off with the murder of their father before they move into Key House, where they discover a number of secret keys that opens doors to other worlds and dimensions ala The Chronicles of Narnia.
Whilst stars Darby Stanchfield and Connor Jessup spoke to us about how their characters don’t exactly stick too close to the source material, there were other elements that needed to stay true to the source material, including the iconic Head Key. The process posed multiple challenges for Cuse and Averill, but it also became one of the favourite parts of the comics to recreate in the series.
“The head key in the comics, can open up the top of someone’s head and look inside. It has incredible visual imagery that felt extreme and very hard to pull off. So we had to imagine how we were going to translate the head key to television and do it in a way that we could afford to do on the sort of budget and schedule that we have for television. Figuring out how to do them given our resources and maintaining that sort of tonal consistency that Meredith and I were going for the show – I think that was a challenge,” explained Cuse.
“You know, for all of the challenges that it’s presented, in terms of trying to translate [the head key] into film, it was also creatively exciting. In our adaptation of it, when the key goes into the back of someone’s neck, a literal door appears and you can actually walk inside your own brain. We got to have a lot of really creative discussions about, ‘Okay, well, if we went inside Kinsey’s brain, what would that actually look like?’, and using the foundation of their personalities to kind of build these really fantastic, surreal world that visually was one of the most memorable scenes in our season,” added Averill.
Apart from its unique marriage of fantasy and horror, Locke & Key is also known for the diverse characters they feature, some who might not appear in this season but the duo have season 2 mapped out.
“Yes, certainly there are other gay characters that are in our show – as you have mentioned, Duncan. We’re so lucky to get to tell stories in the second season as well. We love the idea of meeting his partner Brian. And certainly, in our teen world, we’ve populated it with a lot of diversity in our characters, as well as LGBT characters,” said Averill.
Cuse then revealed more information about the upcoming Season 2.
“Meredith and I are working with the writers right now with Season Two being picked up. It’s been a really good experience because it again has elements of comics but there’s a lot of inventive stuff that really shows how great the world is where we’ve been able to sort of take the stories that were in the comic and expand upon them and just go off in other directions,’ Cuse shared.
“We’ve done this with the blessing of Joe Hill and it’s exciting. It’s a little too early to say how long the show can last but I think we’ll have a better idea by the time we finish season two, but as of right now it’s a very rich and very thrilling storytelling process,” revealed Cuse.
Another exciting thing that the showrunners decided to impart into the series was a combination of old and distinctive ways of storytelling. The two wanted to bring back traditional tv storytelling by introducing key characters and elements in the pilot and took on a uniquely non-linear structure in telling the story.
“Part of that had to do with the lessons learned and some of the prior development. One of the things, for example, the Savini Squad is a teenage story – that was something that as Meredith and I were working with the writers on the show, we were like, ‘Oh, this can be a big part of the show. Let’s not wait for three episodes to introduce these characters. Let’s set this up right in the pilot, let’s dive in.’” shared Cuse.
“We really were very conscious of trying to put our foot on the accelerator pedal and really make sure that the pilot included all of these different elements that were going to be a part of the show so that it was representative of the series that we wanted to make.”
“We employ flashbacks to inform our present story and to have surprising reveals about our character. It’s one way I always like to tell stories, a non-linear kind of fashion. So that was always an exciting way for me to tell stories and something we brought over that I love,” said Averill.
“No pun intended but we wanted to lock you guys down,” laughed Averill.
“That was the key,” chimed Cuse.
And locking us in was exactly what they did because we are obsessed with Locke & Key.
Locke & Key airs on Netflix on 7 February 2020.