Scream Factor: An Exclusive Interview with Horror Artist Nathan Thomas Milliner

Nathan Thomas Milliner

The Phantom of the Ville sits down with Louisville resident and nationally recognized horror artist, Nathan Thomas Milliner.

Nathan Thomas Milliner

Welcome back my little Halloweenies, it’s The Phantom of the Ville bringing you a very special interview with Louisville native and renowned horror artist Nathan Thomas Milliner. You might recognize Milliner’s horrific handiwork on the covers of many Scream Factory DVDs and Blu-rays, including the remastered “Halloween” series films. You might also have seen his work in HorrorHound Magazine, on the cover of “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy” book or on any number of horror toy packages and comic books. Every town has an Elm Street, but only Louisville has a Nathan Thomas Milliner.

Tell us about your earliest and fondest memories of the Halloween season and when you realized you loved everything creepy and eerie?

Before I was a horror movie fanboy, I was a fan of all things Halloween. We even named our daughter Lily Autumn because it’s our favorite season.  My first night trick-or-treating came in 1980 when I was 4 years old, and I remember the thrill of heading out into the crisp, chilly night and walking through those Louisville suburban neighborhoods after dark. Later, in my twenties, I would do my own yard haunt on Halloween night, usually dressed as Michael Myers.

I recall going to my first haunted house when I was in Cub Scouts.  It was at the firehouse in PRP on Greenwood Road.  I was scared to death and begged not to go.  I told my troop leader I felt sick, and  sure enough, when I got outside I barfed in the parking lot. My favorite haunt was always Nightmare Forest at Otter Creek.    There was something unique about being outside in the woods. One year I helped out with developing characters and story-lines for the Culbertson Mansion haunt.

Nathan Thomas Milliner

Some of your most immediately recognized artwork is on the Blu-ray covers you’ve done for Scream Factory? How did you start doing retro style covers of all of those horror classics and what is your favorite cover to date?

That started when I did an ad for HorrorHound Weekend in 2011.  The show was putting on an 80’s slasher deal and they had the killers from Halloween, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Terror Train, The Funhouse, The Prowler and more.  So I did this piece that had all of them on it and was all over the magazine and website for months.  I think that was what got Cliff MacMillan interested in me.  Cliff worked for Shout Factory and he pitched a sister branch of Shout called Scream Factory which would give 80’s horror films the love they never got.  This included brand new art, brand new extra features and tender loving care.  Cliff wrote me and asked if I would be interested in doing the cover for Terror Train.  It was a dream come true because after the early 1990’s, no one was hiring illustrators to do movie art anymore. After negotiating with them they returned and asked if I would be interested in doing Halloween 2 and 3 as well.  My jaw dropped! Then they asked if I would want to do Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse as well.

So that was how I became Scream Factory’s debut artist, doing the cover art for their first four releases.  I would end up doing twenty covers for them over the next few years with titles including The Howling, Day of the Dead, Shocker, Dolls, Sleepaway Camp 1-3, The Burning and Matinee.  The job changed my career and suddenly I was doing Blu-ray covers all over the world. One company in Germany, NSM Records, hired me to do the covers for Halloween 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and Resurrection. Picking my favorite cover is difficult.  I really like the Howling and Shocker covers but I always say Halloween 2 because that was the first one I did and it’s one of my favorite films.

You worked for years as an artist for HorrorHound Magazine. Tell us about some of your favorite experiences working for this hit horror rag and what were your favorite assignments?

I have been lucky to work with everyone from Scream Factory to Fright Rags, NECA, Cavity Colors and Trick or Treat Studios, but it all started with HorrorHound Magazine for me. In 2006 I walked into a Borders and picked up the second issue of a new magazine called HorrorHound and fell in love with it. I wrote the editor-in-chief, a guy named Nathan Hanneman, and expressed my appreciation for his magazine. He told me the third issue was holding a Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 art contest, which I entered and won. Then one day he thought of me for a Creepshow cover and suddenly the other editors and writers were asking for me to do art for their articles.  My first issue as a staff artist was, I think, issue #14.  My first cover for them was issue #17. It was a Phantasm piece with the Tall Man coming out of the drive-in movie screen. That cover made me in the horror community.

Where can you get a Nathan Thomas Milliner horror t-shirt? How many have you done?

I’ve done quite a few.  I’ve done tees for Fright Rags, Cavity Colors, Rotten Cotton and Atomic Cotton.  These are usually limited runs so most are probably not available now but I do stuff for Fright Rags almost every month so usually they have something of mine on their website at any given time.

I understand you have a black place in your heart for Freddy Krueger. This love has manifested itself in several major projects. Can you tell us about that?

Freddy was where my love for horror began really. In the late 80’s, Freddy Krueger was popping up everywhere;  in Dokken videos and on Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff records, so I was intrigued.  It was 1988, and I was 12 years old when The Dream Warriors premiered on cable. I recorded it and fell in love. That year I bought a book called The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion written by the guy who did the novelizations of the films, Jeffrey Cooper.  In the book, Cooper had written a prequel called “The Life and Death of Freddy Krueger“. In the “Freddy’s Nightmares” TV series they gave us glimpses of it, and in 1991 they gave us Freddy’s backstory, but it was very disappointing. People had forgotten who the original Freddy was before the campy jokes, the skateboard and the power glove. So in 2012 I wrote a short film script that would capture everything I wanted in the prequel called “The Confession of Fred Krueger“, which was inspired by the HBO special “The Iceman Confessions” where mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski was interviewed about his crimes.  The film was set the night Freddy was arrested and questioned about the murders in Springwood.

The project didn’t get serious until 2014 while I was working on a horror anthology being shot in Owensboro with group of talented filmmakers to whom I pitched the script, mostly because one  of them was a young actor named Kevin Roach who was literally born to play the part of Fred Krueger.  We shot the film in June and July, finishing in August just in time to premiere it at HorrorHound Weekend. Sadly, the premiere of Confession came two weeks after Wes Craven passed away. As a result of the film’s success, I got to paint the cover for the “Never Sleep Again” coffee table book.  This beautiful, 250 page coffee table book is the definitive account of the making of the original Elm Street film, written by Thommy Hutson who also wrote the  four hour documentary of the same name. I also got to do the packaging art for NECA’s throwback Mego-style 10 inch clothed figure of Freddy Krueger from Freddy’s Revenge  as well as many tees and other Elm Street pieces. I will be doing the cover art for Mick Strawn’s behind-the-scenes book on the making of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

I would imagine you’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of your horror heroes in your line of work. What’s your favorite “fanboy” moment?

When I started doing conventions, I made a list of my Top Three guys to meet:  Robert Englund, John Carpenter and Wes Craven.  I met John Carpenter in 2011 here in LouisvilleRobert Englund used to only do Flashback Weekend in this part of the country and I got tired of waiting for him to come to Kentucky or Indiana so in 2010 I said screw it, I’m driving to Chicago and meeting this man! When I finally got through the line, I showed him several Elm Street pieces of art I had done over the years for Horrorhound and he seemed really impressed. Afterwards, my wife and I began to walk back to the vendor room and suddenly this wave of emotion came over me. After twenty-two years of being a huge Freddy fan, I had finally met my hero and I started to break down. That’s never happened to me since. Sadly, Wes passed away before I got a chance to meet him, but I was told he loved my cover for the Never Sleep Again book and he tweeted that he really liked my art for the Blu-ray release of Shocker.  So there’s that.

Nathan Thomas Milliner

I became good friends with Dick Warlock who played Michael in Halloween 2.  After I did the Blu-ray covers, I approached him at HHW and he shook my hand and said, “You made me an icon man!”  I said no, he was already an icon long before I did those covers with him on them. A few years later I asked Dick and his lovely wife Cat to write the introduction to my art book that celebrated all things Halloween called “The 13 Faces of Halloween“.

What are you currently working on and what can fans look forward to seeing in months ahead?

I have been working on a comic book prequel to a film called “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon“. It’s a six-issue series and I am currently drawing book number five.  The first three books are out now and I recently did a signing at Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles with the cast and crew. I’m also finishing up a fan film called “Star Wars: Hand of the Empire” that I wrote and directed here in Louisville with some great folks for Norton Children’s Hospital. I am also in pre-production on my first feature film since 2012, a Southern Gothic Horror film that I like to refer to as a “Kentucky fairy tale” called “On a Dark and Bloody Ground“. I hope to be shooting it this fall.

The Phantom of The Ville

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