In his short story “Hell Creek,” horror author C. Robert Cargill tackles one of the scariest ideas ever—zombie dinosaurs. The idea came to Cargill after he started wondering about regular extinction events that have occurred throughout Earth’s history.
“I was on a walk, and I was thinking about it, and I was like, ‘What if every 27 million years we have a zombie plague? That would be crazy,’” Cargill says in Episode 438 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I said, ‘You know what I’ve never seen? I’ve never seen a dinosaur zombie apocalypse in fiction, so I’m going to write a zombie dinosaur apocalypse.’”
The story takes a cue from George Romero’s classic 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, in which an object from outer space causes the dead to rise as rampaging monsters. Cargill’s zombie apocalypse begins shortly after a mysterious comet strikes Earth, causing worldwide floods and fires.
“I was like, ‘We need to tell it from the point of view of a dinosaur, and we have to make it an interesting dinosaur that would be fit for fighting zombies,” he says. “And that’s where I was like, ‘Oh, a triceratops!’ A triceratops can gore the zombies, and gore them through the heads, and now we have an interesting concept for a character.”
The title “Hell Creek” is a natural fit for a horror story, but it’s also the name of a real place that contains a large deposit of dinosaur bones. “Hell Creek Park is this swath of land through the Midwest which is where we find so many dinosaurs,” Cargill says. “It’s where a bunch of the dinosaurs that died in the extinction event met their end, and all of the dinosaurs that appear in this story can be found in Hell Creek Park.”
The idea of zombie dinosaurs could easily be played for laughs, but Cargill works hard to make “Hell Creek” a genuine horror story about a sympathetic character in a tense, life-or-death situation.
“One of the things with genre is you’re allowed to be as ridiculous as you want, but there are certain lines that if you cross, it goes from being interesting and ridiculous to just silly,” he says. “So it was a tricky one to write, but it was also a lot of fun, and ultimately I’m super proud of that story.”
Listen to the complete interview with C. Robert Cargill in Episode 438 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
C. Robert Cargill on Sinister:
“There were two companies that were bringing a new model to the table, and the model was, ‘We give you a million dollars if you give us a good idea, and then you get final cut.’ One of those producers was Roy Lee and the other was Jason Blum. So [Scott Derrickson] worked up this idea that he wanted to pitch, and he wanted my professional opinion, and so I gave him some notes, and then I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve had this movie rattling around in my head for a long time. Can I pitch it to you?’ And he was like, ‘All right, everybody pitches me once. Here’s your one time. Pitch it to me.’ And I pitched him Sinister. And he was just like, ‘Holy crap. I want to make that movie.’ He just instantly flipped for it. And a week and a half later we were pitching it in Jason Blum’s office.”
C. Robert Cargill on Clive Barker:
“One of the identifying things with Clive Barker in particular is his relationship with sex in his stories. Cabal is a very sexual story. There’s just a lot of sex and sexual identity in his books, which is part of what makes them interesting. And I wanted to create a monster that fed upon people’s shame. Because that’s one of the things I find really interesting about Barker’s work is that Barker has no shame about who he is. He does not experience that at all. He is proudly who he is, and proudly that in his work. And I thought it would be a neat mirror to write a story about this monster that feeds upon people’s shame about what they did—that it’s not the evil acts themselves that it feeds on, it feeds on people feeling bad about them.”
C. Robert Cargill on his story “The Soul Thief’s Son”:
“I’m fascinated by [Aboriginal culture], and I want to share it with other people. It’s such rich, wonderful folklore, and such an amazing way to look at life. I love the way the Aboriginal culture regards the land and our place in it. … My stuff has been read all over the world, and so I had a bunch of fans and friends I’d developed who were from Australia, and some who were in the television community down there, and I was able to say, ‘Hey, can you track down someone for me who’s an Aboriginal folklore expert? Who can read through this and give me notes and make sure that I’m not misrepresenting anything?’ So I used those connections to get a cursory read on that, to make sure I wasn’t stepping on any toes.”
C. Robert Cargill on Dungeons & Dragons:
“When I was eight years old, [televangelists] did their big thing about Dungeons & Dragons and how it’s of the devil, and it’s how the devil gets your kids, and it’s awful, and I wasn’t allowed to watch the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon anymore. This was my act of rebellion. It is the nerdiest act of rebellion in the history of teenage acts of rebellion, but I started playing D&D heavily. In fact, I built false bottoms on all of my comics boxes to store my D&D books that I would get second-hand from friends. … So I’ve played every iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. I was, for a short period of time, in NPR’s rolodex as a resident Dungeons & Dragons expert. So I’ve actually appeared twice on Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! as a Dungeons & Dragons expert.”