Owen Egerton, director of horror movies such as Mercy Black and Blood Fest, is also a talented novelist. In his recent book Hollow, a religious studies professor who is mourning the loss of his son becomes fixated on the idea that the center of the Earth is inhabited by an advanced civilization.

Hollow is the intersection of two obsessions, one being the Book of Job and the other being Hollow Earth Theory,” Egerton says in Episode 444 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Who knew that those two intersected? But I think they were meant to be.”

The idea of a Hollow Earth may sound ridiculous, but the theory was once taken seriously by scientists and politicians, and even today it still has a few diehard adherents. “Almost every book event I did for Hollow, there would be one or two people at the back of the room, and they’d be really excited that I’d written this book, and I think really disappointed when I started saying the Earth is not hollow,” Egerton says.

To get to the bottom of the theory, Egerton even volunteered to sail to the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker as part of an expedition to locate an entrance to the Hollow Earth. (Hollow Earth lore holds that giant holes, known as Symmes Holes, are located at either pole.) Unfortunately the trip never happened, at least as far as he knows.

“It kind of went in and out of being able to happen,” Egerton says. “It was funded, and then it was going to have to be funded by people sending money, and it’s kind of gone up and down. But who knows? We might not be hearing from them for a few years, and then they’ll come out of the South Pole, and the world will have changed.”

While he was writing the book, Egerton viewed the Hollow Earth Theory as a bit of harmless fun, but recent events have made him reconsider that view. “When I was writing about the Hollow Earth, I was celebrating people’s ability to believe what was obviously not true,” he says. “But as the book came to be, and as Donald Trump was elected, I found more and more that those conspiracy theories weren’t so cute, that that power could move in a bunch of different ways—and a dangerous way.”

Listen to the complete interview with Owen Egerton in Episode 444 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Owen Egerton on the Alamo Drafthouse:

“It introduced me to a community of like-minded nitwits, and also that was really my film school. I would stay and watch these bizarre movies, some of them classics of cinema and others drive-in movies that Tim League had purchased. There was a period where Tim League basically heard about a drive-in that was going out of business, and he just bought all their movies. He didn’t know what they were. He drove up to—I think—Oklahoma, drove back, breaking the pickup truck that he had loaded all of these prints into, and basically he said, ‘Once a week, people can come in for free—because I don’t know what these movies are, because they’re not labeled—and we’re just going to watch them, and we’ll figure it out as we go along.’”

Owen Egerton on directing:

“I got a call one day, and it was Jason Blum, and Jason Blum was like, ‘Yes, we want to purchase this script.’ And I said, ‘That’s great. There’s only one thing. Another group is kind of interested in it, and they were going to let me direct.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, you want to direct, huh?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Have you ever done it?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, my first film just played at Fantastic Fest a week ago.’ And he’s like, ‘Send me a link. I’ll watch it during lunch.’ So I did, and I’ve got to tell you, that was not an easy day for me. I was like, ‘What is happening? Jason Blum is watching my film!’ And he called me back later that day and said, ‘We’ll make you a deal. We can find a way for you to direct this. Let’s do it.’”

Owen Egerton on horror:

“I think, often, when the bigger studios get very excited about horror, when they see what a low-budget film can do—that sort of breaks the rules and frightens people by giving them something outside of the lines—all too often a studio sort of swarms in and says, ‘Let’s take that, and we’re going to clean it up, and we’re going to polish all the rough edges, and we’re going to give people something much safer and much more commercialized. And you find that happens again and again, with different franchises, and different horror intellectual properties. But overall I think horror is in a great place. Horror is far from dead. It’s alive and kicking. It’s kicking ass. And I don’t just mean that it’s raking in the money. I mean there are more voices, more diverse points of view coming into these stories, which is just making the buffet all the more delicious.”

Owen Egerton on Hollow:

“The ideas that I think work best for me start with a question, a nagging question. And for me, this question was: What is at the heart of the universe? These horrible things happen, people suffer, and people are lonely, and people are lost to each other, and also there’s such beauty—there are sunrises and babies. Both of these exist at the exact same time, and I was trying to understand, ‘Well, what does that mean? Is there a heart at the center of the universe?’ Which it turns out is the question that the Book of Job asks. … I read different translations—Stephen Mitchell’s translation really affected me, and his essays about it. A lot of different writings and thoughts on it. I just keep coming back to that question: What does it mean that the universe is both so painful and so beautiful?”

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