First and foremost, it should be noted that writer/producer/ director Adam Green is a film fan. It’s evident in his feature films. It’s evident in his short films. It’s readily apparent when you talk to him. His speech is touched by a slight Boston accent and his verbiage is punctuated with words such as “like” and “y’know,” but one thing is clear – the man knows film.
Bursting onto the genre scene in 2006 with Hatchet, he created a film that is a referential (and reverential) homage to the slasher and “hillbilly maniac” films of the late Seventies and early Eighties. In 2007 came Spiral, a quieter, more subdued film about a reclusive telemarketer who fixates on a coworker. After several years spent making mostly shorts, his unique tale of three friends trapped on a ski lift for a weekend entitled Frozen brought him onto center stage and made him a reputation as someone who could deliver a solid film even if given a complicated premise.
Last year, with the release of an unrated sequel to Hatchet, he found himself at the center of a media circus. After AMC Theaters agreed to release the film unrated in certain markets, it was immediately pulled after its opening for “not performing financially” according to a press release AMC issued. Those who attended the packed showings knew the statement was untrue. Anyone with media savvy could tell it was a CYA move by AMC to avoid the ire of an increasingly conservative marketplace. Unfortunately, the move left Green with a popular film that no one was able to see.
Thankfully, all that is about to change as Dark Sky Films releases Hatchet II onto DVD and Blu-ray on February 1, 2011. Dread Central spoke at length with Adam Green in a two-part exclusive interview in which we talked about the making of the film, critics (both on paper and online), and his history of storytelling.
Dread Central: Tell me, when you were growing up, what directors and films were made you say, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.”
Adam Green: ET was above and beyond… and still is my favorite movie of all time. Steven Spielberg is an absolute god. I’ve seen that movie theatrically twenty-two times. It’s absolutely the most perfect movie. This summer, I did a screening of HATCHET in London the night before the world premiere of HATCHET II and the theater was like, “What other movie do you want play with it?” I picked ET. [laughs] They were so confused. All these fans showed up with the black makeup and nail polish and so many of them did not know ET. Talking with them before the movie started, they said, “This doesn’t really look that scary.” I was like, “It’s not! [laughs] But you’ve gotta watch it!” By the end of it, there was all that mascara running down their faces and they’re all crying. It was pretty awesome. That was the biggest one.
And then, THE GOONIES was one of the first movies where I really noticed what screenwriting is because it was the first time that kids onscreen spoke like I did. I really, really paid attention to what it means to write dialog because of that movie which, again, has always been one of my favorites. Everybody my age will always cite the original STAR WARS Trilogy as this usually inspiring thing that makes you realize that anything is possible. Those were the toys that I always played with. That was my first directing because even playing with my STAR WARS toys with my other friends, they’d start doing something with Chewbacca that doesn’t make sense and I’d be like, “Wait, he wouldn’t do that! This is what you need to do.” It was very annoying for my friends because they couldn’t just play, but that was really where it started.
DC: So you were that guy… “Wait, this isn’t canon!”
AG: Yep… I was totally that guy. Just the way I would look at them when I played with them, I was always looking at camera angles as if it were a movie. Then, it would be John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. It’s funny, the Blu Ray for HATCHET has a quote on it that says, “the Holy Grail of slasher films.” It should say like, “except for HALLOWEEN.” [laughs] When they showed me they were going to put that on there, I was like, “Look, this is a good quote and I understand it, but HALLOWEEN is the Holy Grail of slasher films.” That movie is still absolutely perfect and didn’t need all the gore and FX or comedy or any of that stuff where the slasher genre has gone. HATCHET’s certainly guilty of it. That movie is just truly frightening and so perfect. Then… John Landis’ AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON which… that and FRIGHT NIGHT were my two biggest inspirations when I was writing HATCHET because they were movies that took a beaten-to-death, tired genre, but then injected it with massively entertaining characters and comedy and still delivered on all of the other stuff, the gore and the stuff you knew you were going to get, but you also got something more. It wasn’t justy like a “B” movie. It was a good movie.
DC: It makes sense especially when you consider the American Werewolf in London thing you and Joe Lynch did for Frightfest. It was so spot-on. It was obviously made by people who knew and loved the original movie and had seen it a lot of times. [laughs]
AG: [laughs] Yeah… Too many times.
DC: Speaking of those films, tell me about ArieScope which is the company that made them.
AG: ArieScope basically started very innocently in ’98. Will Barratt, my Director of Photography and I were working together making these really, really, really terrible local cable commercials in Boston. We borrowed this equipment and made this short film called COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND which was like Jason and Michael Myers talking at a campsite and falling in love with each other. It wasn’t even supposed to be a short film. We were never going to do anything with it. We just made it to show at a Halloween party we were both going to. We thought it would funny to say, “Hey, guys… watch this.” In doing it, we were trying to make the opening credits look just like FRIDAY THE 13TH and we needed something that said what the production company was.
So, we came up with the name “ArieScope” because we were both Aries and it just sounded right. We just used it. When we made the next thing, the name stuck there and now, twelve or thirteen years later, we’re an actual bonafide Hollywood production company. It’s pretty crazy. We’ve been one of the most active production companies for the past five or six years now. I mean, we’ve put out six theatrical movies in four years. It’s also a little bit of a fraternity though. Everybody’s always trying to get a job or work with us. Really at the core of it is myself, Will, and Cory Neal who’s a producer and we have a whole team of people that have been with us since the very first thing and that’s really who we work with. So, it’s a dream-case scenario in the fact that I get to go to work every day, be with just my best friends and family and really love everybody I work with and keep it the way we want to do it. Not many people get to do that. I’m very lucky to have it.
DC: Is Joe Lynch a part of that?
AG: No. Lynch isn’t part of ArieScope. We met… probably back before HATCHET came out. He had just done WRONG TURN 2, so we were always asked to go to a lot of the same stuff. This one party in particular we were both at, I’m kind of like holding court in my section of the party and everybody’s laughing and I’m doing my standup thing. Across the party, I see another group of people all circled around this other guy who’s making everybody laugh and I’m like, “Who the fuck is THAT guy?” So, the next party I saw him at, I think, “I’m going to sit next to this guy and [laughs] see what the fuck the big deal is.” He was thinking the same thing. And by the end of the screening we were both at, we were inseparable from that point on. He’s one of the directors involved with CHILLERAMA. Aside from THE ROAD TO FRIGHTFEST, we have a couple of other things that we talk about doing together. One of them we might actually be able to announce pretty soon, so we’ll see, but… Joe’s just a great guy and definitely one of my closest friends.
DC: I covered the making of Wrong Turn 2 in Vancouver and met him there. It was pretty obvious that, not only does the guy know and love film, he was a hoot to hang out with. So… how did the Frightfest shorts come about? Was that just a promotional thing you’d agreed to do together?
AG: It really was just a gift. HATCHET premiered at Tribeca. Frightfest was the next festival that we did. It was my first time ever leaving the country and going somewhere else. That was really the first time I feel like the movie played for its real audience because at Tribeca, there were so many critics and journalists and, as much as they liked it, they’re not like die-hard horror fans. To go to a five day movie festival where, from ten in the morning to two in the morning, the same people sit in the same seat and watch movie after movie for five days and they come from all over the world. When HATCHET screened there, it was like this uproarious sound that reverberated around the world.
All of a sudden, everybody was hearing about it and asking to program it. So, I really felt like Frightfest was the place that really kicked it off for me. For Joe, the next year, he had WRONG TURN 2 there and it was sort of the same thing. One of the years, we were saying as a joke, “Why don’t we make a short promo for Frightfest and we won’t tell anybody and we’ll have them just show it there?” That’s really all it was going to be. When we were doing the TWILIGHT ZONE thing, we thought, “We really could do one for every night since this is really easy. We’re just sitting in the car. We’ll just come up with different things to talk about and get different endings.” We basically shot all of them in a night. When they played, they quickly became, not only popular there, but online other people started watching even though they didn’t know what half the jokes meant. It’s very “inside” jokey for Frightfest.
The next year, we did AMERICAN WEREWOLF and this year, we did BLAIR WITCH. The status on those now, like we said before, we showed the BLAIR WITCH ones and with that we were done. We were just going to call it a trilogy and that’ll be it because they’re really, really hard to do, especially like last year when I had FROZEN and HATCHET II in production and CHILLERAMA and other things. [laughs] Just trying to come up with the time to make five short films was definitely starting to become a little bit more of a job than just a fun thing to do, so… We said we were done with it, but we’ll see if we can actually stay away. [laughs]
DC: It’s interesting… The chemistry you two have is infectious. You can tell that you guys genuinely like one another. I mean, just in the Halloween short you put up last year, Just Take One.
AG: This year’s Halloween short was really tough because we were coming off of JACKCHOP the year before, which there was no way to top that unless we did another JACKCHOP which is what everybody was asking us to do, but… The whole point of the Halloween shorts has always been to always to something different and just see what we come up with in one night without a budget and just do it. We’ve done them for twelve years now. That was tough because we knew whatever we did, nobody was going to think it was as successful as JACKCHOP because it’s not going to get 1.5 million hits or whatever JACKCHOP ended up getting.
So, we just did something that was sort of an observatory thing on a Halloween tradition. I always hated the “honor bowl.” I was like, “Are you serious? You can’t just open the door? You have to leave this out here?” we’ve been approached about a TV thing together. It’s funny that these shorts were just really made for fun and for us. So many other festivals started have approached us and ask, “Would you guys do that for our festival? How much do you want to do that?” And we’re just like, “It’s not about money. It’s not why we’re doing it. Sorry, but… No.” Not that we have anything against the other festivals, it’s just that you can’t do that. It wouldn’t be special for Frightfest.
DC: I also imagine it’s a time management thing.
AG: Right. One of my goals for this year is to slightly get better with that because I’m going to be dead in two years if I don’t slow down.
DC: I’m curious about your scriptwriting process. Is it literally like, “OK… I need an idea!” or do you have the idea and that blossoms into a fully realized script?
AG: I’ve never written anything until I already knew exactly the whole story. The only stuff that I actually outline and do story treatments and stuff for are the studio assignments that I do. You have to do that because there are forty people who have to give their input so every word is right. With other stuff, normally, I already know exactly what it is. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. So, when I sit to write, the first draft usually happens pretty quickly. FROZEN took a while because I was in production on GRACE when I was writing it, so I could only write a little bit here and there. HATCHET was written in three days. Well, the first draft of it, anyway. It changed drastically after that. HATCHET II was written in a week and then changed a little bit. The thing with HATCHET II was there were five years of thinking about it, of discussing what the kills were, of what the story was, and I cast it before I wrote it. I already knew who I was writing the parts for which definitely made it a very unique process from the normal thing. It was a sequel. It was already so spelled out. You can get that first draft out pretty quickly.
Hatchet II – Blu-ray and DVD Trailer
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DC: Is dialog or conceptual stuff your strong suit?
AG: I don’t really know. I think when I’m dead and gone, if somebody wants to try to make that decision… I think FROZEN was a really smart idea of painting yourself into a corner. Not only a “what would you do?” story, but a story you’re going to try to keep thrilling and compelling when you have three characters that can’t move. That one was maybe more conceptual, but I think the HATCHET movies, aside from Victor Crowley and the kills, at the root of it, there’s still an age-old formula that other movies were doing forever before we did it. One of the last interviews I did was talking about how the first one was visionary and I had to stop him and say, “It’s really not. [laughs] It’s anything but visionary.” I think it was visionary to try to do something like that now in the way that we did it, but it’s definitely not a visionary film. [laughs]
DC: I’m a little older, but I hang out with a lot of genre journalists and a lot of them are younger and some of them lack that sense of history. The idea of “there was a lot of shit going on in the ’70s and ’80s like this,” you know what I mean? So, they either don’t do their homework or they just aren’t aware.
AG: Which is part of the joy of getting into something whether it’s forced or… It’s like horror movies. When you first get that bug, all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait a minute! There’s all these decades of this that I haven’t seen yet or knew about?” You’re just constantly trying to see everything that you can so you can know about it. Eventually somebody will reference a movie and you think, “How have I not ever heard of that? How have I not seen that?” and you go running to find it. That’s part of the joy of it. It’s too bad that more people don’t do that. The online journalism thing is an interesting thing. For me, it’s been amazing because I think that most of them have been so supportive and enthusiastic and when you don’t have commercials and marketing and all of the other stuff that these other movies get… it’s really it.
To have had so many people become fans of the stuff and then you get to meet them in real life at these conventions, you just realize that they’re like the other friends you have… you’ve just never met these people before. But, at the same time, the whole internet thing… so much of it is used for negativity. It’s like, “Wow, I can anonymously talk shit and complain and not be accountable for it at all? I’m just going to go on a tirade!” You’ll see people who just stalk an actor EVERY DAY. They’re posting stuff about them. It’s like, “Don’t you have ANYTHING else to do?” Especially if it’s something you don’t like. Why would you want to dedicate your life to something like that?
DC: Especially now, connectivity via things like Twitter and Facebook is so prevalent. I mean, look at a guy like Kevin Smith who is so out there and available. He takes a lot of shit because of that, but he also reaps a lot of reward.
AG: It’s good and it’s bad because on one hand, you have a direct line of communication with the people that want to talk to you and it’s great, but for me personally, I just recently had to scale way, way back on that because it was getting a little frightening. Kevin Smith is a much bigger name than I am and he has this terrific following of fans. I don’t know how he is possibly able to do it. It was physically impossible for me to keep up with trying to write back to everybody. I was spending my entire life doing that. I would get up at like five in the morning and, for three hours, try to dig out of Facebook. There used to be a way to email me directly on the ArieScope site, and now, we’ve changed it to a mailing address like the old way, like you send a letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope and you get a letter back. That cut us down by 90% because when you had to actually go through the effort of mailing something… Now, suddenly it wasn’t that important.
The other problem that I found with it is that only a certain percentage used that for what it’s for which is being able to say something to somebody you’re a fan of. The rest of them all think that they’re actually networking and that they’re going to be working with you. One of the other things that really started to burn me is people would always send me their short films and be like, “I’m curious to know what you think.” So, of course, you try to write back something positive to everybody. You try to find something in there that you can say was good. Then, the next thing you know… that’s all over the fucking Internet and they’re using you to promote their thing. Then, you have to go after them and say, “Dude… whoa. Don’t do that.” Now, you’re a dick because you’re basically saying you didn’t like something. One of my favorites recently was a guy who said, “I need you to read this eight hundred page manuscript I wrote because I need somebody to check it for typos before I send it to publishers.” And they’re dead serious. And you have to say, “No. man… I can’t do that” and they’re like, “Oh, how quickly you forget what it’s like to be starting. I thought you were cool.” You can’t win.
DC: Let alone the idea that it opens you up for lawsuits.
AG: The lawsuit thing… It is so frustrating, because anybody can sue anybody even if you don’t have a leg to stand on. What they’re hoping is that you’ll settle out of court. Right now, I could sue you for sexual harassment and I’m never going to win that, but you now have to pay to go to court and fight this or give me what I’m asking for to avoid that. If what I’m asking for is less, it’s just extortion. I know so many directors who have to deal with that almost on a monthly basis. People just come out of the woodwork.
I’m suing you. You stole my idea because I sent you an email two years ago that said that I had an idea about a guy who kills people and you stole it.” So, I never read anything. On the site, it says specifically that if you send anything, it is destroyed. It is not read. You have to do all of these things to protect yourself. Everyone thinks, “Well, I’m not going to sue you. I’m not that guy. You can read mine.” Not to mention that it takes a long time to read a script. I don’t have that kind of time. I have a stack of scripts that have actual offers on them where I have to give answers of whether I’ll do them or not. Now, I’m supposed to read five hundred other things. You can’t do it. The thing I try to say is, “Look at my story and look at how I did this. I didn’t get here by doing that, so don’t insult me by thinking that you’re going to write to somebody on Facebook and get a career.”
DC: Tell me about how Hatchet came about. Was it a love of the old genre films from the grindhouse era and was there a sequel planned all along?
AG: I came up with Victor Crowley when I was eight in summer camp. I used to draw pictures of him and I had the whole back-story done which people will see in HATCHET II. I always knew I wanted to make that movie. It was twenty-two years before I actually got to make it which was what made HATCHET being my first movie so special for me. When we did it, I had to withhold certain information because I couldn’t fit it all in it necessarily. So, we already knew that the sequel was going to start right where the first one ended and what we were going to hold back of Victor Crowley’s mythology. Mary Beth in HATCHET told a very abbreviated sort of campfire tale of who this guy is and that he was out in the swamp and he’s going to get you, but we never say exactly who he is or where he came from or why he’s that way, and most importantly we never explain exactly what he is. That way, when we did the sequel, we really have a much bigger story and much more to give people so that it’s not just the same exact thing over and over again. There’s much more substance in the sequel than there was in the first one.
DC: Was it always planned that Hatchet II was going to be released unrated or was that a reaction to complications with Hatchet and the MPAA?
AG: That was never really the plan. I mean, when we agreed that we were going to do it, I was under the impression – and we were all making it under the impression – that it was going to be just a video release because the first one was on like eighty screens with no marketing and really didn’t do that much business in theaters, but then blew up really big on video. What I had gone through the first time was so heartbreaking with the ratings board giving HATCHET an NC-17 and then having to sit there and keep cutting all the good shit out of the movie. Then, coming off of a year and half of awards and festivals and people finally get to see it and a lot of the good shit isn’t in there anymore… The important thing to stress is that these cuts weren’t like, “shorten this” or “cut away from that” or “show a little less blood.” These were massive cuts to the movie. It was extremely unfair, but I learned the hard way that’s how the system works. If you are a big enough movie with a big enough studio and enough money, you can do whatever the fuck you want and get whatever rating you want, but when you’re an independent movie, they crush you every single time.
With HATCHET II, I was like, “All right… Let’s make the movie we want to make and not worry about that. Let’s just do it.” So, we do the movie and when Dark Sky first saw it, they said, “This really needs to be in theaters. This is a theatrical release.” And we were like, “Shit!” I told them right then, “This is never going to get through!” Their response was, “Are you kidding? This isn’t half as bad as some of the films out there.” I said, “It doesn’t matter. Unless you guys have some deep fuckin’ pockets, this is not going to get through.” Sure enough… we got an NC-17. We tried to make some concessions. We cut a minute of gore out of the movie. That’s not a minute of expositions shots and stuff like that. That was a minute actual FX which is already right there – heartbreaking, but I understood. “OK, look… if this is what we have to do, then that’s what we’ll do.” Then they came back and not only gave us the NC-17 again, but they were very specific about what was going to need to go and it was the whole fucking movie. We looked at Dark Sky and said, “What do we want to do here?” They said, “Give us a bit to think about it.” They came back at me with, “Look… We talked to AMC Theaters and they have this new program called AMC Independent. They’re down to put this out unrated.
Whoever the person was there that reviewed it is a fan. They loved it and they totally don’t see the problem with doing this. We’re going to make history because nobody’s done this in a quarter of a century. This is going to be great!” It was really exciting. It was like, “Wow! This is so different from my first experience.” And then… the shitstorm fucking came and it was like a public assassination and crucifixion. The movie got pulled within its first few hours in most theaters and then we hear the bullshit excuse of “it wasn’t performing financially.” It was going to do fine! We’re never going to know what it could have really done, because it didn’t even play like it was supposed to. That was awful. Being thrust onto the front page of CNN and The Huffington Post… all this stuff over a movie that I made for fans that was supposed to be like the victory lap and fun for all of us. It was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. On the positive side, the industry was so supportive of it. The amount of emails and phone calls from other directors and studio execs that said, “Keep fighting! Everybody respects what you’re doing” and “You know you’re going to lose, but good for you!” Everybody knows that there’s something wrong with that system, but most of these directors would follow that up with, “Look, I’d be standing there with you, but I’ve got a movie coming out, so I’m not getting started with these people.”
So, it wasn’t a planned thing. It was just standing up for myself and pushing back at a giant that was going to crush me. For me, it was like, “Crush me, but I’m going to go down swinging.” That’s really what happened. The only thing that’s really been frustrating about it though was… When it happened and the movie got pulled, my legal team, my managers, my agents… everybody was like, “You need to just shut up now. It speaks for itself. Anybody with a brain can see what just happened. Let everybody else – the critics, the other people – duke it out. Let them debate this and let them go after the MPAA.” They never commented on it or AMC who only released that one sentence that said it wasn’t performing financially which was clearly bullshit. That was hard because then I had to sit back and watch people debate and have people passionately try to say that it was all a publicity stunt. That really hurt. I just got fuckin’ castrated in front of everybody and, even if you don’t like the movies, at least admit that something wasn’t right here. Don’t use that to try and take an even cheaper shot. That was really hard to watch.
DC: Admittedly, there is a lot of gore in Hatchet II… it’s part of its charm. Was that done to the level it was because you wanted to show it or was it done as more of homage to the past?
AG: That was really just doing what we wanted to do. The first one was definitely gory, but… The big thing with these HATCHET movies is the tone and that’s what people really need to look at. There’s nothing sick and depraved that’s going to disturb people. They’re not going to walk out of it like they did with MARTYRS, all shook up and saying,“Oh, my god! What the fuck did I just see?” It’s not people raping infants. It’s not people eating each other’s shit. It’s just silly, ridiculous, “it couldn’t really happen” gore and that’s what the audience likes about it. So, to try and put the movie out with all of that taken out…
There is now an “R” rated version of HATCHET II that took us six months to get to that we had to do for Redbox because Redbox is a big supplier of movies that the distributor needs and they will not carry unrated movies no matter what. After people see the unrated one, they should really take the time to rent the “R” rated one and see the differences I’m talking about. For example, the chainsaw scene… He comes out with the chainsaw, he swings it under him and it cuts to the next scene. It doesn’t chop him in half. Chad getting hit in the face thirty times with the hatchet, now he gets hit three times. They’re changing the tone of the movie. They’re changing everything about it. So, it’s not a simple, “Shit, I wanted this shot in there and now I’m going to fight for it.” It was a massacre what they were doing to it. The movie is not half as gory as PIRANHA. It’s not half as serious as THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake or some of these torture movies. It’s appalling that they would be so hard on it.
DC: Do you think they went into it gunning for it? I know Romero had that kind of situation with his Dead films. He goes into a screening and the board says, “Oh, it’s a George Romero film!” and immediately start getting out their red pens.
AG: Well, that’s definitely what happened with this, because I was very vocal about what I went through the first time. They tell you in so many words, ‘Don’t speak about us or what we do or you’ll be sorry.’ Most directors abide by that. I was very vocal about it when HATCHET II was coming out. But the cool thing though is… I get lit on fire in public and six weeks later, Harvey Weinstein starts suing them for what they were doing to BLUE VALENTINE. And then, there was this whole shitstorm that went after him. I’m not going to take all the credit that I necessarily started it, but all of a sudden, “Oh, well… Maybe this guy was right.” They’ve had the worst year ever of people going after them and I agree.
There should be a board for standard and practices. You should know what you’re going to see, but this NC-17 thing makes no sense because all it is is saying, “You can’t have the same chance that these other movies can have” and it’s so arbitrary how they make the decisions. So, it needs to be much more clear cut and then everybody needs to abide by whatever that is. It should be like the judicial system. There needs to be a book that they point to and says, “If you do this, then this is the consequence. If you do this, then you get this rating.” But it’s not like that.
To be continued tomorrow in Part 2!
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