During my visit to the set of Mortuary, writers Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson took the time to sit down with me and answer questions covering Mortuary, The Toolbox Murders, their past and their future. They also discussed their thoughts on screenwriting in general.
But first, let me set the stage. It’s late in the day, after dinner. In order to find a little peace and quiet on the very busy set, we settle into the chapel room in the old, decrepit mansion. In mortician lingo, this would be called the “slumber room”, complete with pews and an empty (for now) coffin. It’s here that we sat down to talk, Adam sharing a pew with me and Jace seated on the Catholic-style kneeling pad. As the night grew colder, the mood was set for a long discussion of horror movies. Enjoy even more exclusive photos from the set of Mortuary while you read our discussion.
Mr. Dark: So what can we tell the world about Mortuary?
Adam Gierasch: Mortuary is the story of a family, a woman, her son, and her daughter, who get a lease with an option to buy on a mortuary. The mother has decided to get into the mortuary business.
Jace Anderson: She’s just completed school, she’s brand new, and she’s ready to get her business rolling. So, they move cross-country into this wonderful house.
AG: Yes, as you can see, the house we’re sitting in is a total dump!
JA: And, well…there’s an evil, under the mortuary and the cemetery.
AG: It gets into the mortuary and hijinks ensue.
JA: Let’s just say corpses do unusual things and there’s a lot of vomit and slime.
AG: There’s a legend, a history, of a deformed child of the people who used to run the mortuary. There’s a legend that he still prowls the grounds at night.
JA: We should say that it’s Lovecraft-inspired. It used to be set in Arkham, Massachusetts. It used to be much more directly Lovecraftian and since we’ve moved it to southern California, we toned that down. It’s still definitely influenced by Lovecraft. Lovecraft fans will see the influence of things like “Colour Out Of Space.”
AG: The movie’s just a scary, funny, wacky, gross, fun ride.
Mr. D: So would you say its kind of tongue-in-cheek?
JA: No, it’s not tongue-in-cheek at all, but there’s a lot of funny stuff.
AG: The situations here are just more…absurd. When you see a woman trying to figure out how to embalm a body and just having terrible, terrible luck doing so…fluids spurting everywhere…this is a big flying fluid film.
Mr.D: So is it officially set in Pomona, or is it just “generic Southern California town”?
JA: It’s Santa Llorana, which means ‘Saint Weeper’ in Spanish. We originally called it Pomona, but the Pomona Historical Society has been great. They’re the ones that own this house. It was slated for destruction and they moved it. They’re going to renovate it when the movie’s done. We were basically presenting Pomona in the script as the armpit of Southern California. The Historical Society has been so good to us it just felt wrong to call it Pomona, so we changed it.
Mr.D: You’ve done Toolbox Murders, now you’ve done Mortuary, both with Tobe Hooper. Was that a conscious decision, to keep working together, or was it just how it worked out?
JA: Tobe’s been our mentor. The three of us actually came up with this idea several years ago. Originally we called it “Six Feet Under,” before that show came on.
AG: That’s how old the original idea is. We’ve expanded on it a lot since then. The script went through a lot of changes and a lot of different companies. When Toolbox finished, we were all working on a movie called Brew…
Mr.D: That was going to be my next question! We’d all heard about this movie in a brewery, and it just went away at one point.
JA: I hope that it still gets made. It’s a fun script, and I think it’d be a really good movie.
AG: When Brew fell apart in the incarnation it was, one of the producers who did Toolbox Murders said, “Do you guys have another script?” We said well, we have Mortuary, and we decided to make it independently. It wasn’t going to be independent originally, because it’s a much more elaborate movie than Toolbox Murders. It’s very challenging to do on a lower budget. This movie isn’t that low budget, it’s a little more than Toolbox Murders, but it’s definitely an indie movie.
Mr.D: Brew was attached to Tobe too, then?
AG: Yes. We’ve worked with Tobe for a long time. Tobe brought us on with Crocodile, years ago. There was a script for Crocodile and Tobe brought us on to do a rewrite on it.
JA: Which we had seven days to do!
AG: We had the same agent as Tobe, and they introduced us. So we’ve worked on a lot of stuff with Tobe, we do a lot of stuff together. We also do a lot of stuff separately, but Tobe’s been very good to us so we’re always excited to be working with him.
JA: It’s fun, because we’ve become good friends as well as collaborators. What’s really fun about working with Tobe is we can go, hey, I think he’d like it if we put this little weird character or moment in.
Mr.D: You know his tastes. You know how he works.
JA: You’ll put in that little detail, or a certain kind of scare, and he’ll just spin off into “Tobeland” and come up with something else. It’s really fun to build on each other like that.
Mr.D: It seems like you guys are having a lot of involvement on the set. I know I’ve heard about a lot of writers who just sell their scripts and they’re lucky if they even get invited to the premieres, some directors look at them as someone to keep away from the set. Would you say the level of involvement you’re getting on Mortuary is what you’re used to?
AG: It is common in our experience. The thing is, when we’re working with Tobe, we’re an integral part of the whole process. We’re able to give input into everything from the location, to the way the monster looks, to the cast. We just do our best to help Tobe realize his vision of it all. Since we know the script better than anyone else, it’s very helpful to have us around the set, especially on a movie like this. We had to do a lot of rewriting to make the script fit around the location, so it’s really helpful for us to be here. I’m a big believer that writers on the set can be very helpful. And of course, I seem to wind up acting in these things as well, so I have to be here for that.
JA: Tobe’s a wonderful collaborator. He’s very generous. Tobe knows what he wants, he’s very clear on that, but if someone has a good idea, Tobe will use it and he doesn’t care where it came from. He won’t hesitate to give credit. I think that makes people really willing to go the extra mile. Shooting a lower budget movie can be really challenging, really stressful, and I think that willingness to collaborate makes people willing to go through it. It’s great to be able to talk to the assistant director, to be able to talk to the art director, and exchange ideas.
As writers, on the set, if there are important plot points being messed with or dialog, we’ll step in and say whoa, we’re concerned about this. But if anyone has an idea, or if something needs to be cut to make the movie better, we try not to be territorial. You may love that moment, but if it’s holding up production or it’s not going to happen, you have to be willing to let it go.
Another thing that always happens during shooting is that Tobe’s always on the lookout for what he calls “happy accidents”. Things that happen during a scene, something maybe goes wrong, but it’s right for the movie.
Mr.D: Our readers are the hardcore horror fans; they tend to look at movies based on the amount of blood and guts. So what are we talking about here for Mortuary? Are we talking a lot of carnage?
AG: I’d say we have one bucket of slime, a lot of puke, maybe a cup of blood…not a lot of blood.
JA: Heads do not roll!
AG: No, heads do not roll, but they do explode! In terms of blood and guts gore, this is pretty low on the scale. It’s got TONS of slime, it’s much more of a slime and ooze kind of picture.
Mr.D: With a Lovecraftian sort of picture, you’d expect a lot of slime.
AG: Yeah, and we have at least a couple of fire extinguishers full of vomit.
Mr.D: I know you’re doing it independently, but is there any kind of distribution set up?
AG: I have no idea. There is a distributor, Echo Bridge, they’re nice people. They say it’ll be released theatrically, but beyond that I have no clue.
Mr.D: You guys are a couple outside of your work; do you think you get some sort of extra clarity or tightness to your scripts out of that?
AG: No, no, we just try to be professionals. I mean, I love Jace, but since we’re fortunate to make a living at this we just try to do the homework.
JA: We’ve been very lucky as writers. This is, I think, our eighth movie that’s being produced, but Adam and I would be the first to admit that some of the early ones are just bad movies.
AG: I think it’s important to point out that those early ones aren’t just bad because something went wrong in the production. We made script mistakes, and I don’t mind anyone knowing that. Unless we can try to work and get better, we aren’t going to. If we think everything we do is genius…
Mr.D: You’d be Uwe Boll!
JA: Each script we hopefully learn something and make it better. I think that having your scripts in production helps you learn that more practical side, and that helps you write tighter scripts. The hard thing is that once the script is shooting and out of your hands, once you see that thing you should have done differently, that line you thought was great that didn’t work out…you can’t take it back. The best you can do is acknowledge it and move on.
Mr.D: True, unlike the Japanese, we don’t remake the same movie 15 times. Speaking of that, without giving too much away, are we looking at a Mortuary 2? A Mortuary 7? We saw that in Toolbox Murders a clear setup for a sequel.
AG: There probably will be a sequel to Toolbox. We’ve been officially hired to write it. We’ve been paid! We have a script conference next week, so it looks good. But yes, I’m hoping there’s a sequel to Mortuary, knock on wood. This is an odd kind of movie. Toolbox was very giallo. We were very influenced by the 80’s slasher movies and the 70’s Italian movies. There were scenes in Toolbox that were our homage to Suspiria and all that. This movie isn’t like that.
Mr.D: You’re just not going into it thinking you’re going to pay tribute to this movie, or that movie…
AG: No, no…except maybe a little bit of Lovecraft here and there.
JA: This is interesting as a writer, because it’s not like we’re dealing with a mythology that’s in the popular consciousness already. We know the vampire role, the werewolf role. We’re putting some new rules in there, something that hasn’t been seen before, so hopefully that’ll work.
AG: This has some new kinds of monsters in it.
Mr.D: That’s always good! I think we’ve all seen enough vampires vs. werewolves in the last couple of years.
AG: This movie truly has no vampires, werewolves, or even traditional zombies in it. It’s something new.
Mr.D: So just for the record, what’s your character in Mortuary?
AG: I’m old man Barstow, an 85-year-old dead piano teacher.
Mr.D: That’s a role for the ages. I’m sure they’ll put that right up there with Bogey and Bacall. Back to Toolbox for a minute, was the screening I reviewed the edited for MPAA version?
AG: Yes. That was the cut version, the R-rated version. With the original cut, the MPAA laughed at us. They said you have GOT to be kidding, and slapped it with an NC17. The only people that ever saw Toolbox in it’s original, NC17 version are Tobe, me, Jace, and the people who worked on sound.
JA: Oh, and for the record, about Toolbox Murders: the rumor that’s running around on IMDB saying that the film ran out of money, and a third of the script wasn’t shot…that’s total bullshit. I don’t know where that came from, but it’s just not true.
Mr.D: So what’s next? Do you have anything else scheduled other than trying to get Brew started again?
AG: After this, we have a movie called Marked that Tobe’s directing. It’s night and day different from this one. It’s a very serious story, sort of a…
JA: …like a film noir detective story…
AG: …crossed with a Japanese horror film. That one’s scheduled. We have another movie called Zombies after that.
Mr.D: Always a good topic!
AG: Yeah! It’s like Deliverance meets Night of the Living Dead. It’s a river rapids trip that goes to zombie hell. It’s a spectacular zombie movie. It’s wild. It’s some of the goriest stuff we’ve ever written.
JA: I think Autopsy is the goriest stuff we’ve ever written.
AG: Oh yes, then we have “Autopsy”. Keep in mind, this is all tentative. It could all fall apart at any time.
JA: We co-wrote that one with Evan Katz, one of the producers on Mortuary. (And a former writer for this site in its former incarnation. – Dark)
AG: That’s supposed to go in April or May. Then there’s one we can’t talk about that’s a big one that’s supposed to shoot at the end of the summer, the biggest one we’ve ever done by tenfold.
Mr.D: All horror movies?
AG: Every single one of them are horror movies. Very different kinds of horror from Marked, which is a very serious, dark story about a very damned police detective to Mortuary, which is a little lighter, to Zombies, which is a non-stop action, blood spurting, blowing people up kind of movie. It’s got a lot of ripping out organs, lots of nasty stuff.
Mr.D: Good stuff! So then I’ve got my infamous last question: what’s your favorite horror movie?
JA: See, for me, that changes regularly. It’s more like, what’s my favorite horror movie lately? Right now, I’ve got Suspiria on the brain. It’s always one of my favorites.
AG: I’d say mine would be Curse of the Demon. It’s a 1958 or 57 horror movie that’s by Jacques Tourneur, the director of the original Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie.
Mr.D: That’s an obscure choice.
AG: If you see it, there’s nothing obscure about it. It’s just a really good horror movie. Rosemary’s Baby would come in second.
At that point, shooting had started back up as the crew returned from dinner. Shortly thereafter, I gave my farewells and left the shell of a mansion behind. Once again I need to thank Jace and Adam for their time and great conversation. Look forward to Mortuary sometime later this year. Stay tuned for more updates as production winds down and post-production begins on the film.
(Thanks to Fango for the image of the writers!)
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