Hanging with the Hatchet Man, an interview with Adam Green
7th Oct 07
Adam Green is an interviewers dream. Blessed with the kind of extraordinary self-confidence that so many young American directors have, he also happens to be one of the most charming, down to earth genuine characters I’ve met within the industry. Combining a fans’ enthusiasm and zeal with a canny understanding of what makes for an entertaining horror movie, Green has become a huge favourite on the festival circuit with his old school slasher pic Hatchet and received a hero’s welcome this year when he brought his second feature Spiral to an appreciative Fright Fest audience.
We caught up with him to talk about the madness of the MPAA, freaking kids out at summer camp and making Kane Hodder cry.
Warning; this interview contains Hatchet spoilers.
Eatmybrains: At FrightFest you told the audience that Hatchet was twenty years in the making. Did you mean that you actually had the story written back then, when presumably you were about ten years old?
Adam Green: When I was about eight years old my parents sent me to Summer Camp. One of the counsellors there, right off the bat, said to all the kids “don’t go in the old cabin or hatchet face will get you”. And this cabin was basically where they drank and had all their orgies or whatever they did (laughs). Now my older brother had already shown me all the great slasher movies at this point, so I was all excited about this and wanted to know why he was called ‘hatchet face’. Of course they didn’t have an answer. So I said “well what’s he gonna do?”’ and they just said “He’ll get you”. So of course I was like, “that sucks, how’s he gonna get me?” and of course they had no answers.
So that night, before all the kids went to sleep I made up this story about hatchet face – that he was this deformed man whose dad kept him hidden in a cabin. One night the door of the cabin caught fire and the dad came home with a hatchet and he tried to break the door down with it but hit the poor deformed man in the face. And all of a sudden the kids start crying!
So the next day the counsellors call my parents up and everyone is asking to have me sent me home! For the rest of the Summer I was the weird kid from camp who freaked everyone out. And in twenty years I never really forgot that little story because even though it was made up it was so vivid, it was like he was already a real character to me.
EMB: Did you know what the hatchet man looked like when you told the kids the story? And is it the same as how he looks in the film?
AG: Yeah. When I first sat down with John Buechler (special make up effects wizard) he asked me to describe the character to him. He did it like a police sketch where he wouldn’t let me see it until he was finished. When he finished and turned it around I was so blown away that I actually started crying! I mean to invent this thing in your head is one thing but to see it actually drawn to you is so weird, especially after having it in your head all that time. Some kids have imaginary friends when they are little – I had the hatchet-face man! (more laughter).
EMB: If that was your reaction to the drawing you must’ve freaked out when Kane (Hodder) actually got into the make up.
AG: When Kane was standing in front of me after we did the first make-up tests I honestly could not believe what I was seeing. Kane made an imaginary figure real and that was so important to the whole idea of Victor Crowley.
It’s funny, when we were shooting a mock trailer for the film to try and raise some money we went round New Orleans and walked up to people on the street and said to them have you ever heard of Victor Crowley? This was so we could play this stuff on the website and make out like it was a real story. The cool thing was that it really started to work and gain momentum. We put the seed in people’s minds before we had even shot the movie.
Even now on the swamp tour that we went on to shoot some of the footage, somebody in Canada has just been on it and they were calling it the ‘Hatchet swamp tour’! Apparently they even point out where Victor Crowley’s house was, so it’s started to become a real thing in people’s minds. In Louisiana it’s become a bit of an urban legend that this guy really lived there.
Adam Green (left) and Kane Hodder
EMB: That’s even better than an internet hoax isn’t it? It’s now embedded in local folklore.
AG: Exactly, and it’s better than I could’ve hoped for because you want something that people sort of believe when they see the film. I used to get fans coming up to me saying did you make the story up because I’m sure I heard something about this guy? I still play into it and say that I had heard about it too and that was how the film came about.
EMB: When I watched Hatchet I did really feel sorry for Victor. Especially when you see the back-story, I was just sat there thinking, god this is awful..!
AG: That’s exactly what I wanted! If you can feel for the monster and he’s not just a mindless guy killing people then hopefully I’ve succeeded. But I really think that the music in that scene and Kane’s expressive performance make the whole thing real, believable and sort of sad.
EMB: Having the orchestral score really helped in that respect. But I think it’s the meanness of the kids and the way the whole thing backfires that really adds to it. It’s a classic staple of the genre.
Yeah, you get that a lot in horror movies – the wronged kid or the kid whose life was made a misery who comes back to get revenge. Even though Crowley is an adult when it happens there is a sense that he was the kid picked on all his life.
You might’ve noticed that in the film that we randomly zoom in on a kid in a pig mask just at the point where the prank has backfired and the fire is starting. The point of that was we were going to make explicit that the kid grew up to be Robert England’s character who appears right at the beginning of the film. Which of course explains why his daughter knows all about the legend – he was one of the kids responsible. I’m writing the sequel at the moment and there will be more connections like this made with the first film and the whole Crowley back-story.
Sampson (Robert Englund)
EMB: How are you going to top those extraordinary, inventive death scenes in the sequel?
AG: Well I was chatting to Kane a couple of months back about exactly that! I was running through some of the deaths I have in mind and he was just literally howling with laughter.
I’m trying to keep continuity with the first film again. In Hatchet where Mary Beth is crying after she’s seen her brother and father dead there's a huge chainsaw in the background. It’s the kind they use in the redwood forest, so it’s huge and goes all the way from the ground to here (points at almost head level). So we’re trying to have a scene where he puts that through three people! I’m making sure that there is connection with little things in the first film so the fans will have something to lock on to.
EMB: This year has seen a whole slew of films where the death or torture scenes are almost the entire point of the film, and they are really grim. What I liked about Hatchet is that bloody and gory as it is, it never tips into meanness or sadism. How do you get the balance right so that people are freaked out but they’re also laughing as opposed to fleeing the cinema?
AG: I was constantly thinking about that throughout the whole shoot. It’s such a delicate balance. The first thing I did was to try and write the characters to be funny and likeable. I wanted people who would make an audience smile or would surprise them. Then I made sure that almost all the deaths were totally unrealistic in some way.
When I say unrealistic I don’t mean that they look bad but that the end result is something that could never actually happen. So if you rip someone’s arms off in a scene it’s horrible, but if you have blood spurting twenty or thirty feet into the air it becomes absurd y'know? Like the scene where Crowley is chopping away at Richard Riehle..
EMB: Which goes on for ages…
AG: Yes! But if you have that happen just once it’s hideous. In the context of the film when he’s being hit for like the thirteenth time it just becomes so excessive that it’s ridiculous and funny. The weird thing is in the US theatrical cut they took a lot of that excess out and it actually changes the tone of the scene and makes it grimmer, much less funny.
Ben (Joel David Moore), Marcus (Deon Richmond) and Marybeth (Tamara Feldman)
EMB: Which I assume was the reverse of what they intended?
AG: Yeah. The MPAA thought Hatchet was way too excessive and horrible and frightening. I couldn’t believe the reaction. (The MPAA ratings board in the US saddled the film with an NC-17 rating for graphic violence). You’ve got all these torture porn flicks with kids getting fucked up on drugs, tortured, raped, all in a totally realistic context which the MPAA are totally fine with, but a silly horror movie with a swamp monster chasing a bunch of comedians through the woods is where they draw the line. It’s nuts.
EMB: Why do you think the MPAA went for you so hard? They normally go gunning for sex rather than violence.
AG: I honestly think it was political. They can’t go after the massive studios so they clobber the independents and hate it when an independent movie makes its way into theatres with almost no backing. You look at Hostel 2 - it has the whole Heather Matarazzo sequence, an on-camera castration and feeding a dick to a dog!! I had just come out of the hearing for Hatchet – which I lost – and went straight out and saw Hostel 2. Now I love Eli (Roth) but to be honest I need to see it again because all I could think throughout it was how the fuck did that get through?
They did it to us because we had no major studio backing basically. I would never bother fighting again, so hopefully next time I will have that backing. I understand the function of the MPAA but they just went after the wrong guy. Hatchet has a lot of heart; it’s not a sadistic sick film. It’s a monster movie for the generation who didn’t grow up with Freddy or Jason.
Special Makeup Effects supervisor John Carol Buechler at work creating Victor Crowely
Speaking of Jason was Kane Hodder always the first choice?
AG: I always said I wanted him, I never in a million years thought we would honestly get him. John Buechler said to me early on that he was visiting The Devils Rejects set (Kane was doing stunts on the film) and would I like him to take the Crowley stuff along for Kane to look at.
Initially Kane was like “Oh yeah, another prosthetic character that goes around killing everybody - been there, done that”. But John gave him the script, and he really liked it. We met and he had so many questions. He really wanted to know what kind of direction I was taking with it. I think once he saw how excited I was and I saw how buzzed he was for doing it we were totally on and money wasn’t even an issue.
EMB: His performance really is excellent.
AG: He’s 52 now and really he’s peaking as an actor. I think in Hatchet you really get to see what a great actor he actually is. Plus he got to help create this character, it’s not something he’s stepping into. He made Crowley his own. He’s getting a lot of offers on the basis of his out of make up work on the film. He’s just awesome and a lot of people have said to me they can’t believe they’re watching the biggest bad-ass in horror and he’s crying. He’s breaking hearts in this movie!
Ben (Joel David Moore) and Marybeth (Tamara Feldman)
EMB: I was surprised to see Joel David Moore as Ben, having seen him in Dodgeball and Art School Confidential. He’s also in your new film Spiral. Do you two go way back?
AG: I had actually never met him before Hatchet. Plus I hadn’t seen him in Dodgeball or his other movies. I knew him from commercials and I actually thought he was auditioning for the character of Ainsley when he came in, because he looked a bit like how I imagined that character would look. I definitely didn’t think he was up for the lead because everyone we saw for Ben was your typical chiselled jock leading man type.
So he comes in and I ask the casting director who he is up for and she tells me it’s the lead. I was like, o-kayy but by the time he was halfway through I just knew he was the man.
We’ve become close friends since of course and I really respect him as an amazing guy, a really talented writer and actor.
I just wish I hadn’t killed him in Hatchet! Now I want to bring him back for the sequel. We are definitely gonna work together again soon though.
EMB: How was it premiering Spiral at Fright Fest?
AG: I was totally dreading it, particularly because the reaction to Hatchet the year before was so strong, with people hollering and cheering. Plus Spiral is so different in tone.
But I underestimated the Fright Fest crowd. I get pissed off myself when people say ‘oh horror fans only like tits and gore’ and then I went and did the same thing. Then afterwards lots of people told me it was their favourite film of the festival. Of course The Orphanage hadn’t played at that point! (laughs). I emailed Joel after the screening – he’s working on Avatar with James Cameron right now – and told him how great the reaction was. The whole Fright Fest experience has been amazing.
EMB: Your live commentary for Hatchet went down fantastically well. I think most people were astonished that you kept it going throughout the movie with barely a pause for breath. Did you prepare much for it?
AG: I didn’t really have to because I had just recorded the US commentary and I’ve done so many Q&As at festivals. The Hatchet commentary was done with the cast and we nailed it in one take. I’m very comfortable in front of audiences now and I love talking about this film to people, so hopefully that came across. When you’re passionate about what you do it’s easy to talk about it non-stop. It is for me anyway!
EMB: The Dee Snyder story was a definite highlight. (Adam told an amazing story about his childhood obsession with the band Twisted Sister and how a chance encounter with Dee Snyder led to a friendship between them)
AG: I really appreciate that. From the people I’ve met at the festivals and particularly Fright Fest I just know that five or six years from now I’m going to be coming back here and some kid that I met is going to be premiering their own flick here. If they came up to me and said that they remembered the story I told and it inspired them, just like meeting Dee did for me, then that would be the ultimate. I couldn’t ask for anything else.
Hatchet was released in UK cinemas on Oct 5th. Visit the official UK website at www.hatchetmovie.co.uk/ for more details.
Visit Youtube to see Adam Green's Dee Snyder story as told at FrightFest 2007.