Writer-director Adam Green has built up a strong cult following in the horror community, with the slasher throwback Hatchet spawning a franchise and the grim chiller Frozen showing he could do more than gore.
His new film Digging Up The Marrow is inspired by the artwork of Alex Pardee and finds the filmmaker in front of the camera. Green (as himself) receives a tape from an ex-cop, William Dekker (Ray Wise), who claims that monsters are real and live just beneath the surface of the Earth in a place called the Marrow. Is Dekker a loony, or is there really something out there that has hidden from humanity all these years?
We spoke to the filmmaker about wanting to make something off the grid, pushing himself creatively, and why he loves monsters so much.
How did the idea for Marrow come about?
Basically when Frozen was at Sundance, through all these events that we couldn’t control, it wound up being distributed in a way that it was not supposed to be and what we expected. So even though it was a huge triumph for us we were kind of all disappointed and depressed when we got back from Sundance. And I was saying to the rest of the guys that I work with, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was something we could do that we don’t even need to tell anybody about and it’s just us, and yeah we’re going to need to go and raise a bunch of money, but where we could control the destiny of this thing.’
And right around that same day I got this fanmail package. People send me weird stuff all the time but this one package was from a guy claiming that Victor Crowley from the Hatchet movies was real and that I had fucked it all up in the movie and I didn’t tell the story right. It was super creative, it was really funny, and pictures of swamps with areas circled, and I was like ‘What about this?’ What if we went and interviewed this guy and had him prove it? It could be funny even if it was just a short film but ultimately we didn’t want to do anything involving Hatchet or Victor Crowley.
And the next weekend I was at a convention doing a signing and this guy came to my line and handed me a pamphlet called Digging Up The Marrow, and he said ‘I just wanted to thank you for all the inspiration,’ and walked away. And I was already a big fan of Alex Pardee’s artwork but I didn’t know what he looked like so I wasn’t even aware that that was him. When I started reading his pamphlet for his art exhibit, his whole storyline was basically what you see in the movie, that there was a guy who claimed that monsters were real and Alex had found his journals and decided to paint the creatures that this guy described. It went from there but it was a long four years of putting this thing together and shooting it, it was a great completely liberating creative experience because we had so much freedom to just do whatever.
It seems to be a departure for you in the same way Frozen was from Hatchet. Are you conscious of wanting to explore new sub-genres and trying new things as a filmmaker?
Yeah I think that’s what gets me excited about certain projects. Because aside from the obvious Hatchet sequels, everything I’ve done has been vastly different from the next and I just think that if you’re going to make a movie there has to be this level of excitement where you have to make it and I think having those challenges is part of it. I think it would be maybe smarter and safer to just try to keep doing the same thing, but…why? Why waste the time? You have to put so much of yourself into these things. As we were going through post-production it was starting to become a little bit scary. ‘Wait a minute did we really just do this and we’re in it and how are people going to receive this and it’s so weird because everybody’s themselves except for Ray Wise, are people going to get it?’
The world premiere was at FrightFest in London and when they asked me ‘Do you want to play on the main screen three times, or would you rather just do the discovery screen?’ I opted for the discovery screen because we didn’t have a trailer, there weren’t stills, nobody knew what it was. So the fact that everybody came and sold out that screening not even having any clue what the movie was or what they were going to see, just really made it that much more fun. And the audience in London was so great because they didn’t spoil it online. I think that’s part of the fun of this movie. The less you know, the more you can go for the ride and believe it.
I remember interviewing you at FrightFest 2013 about Hatchet 3 and you were being very vague about Marrow!
Yeah, we kept saying it was an art documentary just so nobody would be interested! [laughs]
Ray Wise is fantastic in the movie, how did he become involved?
The whole movie hinges on that part. He just called me. He had seen a movie I did called Spiral and he just had my phone number because he was in Chillerama, which I did a segment for, but I never worked with Ray. So he got my phone number from Adam Rifkin and just called me up and said “I loved Spiral and I always play the lawyer or the dad or whatever but I love your characters and would love to work with you.’ And I was like ‘Well your timing’s really good because I have this thing and it’s super weird and I don’t know if you’re going to get it and we’re not telling anybody what we’re doing and it’s going to take a long time and he was so game for that.
When we talked about the character, purposefully there are things that are left out and not explained because the joy of this movie is to get people thinking. I think people underestimate horror fans a lot and think that they don’t want to think, they only want jump scares and blood and gore and everything spelled out. And that’s not true. Horror fans are some of the most creative and intelligent people that there are out there and they love a challenge like this.
So he really embraced that and I said whatever you come up with for your own answers, don’t tell me. Because I don’t want to necessarily be on the same page as you and I want to be trying to figure you out. And you can see that in the movie, there are certain times where he’s really throwing me because the way he’s saying things it’s not what I was expecting or what I thought. We really embraced that and used it to our advantage and at the end we sat down after filming and talked about all of things and it turns out we were on the same page. Whenever somebody asks me what the answer is I don’t want to say it, because if it’s printed or I say it on the commentary, that becomes the answer because I’m the filmmaker. And I don’t want to be the one with the answers; I want the audience to have their own answers.
Do you have a favourite movie monster?
Yeah, I’d say Frankenstein’s monster was probably the one and to this day I think he’s the greatest. Because if you can have sympathy for your “villain” then you really have a great villain. And mythology is everything. When you think about even in the slasher canon, whether it was Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees or Victor Crowley, they have a backstory that’s sympathetic to some degree. They’re not just horrible people. And to me that’s what’s most interesting, especially when something is considered a monster and they never asked for this. So when you think about Frankenstein’s monster, he didn’t ask for that, it’s such a tragic and sad story how misunderstood he is. So I think that’s above all the monster that had the longest lasting effect on me.
What are you working on at the moment? Is Killer Pizza still on the horizon?
I’m still always hopeful that that thing’s actually going to shoot but it’s been like four years and I really have no idea. Every couple of months I’ll get a phone call from the producers that there’s this scenario or this thing, at one point the movie was set up at MGM, the problem is it’s a big, big movie. And those things take so long and so I just keep doing my own things through my own company and hoping that that one’s going to happen. Right now there’s, I can’t really say officially what we’re working on but there’s a lot of talk about a sequel to Marrow in the next few years, there’s another season of Holliston that’s suppose to happen but so much has changed in the past year with the death of Dave Brockey from the cast of Holliston, I just haven’t emotionally been ready to do another season of that show yet but I’m getting there. So there’s a ton of stuff on the horizon and something that we’re already pretty deep into now but it’s still too early to talk about but yeah there’ll definitely be more horror stuff for sure.
Finally, is there a sub-genre of horror that you haven’t tried yet that you want to explore?
Probably something dealing with the paranormal. And something dealing with the medical field. I’m just like most normal people I’m really terrified of hospitals and sickness and all those things and I’m a really huge fan of body horror movies like Cronenberg. A movie I produced called Grace was kind of a body horror type movie but I didn’t writer or direct that, that was Paul Solet, and so I’ve always wanted to do something like that. So some of the things I’m writing right now deal with some of those types of themes, but I think those are the only two areas that I haven’t dabbled in yet. So at some point I’ll definitely be doing that. It would also be fun to go back to doing something more like Frozen or Spiral or Grace that doesn’t have any comedic elements to it. But with Marrow, it’s like the story is so ridiculous and if you’re going to play it real, you have to be able to laugh at it up to a certain point otherwise, if we got that package and just believed it, I don’t think the audience would go with it. You have to be sceptical. But it would be nice to do something more straightforward thriller scary again sometime soon.