This week, I had the opportunity to attend Horrorthon:H3, a one-night horror film festival in Houston, Texas. The event featured several fun films, such as Party Night, and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, but the most exciting film shown was Secret Santa from Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan. I sat down with the hilarious husband and wife writing team and picked their brains about Secret Santa, as well as Jason Goes to Hell.
HorrorGeekLife: Adam and Debra, please tell us a little about your new film Secret Santa!
Adam: Sure! Secret Santa is about a get together of the Pope family on Christmas Eve for their annual party. The family runs a pharmaceutical company and most of the kids work for that company in some capacity. Someone decided that they’re going to spike the holiday punch with something that’s going to get everyone to tell the truth about what they really feel about each other. The problem is what they put in there is untested, and at first it makes them say what they want to say…then they end up doing what they want to do. And pretty soon the Christmas table runs red.
HorrorGeekLife: I had the pleasure of seeing Secret Santa and it is definitely a fun horror/comedy.
Adam: It’s a horr-omedy, that’s what we’ve been calling it.
Debra: It’s full of the most despicable people that you will ever meet in your entire life.
Adam: So it’s like everyone’s family!
Debra: *laughs* Yes, and it makes it so much more fun when they die.
HorrorGeekLife: I love watching despicable people die! What was your inspiration for the film? Is it the despicable people in your life?
Adam: *laughs* Sadly, it’s our families.
Here’s the thing. What I love about Christmas movies in general is that you walk out of A Christmas Story, or Christmas Vacation, and it’s like the Christmas party from hell, but it all really turns out okay. We wanted to make a movie that didn’t turn out okay. Y’know, even in films like Krampus, there’s still sort of a happy ending. For us, we wanted a movie that was funny, and a little cynical, and that actually is there for the people who hate the holidays and have this feeling of “Oh god, just don’t let me spend it with my family!”
Debra: It was so much fun to write because your family can drive you nuts, but taking that and stretching it to the Nth degree and making it as evil as you can was very cathartic.
Adam: It really is. We’ve actually found a lot of people after seeing the movie will walk away saying, “This is the best Christmas gift I could have gotten this year, because I feel okay about my absolute hatred of the people I sit at the Christmas table with,” and it is cathartic. It does let that out, and I hope people who see it will have a happier Christmas because of it.
Debra: Yes, and we hope that they laugh and scream, because we did.
Adam: All we really want is to replace A Christmas Story as the most popular Christmas movie, that’s it.
HorrorGeekLife: *laughs* That sounds like a reachable goal.
Adam: It is! I feel like if you set reasonable goals, you’ll go far.
Debra: Every year the family will gather together to watch Secret Santa.
HorrorGeekLife: It’ll be the new staple, and after watching, everyone will probably scatter to their own corners of the house. I love it. So tell us about some of the more interesting kills in the film.
Debra: There’s some great kills in the movie. Robert Kurtzman from KMB did our special effects, and while I don’t want to give anything away or spoil it, I will tell you that some Christmas implements are used.
Adam: Yeah, you don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s a gory movie. It’s absolutely a gory film, but in kind of a Grand Guignol way. We didn’t want it to be heavy because of the violence. We actually want the violence to be part of the joke and kind of the giddiness of the movie. And yeah, Bob Kurtzman, who’s been a friend of mine since we did Jason Goes to Hell together, he’s like my brother. We even finish each other’s…
Adam and Debra (in unison): Sandwiches! *laughs*
Adam: We made this movie with our new company, Skeleton Crew Productions, and the idea behind the company is that we’re trying to get new voices heard. We’re doing it sort of like Roger Corman used to do – with a very limited budget and a limited schedule, but you get to make the movie you want to make. There’s nobody lording over your vision, and if you can make it with a small amount of money, you can pull that off. So for the first movie out of our company, I knew we were going to write it and I’ll direct it, just to prove that it can be done for the type of budget we’re talking about.
Debra: And our partner Bryan Sexton produced it.
Adam: Yeah, he’s a genius, and sadly he can’t be here because he’s off getting the money for our next film. So really we’re happy to have him where he is. But here’s the thing – since we had such a limited budget, I couldn’t afford to pay a guy like Bob Kurtzman to do the effects. So I called him up and said “Bob, listen. I can’t imagine going to anyone else before I at least offer this to you. But there’s no money, and when I say no money, I mean NO MONEY.” So he says “Send me the script.” About 90 minutes later, he called me and says he’s in!
So this guy did half a million dollars of effects for us, for no money, and that’s why he’s one of the executive producers on the film. He brought way too much to the table to not get rewarded for that, and that’s another part of what our company does, is that filmmakers might not make a lot of money on the front end of the thing, but you’ll have actual dollar one ownership in your film. So that’s what Skeleton Crew Productions was predicated on – making stories we have to tell, but doing it as a group and a collective who are excited about the process of making movies, since they’re getting to tell their story.
Debra: Watching the two of them work was so much fun, because they kept exciting each other with new ideas at every turn. Brian and I kept reminding them of the budget, but we definitely got our bang for our buck.
Adam: Look, along the lines of letting people have their dream job, the music in the film is extraordinary, and I’m not just saying that because it’s in my movie. I’ve done movies where I’m not that crazy about the music. The music in this film though, is written by a guy named Timothy DJ Eilers. Tim, again a friend of mine for over 20 years, his day job is that he makes giant props for A-list movies. He’s amazing at it, but that’s not what he wants to do. He’s always wanted to be a composer. It’s always been his dream, and so I called him up and said “If you come out and do Secret Santa with us, I’ll make you the company composer. You’ll just start writing music, and you’ll have your dream job as your career.”
I can’t wait for everyone to hear the music in this movie. He created so much music that the company is going to be releasing the soundtrack as a double album set. Thank god for vinyl coming back, and one album is just Christmas songs that he reinvented, and the other album is the score itself. What’s amazing about it is that at one point in the movie, “Joy to the World” plays, and I told him I wanted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir version of it. I want it rich and with a huge choir. He said “Great, send me your actors.” The next thing I know, about fifteen of our actors show up and record four tracks of vocals each, and Tim created a choir of sixty five voices. It’s unbelievable.
Debra: He’s brilliant. That’s the other thing, Skeleton Crew isn’t just the three of us. I mean, Adam, Brian, and I are Skeleton Crew, but we really are a much larger family. We have a cadre of about sixty actors who we can draw on for our films.
Adam: I teach classes in LA, I teach acting. We have a full acting class, and before that we have fight club.
HorrorGeekLife: I thought you weren’t supposed to talk about fight club!
Adam: *laughs* It’s true. I’m not sure if you’ll survive this interview. But seriously, we spend about an hour and a half before class teaching stunt work, and every person in this movie does their own stunts. So my sixty actors range in age from fourteen to the mid-seventies. I’ve got everything I could ever need for performances. And again, they’re all brilliant. These are people you’ve seen on CSI or NCIS playing a dead body, a schoolteacher, or coming in and they’re the wife of someone who just got murdered and they’ve got five lines, and these are people who have been training their whole lives to be great at this job. I feel like they need to have parts that are bigger than five lines on a television show, which is great when they get it. God Bless, I’m thrilled.
For me though, to be able to allow them to be in front of the camera and do the kind of work they’re doing is incredible, and when you see the film, every one of these actors is a student of mine and they’re extraordinary. And again, it’s that family mentality. These are people who could be in the middle of doing a scene, and there’s a camera guy who needs a sandbag moved, and the actors will help them move it. That’s just unheard of. It doesn’t happen.
Debra: That is the reason the name of the company is Skeleton Crew. We wanted to keep it as small as we possibly can. Everybody pitches in, and everybody is a family member.
HorrorGeekLife: I really like the name Skeleton Crew.
Adam: Thank you! Our on set crew is only six people for the whole film.
Debra: Those six people acted as well! Speaking of acting, playing Shari Pope, playing one of the leads, and one of the most despicable people on the entire planet, was so much fun. I had to apologize to all of the actors on the first reading to say “I’m so sorry for all the horrible things I’m going to say and do to you, but I love you all”
NOTE – at this point in the interview, we were informed that Horrorthon had just hit a record number of blood donations at the blood drive going on outside the event.
Debra: We were thrilled to come here to help with that.
Adam: Yeah, that’s the reason we came. We’re in the middle of festival season right now, and we’re in a lot of festivals, but you guys got hit so hard by Harvey. When we got the call and learned it was to raise money and get food and blood donations for victims in Houston, we said “Hell yeah, we’re coming.”
Debra: Damir and Ron and everyone associated with Horrorthon have been so great to us, and we’re thrilled how many people have come out to help. I haven’t been to Houston in probably 25 years, and the hospitality hasn’t changed.
HorrorGeekLife: Well, I for one am really excited you guys are here. When is Secret Santa going to be available for mass consumption?
Adam: We don’t know yet. That’s actually one of the things that Brian is doing. We’ve had several offers for the movie, so he’s dealing with that, while Deb and I are off on the world tour of trying to get people to see it, and recognize it, and talk about Skeleton Crew and our mission statement.
Debra: We just got back from the Sitges International Film Festival in Spain, which was unbelievable. It’s the largest horror and sci-fi film festival in the world and it was just incredible.
Adam: And we’re leaving here tomorrow and going back to LA for Los Angeles Comic-Con. Skeleton Crew has a booth all weekend, and they’re showing Secret Santa on Sunday. Then we leave there and go straight to Portland for the Portland International Film Festival.
HorrorGeekLife: You guys are very busy!
Debra: We’re a little tired, but we’re having such a good time!
Adam: Yeah, this is an amazing event.
Debra: This one was very important to us, so we’re happy that it worked out in our schedule and we were able to do it.
HorrorGeekLife: Well we’re very glad you made it out. I have one more question for you Adam, but it’s not about Secret Santa. It’s about Jason Goes to Hell. How do you feel about the fan theory that Jason is actually a Deadite?
Adam: It’s not a fan theory, it’s me! Here’s what happened. I was populating the film with Easter eggs, and at that time I was on set while writing the script, and spending time with Bob Kurtzman for The Evil Dead part 3 [Army of Darkness]. I had become friendly with Sam Raimi, so much so that he had shot several commercials in LA and I had hung out with him on set. Sam’s an amazing guy, and one of my heroes. So while I was there, I asked Sam if I could borrow the Necronomicon to put into my movie. Sam gave a bewildered “Why?!” and I explained the story. I was trying to create a mythology for Jason in this movie, because it had driven me nuts as a viewer.
I was there for the first Friday the 13th. I was ten years old when Sean Cunningham made that film, I’m best friends with his son Noel since we were six. Sean never expected this to turn into anything. He made a little thriller about a mom who murders a bunch of teenagers because she thinks they represent the teenagers who let her son die. But at the end of the movie – because he wanted to rip off Carrie, since it was a huge success – he thought, wouldn’t it be great if the kid leaps out of the water and grabs the girl? It ended up being the best scare in the movie.
Here’s the thing though, he never thought they were going to make a series of movies about the kid in the lake. Cut to several months later and Alice from the first movie is in her home and this full-size man (who was a boy two months ago) murders her- I know for me I was only twelve when part two came out, and even as a kid myself, I asked “What? Why isn’t it a boy, and how did he live for thirty years in a lake?” So what I told Sam was “I think it’s more fun if I have the Necronomicon in Pamela Voorhees’ house. She makes a deal with the devil by reading from the Necronomicon to bring back her son. This is why Jason isn’t Jason. He’s Jason plus The Evil Dead,” and now I can believe that he can go from a little boy that lives in a lake, to a full grown man in a couple of months, to Zombie Jason, to never being able to kill this guy.
That, to me, is way more interesting as a mash-up, and Raimi loved it! He literally went and picked up the book, put it in a plastic bag and told me to put it in the movie. So only Sam, myself, and Bob Kurtzman ever knew that was my agenda. It’s not like I could tell New Line my plan to include The Evil Dead, because they don’t own The Evil Dead. So it had to be an Easter egg, and I did focus on it…there’s a whole scene that includes the book, and I hoped people would get it and could figure out that’s what I’m up to.
So yes, in my opinion, Jason Voorhees is a Deadite. He’s one of The Evil Dead.
HorrorGeekLife: So then in your mind, Jason Goes to Hell is canon for the whole series?
Adam: Absolutely. It absolutely is canon.
HorrorGeekLife: How do you feel about the comic book adaptation that has explored the Deadite side more?
Adam: I thought it was great! I especially loved the ones that did the flashback stuff with Pamela Voorhees and her son before he dies. I thought that stuff was amazing. Have you seen the fan film Never Hike Alone?
HorrorGeekLife: I haven’t but HorrorGeekLife.com has covered it. Our reviewer loved it.
Adam: It’s terrific, you should check it out. Here’s the thing. I feel very much the way George Lucas does about people making fan films about Star Wars. I think any young filmmaker who’s inspired by these characters – as long as they’re not making money off of it – should tell new stories. Tell your origin story, tell what you want to tell. I love when people get inspired by this stuff and go off to make their own art. I think that’s incredible. I think the studios should be more proud when this stuff happens and be less worried about the proprietary stuff.
I know there’s a business and people shouldn’t be able to profit off other people’s work, but lets be honest… look at 50 Shades of Gray. It’s fan fiction based on Twilight of all things, and you know what? That’s awesome! Well… I’m not saying that specifically about 50 Shades of Gray, but again, people love it, and I think the fans should be given as much entertainment and as much cool stuff to play with as they possibly can. So look, the one thing that Jason Goes to Hell did inspire was Freddy vs. Jason, because of the glove at the end. I even had to swear in court that it was my idea. It’s hilarious.
I think that anyone who gets inspired by someone else’s work, the people who made it should be thrilled. I love all the comic book stuff, I even think some of it is even better than some of the movies.
HorrorGeekLife: Well said! Thank you both for taking the time to sit down and talk with me, and I can’t wait to review Secret Santa!
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