When it comes to being a director in the horror genre, there’s a certain amount of resilience and fortitude needed to withstand the territory. Horror has always been incredibly divisive as content alone, often pulling in both supporters and critics on polarized sides of their respective tastes. Once you factor in a studio system that loves to label and categorize, a ratings system that seems to never work in your favor and a media landscape that refuses to acknowledge your work as anything more than brainless entertainment, and it’s a surprise that any filmmaker would willingly enter the genre at all.
However, the human condition will lead us to follow our subconscious desires, and for many filmmakers, those desires are embedded in the world of horror. Horror gives filmmakers a certain amount of narrative freedom to let loose the screws of sanity, mixing pure imagination with the attraction of annihilation. It’s in that realm where Adam Green carved out his name, spearheading the Hatchet films as one of the first successful horror franchises in a very long time, especially when considered all three films have been made outside of the studio system. And while Green has shown a ranged versatility in his projects such as FEARnet’s sitcom Holliston to his home video hit Frozen, he will still be known as the man who birthed the twisted and sadistic Victor Crowley. Green spoke to Diabolique over the newest, and possibly last, chapter in the Hatchet saga, Hatchet III. And despite the fact that Green passed on directorial duties to his longtime camera operator BJ McDonnell, Green stayed aboard as writer and producer, ensuring another chapter to rival the sublime carnage of its controversial predecessor.
DIABOLIQUE: As the writer of Hatchet III, how specifically did you want the third film to differ from the previous two entries?
ADAM GREEN: Well, it’s not so much about changing anything. It’s about finishing and continuing the story, which was always conceived as these three movies being one long movie. So the fact that [the franchise] had become such a success that I was able to watch come to fruition is just amazing. With the way the first Hatchet ended, there’s an abrupt cut to black in the middle of this huge sequence, and it was a gamble because we knew what we wanted to do with the sequel and the third [film], but what if Hatchet never got released? What if it wasn’t a success and that was it? Thankfully, the fans rallied and it blew up into this worldwide franchise.
With Hatchet III, it’s the climax of this story and it’s the most action-packed out of all the films because now everything is set up. You don’t have to explain the story of Victor Crowley or who all these people are. You just really get to have fun, so it’s different than the other two in that way. I think, as with any trilogy, the easy thing to do is to compare it to the original Star Wars trilogy, because I think Hatchet II, which is a lot of people’s favorite so far, is like The Empire Strikes Back of our trilogy. [Hatchet II] got a lot darker, there was a lot more violence than the first one and we flashbacked to Victor Crowley and the whole story behind him, which was very, very dark and kind of sad. It threw some people for a loop because they expected jokes and silliness, like in the first Hatchet, but with Hatchet III, this is like our Return of the Jedi without Ewoks.
DIABOLIQUE: The abrupt fade-to-black ending during the major finale sequence seems to be a signature of the Hatchet films. Considering this longstanding tradition, do you think there will be a future for the Hatchet universe after Hatchet III and the story of Marybeth Dunston?
GREEN: Hatchet III definitely brings closure to this story. I mean, there’s always a way to make another Victor Crowley movie, but this story is definitely complete, so if it did end here I think not just myself but everybody involved would be okay with that. But it’s really about the fans. If the fans want more, maybe there will be more. But the best thing about all of this, and you never hear this, is our distributor, Dark Sky Films. They’re so filmmaker and fan friendly, their hearts are in the right places and they actually like horror movies and horror fans, unlike other distributors who looked at Hatchet III like a cash grab. What’s so great about them is that they’ve allowed me complete freedom to make the movies that I want to make.
I’m in a unique situation in that Hatchet was so popular that we can make movies just for the Hatchet fans. Not once have [Dark Sky] said, “Well, how do we reach a broader audience? There might be some people who think the first Hatchet is a little too gory or too funny for them.” They don’t do that. They’re like, “Make the movie that the fans want to see.” Because we’ve been able to do that, I think that’s why the quality [of the films] have not just maintained but gotten better with each movie. The scope of Hatchet III and the size of the film is so much bigger than the other two, and that’s because we get to focus on the stuff that matters. I don’t get notes from [Dark Sky] about little things or interference at all. They’re there making the movies with us, on the same page as everyone else. That doesn’t always happen, especially when you start dealing with a studio. When it’s an independent movie, yeah, you have the creative freedom, but it’s a give and take, since you have a smaller budget with that freedom.
With Dark Sky, they’ve really, really been a part of this, and they listen to the fans, which I think is awesome and so important to do because if you betray the fans, you don’t have anything left. The first Hatchet, we made it for us, and with the second two, it’s been much harder because you have people that you don’t want to let down. You want to live up to their expectations as best as you can. [Dark Sky] has been really amazing about that. Even the fact that, with Hatchet II, when the MPAA kept making us cut every death scene out of the movie, Dark Sky found a way to get Hatchet II into major cinemas unrated.
Of course, we all know how that went, as we made history twice in 48 hours as the first horror movie to be released in major cinemas since George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and then 48 hours later, it was mysteriously gone. Honestly, at that point, we thought that was the end, because Dark Sky took a bath on that. They lost so much money, but lo and behold, once it hit DVD and the rest of the world, Hatchet II was a juggernaut. I thought it was so cool when Hatchet II hit DVD/Blu-ray that nowhere did they play into the fact that it got pulled from screens. There was no “See the movie that was banned from cinemas!” stuff. I thought it was so awesome that they didn’t play into that or cater to that. They just let the movie stand on its own, and that was really great.
[Dark Sky] lets me make these movies as violent as I want to make them, and when it opens in theaters on June 14th, we’re only opening in independent theaters this time so that we don’t have to deal with the MPAA. It’ll be on a far less number of screens [than the previous films], but hopefully some people will see it the way it was meant to be seen: in theaters, on the big screen. But if not, Hatchet III will be on Video-On-Demand the same exact day in its unrated version, which sometimes they don’t do. Sometimes, they take the rated versions, which we do have because we had to make an R-rated version of Hatchet III, and it sucks compared to the unrated cut. Some outlets won’t carry an unrated or NC-17 movie, since that’s the rating they gave us and we just didn’t accept it.
DIABOLIQUE: That must be good news to Hatchet fans, as personally speaking, I am one of the many who went to go see Hatchet II in theaters and were refused at the door without an explanation.
GREEN: [The Hatchet II release pull] was the worst thing I’ve ever lived through. I can’t explain what that was like because we were so excited about Hatchet II and that it was opening, and I went to the Thursday night midnight showing in L.A. to see it. The theater was packed, New York was packed, but the next morning, I’m getting tweets from people in Canada saying, “The movie is gone!” I was thinking, “Maybe something happened or the print broke or whatever.” But then, throughout the day, we were just getting reports from fans and that’s how we found out. Some people drove 2-3 hours to their theater, and it was just gone.
The theater had no explanation, other than just, “Sorry, nope,” and the theaters that did play it only played it at like 10:00 p.m. and midnight. They weren’t showing it during the day. Here in L.A., when you went to see it, they would card you when you bought your ticket, then when they ripped your ticket, they’d card you again, and then they had a guard outside of the [theater] door. Sadly, I’d say 75% of our audience bought tickets to other movies and then tried to sneak into Hatchet II because they weren’t of age. So it was really, really hard to watch that go down. On Sunday, when the movie was completely gone, there were all these phone calls happening to try to figure it out. [Theater Chain] AMC wouldn’t say anything, the MPAA wouldn’t say anything and everyone was coming to me for a quote because it definitely was a news story that this was blatant censorship.
But one of the things that happen when you start having success is that you have a team, so that means you’ve got lawyers, agents and managers. Honestly, I don’t know what they do. But everybody said, “You need to shut up. Don’t answer anybody. Don’t do any interviews. Don’t speak about it. Just stay quiet. There’s nothing else you can do.” And they were right, because I have other movies I’m going to make aside besides Hatchet movies and I can’t get into this shit with the MPAA where they’re out to get me. Not that they’re not already, but I could be potentially unhireable on a studio movie, where they’d be like, “We’d love to have you to direct this, but we know [the MPAA] is going to be extra hard on it because you stood up to them.”
I don’t want to say it was a mistake to stand up to them. I lost, clearly, because they pulled Hatchet II. But I would do it again, in a heartbeat, and I hope that more people do it because when it got pulled, I was hearing from so many other directors in Hollywood from super-established A-list directors to other indie directors. Everybody was like, “I can’t believe this is happening right now. This is crazy. I’m so sorry.” And I said, “Why don’t you say something?” And they were like, “Well, dude, I can’t. I’ve got a movie coming out soon. I can’t say anything about it.”
It draws a weird comparison to when Metallica stood up to Napster. I know everyone wanted to hate [Metallica] for that, but they were right. Their shit was getting stolen. It wasn’t so much for them as much as it was for all the other bands because if you’re in a band, and your album comes out, and everyone steals it, you’re never making another album. You’re dropped from your label and that’s it. You can’t say to [executives], “But look, so many million people stole it online!” They don’t care. It’s a business. If you don’t make money, you’re done, and that’s what Metallica stood up against. But all the other bands stayed silent and let them be the bad guys and take the fall. With this, it wasn’t that they were letting me be the bad guy, because they were voicing their support, but I think Kevin Smith was the only one who publicly said anything to the Huffington Post. From everybody else, it was a private phone call to let me know they supported me but couldn’t say anything public about it, and I get that. I totally understand it.
It was bad, but here we are with Hatchet III so in the end, we did live on and I think the movie is a really, really good time. Fans of the series should be really happy with it.
DIABOLIQUE: The deal Dark Sky made with Hatchet II was for exhibition in AMC theaters under the AMC Independent banner. But regionally speaking, AMC has still been releasing NC-17 films such as Killer Joe and Shame using that same three-point card checking system. Do you think had Hatchet II embraced the NC-17 label that the film might not have been pulled as it was?
GREEN: No, because the unrated Hatchet II was the same as the NC-17 cut. We called it “unrated” because you can’t advertise an NC-17 movie in certain areas and stuff. I think really what happened was those other movies didn’t have as much press and controversy going in with it. I had been very outspoken with why Hatchet II was unrated and what I’d went through with Hatchet. When I went to go see Hatchet in the theaters, I was so excited. I mean, what a dream come true: to have your first movie get a theatrical release. I went to the Arclight in Hollywood and went to get my ticket, and I went in, and the theater was full, and I was so happy. Then I watched the movie, and it was not the movie I had made. Every death scene was cut out of it, and a lot of people were pissed. For 18 months of the movie doing festivals, winning all these awards and getting great reviews and hype because everyone was like, “These kills are really, really cool,” and none of them were in the movie. People were like, “What the hell was that?”
That sucks and that’s where it started. So, much attention was brought to the fact that Hatchet II was unrated, like the poster and trailer since that was the angle Dark Sky went with, and then, two weeks, three weeks before the film’s release, word came down from the publicist who said, “They want you to stop talking about the MPAA. Don’t mention that the film is unrated.” So when we’d do press, there’d be a publicist on the phone with us, and as soon as a journalist would mention that the film was unrated, the publicist would jump in and say, “They can’t talk about that.” It was so weird, and then the movie came out. Nobody is ever going to know what happened, since the MPAA accepted no responsibility and AMC tried to say “We pulled it because it wasn’t performing financially,” which is great because they got called out on that so fast.
Never in the history of time, not with Waterworld, not with Ishtar, has a movie been pulled in the first three days for not performing financially, especially for a program called “AMC Independent” and they know it’s not a movie with $20 million in marketing behind it or anything like that. It’s never happened before, and what started happening was journalists were calling AMC out on it, saying, “Okay, fine. If that’s what you’re going to say, then how come [Deon Taylor’s] Chain Letter opened on the same day as Hatchet II, which you’re saying only made $1,000 per screen, which was not true, but if it is true, that’s pretty good [for a one-day gross] and how do you figure out a per-screen average for 68 screens when, by Friday, it was on 40 screens and by Saturday, it was on 10 screens where it was only playing at two-showings a day? How can you figure out a per-screen average for that model? You can’t. And since Chain Letter made $300 per screen, why’d you hold that film over for two weeks?” And AMC wouldn’t comment, so something happened and phone calls were made.
Think of it this way, though. Let’s just say Hatchet II had opened, and didn’t get pulled, and the horror fans really united around that movie, like even if you hated Hatchet and bought a matinee ticket for $6.00 to support independent horror, and it worked and was a hit, that could have been the end of the MPAA. Everybody would have started doing that. They’d be like, “Why would we ever bother with getting a rating if I don’t need it anymore?” So, of course Hatchet II had to go. I can’t prove any of this, and I don’t know.
Since then, the MPAA was really hard on Hatchet III, and my problem with that was it doesn’t make sense. I mean, you’re a horror fan, you’ve seen these movies. Are they really THAT out of line? Are they really that depraved or disturbing? They’re funny! There’s nothing in them that you can take seriously, so it’s weird that they’ve chosen [the Hatchet films] to be so incredibly hard on and yet other movies that are studio movies get by with rape, torture, drug use and sexual stuff, and that’s fine? I don’t know. I feel like it was the timing when Hatchet came out, and the MPAA was under fire for the torture porn stuff, which was being put out by major studios. Hatchet was AnchorBay’s first real theatrical attempt, and they were not part of the MPAA’s system. So maybe that’s why they were so hard on it. Maybe they were like, “We CAN be hard on this one, and then when parents complain, we can go ahead and say that we made them cut everything out of this.”
I don’t know. I’m never going to really know. I’m not planning on making more super-gory movies like Hatchet III, necessarily. Hatchet is what Hatchet is. People know the other work that I do, whether it’s Holliston, which is a sitcom, or Spiral, which was a PG-13 psychological thriller, or Frozen, which is a survival thriller. I’m not all about blood and guts and gore; that’s just what Hatchet is. I’ll never be able to figure it out, and I’m certainly not the first person to be in a situation like this. This was definitely an extreme situation. At the end of the day, the movie isn’t about working. Hatchet II was a hit and the fans loved it. Now we have a third one, and I just have to let it go.
DIABOLIQUE: Some could argue that what appears in the Hatchet films, content wise, isn’t as realistically gory as what appears in The Evil Dead (2013) or Dredd. If anything, the Hatchet films are pulpy, like Creepshow, so it’s not like you’re watching an actual murder being depicted.
GREEN: And that was my point to the MPAA. Where it all started going south was when they gave the first Hatchet an NC-17, I’d never done anything before and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. So I challenged them and went to arbitration, and once you do that, you’re a marked man because you stood up to them. They do not like that. You’re supposed to keep re-editing your movie and re-editing your movie until they say it’s okay. So, I went to trial and arbitrated the whole thing, and that’s really what brought the hammer down on me. But I agree with you. I don’t think there’s anything worse [in the Hatchet films], and in fact, I think there’s stuff that’s far worse. Not just in theaters, but on 2,000 screens with $20-40 million in marketing behind it.
But if you’ve ever seen that Kirby Dick documentary, This Film is Not Yet Rated, they explain who pays the MPAA’s salaries. This is a group that’s supposed to stay anonymous. You’re not supposed to know who they are, for whatever reason, and the studios pay their salaries. So when you’re coming out with a movie that’s getting a theatrical release, you don’t think that is impacted by who’s paying them? I think that might have something to do with it. But again, I don’t know. With Holliston, we were a little worried because it’s a sitcom and yet it’s violent, and yet again, cartoonish-violence, but we got a TV-MA with no problem. It was totally easy. Frozen got an R, which honestly, I thought it should have been a PG-13 because there’s no violence in that movie. It’s all off-screen and implied. You think you saw it, but you really didn’t see it. There are some uncomfortable moments and some gross stuff, I guess, but it’s not people killing each other or anything like that. But it got an R, and we did ask, “Why? On what grounds?” And they said, “It’s too terrifying.” “Does that- Does that count? But, thank you!”
One day, the system will change. It’s gonna take somebody who’s a far bigger star than I am to get up there and do it. Like, if Spielberg went after them, [the system] would change. But even when he DID go after them, he just had a new rating created with PG-13 on The Temple of Doom! Personally, I’m not Steven Spielberg, nor will I ever be. But the world of cinema is changing, and it’s all coming together now that DVD’s and Blu-ray’s are coming out much quicker, right behind the theatrical releases, and a lot of people don’t go to the theaters anymore, which sucks. With a movie like Hatchet, if you watched it alone, by yourself, it’s a completely different movie than seeing it in a theater full of actual fans. Not a press screening with critics or with people who are forced to go who don’t even know what they’re watching or don’t want to see it, but a group of fans.
That’s why festivals are so much fun, because everyone is there. They’ve waited on line for hours because they want to be there. With every kill, they’re cheering, clapping and laughing. It’s a great communal experience, but now, everything’s moving towards VOD and iTunes. It’s all sort of condensing into this thing where Hollywood is making these big-budget 3D movies to have an angle to make people try to see it in the theaters, and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s an interesting time. A lot of time, when I’m doing interviews, they ask me, “Where do you see the industry in 5 years?” And I have no idea. It’s a terrifying place to be. Budgets are getting smaller on the independent level, whereas the “safe” spot used to be $1.5-$3 million, if you have a notable cast. Now, people are making movies for $400,000 – $500,000, and a lot of that is because of the torrenting. A lot of foreign distributors are like, “We’re not going to make any money because it’s going to come out in America, everyone is going to steal it and by the time it comes out here, we’re not going to make anything off of it. So, we’re not going to give you anything.”
It’s becoming really hard to get a budget together, and that really sucks. I’m very fortunate for the reputation, the career and the fan base that I have, but I feel so horribly for a first time director who is trying to do something good, because chances are, they’re probably getting shit for a budget. Then, the fact that the market is so oversaturated where there’s 50 new low-budget horror movies getting made every month. How do you stand out from that? The easy thing is to say, “We’ll just make something really good.” The buyers at these [festival] screenings, they don’t know. They’re not fans. They just want to know, “Who’s in the cast? What else are they in? How much money did that make? What is this movie like? How do we market it to make it like that movie that made a lot of money?”
It’s a weird, weird thing, and it really started after the ‘80s where it wasn’t about creativity and originality anymore. A lot of these theater chains are owned by huge corporations now, so it’s not about producers or movie moguls who think they can spot a new talent or story. “You’re gonna be a star, kid!” You know that whole thing? It’s gone. It’s all about numbers and adding up, and that’s why there’s so many remakes. Fans LOVE remakes. They love them, and they always try to say, “No, we don’t love remakes!” Bullshit! You love them! That’s why you pay to see every single one of them. That’s why make so much money, because you love them. That’s why we get remakes constantly. And now, we’re out of remakes! There’s nothing left to remake, so now they’re going to HAVE to try to make original movies. So, that’s kind of exciting.
DIABOLIQUE: With the Hatchet films, you always seem to assemble such a strong cast of genre icons, including Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Tony Todd and Danielle Harris. In this film, you bring in Gremlins and Waxwork actor Zach Galligan, Friday the 13th (2009) and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters actor Derek Mears and more into the fray. Was there any particular horror heavy-hitter that you were unable to bring into the Hatchet franchise, for whatever reason?
GREEN: No, actually. That never happened. After the first Hatchet, I would do these conventions and stuff, and it’d be funny because usually a good portion of those horror icons or celebrities appearing there would come up to me at some point and say, “How do I get into one of these films?” One of the things is that they really like the parts. They get to be funny and they get to act, not just in a cameo where they get to come on and do some spooky thing or make a reference to what they’re known for. Like, in the first Hatchet, when I cast Tony Todd, I was very up front with him and said, “In this one, we’re just introducing you. You’ll have a few funny lines and that’s it, but in the second one, you’re going to be the lead of the movie.” I think that’s why he did [Hatchet]. When I described his character, it was this very comical, charlatan, larger-than-life type of guy. [Tony Todd] doesn’t get to do comedy that much, and that was one of the first times he could do it. I think that was the first time a lot of people could see how funny Tony Todd is.
Of course, having him on Holliston, he was absolutely hilarious in his episode. Holliston’s been a great stomping ground for that, with Kane and Danielle. Sid Haig was on Holliston, and John Landis too. Never in their lives did they get to think they’d be on a multi-camera sitcom with an audience and a laugh track and the whole thing. It was something completely new [to them]. You have to remember that as awesome as it could be to be a horror icon, nobody has ever said, “I want to be an actor and I want to be cast as a villain in a horror movie in the ‘80s and that’s it. That’s how I’ll be known for the rest of my life.” That’s something nobody ever wanted. They’re proud of it, they’re excited about it and they’re grateful for it, but they also want to do other stuff. So the Hatchet’s have been able to give those people a lot of opportunities.
I mean, for Hatchet III, we pretty much pulled Zach Galligan out of almost retirement. I mean, nobody had seen him for a long time. As you saw, he had such a fun time with Hatchet III. He’s so great. The best thing about Zach Galligan is that he’s so fucking nice, and I antagonized the shit out of him on Hatchet III, asking him stories about Gremlins every chance I got. He never got sick of it and he always obliged me with a story. In fact, once, after we wrapped, he was staying at my house for a few days, and one night, he sat down with Joe Lynch and I and did a commentary to Gremlins. It’s the type of commentary that no one will get on an actual DVD. It was like the REAL stories, and I can never watch those movies the same way again. I was just stunned throughout the whole thing. I couldn’t believe the stuff he was telling me.
So as a fanboy myself, I am just as excited as any fan would get to work on these movies. I’m just overjoyed, like a little kid in a candy store, asking them all these questions about all these things that I want to know. It’s been awesome. It’s such a dream come true to get to do this and have some success at it, and how loyal my fan base is. I have a fan base completely unlike anybody elses. I do all these different kinds of the things and the same people will give every single one of them a chance. I have a small percentage of people who, unless it’s a Hatchet movie, will go, “Fuck it, I don’t want to see that.” But it’s a very, very small percent. The rest of them are totally down to see what I’m going to do next. Not everyone has that, and they get pigeonholed very fast. I’m very lucky for that, and every day I wake up, I have to pinch myself, like, “Is this really happening?”
Getting back to your question about working with these horror icons, they’ve all lived up to it. Nobody has let me down. I’ve never had an experience where someone was kind of a dick or was not what you were hoping they would be. Everyone has lived up to who you’d want them to be and then some.
Check back soon for part two of our interview with Adam Green and for more on Hatchet III, hitting theaters and VOD this Friday, June 14th from Dark Sky Films!
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he recieved an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.