As 2011 comes to a close and I start to write my annual year-end blog I am overwhelmed by how much has happened over the past year. It seems like somehow each year tops the next and I am beyond grateful that the projects just keep coming at such a fast pace.
2011 started with the DVD/BLU RAY release of HATCHET II. As you may recall, HATCHET II made waves at the end of 2010 by going into a mainstream theater chain unrated and ignoring the MPAA’s (sometimes) unfair ratings system for independent films. Rather than slice and dice the film’s content like we did for HATCHET 1′s theatrical release in 2007, this time our distributor Dark Sky Films had made a partnership with AMC Theaters and their new program “AMC Independent” who agreed to release the film in major multiplexes without caving to any type of censorship and without obtaining an MPAA rating. (Note: We had tried several times to get the film to an “R” rating but were hit back with the dreaded “NC-17″ due to the amount of fantastical and over-the-top violence depicted in the film. An “NC17″ is considered “pornographic” by many theater chains and is not only un-playable, but un-advertiseable in mainstream outlets.) This had not happened for a horror film in America in over a quarter of century, but what seemed like a huge victory became a nightmare and a controversial news item when HATCHET II was yanked from theaters slowly over a 3-day period and became the first movie to ever be assassinated in it’s opening weekend. We opened on a Thursday night at midnight and by the NEXT day, many screens had mysteriously dropped the film without explanation. By Sunday the film was gone. AMC’s public response? ”The film was not performing financially.” The MPAA refused to respond. I was instructed to shut my mouth as there was no good that could come out of fanning the flames at that point. Journalists and bloggers were quick to point out the obvious, that HATCHET II was actually performing just fine in comparison to other genre films released that same weekend (in fact, it performed far better than another genre title that stayed in the same theaters for two full weeks after) and that there was no way to even tell how it was performing when the theater count was constantly dwindling throughout the 72 hours it was in theaters and some cinemas only showed the film once or twice a day. The writing was on the wall that some seriously shady shit had gone down. It was devastating. But in February the film hit DVD and BLU RAY and literally sold out of most major retailers within the first hour. Stores had to wait to get more shipments as Dark Sky tried to keep re-stocking as fast as they could. A mere 4 weeks later, it was announced that a third HATCHET film would be made in 2012 as HATCHET II was yet another success for the franchise. Long story short, in the end Victor Crowley won and it was a great start to what would become my best year yet. HATCHET III will be directed by BJ McDonnell (the camera operator from both HATCHET films and my personal pick to take the reigns on the next installment) and is expected to start shooting in the Spring of 2012 with a hopeful release of Halloween-time later in the year if all goes as planned. Just don’t expect to see it in your local AMC cinema. We’ve got other plans in mind.
Meanwhile, I was hard at work wrapping things up on CHILLERAMA, the horror/comedy anthology created by myself, Adam Rifkin, Joe Lynch, and Tim Sullivan and developing my first TV series HOLLISTON with FEARnet all while working on KILLER PIZZA, the big budget monster-adventure movie I am writing for Chris Columbus’ production company 1492 Films. In addition to all of that, legendary artist Alex Pardee and I were busy conspiring on an experimental documentary about monsters and “monster art” called DIGGING UP THE MARROW, I was collaborating with HACK/SLASH creator Tim Seeley on “HATCHET/SLASH” a comic book crossover where Victor Crowley would make his first ever comic book appearance, and ArieScope Pictures launched SEXY NIGHTMARE SLAYERS (in conjunction with Comedy Central’s Atom.com) to a whopping 100,000+ views in just the first 7 days alone. All of this while simultaneously working on a few other projects that I’ll be able to spill details on later next year. Oh yeah, and we even pulled off another Halloween Short film for the 13th year in a row and unveiled DOWNLOADING AND YOU in October. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
My schedule this year prevented me from getting to do as many public appearances and conventions as I typically try to do, but in support of CHILLERAMA I was able to do San Diego Comic-Con as well as dates in London, Berlin, Hamburg, Texas, and several events in Los Angeles. For those asking when I’ll next be in your city, 2012 is actually looking even busier than 2011 so I thank you in advance for your patience. It’s not that I love you any less or that I don’t want to get out there to meet you face to face, but I’m here to create first and promote second. It doesn’t help the cause that I have become very picky and (in a few cases) disenchanted with the horror convention circuit. In general, I’m not a fan of how the fans are treated at some of these events and since I have always made it a policy to never personally charge money for fans to meet me, get pictures with me, or get autographs from me… it adds another layer of issues with doing convention appearances that often times makes them not worth the hassle. Still, the rare moments where I get to meet the fans one on one is what fuels me to keep going and so I plan to try and get out there with you as many times as I feasibly can. I know it’s frustrating when you request that I be added to a convention roster only to be told by the organizers that I turned it down already, but on the bright side please remember that my absence means that I am hard at work bringing you whatever is next. Some day I will be able to clone myself and be everywhere I’d like to be at once, but until then appearances will usually be limited to only those that coincide with the press tour for an upcoming release.
At San Diego Comic-Con in July we unveiled an unfinished cut of CHILLERAMA to an overwhelmingly positive response and Alex Pardee and I went public with our plans to make DIGGING UP THE MARROW. Exclusive posters for both projects were given out and signed. DIGGING UP THE MARROW is a project that I plan to buckle down on over the next few months. While we’ve already technically begun, when HOLLISTON got it’s green-light all work had to be abandoned temporarily. It’s a documentary of sorts which means the production schedule will be very spread out. On the safe side I wouldn’t plan on seeing anything from this film until 2013, but know that we’re all giddy about where it’s going. One of the things I am most grateful for in my success as an independent story teller is that I get to keep doing different things and I get to experiment rather than always do the same thing or repeat myself. I assure you that THE MARROW will be unlike anything else you’ve seen from ArieScope or myself as even WE don’t know exactly where it’s all going yet. Plus, working with Alex Pardee has reinvigorated and re-inspired my soul in more ways than I can count.
On a personal note, it was around this same time that Rileah and I made another addition to our family in the form of a puppy named Arwen. While I tried for the name “Detective McManus” I lost pretty quickly. Arwen has added another layer of fun and joy to our already amazing lives. Her overbearing excitement for virtually everything more than makes up for the fact that she uses the cat’s litter boxes as her own personal buffet and has only recently discovered the joy it brings us when she actually poops or pees outside in the yard rather than… most everywhere else.
HOLLISTON was announced publicly in August and we began shooting just a few weeks later. You can read the blogs below to see just how important this project is to me and how long I worked on it to bring it to fruition (13 YEARS!) but what I can say now is that it has been and continues to be the greatest time I’ve ever had on any project I’ve ever been involved with. We’re about halfway through editing the first season of episodes and right on track for an April launch on FEARnet’s TV channel. I know, I know- FEARnet is a cable channel? Do I get it? How do I get it? Just like every new channel (Comedy Central, Spike, G4, etc) it will be a slow build at first as FEARnet works it’s way into everyone’s cable line-up but it is already in a lot of areas and in 26 million homes in your On-Demand section. By April they hope to be in even more homes so that you can watch the show on TV as it airs and not have to wait to catch it on the various on-line outlets or DVD/BLU-RAY afterwords. While there are certainly challenges in being the first show on a brand new network, there is also something beyond exciting in being a network’s flagship production. The amount of support and creative freedom FEARnet has given me is literally unheard of in television and the sheer fact that they opted to go with a traditional sit-com (well, traditional in regards to the multi-camera format, audience laugh track, look, and feel of it) rather than what you would typically expect from a new network called “FEARnet” is amazing. For those who can’t find FEARnet in your basic cable line-up, call 877-FEAR-247 to find out how you can easily demand it. Keep in mind that it costs the cable providers virtually nothing to add it. They just need to know that their paying customers want it. Over the next few months you’ll be seeing an assault of press (photos, trailers, clips, promos, billboards, posters, interviews, cast appearances, etc) while we gear up to launch the show, but just two weeks ago my co-star Joe Lynch and I gave a sneak peek of the show to an audience in Austin, Texas and it went down even better than we could have hoped. I think it’s going to be very weird for people to see us in a sit-com and even the audience in Austin looked more confused than anything when the clip first began, but quickly they got over it and got into it. I’ve never been more confident in anything I’ve done and if all goes as planned I hope to be standing back on our sets at Red Studios in Hollywood as soon as possible and shooting season 2. Two of my biggest inspirations in television comedy are Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and the sheer fact that we were shooting on the same stage where they shot the first four episodes of SEINFELD was truly an inspiration. (Back then it was called Ren Mar Studios and before that Desilu Studios.) Each day you’d have to pinch yourself when you’d realize that legends like Lucille Ball and Andy Griffith once performed right where you were performing and that HOLLISTON was really happening. My crew (many of the same people who worked on the HATCHET films, FROZEN, SPIRAL, and CHILLERAMA) was amazing and my cast-mates have become part of my family. While we only got to have our brothers Dee Snider and Oderus Urungus for a limited time during production, the core ensemble (comprised of myself, Lynch, Corri English, and Laura Ortiz) spent many, many months working together on this. From rehearsals that started in the Spring and went rigorously through the summer and into the actual shoot, I’ve spent more time with the three of them than anyone else in my life. Hopefully when you see it you’ll notice how tight and genuine the chemistry is between us and realize that you’re not just watching another sit-com where the actors are acting like they are a tight-knit circle of friends but a show where the characters/actors are genuinely putting themselves out on display. Every joke, every insult, every stage kiss, every stage punch, and every hug is truly genuine. I know that when HOLLISTON was announced there was some confusion from my fan base and some concern that they were going to lose me to TV and not see any more movies. Not true. But I’ve always tried to keep surprising people and doing different things. If you look at HATCHET, SPIRAL, GRACE, FROZEN, and CHILLERAMA- none of them are even remotely the same. HOLLISTON is just another different step, but it happens to be the one that I worked the longest on to bring to fruition and the one that has always been the closest to my heart since it is my real life (in many ways) on the pages that I wrote. So even though my own sit-com wasn’t what anyone expected from me next, I hope you keep your minds open and are as excited as I am. I know there are folks in the Hatchet Army who only want me to make more HATCHET films and while I appreciate your enthusiasm and the fact that HATCHET gave me life in this crazy business, you won’t see me back behind the camera in the swamp again any time soon or likely ever again. I’ve done it already. Twice. I loved it and I’m proud as hell of it. I’ll still always be involved as long as Victor Crowley keeps coming back for more. But as much as I know the angry letters, tweets, and comments about me stepping down as the director are all coming from a place of adoration for what I started, you’ve gotta let me go on. I assure you the franchise is in good hands as it’s in the same hands that were crucial in creating every single thing you’ve seen so far.
CHILLERAMA began it’s road tour over the summer in Europe and then continued on through various drive-ins, art-house theaters, and even cemeteries through the Fall. The film hit DVD and BLU-RAY on November 29th and the response from both critics and fans has been amazing. In all honesty, this was not one where we expected such a positive reaction right out of the gate. It’s a weird movie and it’s a mixed bag. In creating vintage B-movies you can never be so sure that the audience is going to be able to appreciate or get into what you’re doing. Case and point, the funniest review of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN consisted of the “critic” bitching that he/she actually had to READ sub-titles and how hard that was for him/her to do. ”If I wanted to read sub-titles I’d watch a foreign film!” (For those who haven’t seen it yet, ANNE FRANKENSTEIN is a foreign film- all shot in German and black and white. That was the, um… point.) The audience doesn’t always consist of the brightest bulbs or the sharpest tools. But CHILLERAMA has been extremely well embraced and the few times I did get to see it in a theater with an audience it was a joy hearing everyone laugh and applaud the moments they liked. We knew going into it that not every segment would be for everyone as we had four very different filmmakers creating four very different films with full creative freedom for better or for worse, but overall the audience has been able to switch gears and roll with the various styles and segments and we’re all very proud of that. For me personally and for my core crew at ArieScope, the two years we spent on CHILLERAMA was some of the best times we’ve had and also some of the worst times we’ve had, but walking into the store last week and seeing that brilliant cover from Phil Roberts on the shelves (not to mention, it was almost sold-out in both places I went) made me proud that we pulled it off. I hope you guys are enjoying it and if you haven’t seen it yet I hope it is in your stockings come Christmas morning. As I’ve responded in numerous places, I can really only speak for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANKENSTEIN as that was my contribution to the film, but I’m glad to hear you’re all giving the film a chance as a whole and hopefully getting turned on to the other filmmakers if you weren’t already.
In November it was also announced that MGM has picked up KILLER PIZZA. Unfortunately there isn’t much more I can say at this point except that I’m working with the producing team team to re-write the script to the studio’s specifications (part of the studio process in every case) and that it has continued to be a wonderful experience. Perhaps later in the year we’ll have more news on the project but for now it’s all about the script for me. I know people want to know if I will indeed be directing it, but as this is a big studio film let’s just go one step at a time. At the moment, those conversations haven’t even started yet. Hopefully the movie gets a green-light sooner rather than later and hopefully I am behind the camera if/when that happens, but for now I’m just the writer … and I’m very, very proud to be.
To end the year with a bang, HATCHET/SLASH hit comic book stores last week. Collaborating with series creator Tim Seeley, editor James Lowder, writer Benito Cereno, and artists Ariel Zucker-Brull, Thomas Torre, and Timothy Yates was a fantastic experience and the whole team kept me involved every step of the way while they did their thing. HATCHET fans have been letting me know how much they have enjoyed the comic and for myself as a long-time fan of HACK/SLASH it is an honor to know that Victor Crowley has now faced off with slasher hunters Cassie and Vlad. This HACK/SLASH annual number three is limited so hopefully you get your copy before they are all gone.
So… quite a year, right? 2012 will see the launch of HOLLISTON and the productions of HATCHET III and DIGGING UP THE MARROW as well as one more ArieScope horror movie that has yet to be announced publicly. Hopefully there will be news about KILLER PIZZA going into production as well as news of a second season of HOLLISTON as well, but for now… it’s all about sleeping and healing my body and mind from the year of work and sleepless months I’ve put myself through. With the holidays almost here I’m looking forward to some much needed time on the couch with family and friends and right after the New Year Rileah and I are off to a much needed and well deserved vacation in Kauai before I jump back into the homestretch on HOLLISTON and prepping HATCHET III.
To every fan who has supported my work over the years and to every newcomer who has found their way here- thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish you and yours an amazing holiday season and a very happy, healthy, and successful New Year. To my fans overseas who are serving your country and who can’t be home with your own families, we’re all thinking of you and grateful for what you do. Stay safe, stay healthy… and stay out of the swamp.
See you all in Holliston in 2012.