Tonight at midnight, HATCHET III will hit select theaters and VOD for all to see. As you’ve surely heard by now in the many interviews that we’ve all done or in the reviews starting to post, HATCHET III is the conclusion to the story of “Marybeth” and “Victor Crowley” that I set out to make a long, long, long time ago now. It was 30 years ago this summer when I invented the character of “Victor Crowley” to scare the other kids at summer camp- simply because I found the counselor’s tale of a man called “Hatchet-Face” to be lacking and needing a little “umph”. All they had to offer us was a name. ”Hatchet-Face”. By now you’ve hopefully watched the extensive Behind The Scenes on your HATCHET DVD or BLU-RAY and heard the whole story, so I won’t bother to write it all out yet again here. But it was 10 years ago when my script for HATCHET had been passed on by every major studio (for the reason that “it’s not a remake, it’s not a sequel, and it’s not based on a Japanese one” – an actual rejection that I made the tagline for HATCHET’s 2006/2007 festival tour posters) and was literally sitting in my closet in a pile of “broken dreams”… something EVERY writer has somewhere in their home. Thankfully, I had friends who didn’t want to accept that as the end and together we (Will Barratt, Sarah Elbert, and Cory Neal who have remained the figureheads of this amazing franchise through LOTS of thick and LOTS of thin) set out to make the film ourselves and… well, the rest is now history. Tonight our journey comes to an end. And I’m… just kind of numb.
Perhaps it’s not knowing how to say goodbye to an old friend who not only means the world to me but who also launched my career and (for a worldwide group of horror fans known as the “Hatchet Army”, renewed their own personal faith in slasher films). Perhaps it’s that it’s too hard to believe that Victor Crowley is really in his grave and reunited with his “Daaaaaddy” like he always wanted. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I haven’t slept in so very long that the circus of insanity that I’m living through with making and promoting both HATCHET III and HOLLISTON Season 2 at the same time has just left me so exhausted that I can’t really feel any of it. Point is, it’s a very surreal time filled with a huge mixed bag of emotions.
While this past week’s red carpet premiere in Hollywood was supposed to be a full-on celebration of the past ten years of work, unfortunately my body started to give out on me about halfway through the screening and by the end of the (lengthy) Q&A I was pouring buckets of sweat and doing everything I could to race home before throwing up in front of the audience or on an autograph seeking fan. While I hoped I’d still somehow make it back for the after party, instead I spent a good portion of the rest of the night on the floor of my bathroom getting sick. (Hey, I almost made it across the finish line, right?) Not how I expected the final moments to play out, but also something that I should have seen coming as it very well should have happened to me much earlier on in the past few months. However, I tell this story not to bum anyone out- but to draw a weird circular parallel in this journey. (And no, I’m not referring to the copious amounts of vomit in the HATCHET films themselves.)
The HATCHET ARMY logo worn by the HATCHET fans.
When HATCHET premiered at the Tribeca film festival in the Spring of 2006, the movie was already on fire. Early reviews and buzz saw the movie getting hype in Variety, the LA Times, and the NY Times. It seemed like it was THE movie to watch out for that year and when I saw the crowds of horror fans lined up outside the theater on the night of our first screening I couldn’t believe it was real. Even more nerve wracking was watching some of the industry’s top acquisitions executives saunter into the theater with check books in hand. Of course this was also the very same night when my childhood idol (Dee Snider from TWISTED SISTER) showed up and graciously walked me down the red carpet when I was too nervous to even take a step on my own. (Again, if you’ve watched the Behind The Scenes on HATCHET- you know the now legendary “Twisted Tale” about how Dee and I slowly became such close friends over a 20 year period all culminating in that very night.) My cast, my crew, my producers… we just KNEW that good things were destined to come HATCHET’s way.
I gave my very first introduction speech that night, totally honest and from the heart, and I got my very first standing ovation as a filmmaker (before the movie even started). The movie started, and our sales rep stood in the back- just waiting for that first offer for distribution. But five minutes into the screening, we watched a leading distributor’s acquisitions team stand up and walk out. (Though I’d later learn that this is a strategy used to “turn down the heat” and thus the price of a film’s acquisition – at the time, all I knew was that people were leaving and the opening credits weren’t even finished yet.) You could feel the energy in the room shift. While the general audience cheered, screamed, laughed, and applauded like crazy… all I could focus on was “what the fuck just happened?” Afterwords, we did the standard Q&A, greeted fans, and exited the theater where our sales rep promptly told me “It’s not looking good. I don’t know how we sell this film.” I wanted to crawl back to my hotel room and die. All of those years of work, all of the excitement, the reviews, the reactions… and just like THAT… I’m being told “it’s over”. But sadly, I couldn’t run back to my hotel. I still had to make an appearance at the after party where I was expected to make some sort of speech. The cast (who at this point still had no clue that the movie was “dead”, only that the audience went out of their minds for it) sat with me in the corner as we slowly realized that we didn’t know a single person at the HATCHET after party. In fact, it’s safe to say that 90% of the over-crowded club had not even seen the movie, nor did they even know what HATCHET was. They just wanted to come to the party. (A lesson I’d learn again and again with this stuff as I’ve seen countless “faces” come to premieres to be seen and photographed on the carpet for publicity exposure and then bolt before the movie actually starts.) I said some sort of a speech though to this day I can’t remember a single word I said. And then I grabbed Rileah and we made a fast exit.
I spent the next few hours huddled up in a ball on the hotel room floor, clutching my stomach which hurt like I had been kicked in it by a 900 pound foot and… well… I cried. I cried like I had never cried before (and have never cried since.) Rileah sat by my side trying to console me, but there was nothing she could say or do that was gonna help and she knew it. Eventually she just sat with me and listened to me say over and over again that “I let everyone down.” How was I going to break it to the cast and the crew who had given me so much- that the movie was dead before it even started? How was this possible? What the fuck happened?
Joel David Moore and I at the opening night Tribeca premiere Q&A – 2006.
What followed were four more nights of screenings. Each night the audience was even rowdier than the last. Every show was sold out. Even more important to note, was that some fans were coming back MULTIPLE times to see the movie again and again and lining up outside of the theater many hours in advance. The reviews kept coming in and they were glowing. One notable critic called Victor Crowley “the next icon of horror”. But I couldn’t enjoy any of it as deep down I knew we were dead in the water already and I just couldn’t figure out why.
Note: Eventually I would learn that the group who walked out 5 minutes into HATCHET’s first screening actually went right up to the sales rep to request their OWN screening or their own copy but said that they wouldn’t be forced into a competitive bidding situation. Eventually they even made an offer on HATCHET- but not one we would accept.
The day of our final Tribeca screening I was invited to a lunch with the sales rep, one of our producers (Cory), and our main investor (Andrew). I felt like I was walking to my death. I thought Andrew was going to have me killed. After all, while my feelings may have been torn out and eaten for breakfast… his bank account was feeling even worse at that point. How the hell was I ever going to get him his 1.5 MILLION dollars back? The sales rep was very direct in saying that the movie was dead but that we did have some offers on the table though they were offering pennies, they were companies we had never heard of, and the releases being offered were dreadful to say the least. ”But what about these reviews?” ”What about the reactions?” ”What other movie playing here is getting this kind of reaction?” It didn’t matter… HATCHET and my childhood dream of Victor Crowley were dead. It just wasn’t “the type of movie that was in style right now” because “only remakes are performing, sorry.” They began to discuss which of the abysmal offers they should accept in an effort to cut their loses and at that point I took off. Sounds dramatic (and while I’ll never argue that I’m not a dramatic person) it’s true. I ran out into the street to hail a cab. Andrew followed me out into the street and told me to come back in. He assured me he wasn’t mad at me. That he knew the risk when he took it. And it was THAT moment when the fire in me raged ten fold and I said “Don’t take these offers. I’m going to do this. Please just trust me.”
And you know what? HE DID. Not many investors would- but Andrew DID. He believed and he stuck with me. He turned down the offers. The next stop with HATCHET was FrightFest in London. My first time ever even being on a plane for that long, let alone leaving the country. I was there by myself, continually going into debt on my credit cards, and hoping to make SOMEONE in Hollywood see that there were fans out there who didn’t only want torture films and remakes. I was scared and alone, but I was confident. The movie played (right after PAN’S LABYRINTH of all movies- imagine how nerve wracking THAT was??) and then… BOOM. It blew up. Within days HATCHET had been accepted EVERYWHERE. Festivals were begging for it. 8 cities in Germany, followed by two cities in Canada, followed by Barcelona, Austin, LA, and more. I stayed on the road for well over a year. Offers got better, but still… they were not what we wanted. I was in debt. SUCH debt. But I kept going.
Ultimately, my producers and I pooled what little money we had left to rent the Arclight Theater in Hollywood and show HATCHET for free one night. It was our last stand. We put it out there on-line that a FREE screening would be held, just praying that distributors who had now seen the reviews, the awards, and the reactions, would come and give it just ONE more shot. The theater held 400 seats. By the time the screening started there were 735 people lined up down Sunset Blvd. We had to add a second screening. And it was within those next 24 hours that the first two theatrical offers came in. The next day I was on the sound mixing stage for SPIRAL when a guy named Mark Ward from Anchor Bay called me to discuss acquiring the movie. What was interesting about this was… A) I knew Anchor Bay very well as half the horror movies in my collection had their logo on it and B) Mark was the ONLY acquisitions exec who called ME and not just the sales rep. He sold me on the fact that though Anchor Bay had never done a real theatrical release, he would TRY with all of his might to make it happen with HATCHET because he “got it”. Most of all, he said that it was movies like HATCHET that made him want to get into the business in the first place and that he NEEDED it. He was just a real guy. He was a real horror fan. (He’s since become a very, very dear friend.) Now I don’t know about you, but personally I would always rather go with the person who CARES than the bigger name place that could kind of care less. I spoke with the team, made the case for why I trusted in Mark, and they all agreed. Best of all- Mark stuck to his word and that following September 7, 2007 – HATCHET opened on 80 screens across the United States. The rest is of course… history.
HATCHET opened in US theaters on September 7, 2007.
So getting back to the present, there I was at the premiere of HATCHET III and once again, on the floor sick. Only this time it wasn’t from tears- it was from sheer exhaustion on what this journey has been like- not just for me, but for EVERYONE who has played a part of this franchise. It certainly hasn’t been all fun and games or wonderful experiences for ANY of us. We’ve lost a few along the way, I’ve been stabbed in the back by the most unexpected of people, I’ve watched some people crack under the pressure and quit, I’ve been stalked by over zealous fans, I’ve been personally attacked in cyber space by people, I’ve been lied about, I’ve been lied to, I’ve been screwed out of money (left and right), I’ve had people who’s careers I made try and extort money out of me just because they thought they might be able to make a quick buck and get away with it, I’ve watched “critics” get fed up with my popularity and success and viciously try and tear me down personally, I’ve watched foreign distributors make money hand over fist and hide their numbers from us while begging for sequels, I’ve been made a pariah by the MPAA and been forced to defend my work, my fans, and my character at a full-on TRIAL, I’ve stood by as internet pirates stole my work and mass distributed it to hundreds of thousands (if not MILLIONS) of thieves who then came after me and called me “greedy’ when I begged them to stop, and I’ve watched people I loved and gave opportunities to (simply out of wanting to help someone else out in ways that I never had help with) take what they could get out of me, turn on me, and leave me hanging. All for a small little slasher comedy that was made out of love, by love, and for love. Sounds horrible right? But I assure you… it ISN’T. It’s just Hollywood. You can choose to focus only on those bad times or look back and think of all of the AMAZING people I was fortunate enough to have with me on this trip. The people that gave all they had (and then some) to help keep this dream moving forward, People who made this their OWN dream, who literally became family, and who stood through until the very end without ever breaking in character no matter how hard it got. The enormous amount of good people FAR outweigh the few let downs and I love that when you watch these three films, not only do you see so many crucial people returning again and again, but even stepping up in rank and position. That part has just been awesome to watch happen.
HATCHET III opens in select theaters and on VOD June 14th, 2013.
And more so than anything… are the fans worldwide. The fans who made this into a franchise, who gave me a shot at a career, and who have supported not just the HATCHET series- but EVERYTHING I’ve done in between. My loyal crew. My various casts. The above paragraphs may sound rather bleak- but it’s merely the honest truth. And the positive doesn’t just outweigh the negative… it BLOWS it away to the point that the negative really has no baring. But in being completely honest- yes, it is a mixed bag of emotions. There are a lot of scars from this process, but holy shit are there a lot of victories, there are a lot of people I would hate to exist without, and there is more love behind this series of movies than most marriages are lucky enough to have. Whether you made it to the end, whether you had to get off the train early, whether you screwed me over, whether you stabbed me in the back, or whether you were just cheering from your seat as a fan… I love you all. Every single one of you. YOU made this happen. You made ME. And when I wake up from the week-long coma I’m about to go into.. I will truly celebrate.
But for now… enjoy HATCHET III! I hope you love how this particular story comes to a conclusion, what a great job BJ McDonnell did taking over my seat on set, what an amazing job the team did in making this movie, and what we accomplished together- both filmmakers and audiences alike. This one is for YOU. And while it may have all started with an 8 year old’s dream and while that dream may have been down for the count many times (from crying on a hotel floor in New York City, to watching the MPAA come after us time and time again, to watching the second film get yanked from screens to… whatever will happen next…) I’d do it all again. To my crew/family… it was an honor to serve in Crowley’s swamp with you all… and to my fans, I owe you everything. Thank you for giving Victor Crowley life.
Is this really the end for HATCHET? I guess you never REALLY know. But for now… it appears to be so. My story with “Victor Crowley” and “Marybeth” is complete and I’ve finished what I set out to do. Guess we’ll just have to see what happens next…
Never say never. But let’s just say never… for now.
Love, love, love-
HATCHET III Cast and Crew – Hollywood, CA June 11, 2013