I recently had a horror fan’s dream fall in to my lap. I was offered the chance to interview horror director Adam Marcus. We had two big things to discuss. First, I had to ask about the documentary about the making of Jason Goes to Hell, and I also got to pick his brain about his upcoming indie film, Secret Santa (read our review here). We chopped it up, pun intended, for over two hours. It was one of the best conversations I have ever had in my life…. not just as a journalist, but as a horror fan as well.
Secret Santa is an amazing project for many reasons. First off, it employs a bunch of actors that the director himself has worked with on honing their talents. Secondly, it has one of the best horror concepts because it is so relatable. Finally, it was made by people with a passion for horror. In talking with Adam, he divulged something I want to touch upon in this paragraph because, in the transcribing process, there wasn’t a place to put it. He talked about how his wife was a star in the film and how amazing she did. You could hear the pride in his voice when he spoke about her, and it is truly something worth noting. It is refreshing to hear a husband speak of his spouse in such a way. You can audibly hear the spark that keeps their love so true.
There is a lot of information below, so I won’t go into too much more about it here. I hope you all enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
PopHorror: With an indie film like Secret Santa, did you have to go through the ratings board like you would for a mainstream film?
Adam Marcus: We will eventually, if we’re ever gonna be in theaters. We don’t know what our plan is yet because we’re still in festivals. The great thing about the festival world is that anything goes. You’re mainlining the material to the people who love it. I will tell you that there are several things in [Secret Santa] that I know are going to have to be cut just to get an R rating. It’s gory. One of the things that I’m most proud of is that it isn’t necessarily the things I show, it’s the things I say in the movie that are the most shocking.
When you’re doing low budget independent, you don’t have that much money for effects, so you have to find other ways to shock people, and for me, it’s about content, character, and how the characters react to each other.
PopHorror: Absolutely! So, how would you describe Secret Santa? What sub-genre of horror does it fit into?
Adam Marcus: Here’s what I can tell you about Secret Santa. My best friend, John Esposito, was the first person, outside of the group, to read the script. He’s seen the first cut and every cut since then, meaning he’s seen it about ten times by now. That’s not hyperbole; I think he’s actually watched ten cuts. His response to it was, “Oh my God, this is actually… original.” I thanked him, and he said, “I’m not just throwing that around. I’m actually a little jealous because I’ve never seen this movie before.”
Bob Kurtzman – he did the make-up effects for Jason Goes To Hell and has been a close friend for over 25 years – shot second camera on Secret Santa and did all the effects. That’s how low-budget we were. He had a ball doing second camera, and he did a terrific job. We shot this one section, it’s about a four-minute dialogue section, all in one take. Bob turned to me once we were done and said, “You don’t see this in horror movies.” I looked back at him and said, “Yeah, that’s kinda the point.”
My producing partner and I always referred to this as August: Osage County with knives! It’s the dysfunctional family that everyone has… but what if someone turned off everybody’s Id and impulse control? First, everyone starts saying what they have always wanted to say to each other, and then everyone starts doing what they would like to do to each other. That’s the movie.
PopHorror: So, you’re creating a whole new sub-genre?
Adam Marcus: Exactly! For me, the fun of the movie is that it’s a comedy. It’s definitely a comedy. It’s what we’re all calling a horromedy. I am madly in love with this movie. It’s my best work. It was all from a script that was written in 21 days. It was pre-produced in a month and three days, and it was shot in twelve days. So, from the moment pen went to paper until the final product, it was two months.
PopHorror: When is the public finally gonna be able to see it?
Adam Marcus: Here’s how it it’s gonna work. We’ve got our festival commitments for the next few months. We are in talks with several different places that want the film. My feeling is that you will see this movie probably right after Halloween, if I get my way. I don’t want it to come out before Halloween, because it’s not a Halloween movie. I think it would be coming out in November. I would like it to be released right before Thanksgiving. Even though it’s a Christmas horromedy, it covers family dinners. It’s name may be Secret Santa, but it has nothing to do with Santa Claus. It has to do with family and the dynamics that surround those type of situations.
When you go home for the holidays, you know you’re going to have to deal with your fucking family.
PopHorror: Holiday-themed horror films are a guilty pleasure of mine, good or bad. From a filmmaking perspective, how is filming a holiday horror film different from filming just a regular genre film?
Adam Marcus: For me, the reason why I wanted to do a holiday movie is because I love Christmas. I’m Jewish, by the way. My parents were married on Christmas Eve. They’re both Jewish, so they would have an anniversary party every year, but it was a Christmas party. We had a Christmas tree and we had gifts, because in America, we celebrate a Macy’s Christmas. For the people who celebrate the religious part, that’s great. Everything about it is this joyous thing. However, I know almost no one who says that they’re happy that they’re going home for the holidays.
When you go home for the holidays, you know you’re going to have to deal with your fucking family. So, for me, I say, “Great!” There’s all this tension and stuff around the holidays, and then there’s this juxtaposition… the twinkling lights, the guy in the Santa suit, people going out and buying things and smiling for pictures. All that stuff, the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” version of Christmas. Underneath it, in a very David Lynch-like, Blue Velvet-y way, is this rotten to the core thing that the people sitting around this dinner table all fucking hate each other.
PopHorror: Very true!
Adam Marcus: It is! It’s just the truth. Your family knows where all your buttons are because they are the ones that installed them. So, I kept thinking that I’ve had the same experience with my own family. This is an incredible setting to juxtapose all the nightmarish stuff that lies under the surface. It’s kind of the perfect setting for horror because it doesn’t look like a horror movie, it looks like It’s A Wonderful Life.
The great thing is, because it’s a low budget film, the idea of getting together for a dinner means a lot of that film is going to take place at that one setting. Great! That helps from a budget standpoint. I also shot the film in the first few weeks of January 2016. I told the people whose house we were using, “Don’t take down any of your holiday decorations,” and “Can I get the number of your neighbors so that I can ask them to leave their decorations up as well?” I rented the two houses on either side of the house for everyone to stay in. So my entire cast and crew were in three houses on the edge of Big Bear Lake, and it snowed a record five feet on us. Now, we’re snowed in, no one can leave, and everyone kept their Christmas lights up. Everyone! My movie looked so expensive and so beautiful, and it’s just some Walgreens twinkly lights. So, we’re art directed, and I don’t have to hang a damn thing. It cost us nothing!
The funny thing is, we went up prior to do some location scouting and some prep stuff. My DP and I went up with his drone, and we shot downtown Big Bear with the drone. I’m telling you, we look like we had a $10 million budget, and it’s really just two idiots flying a drone through Big Bear.
PopHorror: That’s brilliant!
Adam Marcus: Thank you! For me, holiday horror is a joy because you are shooting against this beautiful backdrop with all of this hideousness in front. It’s also conducive to low budget because everybody is in the house, and no one thinks it’s weird.
PopHorror: So, with everything falling in to line as far as the decorations and everything else, was there anything that you wanted to include in the film and couldn’t?
Adam Marcus: No, not really, no. Of course, there’s the situation after you’ve finished shooting, you’re walking away from set, and you go, “Shit, I should have shot this.” That happens and it always will, but I’ve got to tell you I have never been so at peace and thrilled with what I’ve made. My performers are extraordinary, and this is just a complete story. We did a screening in LA, the one that Ben came to, and people have asked, “Is there a sequel?” The answer is yes. However, it won’t be a Christmas movie.
I want to do what John Carpenter originally intended for the Halloween franchise. So, and you’re the first person to hear this. The second movie right now is titled Secret Santa: Hippity Hoppity, and it takes place in a church on Easter Sunday.
PopHorror: Oh, man! Thanks for the exclusive! Well, I will say since you had such a great vision for Jason Goes To Hell, I look forward to seeing what you will do with a sequel to a franchise that you created.
Adam Marcus: That’s great! No one has ever said that to me, and that’s awesome. I’m really excited for the sequel, because I want to create stories about families around holidays. So, it’s not necessarily about Christmas, but more about how we treat the people that were supposed to love the most in the world on the most celebrated days of the year.
Secret Santa sounds like it is building up momentum in the festival circuits, and the film already has a relatability factor that is unmatched. Adam Marcus was an exceptional person to interview and was incredibly candid and generous with the information he gave us. I want to take a moment to thank him for that. There were so many times in the conversation that I forgot I was doing an interview and just felt like I was a fan who hit the jackpot and got a golden ticket to the horror factory. November can’t come soon enough, and I’m sure you will all agree.
Are you excited for Secret Santa? Let us know in the comments and make sure to subscribe to us to get the latest news on what is one of this year’s most anticipated indie horror films, Secret Santa! You can read part 2 of my interview right here!