Interview: Adam Marcus Unwraps His Upcoming Film, "Secret Santa"

Mr. Marcus invites us over for the holidays!

By Ray Morse

This week, M.T. Bates helped set the stage for my interview with Adam Marcus by sharing his undying appreciation for Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and a conversation he had with the director earlier this year.

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Curious about his work outside of the Friday the 13th universe and upcoming feature film, Secret Santa, I reached out to Mr. Marcus to see if I could find out more. To my delight, this tremendously fan-friendly filmmaker was happy to oblige.

Ray Morse: Hello, Adam! Allow me to first say that it is an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you today. I speak for myself and the entire staff of Dead Entertainment when I say THANK YOU for this opportunity.

Adam Marcus: It’s truly my pleasure, Ray.

Ray Morse: To begin, could you tell our readers, who might not be familiar with your work, a bit about yourself and your contributions to the genre?

Adam Marcus: I’m a filmmaker. No scratch that, I’m a storyteller. I corrected myself because I’ve done a lot of work in the theatre and I don’t want to short-sheet that. I’ve worked in a lot of mediums and genres but I am best recognized for my work in horror. Most notably, “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday,” which I co-wrote and directed and “Texas Chainsaw” which I wrote with my wife and partner, Debra Sullivan. I do a lot of work in Comedy as well, but Horror always seems to draw me back in over and over. It’s where my heart is. My latest film, “Secret Santa,” is my return to directed horror. But it’s pretty much a hybrid of my two favorite genres, Comedy and Horror.

Ray Morse: Since the release of Jason Goes to Hell back in ’93, fandom has had polarized opinions on the film and nearly 25 years later people are still passionately debating it. How do you feel about this sort of legacy?

Adam Marcus: I love it! Seriously! I mean, how many low-budget films are remembered twenty-five years after their release? You know how many incredible films that have been all but forgotten in that time? Beautiful, amazing movies that don’t get remembered more than a year or two after their initial release. It’s crazy. But because Jason Goes to Hell is part of the Friday franchise, and in some part, because it is so polarizing, it gets remembered and discussed this far from it’s opening. That’s the power of the fans of this series. Die hard maniacs who love the legend of this sad little kid who drowned more than a half-century ago and the mother who wouldn’t let his death go unpunished. All that and the hockey mask, too!

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Ray Morse: You mentioned co-writing Texas Chainsaw: 3D with your wife, Debra Sullivan. Could you tell us how that came about?

Adam Marcus: Sure! Debra and I have an amazing manager. A guy named Stephen Gates. We’ve been working together for more than a decade now. Anyway, when he first started repping us he worked at a company called Evolution. Evolution was also the house of Twisted Pictures, the people who made the Saw movies with Lionsgate. Well, they picked up the rights to the Chainsaw franchise and wanted to retool it. So, Deb and I were asked to come up with a take on the Chainsaw Legend. For us, Tobe Hooper’s original film is a true masterpiece. So we wanted to start our film right where Tobe’s ended. In fact, because we were shooting the film in 3D, why not take the original’s ending and digitally create a 3D version of the classic scene where Leatherface chases Sally onto the highway as she escapes and he does his Chainsaw dance?  So, with that as a starting point, Debra and I decided that the best way to proceed would be… what happens right after that scene? Well, Sally would go right to the police and the police would come running to the Sawyer place and serve up some justice. But because these movies are about family we gave the Sawyers some mortal enemies (the Macoys to their Hatfields) who dole out a more vicious justice. They slaughter the Sawyers before the cops can get the cuffs on ‘em. We wanted the story of a family that is cut down and then the rise of their son, a character we considered to be a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, Leatherface. This sad monster who never had a chance of normalcy because he was born into this family. Throw in a kidnapped Sawyer baby who grows up and comes to find she has this family legacy and connection to the monster and away we go! Of course, Deb and I had to go through a rigorous process to get the job. We went up against seventeen other writers and writing teams to win the job. It was intense but ultimately very rewarding to write something not only based on Tobe’s remarkable film but something that would be a direct sequel.

Ray Morse: With both Jason Voorhees and Leatherface films on display in your trophy case, do you have any desire to go for a hat trick and add any of the other modern day monsters to your resume? Myers, Krueger, Pinhead, Chucky? Someone else, I missed?

Adam Marcus: I’m a giant Michael Meyers fan. I can’t wait to see the new film. The fact that John Carpenter, one of my heroes, is back has got me so excited. I also think there is so much juice left in the Hellraiser franchise. That’s a series I would love to spend some time with.

Ray Morse: With the Holidays fast approaching, I would be remiss to not ask you about your new film, Secret Santa. Do you mind telling us a little bit about it?

Adam Marcus: Not at all! As I said, Secret Santa is my return to horror. And it is, to date, the film I am most proud of making. Again, my wife Debra and I wrote the script, which we co-produced with our brilliant producing-partner, Bryan Sexton. The three of us make up Skeleton Crew, our new production company. In fact, Secret Santa is the first film out of Skeleton Crew’s gate! 

The movie came about because I’ve always wanted to tell the story of what really happens at Christmas for most families. Not the Hallmark greeting card of Christmas but the warts and all of family behavior. The logline of the film is:

When recovering alcoholic, April, tries to turn her controlling mother’s annual Christmas dinner party into something positive for a change, she gets more that she bargained for when she discovers someone has opened Pandora’s box with a surprise holiday gift that unleashes the monsters we all keep hidden inside. As the bodies pile up, she will have to try and save those she can and survive those she can’t.

Ray Morse: Based on the trailers alone, Secret Santa seems to take the Holiday Horror subgenre into new & exciting territory. What inspired you and your wife to create this story?

Adam Marcus: When I was in college at NYU, I had a minor in Criminology. It was then that I found out one of the most often used implements of death is the carving knife used to cut the Thanksgiving and Christmas Turkey. That’s true. So that fact got me thinking, “what if something MADE you say the things you really wanted to say to your family. And what if you couldn’t stop and suddenly you find yourself doing the things you secretly wanted to do to them”. That’s Secret Santa

Ray Morse: One thing that stands out the most to me is how close to home this film hits. It’s beyond relatable! We all have attended our fair share of Family/Friend Holiday parties that had us holding our tongues and getting lost in our murderous thoughts by the end of the night… Right? ... or is that just me? (Kidding)

Adam Marcus: No, it’s true. You know how people say when you vacation with your family it’s not a vacation at all? Well, that’s the holidays. Its work and it works your nerves. It’s a pressure cooker. What if something went seriously wrong and everyone’s impulse control got turned off? Think about that for a moment. Secret Santa asks, “What if?” and then goes to town showing the results.

Ray Morse: After viewing the recently released Red Band trailer, it is no secret that both you & the crew pulled no punches in the kill department. How was your experience working with KNB’s Robert Kurtzman?

Adam Marcus: Well, Bob’s been one of my best friends for 27 years. He and I worked side-by-side on Jason Goes to Hell. Bob didn’t just create the FX in Jason Goes to Hell, he was my second unit director as well. So when we were crewing up Santa, I called Bob and said, “Look, it’s our first movie and we are making it on the fly, so there is no money in this thing. But I can’t see myself doing a film like this without you. And there is no way I’m going to anyone else before I come to you with it”. He asked me to send the script and I kid you not, an hour and a half later Bob calls me and says, “I love it, I’m in!” That’s when Bob became not only the FX supervisor but also an Executive Producer and he operated B-Camera on the whole film. I love Kurtzman! I can’t see myself making a movie without him.

Ray Morse: If it isn’t giving too much away, do you happen to have a favorite kill from the movie?

Adam Marcus: There are so many great freakin’ kills in this thing but I have to say, Debra, who is a remarkable actor as well as a fantastic writer, has a scene where her and her sister, played by the equally remarkable Pat Destro, slice each other up with a knife and a Christmas tree ornament and it is something you have to see to believe.

Ray Morse: Isn’t it great to belong to a genre that it is without-a-second-thought-acceptable to ask and answer a ‘favorite death’ question?

Adam Marcus: Damn Skippy! But it’s no different than comedy. In comedy, you can ask “what’s your favorite joke?” Kills in horror are the best punch-lines, literally and figuratively!

Ray Morse: The film looks to have been an absolute blast to be a part of. Do you have any stories you’d like to share about the experience making Secret Santa or about the cast & crew?

Adam Marcus: One incredible thing that happened on this movie is that when we went up to Big Bear Lake to shoot the film, it snowed a record-breaking SIX FEET of snow as we drove up for production. We were totally snowed in. We had a day to dress the set but we had NO electricity! We dressed the set and did all prep work to the light of our cell phones. No joke! Then for the next eleven days we were snowbound. This bonded the cast and crew for life, I think. It was like the best camping trip ever!

Ray Morse: I must say, you had me at ‘Holiday Horror’.  I, for one, cannot wait to put on an ugly Christmas sweater and enjoy the yuletide massacre! When can we expect to receive the gift of Secret Santa?

Adam Marcus: Well, because of our festival commitments, it looks like everyone’s going to have to wait till the 2018 holiday season. The movie has been killing it at festivals so far and our reviews have been the best of my career. So, I want to honor all the fests we’ve been asked to attend. I will say, I really hope anyone who sees us playing at a festival near you, come on out and see this movie with a crowd. Because it’s a horror-comedy (or Horromedy as we’re calling it) and it should be experienced in a packed theatre. Its way more fun that way!

Ray Morse: Secret Santa was made under your new company, Skeleton Crew Productions. Please tell us a bit about what we might expect from your brand going forward.

Adam Marcus: Well, first let me tell you how Skeleton Crew happened. About a decade ago, Debra and I were making a Val Kilmer movie that I’d rather not talk about, and we had this producer, Bryan S. Sexton, or B-Sexy as we like to call him, and he was the only producer on the film who gave a crap about the movie we were trying to make. The three of us held to each other for strength and this created a bond. Years later, we decided it was time for us to start a company where we could make the kinds of projects we’d always wanted to. But also a place that was safe for filmmakers to tell stories – where their vision would be respected.

The next piece of the puzzle was casting. I have always loved actors & the craft of acting and had been teaching it back east since I was a teenager while running two theatre companies. So, right after I made Jason Goes to Hell, I started teaching acting in Los Angeles and I’ve been doing it ever since. The actors I work with every week are what forms the Skeleton Crew Troupe. Like a theatre company for filmmaking. This allows these amazing performers I work with a chance to shine in parts they were born to play. You see most actors in our business are thrilled to get a few lines on a television program or movie. But that’s not what they train their whole lives for. These are monstrously talented artists who deserve to be challenged by difficult leading roles. The actors I work with are incredible and we love writing great parts for them so they can really do the work they’ve studied their whole lives for. And not only are they great actors but they are amazing athletes as well. We hold a Fight Club every week for my classes where my stunt coordinator, Freddy John James (who is also a brilliant actor and one of the leads of Secret Santa) teaches stage combat and stunt safety. This means my actors do almost all their own stunts.

We like to think of Skeleton Crew as a dream factory because our team gets to live out their dreams. Not just the actors but the production team as well. We want to give artists the chance to do the work they’ve always dreamt of doing. You know how many successful writers out there never get a chance to direct? Or guys who work in FX but all they really want to do is compose music? True story, our Composer is a genius named Timothy DG Eilers. Tim and I have been friends for decades. In that time, he’s become one of the most amazing sculptors in the world of oversized props for film (the huge gun in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 or the icebergs in Fate of the Furious, for example). But what I’ve always known about Tim is that he’s a brilliant musician. Well, on Secret Santa, he wrote the score. And it’s so crazy good! That’s the way this company works.  Take great artists and let them do the art they’ve always wanted to do.

In fact, in just this coming year, my best pal and brother from completely different parents, John Esposito, who was a producer on “From Dusk Till Dawn”, wrote films like “Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift” and won the writers Guild Award for The Walking Dead Web Series for two years running, is writing a movie for us which will be his first time behind the camera as Director! Bob Kurtzman will be returning to the Director’s chair this year for a film Debra and I wrote with a fantastic writer, Jeremy Padow (who was a PA on Jason Goes to Hell, by the way), called “The Family.”  We have two phenomenal actors, Heather Olt and Sarah Chaney who have always wanted to produce and they have a friend, Lindsay Hollister, who is also an incredible actor who wrote a script called “Fat Camp Massacre” that is one part Friday the 13th, two parts body dysmorphia rally cry, that we will be producing next year.

We also have a couple of TV projects we’re doing and a huge feature film that we can’t disclose just yet, but I’ll keep ya posted!

This is Skeleton Crew. We make movies by unleashing the true talents of the artists we love!

Ray Morse: I must say, not only does this sound like an incredibly insightful approach to filmmaking but one that will no doubt be long-lasting and creatively lucrative. With such a strong foundation beneath your feet, what’s next for you?

Adam Marcus: I will be helming two new projects this year, “Dread”, a thriller about three women who get trapped in a hotel that is being used as a human trafficking warehouse and must fight their way out. It’s kind of a female-driven “Raid: Redemption”. And “The Harvest”, which is a story about a young woman who’s own Mother steals her identity and the reckoning that follows.

Ray Morse: I wish you and everyone involved the absolute best & continued success and greatly look forward to the things that lie ahead from Skeleton Crew Productions. I know that you are a busy man. So, I will not take up any more of your time. Is there anything you would like to say to the fans before we conclude?

Adam Marcus: Just that I’m honored that you would have me come and speak with you. My time is never so packed that I can’t interact with people who have an interest in what I do. Johnny Carson used to say, and I’m paraphrasing, that it took as much time and energy to stop and be nice as it does to be a jerk.

And to the fans specifically, seriously, if you see I’m gonna be at a festival or convention near you; come on out and say “Hi!” Anyone who knows me, knows I love talking with my horror peeps!

Ray Morse: As a long-time fan of your work, it has been wonderful speaking with you. Thank you very much for the opportunity.

Adam Marcus: As I said at the beginning, the pleasure is all mine!

Be sure to check out www.secretsantathemovie.com for all sorts of information and bonus goodies! Expect Adam Marcus’ Secret Santa to be nestled under your Christmas tree, December 2018. Until then, enjoy this Red Band stocking stuffer! ... and don’t forget to thank Mr. Marcus for it by following him on Twitter!

About the Author

Ray Morse

Filmmaker. Podcaster. Writer. Geek. "A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die." Raised in the wastelands of New Jersey, Ray Morse is a passionate film enthusiast/maker and aspiring creative. When he is not embodying the essence of the Mungus on his weekly live podcast or consuming mass amounts of cinema/television, he can be found re-writing his Dead Entertainment bio, avoiding general responsibility, and talking at length about the things he plans to do instead of doing them.

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