Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Race With the Devil

The Story of my Race to the “Mortuary” with Horror Director - Tobe Hooper
First let me clear a couple things up –
This was not a metaphorical race to the grave, nor an actual footrace to the gates of the cemetery.
This was a race to finish a film.
But before I go on…a second point:
Tobe Hooper is NOT the Devil! (I just thought that was a snazzy title;)
   But he might as well have been, to the people who wanted his horror masterpiece banned, often based on the name alone! “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” will go down as one of the most groundbreaking films in the Horror genre. 
The greatest irony is that, for a film with such a gruesome reputation, there was very little gore (at least by today’s standards) and precious little stage blood used, and yet it still resonates as terrifying to this day!  


No small part of this was probably due to the unique score created by Tobe Hooper himself, using unconventional instruments to create the discomforting sound that was so important to creating that horrific environment. But as we know - as directors become more “in demand”, having the time to score as well as direct becomes a much less viable option (yes, even if you are John Carpenter;) So this was a rare point in his career where passion and skill had the perfect environment to converge!
Oh and synchronicity…did I mention synchronicity? (I’ll come back to that – so pay attention!) But let's just start with the fact that Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was inspired by Wisconsin's (and perhaps one of the World's) most notorious serial killers, (and human taxidermists) Ed Gein!
In any event, the art, hunger, dedication (and suffering) which usually only comes from that kind of an independent film making experience, came through in the film in an artful, earnest and terrifying way.                      The New York Museum of Modern Art agrees apparently, and has a copy of the film amongst their permanent collection.
But you didn’t come here to listen to me wax poetic on the virtues of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (even though I gladly could, and would) you came for a race! Ah, but first, Synchronicity! (Told you there’d be a quiz!)
Long after the original TCM struck terror in the hearts of British censorship boards (and others), long after “Poltergeist”, Tobe made a movie adapted from a short story Stephan King called “The Mangler”. The film featured Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund and Ted Levine as well as, yes, you guessed it, a demon possessed laundry mangling machine.

And here is where strange synchronicities (and your’s truly) come into the story.
Flash forward about 9 more years! (2004) I fly to San Francisco to meet with the Director of a film called Mortuary to sign contracts and have a look at the roughs on an actual telecine machine. In fact, the entire film was being edited on the very machine that was used to edit Terry Zwigoff’s Robert Crumb documentary, {“Crumb” 1994} or so I was told. It was entirely believable.
Just an aside: Terry Zwigoff (by the way) is also a Wisconsin Native and a musician/filmmaker. I hadn’t even considered that coincidence (and that his name is also Terry) until writing this article now! 
10 years later the machine he used to cut “Crumb” wheezed and cranked like it had a devil in it, the kind of thing that could only happen to a machine after having born witness to the surreal expression of countless filmmaker’s projects! As Director Sean Hazelaar showed me reel one, we carried forward with the conversation we started on the phone before I arrived at his studio. He had mentioned one particular scene involving a mortician’s furnace in which all the set sound was destroyed by a bad hum generated by nearby machines. I would be expected to really make something sweet here, because it was a very important SFX scene.
When he asked me about this, I hadn’t seen the film yet. It just so happens that I have an extensive background in horror and a huge collection of horror/scifi and Asian films (on good ol’ hard copy DVD;)
I thought about the furnace scene and off the top of my head I said something to the effect that I could hear music/sound there sort of similar to that in the scenes of the evil machine in Tobe Hooper’s “The Mangler”. The Director’s jaw dropped. He informed me that the guy they hired to do that special FX scene was someone who had worked on “The Mangler”.
 That in itself was wild! But there’s more…
As my team had taken the reigns of much of the post production, music and sound and were well into getting the color corrections, score and sound design under way, we discovered that Tobe Hooper, by some utterly ‘Bizzaro World’ coincidence, was in production on a movie also called “Mortuary”!
Van Hazelaar Productions “Mortuary” was nearer completion at the time, but Hooper’s “Mortuary” had a larger budget and the capacity to roll a little faster. From here the race was on!
Tobe Hooper's "Mortuary" Trailer 2005
Now we all know it didn’t really matter, as two movies can have the same title in many cases (There was already a Howard Avedis film called “Mortuary” done in the eighties.) 

Howard Avedis' "Mortuary" Trailer 1983
In the end we had to differentiate the name for foreign and US sales anyhow, so the name of Van Hazelaar’s “Mortuary” became “Final Remains” (which, I am proud to say, was one of my suggestions).
It really wouldn’t matter at all, but factually, the statistically unlikely event had occurred. Two movies called “Mortuary” would both appear on IMDB as having been released in 2005. It was just a matter of whose film would get finished first! In truth, Tobe Hooper was probably entirely oblivious to our 85,000 dollar picture, as he was likely quite busy directing, but somewhere an assistant whose job it was to pay attention to just those sort of things must certainly have noticed the site. It would have been hard to miss our use of the Mortuary Movie domain at the time (Now located at VanHazelaar Productions website).
Clip from Mortuary aka final Remains 
In the end I believe we technically finished our film first, but with the clout and machinations already in place for Tobe Hooper’s film to enter a marketing and distribution stream, it would obviously be Hooper’s “Mortuary” that would make it to market first. VanHazelaar’s “Mortuary” aka “Final Remains” did however get distribution a little later,  in 2006,  and is currently available as a rental from: Blockbuster and for sale via Amazon.

"Mortuary" aka "Final Remains" Trailer
In the end, it didn’t matter who won in this race with the Devil. The only thing that mattered, is that for a brief time in 2005 we got to run that race right alongside horror film legend, Tobe Hooper, tiptoeing on the edge of synchronicity with one degree of separation between us and a Master of Horror! Rod Serling could have had a field day introducing this story. It certainly added zest to the project before we got to the truly terrifying (and far less glamorous) part of filmmaking – the hard work;)

Speaking of work I suppose I need to finish mastering the 
Mortuary aka Final Remains - Soundtrack/Score CD 
that has been sitting on my drive for 5 years now! 

Happy Halloween Everyone and to All 
A Dark Night!

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