Family is the Real ‘Monster’: A Conversation with SECRET SANTA Filmmaker Adam Marcus Ahead of FrightFest Premiere
The Pope family’s Christmas Eve dinner goes horribly and hilariously wrong when someone puts something in the party punch causing everyone to tell the unvarnished truth at the already dysfunctional holiday reunion. When the head of the household psychopathically freaks-out, the scene is set for murderous mayhem and splatterific revenge as the deviant relatives reveal their long-buried hatreds and festering loathings.
Ahead of the UK premiere of SECRET SANTA at Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow 2018, director Adam Marcus tells us about his obsession with Christmas Eve, being inspired by Orson Wells and why family is the real ‘monster’.
Over the past few years we’ve seen a lot more seasonal based shockers than ever before. Why is the Christmas Holiday period so ripe for horror?
I’m not sure. Maybe, because it’s the “Happiest Time of the Year”, it’s ripe for the picking when it comes to our genre’s ironic sense of humour. I think there is a cynicism that’s kind of permeating everything. Nothing is as it seems. No one can be trusted. So, perhaps these films are playing into people’s cynical fear, and that’s the cause for the trend. If you can’t trust your government, or your neighbours who might vote for that government, why trust the “Happy” Holidays?
You take a typical fraught family get-together and take it to limit. Was that the basic idea, the beginning of the project?
I can tell you that I’ve been obsessed with Christmas my whole life. Truly. My parents were married on Christmas Eve and always had a big holiday party every year to celebrate. The feeling and look of Christmas is so romantic. But as I got older and my parents divorced, Christmas Eve had a stranger feel to it. It was still beautiful but it almost became a way of my parents celebrating their divorce. And that juxtaposition fascinated me. People all seem really happy and kind but just under the surface they’re hoping the other one chokes on the Christmas Turkey. That’s why Secret Santa isn’t about a Killer Santa or a Krampus or an evil Snowman come to life. It’s about the real monster, Family.
You wrote the script with your wife Debra Sullivan. Can you give an insight to how that relationship worked?
Debra and I have written over fifty scripts together, all the while maintaining a very happy marriage. If you want to keep that happy marriage, you have to find ways to compromise while still challenging each other to do better every day. It’s a bit of a high wire act but we make it work. And with each script it changes. Some I’ll take the lead, others she will. I will say that on Santa, Deb let me do a lot of the heavy lifting because she knew this one lived inside my head. We wrote the script in twenty days. That’s from first day of concept to finished draft. We’re fast but we’re rarely that fast. It poured out of me and Deb let that happen. She was busy re-writing and generating notes to challenge my logic and character relationships. The give and take was amazing. That’s why it went so fast. And it had to. We had picked a shoot date that was only two months from the first week of writing so we had no choice.
Everyone in the movie is so horrible, you can’t wait to see them die, was that the idea?
It sure was! I wanted the audience to love it when these people got their comeuppance. And the funny thing is that the initial conversations about that came from Orson Welles’ masterpiece “The Magnificent Ambersons”. And I’m not being some pretentious film-school jackhole right now. That film is one of the most influential on my filmmaking. My first Cinematographer, Bill Dill, showed it to me when we were prepping “Jason Goes to Hell”. I even used it in “Jason”. The eye-light that Welles used, we used it to indicate when someone was possessed by Jason. That eye-light would go out. So now, many years later, I used “Ambersons” again in that idea of comeuppance. That the whole story of “Ambersons” is waiting for this one spoiled, arrogant, bastard to get his comeuppance. You wait the whole movie to see it happen. My feeling was, I want to do that with an entire cast. Now, there is one person in the film who is truly an innocent and you should be heart broken when that person dies but the rest of them, it should feel like, YAHOO!!!
SECRET SANTA is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 3 March, 6.30pm, as part of Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow 2018. Adam Marcus will be attending.