Our editor sits down with director Frank Sabatella and special effects artist Jeremy Selenfriend to discuss Sabatella’s major directorial debut, Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet. The movie itself is set to be a testament of adoration to the slasher movies of yore or, to not make us feel so old, the 80s.
Through this interview, both Frank and Jeremy enlighten us on everything from how the movie came to be to casting, special effects, and even opinions on remakes.
(In this first part, we discuss the focus of the movie, how it relates to the urban legend, and our own short campfire tales.)
Patrick E: When I look at a horror movie, I base it on a certain personal scale. On one end there is the suspenseful terror of what is not seen, like in such films as Hitchcock’s Psycho. On the other end there is the “in your face” gore of such films as Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell, or the Faces of Death series.
Where would you place Blood Night on this scale?
Frank: I would probably put Blood Night somewhere in the middle of the two. Blood Night is way more of the slasher aspect, which inherently does have some of the suspense of Psycho, although not to the extent of the scenes being built tremendously around suspense. They’re more like the build-up to the gore, which brings us closer to Fulci’s school of work. So I would put it right in the middle. It’s just a good 80’s style old-fashioned slasher flick: lots of blood, lots of gore, lots of sex, lots of laughs.
Jeremy: Yeah, there’s no suspense around the characters, there’s no surprise like, “Janet Leigh died? What the hell’s going on?” We know everyone here is just slasher-bait.
Patrick E: But there’s still the suspenseful element to bring out the scare rather than just disgust…
Frank: Exactly. There’s the suspenseful element leading to the scare, and there’s also the suspense of a good who-dun-it aspect, which I guess brings us more to the Psycho end of things. Very reminiscent to me of the first Friday the 13th, actually. It’s pretty much my tribute to the first Friday the 13th and the slashers of that decade.
Jeremy: It’s an original remake, how’s that.
Patrick E: I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a million times, but I have to address it. When did you first hear of the legend of Mary Hatchet?
Frank: Actually, this is the first time anyone’s asked me that question, oddly enough.
Jeremy: Aside from the Fango Con(Fangoria Convention).
Frank: The first time I heard of the legend of Mary Hatchet I had to be 10 or 11 years old. I grew up on Long Island my whole life, and the first, early half of my life I lived in Elmont, which is a little bit more urban. It’s closer to Queens. When I moved to Plainview, which is closer to Melville and Huntington and near Sweet Hollow Road, that’s when I started hearing about those legends. I think I was about 11 or 12. My younger cousin, Jenna, was going to West Hills Day Camp, which is off of Sweet Hollow Road, and the first version of the legend I heard was that Mary Hatchet was a killer at the camp. She had killed all the campers at West Hills Day Camp and put all their heads on the road leading up to the camp.
Patrick E: Wow, that’s the first time I’ve heard that version.
Jeremy: We should have used that visual in the movie, it would have been awesome.
Frank: Well, I didn’t want to go with the whole summer camp motif, because I didn’t want it to be too much Friday the 13th, too much Sleepaway Camp, but yeah, that was the very first incarnation of the Mary Hatchet legend that I heard, and it intrigued me. I just thought it was so cool, so scary. And then I heard a variation of that version of the legend where Mary was a camper that was taunted by the other campers, and she had hatchetted an “X” in all their faces. Those are the earliest Mary Hatchet stories I had ever heard.
Jeremy: It’s another variation of a John Cropsey story. The most famous camp story ever created.
Frank: I don’t know that one.
Jeremy: “The Burning” is what it’s based on, and to a lesser extent Friday the 13th is just a John Cropsey story with the name changed to Jason Voorhees. John Cropsey is just the generic name for this camp’s killer. Growing up, I had thought my camp had the story of John Cropsey, and then I found out no, that wasn’t just my camp, that was just the generic name given to a lot of different places.
There’s one thing that stuck with me. He was the farmer, and all the kids at camp were drunk and they’d taunt him and they threw their beers at him, and he was working his thresher one day and they threw a beer, and it got stuck in the big blades up front. So he gets out, he’s kind of kicking it, and it starts up and runs over his foot, so the distinctive thing he had was you’d be able to hear him walking because there’d be a step and then a shuffle, so that’s how all the counselors were able to scare us just by walking like that at night. That sound really stuck with me, though.
Patrick E: And then later on you heard the King’s Park Sanitarium legend, and then incorporated that in?
Frank: Yeah. Years later, when I was more in middle school and high school, I started hearing more variations of the Mary Hatchet legend, and once my friends were driving and we had cars, we would drive to Sweet Hollow Road and everyone had different versions of the story, so those always stuck with me. I had learned about King’s Park, I learned about that when I was a senior in high school. The only reason I even knew it existed was that it closed down in ’96, and I just remember reading about it in the newspaper, that there was a sanitarium that was going to close down, and I said, “Oh, that’s crazy.” Then I started reading about how there are all of these notorious hauntings and there was inmate abuse, and the way they buried(the inmates)…that they would just do mass graves, they would just stack them in pine boxes and throw them in, no markers, no headstones, and that always freaked me out. There’s just so much negative energy in one place. And then even years later, the story always remained at the back of my mind.
My original plan for Blood Night was in 2001, 2002 when the idea first entered my head. It wasn’t even an idea. I just always wanted to do a slasher movie and I never had a title for it. But then a couple years later, this was when I first met my producer Frank Mosca, I was working on a short film. In this short film these guys were robbing a bar, and on the last day there was a shoot-out, and there was going to be blood everywhere. So we always referred to that day, among production, “We’re going to shoot that on Blood Day.” We just kept saying that the day we do the effects and the script would be Blood Day. We went into overtime that day and it ended up being night, so on production we started calling it Blood Night. And then I thought, “What a great name for a slasher movie,” so I just wrote it down in one of my notebooks to just remember Blood Night. Then a few years later I started forming a better idea for the slasher movie, and I thought, “What a perfect name, Blood Night,” and then the elements kind of came together and we thought Blood Night could be this holiday. Every holiday has been done for the slasher movie. There’s the Christmas slasher movie, Halloween, Eli Roth did the Thanksgiving trailer…
Patrick E: “Groundhog Day” in The Monster Squad…
Frank: Right. So I thought, “let me invent my own holiday,” basically, create a holiday, and the story sprung out of all those elements.
Jeremy: What day of the year is Blood Night?
Frank: Originally, Blood Night is supposed to be May 16th, which is my birthday, but since, with the production schedule, it ended up being freezing outside(that night), it’s not really specific as to when it is. I assume it’s after Thanksgiving weekend.
Jeremy: I got the idea it was really early on in the school year, like this was the first big night when everyone gets back from summer. That’s just the feeling I got.
Frank: Sure. Why not? Funny enough, my first concept for Blood Night was always to be a slasher movie, obviously, but what I wanted to do was to completely do it in that 80s style. My original plan was to only cast actors based on how good-looking they were. In fact, the worse an actor they were, I wanted them to be really bad, and I wanted the cinematography to be overly cheesy, to really emulate the first Sleepaway Camp. I thought it was a cool idea, but then I decided that, as a director, especially the first time out of the box, I should make a good movie before I make a bad movie.
Jeremy: So you could say, “I did it on purpose.”
Frank: Exactly. That’s how we ended up with what we have.
(In this next part we discuss how fears play into creating a horror movie, both on and off the set. We also discuss how character casting came about.)
Patrick E: I like to think that horror directors and FX artists tap into their own fears when creating the story and environment for a horror movie. Did you tap into any personal fears?
Frank: I don’t know if I specifically tapped into any personal fears, because a lot of the deaths and the horror elements of Blood Night are kind of fantastic in a way. They’re very slasher movie, like guts ripped out, and I’m not necessarily afraid of my guts being ripped out and sh*t like that…
Patrick E: Really?
Frank: Well, I mean, I would be if the situation were presented, but I think some of the aspects of what happens, like, Mary Hatchet kills her own family, it’s almost like a metaphor for something unknown within your comfort zone going horribly wrong. I didn’t think about this until after I shot the movie. I was reading a book about how subconscious fears manifest in horror movies, and, really, any creative process, without you realizing it, and I started thinking about how they’re always saying that horror movies are the sign of the times, like a big thing with us now is terrorism, and we don’t know if the terrorists are among us, so Mary Hatchet herself is living among her family, and they didn’t know this madness was living inside of her, so I would say that is something that sort of answers that question.
Patrick E: Jeremy, when designing all these blood and guts, did you tap into anything?
Jeremy: Kind of the same answer. For this one, no, not really. It’s fun, it’s anatomical stuff, it’s not necessarily my deepest fears. It’s not like Creature work or designing a monster, but the Mary character has her own frightening look to it which definitely has a creepy feel, but there’s nothing deep seeded in there. It’s really just going for the most over-the-top or really spectacular death scene.
Frank: It was more me and Jeremy being, like, “What would be a really awesome kill,” you know what I mean? “What would look really cool,” or, “What would be a horrible way to die.”
Patrick E: That sounds like a fun think tank.
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s a good way to spend an afternoon.
Patrick E: Did any of the filming sites cultivate any dread that you used in the filming that wasn’t originally there?
Frank: Building #5. Yeah, absolutely, we actually shot in a real abandoned sanitarium that was supposed to be haunted. We were told by the guy who allowed us access to the location about the Essex County Psych Center in New Jersey. It’s been abandoned for years, and reportedly building 5 is haunted. There’s a black wraith that supposedly is seen, and a nurse that is supposedly seen walking the grounds. We walked into this place and there’s no power, no heat, no electricity, no lights, nothing, so we had to light it ourselves, we had to heat the areas we were working in, and it was so cold. We were shooting in the middle of December last year, it was like nineteen degrees, and there was just a creepy-ass vibe. You’re walking through and there’s teeth molds lying around, there’s still stuff there from when the hospital was functioning…
Jeremy: It looks like it was left in one day, and people just dumped boxes on their way out…
Frank: …crazy sh*t written on the walls inside the cells, the actors were scared, I mean, everybody was scared. Everybody had this element of fear, an uneasiness, and I think that helped with the performance of the actors. They were so cold, they were so frightened, so when the actors turned up for the scene they were cold, they were frightened, they were anxious. All the stuff in the sanitarium, that’s where all the sh*t goes down, that’s where you’re really seeing them being nervous and panicking. It came through in their performances. I think it really helped.
Jeremy: I had a couple moments. After doing the Mary makeup three or four times, there was this tiny little bathroom, the room I was doing the makeup in most of the time was pretty far away from the set because they were shooting all over the sanitarium. And there was just this little window in the bathroom, and it’s creeping past 4:30 in the morning, you’re sitting in the cold by yourself for two hours and not doing anything, and you start seeing things like her face peering in through the little window in the bathroom. Of course it’s not there, it’s completely in your head…
Frank: The mind starts playing tricks on you…
Jeremy: Yeah, so it absolutely gets to you.
Frank: If you talk to any of the actors or various people who were involved in the production, everybody’s got their own little ghost story. There was one point, it was u, Bill Mosely, and just a bunch of us went on a tour of Building 5, which was the haunted building, during a break in production. We walk into this one room and we’re walking around, and there was this exterior light that was on, and as soon as we walked in the light went out. It could have been an electrical problem, but it’s just some sh*t like that(where) everyone jumps and gets scared.
Jeremy: It’s one of those things where we’re like, “Huh, isn’t that weird, we’re shooting a horror movie, and are we in one?”
Patrick E: I’ve noticed that at a couple of Halloween parties, you’ve dressed up as characters from Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. Specifically, Otis, played by Bill Moseley, and Captain Spaulding, played by Sid Haig. Now Blood Night ends up casting Bill Moseley. Was this a coincidence, or did you hint to your producers that you wanted Bill Moseley in your movie?
Frank: I definitely wanted Bill Moseley in my movie. I’ve enjoyed Bill as an actor in horror movies for years. He’s in a lot of my favorite horror movies. He’s obviously the legendary Chop-Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, he’s got little parts, he’s in the remake of The Blob, he’s one of the guys in the sewer. I loved House of a Thousand Corpses. For me, House of a Thousand Corpses was the first horror movie I’d seen in a while that I really dug when I saw it in theaters. Bill Moseley playing the character of Otis, completely unforgettable. Again he came back for The Devil’s Rejects, it was just amazing. So when I first started talking to producers and we were talking about various people, I said, “I’d really love to get a horror icon for this part,” and Bill was one of the top on my list, and really the casting directors took over from there. I gave my list, I’m like, “this is who I want for casting, let’s get the script to them,” and Bill was the most receptive, and I was really the most excited about the possibility of Bill playing Graveyard Gus.
It’s an interesting process. It’s not just a matter of, “I want Bill Moseley for this part,” and they’re like, “Allright, cool, we’ll go with Bill Moseley.” You have to go through his manager, his agent, the manager has to like the script. If the manager likes the script, he will then proceed to pass it on to Bill, but you have to put an offer on the table. It’s such a pain in the ass process, and it’s very scary, especially for a first-time filmmaker like myself, just for them to even look at the script is scary. And then I had gotten a phone call from Bill’s camp, and they(said), “He really like the script, he like the character, let’s start talking,” and it went from there and it was great. I couldn’t have been more happy to have Bill involved in the production. Bill is such a cool guy and he’s so awesome to work with. I’d actually consider him a friend now. We talk on the phone now and again, we email, we communicate, he came to New York a few months ago doing something with the Charles Band’s Horror Road Show, and he called me up and invited me out, and we went out, a bunch of us, and it was really cool. It was definitely intentional, and definitely just a tribute to Bill’s work that I wanted him involved, and just amazing to have him involved.
Patrick E: Was it the same for Danielle Harris?
Frank: Yeah. Actually Danielle, as you know, is a big-time horror girl, and I started thinking again, “Who would be great to get in this role,” and Danielle was at the top of my list as well, and the same thing. Once I knew we had Bill involved and we had Danielle involved, I(thought), “I can’t believe this is happening. This is going to be great,” because now we had these two classic horror icons, and so different, too. Bill’s the classic villain, Danielle’s the classic victim, it was just awesome. And it was great working with her. She’s an amazing actress, she’s extremely professional, she has insight. It was just amazing getting both of them involved.
(In this part Frank discusses the casting of the main character, Alex. We also learn about some of Jeremy Selenfriend’s special effects.)
Patrick E: Jeremy, did you happen to go to med-school at some point? Because I looked through some of your work, and was amazed at the realism of the visual anatomy you constructed. Especially seeing it without any tweak of camera lighting. How do you create such realism?
Jeremy: No, I did not go to med school. I do happen to have the very helpful hand of a wife who is in the medical field, of sorts. So I was supplied with a great deal of anatomical reference from her. It’s all very necessary. You want things to look extreme and over the top, but have a basis in reality. You can’t just have slimy goo, it has to be proper, the inside of what someone looks like. I try to find the right balance of fantasy and Hollywooding it up, but still based completely in anatomical reality just so it has that really, really harsh impact for the viewer.
Frank: It has to be cinematic too, though.
Jeremy: Exactly. Some things inside the human body just aren’t interesting to look at. You have to punch it up. Veins might not be quite that vibrant, but it looks cool so you have to add that in. It’s just a matter of finding the right balance. You do test make-ups. Frank was constantly getting barraged with emails full of photos, pictures of sculptures that need to be done and redone again.
Patrick E: In the behind the scenes footage, I saw what looked like a bloody, human-like Venus flytrap in the bedroom. It looked absolutely insane, in a good way, of course. Who thought of that one?
Jeremy: That was Frank coming to me with, “What can we do to punch up one of the effects?” It was a cool scene, but the death, there was nothing jump out or stand out about it. So I said, “what if we do a first person perspective from the viewpoint of inside the character’s mouth, where he’s just been pierced with scissors?” How we were going to do that was with a giant set of over-sized teeth and just giant scissor props. That was one of the most fun. Actually, I think it was one of the first ones I started on, just sculpting these giant, table-sized sets of teeth, and the interior of the mouth, and the tongue on a stick so it would waggle. Then on the day it was Frank just dumping buckets and buckets of blood on this screaming blonde actress. So yeah, that one was a lot of fun.
(In this next part, we talk about the first horror movies we’ve seen, both legally and sneaking down the stairs late at night while our parents were watching a few.)
Patrick E: First horror movie you saw?
Frank: Friday the 13th Part 2.
Jeremy: Elm Street 3.
Patrick E: Carrie for me. I saw it accidentally when I was 7 years old. I was at my great-grandmother’s house, and she had an ivy patch outside in the neighbor’s yard…and I was scared to go back there after I saw that movie, because I thought a hand was going to come out and grab me.
Jeremy: That’s(Elm Street 3) the first one I saw fully all the way through. I caught peeks of Poltergeist through my parents’ opening in the door, scared the hell out of me.
Frank: My folks never stopped me from watching anything, like Friday the 13th was on, I watched it, Amityville, watched it . I went with my parents to see Jaws 3 in 3D in theaters and I was 6, and it scared the hell out of me. When that guy’s arm gets chopped off and it was floating at you, I thought that little bone stump was going to stab me. It was horrifying.
Jeremy: The first one I saw in the theater, I think, was either Pet Cemetery or Halloween 4, whichever one came out before the other.
Frank: Jaws 3D was definitely my first theater horror movie, I think. It was the first one I remember seeing in the theater.
Patrick E: I forget what mine was. I think it was maybe Friday the 13th Part 3, or maybe Leviathan.
Jeremy: I do love a good sea monster movie. Pet Cemetery did some serious damage to me. I saw that later on. Not even the movie, the character Pascal and Zelda. There was a school near us where a kid died from spinal meningitis. So we wouldn’t walk by this school without a fear that he was going to come running out of the building and get us. Of course, anyone with that condition can’t run to start with. Also, they’re not actually the scary monster that movie portrayed them to be.
(In this final section, Frank and Jeremy discuss their conflicted ideas about movie remakes. We also get a glimpse into what Frank has in store for us next.)
Patrick E: In these days where lines are drawn by critics as to whether remakes are blasphemous or artistic, I think people forget that even on and off Broadway plays go through these renditions all the time, sometimes with great results, sometimes failing. If you had a chance to remake any movie, horror or not, what would it be and why?
Frank: Ah, that’s a tough question.
Jeremy: Basket Case.
Frank: Yeah, there was a point where I was considering that, if I were to do a remake, I might like to remake Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case,just because it’s a really cool horror movie. Its New York based, I think it has this great cult status, but I think it could be done again, not that it would be an improvement of what he did, but I think bringing a little bit of production value and a little bit of more modern style to it might be able to bring it to a broader audience, which I guess is the attempt of any remake. But upon thinking about it more, I don’t think I would remake it. I don’t think I want to get into the business of remakes myself. Looking back, what I start to realize is that I think a lot of the horror fans get so upset when there are remakes is because the originals are held in such sacred regard, you know what I mean? Now they’re remaking films that weren’t even bad.
You know what, I would remake a movie like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. It’s a movie that not really anybody’s heard of and it wasn’t even all that good. It had a decent core concept, but it wasn’t executed well. To me, that would be a cool remake. Like 1988’s The Blob was a great remake. It wasn’t done for profit, it was done for, let’s take this story from the 50’s, The Blob, a kind of a cheesy classic, but let’s make it a serious tone and modernize it, make it cool, and they did.
Jeremy: I’m mixed on this one. Even if I don’t want to see the new Friday the 13th or the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre or especially the new Nightmare on Elm Street. Those are the ones I grew up on, but at the same time I can appreciate what it means because the original Dracula, the original Frankenstein, the original Wolf Man, none of those were bad movies. Those were all solid pictures and being remade means the characters were so relevant that generation after generation is going to continue to embrace them, and while I might not want to see the movies, I do like the idea that Jason and Freddy and Leatherface and Pinhead will go down in the lexicon of horror as just as significantly important as Dracula and the Creature.
Frank: Yeah, exactly, and you know, again, I’m not entirely against remakes. I just, usually don’t see the point to a lot of them but there are some outstanding exceptions. Like, the Dawn of the Dead remake was phenomenal.
Frank: And it didn’t, in any way, make the original any less credible.
Jeremy: It didn’t remove any positive feeling from that one, or say “your raping what once was.” Just like the Day of the Dead remake did.
Frank: Even outside of the horror genre, like the remaking of The Karate Kid with Will Smith’s son and Jackie Chan as Mr. Miagi and it’s like, for what?
Jeremy: Frank and I will argue on this one, but I liked the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake because it at least offered something different. It was the same basic concept, it’s Leatherface and the family but it’s unique spin, it wasn’t just “let’s make some money”, like the sequel was.
Frank: At the same time you’ve got to look at this, as they say, it’s show business, and the purpose of it is to make money, and I think with a lot of these studios, they’re…going with a safe bet. You put out Friday the 13th, it’s making money, you put out Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s making money. Michael Bay said it himself when he started Platinum Dunes. What was it, 7 years ago? He said, I am going to take these titles and make money off them. Some people hate him, some people love him. But he is a smart guy. At the end of the day, making a movie is about making money, unfortunately.
Jeremy: Frank and I were talking about this. You’ve got to go on a movie to movie basis. You can’t hate a remake based on the sole fact it is a remake because the past 10 years there have been some amazing gems that have completely redefined horror. Dawn of Dead redefined the zombie movie, that and 28 Days Later.
Frank: You know, I just said the point of making movies is to make money. And a lot of people would say, you know that’s a f*cked up thing to say, movies are an art, yada ,yada, yada. Yes, they absolutely are. I approach, and any other director, everybody approaches a movie with artistic integrity and an artistic eye, but the thing is, to make a movie there is so much work involved on so many different levels, all the artists involved, all the workers involved, all the crew. It is a big, elaborate undertaking, and people have to get paid for that.
I don’t know if I’m explaining what I mean correctly. It’s not that I made a movie with the intention of making money. No. I made Blood Night for my love of cinema, my love of horror, my love of slasher movies. Yes, I want this to be my career.
Jeremy: At the same time, faithful as Frank’s vision might be, the EPs(executive producers) involved, very nice guys, but their end result is still wanting to see their financial futures go into movies. That’s not to label EPs as evil. They’re, “Here’s a bunch of money, make your movie, we want that back one day.”
Patrick E: Are there any other projects in the think tank after the release of Blood Night?
Frank: Yeah, I’ve got a few projects in the think tank, as you say. I’m developing something that I want to take place in New Orleans, a little bit more serious tone than Blood Night. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s essentially about an axe murderer loose in New Orleans. It’s spanning decades. It’s in it’s very rudimentary stages, but it’s been weighing heavily on my mind, so I think I’m going to really start tackling the story about an axe murderer in New Orleans that is spanning decades, first in the early 1900s, than again in the 50s, and then again present day. The culture of New Orleans would be very prevalent, the Louisiana religious culture, some of the voodoo and the Creole religions will play a big role.
I’m working on something else that I’d like to have take place in a 1930s travelling carnival. Lot of the aspects of Tod Browning’s Freaks from 1932. Heavily influenced by that and certain other factors. A lot of revenge elements. A real look into human nature, the perception of those that are different, and what truly makes ugly and beauty. A little more thought-evoking than Blood Night, not that I don’t love Blood Night. I love every second of it, but some deeper things, that would be nice.
Be on the lookout for the official release of Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet.