Jawing with the screenwriters of the fishy fright Razortooth
Currently chomping its way through the DVD charts, Razortooth (See review, p. 44) marks the first produced screenplay for the diabolical duo of Jack Monroe and Matt Holly, who happen to be a couple of my Hollywood by Mark Burger “connections.”
As the title implies with so much subtlety, Razortooth is a reptilian menace in the Jaws tradition. Slithering through the Florida Everglades, this genetically enhanced prehistoric creature is able to strike wherever there’s water: In a boat, in a shower, on a toilet…. It’s fair to say that Spielberg & Co. aren’t loosing any sleep over this belated addition to the school of fishy fright-fests, but scribes Holly and Monroe weren’t taking this assignment entirely seriously. To paraphrase a line from the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry vehicle The Dead Pool: “It’s not a rip-off, it’s an homage.”
“It’s always a surreal experience to see the things I’ve dreamed up in my head onscreen,” Monroe says. “I think I’m more amused than anything else that all of these people come out and dress up in costumes, and you have all of these crew members and they’re working long hours and producers holding meetings and there’s all of this hullabaloo — and it started with me sitting in my sweatpants in front of a computer screen.” “If you break it down,” observes Holly, “it’s an old ’50s movie.” “As a kid, I was certainly drawn to the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the Friday the 13 th s, but I also loved Star Wars and Close Encounters and lots of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ re-runs, so when I discovered the monster movies of the ’50s, they were the perfect combination of horror and sci-fi and family values that I enjoyed,” Monroe says. “You could almost pitch it as a Kentucky Fried Movie variation of Anaconda,” quips Holly. “It’s really a fan movie. People who don’t like this sort of movie don’t see them, but the fans who will see them love them. People will either love it for everything it is or hate it for everything it isn’t. So, if you don’t like it, buy it anyway!” Mike Elliott, a veteran of the Roger Corman trenches and a successful producer in his own right (The Devil’s Rejects, My Best Friend’s Girl), served as executive producer/maestro for the production, while Patricia Harrington made her directorial debut. It was Elliott and fellow executive producer Rob Kerchner who first commissioned Monroe for the script in 2001, and then resurrected it four years later. Originally titled Sssslither but then changed because of the film released by Universal (with whom Elliott has worked) in 2006, the film’s title was inspired by the name of the covert military project conducted in the 1978 cult classic Piranha, itself a Roger Corman-produced riff on Jaws. In point of fact, the final script for Razortooth contains a good number of in-jokes and nods toward scenes from such past goodies (and baddies) as Jaws, Jaws 2, Jaws 3-D, Jaws — The Revenge, Orca, Tentacles, Piranha II — The Spawning, Alligator, Deep Blue Sea and even Enzo Castellari’s long-bootlegged, Italian-made shark shocker The Last Shark (AKA Great White), which starred James Franciscus and Vic Morrow and was ultimately yanked from theaters in 1982 thanks to an injunction from Universal. “I only go to the best,” laughs Holly, especially with “Jaws being my favorite movie.” Alongside leads Kathleen LaGue and Doug Swander, playing an estranged law-enforcement couple reunited by the menace of Razortooth, both Monroe and Holly also appear in the film — Monroe as a diligent dolt of a lawman, billed as “the Chubby Deputy,” and Holly as Mark Constance, a cocky college jock who picked the wrong weekend to earn some extra credit in biology. It was not a foregone conclusion that both, much less either, would also get the opportunity to act in the script they wrote. “I felt I should be an actor in it,” Holly admits modestly. “I felt I should be offered an opportunity, but I did have to read for it.” Their casting, however, proved useful as the two could work on the script during filming. If anything needed to be altered or re-arranged — “we burned several pages!” exclaims Holly — the screenwriters were there on set to do it. “It was a challenge,” says Holly. “We were
constantly rewriting on the fly. I had to fall back on my creativity. It really was up to us. I learned quite a bit. I gained a lot of on-set experience, I really did.” “I was glad Matt took point on that,” says Monroe, who wasn’t able to spend as much time on the set as Holly was. “I appreciate the need for [rewrites] as the production faces scheduling challenges and location changes, but when you put six months’ of work on a script and you’ve carefully built the house of cards that is plot and character, it’s hard to make changes on the set and still feel like the new scenes or dialogue are going to be as well-developed as what was already there. Not that Razortooth is Lawrence of Arabia, but I still took a lot of pride in the original script.” Nevertheless, Monroe’s enthusiasm was reignited by the enthusiasm with which cast and crew were approaching the film. “I learned more on Razortooth than two years of film school, shooting my own short film and the countless film-making seminars and conventions I’ve been suckered into over the years. How to best captain the ship is what I took away with me. I think it is a fun throwback to the ’50s monster movies and I believe the characters, though clichÃ©d, do entertain. Unlike other films in this genre, I don’t think Razortooth ever takes itself too seriously and, for that reason, is very entertaining. All things considered, I love Razortooth. No matter how ugly your baby is, your baby will always be beautiful to you.” “It’s a very good stepping-stone I can be proud of for a long time,” says Holly, “and it means a lot — because it’s one of the genres I hold dear. It gave me a lot of pleasure.” For now, these aspiring Hollywood highrollers have their sights set on the future. Monroe and Holly have re-teamed and written Pitchfork, a horror film in the Friday the 13th vein; the family adventure Wolfpack; and He’s With Me, a sports comedy focusing on a hot-shot NBA star and an obsessed fan. And, this very week, Holly ties the knot with longtime girlfriend and fellow actress Melissa Noble, in San Diego. Yours truly will be reading at the wedding, but Monroe and Holly didn’t write the dialogue… although they might do last-minute rewrites.
To comment on this story, e-mail Mark Burger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week’s issue mistakenly stated that the 48 Hour Film Project in Greensboro was taking place last week. It is, in fact, taking place this weekend. The kick-off party is 6 p.m. this Friday at Studio B (520 S. Elm St., Greensboro). For further information, see www.48hourfilm.com.