To market: Director Jim Isaac and writer/producer Robert Mailer Anderson (right) set the scene for "Pig Hunt," which plays the Red Vic soon.

Robert Mailer Anderson on Mendo Madness of 'Pig Hunt'

Dennis Harvey October 26, 2009

After ripping it up at various genre fests (most recently winning Best Feature at the Royal Flush Festival in New York), Bay Area indie horror Pig Hunt settles in for a theatrical run at the Red Vic Movie House Friday, October 30.

Ideal Halloween fare, it’s a giddy, unpredictable mashup of elements that finds a carload of San Francisco yuppie types getting in way over their heads on a hunting expedition up north. Among the gory perils their rapidly dwindling number face are angry hillbillies, defensive pot growers, a menacing rural guru with a whole lot of ‘wives’—oh, and one 3,000-pound "hogzilla" known as The Ripper.

SF360 spoke with Pig Hunt’s co-scenarist (with Zack Anderson) Robert Mailer Anderson, a San Francisco resident who’s worn many hats, from gallery owner to novelist. This new hat is certainly his bloodiest.

SF360: How did
Pig Hunt originally come about?

Robert Mailer Anderson: It was a combination of a noir story I wanted to write about a guy looking for help in the Mendo[cino] woods and getting worse than no help from, rednecks, meth-lab tweakers, dope-farming hippies, commune cultists, undocumented Mexicans, and Native Americans, peeling back the layers of local history. Then a real-life friend, Joe, had a birthday and for a present wanted to hunt for the first time. My cousin Zack and I imagined what would happen if we blindfolded him and dropped him off up in the hills. Happy 40th!

SF360: Director Jim Isaac had previously directed three more mainstream horrors (including
Jason X, the 2001 ‘Friday the 13th in space’ installment. How did he get involved in an indie production?

Robert Mailer Anderson: Jim was a friend of a friend. And a local boy who understood our brand of Up Cal madness. We wanted him to make the Ripper. After he read the script, he said he wanted to direct and could get the old ILM shop (Kerner) to make the creature.

SF360: After the San Francisco prologue, what were your locations? Was it easy to shoot in the woods?

Mailer Anderson: We shot most of the movie on my property in Boonville. The two other locations were the Comptche Store, and the redneck clan’s compound, which was the barn where my father used to live for three years in Boonville. Where the hunters drive past is my old wiffleball field. And, incidentally, it was where Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple.

SF360: How did Les Claypool from Primus come to write the soundtrack?

Mailer Anderson: He saw them making the Ripper at Kerner and wanted in. We expanded the role of the Preacher for him and asked if he would help with the music. He jumped in with both feet. After we broke his finger ...
SF360: You wrote a novel
Boonville, which satirized Northern California rural life where ‘redneck’ and ‘hippie’ definitions blur. Pig Hunt again has fun with that kind of pot-growing, gun-toting population. Residents of, say, Humboldt and Siskiyou counties might ask: What’s yer problem, city boy?

Mailer Anderson: My answer would be, ‘You talkin’ to me?’ Because I went to high school in Ukiah and graduated from Anderson Valley High in Boonville. My father ran a group home for juvenile delinquents in the outback of Redwood Valley where I also lived. My parents were divorced, so I always had two ‘homes,’ one with a lot of concrete, the other on a crappy septic system. But my formative years were spent drinkin’ and playing sports with criminals, rednecks and hippies in rural Mendocino County.

SF360: Dude, I gotta say having
Boonville atop the protagonists’ bedside table in the first post-credits shot is pretty shameless self-promotion.

Mailer Anderson: Yes. But I thought this guy would have given her the book to partially prepare her for the town where he used to live. It also shows a bit of disconnect, these people safely read about the margins, the violent grey area, they don’t live in them. We also used Les Claypool’s novel, and my other friends, the great Thomas Sanchez, Daniel Mason, and Tom Barbash.

SF360: I’m not sure it’s sustained through the whole film, but at least initially there are some interesting allusions to the war in Iraq, tied to the empty faux-military posturing of the hero’s friends. Care to elucidate?

Mailer Anderson: Heavily-armed Americans venture to a dangerous land under false pretenses by their leader, without an exit strategy, knowing little about the local culture, then attempt to kill a monster. A native tribe escorts the Americans into deeper trouble, until they begin to be killed by the Americans letting loose their pent-up rage and misguided good-intentions. Meanwhile another violent religious faction tries to protect their borders and drug crop by waging war on both groups. With casualties mounting, fires raging, future generations of evil beasts and warring tribesmen ready to perpetuate the fight, and the drug crop unharmed, the leader of the Americans declares, ‘Mission Accomplished.’ It does sound familiar.

SF360: Where did inspiration for the African American guru/bodacious white chix sex cult come from?

Mailer Anderson: It was a way to explore racial fear and conflict in America. And there was a local freak in Boonville named Treefrog Johnson who kidnapped children in a van and raped them—mostly boys though. The Boonville area is especially known for whackos, Jim Jones, Reverend Moon, Leonard Lake, Charles Ng, to name a few. There was also a guy in Marin not too long ago who had all those white women as ‘wives’ and was abusing and starving his multitude of children.

Pig Hunt is unusual by current horror standards in that it’s willing to mix it up a lot, tonally and in terms of narrative swerves. One minute it feels like ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ the next like Road Warrior or Razorback. Were there particular genre classics you were influenced by/wanted to pay homage to?

Mailer Anderson: Jim and I have a kind of Nor Cal world view that is a combination of a lot of storytelling elements and different genres. We’re both drawn to a spirit of anarchy. For me, cinematically, it mostly came from comedies and early Burt Reynolds (WW and the Dixie Dance Kings, The Longest Yard) and Jack Nicholson (The Last Detail, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) movies. But also the fantastic, anything-goes quality of low-budget drive-in fare that I was reared on: Car chase films, giant beast movies, disaster flicks. In my mind Deliverance and Straw Dogs were the touchstones for this project. And when it came to the action sequences, we told the second unit, ‘You know, like in The Road Warrior.’ Also there’s one obvious shot we called ‘the Alien shot.’ Clearly, we lacked imagination on that one. And we were losing light….

SF360: Is the cast mostly Bay Area-based? There are some excellent local stage actors in there, like the late great Luis Saguar in one of his last roles.

Mailer Anderson: To make it as Up Cal as possible, and because we have amazing local talent, we cast out of San Francisco—Nancy Hayes Casting. But we hit a wall with three characters. Our original John didn’t work out. Travis Aaron Wade came to us three days before we started shooting via our DP Adam Kane. Jason Foster was a friend of a friend and spared us the embarrassment of me playing the Jake role. Bryonn Bain came after The Wire wouldn’t release Michael K. Williams for more than ten days to shoot. My friend Ben Jealous, who is now the President of the NAACP, hipped me to Bryonn’s endless and radical talent. He was perfect.

SF360: You mentioned
Pig Hunt has been tweaked since its prior festival screenings.

Mailer Anderson: We fixed the sound, added the final versions of Les Claypool’s songs, we made the Ripper death a bit more satisfying, trimmed out a few clunky shots and moments, and almost two minutes from the first twenty, so it starts off a bit faster. But it is still a strange slow burn that flames into unbridled chaos. Nobody can tell who’s gonna kill what, when, where, or how.

SF360: You’re played genre fests and other brief gigs, now you’re playing a regular run at the Red Vic. Just what are
Pig Hunt’s distribution strategies at present?

Mailer Anderson: We’d like to grow our American theatrical release because Pig Hunt plays well on the big screen and with an audience. People have fun with it, screaming, laughing, cheering, jeering, and that’s infectious. Much better than watching it alone with a bag of pork rinds. But apparently the DVD is doing great in Germany, Poland, off to a good start in the UK, and getting ready to be released in Japan and Australia. The reviews keep coming back: ‘cult classic.’ We’ll just have to wait and see how many piggies join that muddy underground cult.

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