"I hope you're not squeamish..."
Such were the opening words of the unit publicist as myself and other journalists made our way through Raleigh Studios where the production of Pathology was taking place. He then led us up to a fake corpse who has having all manner of meat put inside his ripped open torso. Apparently, they ran out of intestinal looking substances earlier in the day so a PA was recently sent to the store to acquire more meat.
"This is a low budget film," the publicist jokes. "We're actually going to reuse the meat inside this dead guy for lunch."
I haven't been here 5 minutes and I can already tell that this is one sick set.
This new film, directed by acclaimed commercial and music video director Marc Schoelermann, stars Alyssa Milano (Charmed), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), Michael Weston, Lauren Lee Smith, Dan Callahan, Johnny Whitworth, Mei Melancon, and Keir O'Donnell. Best described as a horror, medical, thriller Pathology focuses on a group of medical students doing their pathology residency at the University of Pennsylvania. When Ted Gray (Ventimiglia) finds out that some of the students have a competition going to commit the perfect murder, he soon finds himself getting caught up in this very deadly game.
Here is just a quick list of the some of the things that were seen on the morgue set of Pathology this day:
- real organs mixed with meat and other products to help fill out a dead body whose chest had been open and subsequently dissected (previously mentioned, I know, but worth mentioning again because I don't think I can ever look at beef brisket the same way again)
- more blood
- heads of human beings being tossed around like footballs
- a lot more blood
- a new devilishly, disgusting and twisted take on the famous orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally...
- even more blood than previously mentioned
"I hang out in morgue's." Said co-writer/producer Mark Neveldine (half the directing and writing team behind 2006's supercharged Crank) when we sat down with him. "I made the actors watch a real autopsy. The whole thing. The actors know what should be going on in these scenes... they're collaborating."
Considering the depths to with Neveldine, the cast, the director and everyone else seems to be going to make this film authentic, it looks like Pathology could be on its way to being one of the most gruesome films to ever be set in the world of medicine. Neveldine bristled a bit when it was mentioned to him that Pathology seemed like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. "Rope?" he laughed. "The only way that it's like rope is that this film involves a small intestine."
Changing the subject a bit, he then spoke about the gestation period of this project. "At one time we wanted to direct Pathology, we were going to spend $5 million and do what Sam Raimi did. Then after Crank we sort of locked ourselves up in other deals so we had to get someone else. Marc had a really sick take."
After being called away to tend to something on the set Neveldine continued to discuss how this movie came to be.
"I feel like I've had a lifetime of experience." He said regarding bringing the scenes in the morgue to life. "Plus Brian (Taylor; co-writer of Pathology) is an encyclopedia of horror films." He then spoke about at one time considering practicing medicine. "I was tempted to go pre-med but beer got the best of me. I'm just fascinated with death. I have a lot of friends at the morgue. There's something new every day. People get killed in all kinds of different ways."
One has to wonder if being around the dead so much has desensitized the filmmaker?
"I think I got desensitized when I was 5. When I saw some guy and his dog get smashed by a car." The subject then turned to pulling off what Neveldine has seen his whole life as actual effects in this film. "I love the effects in this! I love putting the goo on things." Neveldine also had the effects people go and spend some time at the morgue. "When you go to a morgue, 1 in 300 looks real. The trick is recreating it for it the screen."
After this, we were taken into the morgue set that the actors were shooting a scene in. Apparently someone had been killed by one of the medical students and they were each trying to decide how it was done. They have made the room that the students are in (in this scene it's Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Weston (Jake), Lauren Lee Smith (Juliette Bath), Dan Callahan (Chip Bentwood), Johnny Whitworth (Griffin) and Mei Melancon (Catherine Ivy)) a very sour looking blue. On top of this, Schoelermann is having smoke constantly pumped into the room and the fact that one of the actors is smoking only seems to add to the cryptic ambiance. In between takes the actors get their hands dirty putting blood on their surgical gloves and blood on the fake corpse that lays in front of them on the table. Meanwhile, Neveldine takes blood and KY jelly and rubs it all over the outer portions of the corpse. As they work on lighting the scene of a severed head, we are escorted up a stairway so we can get a better overview.
It is at this point that one of the cast members becomes a tad jittery because rumor has that real organs are hanging out of the corpse.
"I don't want to be near that or touch that, I'm serious." Declares Johnny Whitworth.
After this we see the scene unfold where Chip brings a severed head into the morgue and each medical student offers up an idea about how the victim was beheaded. After doing this a few times, with the actors seeming to get their hands and the corpse in front of them bloodier and bloodier in between each take, the actors decide to have some fun and throw the bloody, severed head around. During this some of the enormous amounts of blood drip off the prosthetic head and on to Melancon's face. One can't help but wonder if this will make it on the eventual DVD as a bonus feature of some sort.
Throughout the day we are told about the sick take on the famous When Harry Met Sally... orgasm scene. At first, I have no idea how in the world they are mixing this in with a horror movie. After that, I also realize that they are also mixing it in so that it takes place in a morgue. How is this happening? In making a horror film that seems to be mixing elements of the comedy and thriller genres, there is a fine line that if you cross it too harshly can turn your film into one of those "wacky horror movies." Based on everything we've seen today (thrown severed heads aside), it doesn't seem like that is the direction anybody involved with this movie wants to go. The least of which being Mark Neveldine.
So after being taken back up to the original area that we were before, the When Harry Met Sally... scene becomes perfectly clear. Also, the fact that Mark Neveldine is shooting this shot (with a consumer camera you can purchase at your local electronics store no less), means that it's obviously one he thinks will work within the context of the film.
Jake sits with his corpse making his mouth move. He is playing the Billy Crystal character. Juliette stands by her corpse. She is playing the Meg Ryan character. They banter about with Juliette's corpse eventually doing the now famous crescendo orgasm, and after she is "done" the camera focuses on Griffin who is holding up the corpse of a very old lady and he says the other famous line, "I'll have what she's having." Meanwhile, Chip's character is in the background freebasing.
All of this is true, none of it made up to enhance this set visit or add some spice to this scene. And, the best part is that the corpses are actual people. Yes, SAG Actors have agreed to lay on gurneys as slabs of meat, while other SAG Actors make their mouths move.
After this, Neveldine shoots some extra shots of the various drug paraphernalia on the table. At one point, Johnny Whitworth decides to snort some of the fake cocaine and after doing this he declares that he should be "okay" because it's "only vitamin E."
The final shots we are shown aren't really explained but how much explanation do you need to see when the actors are all doing fake drugs? It is apparent that Pathology is intent on pushing many envelopes. With all the blood, dope and muted colored sets (from what I understand the characters spend a great deal of time in the morgue), this movie seems like it is going to be just as gritty as it is gross and sadistic.
Something tells me we could have a hit on our hands...
Pathology hits movie theaters April 18th from MGM.