Names

For Cambridge-based Rasmussen brothers, a steady ‘Crawl’ into Hollywood

Mark Wilson
Michael (left) and Shawn Rasmussen, the screenwriting duo behind “Crawl,” do their best work from Cambridge.

“Halloween” maestro John Carpenter, splatstick icon Sam Raimi (“Evil Dead”), and noted gorehound Alexandre Aja (“High Tension”) share a reputation for making lean-and-mean horror movies, the kind that rarely waste a shot or pass up a good scare. But they’ve got something else in common, too: Cambridge-based scribes Michael and Shawn Rasmussen.

The brothers — previously best known for scripting Carpenter’s 2010 thriller “The Ward” — are behind this summer’s ferocious “Crawl,” on Blu-ray this week. It centers on a young woman (Kaya Scodelario) trapped with her injured dad (Barry Pepper) during a Category 5 hurricane, whose flooding Florida home starts to fill with hungry alligators.

Aja — no stranger to waterborne terrors after making “Piranha 3-D” (2010) — directed, with Raimi producing; the pair were immediately hooked by the Rasmussens’ story, which they wrote from Cambridge.

Advertisement

“I cannot believe no one else had come up with that idea: alligators, Florida, hurricane,” Shawn remembers thinking. Both brothers spoke to the Globe, coffees in hand, during a recent sitdown at Somerville’s Diesel Cafe.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

When Michael pitched him on the concept for “Crawl,” which he’d hatched after spending two postgrad years in the Sunshine State, Shawn did his due diligence, convinced someone must have beaten them to the punch.

But when it became clear no one had, the race was on to write and sell what the pair envisioned as “Jaws” for alligators, set entirely in the crawlspace beneath one Florida residence. They brought it to producer Craig Flores, who sent Aja the logline and heard back quickly. “That was all [Aja] needed to get on the phone and tell us he wanted to make it, only bigger,” says Michael.

Adds Shawn: “We’d been writing with handcuffs on. He wanted to blow it up, make it a larger, more expensive film than we’d written.”

The pair were game, condensing their original script into two acts then adding an explosive third that brought the action upstairs, allowing for a more dynamic story and one particularly gnarly sequence involving looters at a nearby gas station. The Rasmussens instinctively played up the primeval terror of alligators, with those snapping jaws and sinister smiles.

Advertisement

“They really are dinosaurs,” says Shawn. “What amazes me is that, in Florida, they’re on the golf courses, in the canals, and people have these little four-feet gates around their ponds to keep them in. I’m like, ‘I don’t know, guys.’ ”

To write “Crawl,” the Rasmussens leaned on skills honed across more than 15 years of penning scripts. They first teamed up after moving to Boston for corporate jobs; though Michael had a film degree, neither had found work in that field.

“We were bored out of our minds working in the cubicle environment,” remembers Shawn. For fun, the pair wrote a thriller, “Long Distance,” and were stunned when, just six months later, a producer they’d sent it to started shooting the project in an abandoned mental hospital in downtown Boston. “It actually spoiled us,” says Shawn. “That was a one-off. It doesn’t ever happen like that.”

Though a two-year stint in Los Angeles proved less-than-encouraging, their luck eventually held. “The Ward,” a script they’d tried unsuccessfully to sell while there, landed on Carpenter’s desk only after the Rasmussens had moved back to Boston.

The brothers, scarcely believing their luck, took story meetings with Carpenter at a Beverly Hills poolside cabana, the director chain-smoking as he gave subtle, encouraging notes on their script. Both say that process was thrilling enough to keep them motivated – and inspire them to get behind the camera.

Advertisement

Since then, the brothers have stayed rooted in Cambridge; they’ve directed two of their own horror scripts, “Dark Feed” (2013) and “The Inhabitants” (2015), embracing the challenge of making microbudgeted films, learning as they go. Especially lately, they’re feeling inspired.

“Working with Aja and Raimi, it was just mind-blowing to have these idols make something you’d written,” says Shawn. “We were still pinching ourselves on the Carpenter thing, and this was just a whole other level.”

Next, they’ll shepherd a pair of horror shorts toward the big screen. For “Bedtime Story,” about two boys terrorized when their mother’s ghostly tales spring to life, they’re reteaming with Raimi and Flores as executive-producers. They’re also working on “Meet Jimmy,” which gives true-crime podcasts a bloody twist when those tuning into one are targeted by the serial killer profiled in it. What about a “Crawl” sequel? Everyone’s enthusiastic, they say, but the jury’s still out. The Rasmussens have another, loftier goal: bringing horror movies back to New England.

“It’s amazing how much history is here, from Edgar Allan Poe to the Salem witch trials, all this Gothic horror,” explains Michael. Around Boston, inspiration’s literally beneath your feet, they say.

“You’re on a weekend road-trip and find some gravesite,” adds Shawn. “You start writing in your notebook, ‘I wonder, who’s buried here?’ ”

Isaac Feldberg can be reached at isaac.feldberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @isaacfeldberg.