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A Killer in Their Midst PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Paul-Pierre Smalls   
Feb 28, 2005 at 02:00 AM
A hulking black form trudges out of the darkness slinging a gore-drenched knife the size of a Louisville Slugger. The angry scowl on his face tells me this is probably the last guy on set to mess around with. "This haunted summer camp shit is seriously starting to piss me off."

 Vancouver writer/director Dan Zachary - all six foot four of him - wipes the cold rain from his brow and stabs in the direction of the shoot. "Let's go," he says, spitting into the bushes. "Let's go before these ghosts shut us down." Zachary leads me past an endless line of spooky, paint-starved cabins that look like they were the demented handiwork of the Manson family. Tonight has not been a good night, he says - the shoot is being held up by a dizzying list of on-set fiascos. The freezing rain has forced him to reschedule some complicated exterior shots. One of the major murder scenes takes place in the women's restroom. And someone or something keeps locking the door when the crew leaves.

"We're supposed to be killing off one of the girls tonight, but they crash the power or the camera screws up every time we're ready to roll," Zachary says, as we climb the rickety wooden steps into the entrance of Cabin Three. Whooosh. As of on cue, the set lights blacken. Nervous-looking crew members swap uneasy glances. Is it another breaker? Or a cue to stop shooting from the grave? The silence in the musty little cabin lingers just long enough to make me uncomfortable. That's when I hear the click of a miniature flashlight. It's Zachary. He lights up his chin and does his best Vincent Price:

"Welcome...To Slasher Flick."

Dark Damsel In Distress
Slasher Flick is the first horror venture for Moviehouse Pictures. It's an ominous tale penned by Dan Zachary and long-time collaborator John Knox about a murder mystery troupe that runs afoul of a skull-faced maniac "Their latest show has a 1980s slasher film theme, and it's held at a creepy old off-season summer camp," Zachary explains.

"The performers go undercover and immerse themselves among the guests, so the guests don't know who's for real and who's part of the show. That makes 'em vulnerable. People are disappearing, and the guests think it's all part of the show. It's good, wholesome fun - well, wholesome except for all the murder and half-naked women."

Among those scantily-clad beauties is Tristan Risk, a sultry, raven-haired vixen aiming to win audiences over as Hollywood's next sexy scream queen. She hustles into Cabin Three dressed in lacy black lingerie and a good helping of red-dyed corn syrup. It's clear something has her spooked. "It's cold out there. I'm half-naked and the local ghosts are pissed," she declares. Risk plays Slasher Flick goth princess Therese. Around the same time the lights in Cabin Three dropped out, she was waiting to shoot a scene in a nearby washroom facility when one of the showers inexplicably sprung to life. Despite the three-inch stiletto boots she had on, she ran like hell in frantic search of the nearest sign of warm-blooded crew members.

"Call in the Ghostbusters or you'll be hearing from my attorney," she laughs.

 Tales Of Terror
The bulk of Slasher Flick was filmed at Camp Kwomais in White Rock, B.C. a seaside suburb of Vancouver. While it's not particularly known for paranormal activity, Kwomais is in fact one of the oldest campgrounds in Western Canada - it's been in use by various groups since the early 1900s. Other shows that have filmed here are The X-Files, Jeremiah and even Martin Sheen once madea movie here. Over the course of the three-month shoot, Zachary says, the camp has served up plenty of chilling surprise scares to the cast and crew.

First there were odd sounds of objects rolling along the floor within locked cabins. Trash cans were occasionally knocked over, and props would vanish, only to reappear at other parts of the camp. But the strange occurrences took on a more frightening touch the night several actors heard faint, disturbing cries of a woman in the woods. The crew's search of the area turned up nothing, but the mysterious calls continued through the night until just before sunrise. "That's got to be some of the creepiest shit I've ever heard," says acting newcomer Steve McGowan.

McGowan plays Andrew, a murder mystery guest who's more interested in playing jokes and sowing oats than playing the game. "Horror shoots have the best atmosphere - lots of shits and giggles. Up until that moaning started, we'd been laughing our asses off every night." Some actors have heard their names whispered to them from the woods. Others have spotted shadowy figures darting off of the corner of their eyes just beyond the reach of the set lights.

Zachary says there's been several occasions where sound technicians have halted production because their microphones are picking up phantom-like piano music. "It's the weirdest thing. We're not hearing it with our ears, but the mics are. I've had to reshoot some great takes because of it," Zachary says. He notes the only piano for miles is locked up in a mess hall on the other side of camp. "I know it can't be a joke because I'm the only one with the key."

Co-producers Scott Gueulette and Bruno Puric had their own encounter with phantom footsteps in the mess hall. "We stayed behind to help clean up one night, and we heard an aluminum can or something roll across the room," Gueulette says. "The next thing I know, we hear footsteps - real, definite footsteps. They march across the floorboards, making them squeak from one side of the room to the other. I'm not joking - I almost ran right out of there." Puric, however, is not quite convinced that supernatural elements have anything to do with the mysteries on the set.

"It's all bullshit if you ask me," Puric says. "Ghosts? Please. When you get a bunch of horror movie actors together in the woods at night, it's only a matter of time before they start talking shit. Don't believe any of this ghost stuff. It's nonsense."

 Dirty Deeds - But Not So Cheap
Zachary says that sex has become something of a nemesis throughout much of the Slasher Flick production - people are always doing it, talking about doing it, or pretending to be doing it at times when jobs needed to get done. "I never realized that being surrounded by beautiful, horny actresses could be such a pain in the ass," Zachary says.

"I'm lugging equipment around with the crew all night, and the girls sit around gossiping about boyfriends, sex toys and slutty outfits. And of course the minute a guy walks into the room, they're bombarded with ridiculous amounts of girlie, flirtatious attention. When that happens, I'm like, 'Screw this - put the cleavage away and help me haul some god damn power cables to the next set up'."

However, actor Steve McGowan says the sexual tension on the set makes for great laughs. Hence his inspiration for the infamous Slasher Flick Zucchini Incident. "One of the first scenes I had to shoot was a down 'n dirty love scene with this totally stacked superbabe. It's my first movie, so I was nervous about sporting a safari in my pants," McGowan says, hinting that an elephant trunk had somehow taken up residence in his boxer shorts. "I broke the ice with a little joke - I stuffed a foot-long zucchini down my jeans and waited for her to hop on top. You should have seen her face when she did. I wasn't sure if she was disturbed or intrigued." One never really knows when to take McGowan seriously - he has a natural talent for comedic timing, and is known to spin elaborate pranks on the set.

"All you need to know about me is that I'm a consummate professional," McGowan says, looking over his shoulder before sneaking a Budweiser tall-can out of his jacket pocket. He gives me the evil eye before cracking it open. "But if you've got five dollars, brother, I'll hump the leg of any man, woman or child on this set. Just watch and see."

From Script To Scream
Zachary says Slasher Flick came extremely close to becoming "The Movie That Never Was." When he first set about writing the script, the original concept was about a killer traveling up and down the interstate highways looking for victims at rest stops. Call it boredom, or call it writer's block, Zachary says work on the yet to be named horror script eventually ground to a halt. He and Knox then moved onto developing a comedy screenplay based on a live murder mystery theatre show they'd written and performed a few years earlier.

Murder At The Cairo Club was a fully interactive "Casablanca meets Indiana Jones in an Egyptian night club sort of thing." In between staged scenes the actors would mingle with the audience to drop clues and misdirect suspicions about the show's mystery killer. "What a hellish experience. It was nothing but egos and arguments for the entire run. We ended up at each other's throats," Zachary says.

Halloween was around the corner so Knox and Zachary tried to think of a murder mystery show that would capitalize on the holiday. Zachary suggested a weekend long murder mystery show that would give the guests the thrills of an 80's slasher film. That's when inspiration struck - the writers decided to combine the elements of a murder mystery troupe in turmoil with a real serial killer who literally steals the show.

"I really think John Carpenter's Halloween and The Thing were a major inspiration for us. Both movies are about a tight-knit group of people who suddenly can't trust each other anymore," Knox says. "I'm not sure what's scarier - knowing you're about to be killed, or knowing that you'll be all alone when it happens."

Zachary spent his youth reading about his favorite special effects make up artists in Fangoria magazine. Then he moved on to building monster masks and whipping up foam latex make ups in his garage.

"I understand there is a need for gore in a horror film." Zachary says, "But not gratuitous gore. That isn't scary...it's disgusting. We are going for suspense and visceral horror in Slasher Flick. We want to take it to that place that made the audience fill in the blanks," he said.

Zachary pauses a moment and grins. "The movies that scared the shit out of us!" The source of much terror in the film is the North Bend Reaper - the evil monster that crawled out of the writing duo's endless pages of notes on serial killers to find life in front of the camera lens. Knox says one of the most difficult parts of writing the script was defining the killer's character. The look came easy, but it was the back story that presented a problem. To picture the chief villain of Slasher Flick, imagine the Grim Reaper, but taller...waaaay taller.

Now add a razor sharp harvesting scythe, a cloak sewn from the clothes of murder victims. It's Smackdown meets Skeletor - and he's got a bone to pick with some meddling kids. The North Bend Reaper, named for the small Washington state town where much of the Twin Peaks TV series was filmed, fulfills all the duties expected of a Hollywood psychopath - merciless, unforgiving and bloodthirsty. Knox said it was also crucial to him and Zachary that the Reaper's arsenal included a mind twice as sharp as his butcher knives.

"Mindless murderers can spook a movie crowd, but a killer with a high IQ is even scarier. It provides far more opportunities to mess with your audience and scare the pants off of them," Knox says. "Most movies have plot twists that come out of nowhere - there's no set up, so it's hard to get the audience to buy into it. In our film, the killer drives the plot twists right before your eyes. He's a master manipulator. He's smarter than his victims. Half the thrill is watching his devious plans come to fruition."

Their passion for the Reaper was fuelled as news agencies began reporting on bizarre cases of kidnappings, torture and human sacrifice near the border towns of Texas and Mexico. For some time, many people in that region have worshipped the Angel of Death as a Catholic saint - Santa del Muerte. They pray to him for good health, good fortune and so on, and sometimes they honor him with a sacrifice - usually goats or sheep. It turns out that even the worst sinners turn to Santa del Muerte in times of crisis.

A few years back, police raided the homes of several drug dealers in Juarez, a crime-ridden town with a nasty reputation for corruption and murder. There they uncovered mass graves containing dozens and dozens of dismembered human corpses, the apparent victims of unimaginable acts of torture, ritual sacrifice and dismemberment. "The story goes that the drug dealers prayed to the Angel of Death to keep the cops away from their drug shipments. They were kidnapping innocent people from both sides of the border and executing them as part of their rituals. Mom 'n pop cannabis farms literally became human slaughterhouses."

After pondering the "Saint Death" phenomenon, the writers began to see the North Bend Reaper in a whole new light. "To think that the Angel of Death walks among us stretches the imagination a little too far," Zachary says. "But what if there was someone out there who believed that this is what they really are? An ordinary man who believes he has been chosen by God to deliver his vengeance, one sinner at a time? What makes this concept even scarier is that we know in our hearts that there are people out there who do believe this is exactly what they've been put on this earth to do. That is scarier than anything John and I could ever come up with."

The Secrets Within
But Knox says there's one thing about Slasher Flick that audiences might not be expecting - they're going to be challenged every step of the way to figure out the killer's true identity. "This movie's more than chase scenes and murders...it's actually a murder mystery whodunit in progress," Knox says. "From the instant you sit down, Dan and I are already playing games with your head."

"In Slasher Flick, you've got to figure out which of the campers is actually responsible for all of this. There's a really oppressive sense of urgency and danger throughout this film because our characters realize they can't trust anyone - there's a killer in their midst and no way of knowing who is telling the truth," Knox says.

Coming Soon: Moviehouse Pictures plans to bring their horrific tale to additional horror festivals in New York City and overseas before the year is out. For more information visit www.slasher-flick.com

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