News Column

'Cassadaga' continues horror-film tradition of Orlando

October 11, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 11--Spit-up maggots, dismembered victims and a seance gone terribly wrong figure in "Cassadaga," a movie filmed entirely in Central Florida.

The new release, opening today in Orlando, continues the horror tradition of the area's best-known work, "The Blair Witch Project," which premiered in 1999.

"It's a perfect time of year for it, October and Halloween," said "Cassadaga" director Anthony DiBlasi ("Dread"). "It does have some intense scenes. That's good for horror. People want it to be a roller coaster."

Leading lady Kelen Coleman describes "Cassadaga" as intense for its paranormal angles and unusual for its character development. "Hold someone close and know that it's all for fun," advised the actress, who stars on HBO's "The Newsroom."

The plot focuses on Lily (Coleman) who moves to the spiritualist community of Cassadaga after a family tragedy. She tries to reach her sister through a medium but instead stumbles into a murdered woman's story. Lily finds love, battles a chop-happy serial killer and endures perplexing incidents, such as those maggots.

Some familiar places populate the film. In addition to Cassadaga, viewers might recognize DeLand and areas in and around Lake Helen.

"Cassadaga" stars Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") as Lily's landlord and Kevin Alejandro ("True Blood," "Arrow") as a Lily admirer. It was filmed in 2010 with a crew from Central Florida and had a budget of "just under a million," said writer-producer Scott Poiley of Orlando.

Poiley knows the region well after shooting other films here: the dramatic thriller "Missionary" and the ghost story "Paymon" in Sanford.

"That's what we want to encourage," said Sheena Fowler of the Metro Orlando Film Commission. "People can have a positive filming experience here so they can get distribution deals. That's what our film community was built to be."

For "Cassadaga," the 19-day shoot was the biggest challenge, Poiley said.

"We're on a limited budget. You want to make sure you get the performances that are necessary," he said. "You run out of time or money."

Actress Coleman compared the shoot to summer camp and praised the backdrop.

"I love Florida; I love the way it looks," she said. "It looks great on film with the swamps and trees with hanging moss."

Brady Bowen -- president of Archstone Distribution, which is distributing the movie -- agreed.

"Aesthetically, it's beautiful," he said. "The landscape is quite different from California. I felt like going on vacation there -- minus the chopping up."

"Cassadaga" will open this weekend in 15 theaters across the country, including Universal CityWalk Cineplex. If "Cassadaga" does well in theaters, it could expand, Poiley said.

"It's been a long road," said Poiley. "There were definitely hurdles that had to be overcome to make sure the distribution deal was right. I walked away from a deal. I want the investors to be happy."

The movie also is available on demand for film fans who don't want to leave home, a move that excites Poiley.

"It is the way," he said. "With the decline of the DVD, slowly on demand is filling that hole."

Starting today, "Cassadaga" will be available to rent on demand through AT&T U-verse, DirecTV and Dish as well as from iTunes, Amazon and Xbox.

Such distribution deals are the wave of the future for smaller independent films, said Bowen of Archstone. "We don't have the 30 or 40 million dollars in print-and-advertising spending that the traditional studio format has," Bowen said. "With these smaller films, we're trying to open as many doors as possible to have the film recoup as much of its budget as quickly as possible."

"It kind of blows my mind," director DiBlasi said. "I'll go on iTunes and see these films coming that I can buy with A-list actors. Video on demand and iTunes are a more efficient way. So many people are moving to the digital platform and wanting to stay at home. It allows you to get to a wider audience."

hboedeker@tribune.com

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(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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