Oct. 12--In 2008, P.J. Starks and Rodney Newton, who were then both working at OCTV, decided to make a horror film in Owensboro.
Over the summer, Starks, Newton and an all-local crew took over a since-demolished haunted house on Second Street. With Starks directing the actors and Newton handling the production, the small company created "Hallows Eve: Slaughter on Second Street," a feature-length mystery that blended comedy, horror and gore.
The film was originally conceived as being an entirely Owensboro production, with no greater aspirations than providing a showcase for the locals who worked on the project.
"There was no grand scheme beyond I wanted to work with local talent," Starks said.
The film achieved beyond the expectations of its makers. Since the film was first screened in Owensboro, "Hallows Eve" has been shown at several film festivals, won an award for local actor Todd Reynolds and has been reviewed by numerous horror movie websites with names such as "Hacked in the Head" and "Oh The Horror."
The film was shown at a festival in New York City, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. One copy even made its way to the United Kingdom. The film was also picked up by the Daviess County Public Library and is now available for loan in the library's DVD section.
Although Starks is proud of his creation, he is ready to leave the past behind and focus on other projects. On Friday, Starks will present "Hallows Eve" for the final time, with a free screening at 8 p.m. at the library, 2020 Frederica St.
"'Hallows Eve' has had a really strange but incredible journey over the last five years," Starks said. "It's amazing how many people came out of the woodwork wanting to see 'Hallows Eve.' It established me in the local film community."
Starks and Newton came up with the idea for "Hallows Eve" after traveling to Louisville to see an indie fright flick that was generating a lot of buzz. Instead of being impressed, Starks and Newton were flabbergasted at how bad the movie was -- and were determined to make a movie that was better in every way from the one they'd just seen.
For help casting the film, they called Todd Reynolds, a local stage actor and director to see if he could lend his expertise.
"Two minutes later, these guys are sitting on my couch pitching the idea they have in mind, and it's a slasher flick," Reynolds said. "I'm like, 'eww, that's not my cup of tea,' but I was interested in helping them out."
Reynolds agreed to help cast the film. "They said, 'cool, because we've written a part for you, too,'" Reynolds said.
Although Reynolds was a veteran stage actor, participating in "Hallows Eve" was an a challenge, he said.
"The biggest difference for me is how intimate the camera makes things," Reynolds said. "On stage, you're acting for the person in the very back row. For film, you're acting for that person who is right across from you."
Often, there was no one across from Reynolds during his scenes. He worked during the day when much of the other cast was filming. As a result, many of Reynolds' scenes were shot at night when the other actors were unavailable.
"I would be delivering my lines to a music stand," Reynolds said.
The film led Reynolds to be cast in two short films that were created by Lee Goldberg and David Breckman -- who had both worked on the television show "Monk." The films were screened at the International Mystery Writers Festival at the RiverPark Center.
"One thing that "Hallows Eve has done for me personally is open up other opportunities in film," Reyolds said. "... The boys told me at the beginning it was a project that showcased local talent and what could be done on a small budget in Owensboro. From my perspective, it was a grand slam for me."
Recently, Reynolds won a "best actor" award for his role in the film at the Cinematic Film Festival in Madisonville. Reynolds found out about the award by reading about it online.
"I didn't realize it had been entered into that film festival," Reynolds said. "It was several years later."
Robert Denton, who played one of the film's main characters, said the actors were allowed to improvise on-set -- something that wasn't possible in the stage plays Denton had acted in previously.
"The thing about P.J. is he was able to get what he needed and still allow the actors to give" what they thought was right for the scene, Denton said.
Because scenes were shot out of sequence, "Hallow's Eve" required a lot of preparation, Denton said. At one moment, Denton would be acting in a scene where a character was killed, only to have the actor playing that character back in the next scene to be shot, Denton said.
"It's certainly very different -- it's not necessarily harder, but it's a different type of experience" than acting in a play, Denton said. "You have to get on point very quickly."
The movie was originally planned to be shot at Theatre Workshop of Owensboro. When that fell through, production was moved to the Slaughter on Second Street building -- a move that allowed Starks and Newton to make the gory whodunnit they'd originally envisioned
Newton said while he and Starks had produced smaller films at OCTV for groups such as United Way, preparing for "Hallows Eve" was a completely different experience.
"It was a learning process on how to organize a big project," Newton said. "We learned how to cast. We learned how to secure locations."
People who were asked to be involved in the project were very supportive, Newton said.
"We didn't have anybody in the whole process of doing this who told us, 'no,' or that we couldn't do something," Newton said. "Of everybody we asked to help, no one said, 'no." There wasn't a moment when we thought, 'this isn't going to happen.'"
Initially, the film had one "name" actor -- Sonny Landham, who had worked in movies such as "Predator" and "48 Hours." But Landham, who was living in eastern Kentucky and running for U.S. Senate, made anti-Muslim and anti-Arab comments to the press during the campaign. Landham was suddenly a liability, so Newton was forced to boot Landham from the production.
"The biggest challenge was firing the guy we were excited to have on board," Newton said. "We were so excited to have a real Hollywood guy in the movie.
"Having to do that was hard, because Sonny made me feel like we were friends," Newton said. "Then I had to be like, 'hey, about that ...' It was tough and he wasn't happy, to say the least."
When the film moved to Slaughter on Second Street, the crew was joined by Ralph Mitchell and Melissa Carter, who ran the haunted house and built Halloween props professionally. Mitchell and Carter took over the special effects, for which there wasn't much of a budget.
"We were going to the dollar store at 9 in the morning, waiting to buy stuff to make props," Denton said. Starks said the special effects' sequences ate up a large percentage of the budget.
"Just making the film was about $1,000, and $500 to $600 went to special effects," Starks said. The effects sequences were reshot if necessary, except for one scene -- where a tub of gore was dumped on an actor's head -- that the crew had to get right on the first take.
"Because it was a lot of gross stuff we were dropping on her, she didn't want to do it more than once," Starks said. "Ralph was up on a 10-foot ladder and dropped a bucket on her head filled with fake guts, blood and chopped beef liver."
The film premiered at Owensboro Community & Technical College on Halloween 2008. About 200 people attended the first showing.
"Most everyone reacted in ways I didn't expect," Starks said. "Throughout the entire shoot, there were several cast members who said, 'I don't know how this is going to come together.' I said, 'at the end, we're going to have a really bad horror film or a really good comedy,' and I think we got both -- but in a good way."
Starks said he was startled when people would laugh at lines he initially thought were serious, or react differently to scenes than he had anticipated.
"At first, I thought, 'wow, I've failed miserably at what I intended to do,'" Starks said. "Once it was over and I started talking to people, I realized everybody really enjoyed themselves. It became something far better than I'd intended it to be."
Starks now organizes the annual River City Festival of Films and hosts the "Unscripted" film series at the library. Starks is also planning a new feature film and is hoping to finance a large-budget horror movie in the future.
Newton said he is focusing on other projects, such as Fat and Fabulous, and organization he co-founded that focuses on helping people have positive body images. Newton has also been approached about becoming a commentator for the "Dr. Phil Show," where he posts comments and questions during live broadcasts of the show on Twitter.
"What ('Hallows Eve') did was give me the confidence to do other things," Newton said. "... It was a cool experience. I appreciate everybody who helped out -- my role was no more than anyone else's. It was one of those things were lightning struck and we made something happen."
After Friday's final screening, "Hallows Eve" will move to the web, where it will be broadcast on The Monster Channel, an all-horror movie website.
The time was right to put "Hallows Eve" in the rear view mirror, Starks said.
"I'll always claim 'Hallows Eve,' but I did it five years ago," Starks said. "Eventually, it was going to become a crutch and I don't want to keep leaning on it. The screening on the 18th is the official send-off. It has been a great five years.
James Mayse, 691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org
"Hallows Eve: The Final Screeming" will be held at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 at the Daviess County Public Library. The event is free. Giveaways will be presented throughout the evening and the movie will be followed by a panel discussion by area horror filmmakers.
(c)2013 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)
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