by Lucy Leitner
Scream Park is a strange story. Not so much the plot of the upcoming horror movie in which amusement park employees are butchered by an 1980s-style psychopath, but the story behind the movie. It’s the tale of two guys who left New York and L.A. to make a slasher movie back home in Pittsburgh.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2004, Cary Hill left his hometown to work for Apple in Silicon Valley. After three years of feeling his soul being sucked out in a way that sadly did not involve succubi, Dementors, or Bob from Twin Peaks, Cary came back to Pittsburgh to turn his screenplay Scream Park into a feature film. He teamed up with Arvin Clay, who was back in town after working as a material consultant on movies and even doing some pre-production work on Harry Potter IV, to handle special effects. And through begging, borrowing and everything short of stealing, Scream Park was on its way to becoming a blood-spattered reality.
Operating on favors, promises, and deferments out of basements, kitchens, and dining rooms, Cary and Arvin have taken a so far successful D.I.Y. approach to first-time feature filmmaking. Writer/director/editor Cary can’t offer much to participants involved. He cashed in on every favor to make Scream Park happen and found funding online through crowdsourcing sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Arvin collected on an IOU from a web designer in Texas to get a pretty spectacular site for free. And the investors, like the stars, were attracted by the merit of the humorous, kitschy, but not too campy script.
Doug Bradley (best known as Pinhead of the Hellraiser series) plays a small, but pivotal role as sinister park owner Mr. Hyde while Kevin “Ogre” Ogilvie (Repo! The Genetic Opera, The Devil’s Carnival, Skinny Puppy) is Iggy, the George half of an Of Mice and Men-inspired duo of madmen.
Both actors were long shots, but accepted their roles on the virtue of the script. Arvin is a self-described “huge Skinny Puppy” fan and sent the industrial band’s frontman a Facebook message on a whim only to be surprised when Ogre accepted the part. In May, 2011, Cary was at a horror convention in Texas where he met Doug Bradley, whom he had heard was moving to Pittsburgh. After reading the script, the Hellraiser actor also accepted. Thus, Cary and Arvin got the valuable signatures they needed for the movie memorabilia that will repay their supporters on Indiegogo.
Cary wrote the script with the intention of making it into movie himself—he took into account the budget when crafting the screenplay. “Horror is the most forgiving genre,” he says, with the highest likelihood of success despite a meager budget and an inexperienced cast. Zombies had been done, vampires have been reduced to sniveling teenagers, monsters require tons of expensive makeup. The slasher flick, however, has been neglected in recent years, and the sharp object-wielding lunatic does not require full-face prostheses. And through extensive, yet presumably entertaining research, Cary found a distinct lack of horror at amusement parks.
After inquiring about filming during the shutdown period between the regular season and Phantom Fright Nights at Kennywood, time and cost proved problematic and Cary pushed production back six months while searching for the ideal location. He found Conneaut Lake Park, an archaic amusement park near the Ohio border that, like its celluloid counterpart, is seemingly always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Its depleted and aged rides are the equivalent of that flickering light bulb in the dank, ominous basement where Hollywood sorority girls are inexplicably drawn.
“It’s one of the spookiest places I’ve ever been to,” Cary said of the park—and its rather unparalleled ability to catch on fire—where he starts filming next week.
Aside from their funders and the big names, the rest of the cast and crew are local. Casting wasn’t a problem, as over 500 aspiring local actors applied through the head shot submission program Cary and Arvin organized with help from the Pittsburgh Film Office. Wardrobe and original score are also local, as well as the props that are being built by Spector Studios in the North Shore.
Though the film is set in the present, Cary says it has a “retro feel,” that the costumes and the park are purposefully anachronistic. The only reason the film is even set in the present is that Cary wanted to tackle the issue posed by current technology, like the smart phone that is so ubiquitous that it necessitates legislation, yet somehow doesn’t exist in many horror movies. As employees at the Apple Store, Cary and Arvin were determined to tackle the issue posed by always being able to call for help that Hollywood either ignores or flagrantly botches.
Cary consciously molded the characters as archetypes, a veritable Breakfast Club of the damned, a nod to the slasher formula of decades past. But they, like the movie itself, are more than just homages to horror. Scream Park is meant to stand on its own as a unique work that learns from the past as much as it celebrates the glory days of the slasher flick before overly serious remakes, completely unnecessary origin stories, and sequels in outer space.
“It’s sex, drugs, and butchering,” Cary said.
“Either a horror film or a meat convention,” Arvin added.