by Lucy Leitner
Conneaut Lake Park on Sunday evening was the ideal setting for a horror movie. When a coed finally escapes from the abandoned amusement park, keeping clear of the festering corpse of a trolley car that marks the entrance, she must run a veritable marathon past acres of farmland to reach the main road. Aside from bikers in the doublewide bars, the only life in sight is bovine. And by the looks of the cattle gathering late Sunday afternoon, they appeared to be in the plotting stages of a livestock rebellion. (Seriously, if there is a Mercer County stampede leading to Planet of the Cows domination, you heard it here first.)
Though the cast and crew of the ‘80s-style throwback slasher flick Scream Park were filming scripted fiction, it seemed all too easy for actual horror movie action to break out. All the archetypes of the self-aware, post-Scream horror movie were present in the creepy, ramshackle park three weeks before the start of operating season. There was the ambitious first-time director growling and waving the blood-soaked prop ax as he chased his slight fiancée up a rickety roller coaster. The assistant director chugging convenience-store coffee in an attempt to compensate for the two non-consecutive hours of sleep he got in the preceding few days. The director’s dog that’s finally curbing its fear of the crew. The rock star who has become a veritable authority on the park. The cast staying at a haunted hotel. The decrepit roller coaster supported by splintered wood that will be the scene for the night’s action.
They film from sundown to sunup, during which time the temperature drops from summer heat to nearly freezing. The native children frolicking in the lake have retreated back to the one-road, yet innumerable-horse town. The only sound is motorcycles approaching, which could signal either salvation or more terror.
The prophetic warnings from a park maintenance guy that not even he would walk on the old wooden roller coasters without holding on for his life.
Every member of the cast and crew present on Sunday evening was engaging, friendly, and funny—the type of people that you would never want to see explore a dark basement alone.
It’s sad to think that they’re all doomed.
If only they’d kept their jobs at the Apple Store, the white-walled dystopia that is the closest we’ve come to what filmmakers of the 1970s thought the future would look like. Scott Lewis (sound) and Andy Standiford (assistant director) worked with director Cary Hill and makeup effects artist Arvin Clay at the store that proved to be a creative nexus for this group of film buffs with different, yet complementary, skills. Scott’s expertise is in sound, which he taught at the Shadyside store, while Andy studied editing at Point Park’s Cinema and Digital Arts program. But for this movie they, along with costumer Liz Rishel and cinematographer Nathan Fullerton, have all assumed evolving roles that in Andy’s case include everything but editing.
The assistant director started receiving cryptic messages from Cary in the winter of 2010. After months of mysterious, film-related inquiries, Cary finally divulged his master plan. Andy jumped right on board.
“It’s a challenge, but I’m up for it. Even on two separate hours of sleep,” Andy said between sips of Sheetz coffee.
One can merely hope that his sleep deprivation does not catch up to him when it’s his turn to keep watch in the makeshift encampment in the Beach Club bar when members of the crew find that a masked knife-wielding psychopath has fried their U-Haul. If they recorded behind the scenes on their iPhones, they’ll have footage for a whole movie when Kevin (Nivek) “Ogre” Ogilvie steps in to portray an actual ax-swinging rapist.
“He’s making this movie,” Scott said, of the Skinny Puppy vocalist who plays one of the film’s villains.
Sunday was Ogre’s biggest night for murder. Though Saturday evening saw his character attempt to strangle and rape one of the main protagonists, Sunday featured two kills. Ogre has been a name in industrial music since the 1980s, but he is thoroughly enjoying the “unique kills” in the low-budget throwback slasher flick, playing a more brutal character than usual: Though he excels in these roles, he is rather inexplicably typecast as effeminate rapists.
Ogre’s involvement came from a long-shot Facebook chat message from Arvin. He doesn’t see it as a fan favor, but work with his peers.
“I’ve been a fan, and I still am a fan,” Ogre said. “It was serendipity online.”
He enjoys the homegrown aspect of the production and has taken the time crashed in Hotel Conneaut to learn about the park’s horror-friendly history. He speaks of his ghostly neighbors (particularly the chef rumored to throw pots and pans), the teenage vandals who routinely trash the Devil’s Den, the ill-fated attempt to bring a tiger to the park. He even felt an uncontrollable urge on Saturday night to run up the rickety wooden roller coaster, but warns that it is “much slower coming down.”
And for any part of the park that Ogre hasn’t explored, there’s Lenny, who’s responsible for off-season maintenance and has proven invaluable to the production. It’s Lenny who helps get the lights on at night and attempts to make sure that the ancient park neither suffers nor inflicts any damage.
“I won’t walk on one of these old ones without holding on,” Lenny said, of the wooden roller coaster. “A little bit of water, a little bit of moss—it doesn’t take long.”
As Cary chases his fiancée, Shawn Allen (who is filling in as a body double for lead actress Wendy Wygant tonight), up the ancient ride, clutching the prop ax, you can’t help but think that this scene may repeat itself with a “Here’s Johnny” element later.
If they survive the madman who wants to chop them to bits or the angry poltergeist that drives the train cutting across the park, these stalwarts have every intention of working together in the future.
“This is just the beginning,” Scott said.