ON THE SET OF A PLACE IN HELL

INTERVIEW-POSTER-WEBSITEAs a lifelong movie fan, I always thought there was nothing like the thrill of seeing certain movies for the first time. That feeling of anticipation as the studio logo comes up is intoxicating, especially if it’s a film that you’ve really been looking forward to. This past Christmas season, I experienced this feeling at American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street. I recently visited the set of A Place in Hell, an “SAG ultra-low budget” horror-thriller currently being filmed at Creamy Acres Fright Farm in Mullica Hill, NJ. It's being produced by Cufflink Productions in association with Frame Level Films and Don't Go There Productions. It’s inspired by real life Philadelphia serial killer Harrison “Marty” Graham who was arrested in August 1987 after seven female bodies in various stages of decomposition were found in the apartment from which he had just been evicted.I have a soft spot in my heart for low budget flicks that dates back to my teenage years as a young movie addict. After spending a few hours watching the shoot and speaking with cast and crew, A Place in Hell will definitely be on my list of most anticipated films.

 on-the-set-aWhen I arrived at the set this past Saturday afternoon, I was warmly greeted by associate producer Mark Elson who gave me the rundown on Creamy Acres. It’s a family-owned venture that first opened in 1969. Under the leadership of Ron Armbruster, it’s best known for hosting “Night of Terror” during the Halloween season for the past 19 years. In addition to this popular tradition, Armbruster also creates animatronic creatures for other attractions around the country. As we drove around the property, I got a look at the cool things that await those daring souls brave enough to experience “Night of Terror”.

I sat down and first spoke with lead actress Noree Victoria (Quarantine 2) about her role in the film. She plays a psych student who goes toe-to-toe with serial killer “Harrison Graves” (as he’s called in the film) while scouting locations with some classmates on a deserted fright farm for a student film. She told me that she was attracted to the role because she loves strong central female characters. To prepare for her role, she revisited her firearms training and film combat training. She went on to say, “I watched a lot of serial killer docs” and “paid particular attention to the forensic psychology bits.” She also did research of the actual killer but didn’t sit down with him. Noree explained that she generally doesn’t do that, saying “I feel like when the director trusts me to tell the story; I don’t want to talk to them and get their spin on how they think they should be portrayed.” Instead, she prefers to watch videos and interviews as a means to “pull in the embodiment of them, merged with me, into myself.”

set-cMy next conversation was with Lewis Smith and I have to admit, the movie geek in me was excited to be speaking with Perfect Tommy from the cult sci-fi classic Buckaroo Banzai (1984). After chatting about that movie for a bit, I asked Lewis about his role in A Place in Hell. He plays Detective McInnes, a self-destructive cop battling his own personal demons. He’s as obsessed with capturing the killer as the killer is with capturing new victims. What attracted Lewis to the project was the dual narrative of the cop trying to catch the killer while the students try to escape from him. He explains that both the cop and the students are in their own personal place in Hell. He describes the horror as real, citing the killer’s predilection for necrophilia. He went on to say that mainstream filmmakers tend to stay away from that subject as it will surely turn off audiences. In preparing for the role, Lewis told me that he’d been studying serial killers for years and focused more on them than the detectives involved with the cases. He said, “I didn’t want to be too influenced and I just wanted to sort of find my way by doing what he (the detective) which was being obsessed with serial killers.”

After the aforementioned drive across the property, I had the privilege of seeing director David Boorboor in action. The New Jersey native was filming a scene outside a funhouse with actresses Krista Robelle and Brooke Storms. In between set-ups, I had the chance to talk with Boorboor about his movie. He has a lot of enthusiasm for this project, his first feature length film. He was especially excited about filming at his alma mater Rowan University. On how he came up with the idea for A Place in Hell, he says that he was lying on the couch one night and thought, “What if we mixed classics 80s horror with like a detective genre mixed with a serial killer?” A self-professed fan of films like Silence of the Lambs, Seven and Halloween, he researched Philadelphia-area serial killers and came across Graham’s story. He was particularly intrigued with Graham because of him being African-American. He explained that it’s something you don’t typically see in this genre. Further research on his part revealed that race isn’t a primary factor in the pathology; the chances of being a on-the-set-dserial killer are the same for everybody. The profile of a serial killer being a 35-year-old white male is something that’s been perpetuated by the press for many years.

On choosing an African-American woman to play the heroine, Boorboor says that it’s a tribute to filmmaker George Romero and his landmark horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968). Back then, it was a bold move to feature an African-American hero. “It opened a door in the horror genre” he went on to elaborate, “so we thought this would open some doors as well.” Boorboor talked about filming at Creamy Acres and how it proved to be advantageous with regards to budget. He explained, “We were able to get these sets that look like we spent millions of dollars on the film. We carefully chose to highlight his (Armbruster’s) best areas.” Before being called back to the set, he told me that his primary influences are John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron.

When asked about a release date, Mark Elson stated that the producers hope to premiere A Place in Hell before the end of the year. It’s currently being shot in the Philadelphia/New Jersey area, a region under attack by an unusually cold and snowy winter. Technical problems arose due to the cold, but the resilient cast and crew braved it all. The weather actually proved to be an asset in terms of setting as the story takes place during the winter months. Noree Victoria spoke of the urgency of the cold and how “it adds to the intensity of the storyline.” She added, “It wouldn’t have been same if we had shot it with the birds singing and the dandelions popping up in the background.” Well, this interviewer/film geek sends his kudos to the entire cast and crew for braving the elements in order to make what sounds like a really good movie. I’m already feeling the anticipation.

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