Archive for urban legend

Fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT: Gates to Hell

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Another fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT – the rewrite is nearing its end, but this page comes from the story’s start. Musings on popular urban legends that, while eerie in their own right, mask the true horror that they imply. 

Junior year of high school I got a little obsessed with Gates to Hell. Our lovely country has its fair share, so the urban legends suggest. Always threatened to go on a road trip and visit each of them, oil lantern and book of psalms in hand. Never found anyone who wanted to go with me.

There’s some good ones out there, anyway. The residents of Clifton, New Jersey, for example, believe that a tunnel system below their fine town burrows into the fiery pit itself. The further you go, the closer you get to the Devil – but you might not find your way out. Pennsylvania has several, maybe thanks to those good-hearted Quakers. In Downington, a father murdered his family and opened a door through which supernatural beings descend. Luckily for the locals, they can’t come back up. York has not one, but seven. Step through the first and the other six will appear, but no one has made it past the fifth without losing their minds. Even Kansas has one, not that they’re much else to do out there but talk to demons. Residents of Stull warn against (mostly in vain) staying overnight in their old cemetery. If you’re brave enough to try, you might lose sense of time, and hear the terrible echoes of past ritual sacrifices made on the dead ground. Those who can steel their nerves against these sensory assaults might see the gates open – but local law enforcement is not liable for those who decide to go through.

Our culture conjures these stories almost without effort, it seems, simply by dreaming and hoping. Spooky ones, but nothing beyond that – just a little chill to pass the time, no harm done. Sometimes the veneer doesn’t cover the rotting truth, though. There’s the Devil’s Gate Reservoir in Pasadena, other side of the continent. In 1957, a boy strayed just a few feet ahead of his hiking group, rounded a corner, and vanished. Seconds out of sight, enough to erase him from the world. And the same happened in ’56, ’60, kids plucked from the air without a trace, fates never justified, families deprived of their chance to say goodbye.

It’s sensible that people would create these tales of devil holes and witches, in the wake of something like that. They give intention and reason to these mysteries. Better to blame pure evil than accident, a tumble into a ravine, or some confused soul seeking to transplant their pain onto someone pure, unsoiled, and convince themselves that this is justice. Let the demons take responsibility – we aren’t capable of that cruelty. There’s a story there, no doubt. But the demons can only provide so much distraction before they announce their horrible alibi.

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“TOAD ROAD” and NO-BUDGET HORROR

Posted in Dark Musings, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Very few people have heard of “Toad Road,” let alone seen it, but we all know its ilk – a no-budget film, mostly improvised, that is content to explore ideas rather than follow a story. There is a reason these types of films rarely grace the mainstream screens: they frustrate and infuriate viewers who want to see plot, drama, and emotional beats. Yet, they still find their place – and it is vital that us filmmakers celebrate their existence.

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“Toad Road” is the brainchild of Jason Banker, documentary specialist, who built a film around the urban legend of the Gates of Hell in York, Pennsylvania. Into the framework of this legend he places a group of drug-addicted friends – actual friends and non-actors who he found on MySpace – and simply films them interacting. Interspersed in their verite scenes are moments of horrific poetry, glitchy cameras and bloody faces, surrounding the idea of the Gates. There is something of a story, too – one of these friends gets a girl addicted to this legend (and a number of drugs), and ends up walking through the gates with her, but only one of them returns.

It’s all very nebulous, and one might compare it to a student film – after all, it’s as unglamorous as you can get, and the actors aren’t acting. But that’s what sets it apart. Banker orchestrates his non-cast so realistically, using his documentary instincts, and not a moment of their friendship seems false. It’s more visceral than any found-footage film because it is, essentially, real. (It must be noted, also, that the lead actress passed away before the film premiered – a tragedy that makes a mark on the film itself.)

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So most viewers will despise it. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it myself – but I fell in love with the idea of it. In this money-guzzling industry, where it’s near impossible to get financing for your film, there is nothing wrong with shooting a film in the style of “Toad Road.” Why don’t more people do it? And why is it not encouraged in film school? Filmmaking is not about earning a paycheck (though at some point it becomes so) – it is about creating art, telling stories. “Toad Road” does this in its own way, and the effect is lasting. Even if its plotting lacks, its atmosphere, visuals and characters are drawn with skill.

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Films like this remind me of “Blair Witch” and “Marble Hornets,” even the original “Evil Dead” – you can see the tatters and the seams, but who cares, because the entertainment value is so damn high? The challenge with these films becomes getting people involved – convincing them that it’s worth the time. Because people don’t place much value on these no-budget efforts. I want that to change.

“Toad Road” left me with one vital emotion: inspiration. I wanted to go out and make something like this even while I watched the film. And so, forces willing, I intend to do just that. We live in the age of the internet, a free distribution platform – we must take advantage.