Maine filmmaker hopes to leave audiences ‘Tickled’ with latest horror flick

Corey Norman, a Portland filmmaker who found success earlier this year with his first feature “The Hanover House,” is returning to the director’s chair for a short titled “Tickle.” The film, which just reached its funding goal on Kickstarter, will be part of Damnationland, an annual genre film festival featuring six shorts created by Mainers for the Halloween season.

I had a chance to catch up with Norman to talk about “Tickle,” the difference between making shorts and features, and the recent distribution fail of Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno.”

Q. So judging by the brief summary on your Kickstarter page, it seems that ’80s horror films are the primary influence for “Tickle.” Could you elaborate a little on how you’re working those influences into this film?

A. When we were offered the chance to appear in this year’s Damnationland, we thought it would be a great opportunity to go outside of our particular niche of horror and try something different. As a child of the ’80s I grew up on films like “Cat’s Eye,” “Evil Dead,” “Friday the 13th” and “Child’s Play.” For “Tickle,” we wanted to take some standard troupes from these films, such as that of the baby sitter alone in the house, and bring a Bonfire sensibility to it. Our goal is to create a film that would scare the pants off my 8-year-old self, while providing the gore and hints of humor that would make the 30-year-old me cheer with excitement. I think my wife, Haley Norman, did an amazing job capturing all these elements when she penned the script.

Q. So for this film you’re reuniting with Casey Turner from “Hanover House.” Was this something you both talked about while filming “Hanover,” or how’d it come about?

A. It’s funny how things came together on “Tickle.” Haley pitched the initial idea to me while driving home after work one night last week. Two days later, when Allen Baldwin of Damnationland called to offer us a spot in the festival, we began scrambling to pull the logistics together. Haley and I knew right then that we wanted to bring Casey Turner back, as [she] was such a blessing to have on “Hanover,” and we were ecstatic that she agreed to play the roll of Trudy. Because we built such a good working relationship of “The Hanover House,” we knew she could bring the range that the character needed.

Q. In your career so far, you’ve directed a lot of shorts and now one feature, how does your preparation and process differ when you’re making a short rather than a feature?

A. I actually prepare for a short film in the exact same way that I prepare for a feature. I still work with my full production team, and have the same expensive tastes when it comes to gear, props and wardrobe. The only real difference is that with a smaller-sized script, it affords me more opportunity and time to obsess over the small detail.

Q. What do you think audiences should expect from “Tickle”?

A. People should be prepared to journey back to the ’80s in term of aesthetic, story and the use of all practical effects. The only major difference will be the fact that we’re shooting it in high definition with modern equipment. That being said, we’re aiming to add in some comedic elements to get the crowd laughing before we gross them out with some extreme practical effects that I hope would make Lucio Fulci proud.

Q. So, after “Tickle,” what do you plan to take on next?

A. We have another long-form short called “The Orchard” that we’d like to shoot later this fall. Written by our AC Anthony Wheeler, “The Orchard” returns us to the typical Bonfire style that our fan base has come to love. “Out in the country, Chapman Farms sits, patiently, waiting to be tended. The orchard has been in the family for generations, and the trees have never been so lonely. With no one but Old Man Jack, accompanied by the haunting memory of his late wife, to look after the family’s farm, it’s a matter of faith: you reap what you sow. but not everything is quite as it seems.” Since we’re about to hit our initial Kickstarter goal of $1,200 less than 48 hours into the campaign, we’ve decided to announce a stretch funding goal of $4,000 that would allow us to create both this film and “Tickle.” The best part is that with all current pledges, you would receive both films for the price of one if we hit our stretch goal.

Q. Can you believe what happened with the release of “The Green Inferno”?

A. I am so incredibly bummed out with the distribution nightmare that is “The Green Inferno.” The advanced screenings of the film have left critics excited about Eli Roth as a director. This buzz has had me beyond excited for the release. Couple that with the fact that it’s a love letter to “Cannibal Holocaust” (the name “Green Inferno” is the title of the documentary being made in “Cannibal”) and I’m left as a very disappointed horror fan. I’m holding out hope though that the distribution gods will come through in the end.

There’s still time to kick in and help fund “Tickle.” For more, visit kickstarter.com/projects/942103898/tickle-damnationland-2014.

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Glenn Close receives Maine Film Fest’s Mid-Life Achievement Award

Glenn Close Headshot

For renowned actress Glenn Close, who was honored for her contributions to independent cinema at the Waterville Opera House on Sunday with the Maine International Film Festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award, bringing “Albert Nobbs” to the screen was a labor of love. And, for Close, it was a journey that took more than a decade to complete.

“My definition of an independent film is a film that almost doesn’t get made,” Close said after accepting the award – a moose statuette in the guise of Close’s title character. “I don’t think there is a better definition. It took me fourteen years to make Albert Nobbs. From the time I got the rights to the time we all gathered in Dublin to start the filming was fourteen years.”

“Albert Nobbs,” the 2013 film from director Rodrigo Garcia which earned Close both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of the title character, is the story of a butler in 19th century Dublin who was born as a woman but identifies and passes in her everyday life as a man. He lives a regimented and orderly life in solitude, holding tightly to his secret by distancing himself from those around him. His life is thrown out of sorts one night, however, when the hotel hires a house painter named Hubert (Janet McTeer, also nominated for a Golden Globe and Oscar for her role) who is to room with Nobbs.

Hubert discovers Albert’s secret, and in turn, Hubert reveals he is also a woman living life as a man. He also reveals that he has married a woman. In Hubert, Albert finds hope as he aspires to someday have a wife of his own, and to buy and run a tobacco shop.

Glenn Close stars opposite Mia Wasikowska in the 2013 film "Albert Nobbs."

Glenn Close stars opposite Mia Wasikowska in the 2013 film “Albert Nobbs.”

“I had actually played that role in an Off-Broadway play thirty years before that,” Close said. “In many ways, Albert is a culmination of the best things I’ve learned in my career. And making it was a joyous, joyous experience. So I’m very, very happy to be receiving this award with you having just seen the film, which I refused to give up on.”

Close describes the character as being “not what she seems,” and was drawn to Albert because she is fascinated with what’s behind the mask.

“I just found her a heartbreaking character. I love characters that have a dream that as we watch, we know it will probably never happen,” Close said. “But the ferocity of that dream is something we’re all moved by. Also, I really like characters that have no self-pity. I think self-pity is not a good human trait. So I think there’s something very compelling about somebody with an impossible dream who has no self-pity, and just has this belief. Because I think we all want to believe.”

On receiving the award, Close thanked everyone at the Maine Film Center, and congratulated them for what they are creating right here in Maine. The film festival also screened Close’s films “Low Down,” directed by Jeff Preiss, Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons,” and Robert Altman’s “Cookie’s Fortune.”

“I just want to say that this is a Mid-Life Achievement Award,” Close said. “Which means, that I’m still going to be working at 134 years old.”

Close’s next film, Marvel Comics’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” directed by James Gunn, hits theaters Aug. 1.

 

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Pittsfield-native filmmaker reaches funding goal for sci-fi short ‘Frontier’

Last we checked in with Stephen Parkhurst, the Pittsfield-native filmmaker currently living in Astoria, NY, he had just completed his first feature film “Roommate Wanted,” a low-budget oddball thriller hybrid filmed in Bangor. As “Roommate Wanted” found funding success through Kickstarter, Parkhurst is giving crowd sourcing another shot with his next project “Frontier,” a short sci-fi film that has already hit its Kickstarter goal of $2,000, and is seeking its stretch goal of $3,000.

I recently caught up with Parkhurst to discuss “Frontier.”

Q. What do you hope to accomplish with the stretch goal? What would it mean for the production?

A. The unsexy truth about indie filmmaking, especially these days, is that the vast majority of the budget goes into food and transportation. I’m extremely lucky to have a hugely talented group of people giving up their time, skills and equipment for this film, so for me, it’s really important to ensure they’re not spending their own money on stuff like food, gas and lodging. With the initial goal being met, I can do that. The stretch goal will allow us flexibility to really give the production everything it needs, especially a professional sound mixer, some nice, fast prime lenses and hopefully a few more lights.

Q. Tell me about the premise of “Frontier”?

A. It’s a UFO conspiracy story about a secret government facility being built in northern Maine. The film revolves around two very different characters finding common ground in their mutual distrust of authority. The two leads are Caroline, a young, ambitious, fast talking New York journalist, and Richie, a paranoid, older small town hermit. On the surface, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the fun is in seeing them discover their similarities in the face of a common enemy.

Q. How did it come about?

A. I’d written the first few pages of what was going to be an hour long TV pilot script several years ago. I knew I wanted to direct a short film this summer, but was struggling to come up with anything worthwhile. Finally, out of desperation, I went back to some of my old writing, rediscovered this, and ended up adapting the cold open of the pilot into a short film script.

Q. What are your expectations for “Frontier” as a short film? Do you see yourself returning to this story or these themes, or maybe elaborating on this in any future work?

A. In an ideal scenario, the short would act as a proof-of-concept for a TV series. An HBO exec sees the short and leaves a burlap sack of money on my doorstep to produce the series. I’m kidding of course. That would be nice, but it’s just a tad unlikely. Realistically I’d like the film to make the festival circuit, win some awards, and act as a calling card for more professional directing gigs in the future.

Q. What are your biggest science fiction influences?

A. This list could take up the rest of the article. “Frontier,” even though it most resembles an episode of “X-Files,” actually owes a lot more to “Twin Peaks.” Film-wise, I’ve always loved the sci-fi films that were, sometimes unintentionally, reactions to their times. The alien and UFO films of the ’50’s that played off our fears of communism and the nuclear threat were so full of dread and moral preaching, while the early Spielberg/Lucas era had a real sense of wonder and hope in the wake of the moon landing. The ’80s and mid-’90s eras are still my favorites, because there’s still that Spielbergian sense of awe, but people really started to play with the genre and create amazing mashups with other genres, mixing it with horror, war films, even some comedy. Guys like Verhoeven, Carpenter, Besson, Ridley Scott, Cameron, they’ve all contributed hugely. Also, every time I rewatch “The Thing,” I’m more convinced that it’s pretty much a perfect movie. I’m actually a little disappointed with sci-fi today because there’s so much doom and gloom. I like a good apocalypse film as much as anyone else, but it’s sort of overwhelmed the genre. I miss the more hopeful, aspirational parts of sci-fi.

Q. How do you think advancements in technology and low budget filmmaking have helped sci-fi filmmakers who previously needed a budget?

A. I think low budget sci-fi filmmaking is in a really cool place right now. The tech is powerful enough that people can create really beautiful films, but they still have to emphasize the storytelling and characters. Probably the most famous recent example is Gareth Edwards, the director of the new Godzilla movie. He got his break with “Monsters,” a low budget alien film that had really good special effects, but couldn’t afford to drown the film in them. If you have $100 million, it’s really easy to throw that all into really cool looking robots or aliens and not focus as much on the people or the plot. I think low budgets are actually the saviors of the genre right now, because it’s so easy to cause sensory overload with the big budget stuff. It all looks the same, it’s a boring cacophony of noise and bright, shiny objects.

Q. What are some of the differences between creating a short and a feature?

A. The preparation is more or less the same. With that said, there’s a palpable sense of relief as I plan out the shooting schedule. Since I only have 13 pages, I can focus on making sure the scenes are fully covered. We’ve got some time to play around and get creative, rather than just sprinting toward the finish line, like I have in the past.

Q. What’s next after “Frontier”?

A. I’ve had some luck with Youtube comedy videos, and I’m exploring options for expanding my presence there, while also hopefully moving into more freelance work as a director.

For more on Parkhurst and his production company Can Opener Studio, visit facebook.com/canopenerstudio or youtube.com/sparkhurst. For more on “Frontier,” or to contribute to the funding, visit the Kickstarter page at http://kck.st/1ngYJwU.

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Maine-raised filmmaker, NYU grad tackles new project

Nickolas John Hoover

Nickolas John Hoover

In recent years, television networks have begun to push the boundaries of the medium, not only in the quality and depth of stories and characters, but also in the gritty and provocative presentation found in shows such as HBO’s “True Detective” or AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”

This is where NYU graduate and Turner-raised actor and filmmaker Nickolas John Hoover hopes to make his mark with a project titled “Freedom, Maine.” And he’s looking for a little assistance through a Kickstarter campaign to make this a reality.

Hoover’s story is centered around a school shooting in a rural Maine town, and follows the residents as they face the complex emotions in the wake of the tragedy. “The project started as a TV pilot for an hour-long dramatic series with no audience in mind. I had the story, the premise, the character names, and I knew I had to write it,” Hoover said in a recent phone interview. “And I knew this format was right for it.”

Hoover finished writing the pilot in 24 hours, something he had never done before. After completing it, he began to send the script around to industry professionals, and it was one of only a few projects to be invited to apply for the Sundance Episodic Labs held in the fall.

“The script started to get some interest, and the responses from it have been polarizing,” the NYU graduate said. While some who have read the script recognize it as solid, heavy-hitting writing, others find the material to be a little too taboo.

Though “Freedom, Maine” has garnered some attention, it has yet to be funded. That’s where Hoover’s Kickstarter campaign comes in. If he hits his goal of $5,000, the funds raised will go toward a 10-minute short film that stands on its own, but showcases the vision Hoover has for the series, and will be used as part of a package to pitch the series for development.

And, though the project is titled “Freedom, Maine,” the story bounces back and forth between New York City and the Pine Tree State, as one of the main characters is a New York transplant who grew up in Freedom. “I’d like for the short film to introduce both settings,” he said. “I could fake Maine in New York, and it would be easier and cheaper, but I don’t want to do that. Most of it, fingers crossed, will be shot in Maine.”

For more information on “Freedom, Maine,” visit www.freedom-maine.com, or facebook.com/freedommaine, or visit the Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.

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Maine International Film Festival: Glenn Close to receive Mid-Life Achievement, ‘Boyhood’ to open festival

Glenn Close Headshot

The Maine International Film Festival recently announced that it will present actress-writer-director Glenn Close with its annual Mid-Life Achievement Award on Sunday, July 13, after a screening of Close’s film “Albert Nobbs.”

Throughout her career, Close has earned three Emmy Awards, three Tony Awards, and six Academy Award nominations for performances including “Fatal Attraction,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” and “Albert Nobbs,” which she also co-wrote and produced.

MIFF will also screen “Low Down” starring Close, which received praise in its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film, directed by renowned cinematographer Jeff Preiss, is a biopic of jazz pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes), and also stars Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning. Close also tries her hand in the world of comic books with James Gunn’s adaptation of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which hits theaters Aug. 1. She will also return to Broadway this fall in “A Delicate Balance,” Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The cast includes John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan, Martha Plimpton, Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins.

In receiving MIFF’s Mid-Life Achievement Award, Close joins the ranks of such cinematic contributors as Keith Carradine (“Nashville,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), editor Thelma Schoonmaker (“GoodFellas,” “Raging Bull,” “The Departed”), Lili Taylor (“I Shot Andy Warhol, Mystic Pizza”), Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde”), filmmaker Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line,” “Badlands”), Malcolm McDowell (“If ….” “O Lucky Man!,” “A Clockwork Orange”), John Turturro (“Miller’s Crossing,” “The Big Lebowski”), Ed Harris (“Empire Falls,” “Pollack,” “The Rock”), Peter Fonda (“Easy Rider”), Sissy Spacek (“In the Bedroom”), Dutch filmmaker Jos Stelling (“Duska”), writer-director-producer Walter Hill (“The Warriors”), and Bud Cort (“Harold and Maude”).

The 17th annual Maine International Film Festival will take place in Waterville from July 11-20 at Railroad Square Cinema and the Waterville Opera House. The festival offers audiences an opportunity to talk with some of the people behind the films, including directors, producers, writers and actors.

The full MIFF schedule will be available at miff.org later this month. Passes start at $85 and are available through the site.

In related news:

The Maine International Film Festival announced today that it will screen Richard Linklater’s highly anticipated “Boyhood” as the opening night film. Needless to say, this blogger is psyched.

Follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree

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Maine-made ‘How to Kill a Zombie’ premieres May 9 in Saco

Photo courtesy of Freight Train Films/Maxim Media International

There are some people in the world who are just natural-born storytellers. Take Bill McLean, for example, a Monmouth-based actor and screenwriter who has plenty of tales to tell. From his experiences filming with Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone in “Edge of Darkness” to his stage debut in a unique production of “American Werewolf in London” at the Gaslight Theater in Hallowell, McLean is a geyser of anecdotes, telling each one with the same fervor and excitement.

Then there’s the story of how his latest film, “How to Kill a Zombie,” premiering Friday, May 9 at the Dead at the Drive-In Film Festival in Saco, came together.

“I was sitting in my living room, working on something, I can’t remember what,” McLean said in a recent interview. “My son Ben comes in, he was 18 at the time, and he says, ‘Dad, I got this short story I want you to read.’ I didn’t know he was writing. He wants to be an actor. So I took his short story and read it. It was funny. I liked the idea. He goes, ‘what do you think dad, is this going to make a good book?’ I say, ‘I don’t know, but I know it’ll make a great film.”

So McLean began working with his son on the script, pounding out eight pages that night, and another eight pages the next. McLean’s wife, Tiffany, grew curious about her husband and son’s new project, so they let her read some of the script. She laughed out loud, and immediately wanted in. And that’s how “How to Kill a Zombie” became a family affair.

Starring Bill and Ben, and directed and co-written by Tiffany, “How to Kill a Zombie” isn’t so much a traditional zombie film with blood and guts flying at the screen, as it is an action-comedy that happens to have zombies in it.

The film is about a father and son, Mack and Jesse (Bill and Ben McLean), who are constantly at odds with each other. Mack, whose wife died in childbirth, doesn’t understand how to raise a child, so instead he trains Jesse like a soldier. But Jesse wants to grow up and get respect his own way, butting heads with his father at every turn. Then the zombie apocalypse breaks out, and the two are forced to work together to get through it.

“It’s got enough zombies to keep the zombie lovers happy,” McLean said. “And where ‘Shaun of the Dead’ can get pretty graphic word-wise, this film is more family friendly. There’s plenty of stuff in there for adults, but kids can watch it too and not be shocked.”

Once “How to Kill a Zombie” was more or less finished, McLean got a call from his friend and colleague Kevin DiBacco, who wanted to represent the film to distributors.

“Twenty four hours after I sent him the information, we had three offers from three separate distribution companies to buy the film,” McLean said. “Kevin said he’d never seen them react that fast. So, basically that tells us we’ve got a really good film.

Shortly thereafter, McLean signed a deal for distribution with Maxim Media International, and after exhausting the local film festival circuit, McLean has an action plan to get “How to Kill a Zombie” into Flagship Cinemas throughout Maine. He did the same with his previous film, “Scoot McGruder,” and McLean assures audiences that “How to Kill a Zombie” is 10 times the film “McGruder” was.

“We went for high production value,” said McLean. “We used the best cameras we could get, and we literally got the best actors you could get. You won’t know any of these actors, but I don’t care. They were the best of the best. And we picked from 165 actors who came to the audition.”

And the zombies?

“They look real, and they look scary.”

“How to Kill a Zombie” premieres in a double-feature with “The Hanover House” at the Dead at the Drive-In film festival May 9-10 at the Saco Drive-In. The film will also be shown at the Sanford International Film Festival, May 31-June 1, and Emerge June 13-14.

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Portland filmmaker’s first feature to screen at Sanford, Emerge film festivals

Water in the Bay 1

Sure, pizza and marijuana may go hand-in-hand, but it’s when you add amateur detective work to the mix that things get interesting. Those are the themes of Portland-based filmmaker Jonathan Blood’s first feature film “The Water in the Bay,” scheduled to play at the Sanford International Film Festival, May 31-June 1, and at the Emerge Film Festival in Lewiston on June 13-14.

“The Water in the Bay” stars Travis Curran as Baxter, a pizza delivery man who makes more income peddling weed than pies. One day at work, Baxter turns on the radio to hear the news that the Portland police are reopening the case of a series of drowning homicides carried out by the so-called “Casco Bay Killer” one year ago. Baxter, having a history with one of the victims, decides to investigate the case himself in the hopes of finding answers where the police have come up empty.

Though Baxter has a personal connection to the murders, he’s a somewhat conventional detective in the sense that he’s smart, curious, easily bored and inclined to get high every now and again. Kind of like a modern, Portland-based Sherlock Holmes … who happens to deliver pizzas. The film is a mystery at its core, but the influence of the 90s wave of slacker movies is present throughout, with sprinkles of family drama.

“It started out based on a few different ideas put together, so maybe that’s why it kind of feels like there are a lot of different genres going on,” Blood said in a recent phone interview. “We wanted to do a dark comedy, and I’m not sure if I can still call it a dark comedy.”

“There are three of us who wrote the story: Travis Curran, Jake Christie, who wrote the screenplay, and me,” said Blood. Collectively, Blood, Curran and Christie produce films under the name Tasty Dude Films. “We all got together and wrote the outline, and Jake took that and he wrote the screenplay. We all have different strengths. Jake is the writer, Travis is a writer and an actor, and I do some writing, but I pretty much just produce it and direct most of what we shoot, and I do most of the editing. ”

“The Water in the Bay” was filmed in 2010, after Blood and his colleagues submitted a short film titled “Tea Party Hijinks” to Dogfish Head Brewery’s Off-Centered Film Festival. For the festival, the team traveled to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, where they won the second place prize, giving them some money to begin production of “The Water in the Bay.”

While Blood, Curran and Christie seek distribution for “The Water in the Bay,” noting there are a couple of interested companies, the trio is developing another short titled “Chug.”

“So that’s pretty much what we’re up to this summer.”

Check out the trailer below for “The Water in the Bay”:

For more information on Tasty Dude Films, visit tastydudefilms.wordpress.com or find them on Facebook. You can also find more information on the Sanford and Emerge film festivals on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree

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Maine film ‘Hanover House’ gets what it wants (a world premiere) May 9-10

Casey Turner (left) and Brian Chamberlain star in Corey Norman's "The Hanover House," a horror film premiering at the Saco Drive-in's Dead at the Drive-in film festival May 9-10.

Casey Turner (left) and Brian Chamberlain star in Corey Norman’s “The Hanover House,” a horror film premiering at the Saco Drive-in’s Dead at the Drive-in film festival May 9-10.

We’ve all heard the legend surrounding William Friedkin’s 1973 classic “The Exorcist,” where the production was surrounded by so many unusual deaths that many came to believe the film’s set was cursed. Same goes for “The Poltergeist” and “The Omen,” each one earning a bittersweet spot in Hollywood’s haunted history.

Now, the Maine film scene has an “Exorcist” or “Omen” of its own, only without casualties, of course.

Going into the production of his first feature film, “The Hanover House,” Portland filmmaker Corey Norman knew that his setting – a monstrous farmhouse tucked away in the hills of Western Maine – was said to be haunted. In fact, it was one of the many appealing aspects the location offered. Still, Norman was more of a skeptic than a believer, until he had a few ghostly encounters on the set.

For Norman, it all began one night when his dogs were uncharacteristically barking at the end of his bed, seemingly freaking out over nothing. Then Norman opened his eyes. Standing over him was the specter of a man in a suit. Not only did it creep him out, it turned him into a believer. The supernatural shenanigans continued for Norman and his crew, building to a crescendo on the final day of production, as pipes burst throughout the house, setting the production back by a day.

After all of this, Norman and the crew soon came to the realization: “The House gets what it wants.” And thus the film’s tagline was born.

The title house of Corey Norman's horror film "The Hanover House."

The title house of Corey Norman’s “The Hanover House.”

It’s fitting, considering how “The Hanover House” is a cerebral journey from the minds of Norman and his wife, Haley, who are both passionate horror fans with a firm grasp on how to succeed in the genre.

“The horror movies I generally associate with the most always have characters and protagonists you come to care about,” Corey Norman said in a recent interview. “We’re all about building up those characters, and really getting you inside their head, and slowly letting the horror kind of creep in once you’re hooked on these characters.”

The idea for “The Hanover House” was conceived not long after Norman lost his father to cancer. The film stars Brian Chamberlain as Robert Foster, who returns to the town he grew up in for the funeral of his estranged father. As he leaves the funeral, he gets into a car crash that kills a little girl. He runs to a nearby farmhouse for help, knocks on the door, and is greeted by his dead father, baiting him to come into the house. Once he steps inside, Robert fights for his survival and is forced to face his inner demons as he attempts to get out of the house alive.

“I was actually driving to Fright Night [Film Fest] in Louisville, it was like two in the morning, and I was thinking about [my dad]. I was sad. I lost my dad, but you know, he would have been proud to be here,” Norman said. “But at least we had a good relationship. And I thought, ‘man, I wonder what it would be like to lose a loved one and not have a good relationship. What would you say?’”

Once the idea was in place, an actor Norman had worked with handed him the house on a silver platter. It was perfect. Huge, haunted, and they had the homeowner’s permission. Then came the writing and rewriting, the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, and at the end of 2012, Norman and his crew began the haunt-filled 14-day shoot.

While many low-budget horror flicks succumb to the allure of cheap blood and gore effects, Norman’s beliefs are a little different. On top of a strong cast of characters, Norman summed up his philosophy on scaring people by following the lead of Alfred Hitchcock: “It’s not the act itself that scares people. It’s that tension, that climax, that build-up that’s important. I think that is pivotal. I also think you want to leave a lot up to your viewer’s imagination. I love implied action.”

Matthew Delamater stars in Corey Norman's "The Hanover House."

Matthew Delamater stars in Corey Norman’s “The Hanover House.”

Beyond Hitchcock, Norman, is obsessed with Stanley Kubrick, as every filmmaker should be, citing “The Shining” as one of his greatest influences. He also has an affinity for John Carpenter (“Halloween”), Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), old-school Wes Craven (“The Last House on the Left”), and he has a deep, deep admiration for “House of the Devil” helmer Ti West.

“In fact,” Norman said, “’House of the Devil.’ I made everybody on my crew watch that before we shot. I said, ‘All right Mr. D.P. [Director of Photography], here are the types of shots we want to go for.”

So will Corey Norman someday be mentioned in the same breath as the masters of horror he’s studied his entire life? I suppose that depends on whether or not the House gets what it wants.

“The Hanover House” will premiere at the Saco Drive-In’s Dead at the Drive-in film festival at 9 p.m. Friday, May 9, and 10:45 p.m., Saturday, May 10. Norman’s short film “Natal” will also premiere those nights. For more on “The Hanover House,” visit thehanoverhousefilm.com, or find “The Hanover House” on Facebook. For more on Dead at the Drive-In, visit deadatthedrivein.com.

Are you a Maine filmmaker? Joel Talks Movies is interested in talking to you about your work and upcoming projects. If you’re interested, email me at joeltalksmovies@gmail.com.

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Movie Review: ‘Escape Plan’

In theaters

“Escape Plan,” written by Miles Chapman (story and screenplay) and Jason Keller (screenplay), directed by Mikael Hafstrom, 115 minutes, rated R.

It’s 2013, and somehow there’s a movie currently in theaters starring both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it’s not called “The Expendables. Or “The Expendables 2.”

… Or “The Expendables 3.”

The film is called “Escape Plan,” starring Stallone as Ray Breslin, a professional jail-breaker who is contracted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to test maximum security facilities. They put Breslin behind bars, and he finds the gaps in the system, using limited tools such as wads of toilet paper and chocolate milk cartons a la MacGyver, to spring himself free.

He has a business partner, Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio, who hams it up), who handles the money while Breslin does the dirty work. Also part of the team is a technology expert named Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Abigail (Amy Ryan), whose specialty is never really defined.

After another one of Breslin’s successful, cunning escapes, the team is approached by CIA agent Jessica Miller (Caitriona Balfe) for a job worth $5 million. The problem is that the facility in question is a highly illegal, immoral Gitmo-style fortress holding international criminals with whom countries don’t want to deal. It also has been built based on Breslin’s own book. In other words, no one can break out of it.

Against the advice of Hush and Abigail, Breslin reluctantly agrees to the deal, under the condition that he has a code in case things go wrong. But before he even enters the prison, things go wrong, as Breslin is abducted in an unmarked van, drugged and taken as a common prisoner without any of the requested safety provisions, and without any knowledge of his location. There’s no question about it, Ray Breslin has been set up.

While at the facility, he befriends Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger), and together, the two begin to explore their limited options for escape, forming an alliance against the iron fist of the institution’s warden, Hobbes (an odd and entertaining Jim Caviezel).

Before getting to the heart of “Escape Plan” – its two stars – I’d be hard-pressed not to mention that director Mikael Hafstrom makes the most of this situation, as he has in past films such as “The Rite.” In between the preposterous loopholes in the prison system and Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s wisecracking, Hafstrom creates an elaborate, strangely open-concept jail where inmates are confined in stacked-up glass cubes like bugs captured for the amusement of some young boy. With the guards dressed in black from head to toe, faces hidden under simple Halloween masks, the atmosphere Hafstrom creates will bring to mind ’80s sci-fi cinema.

But ultimately watching Stallone and Schwarzenegger play off one another just feels unnatural. There’s humor in their interaction, some of which is deliberate, much of which is not. It’s a paradox: The casting of these two hall-of-fame action stars past their prime gives “Escape Plan” much of its character, yet it also sets some serious limitations. In that sense, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend “Escape Plan” to anyone other than die-hard ’80s and ’90s action fans.

Grade: C+

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Blu-ray/DVD Pick(s) of the Week: ‘Before Midnight,’ ‘The Conjuring’

This week on Blu-ray and DVD, we drop back into the lives of Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy), and I use the phrase “drop-in” because “Before Midnight,” the final film in Richard Linklater’s trilogy, is another fascinating intrusion into a segmented, pivotal point in the relationship of these two.

We return to Jesse and Celine nine years after “Before Sunset,” at the end of a summer vacation in Greece, where age and reality begin to catch up to our once-young lovers who met on a train in Europe 18 years ago. But it’s more than just age that wears on these two, as Linklater and company casually bring you up to speed on what you missed during the last nine years, starting with a set of twins and a bitter divorce.

As Jesse longs to be part of his son Henry’s life in Chicago, feeling inadequate over his absence in much of his life, Celine reads deep into her partner’s emotions, foretelling the beginning of the end of their relationship.

For me, part of what makes these films such a joy to watch are Hawke and Delpy, who are at home as Jesse and Celine. Everything from their banter to their deep-cutting accusations or philosophical whimsy is 100 percent natural, and in turn it makes you, the viewer, comfortably part of this often uncomfortable conversation.

For me, there are few things better in life than a personal story that on the surface seems so simple, yet it speaks volumes. Not only does “Before Midnight” provide us with some of the best writing of 2013, it’s also one of my favorite films from the year.

Also out on Blu-ray and DVD this week is James Wan’s throwback haunted house film “The Conjuring.”

“Based on a true story,” a claim made by many horror films, “The Conjuring” is set against the wonderfully creepy New England autumn, where the Perron family looks to settle into an old, spacious farmhouse. Of course, this one carries secrets and spirits, as any good old farmhouse should. As Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) suffers mysterious bruising, and haunts begin to make their presence known to the children of the house, Carolyn and Roger (Ron Livingston) call in paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) for help.

Their analysis? It’s bad.

Having the distinction of being rated R simply because it’s too scary, “The Conuring” was practically gifted a marketing campaign by the MPAA, but it also had a lot to live up to. For the most part, it succeeds.

Against my better judgment, I’ll go on the record to say that James Wan is a master of timing in horror, despite his failed sequel to “Insidious,” which hit theaters in September. “The Conjuring,” however, is an example of what happens when Wan gets it right. Audiences have been trained to anticipate a jump or scare in a horror film based on music cues or previous trends. Wan, however, delivers his scares a beat ahead or behind, completely throwing you out of your comfort zone and keeping you on your toes. It’s like a roller coaster of horror, sending you down 80-foot drops when you least expect it.

“The Conjuring” generates those kind of scares that run deep and stay with you – the kind that only come along once every five or 10 years, if you’re lucky. It’s also tons of fun for anyone who likes to be scared.

What are you watching this weekend on DVD or Blu-ray? Let me know by commenting below, send me your opinions on Twitter @JoelCrabtree, or find me on Facebook.

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