Welcome to Maiden Woods...
PUMPKINHEAD and WINTER'S BONE. Those are two films I hear Jack Heller's DARK WAS THE NIGHT compared to the most. While it's a strange match, it's that unusual mixture of small-town drama and hellbeast-on-the-loose horrorshow that makes this picture – which is currently filming in Southampton, NY – one to thoroughly anticipate. Just last week I was invited to spend a day on the set of the Caliber Media production, and while I can't share my complete experience with you just yet (you'll have to wait until it's ready to show itself to the world), I can give you a quick tease of what DARK WAS THE NIGHT has in store for us.
There's a small town called Maiden Woods somewhere in the Northeast, a quiet, desolate town, the kind perfect for disconnecting from the rest of the world... It's also the perfect place for a monster to roam the placid streets, looking for its next snack.
DARK WAS THE NIGHT is a creature feature. It's got a guy wearing a monster suit (supervised by industry legends Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.). It's got small-town folks squaring off against a long-dormant beast after his home is disrupted. It's the kind of horror movie for which the often misused term “old school” absolutely applies, because it doesn't deal in found footage, paranormal activities or anything else trendy. This is a simple us-versus-IT tale that isn't seen often enough.
The film stars Kevin Durand (REAL STEEL, I AM NUMBER FOUR, “Lost”) as Sheriff Paul Shields, a man recovering from a recent tragedy in his life. Broken and unsure of himself, Shields is forced to pull himself together in a quick way when he and the rest of Maiden Woods find themselves under siege an unseeable creature after a logging company takes away its territory and woodland food source. Lukas Haas (INCEPTION, WITNESS) stars as Shield's trusty deputy, Donnie, while Bianca Kajlich (HALLWWEEN:RESURRECTION) plays the sheriff's wife, and newcomer Sabina Gadecki (the upcoming FREAKY DEAKY) portrays the young lady who catches Donnie's eye.
Screenwriter Tyler Hisel, a relative newcomer - this will be his first produced script - says DARK WAS THE NIGHT was inspired in part by films like JAWS, THE BIRDS and SIGNS; stories that begin deliberately but eventually build an unremitting pace as simple people find themselves against increasingly imposing and unnatural odds. “It's a family drama that also happens to be a creature film,” is how Hisel describes his script, which appeared on 2009's prestigious Hollywood Black List.
The aforementioned films also serve as an inspiration for the creature's initially obscure appearances. “We're just seeing glimpses until the final reveal,” Hisel says about the monstrous baddie, which is primarily a practical creation that will be enhanced with CG. A description of the monster in all its glory shouldn't be revealed this early, but let it be known that it's a large, fierce-looking achievement. Its appearance and camouflage are certainly determined by the environment it inhabits, and I don't have a difficult time imagining the eventual toys and maquettes it will produce.
While I didn't see the actual creature the day I was on set (though I did lay eyes on plenty of pictures, sketches and 3D renderings of the villain), I was witness a couple of scenes being filmed. In fact, I even participated in one. For the third time in my life, I was roped into playing an extra on a horror film set. I made the final cut of 100 FEET, but found myself absent from STAKE LAND. Which fate does DARK WAS THE NIGHT hold in store? That remains to be seen, but I can hint at the character I portray...
In a crucial sequence that falls somewhere near the beginning of the film's third act, a group of fearful townspeople gather in the local church, their backs against the wall as the deadly presence of the creature is now impossible to deny. (At this point, the beast has laid waste to a number of Maiden Woods' residents.) The sheriff gives a solemn speech detailing the events leading up to this moment, and doles out the plan for the foreseeable future. What's intriguing about the scene is that it doesn't contain the rousing, pull-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps message of hope that we're used to hearing. This is "let's just hope we survive the night" type stuff, and it's very refreshing.
One of the concerned townspeople is yours truly (I label myself "Townsperson #13"); I listen to Durand give his pep talk a half-dozen times, and I do believe I nailed the character's consternation and anxiety with each and every take. For proof of my mastery of Townsperson #13 character, Lukas Haas himself congratulates me, tells me he bought it. That's all I need.(Although it's odd that, for some reason, my presence is not required for any other scene.)
For more details and anecdotes from the day's events, you'll have to wait a while. There's much work to be done on the film, but hopefully it won't be long before DARK WAS THE NIGHT enters the marketplace and carves out a bloody name for itself. A movie as potentially entertaining, heartfelt and scary as this one deserves to be enjoyed as soon as possible by the horde of horror fans out there who're just drooling for a new monster to make them scream.