* This is the first in a three-part series.
Patrick Greathouse, of the Asylum House and Asylum Productions, was excited when he called me. With Patrick, that is the norm. Since returning to Indiana, I had been sporadically working with him on the Asylum Haunted House; the upcoming season would mark the 13th anniversary of the project. Patrick, not being Internet savvy (and myself beingslightly more so), asked me to go onto MySpace and contact horror hosts around the country. He wanted to do a cross promotion. The Asylum House would promote them on the Asylum website; in turn, the horror host could film a “Happy 13th Anniversary Asylum House” video. OK.
As I was looking at some of the so-called horror hosts, one caught my eye: Creeporia. She had an atypical look, but, more importantly, she had a story. She did not merely appear on camera doing her schtick. Actually, Creeporia wasn’t a “horror host” at all since she doesn’t do any hosting—and that was probably a good thing. The Creeporia webshow decidedly channeled old school horror. It was fun and classy in a way similar to Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) and Roger Corman‘s The Raven (1963). After contacting the actress who played the role, she directed me towards her creator: John Semper.
Since I have not watched television since about 1989, I was not familiar with the name John Semper. I contacted him, letting him know what I was seeking. Semper emailed me within a short period, gave me his number, and suggested I call him on Thursday since he preferred not to communicate via email. In the meantime, he asked me for a link to the Asylum House site and links to my own work, including my film reviews at 366. He suggested I check out his online resume. I did, and was surprised to discover that he was the creator of a 1990s animated “Spiderman” television series. Semper had a lengthy Hollywood resume, having worked with such names as Jim Henson and George Lucas.
Thursday: Semper and I talked at length about movies. Val Lewton, Terence Fisher, Roger Corman, Budd Boetticherand Busby Berkeley were among numerous shared interests. We both agreed that genre labels were a silly waste of time. However, when the subject of the horror “genre” came up, we felt kinship in the view that the label itself had considerably degenerated. When James Whale landed Frankenstein (1931), he knew he had reached a new plateau in his art and career. Today, for the most part, work in the horror genre imprints a brand of gutter slumming on the director.
Semper and I talked so much of film that it was some time before we got around to the subject of the Asylum House. He had read the rave reviews of the haunt and seen some of the pics and trailers. He was impressed by the effort put into the endeavor and asked about our future plans. Patrick had been flirting with the idea of producing an old school horror anthology film. Before calling Semper I had shown Patrick the “Creeporia” web series. One of the proposed anthology stories concerned a horror host, and we speculated on possibly using a clip from Creeporia within thecontext of the short. Our immediate concentration, however, was on the upcoming 13th anniversary. Semper was interested in the anthology and filming the anniversary greeting spot, but wanted to dialogue with Patrick and myself first. Knowing that tying Patrick down to a phone conversation would be an epic endeavor, I turned the conversation back to a mutual love of film. Later, I told Patrick about my contact with Semper, his resume, and his “let’s all talk” suggestion. True to form Patrick asked: “Well, who do we have committed right now?”
Over the next few months, Semper and I continued talking. Our film conversations went beyond what I expected, into silent cinema, German Expressionism, film noir, and experimental film. His exposure to movies was impressively eclectic. On occasion, we discussed his career in television and Spiderman: “It does not matter if Spiderman is fighting Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus. That is incidental. What matters is Peter Parker has girlfriend problems and can’t pay the rent.”
Meanwhile, Patrick’s interest in independent film production had taken on a new life. Although he and I had gone to art college together in the early 1980s, we make for strange bedfellows. Commercial viability is Patrick’s primary concern. However, the art school student in him strives for quality in his ventures, which he hopes will inevitably lead to that commercial end goal. No arguments there.
Patrick was careful in what he attached himself to and what he would invest in. He was none too enthusiastic about the local genre scene and I decidedly share that lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, we entertained an invitation to talk to a local horror filmmaker “full of great ideas.”
I hoped it would not be too much of an ordeal. Patrick ordered us a couple of Bloody Marys. Mr. Indiana Horror Genius began his pitch: “Ok now, you can talk to a lot of filmmakers around here, but I’m different. I have new ideas, none of this stuff that you have seen a thousand times.”
“I have this killer and he doesn’t just kill people in the conventional way. This is new, this is fresh.”
“Yes, you said that. How so?”
“I got this hot chick. The killer is gonna cut her nipples off and feed them to her!”
I made the next drink a double. I asked Mr. Horror Genius if there was a story.
‘I’m working on that! But first, let me tell you more about these killings.”
The victims were all “hot chicks” and each killing became more gruesome than the previous one. There was a disembowelment.
“Do we know anything about these women? Do we care about them? Is there any character development? For the girls? For the killer? Oh, and, again, what is the story?”
There was no story. Just a series of torture killings.
“So, basically, these are just repetitive money shot scenes? In short: horror porn?”
“It’s not a porn, although we should have a hot sex scene before one of the murders. Now, I am a director of integrity. I am not going to let a producer hand me money and dictate what I am going to do with it.”
Now, Patrick piped in: “So, what is your game plan on how you are going to pay back the investment? ”
“I don’t have a marketing plan. That’s a producer’s job, not mine.”
End of meeting. I was told afterword, by a mutual acquaintance who was present, that Mr. Horror Genius said that we came off like pretentious snobs. People are all too apt to confuse snobbery with discernment. The Bloody Marys were pretty good, though.
There were a few more starts and stops for Asylum House Productions, including an idea for a slasher film, which I was unenthusiastic about. During a Thursday phone talk, Semper finally got around to inquiring about how the Asylum House was proceeding with its film plans. I told him about the abandoned anthology idea (an omnibus of shorts, each written and directed by a local filmmaker). Semper asked why the idea had been abandoned.
“Because Patrick had two stipulations: the shorts had to take place within an area of the haunt and no overt torture stuff. Of the nine filmmakers who submitted scripts, only two wrote their scripts around the locale of the haunt. I was one of the two. Additionally, one of the scripts featured three rapes within ten minutes.”
“What other ideas have you been working on?”
“A local businessman advised Patrick to do a slasher film. One of our actors wrote a script.”
I could hear Semper’s eyes rolling on the other side of the phone. I empathized. Semper made a request: he asked me to email him my short script and to call him on Thursday.
Thursday: Semper gives it to me honestly. “I like your script. It’s clever and it has characters I care about. However, it has no commercial value. Do you care if I re-write it?”
“Not at all. Go for it, please.”
“I will. By the way, I can work with you. Most writers have an ego about that. You holstered yours. Now, can you have Patrick call me?”
Semper rewrote the story. Patrick was intrigued. One day, perhaps, we will film it. Semper also asked Patrick to send along the slasher script. Patrick did. Semper looked at it and asked Patrick’s opinion. Patrick admitted that he did not care for the script or for doing a slasher film to begin with. Semper agreed and thought that the script was something he had seen a million times. Semper asked the inevitable question: “What kind of movie do you want to make?” They both agreed on an old school monster movie, preferably a comedy horror.
Within a short while, John Semper wrote the first draft of the “Creeporia” script, without a contract in hand. A budget was formed and, although not a Hollywood budget, it was considerable for an Indiana-based film. Semper’s script called for 47 different monsters and a musical number.
In addition to being a producer, I was given the position of casting director. So the hunt for 47 monsters was on and, unknown to me, this would lead to a cameo by local horror host Sammy Terry and an intensive hunt for a new actress to portray Creeporia.
It was search that would lead us to the Harp Twins: Camille and Kennerly Kitt.