Thursday, June 16, 2016

Daddy Long Legs (From The Dark Recesses Of Appalachian Folklore) Part 3

     The weeks leading up to the events of September 9th, 1938 were marred by an unusual streak of summer heat that seemed to bear down on the already volatile atmosphere that had taken hold of the townsfolk of Ashmore. A series of strange events began to unfold that slowly added to the dark cloud that seemed to loom over the town. Noticeably several weeks before September 9th many of the pets and local livestock owned by the the citizens of Ashmore disappeared without a trace.  Several citizens reported visible agitation and other unusual activity from their animals that indicated some sort of disturbance had began to affect them before the animals vanished. As many at 56 reports of missing pets and livestock were filed to the police department from a period of two weeks prior to September 9th.  Suspicions as to who may be involved quickly spiraled out of control.  Strangely though many of the animals returned within days after September 9th. No suspects were found or reasons given as to why the animals had disappeared so suddenly in unison only to appear back weeks later. An eerie quietness seemed to have taken a hold of the forest as well with many of the citizens remarking about the disappearances of much of the fauna. An article appeared in the Ashmore Gazette on September 2nd, 1938 mentions that local hunters were finding little in terms of game in the nearby woods in which were normally covered with deer and other sources of game. The only animals that remained were the local birds that largely seemed to have lost their voices in the midst of the heat wave.  Large groups of bird had begun to settle in the trees that lined main street without uttering a noise. Adding to the disturbing events were reports from local farmers that most of their reserve grains were being overtaken by some sort of fungus that were quickly ravaging their supplies. It seemed as if the land itself was becoming polluted by something seeping in from the outside. The devil or something similar had made it's way to Ashmore.  Whispers of eerily similar correlations between the unusual events around the town and those stories involving "Daddy Long Legs" were made in jest by the townsfolk, but a fear lingered in the back of their minds as to what ungodly force had turned its gaze towards the town. The strange events that were slowly consuming Ashmore would come to a terrible end on the evening of September 9th, 1938.

Ashmore, South Carolina 1938. Courtesy of the Ashmore Gazette Archives
     Travis Grady, a 92-year-old retired mill worker and part-time town historian of Ashmore was 14 at the time during the events leading up to September 9th,1938. Mr. Grady can still recall how the town of Ashmore was during the days leading up to the tragedy that claimed the lives of Sheriff Julian Redford and Rev. Garon Talley.  Mr. Grady had been a youth in Rev. Talley’s congregation and had become close to the reverend and his family before his death. Garon Talley was at the time the reverend of the only African American church in the town of Ashmore, the Bells Branch Heritage Baptist Church. What made Garon Talley unusual among many of those in his congregation was the fact that he had gained a formal education in his youth and was one of the first graduates from The "American Baptist Theological Seminary", a now historical black college located in Nashville, Tennessee. "Reverend Talley and his wife taught many of us in his congregation the importance of education. We had never made it through basic grade school before we were called to the local mills and fields to work for our family.  We really were blessed to have him. I'm not sure though the Mayor and the others that controlled the town liked that fact.  I think they wanted to keep us ignorant. It kept us from wanting more than what the mill owners and those that were on the town council thought we should want."  Mr. Grady's recollections paint a southern town that at the time was deep in the throes of bigotry and interracial hostility. “Back then everything was divided by the Carolina and Northwestern Railway line that cut through the town.  It was expected that we kept our business on the western side of the tracks while the white folks kept theirs on the eastern side.  Save for us coming in to buy groceries or goin' to work.  I remember how cruel some of the white folks were to us. How we weren’t allowed in some stores while they had white customers in or the fact that we had to eat outside even if it were raining if we came in to grab a bite at the local diner. There were a lot of good white folks though. Same as us.  Just poor folk tryin' to make it through the way so they could come home to their families with a little food on the table. It kind of seemed that we had traded chains in the fields to chains on the mill floors. Many of the whites were right beside us though.  For us poor folk color didn't matter much."  In many ways Ashmore was no different than many of the towns that dotted South Carolina. The citizens were largely united by their poverty. A glimmer of hope had come to the citizens of Ashmore from the southwest in the form of a new sheriff.
Reverend Garon Talley with his daughters Elizabeth & Georgia Talley. 1935
     Those that still remember Sheriff Redford recall a man who was unusual in his straight shooting, no nonsense attitude. He was known by many in the town for his evenhanded treatment of all citizens no matter the color of their skin or their class. A transplant from the southwest, 52 year old Julian Redford had come from a long line of peacekeepers.  His daughter Grace Redford revealed that his move to Ashmore was partially motivated by seeking something less violent and dangerous than his work had been for the past 27 years on the United States/Mexico border. Ultimately Sheriff Redford was seeking a quieter life away from the rough world of law enforcement he knew for 27 years prior. With his wife and daughter in tow Sheriff Redford traded his dusty home in the southwest for one in an Appalachian mountain town. Unfortunately he would find no peace in his decision.

   From his arrival Sheriff Redford found himself in an uphill battle against a system of elitism that has kept many of those in the town lingering just above and on the poverty line. Worse yet there was a distinct distrust of the police in Ashmore by many of the citizens of the town, particularly among the poorer whites and blacks that were often neglected by the town's law enforcement.  It was well known that many of the crimes committed against the poorer citizens were often ignored by the police. Sheriff Redford began his house cleaning of the police department's more corrupt officers and began his outreach to those that represented the interests of the town's citizens. In this outreach Sheriff Redford made the acquaintance of Reverend Talley. 98 year old Rebecca Pennington recalls the type of relationship shared between Sheriff Redford and Rev. Talley.  "I remember Sheriff Redford and how he tried to bring change to the town.  Him and Rev. Talley weren’t particularly on friendly terms when they were first introduced, but I think it was because of Rev. Talley’s experiences with the police prior to Sheriff Redford coming into town.  There was a good ol’ boy mentality among the police before the previous sheriff killed himself over the scandal of him having a mixed child with a black woman. Times were rough for all of us but I reckon tough times bred tough people with tough feelins'. We were all tryin' to eek out a livelihood and I think our prejudices were able to take hold of us easier. There was a certain fear that held us before Sheriff Redford took over. A lot of us began to see some changes for the good come over the town when Sheriff Redford and Rev. Talley started working together. I think maybe if both him and Rev. Talley had lived after that night it wouldn’t have taken so long for change to come to this town.”

Sheriff Julian Redford. 1937
     The increasingly volatile and bizarre events that surrounded Ashmore came to a head on the night of September 9th, 1938. Official records state that Sheriff Redford was called out that evening in reports to suspicious activity in the abandoned remains of the the original settlement of Ashmore.  The current town of Ashmore had been built in the mid 1800s after the original location was abandoned in order to grow the town towards the direction of a planned railway line. This left partial remnants of the old settlement now as a ghost town.  Local vagabonds and derelicts from the railway used the place as camping grounds in which were routinely patrolled by police. Rumors of illegal moonshine operations in the area lead the place to eventually gain a negative reputation as well. With tensions between Ashmore's African American and Caucasian citizens at a boiling point due to recent cases of the vandalism of many of the properties owned by Ashmore's black citizens, every potential report to the police were treated with the utmost importance. 
Ashmore's "Old District": 1939. From the Ashmore town archives

     The slew of crimes seemed in response to local ordinances that were pushed by Sheriff Redford to partially desegregate the town and it's citizens. The backlash was loud and immediate with crimes against both groups increasing in severity. There was fear among the police that the violence could turn potentially deadly so any reports of suspicious activity were to be immediately investigated.  For reasons unknown Sheriff Redford made contact with Rev. Talley prior to investigating the suspicious activity at the old side of Ashmore and proceeded with the Reverend in tow to the abandoned settlement.  Around 10:30 p.m. several citizens reported seeing orange lights and smoke from the direction of the settlement ruins. A group composed of local police and volunteer fire fighters rushed to the area in what would be nearly a two day battle of quelling the fires that were spreading beyond the bounds of the abandoned settlement.  What the group found afterwards would haunt many of the citizens for decades.  Within the ruins of the settlement's church were the bodies of Sheriff Redford, Reverend Talley and hundreds of birds nearly burnt to ash with what seemed to be the remnants of some sort of ritual.  Surprisingly a survivor was found in the church's basement; a teenage girl by the name of Madeline Sinclair.  The girl despite suffering from first and second degree burns had miraculously survived the fire. Madeline was quickly taken to a local hospital and treated for her injuries.  
Madeline Sinclair. Photo provided by her sister Lisa Sinclair

     When pressed by investigators, a bizarre story emerged concerning how the girl had been tortured over weeks by the entity known as "Daddy Long Legs" and how the Sheriff and Reverend had managed to somehow subdue it before it could take her away. Madeline's tale became increasingly more bizarre claiming that somehow the local legend was slowly killing the town and only the sheriff and reverend were able to stop it. While there was no medical history to show that Madeline Sinclair had any history of mental illness, the teenage girl was quickly carted off to the "South Carolina State Hospital for the Insane" at the request of Ashmore's town doctor, Dr. Jacob Fields. Rumors circulated that the doctor and several prominent members of Ashmore had attempted to quickly rid themselves of the girl as well as suppress the true story as to what happened to Sheriff Redford and Reverend Talley.  The official report in the records of the Ashmore Police Department state that Sheriff Redford and Reverend Talley were killed upon investigating rumors of an illegal moonshine still operating out of the old church.  Madeline Sinclair had supposedly stumbled upon the operation and had been held hostage by the moonshiners.  Due to Madeline being a member of Reverend Talley's congregation the good reverend was brought by the sheriff in order to ease the situation in negotiated the girl's release.  While outside investigator took the story for face value many of the citizens of Ashmore quietly held firm that it was a blatant lie to cover up the actual true and terrifying story.  The years have not been kind to the memory of those still alive from those days with many of those citizens refusing to talk about anything from that period save those few mentioned in this post. 

     The Talley family still remain in Ashmore with Garon Talley's grandson Brandon Talley the current Reverend of the "Bells Branch Heritage Baptist Church". Sheriff Redford's widow and daughter moved back to the southwest and severed all contact with anyone from Ashmore.  Madeline Sinclair was released in 1948 and returned to her family in Ashmore where she remained until her death in 2009.  Madeline refused to speak on the events of 1938 up to her death.

Daddy Long Legs (From The Dark Recesses Of Appalachian Folklore) Part 4

Folklore associated with “Daddy Long Legs”

  1.  If you find a harvestman in your house (the name for the arachnid traditionally known as a Daddy Long Legs) then you should think happy thoughts as you remove it from indoors unharmed.  If not the harvest man will return to Daddy Long Legs and tell him of your sorrows. He will come to visit you soon after
  2. Never kill any crow or other bird around your home as it can be an invite to Daddy Long Legs as he is naturally antagonistic towards birds and takes it as an invite.
  3.  Daddy Long Leg’s does not like the smell of burning rabbit tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium) and will not venture near it.  Likewise a bundle of rabbit tobacco over a doorway will ward him away.
  4. An obscure piece of folklore involves people leaving tallow candles inside a tree hollow with the name of those whom they wished Daddy Long Legs to visit carved on a piece of bark placed right behind the candle.  Supposedly Daddy Long Legs would make his rounds through the woods and if he spotted the candle and read the note then that person would soon die.
  5. If you run into a spider's web then you should offer an apology to the spider or else Ol' Daddy Long Legs will come to give you sleepless nights until the spider is able to rebuild it's web.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Daddy Long Legs (From The Dark Recesses Of Appalachian Folklore) Part 2

The Obscure Legend Of "Usonvi-Kahnanesgi"

Long before the appearance of the French Huguenots and their settlement, the area surrounding and including modern day Ashmore was once part of the vast territory of the Cherokee Nation. Despite the fact that this land, a roughly circular area of 5.6 square miles lied in the heart of their hunting territory the Cherokee people avoided the area citing a legend about the "Usonvi-Kahnanesgi" (The Corrupt Spider) as well as their belief that the area was cursed by the "Azgen" (The Moon-Eyed People).

Cherokee Sculptures Depicting the "Azgen"

The "Azgen" or as they are referred to today as "The Moon-Eyed People" were a mythical race composed of a small human beings of diminutive stature that once called the area of Southern Appalachia/Cherokee territory home.  The "Azgen" were a particularly strange race in both their appearance and practices.  The "Azgen" were described as having skin as pale as the moon with large eyes that failed to work during the day. The males of the race kept beards but both the males and females had hair as white and fair as snow.  The strange people called the various underground caverns that dotted the mountain landscape home.  When the Cherokee people began to settle the area a conflict arose between the Azgen and the Cherokee leading to the Azgen eventually being wiped out entirely. Their history and culture presumably disappeared with their deaths as no written records or items pertaining to the mysterious people have been found.  Strange structures and carvings however have been found throughout Southern Appalachia that some anthropologists believe may be actual remnants of the mythical Azgen.  Others suggest that they point to the possibility that the area had once been inhabited by settlers from Europe hundreds of years prior to what conventional historians believe today.  The general consensus among most anthropologists are that any stories about the Azgen people are more than likely just myths and folktales that exist in the Cherokee mythology.  

Though a curious if obscure piece of folklore that has been discovered through one of the last interviews with an elder of a tribe of Cherokee located in Cherokee County, South Carolina may hold one of the last wisps of information regarding the Azgen and the first reports of the mythological entity "Daddy Long Legs"  The tale states that during a migration by the Cherokee into the southeast United States that stories from encounters with the Azgen emerged that dealt with an entity known simply as "Usonvi-Kahnanesgi" a rough translation being (The Corrupted Spider). The Cherokee upon entering the area known today as Ashmore noticed markers that had been left by the Azgen.  The markers were described as great slates of stone carved with symbols and signs unknown to the Cherokee.  Though even to the Cherokee the markers seemed incredibly old even by that time.  The Azgen despite calling the area home for presumably hundreds if not thousands of years were strangely absent in this area save for small groups scattered around and about.  The Azgen themselves made attempts to warn off the Cherokee from the area. The legend goes that upon arriving at the area the Cherokee scouts discovered the dead bodies of several Azgen whom seemed to have expired from sheer terror. Their bodies were twisted and left as mere husks. Despite the horrors around them the scouts chose to make camp.  Their courage left them blind to the horror and warnings around them. There were no animals in sight and an eerie quiet befell the men. The forest and it's spirits had abandoned this place.  As the night fell deeper into darkness the scouts discovered what had killed The Moon Eyed People.

 "Daddy Long Legs"
From The Folk Art Collection of Donald Seagrave

What came upon the Cherokee scouts that night was not described in exact detail, but the lone survivor of the scout party had referred to it as "Usonvi-Kahnanesgi" (The Corrupted Spider). The eldest Didanawisgi (Medicine Man) of the tribe known as "Oukonunaka" (White Owl) traveled to the area with a group of warriors to survey the land.  Upon entering the spot in which the scouts had been killed a terrible dread fell upon them. From the silence of the forest appeared "Usonvi-Kahnanesgi".  The entity tainted the land with each step as it approached. Each warrior stepped forward to defend the Medicine Man as he began to perform an obscure ritual he had learned as a child from his own encounters with the Azgen. Soon after the ritual began the forest filled with crows and various carrion birds that began to pick at the flesh of the entity.  Though as each bird tasted the corrupted flesh of the entity their feathered bodies withered and dropped from the sky dead. The entity escaped but its corrupted touch upon the land could not be dispelled by the medicine man alone.  Knowing that the thing could not be completely vanquished the medicine man brought forth others from his tribe to seal the borders of the land through incantations originally from the Azgen.  Nothing in concerns to the rituals and incantations used by the medicine man exist today from what modern Anthropologists have been able to discover. It is known that even today the area is still considered tainted land by the local Native American people. This story has largely fallen into obscurity and has been chalked up as merely another tale from their mythology. However this obscure tale seems to echo similar events as to what happened to Doctor Bradford and his party hundreds of years after this supposed encounter by the Cherokee.  Local folklorists have noted similarities to this and to an event that occurred in a segregated section of Ashmore in 1938 known as "Shadytown" in which many of the town's African American citizens lived until the abolishment of segregation in the south during the 1960s.

Part 3 will discuss the events of 1938 as well as the numerous modern folktales attributed to the entity known as "Daddy Long Legs".

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Daddy Long Legs (From The Dark Recesses Of Appalachian Folklore) Part 1

     The cultural region of Appalachia has long remained shrouded in mystery by the depths of fog ensnared forests and mountainous terrain that primarily make up a region that stretches from the southern tip of New York to the upper regions of Mississippi.  

                                          Appalachia Region: Map Courtesy of Appalachian Regional Commission

     Serious studies of the patchwork history and folklore of the region has often been hampered by enduring myths and distortions about the various peoples that comprise this region.  When the term "Appalachian" is brought about in most conversations today, typically what follows are tales and visions of moonshine stills and uneducated clans of people often just above the intelligent levels of mongoloids due to inbreeding that's reclusive nature hints at insidious acts hidden from the eyes of most "Urbanites".  Since the early 20th century these prevalent ideas were brought about by sensational journalists whom crafted tales of a reclusive people prone to violence and inbreeding as well as various illegal activities.  These myths and stories surrounding the people of Appalachia still endure to this day.  While serious academic works looking into the history and sociological aspects of Appalachia have made progress in attempting to make sense of the various cultural norms and structures that bind these people together there is uncertainty as to how long this region will remain as it has been for nearly 200+ years.  

One of the biggest cultural aspects of Appalachia is the complex mythology and folklore that has culminated overtime from the melding of various groups of people that have come to settle the land.  These groups range from the original Native American tribes of the region, European immigrants (including Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and German), and African Americans. With each group came bits and pieces of their own cultures and beliefs that overtime have melded into unique beliefs and mythologies.  While Christianity is still prevalent in the region (represented by numerous subgroups including but not limited to Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics (Mostly Northern), and Mennonites) there still exists Native American groups that practice and teach their own traditional religion depending on each tribes own doctrines and beliefs.  Interesting enough despite the obvious divides religion wise these groups may have many archaic and paganistic myths and folktales that have managed to root themselves into the common culture of many of those whom call the Appalachian region home.  Some of these myths and folktales are rooted in very obscure corners of the region and have only been hinted at and barely recognized by Anthropologists and Historians studying Appalachia.  These specialized beliefs and practices have managed to survive despite the onset of modern technology and living standards that are slowly reaching the region as a whole. When discussing regional specific folklore one of the most unusual folk character to emerge from Appalachia, specifically from the area around the small town of Ashmore, South Carolina is the spirit known as "Daddy Long Legs", a particularly terrifying and bizarre denizen that supposedly haunts the town and has been responsible for the disappearance of various people in the region for hundreds of years.  The stories and tales tied to "Daddy Long Legs" can be traced back even to peculiar snippets from oral traditions of the local Native American tribes that called the region home prior to the arrival of European settlers.

The Haint Folktales of Daddy Long Legs

"He has a web like a spider's web,
Made of silk and light and shadows
To hold your fears and dangle them so.
It's a web made to catch a man,

To hold em tight til the end
When he relents and gives his soul away
So ol' Daddy Long Legs can haunt another day"
From The Ashmore Heritage Society's "Folktales and Folksongs of Oconee County" compiled by Hugh Wise

                                            Daddy Long Legs from "Haint Tales of Appalachia" by Annabelle Bishop

The first written account of "Daddy Long Legs" appears in the journals of Dr. Giles Bradford; a colonial doctor from Charleston (known as Charles Town at that time) in 1735 whom wrote of his accounts with a group of French Huguenots as he returned from studying the medical practices of a tribe of Cherokee Indians that were involved at that time in trade with the colonial port city. As Dr. Bradford and his party were making their return trip they stumbled upon a search party of men scouring the area for a missing child.  This search party was from a nearby French Huguenot village that had settled into the region decades prior during a mass exodus from England. Offering their village as a rest point for the Doctor and his party in exchange for assisting with some medical concerns of the settlers, Dr. Bradford and his group made camp at the settlement. What he witnessed during his time there would be immortalized in the pages of his journal.  

Upon arriving at the settlement Dr. Bradford and his party were welcomed by the cawing of several crows caged throughout the settlement in wicker baskets hanging off of posts. Upon inferring as to the reason behind this many of the settlers shied away from answering.  Only the town's blacksmith and a watchman offered hints as to the bizarre practice.  It was explained to Dr. Bradford as being part of a ward against something.  When questioned further the two men offered only silence.  The rest of the day consisted of Dr. Bradford examining various members of the town for ailments before him and his party rested for the night.  Dr. Bradford had noted that an unusual quietness had seemed to overtake the woods around the settlement.  The various native fauna had all but disappeared save for the cawing of the crows. What awoke Dr. Bradford and his party that night is described in detail...(translated from Colonial English to modern)

"A terrifying cacophony arose steadily throughout the settlement as a feeling of dread filled our hearts. We were frozen in our beds as the cries from the black birds rose higher and higher in the night sky.  It seemed as if the birds were in a harmonious chant that grew louder as whatever had frightened them so came closer and closer.  It had dawned upon me that we were bearing witness to something ghastly beyond our understanding.  Whatever had brought itself into the settlement was not a mere animal as we knew it. The pitch and rhythm of the crows' song began to change as their voices began to relent to silence.  The fear that had overtaken us moments before was gone.  Gathering our courage and pistols we made our way outside.  By the time we made it outside the local settlers were already outside cowering in their doorways while we made our way to the nearby caged crows to see their condition.  None of the birds were alive.  It seemed as if their bodies had been crushed by a force that left no signs on the cages themselves."

Dr. Bradford's journal continues to describe what the settlers referred to the presence as the "arachnide horribles" the horrible spider. The settlers described something that at first seemed an entity that haunts the pages of mythology or superstition literature. Though the feeling of dread that had fallen upon him and his party as well as the strange events that had overtaken them moments before lent some credence to their tale. The entity described wore the vestiges of human appearance at first appearance with a hunched and shambling pose.  It's figure was covered in tattered leather and cloth with strange carvings hanging from pieces of twine from it's belt.  The thing's face was covered in a mask of wood that seemed to have been carved by the hands of some primitive savage.  Gnarled roots still remained protruding from the wooden mask.  None of the thing's limbs could be seen by those that glimpsed it first until the entity had fully made itself known to it's victim.  Slowly the entity would  reveal its true nature.  From the rantings of those haunted by the frightening spirit came a potential reveal of its true form.  While the description differed slightly from person to person a general consensus was that the thing had three sets of spindly armlike like appendages similar to those of a spider with each appendage ending in decrepit hands like those afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Despite it's shambling appearance the entity could move with an unnerving and supernatural grace in order to track it's victims. It was relentless in it's torture of those it had chosen and left only ruin for those poor souls.

         A Depiction of "Daddy Long Legs" from "Bizarre Tales From the Dark Corner"
by Robert Bachman 

The settlers go into further details as to how the entity had set upon them soon after they had established the settlement, and had driven several settlers over the past two decades to either suicide or to pack up and attempt to leave the settlement. It seemed to pick only one of them each season, often driving the victim to insanity before the specific settler would take his or hers own life over a period of that season.  While many of the settlers had held firm to stay and somehow deal with whatever the thing was, the settlement had eventually shrunk from its original 423 settlers to 130 by the time the doctor and his party had come across them.  In desperation the settlers had reached out the local Native American groups for any possible help against the entity. Whatever rituals described by the settlers that were used to ward away the thing were never cataloged by Dr. Bradford in his journal outside the mentioned caged crows.  Upon his return and subsequent retelling of this bizarre event to local newspapers, Dr. Bradford began plans to return to investigate more into the case.  Unfortunately the good doctor would never make his return as his life was claimed soon afterwards by an outbreak of typhoid in the area.  The story would eventually evolve into the folktale known as "Daddy Long Legs".  The Huguenots settlement would eventually become the town of Ashmore with the story of "Daddy Long Legs" gaining an even more bizarre history throughout the years.  Recent archaeological studies of the region trace the origins of the thing known as 'Daddy Long Legs" to oral tales from the local Native American tribes that once called the area home.  The proto-mythology that may have originated this tale will be discussed further in part 2 of this investigation. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

SIPHON: A Retrospect- Part 3 (Music Direction & a new SIPHON cut)

It's been almost a year to the day that my short horror film SIPHON was released.  Due to time and work related constraints I had been unable to do much in terms of polishing the film and getting a copy released for festival entry as well as for a dvd release.  Luckily though with the help of my Director of Photography/Assistant Editor/FX wizard Aaron Pate (you can see the full spectrum of his talents here at ) I've finally been able to get a "final cut" released with all the audio and visuals smoothed out. An example of things we've added to this cut include new FX shots & smoother audio transitions and mixing,  Below is an example of one of the many modifications we've done to the new version

The Before Shot

After FX modification (spinal scars and deteriorated skin)

     Most importantly a thorough credits list was added so that all those whom offered their time and talent to this project would receive the recognition they deserved. Below is the link to the new cut of SIPHON.

One of the most important parts of any movie project is the music direction.  I had contacted several local talents to see if they could lend me a hand in creating a haunting score for the film and luckily the composer duo (and married couple) Matthew & Anja Kirby crafted a haunting score for the film.  The direction I offered was "create me a music score that fits into an 80s horror or science fiction film".  I offered a few suggestions such as the music score to the original THE TERMINATOR, ANGEL HEART, THE THING, and while not from the 80s the music score to 2002's THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES for them to gain inspiration from.  I've always been a big fan of music scores that incorporate an industrial sound along with what could be considered field recordings.  While I believe the influences can be heard in the music score to SIPHON I feel that it's wholly unique score that brings to life the subtle horrors of the film itself.  It can be noted that during the scenes in the abandoned factory that real industrial noises from various equipment were added on top of the score to play on the various rusted metal doorways, leaking ventilation pipes, and other equipment around the factory.  Even the various bells and emergency noises from the medical equipment add new layers to the underlying score.  The score was the perfect element that brought the project fully together.  The score is as vital to the film as any of the visuals and performances.  Take any movie and remove the score and you see that the film loses a myriad of subtle cues and emotional frequencies.  A music score and direct your emotions even more so at times than the visuals can.

Hopefully SIPHON will see various film festivals play in 2015-2016.  Thank you for all of your support through the whole process.  Perhaps future interest will garner a push for a full length version.  Only time will tell!

Friday, January 23, 2015

SIPHON: A Retrospect- Part 2 (Original Story VS What Made it To Film) or (Big Ideas vs The Reality of a $0.00 dollars budget)

Often times with most independent films you start off with an idea.  An idea in which grows and develops layers and substance, eventually gaining a life of it's own.  This idea/story is then transferred to a script format.  The script is designed to streamline the material for eventual translation to the big screen.  Some material is lost during this process as a script doesn't explain the thoughts and feelings of the characters in intimate detail.  As a friend once told me after viewing my first draft of the script for SIPHON; "Show through the actions, don't bog down the script with prose.  It's just directions, not a novel".  A difficult task considering that I'm a storyteller at heart, but after a few weeks and several working drafts later, the script for SIPHON was finished...for the most part.  The interesting aspect about a script is that it remains an ever evolving piece, especially when certain sections of the script end up not translating well to film.  This can be simply because of the writing itself, the available locations and actors, or usually in my case a lack of time and budget.  The biggest issue with my production was time.  Whether it was the time frame imposed by the Halloween date from the time we started (basically 2 months from late August to Mid October for pre-production, filming, and post-production) to the time restrictions of actors, locations, and crew availability, time more than anything else was my biggest hurdle on set.  Of course, when you're on a shoe-string budget, everything cost wise is covered out of pocket or given by the grace of kind folk lending their time and expertise to you in exchange for cheap pizza and beer.  Still though, when you don't have a studio behind you, you tend to have to sacrifice more of the story for a leaner product.  It's a tricky balance when attempting to translate story to film.  Below, I'll go through what the original story to SIPHON was going to be and what eventually happened to those pieces during the translation from paper to film.

Teaser Poster for "SIPHON" before a spelling was finalized.

Beginning Prologue:  When I originally began outlining the story arc for SIPHON, I wanted to start with the Graham family in the living room of their mill village home watching the news.  Lauren would make her brief introduction as she ducks out the house to take off with some friends.  Roger, whom is still in his work uniform from a local steel mill, absently watches a news story about a rash of bizarre murders in which people have been found in bed completely drained of their blood without any signs of struggle. His wife Claire would speak to him about the events of the day, even mentioning the news story before hinting for them to head to bed.  The story would jump forward to a few hours to the bedroom in which Roger and Claire would be asleep.  The killer would be seen silhouetted by moonlight in a veiled window of the bedroom before sliding the window open and unleashing the paralytic in the air. The rest of the scene would play out much like what we see in the film version with the exception that I wanted Lauren to return home the next morning while a barely recovered Roger crawls out of the bedroom, mumbling for her to call the police.  We would see Lauren standing there in disbelief as she calls out for her mother.  With the screen slowly turning black, we would hear Lauren scream, undoubtedly discovering her dead mother in the bedroom.  Unfortunately due to time constraints, only the bedroom scene with the killer attacking the paralyzed Roger and Claire made it on screen.  With the increased pressure of scheduling and limited access I had with my main actors due to their jobs, personal lives, ect, this original prologue was shortened significantly.  I felt the additional narrative would have help to explain a big of what was going on, including that the killer had been active before the attack on Roger and Claire.  Though, I attempted to fill that in during the main story of the film through radio bits.

 Main Story:   A great amount of additional material would have appeared during the beginning section of the main story.  It was my original intent to show the living conditions for both Roger and Lauren two years after the death of Claire.   I wanted to show them living in a small apartment space partially paid for by Roger working for the apartment complex as a handy man.  The rest of his rent and bills come from odd jobs around town.  Due to his tragic backstory with the death of his wife, I had a character by the name of Mrs. Abbot, the Apartment complex manager that was to take pity on Roger and Lauren by allowing them to stay at the Apartment complex for a discounted rate.  The story originally explained how Roger lost his home; with the death of his wife whom was working full time as a nurse, half of the household income would have dried up, leaving Roger to fall further and further behind with the mortgage and bills.  Since Lauren was only 16 at the time, she was unable to help supplement the household income.  Roger was to have been an alcoholic during the years between his wife's death and the main story, with him losing his job at a local steel mill.  While he is somewhat recovered by the beginning of the main story, his trades in an addiction to alcohol to an obsession with finding and killing the thing that took away his wife.  His own bedroom would contain newspaper clipping concerning the killer, a map of the killer's trail up and down the south eastern United States, a police scanner, and crumbled cigarette packs spread across his desk and floor.  The apartment would very much reflect a delicate balance between Roger's unkempt and disheveled personality and the counterculture personality of his  daughter Lauren, whom within two years has grown up to be a very intelligent but brooding teenager wise beyond her years.  She has almost assumed the role of the parent in this relationship, often taking on the responsibilities of cooking dinner for her and her father along with taking care of the apartment, making sure bills are paid, all the while maintaining her education.  I wanted to show the effects that the killer's actions have caused this family.  I was working towards even having Lauren in the beginning of the film going and picking up her father from jail for police chasing.  A detective and young cop would have been introduced during this scene, both whom would have been involved in tracking down the Vampire of Roanoke (one of the monickers the news media would have given the killer).  Having been deeply obsessed with tracking down the killer, Roger has become a nuisance to the detective and local law enforcement.  Though the detective is sympathetic to Roger and Lauren, often times only arresting Roger and keeping him in jail until the local crime scene is cleaned up or Lauren can come to pick him up to watch him.  Roger's brother would have been introduced in a phone conversation when Roger potentially believes after the latest murder to have pinpointed the Stalker's base of operation.  Roger's brother having previously allowed Roger to keep supplies and guns in a barn on some property he own, acts as a warning to Roger to let the police handle the situation.  Roger is not deterred.  Having linked several stories concerning stolen medical equipment to murders being committed within the relatively same timeframe, Roger believes that the killer is using the blood for some nefarious medical reason.  Roger's actions have heavily affected the relationship between himself and his daughter Lauren to the point that, much like Roger, Lauren has no friends grounding, only a few acquaintances.   Roger is able to convince Lauren to help him on this crusade with the promise of everything returning to normal after the killer has been dealt with.  Turning a blind eye to the truth, Lauren would choose to support her father, knowing that even if they captured the killer that the damage left behind would be too severe for her and her father to have a normal life.

All of the material above was cut or couldn't be filmed.  Instead the film's main story starts with Roger and Lauren driving to pick up supplies, with a few news and story bits coming through the radio in order to fill in the gaps of information concerning the killer and how prolific this killing spree has become.  Much of the script and film from this point on remains the same, with the exception of two missing scenes that never made it on screen. The first scene would involve us watching Stalker pushing a stretcher down an abandoned corridor with an unconscious man strapped down to it.  Various tubes and medical devices would be attached to both the man and the stretcher, showing that Stalker has begun to kidnap live people to serve as replenishable "Blood Factories".  He would be shown carting this man over to a row of about 4-5 other people.  The person at the end would be a dry husk of a body.  Out of the 5 people, one person would be jerking about in a vain attempt to escape.  He/she would look over to the other bodies and finally see the husk of a person before the scream.  Stalker would then proceed to spray them with the paralytic agent before reattaching a feeding line to the person.  Stalker would then hover over the body before screaming in agony.   The second scene would be in the hideout again in which we see Stalker hovering over military documents, pouring over piles of information and marking names off a list.  The documents would have hinted towards an experiment called Project: Dry Rot.  We would see the siphoning glove and system laying upon a table, showing the container and suctioning device Stalker has rigged up for his nightly home invasions.  This would have also given us the first glance of how decayed the Stalker's body has become.  His hair would be all gone, as well as the skin around his lips and  partially around his eyes.  His nose and ears would be withered stubs.  Without eyelids, Stalker is forced to wear modified welder's glasses to protect his eyes.  Various semi-healed tears would be seen across all exposed skin.
Concept Art of Stalker: Unmasked by Mitch Rogers

These scenes were meant to show and explain the motivation behind Stalker's reasons for siphoning people's blood as well as his military background.  The only hints of these we get are the "dialysis" scene in the abandoned factory with Stalker before the arrival of Roger and Lauren.  

The rest of the film moves forward similarly to my original story, with the exception of having the Stalker being a bit more physical with Roger.  I wanted a scene of Stalker using the siphoning glove on Roger, either with him stabbing Roger multiple times in the back with the needles or possibly trying to siphon out his blood during the hallucination scenes.  I wanted to also add some additional radio dialogue at the end in the truck that Stalker has stolen explaining that the police have brought Roger into custody for the killings.  It would have added to the already dismal ending.  For better or worse, several bits of the material here never made it to film, but ultimately a leaner and still effective horror short was produced.  

Look out for Part 3 in which will focus on the music direction/score of the film as well as my plans for the film. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SIPHON: A Retrospect- Part 1 (About "SIPHON" and The Villian "Stalker")

SIPHON was a short horror film I wrote, directed, and produced during the period of late August through mid October of 2014.  The film originally stemmed from a horror anthology called "Cinema Inferno" that was to be shown at a Halloween gathering put together by myself and fellow filmmakers Dan Fowler and Dal Kalsi.  Given each of our histories in concerns of working on independent films in some capacity (with both Dan and Dal having written, directed, edited and produced several of their own independent films in both collaboration as well as solo), I found myself somewhat of the underdog in the sense of my experience, at least mainly in the technical aspects of film production.  While I had co-directed and worked somewhat in the capacity as a co-producer on an independent dark comedy called "Bone To The Dog", most of my creative energies were put towards the actual writing of the script for the film as well as actor direction on set. Despite having some experience with editing, lighting, and shooting films, my education is somewhat on the amateur side.  Most of those responsibilities fell onto the shoulders of my friend, artistic co-collaborator, and technical wizard Aaron Pate, whom in my humble opinion is one of the most talented videographers I've met.  He was the man that brought to life the words on the page.  I would again ask him to go behind the camera for SIPHON, but this time it would be in a limited capacity.  For better or worse, SIPHON would be the first film I would be working on that I would have complete control over. While I did seek advice throughout the process of creating the film, from the initial script to the final edit/cut of the film, ultimately the finished product was a result of my decisions.  While the film has it's issues (in which I will go into detail further in this series of posts), ultimately I found the finished product rewarding. I wanted to take the time to go through the brief history of the project, from the initial story idea/inspiration, script writing, production, product, and finally what lies next for the project. Below I have a link to the actual film as well as brief synopsis about the film's story if you're not familiar with or haven't seen SIPHON yet.

SIPHON:  Starring- Mark Meekins, Leah Kathryn, Drew Nicely, Jennifer Carolina, Cody James, Clay Chapman

Synopsis: Roanoke, Virgina-1984: A string of strange murders in which victims are paralyzed by the employment of an unknown gas agent and drained of their blood in their own homes are causing the citizens of Roanoke, Virgina to descend into panic.  One of the victim's husband, Roger Graham, was subdued in his bed along with his wife by The Stalker's paralytic gas agent.  While paralyzed in bed Roger is forced to watch as the monster behind the gas mask drains his wife of her blood, leaving him for hours to stare at his deceased wife until the effects of the gas wore off.  Roger is left as a widow and single father to his daughter Lauren Graham whom discovers the ghastly sight upon returning from a party the next day.  Two years later, Roger and Lauren's quest for vengeance against the killer only known as "The Stalker" culminates as they track the killer down to his hidden dwelling/refuge; an abandoned factory.  Here this story will culminate to a horrific climax.

Part 1:  Inspirations for SIPHON's antagonist- The film's influences are many, but it was my hope that the concept and script for the film would be original enough to where the viewer would distinguish it as standing on it's own merit instead of merely being a ripoff of this or that horror cliche. If you've been a follower of my blog or if you're perusing through it now, you'll see that I wrote a two part post discussing the "Phantom Anesthetist" or more commonly known as "The Mad Gasser of Mattoon".  I unabashedly took parts of this true life story and adapted aspects of the Mad Gasser's  modus operandi into the concept of SIPHON's killer; known within the script as "STALKER".  Much like the Mad Gasser, Stalker used an unspecified gas deployed by an old model insecticide sprayer.  Though, unlike the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, I wanted Stalker to be more menacing.  Instead of paralyzing victims for unknown reasons and leaving them relatively unharmed, I opted instead to give Stalker a reason behind paralyzing his victims while leaving enough of a mystery behind it to where people would begin to ask questions.  Since Stalker was already apparently proficient enough in chemistry, since he was using a paralytic gas to subdue his victims, I decided that Stalker needed a reason behind his killings and his unusual skill well as to add a terrifying way of going about disposing of his victims.
An antique insecticide sprayer used as a prop in SIPHON

I had been discussing with a fellow horror fan our dissatisfaction with how vampires were being portrayed in current cinema, lamenting mainly about how vampires were now being overtly romanticized and had been "defanged" of their true horror elements (I wont soil my post mentioning the garbage films and series we talked about.  You probably have a good idea which ones I'm speaking of).  I decided then that, while I was avoiding supernatural elements in my film, that I would take the concept of the vampire and tweak it to work within the framework of the film.  Stalker would soon become a man that, for unknown reasons, needed a constant supply of fresh blood to replace his own.  One scene early on I wanted to see make it from script  to film was that of an emaciated Stalker having to perform self dialysis with the blood of a recent victim, his own body in return pushing out black ichor while the fresh blood replaced his own.  Though, before I could have this scene in the film I needed to figure out a way for Stalker to quickly drain his victims of blood as well as for that method to remain both terrifying and somewhat in the realm of reality.  I had decided then that the apparatus would have to be something attached to him and also be fairly easy to employ. I had decided to design the apparatus to attach to one of his hands, with the end result being something reminiscent of Freddy Krueger's glove...though instead of being implemented as a slashing weapon, it's only purpose would be to stab and siphon an individual's blood.
Prototype of Stalker's glove
As seen in film
The actual needles on the glove are real needles borrowed from an antique cabinet of medical equipment from the 20th century provided by the Nursing Program at the university I work for. The tubing attached to the needles comes from a discarded assembly used to recreate veins within a static arm nursing students use to practice injections.  

The actual tubing and manifold displayed above could easily be recreated with a few items from a local hardware store, but luckily I had accessed to this dismantled unit.  I found the merging of this tubing system with the glove interesting given their original purposes of recreating veins while in the film they're being used as artificial veins as Stalker siphons blood out of his victims.  The idea of a somewhat proto-biomechanical mechanism was appealing.  While not completely merged permanently within the physical biology of Stalker, the siphoning mechanism would act as artificial veins providing him with a way to circulate in fresh blood and out the poisonous ichor his body was producing.

The actual attire of the Stalker would be influenced by a back story I created for the character.  I knew from the beginning that I wanted the film to be set in the 80s as I've always had an affinity towards the horror films of that era.  Given the cunning of the Stalker and his proficiency in both chemistry and medicine, I decided that a military background and back story might help to explain both his skills and eventually the malady that forces him to drain the blood of others and replace his own poisonous blood with theirs.  As a fan of conspiracy theories and such, I've spent a great deal of time studying about the U.S. Government's testing of biological and chemical agents on their own populace, especially soldiers during war.  Several secret experiments on servicemen during Vietnam, including supposedly drugs used to alter and enhance the performance of troops during prolong missions, have been rumored and whispered about by both former soldiers and conspiracy theorists. Evidence of such experiments have emerged from declassified documents over the years, but the true nature of the experiments and results are unknown.  Chemicals ranging from 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ) to Sarin were used by the military on their own personnel in order to gather data of their effectiveness before being used on enemy combatants.  I decided that Stalker's background would be as a survivor of one of these experiments.  He was at one point a member of the U.S. Chemical Corps and after being exposed to an experimental agent, he would be the only survivor initially.  However, the chemical agent would have profound effects on his body, eventually turning his own blood into a poisonous sludge that he must constantly remove and replenish with healthy blood.
U.S. Chemical Corps uniform from 1950s

His affliction would also have slowly weakened his body, so thus the need to paralyze his victims before draining them of their blood.  The Stalker, while not as physically built as the typical horror movie villain would need to use his brains instead of brawn to survive. The gas mask Stalker wears serves several purposes.  Obviously it protects him from his own chemicals when he's using them, it obscures his face from detection, and finally due to the constant dialysis he must perform on himself, it helps to protect him from sickness caused by a compromised immune system.  The military trench coat is only there to hide the malformed condition of the Stalker's well as to obscure any features since the budget wasn't there for any heavy practical make-up effects.  Unfortunately most of this back story never made it into the film due to time and financial constraints, but for anyone interested in the reason's behind Stalker's motives, there ya go.

Concept artwork of "Stalker" by Mitch Rogers

Since the film takes place initially in 1984 and moves ahead 2 years to 1986, I wanted to show in the film how much the malady had taken a toll on Stalker.  Initially in the film we see a somewhat healthy Stalker with hair and fairly robust figure, but by the scenes in the abandoned factory 2 years later, we have a more gaunt (and bald) killer covered in gauze as well as needle marks from constant dialysis.
Stalker (1984)
Stalker (1986)
I chose two actors to play Stalker in the film, the 1984 version being played by Clay Chapman and the 1986 version being played by Drew Nicely.  Obviously their physical characteristics were important to show the progression of the Stalker's transformation over two years.  Even something as simple as having one actor shave their head and applying some medical gauze gives the illusion of a much more decrepit and gaunt figure, despite (in the case of the 86 version of Stalker) Drew's normally healthy body type.  With some simple techniques, you can easily give the appearance of sickness and malformed structure by modifying movements and posture.  Since Stalker is caught off guard by Roger and Lauren later in the film, we see that the killer has modified his domain to serve his needs, including an access point that he can inject a hallucinogenic compound into the buildings still functioning air system to help slow down any potential intruders as well as an alarm system if the building is entered.  The Stalker is very much a creature whom uses his environment to his advantage.  The wounded animal is often more vicious than a healthy one, especially when they're clinging onto life so readily.  Ultimately I wanted to create a villain the film that encompassed some of our own most prevalent fears: Isolation, Powerlessness, Morality vs Instinct.  While the film touches on some of these, enough of the fear factor of the character makes it onto screen.  While the story isn't as fleshed out on film as in my initial script design and back story, he still remains a terrifying presence on screen.