Asylum Of Darkness Production Notes

Please go with me here for a few paragraphs of history to set up this new film of mine and where it came from.

When I made my first feature film I wanted to make something different than the run-of-the- mill SLASHER FILMS that were then dominating the Horror Genre. I wanted a film that was still, fun, in the way horror films can be: fun meaning, scary, imaginative, with monsters and larger than life issues and bloodshed, but also something with some brains and character drama to it. In other words, I wanted to make a real movie. I think too many people don’t see horror films as real movies in terms of them ever being serious in nature or dramatic or challenging at all.

In general with films I see and films I make I like films where you didn’t know how it would end from the moment it begins. BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR was the film I made. Despite the collapsing nature of the genre at the time,the first of many home video collapses that have followed, it got wide release and I moved to LA and looked for the next film to make. A producer who had been behind DEAD TIME STORIES, saw the film and liked it and said “but I think it’s beyond the horror audience” I pointed out that the film had done pretty well for itself and that I was a horror fan but didn’t think I needed to have stuff “dumbed down” for me to like it.

That was long ago, but not so far away…. Now instead of SLASHER FILMS you tend to have what has become called TORTURE PORN and of course FOUND FOOTAGE FILMS, and of course CGI MONSTER MOVIES. Nothing wrong with these when they work. But I remain interested in doing horror films, especially an independently funded one like this, that aren’t just like whatever is currently produced and considered successful. I feel this way now more than ever, perhaps….

ASYLUM OF DARKNESS originally came about directly from the release of my first feature film, BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR, made in my hometown of Columbus Ohio and released in 1989. The sales reps for that film claimed to want to make other films with the team that had made that film. So I embarked on a journey of writing long treatments for film after film for them, I think six at least. One of these was/is ASYLUM OF DARKNESS. They, the sales reps, liked the elements in BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR that questioned what was real and what wasn’t. They encouraged me to do something like that again saying “that is what you do best.” So I wrote a 30 page treatment, not about Dream reality, but in this case Insane Reality. A main character who is insane and knows that most of what he sees is insane. A key element to this premise being that, what he doesn’t know, is that insane people actually see beyond what we would call daily reality. Only they can see into a supernatural insane reality of shapeshifting demons that move behind the scenes of a sane person’s view of life. I liked the faceless “ghosts” that appear in Japanese ghost stories and those would be our main character’s chief rivals. The reps said that in the treatment, they couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. That was my whole point.

So I moved to California, and moved on from those reps, suing them for keeping money that Beyond Dream’s Door made—and ultimately getting them to settle out of court and pay us more money than what they owed us to start with, which is a fair price for trying to hide the money.

Almost immediately upon arriving in California, I met with some producers who read the treatment for ASYLUM OF DARKNESS and wanted to make it into a film. They had previously produced FRIGHTMARE and other films but ended up never producing another film. I busied myself with other films but ASYLUM OF DARKNESS came up again. This time it was with a producer who had just made a slasher film BIKINI ISLAND. He said it was “the weirdest thing he had ever read.” But he did not make the film either.

Eventually I turned the treatment into a full script. A much better one than it would have been almost fifteen years earlier. I sent this script to a producer who was part of the group remaking AIP films at the time. He called me after reading the script and said “This is an incredible script and it would make an incredible movie. But the studio we’re working with wouldn’t get it so perhaps we can raise money elsewhere…” So a year went by and they didn’t make the film either. During that time I sent the script to BRIAN SPEARS, a NYC based make up effects artist who I had almost worked with on GHOST LAKE. He read the script and said “If you make this film you have to promise me that I get to work on it.” I made the promise. It seemed that this material made a strong impression on people, which made a strong impression on me. There are certainly plenty of scripts and projects I’ve been involved with that didn’t happen and that I just leave behind. But ASYLUM OF DARKNESS kept popping up again in proper UNDEAD fashion.

I directed LIVE EVIL and during that time some Ohio investors came forward and since ASYLUM OF DARKNESS was written around Columbus Ohio locations as well as some actors, the time, or Season (the film was originally titled "Season of Darkness"), if you prefer to be romantic about it, was right to finally make ASYLUM OF DARKNESS.

So eight weeks after I finished making another film in Ohio, CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, I was back in Ohio, this time back in Columbus, making it with some of the same director of photography (Scott Spears) as well as other people who I had made my very first feature with and in some of the same locations. I had the chance to shoot it on 35mm film, a dying format that, of course, was the main format for every major feature film since the dawn of silent films. Part of my reason for doing this was that the film had much nighttime action and also much practical on set make up effects involved and I felt that 35mm film showed more and the right kind of detail and the right feel to make this all work as a benefit. As you read this now you probably know that 35mm film is all but gone, having died out faster perhaps than even the Dinosaurs, so ASYLUM OF DARKNESS when you see it may well be the last Horror film actually shot and finished on film that you ever see. Wasn’t intended to be that but that’s just a side note.

Asylum of Darkness is occasionally very violent and frequently a tangled path of assumed identity, reality/insanity and supernatural horror. That’s probably why it was chosen to be screened twice by the PHILIP K DICK FILM FESTIVAL. I think the most appropriate comment I’ve gotten from the various film festival screenings the film has had so far is a producer friend of mine who said: “It’s like a David Lynch film directed by David Cronenberg.” I wasn’t trying to be like either of those frequently great directors as I made the film, I just bring it up here to give you some idea of the tone/ambitions of the movie. Or dare I say ambiguities?

Asylum of Darkness is what I call a “head trip” film. You are right there with the lead character, Dwight Stroud (played by Beyond Dream’s Door lead actor, Nick Baldasare) figuring out what is going on and more importantly, why. There is a mystery behind it all and an unraveling of conventional reality as it moves more wildly into the deep ends of the supernatural.

Joining the Ohio cast and crew were LA name actors RICHARD HATCH, TIM THOMERSON and TIFFANY SHEPIS. It was an unexpected pleasure to have them there in my hometown making the film with me. They all “got” the material.

Is it true that you can’t go home again? Yes, but you can go there and make a film and find out how things have changed since you were there last. One thing that had not changed was how cold the fall can be, it gave the feel a steel-like oppressive quality to the outdoors sequences. What I found funny was that it was the Ohio-based crew people who complained loudest about the weather.

Brian Spears did come from NYC and did the special effects. He works there frequently for producer/director Larry Fessenden. We actually had two units shooting at once so Brian and Pete Garner (his spfx partner) had their own camera to take the time needed to do the big transformation sequences. It was the first time they had had this much personal control over their work.

The number and types of locations in Ohio far exceeded anything we could have gotten for our budget in Los Angeles. The ancient Native American caves we shot in have since been closed to the public. All post production was however done in Los Angeles, taking advantage of better post production services and deals available only there. So the film got the best benefits of both. Some CGI was used to blend some on set visuals but mostly to create a large scale ghost sequence in a Cemetery. Also giving the film a larger scope and feel is the fact that half of the music score to the film is real orchestras playing specifically chosen classical pieces and the rest of the score being done by myself. There is a music box theme that figures into the story that is based on a hit song by friend actor/songwriter RICK MOSES, the song, RESURRECTION, is like the rest of the music, a pay-off to the story itself.

Tragedy struck and stopped post production when sound designer Seann Flynn was killed by a truck while on his motorcycle. Death came right off the screen in an all too real way.

Eventually work was completed and a few 35mm prints were done directly from the camera negative, this may seem like meaningless to a casual viewer but it gives the film a real film look and feel in colors and resolution. This more pure, now you’d almost say retro look, carries over into the final HD video master as well.