Monday 1 June 2020

Digging Eight Graves

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, has a new movie out and is eager to share the macabre making of Eight Graves (available on Amazon Prime).

Guest post by Nick Smith

On a remote former plantation in South Carolina, two actresses are performing an intense scene. One of them is playing a scaredy-cat character, wary of the house she’s staying in. The other character is more cynical but she listens to her friend’s fears. The sun is setting and the wind barely gasps through tall marsh grass. The scene must be completed before the natural light of the ‘golden hour’ is lost to the night.

‘Cut!’ the director has to stop the scene. Something’s rustling in the marshland.

It’s not a ghost or a murderer as the movie’s title, Eight Graves, suggests. It’s not a coyote either. As the crew takes a closer look, a head pops up from behind a bush. On the other side of the actresses, another head pops up. It’s the gamekeepers who cultivate the land around that scary house. They wanted to have a ringside seat on the shoot and they have just photobombed a feature film.

Once the rubberneckers have been cleared away, the scene gets completed just as the last drop of light fades. It’s time to rest up; the cast and crew watch horror flick The Descent - research - before getting some sleep. The next day has another long list of shots to cover.

There’s nothing shockingly new about Eight Graves’ storyline – a group of young women stranded in a haunted house – although there is a spine-tingling twist. As screenwriter, I focus on making the characters distinctive. A bossy lawyer. A poor little rich kid. A new parent with baby daddy issues. A mouse and a cynic. The women all have a unique voice but they all look forward to a getaway in the country, away from kids, money worries, job angst, all responsibilities.

And what a country. The first sight for the film crew driving into Georgetown, SC is the old steel mill, faded and eaten by Robocop rust. The crew, pumped up with a hearty Burger King breakfast, marvel at the old town, a skeleton of its former industrialized self.

Georgetown has a low-run local newspaper, an independent movie theatre, a Main Street and a barbecue joint or two. But it’s the plantation house that attracts us, old and full of stuffed hunting trophies. The house creaks and settles in the night. We don’t get much sleep.

We have fun during filming, though. To escape the tropes of our horror film, I’ve injected plenty of humour into the dialogue and early character interactions before people start… disappearing. The one joke I’m not sure about is from the director, Gus Smythe. A girl from Eastern Europe must be starving because she’s from…

Hungary? I groan, but Gus keeps it in (it turns out to be one of the audience’s favourite gags). There’s also an oddball character called Mitch, an oily hick of a tow truck driver played by Braxton Williams. Brax makes the guy highly memorable but chews a little too much tobacco and makes himself nauseous. Don’t try that at home kids!

Other cast members include Daniel Jones (Logan Lucky, Revolution) and Jessica Slaughter (One Tree Hill). Jessica plays one of the heroines who spends part of the movie drunk. We don’t ask her how she prepares for those scenes.

Surviving sleepless nights in a house we become convinced is haunted are a minor inconvenience compared to our postproduction problems. Our original editor drops out; some original footage goes missing, presumed wiped (luckily we have different-quality copies); a flood in our editing HQ in Charleston, SC delays us further, while our location in Georgetown is also threatened with flooding, hopefully washing any wraiths away. It’s only thanks to the unceasing hard work of Gus and Braxton, the latter taking on the challenge of completing the film, that it gets released at all.

Eight Graves is my third feature film and like the others it’s a labour of love, the fulfilment of a dream that began with experiencing the thrills and chills of Spielberg and Lucas films as a kid and greedily reading copies of Starburst, Monster Monthly and Fangoria. Even though the project cost my friends and I a cemetery’s worth of time and money, I would make another horror movie in a heartbeat… but it would mean going back to that dark, foreboding house.

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