Road to Death House Part 4: Open Letter

 

Friday. November 11th. Death House is officially done.  Like the 2016 election, it will soon be in the hands of the people to make their decision.

Hear my personal views on this film at 22:30 here on Postmortem Radio just published Nov. 8, 2016: HERE

Postmortem Radio Episode 016 – Inside the Death House w/Director Harrison Smith

It’s been a long road. Gunnar Hansen, who created the project, is not here to see it emerge from the post production studio. We wrapped principal photography May 5th. Six months later we have a finished film. it is true…making a movie is akin to a minor miracle. Making one with the largest collection of horror names in a single picture, to date…that’s something else.

This is a personal entry from me on this film. From its director and its writer. It’s not a pitch.

Those who want to see it will see it. Those who don’t will likely see it anyway. Many will love it. Some won’t. It’s the way it goes anytime you put yourself out there to be judged.

Thank you to Michael Eisenstadt, Rick Finkelstein and Steven Chase for pushing to get this made for Gunnar. Thank you to our Boys From Texas for funding it. Thank you to Gunnar Hansen, who can’t read this but stood by his dream and allowed it to be shaped to make it the screen. He was a selfless gentleman who wanted something good to be made for his fans as well. He demanded we use the press of his death to promote this film. We made sure to debut the trailer on the convention circuit as he requested, so his fans could see it directly.

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Onset with Entertainment Factory Producers, Rick Finkelstein (r) and Steven Chase (l)

We honored every one of Gunnar’s wishes.

This Cynema piece, however, is for each horror star that appeared in Death House  and for their fans.

The people who will see Death House are many of the same who come to conventions and spend money to see their favorite icons: posing with them, shaking a hand, getting an autograph. Many times their children are in tow. The most common thing I hear at a horror star’s convention table is something along the line of “I remember when I saw you in _____________ for the first time. You gave me so many memories.” There are a number of variations, but thew song remains the same. People come to share their memories, to express gratitude for a good time. It’s a thank you of sorts and it’s a pretty cool thing to watch.

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I got to work with these people These are the same people I paid money to see in a theater. The same people I spent my teen years watching on late night HBO. They made me jump. They made me applaud. They got me the affections of a number of girls who hung on to me, afraid to watch the scary goodness that came from their work. So thanks for that. They also inspired me to run down the dream of making movies.

Death House is an important film to me. It wasn’t just a paycheck. This was a responsibility.

Gunnar Hansen scared the living shit out of me in the previews for Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in 1974. I didn’t watch the full film until the fall of my senior year, 1985. The sonofabitch still scared me and the group of friends that sat in my living room late one night. His dancing chainsaw twirl at the end burned into my head and millions of others.

We lived only 30 minutes from the original Camp Crystal Lake in New Jersey. Many nights we sneaked in with girls and cases of beer, underage and the perfect targets for Jason Vorhees and his mother. Thanks, Kane Hodder for some hot summer nights.

I came home from a middle school dance, April 1981 to watch Adrienne Barbeau in The Fog in back to back HBO showings and fell in love with the movie. Then I was treated to Escape From New York at the local drive in and once again knew…this is what I want to do.

I broke up with my girlfriend when I was 15 in the lobby of The Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA because she hated Sleepaway Camp and thought I was a freak for liking it. Now Felissa Rose is my friend, sister and business partner.

My mother died in 2007. In August of 1983 all she wanted to see was Cujo. I had just started as an usher at the mall theater and it was my first free movie as an employee. Dee Wallace, among her other films, gave me that memory. I also cried my eyes out in E.T. and it was an honor decades later to have Dee call me a pussy.

The stories go on for each horror name who played in Death House, and I know you’re reading this and saying “I get it.” These people gave us memories. Their work evokes emotions. I had the honor to meet Chris Sarandon in person at a convention. I am a fellow professional, a filmmaker with a solid menu of film under my belt. Yet, I was nervous. I walked up to him, offered my hand. I didn’t ask for a picture. I didn’t ask for an autograph. I wanted to tell him how much I love Fright Night, the memories associated with it, but I didn’t. I know he’s done other work and great work. However Fright Night meant the most to me for the memories of that wonderful post senior year of 1985. I simply shook his hand and I said, “Thank you for all that you have done for film and art. Thanks for the great memories your work has given me.” We talked for a minute or so afterward and I walked away.

I left hoping to work with him and maybe one day I will.

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Death House is personal to me. I want its audience to know I feel the same things they do. I have the same love and respect for these wonderful actors and the same gratitude for their work and the memories they have provided. They contributed to the human condition…to the culture, and that is no small achievement.

This is why I know Death House is great. It was made with respect for a much maligned and kicked around, underappreciated  genre.

We aimed high. We did it for the fans. We did it for Gunnar.

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So yeah, my job is to say “Death House is great!” What am I supposed to say? “This film really sucks and we put no effort into it at all.” No, the latter is not the case. We made a roller coaster ride through the 80s fun house. This is as much a nod to Escape From New York as it is to the entire horror genre. I made this wanting it to be the film that you’re surfing the channels or streaming late night, see this on and go “Woah, I gotta see the rest of this” no matter where you are in the film. Hot summer late nights with HBO watching The Howling, Deadly Blessing, CHUD, Blood Beach, Humanoids From the Deep…the list goes on. If Death House is put with those films…we did our job and Gunnar will smile down.

There’s something for everyone in Death House. The online “critics” with their “trailer reviews” trolls can say whatever they want. We made something culturally important. I want you, the horror fan, to buy this DVD and pass it down to your kids. I want you to explain to a whole new generation who Tony Todd, Kane Hodder, Dee Wallace, Barbara Crampton, Adrienne Barbeau, Sid Haig and all of the others in this film are and why they are important.

Because the answer to that is simple: it’s what they’ve given us.

And to that, I say “Thank You”

Harrison

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