'Hell Town' directors pick favorite horror flicks

Who is the Letter-Jacket Killer?

"Hell Town," a soap-opera style slasher flick, will answer that question when it plays one night only at Liberty Hall on Oct. 16. Set up like three different TV episodes, this campy gorefest could be viewed as a midseason movie-length Netflix binge. The killer targets members of two sparring families, the Glabes and the Manlys, and the audience is dropped right in the middle of the whole sordid affair.

Co-director Steve Balderson, a native of Wamego, just screened his previous film “El Ganzo” at June’s Free State Fest, and he'll be back in Lawrence next Friday night with co-director Elizabeth Spear to premiere “Hell Town” in Lawrence. With Halloween on the way, I asked the co-directors about some of their favorite horror films:

Steve Balderson: “Sleepaway Camp” is a classic. When I think of all the elements that make up a classic horror film — teenagers or college kids, cabins or camps in the woods or a lake, and the combination of sex and murder — this film has all that, although now that I think of it, they all kind of have that same thing going on. The bathroom stall scene really inspired me when we were thinking of great ways to kill people in “Hell Town.”

Eric Melin: What was it about the bathroom scene?

Balderson: It was the suspense. When the guy goes into the stall, the broom handle slides into the door handles very slowly, and then the beehive is lifted into the window slowly, and then, when the hive falls and the guy is going crazy trying to escape, but can't get out, it's incredibly scary. But it's also creative. It's much more exciting to watch a death scene that isn't typical.

Elizabeth Spear: I'll have to say the one film that almost made me have a panic attack and have to leave the theater was “Silent House.” Elizabeth Olsen was phenomenal and it was just so claustrophobic and scary! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Balderson: I’ve always loved “The Shining” and “Misery,” and each year at Christmas I bring them out again. I think it's just because they're both set in winter and there's a lot of snow. Plus, the holidays are so positive and sweet that it's nice to throw psychotic people in the mix to break up all the cheer. There’s definitely a campy ring to each too. As serious as Kathy Bates is playing that part, she's just so good at playing an insane person, it's sometimes hysterical — in a good way. They’ve become holiday favorites for my whole family.

Spear: I absolutely loved/hated the original 1997 “Funny Games.” It was a torturous, genius thrill.

Balderson: Me too! That movie is sick. In a really great way.

Spear: Growing up, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” terrified me! Of course I wasn't supposed to see rated-R films, but there was no way I could deny what I had done when I had to sleep on my parents' floor for two weeks and woke up screaming every hour!

Balderson: I wasn’t old enough to watch “Poltergeist” so we always tricked our baby sitter into letting us watch it when our parents were away. The scene that scared the pants off me was the one when the guy starts peeling the skin off his face. It haunted me for years. I think this is probably why we're insane and make movies like “Hell Town.”

"Hell Town" is unrated and screens at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at Liberty Hall.

'An American Werewolf in London'

Speaking of insanity, how about the moment in 1981’s “An American Werewolf in London” where the bloody, re-animated corpse of Griffin Dunne appears to his backpacking buddy David Naughton to tell him that he’s a werewolf. Before he gets down to business, Dunne complains that the girl he liked in high school cried at his funeral … all the way into someone else’s bed.

That’s the kind of irreverent humor happening throughout John Landis’ one-of-kind horror classic, which Liberty Hall is showing on the big screen Sunday, Oct. 11. Landis was hot off “The Blues Brothers” and “National Lampoon’s Animal House” when he wrote and directed this movie, which was also the first to win an Oscar for best makeup.

Landis balances the dread and the comedy perfectly, and the transformation scene — set in hilarious counterpoint to Sam Cooke’s buoyant “Blue Moon” — has still never been topped.

'The Walk'

For the definitive, electrifying adaptation of tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s crazy story, look no further than the 2008 documentary “Man on Wire.” Through a crafty combination of re-enactments, archival footage and interviews, it’s by turns a thrilling heist picture and probing portrait of a gifted narcissist.

Director Robert Zemeckis jettisons most of the hard edges of Petit’s character in favor of a wide-eyed follow-your-dreams story in “The Walk,” opening in wide release this weekend.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the daring Frenchman, and narrates the entire film standing atop the Statue of Liberty. (No, it’s not subtle.) Zemeckis finds beauty in the absurdity of Petit’s quest to walk a tightrope between the almost-completed Twin Towers, and it's fun to see long stretches of his break-in and performance re-imagined with a huge Hollywood budget.

But “The Walk” is rendered in such broad strokes (with a pseudo-romance and unfunny '70s stoner characters, among other things) that it falls more into the fairy tale category than anything else.


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