CASPER, Wyo. — A new short horror film project shot in Casper brought local talent together with Hollywood power and contributions from people around the country.
It’s called the “The Woman with Centipede Eyes” and director Lance Madzey says that with a few final finishing touches, it should be ready in July.
The script was written by Madzey’s old college roommate Dick Grunert who has worked on shows like “Adventure Time.”
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Michael Champion of “Total Recall” fame and Charles Conkin of the film “Red Sky” act alongside Casper’s Rhiannon Harrigan, who says this was her first time acting.
“It’s not common that you can find such unique people from all parts of the country to come together in such a small place like Casper, Wyoming and make such a cool little film,” Harrigan said on Thursday, June 27.
The film is crafted in the Italian “giallo” (meaning yellow) style, in celebration of some of Grunert and Madzey’s favorite horror films.
“Lance and I were roommates at Columbia College – Chicago,” Grunert said. “We both loved horror movies, which was kind of frowned upon at film school where you’re supposed to love ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘The Seventh Seal’, so we became instant friends.”
He wrote the first draft of the script in 2010 and Madzey applauds Grunert’s patience in waiting for the right moment to get it off paper and on camera.
“I think I was going through a giallo phase and wanted to write something inspired by the films of Dario Argento,” Grunert said.
“[W]hen Lance contacted me about directing it himself, I was more than happy to give it to him. I knew he was also a fan of these types of movies and would knock it out of the park.”
The film’s director of photography Josh Freezer worked on the film “States of Undress” and visual CGI effects are being done by Eli Dorsey, who did work on “We Are Still Here.”
They helped Madzey visually make use of some of the giallo elements found in Grunert’s script.
Madzey explained that the giallo genre is known for putting the audience in the point of view of horror film killers.
“You get to be the killer,” he said. “You see through their eyes. You’re the one that’s doing it because you’re looking through their point of view so it gives you a weird kind of escapism.”
“That’s a big part of it, where the audience is the killer. You get these black-gloved hands, lit cigarette. And then a straight razor of course.”
Shooting took place in August 2018 at Madzey’s Casper home. Champion plays a creepy guy stalking Harrigan’s character around the residence.
“We had to call the police because you know Michael was creeping around the front of the house with a straight razor,” Madzey said. “You know, he doesn’t want to get shot. And that stuff happens if a police officer doesn’t see a camera and they see somebody with a weapon. You can’t blame them for doing what they do because that’s their job.”
While he didn’t want to reveal too much about the plot, Madzey said that one thing that drew him to the script was Grunert’s mastery of leading…and misleading audiences.
“He’ll take audiences on a ride or some kind of hunt,” Madzey said. “You think the hunt is going some way and then it turns. He’s really good at that. There’s a really good, I hate calling it a twist, but it’s exactly that.”
One thing that was new for Madzey, who’s done other film projects in the past, was directing a Hollywood actor. He talked about a moment during shooting when he had to encourage Champion.
“I had to push him at the end,” Madzey said. “It was super late. I think we’d been shooting for about five hours and it was really hot because it was in the garage and it was August.”
“We had him strapped to a steel table with chains and he was bruising because I had someone holding him down.”
Madzey said he thinks Champion was getting tired and needed a boost.
“I’m actually pushing a Hollywood actor to do his best work,” Madzey said. “That was awesome. I’d never had that experience before.”
Harrigan also said she learned a lot from acting alongside Champion. She’s worked as a model for 15 years, but had never been in a film before.
“Wow is the best way to describe Michael,” she said. “He is intense and awesome and a plethora of information and he helped me every step of the way.”
“There’s a scene where he’s really deep into his character. At first it startled me. It kind of scared me for a minute because I’ve never really been around actors and I’m realizing, ‘Oh this is what it is, this is the momentum to get into this.'”
“And that’s where I started feeling more comfortable too, like ‘Ok, it’s alright, get weird, get into this.'”
Madzey talked about his decision to cast Harrigan.
“Rhiannon, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, and she’s had so much experience in modeling I just thought she’d be incredible on screen and she is,” he said.
Harrigan referred to herself as a “horror-junkie.”
“I’m all about that stuff,” she said. “After reading the script, who my character is is such a strong, awesome character, I felt I was walking in my own shoes with this character.”
She said that she’s always looking to try new things and encourages other people to foray into the film field.
“I highly suggest everyone to try acting at least once if they want because its a unique experience unto itself,” she said. “There is nothing like acting, truly.”
Acting, photography and visual effects are only a piece of the giallo-mood of the film. Madzey said that the score was done by Christopher Otto, who did music on Madzey’s feature film “Stanley,” a project also scripted by Grunert.
Giallo films tend to use a lot of what Madzey called “counter-point” music.
“A lot of old Italian films used ‘counter-point,'” he said. “It’s kind of the opposite of what you’d expect. Like you’ve got this really grisly, gory scene happening and the music is really light and airy and something that you could listen to to make you happy.”
Another sound technique Madzey said audiences will enjoy is something called “scorce.” This is a term that combines the words “source” and “score.”
Source music in films refers to sounds that can be identified as coming from something audience can see on screen while score is in some sense external to the visual image.
“Scorce” is when music emanating from something on screen transitions into traditional score, Madzey explained.
“The Woman with Centipede Eyes” has some of that.
“I’m a huge fan of that,” Madzey added.
While he is now excited about the project, something that happened right after shooting wrapped up nearly caused Madzey to abandon the project.
“After we shot, my dog died the next day,” he said. “I was so close to my dog Bosco that it was like somebody hit me in the head with a sledgehammer.”
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on after that, seriously. I was like, ‘I’m done with this.’ A lot my friends turned up. And I’m glad I’m still here.”
He’s not the only one. Harrigan said she was never in Madzey’s film and television classes at Natrona County High School, but said she knows many people who’ve been significantly impacted by his gifts to the community.
“I’m just really glad Madzey’s still out there being able to work with great people,” she said. “I’m glad that Wyoming kids have grown into doing some great things for the community.”
“If it weren’t for Madzey and the people he gets involved, a lot of us wouldn’t have gone as far in our artistic grounds. It’s really great to have people like him in our community and he really supports us all. Half the people working under him in this film all went to his class.”
It took him some time before he could look at the footage after shooting.
“We had just wrapped but it took me a couple weeks to actually sit down and look at stuff because Bosco was there the whole time,” Madzey said.
“There were some shots that we would nail and then he’d be over laying down sleeping in the corner. And everybody would be like, ‘Oh Bosco!’ It was really funny and everybody would pet him and stuff. He’s a really big part of my memory of the film.”
“I think that anybody who has a had a dog and is close with them in that way, just has that kind of companionship, would understand.”
Grunert says he’d like to do more projects with Madzey going forward.
“He’s made several short films and a feature based on my scripts, and I love working with him on stuff,” Grunert said. “I hope we can continue this until we’re a couple of old fogies!”
Once the film is finished, Madzey said they’ll enter it into some film festivals. He said that film critic and the film’s producer Rod Meek lives in Texas and donated $500 toward the project.
“That is five festivals that we can enter,” Madzey said.
He’s also hoping to organize a screening at David Street Station in October. With Halloween happening that time of year, he thinks it would fun to show the horror film outside.
Since it is not totally finished, even those who worked on the film are still waiting to see the final product.
“I’m super pumped to see it,” Harrigan said. “I’m a little scared to be embarrassed by it, but its going to be really cool because I know that everyone that has been a part of this has worked really hard on it.”
Others involved in the project include Caitlyn Urhammer, who did poster art, Jason Yocum, who did the lettering, and David Leonidas who took photographs.
Working with all these people is something Madzey said he enjoyed and learned a lot from.
“I think the older I get, the better I get at collaborating,” he said. “Instead of shooting everything myself, which I used to do, I prefer collaborating. Collaboration makes everything better, that’s something I try to teach my students as well.”
Perhaps he’s picked up a few lessons from his friend Grunert’s patience.
“This is the most patience I’ve put into a small project like this,” Madzey said “It’s so totally worth it I think. Patience is everything I think. I don’t want to compromise it doing something quick.”
After finishing this project, Madzey will turn his attention to his radio play project “Beyond Radio.” He’s working on a new radio play he’s tentatively calling “Tribes of the Moon.” It is a Lovecraft-inspired story about a detective who runs into an old guy that can’t die.
Doing radio plays also benefits his work with film.
“It’s challenging because you have to create a world with just sound,” Madzey said. “I think working like that makes my film work stronger too. It’s half the image.”
He’s also painting murals of some of his favorite films and television shows on the walls of his home, so it looks different now than it does in “The Woman with Centipede Eyes.”
Madzey left one last teaser for audiences.
“It’s really fun escapism if you like really dark things.”