View Full Version : Rex B. Hamilton reports on "The Dead Matter"

Rex B. Hamilton
09-02-2007, 10:45 PM
Rex B. Hamilton reports on “The Dead Matter”

September 2, 2007

Greetings, Fellow Haunters:

“The Dead Matter” is a horror movie currently shooting at Precinct 13 Studios in Mansfield, Ohio. (Mansfield is dead between Cleveland and Columbus.) The film is written and directed by Edward Douglas of Midnight Syndicate, and scheduled for release in the fall of 2008.

Leading performers include Andrew Divoff (“Lost”) and Jason Carter (“Babylon 5"). But the majority of the cast is made up of ”friends of Ed Douglas” from the music, movie, television and haunted house industries, mostly from Ohio. According to one newspaper article, the production has a budget of two million dollars.

I haven’t seen the script, but I do know the flick contains plenty of zombies because I was one the past two Monday evenings. I stayed up all night both nights with about a hundred other people, shooting the film’s “attack of the zombies” scenes at the historic Mansfield Reformatory. (The most famous movie ever filmed there was “The Shawshank Redemption.”)

This was my first time acting in a horror movie despite the fact that I’ve worked in haunts for more than three decades, and the stage for nearly a decade before that. (I’ve made short films and television commercials over the years, but always as the producer.) It was a fun experience being in front of the camera because many of the people there were haunted friends of mine.

The weather on the two nights of shooting could not have been more different. On August 20, after a day of intermittent rain showers, the skies opened up around 9 PM and it rained like crazy from then onward. It didn’t stop all night. I mean, it _poured_. You may remember the flooding in some Midwestern states that week and how many of them were declared Federal disaster areas. Richland County, site of the Reformatory, was one of seven Ohio counties so designated.

Because of the bad weather, we shot the indoor scenes first, up until about midnight. The site was the prison’s large chapel, situated on the third floor. About 50 family members and friends of the performers stood near the back of the room and watched us film our scenes. The producers had wisely invited many media outlets that evening. I spoke to a reporter from WEWS-TV, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland, a reporter from the Cleveland “Plain Dealer” and a writer for the Mansfield “News Journal.”

Lunch was served to more than 100 people under large, outdoor tents from midnight to 12:30 AM. Then we all stood around and waited, hoping that the torrential rain, lightning and thunder would go away so that we could shoot our outdoor scenes. There were smashed-up cars, a fire engine, spotlights on tall cranes, a truck-size portable generator, a big fat water tanker truck and all sorts of other equipment in place in the prison’s parking lot. But the weather would not cooperate. At 3:30 AM, we wrapped the shoot and sent everyone home. For me, the rain did not stop until I arrived home in Cleveland at about 6 AM.

The following Monday (the 27th) was a beauty of an evening. Not a single cloud in the sky, the winds were calm and a huge, full moon hung over the Reformatory all night long. We 30-odd zombies slowly shuffled between blazing, smoking automobiles in search of fresh flesh. One of my scenes began with me grasping at a non-zombie man (we called them “townspeople”), in an attempt to start munching on his juicy neck. In between takes, I learned that he is the network administrator for the production company, Precinct 13 Studios. Interestingly enough, in real life I am a network administrator, too.

Our midnight lunch was an enjoyable affair, with a hundred or so cast and crew whooping it up at outdoor picnic tables. Movie making is a boring, crazy way to make a living, but we certainly had plenty to eat and drink.

I met and re-met all sorts of interesting people those evenings. Across the lunch table from me was one of the singers from a favorite Cleveland rock band called “Mushroomhead.” Next to him was the morning-show producer and assistant music director for WNCX-FM, the long-time “classic rock” station in Cleveland. He kept glancing at his watch, telling everyone that he had to be at work at 5 AM to produce his next show.

The last time that I had spoken to Cleveland “Plain Dealer” reporter Julie Washington was in either late 1989 or early 1990. At the time, she was the editor of the paper’s weekly “Friday!” entertainment supplement, and I was the boss of marketing at “Bloodview Haunted House” in the Cleveland area. I ran into Jennifer “Scream Queen Marketing” Sharlow on the second evening. She had traveled all the way from Minneapolis to be a vampiress the following day.

As I’ve already hinted at, the two nights of shooting were special to me because I got to work with about a dozen, experienced spookers-in-arms from the Cleveland area. What was even nicer is that we professional monsters had the luxury of top-rate make-up artists at our disposal. Three of them, Joe Shaw, Al Tuskes and David Barthomew Greathouse, are among the best haunt make-up people now working. There were several others, like the team of Brian and Becky who did my nice make-up on Friday night, who also slammed out quality work.

Being a zombie extra in a big-budget monster movie does have its unexpected consequences. As you might expect, the parking lots where the big scenes took place had been washed down by a fat, ugly water truck. In a couple of shots, a handful of zombies was chosen to lie dead while the heroic characters slowly made their escape through them. I don’t think anyone had realized that the female zombies in their sleeveless, backless dresses would get soaked and then shiver for the rest of the night. The temperature on the second night was somewhere in the 60s.

Another unexpected activity in a shot: the entire zombie crew had to all fall down, as if they were marionettes and all their strings had suddenly been severed in unison. No matter what your level of stagecraft, falling down on an asphalt parking lot is not pleasant. (Falling down on a wooden stage is much more pleasant.) The petite young lady in a tight blue dress, who stood to my right, could not get her legs far apart enough to comfortably cushion her collapse. Even I managed to skin up my left knee a little bit.

On one take I smacked the guy next to me in the head with my right arm. On the second take, somebody else socked me in the mid-section. (But not very hard.) It just goes to show you how sometimes supposedly simple things can get very complicated.

There are many more stories I could tell you about those two lovely evenings in Mansfield, Ohio. Perhaps the one last story that should be told is of Edward Douglas and how he brought together all the kooky people he’s met in the past decade in order to make a crazy motion picture. May great success be at his door.

Very truly yours,

Rex B. Hamilton

13939 Clifton Boulevard
Lakewood, Ohio 44107-1462
216.226.7764 (Home)
216.973.0050 (Cell)

Evil is Good!