The Shoestring Community Players are bringing the delightful nostalgia of early 90s horror to the Spirit of Halloweentown festival this year, with two special screenings of Night of the Demons II directed by Columbia County’s own Brian Trenchard-Smith.
Trenchard-Smith is an English-Australian film and television director, producer, writer, consultant and actor who is notable for his contributions to the horror and action genre during the 1970s and 1980s in Australia. He and his wife Margaret moved to Columbia County as “refugees” from Los Angeles, seeking a more rural life.
“We decided to do something totally different and have a new adventure,” he said. “I grew up in an English country village so suddenly coming to look at this house which was completely surrounded by trees, I thought, ‘oh this is it. I’m going to revert to childhood.’”
Having directed 42 long-form films, 43 episodes of televisions, over 100 trailers, and various documentaries and short films, including Turkey Shoot, StuntRock, Dead End Drive-In, The Man from Honk Kong, Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4, Trenchard-Smith will be on site for a question and answer session following the screening.
The film follows a group of high school students who throw a Halloween party in a mansion haunted by a young demon. The first film was released in 1988, and when producers found financing for a sequel, they were able to bring the key villainess back.
“Angela is the female Freddy,” Trenchard-Smith said. “The script was written, and the producers said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Well, can we make it a little funnier?’ There were some laughs in the original, but I wanted to pitch it a bit more horror-comedy rather than 90 percent horror. For some people, they’re maybe not quite getting what they want out of it, but for a lot of people, it made it more accessible.”
The film was made with a commercial formula common of that time in filmmaking – the distributors told Trenchard-Smith it had to have an R rating, there had to be at least one obligatory nude scene, and of course, plenty of gore. Because of this, the Shoestring Community Players request that only those age 17 and up attend the screenings.
“That was the formula, and you know, you have to obey, because you want the producers to get that money back and they did. All those films were successful for those that earned a piece of the pie,” he said. “We’ve got two teens who get together to make love for the first time and we make it clear he is going to use a condom, and then they get interrupted, so her virginity is safe for a little while longer.”
But Trenchard-Smith got his comedy into the film, as well. There’s a nun with a yardstick who does a bit of fencing, as Trenchard-Smith is a fencer himself, and he said there are plenty of Catholic jokes.
The film was shot over 18 days, six days a week, and was filmed completely at night. The distributor was “kind of impressed” at around day 16, and two things happened – much of the cast came down with a very bad cold, and the distributor asked if they gave Trenchard-Smith another $150,000, could he add a bigger climax?
So, the production shut down for a few days so that everyone could recover from their colds, and the crew built a new set. This one would have a false floor that would allow the character “Angela” to turn into an 18-foot-long snake woman that would appear to be slithering along the floor.
“Whereas in fact, she’s walking on her knees under a sliding board,” Trenchard-Smith said.
For book lovers out there, Trenchard-Smith also has a novel out titled, “Alice Through the Multiverse,” which chronicles the story of a women either stuck in a glitch in time, or suffering from multiple personality disorder, and there is a possibility it will be turned into a television series soon.
Ultimately, the money raised at the screenings will go to support the Shoestring Community Players in their future theater endeavors – something Trenchard-Smith believes is vital to the success of the community as a whole.
“I think, speaking as a dramatist, and after all drama started with the theater, with Greek tragedy, Greek comedy, and it’s good for a community to gather and watch some players tell a tale that has maybe a life’s lesson or moral lesson,” he said. “As for what moral lesson is implied in Night of the Demons II – Sister Gloria is kind of unsympathetic to start, but her values and her courage save the day. There is another side to the disciplinarian that comes from tough love. But mainly, if anything sums up my filmmaking, what I like to do is to deliver the audience the laughs and gasps just as they got watching the nickelodeons way back in the dawn of cinema.”