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updated: 9/26/2011 4:59 PM

St. Charles filmmaker finds horror on 'Munger Road'

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  • Nick Smith, 26, got actor Bruce Davison to star in his new film "Munger Road," filmed partly on this location in Bartlett.

       Nick Smith, 26, got actor Bruce Davison to star in his new film "Munger Road," filmed partly on this location in Bartlett.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles filmmaker Nick Smith shot his horror film "Munger Road" at this spot in Bartlett and at other suburban locations.

       St. Charles filmmaker Nick Smith shot his horror film "Munger Road" at this spot in Bartlett and at other suburban locations.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles' police chief (Oscar nominee Bruce Davison) and his deputy (Randall Batinkoff) investigate the possible return of an escaped serial killer in Nicholas Smith's "Munger Road."

      St. Charles' police chief (Oscar nominee Bruce Davison) and his deputy (Randall Batinkoff) investigate the possible return of an escaped serial killer in Nicholas Smith's "Munger Road."

  • Video: "Munger Road" trailer

 
 

Move over Elm Street: There's a new road to terror in town.

"Munger Road" -- an independent horror film by St. Charles writer/director Nicholas Smith -- combines elements of "The Blair Witch Project," "Halloween" and "Psycho." Smith, 26, and a crew of young filmmakers shot it over 16 nights in Bartlett, St. Charles, Elburn, Geneva and Sugar Grove.

"Munger Road" will have its official premiere Monday night for cast, crew, St. Charles city employees and VIPs. It opens to the public at the Charlestowne 18 this Friday and spreads to other suburban movie theaters on Oct. 7.

Here's the setup:

Late one night, four St. Charles students -- two guys and their dates -- drive to the railroad tracks over Munger Road in Bartlett. They stop on the tracks.

The guys want to test the local (sub)urban legend that the ghosts of children supposedly killed in a terrible bus/train accident will push their car to safety.

One strange thing leads to another. Their car won't start. Their cellphones don't work. A ghostly handprint appears on the window.

And the students don't know that a convicted St. Charles serial killer has escaped from a prison bus and is apparently headed home.

"I've always appreciated the classic psychological horror films," Smith said. "I don't really understand (horror movies) where people get their rib cages ripped open and their hearts taken out. I wanted characters you could relate to and be worried about."

"We designed 'Munger Road' to be one of those movies that you want to watch again," he added. "As far as the ending goes, you want to go back and see if we were smart enough to make sure that we have some idea as to what really happened."

Smith said a major influence for "Munger Road" wasn't even a traditional horror tale: It was Steven Spielberg's 1975 killer shark thriller "Jaws."

"The conflict in 'Jaws' isn't so much there's a shark in the water, but that there's a shark in the water and if the community people close the beaches, they'll be bankrupt for the winter," Smith said. "If four kids go missing right before 6,000 people are coming in for the annual Scarecrow Festival in St. Charles, what do you do?"

So there's the "Jaws" connection.

That and the name of Smith's deputy, Hendricks, the same name as police chief Roy Scheider's deputy in "Jaws."

Smith, a graduate of St. Charles North High School, received his moviemaking education at Chicago's Columbia College. He tapped several fellow Columbia grads to help him make "Munger Road," among them cinematographer Westley Gathright (using new digital RED MX cameras) and producer Kyle Heller.

A major contributor to "Munger Road" is a Polish composer named Wojciech Golczewski, who created the film's nerve-jangling score -- while still in Poland. Smith and Golczewski have never actually met. "Everything was done electronically," Smith said. "I don't think we could have done this 10 years ago."

A casting coup came for Smith when he hired actor Bruce Davison, star of "Willard" and an Oscar nominee for "Longtime Companion" to play the St. Charles police chief. The actor took less than his usual compensation because he liked the script so much, and the film's budget was so tight (reportedly under $500,000), Smith said.

"When we were casting, I didn't want Nicolas Cage running around St. Charles," he said. "I wouldn't believe that him or Ray Liotta would be the police chief in this town. We really wanted great actors to bring this story together, and Bruce really liked the script. That proves what I've said earlier."

What's that?

"That if you want to get a movie made and you're 26 years old, write a really good script and you'll get a lot of help."

Especially from Davison, who plans on attending St. Charles' annual Scarecrow Festival on Oct. 7.

For Smith, the biggest drawback to making "Munger Road" was the time crunch.

"I wish I had more time to fix a few things," Smith said. "But I'm very proud of what a bunch of people from Columbia in my age group were able to do." He estimated that 80 percent of his crew came from Columbia. All of them are his age or younger.

Ultimately, the success of "Munger Road" rests with the moviegoers who will accept or reject Smith's vision of horror without the commercial sensationalism of nudity, violence and coarse language.

He admits that as a filmmaker, he can only do so much to scare audiences.

"I can come up with scary images," he said, "but a person's imagination is what's really terrifying."

Editor's note: Dann Gire reviews "Munger Road" in Friday's Time out!

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