Oh, the horror
Morgan County father, son film feature-length horror movie
By Catherine Godbey
For the Enquirer
Racks of vintage clothes from the 1970s, a 1909 phonograph and an early 20th century portrait of an unknown woman currently fill the entrance to Warren McLemore’s Somerville home.
“It feels like we’ve been living on a film set for two months – because we have,” the Austin High School art teacher said.
Created by the father and son team of Warren and Brandon McLemore, the horror movie “Dark Entities” started filming at locations around Morgan County July 3. The project, five years in the making, began on the heels of the “The Conjuring.”
“When I started writing this, it seemed like there was this kind of renaissance of supernatural horror movies,” Brandon McLemore said. “I worked on it for years and was just waiting on the right moment to start filming.
“Strangely, the coronavirus ended up being that perfect time because all the other plays around here were canceled, and the actors were available.”
The film, currently ranked 26th as of Wednesday on IMDB’s list of most popular horror movies set for release in 2021, showcases north Alabama’s talent.
“What I like about working with local actors is everyone is so eager. In Hollywood, maybe it’s just a job, but here, it is a project of passion,” Brandon McLemore said. “It’s sad when you think about how much talent there is around here and how little opportunity is in the area.”
The film follows three siblings who lose their parents in a car accident, struggle to overcome depression and inherit a mysterious house.
“The siblings see the house as a new start and expect to find hope there,” said Brandon McLemore, who, along with directing, writing and casting the movie, also portrays Wes, one of the siblings.
“We find something there, but not a lot of hope,” added Madison native Elena Ontiveros, who plays Vera, Wes’s sister.
After deciding in May to film “Dark Entities,” Brandon McLemore, who helped start Priceville High’s drama club in 2012 and appeared in community theater productions, invited local actors to virtually audition for roles.
Finding an actress to portray Vera, the lead of the 16-member cast, proved the most difficult. Brandon McLemore said he went through nine actresses before deciding on Ontiveros, who appears in 90 percent of the movie.
“I connected with the character of Vera right away. She has that warm heart and is very nurturing and trusting. That’s my nature too. I felt like I was playing myself,” Ontiveros said.
Brandon McLemore described Vera as the heart of the movie and Jackie, played by Decatur’s Angela Moore, as the hope of the film.
“When things get to rock bottom and everything feels hopeless, Jackie offers the family some hope again,” Brandon McLemore said. “I wanted the characters to be people you cared about. It’s not a successful horror movie if you don’t care about the characters.”
To prepare for the role of Jackie, a parapsychologist, Moore, who in real life works as an operating room nurse, watched “Poltergeist” and studied the characters of Tangina Barrons, a spiritual medium, and Dr. Lesh, a parapsychologist.
Brandon McLemore encouraged the entire cast to study the style and mood of 1970s horror movies. From those movies – such as “Halloween,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Exorcist” and “Amityville Horror” – McLemore found inspiration for his script.
“One of my goals with this movie was to do a movie that felt like a 1970s classic horror film with modern elements. I haven’t been pleased with a lot of recent horror movies,” Brandon McLemore said. “I wanted something story driven instead of just going for the shock factor. A lot of our scares are psychological. We use suspense, not jump scares.”
“Dark Entities” is the first project for the McLemores’ production company, Mirror Image Productions, in seven years. Warren McLemore estimated the film’s budget possibly would reach seven figures.
To ensure the authenticity of the film, which takes place during three eras – the 1910s, 1940s and 1970s – Warren and Brandon McLemore researched the time periods, from the cars to the political climate. They said they scrutinized every detail down to the beds, suitcases, clock radios, car tags and pill bottles.
“Those details are important. If you get one thing wrong, that puts the whole film into question,” Warren McLemore said.
Along with filming at the McLemores’ home, the cast and crew shot scenes at a Somerville farm, the Hartselle Antique Mall and the McLemores’ garage, which they converted into a secret room unopened since 1910, complete with a vintage stove and rope bed.
While the coronavirus provided the McLemores with the opportunity to film “Dark Entities,” the pandemic also limited the movie’s capabilities.
“In Hollywood they would have hundreds of people on the crew. We never had more than 10 people on set at once – and we had to sacrifice members of the crew to get the actors on set,” said Warren McLemore, who has acted in the TV show “Snapped: Killer Couples” and “Vengeance: Killer Families.” “Thankfully, the actors are flexible and are used to doing crew work.”
After wrapping filming this week, Warren and Brandon McLemore will start editing and piecing together the more than 2,000 clips into a rough cut. The McLemores shot the movie in Super 35 6K, a level above the industry’s 4K standard.
With the top 30 ranking on IMDB, the McLemores said they hope to garner interest from studios.
“We’re really trying to get a following because that helps when it comes to releasing. They know people want to see this movie,” Brandon McLemore said.
Among the 380 movies ranked on IMDB’s 2021 horror list are “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” starring Tom Hardy, “Morbius” starring Michael Keaton, “Halloween Kills,” “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” “The Exorcist” and “Hotel Transylvania 4.”
While Brandon McLemore said he expects to complete production by June 1, he is weighing moving back the release closer to October 2021.
“You look at the original ‘Halloween’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ – those were independent movies. They were released, built up momentum and became genre classics that are held up on a pedestal now,” Brandon McLemore said.
Along with Ontiveros, Moore, Brandon McLemore and Warren McLemore, the cast features Jackson Turner, Phil Parker, Savanna Lyles, William Jenkins, Jenni Wood, Debra Davenport, Ethan Sharp, Marcus Patten, Lorelei Bachuss, Hailey Beard and Silas Sims.
“Our goal is to make a good movie that people will enjoy and north Alabama will be proud of. We’ve invested every ounce of energy and time into making that happen,” Brandon McLemore said.