Oh, the horror! Local filmmaker has a bloody good time


Actress Bette Cassatt in a scene from "A Sweet and Vicious Beauty," a horror film made by local director Eric Thornett. It will screen Sunday at the AFI Silver Theatre as part of a horror film festival. (Courtesy of Piranha Pictures)
John Kelly
Columnist October 9, 2012

When Fairfax filmmaker Eric Thornett wanted to show his new movie, “A Sweet and Vicious Beauty,” to his cast and crew, he screened it in the 300-seat theater at Asbury Methodist Village. That’s the Gaithersburg retirement community whose in-house TV station Eric works for.

I asked Eric whether the film was broadcast to the elderly residents of Asbury Methodist Village. “Oh, no way,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Not really appropriate, I guess. “A Sweet and Vicious Beauty” is a horror film about a sickly Victorian woman who hears a legend that the last breath of a dead person can extend life. She sets out to, shall we say, medicate herself in a way not consistent with Medicare prescription coverage.

The movie will receive its world premiere Sunday at the AFI Silver Theatre, just one of the frightful offerings of the Spooky Movie International Film Festival, which runs Wednesday through Oct. 20 in Silver Spring.

The names of the movies pretty much tell you what to expect. There’s “A Little Bit Zombie” and “Zombie 108.” There’s a trio of short films under the name “Nazi Zombie Death Tales.” The locally produced “Ninjas vs. Monsters” is about monsters who fight ninjas. And you have to love a movie as straightforwardly titled as “Some Guy Who Kills People.”

I haven’t seen it, but if it turns out that he doesn’t kill people, I think I’d want my money back.

Eric, 38, went to Chantilly High School and Virginia Tech. His film company is called Piranha Pictures. He wrote, directed and edited “A Sweet and Vicious Beauty.” Its production benefited from a lot of volunteer effort.

The four freshly severed heads needed to keep the plot humming were made by Danny Fielding, whose day job is building exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History. A stay-at-home mom named Tabatha Carlson made the desiccated head that was meant to have been dug from a grave. She had help from her mother, Sharon Jewett, proving that old adage: “The family that makes desiccated graveyard heads together, stays together.”

Blood was mixed by graphic artist Dan Pittore and Sara Cole, an actress in the film who is working on a PhD in language, literature and culture at the University of Maryland.

Horror movies can be hard on more than just the audience. One actress’s death scene required shooting all night in a cold attic. “We had the room pretty much covered in blood by the end of it,” Eric said.

Shooting got uncomfortable. “I would ask her to move, and she couldn’t,” Eric said. “She was stuck to the floor.”

Such are the drawbacks of blood made from Karo Syrup. (Maybe the movie should have been called “A Sweet and Viscous Beauty.”)

Some of the costumes were thrift shop finds. Lead actress Bette Cassatt made all of hers herself, an assortment of impressive Victorian-style frocks. She couldn’t let herself get too attached to them, though.

There was one ornate dress that Bette stayed up all night finishing. Once shooting started in the morning, it was ruined in a matter of minutes, its fine fabric spattered with blood and gore.

“She was upset,” Eric said, “but I said, ‘You know what you made it for.’ ”

Security breach

Internet scammers are worthy of their own horror movie. What amazes me most is their chutzpah. A reader named Bob from Delaware forwarded me an e-mail that purported to come from the director of the National Security Agency.

“We all know that rate of fraudsters and scammers online are so much that we all receive 200 messages per day claiming to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a Government Worker in Nigeria,”the e-mail begins. “All those stories are lies used by fraudsters to extract money from people.”

Not this e-mail, though. It then goes on to instruct Bob to e-mail back so the “NSA” can protect his online safety and, somewhat incongruously, deposit some funds in his bank account.

Bob wrote: “Why won’t the feds give you an e-mail to forward these things to? You would think that saying you are from the FBI or the NSA would be enough reason to get involved.”

I talked to the NSA’s VaneéVines, who issued this statement: “Bad actors in cyberspace are plentiful, tireless and inventive. We are aware of such scams and encourage the public to remain ever vigilant.”

The public? What’s the point of having a super-spy agency with a multibillion-dollar budget if it can’t throw a few switches, track down the scammers and dispatch the occasional Predator drone?

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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