The state of underground independent horror cinema today seems to be overrun with films about zombies, werewolves, and vampires. What are many of these films lacking? Some would say an original idea.
Maryland-based production company Magothy Entertainment recently wrapped principle photography on their first feature film, The Midnight Disease. It’s the story of Jack Jones (actor Lawrence Griffin), a novelist suffering from some serious writer’s block a la Jack Nicholson in The Shining. When a mysterious jar filled with blood appears on his front doorstep one evening, the scent of the blood awakens Jack’s Muse-quite literally-and, according to director/producer Ryan Fowler, “chaos ensues.” Bodies begin stacking up while blood is spilled, and the audience promises to be treated to a variety of quirky characters and slick, original storytelling.
The film is directed by Ryan Fowler and Robbie Ribspreader, who also wrote the screenplay, and is being produced by the duo’s own Maryland-based production company, Magothy Entertainment. “It’s our first feature as well as our directorial debut,” explained Ribspreader, who is most known for authoring the screenplays of numerous low-budget horror films, to include director Sv Bell’s award-winning bulldozer-gone-wild flick, Crawler.
“I fell in love [with the script] as soon as I read it,” said Fowler. “Rob made a few more tweaks and it ended up being exactly what we were looking for.”
“It was written in a whirlwind, and took me all of two weeks, I think,” said Ribspreader. “Which is ironic considering the film is about a novelist suffering from writer’s block.” Ribspreader also explained that the title comes from author Edgar Allen Poe, who had coined the term “midnight disease” for his own writer’s block.
“After we decided on the script and gave the project a green light, the toughest thing we had to do was find actors,” Fowler said. “Neither of us had worked on any projects locally. The only people we knew were either out of state or, in most cases, out of the country.”
“We knew the success of the film would rely solely on the quality of the actors we chose,” said Ribspreader. “If we weren’t able to find the right actors, the film would not work. We knew this from the very beginning. Thankfully, we were overwhelmed by the caliber of actors who showed up and auditioned.”
Open auditions were held in January and February 2009, and they wound up with a cadre of talented actors and actresses, to include leading man Lawrence Griffin, who plays the haunted and tumultuous Jack Jones. “Lawrence is fantastic,” said Ribspreader of his leading man. “His performance is both haunting and whimsical, terrifying yet humorous. It’s rare to find an actor capable of commanding those types of emotions simultaneously.”
“I play Jack Jones, a novice writer who had one successful book and is trying to write a second,” said Lawrence Griffin, the film’s leading man who, until now, has done most of his work in the theater. “However, he is stricken with a nearly debilitating case of writer’s block that is slowly driving him insane.” As for what drew him to the character, Griffin said, “I suppose it was the fact that as an artist, I can understand the desperate urge to create something wonderful and the maddening frustration of not ever feeling like what you’ve done is good enough.” He added, “I feel like anyone who has ever tried pursuing any kind of creative endeavor can identify with this character.”
Mia Chiarella plays Michelle, the female lead and the ying to Jack’s yang. “Michelle is a very interesting and complex person,” said Chiarella, who described her character as someone searching for friendship and comfort but not necessarily a romantic relationship. What interested Chiarella in the film? “The fact that this wasn’t just a typical ‘gory horror flick’ type of story really hit home for me.”
Nonetheless, both Fowler and Ribspreader agree that fans of the horror genre will not be disappointed in the film. “It has all the elements that make horror so great. Blood, hookers, cops, love interests and fine literature,” said Fowler, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “We wanted to make a horror film with a twist so that we could hopefully reach a wider audience while still keeping our feet firmly planted within the horror genre.”
“It’s certainly dark and horrific,” explained Ribspreader, “but it’s also fun and humorous, too. I don’t think you could tell a story as crazy as this without finding some humor in it. The trick was never to take the subject matter too seriously-that would be the downfall of the film.”
As far as directing the film together, Fowler and Ribspreader said it was practically second nature for them to work together, since they’ve been friends for so long. “We both excel in separate areas,” said Ribspreader, “so we help pick up each other’s slack.”
“When we started working on this film, although neither of us had a ton of practical experience making movies, we had a very clear vision as to where we wanted to go with it,” said Fowler. “It didn’t take long for us to develop an efficient workflow that drew from each of our individual strengths.”
Their actors seemed to agree. “Robbie knows what he wants to happen artistically,” said Griffin, “and Ryan knows what needs to happen technically.”
“They’re really good friends and know each other well enough to make things work,” said Ann Pratten, who plays Detective Penny Lane in the film.
“They complimented each other so well,” added Chiarella. “It was great to have two different perspectives for the filming process.”
Actress Carleen Troy, who plays a prostitute in the film, agreed that the experience was a good one. “Everyone had one purpose, which was to make a great film.”
The movie is slated for a release in early 2010. Still in post-production, the team has yet to land a distribution deal, but seem upbeat about the prospects. “There are a ton of distributors out there now who cater to the type of films we want to make,” said Ribspreader. “The trick is to be careful where we go and to land the best deal.”
As for the future, their goals are modest. “We are hoping to sell this film and make enough money to finance our next feature,” said Fowler.