They might not be making movies in Wilmington right now, but some of the area’s top film industry professionals are busier than ever, working hard to both entertain and scare the heck out of you.
When “Chapel of Horrors,” which is being billed as “an immersive haunted house experience,” opens Sept. 29 for a month-long run in the former Coca-Cola bottling facility on Princess Street, fright fans will get to see the handiwork of a who’s who of Wilmington film. From spooky lighting and sound design to frightening special effects and makeup, “Chapel of Horrors,” which comes with a back story about an evil cult taking over an old chapel, aims to be the most intricate, impressive and, yes, terrifying haunted house Wilmington has ever seen.
“This is not your typical haunted house,” said Jeff Goodwin, a 43-year film industry veteran who’s done makeup and special effects on films including “Blue Velvet,” “The Black Phone” and dozens of others. “It’ll be like you’ve been dropped into a horror movie. It’s going to be quite frightening.”
The idea of creating a Wilmington haunted house is something Goodwin said he and colleagues, including special effects artist Rick Pour and makeup artist Matt Barrett, have batted around for years.
“We always said we wanted to do it,” Goodwin said. “But we’re always working.”
That changed earlier this year when ongoing strikes by the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America shut down film production nationwide.
The idea really started to become a reality a few months ago, Barrett said, when he was working on an independent horror film, pre-strike, and began talking with Justin Smith, an actor (Barracuda Mike of “Outer Banks“) who’s also the artistic director of Wilmington’s Opera House Theatre Co.
Smith, who had to sit in a chair for several hours while Barrett applied horror makeup, overhead convesations about “haunted house stuff,” Barrett said, and took a keen interest.
Opera House stepped in to provide some funding, Smith said, while also supplying actors and other help.
“It’s been an interesting combination of a long, slow-burning thing,” Barrett said, and one that is now happening very quickly.
“We’ve called in favors from all over the film industry. It’s going to be an experience,” Goodwin said, one that’s “not for little kids.” (Although there will be a family-friendly day from noon-4 p.m. Oct. 21, he added, with some of the more gruesome aspects of the house hidden from view.)
The creators of “Chapel of Horrors” didn’t want to give too much away about what to expect for fear (no pun intended) of spoiling the jump scares. Rest assured that “it’s not a series of storebought things jumping out at you,” Barrett said. “Being film people, we couldn’t help but bring the storytelling aspect into it.”
In some ways, Barrett said, people can “choose their own level of engagement,” showing up cold to see the horrific sights, or reading the “chapters of stories building up to it” that Port City Fear Factory, the other production company behind “Chapel of Horrors,” has been posting to its social media accouts over the past weeks and months.
“It’s been a lot of fun to make. There’s a lot of different things that, the one or two people who notice it will feel very rewarded,” Barrett said. “Plus, there’s some of the bigger things we built, I’m excited to see people’s reactions.”
Of course, looming in the background of the “Chapel of Horrors” is something scarier than any haunted house: the ongoing strikes that have shut down film and TV production nationwide. Both writers’ and actors’ unions are seeking better pay, among other demands, from film production companies.
And, while most film workers support the striking unions, the fact remains that the strikes have taken a financial toll on many in the industry.
One one hand, Goodwin said, the haunted house would not have happened without the strikes. But the strikes need to be settled soon, he said, because he’s afraid “we are losing our industry.”
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Beyond that, Barrett said, there’s something about the film community and others coming together to support each other during a tough time that reminds him of why he moved back to Wilmington after doing film work in Atlanta for a couple of years.
“I’ve always had this romantic idea about the nature of creativity around filmmaking in Wilmington,” Barrett said. “You know, ‘We love this stuff, and we’re going to tell stories no matter what.’ When big productions shut down, you know, people make indie films. This is like that.”
Fueling that sense of community engagement will be a day billed as “special guest signing day.” On Oct. 14, actors from Wilmington (including Banks Repeta and Troy Rudeseal of “The Black Phone”) and from around the region will be on site to sign autographs and engage with fans.
Want to go?
What: “Chapel of Horrors,” an immersive haunted house experience from Port City Fear Factory
When: Sept. 29-30 and Oct. 6-7, 13-15, 20-22 and 27-30. Times are 5-10 p.m. Fridays, 5-11 p.m. Saturdays, and 5-9 p.m. Sundays (Oct. 15, 22 and 29) and Oct. 30. Kid-friendly family day noon-4 p.m. Oct. 21. Celebrity guest day is Oct. 14.
Where: 921 Princess St., Wilmington
Tickets: $25 to $50