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At this point in the history of cinema, and more specifically horror cinema, the description “a group of friends head to a cabin” is enough to make any moderately experienced genre fan sick, and not without good reason. For almost 30 years now, we’ve been inundated with flicks that displace youth into the woods, only for them to fall prey to a masked killer/hungry monster/evil spirit that just happens to reside there. So what exactly is different about THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND, which is just such a story, you ask? A lot, in fact.
Directed by Gabriel Bologna from a script he wrote with Michael Berenson and Sean Clark, BLACK WATERS (opening in theaters across the country tomorrow) sees that traditional gang of pals arriving at an island vacation home for a weekend party—only this time with no cloaked deviant or FX creature on the loose, just an ancient board game and their own dark distrust of one another—which, frankly, any longtime circle of chums can relate to. The game that Rick (James Duval), Kathy (Danielle Harris), Josh (Nick Mennell), Veronique (Mircea Monroe), Anton (Arcadiy Golubovich), Renee (Electra Avellan), Erica (Elise Avellan), Trent (Walker Howard) and Robert (M.D. Walton) uncover holds a ritualistic relationship with the elder god Pan, and forces them to act out dormant desires and reveal hidden feelings. This in turn, leads to deadly consequences.
Shot over 24 days on Malibou Lake near Santa Monica, CA (which stands in for the New England Gothic of coastal Maine), the film found inspiration in the ideas behind, and classical uses of, tabletop games. “I read that ancient peoples, like the Egyptians and Greeks, believed that board games were supernatural,” Bologna tells Fango. “After all, what other inanimate objects can elicit emotions like laughter, jealousy, camaraderie, greed and contempt? They were also used in sacred ceremonies, hence they’ve turned up in ancient tombs. I thought, what if there was a game that was inherently evil and unassumingly lets loose the demons in each of us?”
What can also bring out our collective darkness are the sometimes shaky relationships we share with those closest to us. “I believe that the new Internet generation is experiencing a rapid erosion of trust,” Bologna says. “It’s so easy to snoop on your enemies or loved ones to find out what they’re up to on social networking sites—where they’re going, how they’re feeling, who they’re communicating with, etc. There was a time when if you suspected someone of lying, you would just give them the benefit of the doubt, but the paper trails of forbidden fruits like text-message logs, e-mails and Tweets are literally at our fingertips to quench our suspicions. Friendships nowadays just don’t seem to be as durable, and are thus more susceptible to outside forces.”
Another film involving the destruction of friendships in favor of bloodshed, which Bologna says has held a good deal of influence over him, was the Kinji Fukasaku’s modern cult classic BATTLE ROYALE. “I’m a fan of the movie, about a group of kids banished to an island by the government for a survival-of-the-fittest death match,” he says. “Yet my film is a far cry from it in so many ways, as all the characters in BLACK WATERS are not forced to kill one another, but do so willingly, by giving in to their basest emotions.”
Much like the ominous island where Fukasaku’s bloodbath takes place, BLACK WATERS’ location sets a murky, dark stage for the proceedings. “I’m surprised more people don’t film on Malibou Lake,” Bologna notes. “First of all, it looks just like Maine, where our story takes place. It has steep, craggy cliffs that lead to the water, evergreen trees, with the densest part of the Santa Monica Mountains in the background. And best of all, it’s a finger lake, which is ideal for filming; for wide shots, we would simply mount the camera on the opposite side of the lake and shoot the boat disembarking, scenes on the dock, etc.”
The cast Bologna assembled to delve into their shadowy sides includes a clutch of horror luminaries that should get any Fango fan interested. In addition to the beloved Harris, spunky and popular newcomers Elise and Electra Avellan (better known as GRINDHOUSE’s Crazy Babysitter Twins) and even DONNIE DARKO’s James Duval (who has recently made forays into the horrific with PENANCE and EVILUTION), genre vet Robert Patrick also has a significant role. “I was really grateful that they all responded to the script so favorably,” the director says. “Sean, who’s also an associate producer on the film, worked the horror convention circuit for years with Danielle and the Avellan twins, and gave the script to them personally.
“I also think everybody identified with the roles,” Bologna jokes. “I’m sure in real life, Robert Patrick’s got a collection of shotguns, bear traps, and severed animal heads on his wall, just like his character Pete Cavanaugh.”
Despite the exciting talent involved (also including veteran FRIDAY THE 13TH composer Harry Manfredini on the score), the great atmosphere and having the T-1000 taking part, BLACK WATERS’ most unique and coolest aspect is no doubt the game itself. Constructed specifically for the film, the truly ancient-looking work of art showcases meticulous detail and moving parts, uncovering hidden areas that only contain more doom for its players. “I can tell you this game is like no other,” the director states. “It cost $30,000 to make, with intricate cranks and pinion gears, built from aged oak and carved stone, with inlays of gold leaf.
“That said, we did have one big problem with it,” he continues. “We realized on the day of shooting that we needed the game to shoot out a fierce ray of light to correspond with an important part of the script. In a frenzy, the art department and I tried everything to carve a hole in it, so that the light could shine through. Finally, another crewmember came to the rescue by smashing an ax through the thick wood. My art director found a Tupperware container, filled it with water, my co-writer and I threw some Alka-Seltzer tablets into it and, with the light then blasting out, the game looked like a blinding, bubbling, twirling portal to hell. And it’s the coolest shot in the film.”
To witness this and the movie’s other supernatural sights, find theaters where the film is playing at BLACK WATERS’ official website.
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