With its overcast skies, wide selection of wooded areas and legacy of science fiction, the Greater Binghamton area might seem like the perfect setting for some eerie art. Binghamton community members Doug Bush and Ted Nappi, ‘06, have taken advantage of the atmosphere by creating independent horror films around the varied landscapes of Broome County.
Bush and Nappi have produced two self-funded feature films in the area. “Demon Messenger” (2012) and “House on Ghost Hill Road” (2016) were both low-budget projects borne of Nappi’s interests in film and theatre and Bush’s lifelong passion for horror. The two met during their time at Broome Community College before Nappi went on to get his master’s in theatre at Binghamton University. Bush said the pair’s first forays into feature filmmaking coincided with broader changes in the medium, which made larger-scale projects easier to complete.
“We used to do short films because back then we were still shooting on actual film, which was cool, but everything was kind of changing to digital at that point, so you could afford to just get a digital-editing software and it was a big change in things,” he said.
Both films were directed by Nappi, with Bush writing and acting as a jack of all trades, filling in for missing sound or camera workers. “Demon Messenger” tells the story of a woodland spirit awakened by conflicts over fracking, and “House on Ghost Hill Road” borrows its villain, the King in Yellow, from a late 19th-century short story collection that inspired the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Bush said the film was inspired by the debate over fracking in New York state.
“I live just outside Broome County and it’s very rural, and I had a lot of people around me who wanted fracking to come because they were going to make money, and I had a lot of people who did not want fracking to come because of the environmental concerns,” he said. “This is kind of the classic tale about a family who wants to make money at it, and one member doesn’t know about it and they call on this made-up demon — based on some legends of Bigfoot, Rougarou, all these demons of vengeance — to stop the frackers.”
Bush said his stories are often based not just on experience, but around the physical resources that are available to him. The story of “House on Ghost Hill Road” was built around the house it was shot in, which was offered to them as a set by its owner, a fan of their previous work.
Andy Horowitz, ‘89, an artist in residence in the theatre department at BU, has been in over 30 films and played villains in both the team’s features. He got involved with the project because he knew Bush and Nappi from the area and said he appreciates the spontaneity of low-budget filmmaking.
“It’s really fun — the problem solving is ad hoc, when something goes wrong you have to fix it, the lighting is often a long string of extension cords going to someone’s house or car,” he said. “Everybody is ready for the adventure.”
For both films, the pair locally sourced their cast and crew with open calls for auditions. To work around busy schedules, they only shot on the weekends, which resulted in approximately six-month-long shoots. Horowitz said “Demon Messenger” was shot mostly outdoors from the summer into the fall.
“Everything was difficult — sudden downpours, cold, heat, you name it,” he said. “All of a sudden we’d all be huddled in a little tent [to] keep our costumes dry and our makeup on our faces while we waited for Mother Nature to decide whether we could keep filming or not.”
The two features are Horowitz’s only horror projects to date. He said the job of playing a villain, much like that of acting in an independent film, is a distinctive experience, one that has been made more enjoyable by the creative freedom granted by Bush and Nappi.
“There’s this thing that any actor understands — you never play evil, you always believe your character is right at any given moment,” he said. “The fun of it is finding the wit and laughter. If you’re playing an evil villain, but you’re also charming and engaging and you laugh readily and you shake people’s hands very warmly, it adds a new level of creepiness to the role. Working with [Bush] and [Nappi], who are dear friends of mine and who really trust me as an actor, if I have an idea, they’re going to let me try it in one of the takes, and that’s just great. It’s very freeing and it’s largely why I was interested in doing the films.”
Bush said while the pair is not currently working on any features, there might be a few shorts coming up, which will likely be released in an anthology. He said he’s motivated to make horror films because he grew up with the genre and because of its allegorical potential.
“I enjoy the way it can be used to broach wider issues like equality in gender and race, as well and many other social and political issues through a safer lens,” he said.