Local filmmaker to release Michigan-made horror flick this fall

In the segment “Creature,” actor Ron Shedd stands before the sunset preparing for battle.

There’s something about being scared we just plain love. The vicarious, cinematic thrill of being stalked by the undead, chased through foggy, cobblestone streets by a mad slasher, dragged beneath the still waters of a black lagoon by a hideous creature; as a movie-going public, we just can’t seem to get enough.

It is into this peculiar American zeitgeist that Rockford filmmaker Matthew Douglas Grzeszak taps with his upcoming film, “Beyond the Dark.” The episodic horror film offers up nine vignettes, each exploring a creepy, spooky, and most of all, fun look into the dark corners of the mind, corners that have never known the sun’s light.

According to Grzeszak, the film is inspired in part by the classic television series, “The Twilight Zone” and “Tales From the Crypt.” Grzeszak and co-writer/producer Ross Scharphorn, who lives in Los Angeles, watched every “Zone” and “Crypt” episode before beginning writing chores on “Beyond the Dark.”

Actor Rebecca Willis, featured on one of the posters for the upcoming, locally made film, “Beyond the Dark.”

“We probably came up with 20-plus different stories before eventually settling on nine,” Grzeszak said. “Even though the ninth story is tied into some of the other stories it doesn’t stand alone like the other eight.”

As is often the case with independent films, “Beyond the Dark” was produced on a shoestring budget provided by producers Grzeszak, Scharphorn, Randy Galaszewski, and executive producer Andrew Brasseur.

“Really when it comes down to it, our budget was what we had in our pockets and/or could afford to spend,” Grzeszak said. “Using things, people, places that we had or knew … to keep costs low. We filmed with a real tight budget that has high production value because of the people and places that were very supporting of our project. We couldn’t have made this film as we did without everyone believing in the project.”

Over 200 volunteers from across the state were involved in the production of the film. Some came from as far away as the Upper Peninsula, Detroit and other states, such as Virginia and California. Many had worked on Grzeszak’s previous film projects, though several new volunteers came on board as well.

Grzeszak rejected no one willing to volunteer. “There’s a spot for everyone,” he said. “I don’t like to turn anyone down who loves film and filmmaking.”

Among those new volunteers was Saranac area resident Lori Frankforter. Prompted by a friend, Frankforter — who had no previous acting experience — attended one of Grzeszak’s auditions, but at the last moment “chickened out.”

Actor Craig Bouwens in segment “In the Night” as a vampire.

“I offered to be part of the crew,” Frankforter said. “They crowned me head of wardrobe.

“I altered several specialty pieces such as making a sexy nurse outfit out of a white doctor’s jacket and enlarging and adding gnarly fur to a gorilla costume to fit the actor and make it look more like Sasquatch. I did sew Wolfman’s shirt from scratch, which I fashioned out of a bed sheet. I was also on set to help with whatever was needed, from flickering lights to running the fog machine to making a munchies run.”

Frankforter did eventually wind up on film, however, playing dual roles as a bartender in one scene and one of several “naked dead girls” in another.

Though like most of the crew, Frankforter worked on a volunteer basis, she says the most frustrating part of the process were the shoots she wasn’t able to attend, and the fact it all eventually had to end.

“Even now, I miss those people and that atmosphere,” Frankforter said.

The scripting process, Grzeszak said, took about a year beginning in early 2012. Auditions followed that November. Grzeszak filmed the movie over the course of a year, editing as he went along.

“Beyond the Dark” is not Grzeszak’s first film. He has previously made several dozen short films, music videos, commercials and one other feature film. It is, however, the director’s first “stab” at the horror genre.

“I loved the idea of what we were doing and we really started putting in a ton of time gathering people, places, and things we could use for free or real cheap,” Grzeszak explained. “This is our own take on (horror) short stories. The difference is that our segments are very dark, gory, intense and serious.

“We want to keep the audience’s attention from one story to the next. This is why all our our stories are very different; we have zombies, vampires, psychos, cannibals, creatures, and bizarre situations. Some of them are more real feeling than others. Everyone gets a taste of every type of horror.”

Current plans call for a late October premier for “Beyond the Dark,” with exact times and locations still being hammered out. The film will eventually be available online and on DVD, probably by summer of 2014.

Prior to that, however, Grzeszak plans to enter the film in every film festival for which it is eligible worldwide. More information on the film, including regularly updated news regarding the movie’s release date, is available online at beyondthedarkmovie.com and through the usual social media sites.

From left, Dana Ferguson, Dan Salas, and John Gustin, the three vampire-slaying brothers from segment “In the Night” pose for a photo.

Grzeszak has no plan to rest on his laurels. With “Beyond the Dark” winding down, he already has three projects in the works for next year, including a controversial film entitled “Cop Killer,” a four-part drama-thriller, and a 30 minute television comedy pilot.

Whether “Beyond the Dark” ever achieves “Blair Witch Project” status remains to be seen, but for Grzeszak, that’s incidental. The joy of filmmaking is in the process, he says.

“Keep at your dreams,” Grzeszak advised. “Never give up. Don’t let anyone get you down or get in your way. Meet the right good people. Don’t keep the wrong people around you. Be grateful for everyone that is there for you. Never forget the ones that support you. Always be thinking, coming up with ideas and new things. Finish what you start or don’t start it at all. Stay away from stress, don’t let things bother you. Always think of the next future projects. And put in that hard work because that’s what it takes.”

And if all that advice gives you the chance to give the viewing public a good scare, so much the better.

While filming the segment “Creature” for the episodic horror film “Beyond the Dark,” actor Ron Shedd and producer Randy Galazewski prepare for a scene while Matthew Douglas Grzeszak is behind the camera.

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