From Carnival of Souls to KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, amusement parks have been prime real estate for low-budget horror movies. That's what local filmmaker Mark Jones had in mind when he was preparing to shoot his script Fraternity Massacre at the Haunted Amusement Park.
"The idea was just to make a schlocky horror movie," says Jones, who made his mark on the Memphis film scene five years ago with his polished screwball comedy debut, Eli Parker Is Getting Married?. "And then from that I thought, of course, set it at Libertyland. I thought it would be a great location for a spooky horror movie. So I tried to work with Libertyland, but that didn't work out like I'd hoped."
Unable to secure the closed Midtown theme park as a location, Jones retooled his script for a new location: Mud Island. With help from the film commission, Jones secured the downtown park for a shoot last fall, and Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island was born.
A gay-themed horror-comedy spoof, Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island debuts Thursday, June 29th, at Studio on the Square.
Jones, who wrote and directed the film, reunites with his Eli Parker collaborator Ryan Parker, who serves as the editor and director of photography on the current film. The plot concerns a fraternity "hell night" staged at Hell Island, which had witnessed a multiple murder on the 4th of July 20 years earlier. Protagonist Jack (Tyler Farrell) is a gay pledge whose sexuality is known only to his also-closeted frat- brother boyfriend (Michael Gravois). On hell night, Jack not only has to worry about ghosts and fraternity hazing: There's also a murderous clown on the loose, which has nothing on the perils of being in the closet while in the frat.
Because of the gay theme, Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island is able to spoof the sexualized atmosphere of both slasher movies and real-life fraternities. Jack is constantly dealing with (ostensibly) straight frat brothers undressing in front of him or regaling him with their sexual exploits.
"That happens a lot when you're in the closet," Jones, a onetime fraternity member at South Carolina's Presbyterian College, says. "You don't know who's gay in the fraternity and who isn't."
Jones' movie tackles these issues with a light comic touch that will be familiar to anyone who's seen Eli Parker Is Getting Married?. At the end, Jack's frat has been turned upside down and now features a "token straight brother."
Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island is also extremely light on bloodshed. Jones admits he isn't much of a horror fan and is more interested in the comedy element of the film. But he also cites the diverse films made by favorite filmmakers such as Robert Wise and especially Billy Wilder as something to aspire to.
After screening this week, Jones will get ready to show his film at the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which will be held in Durham in August.
Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island screens at Studio on the Square Thursday, June 29th, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. At press time, the 7 p.m. screening was sold out, but there were tickets still available for the 9 p.m. showing. Tickets are $5 and are available in advance at Burke's Book Store in Midtown.