Inspiration can come from unlikely places.
For me, as a genre movie fan growing up in Connecticut, the main sources of inspiration were:
1. the Spine Tinglers! horror movies shown on WTXX-TV Waterbury-Hartford-New Haven
2. the video rack at the local mom-and-pop video store
Now, you might be thinking, those places aren’t particularly unlikely. And that’s true, they really aren’t. Pre-Internet, many kids would watch any movie that happened to be on TV, and local affiliate WTXX seemed to broadcast whatever modestly budgeted horror movie they could get their hands on. And video stores were incredibly popular--havens for movie lovers of all ages, offering up shelves bursting with variety, their walls a veritable tapestry of selection.
With the Spine Tinglers! broadcast, viewers, myself included, took what they got. They were horror movies, they were free, and they were shown on the weekend--all good things. We got what we got and we liked it.
But at the video store, selection came into play. Hundreds of tempting titles were available, and, on a normal rental visit, only one movie was coming home with me.
Which leads to the unlikely part.
On one particular video store visit, my buddy Greg and I were scouring the horror section for an interesting title, for a movie that promised that “certain special something.” Movie stars didn’t factor into our choice, nor did budget. Our collective gaze fell upon one particular big box VHS, a movie with illustrated cover art featuring two characters on an ocean cliffside--apparently in a struggle for their lives--while a creature with outstretched hands swoops overhead. The tag line read: “Who will survive the terror?”
Little did we know it then, but as we walked out of the video store with Attack of the Beast Creatures in hand, we had just selected, out of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of choices in the store, a little movie made right here in Connecticut.
Back at home we inserted the VHS into the player and settled in to see what delights Attack of the Beast Creatures contained. The movie opens with a title card: Somewhere in the North Atlantic, May 1920. Okay, we weren’t expecting a period movie, but that’s fine. Screams for help are heard, and then we get a murky shot of a sinking ship and an escaping lifeboat.
The credit sequence continues, interspersed with shots of the lifeboat’s progress. Finally, after a fair amount of drifting and bickering among the characters, the lifeboat makes it ashore. The beach is rather plain looking, no sweeping views, no crystal clear water, not your typical castaways-in-paradise setup.
I comment to Greg, “Wow, look like they filmed it in Stratford or something.”
“Yeah,” he replies.
After landing on the beach, the characters eventually make their way to the wooded portion of the island. Again, the environment looks so familiar. The trees, the soil, the sky. It doesn’t look like California. Nothing is filmed on a set. “Looks like the woods around here,” he adds.
Throughout the movie--which we would eventually warm up to, and be charmed by the monster mayhem--we continue to get that feeling of familiarity. So when the end credits roll, we read every line, and lo and behold, we find our instincts to have been correct. Special thanks is given to the Town of Fairfield and Town of Stratford.
We both paused to appreciate the moment. And the achievement. Wow, someone around here had actually gotten the equipment, found the cast, and set out to make a monster movie set in the 1920s! And they succeeded, with a finished product that was widely available in video stores.
To me this was mind-blowing. And totally inspiring. On a much smaller scale, we were making movies in the backyard with the video camera and tape-to-tape editing. The budgetary gap between our movies and the standard Hollywood fare seemed, and was, enormous. But maybe there was another way.
What about The Attack of the Beast Creatures way!
Maybe, just maybe, if we kept practicing, we too could make a movie here in New England, utilizing what simple resources we had, and maybe, just maybe, that movie could achieve some sort of distribution.
We were so lucky to have selected that one random horror movie that just happened to have been filmed in Connecticut. From that point forward, as I entered college and continued to make movies, I continued to be guided by that low-budget, do-it-yourself style. When I met fellow filmmaker and do-it-yourself enthusiast Matt Farley at Providence College, we kept right on rolling with low-budget, genre movie creations.
After several of our own various productions--including Freaky Farley and Monsters, Murder, and Marriage in Manchvegas, features shot on Super 16mm film--Farley and I set out to create our own monster movie. We came up with a plot, my friend Greg from the Attack of the Beast Creatures rental experience made the monster costume, and we proceeded to film our own little monster movie Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! in CT, MA, and NH, utilizing whatever locations and resources that friends and family could offer. Our little movie was able to achieve distribution, which placed it on all the VOD outlets, in some stores, and on Amazon Prime.
Behind the scenes shot from Don't Let the Riverbeast Get You!
Further, though we made Riverbeast a few years ago, people are still watching it today. Recently, Paste Magazine covered the movie, from a cult film perspective.
Also, it screens this month in Canada at the Yukon Film Society.
Hopefully, just as Attack of the Beast Creatures was so inspiring to me, maybe some kids will discover Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You!, and realize that movies can be made right around here, and without necessarily having all the big-budget bells and whistles. It just takes buckling down and making it happen.
In closing, I’d like to thank Patrick and Nutmeg Institute for giving me the opportunity to write this essay, and to Matthew Worwood and everyone involved in producing the recent Digital Media Connecticut - Connect What’s Next summit, where I was able to learn about Nutmeg Institute.
All the best,
Charles Roxburgh is a writer/director and visual effects artist. Aside from Don't Let the Riverbeast Get You! his writing/directing credits include the independent feature Slingshot Cops. His work can also be seen on Live Free and Die Hard, Veronica Mars, and Drunk History.