We talk with filmmaker Matthew Currie Holmes about his feature film “The Curse of Buckout Road” and the importance of adapting in indie cinema.
Executed witches, flesh craving albinos, and a mysterious lady holding a lantern are just a few of the urban legends inhabiting what is dubbed the most haunted road in America. Located in Westchester and White Plains, NY, Buckout Road seems tailor made for a horror film adaptation of its many legends and actor turned filmmaker Matthew Currie Holmes has done just that.
The end result is The Curse of Buckout Road, a satisfying horror spook-fest that has won several best feature and audience awards during its successful festival run. Now mass audiences will get to experience the film as it opens in select theaters across America and on VOD Sept 27th.
With over 40 acting credits to his name, The Fog (2005) and Wrong Turn 2 among them, Matthew recently took his talents behind the camera as a writer and director. And with The Curse of Buckout Road as his first released feature film, Matthew’s career as a filmmaker is off to a very promising start.
We were honored to have the opportunity to talk with the filmmaker about how he got involved with the project and his experience making the film.
INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW CURRIE HOLMES
1. First of all, congratulations on a great feature film debut! I’m surprised there hasn’t been anything done with the horrors surrounding Buckout Road! What drew you to these urban legends, so much so that you chose it as your feature directorial debut?
Thanks Jason. Glad you dug it!
Well, there is now 😉 The Curse of Buckout Road was already ready to go. The producers (John Gillespie and Brad Clark) up in Canada had Danny (Glover) and Evan (Ross) attached. They had a start date and some crew. What they didn’t have was a script that they loved. Paul Weber (casting director and producer) was familiar with my work and suggested I’d be perfect for the punch up.
When I read the script they had, I proposed an idea and suggested a page-one rewrite. Needless to say, the producers were not thrilled. So I offered to write a 30-page treatment for free to fully illustrate what I wanted to do. I handed in my treatment within the week, and they LOVED it, so they hired me.
It was an intense period, and I was on the clock. I handed in my first draft in 3 weeks. Based on the strength and potential of that draft, John offered me the directing job. I said ‘yes’ and got to work rewriting the script so it would be shootable (never shoot your first draft, people…EVER).
2. There’s a large number of urban legends surrounding Buckout Road but you chose 3 specific stories to focus on. What made you choose those 3 and were there any others that almost made the cut?
Oh my god. There are over 13 urban legends attached to Buckout Road, and I think I got up to paying homage to 8 in an early draft, hahaha.
Here’s the thing: I love research. I am a research pig!! It’s my favorite part of writing. When I went down the Buckout Road rabbit hole, I knew I had a wealth of information to choose from. Here’s another thing. During my research, I discovered that the fine folks who live in Westchester and White Plains, New York (the home of the actual Buckout Road) are EXTREMELY protective of that two mile stretch of road. And in discovering that, I knew I had to do right by them.
There were so many to choose from. But the ones that I found made for the best story, narratively, was the one where if you honked your horn three times in front of an old dilapidated house at night, Albino twins would come out and EAT YOU. I also knew I had to include the tale of the three women who were accused of witchcraft in the 1300s and were burned at the stake.
So I knew I had to have those two for sure. As for the third? There were so many others like: Mary’s lantern, the white sacred deer, the wandering man with no jaw known as The Leatherman — and, of course the story of Capt. John “Jan” Buckhout for whom the road was named. Then there was the famous murder/suicide of another Buckhout and his wife, the one where the boyfriend is left hanging from the tree, a tale about a ghastly spirit known as The Lady In White, and the fact that real life serial killer Albert Fisk lived in the area.
I wanted to do right by the fine folks of Westchester, so I embellished with the third. I amalgamated a few legends into one main urban legend as my way of being respectful and thankful. There was a draft where the Leatherman made the cut, but it was too ‘inside baseball’. Plus, I think if he’s cool enough for Pearl Jam to write a song about, he should probably have his own movie.
3. A lot of the imagery within the the film is quite striking, especially the lady with the lantern. Can you talk about the visual influences behind these images?
Thank you! I tried to include as many visual homages to films (specifically 80s midnight movies) I loved as possible. It’s not an accident that one of the Albinos looks an awful like The Phantom Killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
There is an actual Buckout Road urban legend that tells of a woman carrying a lantern in the woods, but her name is Mary and she’s searching for something. I combined Mary’s lantern with the ghastly Lady in White legend and took my inspiration from the 1988 kids horror film aptly titled The Lady In White. Katherine Helmond was so graceful, yet so terrifying in that film. And I wanted to capture that grace and fear…something that scared the hell out of me when I was 13.
4. What was your experience like directing a feature film for the first tine? Was there a situation that arose that you weren’t anticipating? If so how did you work around it?
I had an incredible experience on The Curse Of Buckout Road. Truth be told, this isn’t my first feature. The first film I wrote and directed was a movie called Traces but has not been picked up for distribution, yet. It’s a long and painful story. So I consider this my directorial debut because you can actually watch it!
The Curse Of Buckout Road was the most rewarding professional experience of my life, despite being incredibly challenging. I essentially wrote a 24-day movie, and we only had 18 days to shoot it. We were cutting scenes and moments because we simply didn’t have the time. And despite it being extremely difficult, I had the best time making it. The reason: I had an incredible team behind me who supported me and had my back every step of the way. I had amazing producers who KNEW this was going to be tough, rolled up their sleeves and pitched in.
As far as situations we weren’t anticipating, there were MANY. Especially at night. When you shoot nights, the sun is your clock. Once the sun comes up, the day is over. And all of our night scenes were exterior, so I didn’t have a choice but to roll with it. I would do a shot list and hope to get it. But when the 1st AD says, “Sun’s up in 2 hours…” all of that prep goes out the window. Then it’s all hands on deck. I had an incredible script supervisor named Thomas Street. He was there to make sure we got everything we needed on those hectic nights.
There was one day I was really behind and needed to catch up. It was the funeral scene and we needed to be finished with it before lunch in order to make our day. Originally in the script, it was a moment where everyone paid respect to Aaron. Every actor was going to get coverage and close-ups, etc. I knew we weren’t going to make the day. So I told my cinematographer, Rudi, to put the camera at the top of the stairs and look down on everyone, as they left — sort of like a ghost would, from above. A spirit watching. We did the whole scene in one ‘God’s eye’ take, and I think it actually plays better. More mysterious, a little sadder. That’s an example of a workaround.
5. What aspects of the final film were added or adjusted in rewrites of the script?
Because of our tight time constraints, there were quite a few rewrites. When we were in prep, my producer took me aside and said, “We need to cut 6 characters and 10 pages”. They loved the script I wrote. But after crunching the numbers (this was a VERY low budget movie), they could not make what I wrote work. He took NO pleasure in telling me this. Look, the train is on the tracks, we’re moving fast. Either I figured this out or did not get to make a movie. My producer, John, assured me that he would make it up to me. So I cut superfluous characters and a couple really cool gags, shortened the film, altered the ending, and we shot it.
When we cut it, we were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t even miss the stuff that didn’t make the cut. But, there needed to be a little more gore. I mean this was a horror film. So I asked John if it was possible to shoot some of the dream sequence suicides in LA. He said as long as I kept it within budget, he trusted me. True to his word, John made it up to me. Because he understands that it’s not about me, it’s not about him… it’s about the movie. And the stuff we shot in LA made our movie BETTER.
6. Buckout Road had a successful festival run. Do you think submitting to and screening at festivals helped the film find distribution? Do you feel that, with so many streaming platforms, festivals are still essential for a film to find its audience and grow a following?
I can’t speak to whether or not festivals are essential for other films, but they were for our film. Festivals are hard. It’s so often who you know. And to be honest, we knew no one. So we submitted to every possible festival we could. We didn’t get into TIFF or Sundance or Slamdance or Screamfest or Toronto After Dark. But we did get into Blood In The Snow, Pasadena International Film Fest and Buffalo Dreams. And we won best film at all three.
We screened wherever people would have us and pretty soon discovered who our audience was. And we were surprised to discover that it wasn’t JUST horror fans who were liking The Curse Of Buckout Road but black audiences were LOVING this movie. We won audience awards at Richmond Film Fest, Harlem Film Fest and the Nashville International Black Film Fest.
Because Dominique Provost-Chalkley plays a lead role on the SyFy television show Wynonna Earp, another unexpected and unbelievably loyal audience adopted the film. They are affectionately known as ‘Earpers’ and have seen this movie all over the world; in Los Angeles, Calgary, and as far as Manchester England. At every festival we’ve screened, there have been Earpers. They have embraced our little midnight movie, and we are so grateful for their continued support.
7. Buckout Road managed to get a theatrical release, a minor miracle for an independent horror film, so congratulations on that! What was the experience like finding distribution, let alone landing a theatrical release?
Thanks, man. Yeah it’s been a ride to say the least. We were offered distribution a few times. All decent offers from reputable companies. John held out for a distributor who was willing to release the movie theatrically. It took a while, but we found a partner in Vertical Entertainment who is putting The Curse Of Buckout Road in theaters across the US. They believe in the film as much as we do.
During the distribution process, John took his company Trimuse Entertainment public and announced that Trimuse would be handling the Canadian theatrical release. And I am happy to say that The Curse Of Buckout Road is playing across Canada throughout October. As a fun bonus, and because Trimuse owns the Canadian rights to the 1974 classic Black Christmas, repertory cinemas across Canada are screening a double feature of The Curse Of Buckout Road and Black Christmas as well.
8. Like all business, a lot of filmmaking is who you know. There’s an interesting story about how Jessica Cameron contributed to the film. Can you share that with us?
Jessica has been a very good friend of mine for years. I’ve always admired her can-do spirit and her tenacity. She can make a feature film for spare change and bottle caps. She’s really resourceful and is a wonderful person to know both professionally and personally. Plus my daughter adores her. 🙂
When I was given a pick-up shooting day, I asked Jessica if she wanted to be in the movie. I told her I was going to film a bunch of graphic suicides and asked her if she wanted to be one of them. My plan was to get as many indie filmmakers as I could and kill them off. My little twisted joke, you know? Knocking off the competition.
When we started discussing the pick-up day, she had so many suggestions as far as crew and locations, I asked her if she wanted to be the unit production manager for the Los Angeles shoot. She did an AMAZING JOB. She found the studio to shoot in, a couple of actors, craft service. She helped with the organization and basically ran the set for me.
If you know Jessica Cameron, you know that she is incredibly organized; we were able to shoot everything in one night and came in massively UNDER budget. John was so impressed with what she was able to do given the limited resources and restraints, she was awarded a well-deserved co-producer credit on the film.
9. With all these other untapped stories surrounding Buckout Road, there’s plenty left for a sequel, right?
Oh man. I left so many urban legends on the table we could do 2 more films easy.
10. What’s a “bad” horror movie that you would love to remake and why?
Good question. I always say “stop remaking good horror films… remake bad ones.” I think I would love to do Ghoulies. I love satanic stuff and creature features. I think there could be an intentionally fun horror movie in there. And I would have the ghoulie-in-the-toilet scene that’s on the box…ACTUALLY IN THE FILM.
11. Tell us about what projects you have coming up and where on social media fans stay up to date with you?
I have a subversive revenge thriller called Never Alone, currently in development with producer Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Stargate) and his company Electric Entertainment. And I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve recently signed a three-picture deal with Trimuse Entertainment. The first film on the slate is a super gory, fun vampire horror film called Self Storage about a ragtag group of people who get locked inside a giant self-storage facility with the world’s oldest vampires and his minions. We are currently out to cast and are planning on a November start date in Canada.
You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @mch2k. You can find The Curse Of Buckout Road @buckoutroad.