A Christmas Family Tragedy

by Mark Burger

Was that cult actor Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids, Grindhouse) in Winston-Salem last week? Indeed it was. With over 140 films to his credit, Trejo dropped by for a couple of days to film his pivotal role as G-Man in Richard Clabaugh’s Eyeborgs, last week’s cover story, which is still being filmed in and around town. This marks the first time that Trejo has worked with Adrian Paul, who plays the leading role of a Department of Homeland Security agent who begins to suspect that a diabolical conspiracy is turning the nation’s hi-tech surveillance robots into weapons of destruction. G-Man is a political anarchist who gets a little too close to the conspiracy – and pays dearly for it. Until now, jokes Trejo, “I wouldn’t work with him [Paul]. He’s everything I don’t like: He’s handsome, he’s tall….” “And well-spoken,” added Paul, exaggerating his British accent. Trejo had never worked with Clabaugh before, either. “The attitude on a set always trickles down – and he’s got a great one,” Trejo observes. “He’s a bundle of energy. He should be a teacher.” When reminded that Clabaugh is, indeed, a faculty member of the School of Filmmaking at the NC School of the Arts, Trejo laughs again. “So he is!” Another, more local, cult actor also turns up in Eyeborgs: Greensboro’s own Robert Harris, fondly remembered for his turn as Old Man Cadwell in Eli Roth’s cult hit Cabin Fever, also lends his inestimable presence to the proceedings in the role of a quirky landlord. Harris has worked with several members of the crew before, having appeared in a number of student films at the NCSA School of Filmmaking over the years. “They’re always so wonderful to me,” Harris says. Harris has also known leading lady Megan Blake since she was a girl, and was delighted to learn his scene would be with her. “It was so fantastic to be a part of it,” Harris says. “I just loved it.” A mainstay of live theater in the Piedmont Triad theater scene for decades, Harris found a whole new audience when he won the role in Cabin Fever. “It has a lot of wonderful meaning to me – and I’m still getting residual checks for it!” Harris says, laughing. “It has a life of its own.” Even more remarkable to Harris, and perhaps best of all, is that he’s met servicemen from the region who have returned home from the Middle East and told him that Cabin Fever was their favorite movie over there. “Not only do they like the gory special effects and the pretty girls, but they told me that they liked that it was shot in North Carolina and that the old storekeeper I played kind of reminded ’em of home and made ’em laugh,” Harris says. “That’s the top of the mountain to me,” he says, “knowing that, in some small way, even from little old Greensboro, I can do a little something for the boys overseas.” The makers of the independent documentary A Christmas Family Tragedy continue to promote their film throughout the region. The film, billed as “a Southern documentary,” explores the facts – and the fiction – surrounding the infamous Charlie Lawson murder case in Stokes County. On Christmas Day 1929, farmer Lawson murdered his wife and all but one of his children, before killing himself. The case, which remains the worst mass murder in the state’s history, has been the subject of scrutiny and speculation for nearly 80 years. The film, produced by Matt Hodges (who also directed) and Eric Calhoun, was filmed on location in Stokes County and in Winston-Salem. The film was released theatrically earlier this year and is currently available on DVD. Last week, there was a party at the Garage in Winston-Salem to celebrate the release of the film’s CD, which includes songs by Katharine Whalen, Lauren Myers and the Payne Road Gang. Easybake headlined the event at the Garage, and although attendance was spotty, a simultaneous event at the Walkertown Library to promote the DVD and the CD was packed. In addition to being the most comprehensive depiction of what may be North Carolina’s most notorious mass murder, the film also makes a statement against domestic violence – a social ill that existed long before Charlie Lawson and, sadly, will continue to exist. If the film prevents, or stops, even a single case of domestic violence, the makers say that would be the greatest accomplishment of all. The Chris Benoit tragedy is yet another example of the sort of domestic violence depicted in the Lawson film, noted director Eric Hodges. The pro wrestler, who resided in Fayette County, GA, asphyxiated his wife and 7-year-old son before hanging himself last week. “Even the bizarre details of the case make much more sense in the context of domestic homicides,” wrote Calhoun in an e-mail. “Benoit placed Bibles by his wife and child; Charlie Lawson put [stone] pillows under their heads. This ritual… is called ‘undoing,’ and is particular to domestic homicides.” For more information about A Christmas Family Tragedy, see