Area filmmakers dial up humor and horror in low-budget Hellphone

by Mark Burger

Cellphones havebecome an inescapablepart of everydaylife. Everywhere yougo, you’ll find peopledeep in conversationon their cellphones,sometimes (perhapstoo often) oblivious towhat’s going on rightin front of them. Lovethem or hate them,you’ve got to live with them.But what if that cellphone is possessed byevil spirits? (Hey, hasn’t everyone wonderedthat at one time or another?) This concept has been taken to its zenith,in a manner of speaking, in Hellphone,an independent, low-budget horror thrillerfi lmed right here in North Carolina. The film,which combines its shocks with irreverenthumor, will enjoy its world premiere at 7:30p.m. at the Carousel Luxury Cinemas (1305Battleground Ave., Greensboro) on Nov. 16.Hellphone marks the initial feature collaborationbetween multi-talented multi-hyphenatesJason Pierce, the film’s writer/director/editor/co-producer, and Stephen van Vuuren,the producer/cinematographer/effects supervisor/composer/sound designer. The two havepreviously collaborated on a number of awardwinningshort fi lms in the Greensboro 48 HourFilm Project competition and had mulled overthe idea of taking the plunge into features.“ Jason and I have been talking this over forquite a while,” said van Vuuren. “He has beentrying to write a script for a one actor/onelocation for his fi rst feature. Obviously, mucheasier to film than Hellphone but it provednearly impossible to write. I suggested, onlyhalf seriously, after he and I had watched the(fi rst two) Terminator fi lms on Blu-Ray, thatgiven that the effects technology of today onhome computers matched what they could dothen that maybe he should make Hellphone hisfirst. Jason took me totally seriously and askedme if I was in.” Indeed, van Vuuren was — as were suchfellow area indie filmmakers as Matt Moore,Dustin Keene, Ike Quigley, Dan Kelly, BlakeFaucette and others, as well as a cast includingApril Billingsley, Nathan Moore, Phillip Ward,Larry Parks, Caroline Granger and ScottStevens (as the demon). Everyone jumped intothe spirit of the proceedings, according to bothPierce and van Vuuren.“Jason had told me about Hellphone beforehe told anyone to ‘test the idea,’” according tovan Vuuren. “He said ‘I have an idea for ahorror film about a demon who possesses acellphone….’ I cut him off, told him to writea treatment ASAP and register [it], as it wasa brilliant idea.” Taking their cue from such fi lms as SamRaimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987),Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) andJames Gunn’s Slither (2006), the filmmakerswanted to make Hellphone as much a sendupas a horror film, leavening its scares withsatire. “Our goal is to entertain not scare,” saidvan Vuuren. “I… felt Hellphone was a highly marketableidea,” he continued. “I felt if it could be memade for very, very, very cheap and ‘not suck’— my exact words in the investor pitch — itwould make money despite being a B-moviewith no-name cast, etc. I was also hungry tolearn about making narrative features.”According to Pierce, shooting for Hellphonecommenced “two weeks last August, up inMadison and Mayodan. The folks up therewere amazingly supportive of us. The story isabout a demon who possesses a cellphone in asmall Southern town and starts killing people.The deputy sheriff, her current boyfriend andher ex-fi ance are the only ones who can stopthe mayhem.” “What I like about Hellphone is that it playsaround with the love/hate relationship I thinka lot of us have with these damn cellphones,”observed van Vuuren.The fi mmakers plan to self-distribute thefilm and screen it throughout the state andbeyond (South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia,etc.).The filmmakers are pleased to share theresults of their efforts with audiences, andmuch of the cast and crew are scheduled to beon hand for the Nov. 16th Greensboro screening,as well. Indeed, they had such a good timemaking the fi lm that they’re seriously consideringmaking it their own little franchise. “This has [been] a Herculean undertakingand learning experience for all of us,” said vanVuuren, “[and] we‘ve kicked around sequelideas that play with the ‘smart phone’ concept….”The next time your cellphone rings, perhapsyou’ll think twice before answering!Tickets to the premiere screening are $9(general admission) and $8 (with college ormilitary ID). For more information, visit theofficial website: Toview the official Hellphone trailer, see