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Giving the Devil his due: Independent thriller premiers Nov. 10

by Mark Burger

Halloween may be over, but the season of screams will continue with the premiere of the independent horror shocker In the Devil’s Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 10 at Carousel Luxury Cinemas (1305 Battleground Ave., Greenboro), followed by a week-long run at the theater.

Inspired by an actual Cherokee legend and informed by writer/producer/director Ken Comito’s lifelong affinity for horror films, the film depicts the horrors that transpire when a legendary evil is unleashed upon a group of unsuspecting young campers, who are brutally slain one by one. Newcomers Ashley Marie Nelson and Dustin Webb play estranged siblings compelled by circumstance to combat this horrific menace together.

The film marks Comito’s feature debut and was completed on a tight budget of approximately $30,000. Given the limited financial resources at his disposal, Comito took great pains to prepare for the production as best he could.

“The hardest part of making the movie was shooting outdoors and at night,” he said. “It’s amazing how noisy it is, even when you’re out in the middle of nowhere! We had to wait on airplanes, cars, mowers, tractors, dogs, gunshots, motorcycles and anything else that makes noise.”

In the Devil’s Courthouse was very much a hands-on effort, said Comito. “I did every job imaginable: Gaffer, cables, storyboarding, caterer, script supervisor, set preparation, wardrobe, some special effects, and lots of manual labor.” And, in the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, he also appears in a cameo role.

The majority of the film was shot at night, and the elements also proved an unexpected hurdle.

“It seemed like every time I planned a shoot, it would rain,” Comito said. “Night work is also very difficult. Lighting a scene at night in the woods was very challenging. We had to hang tons of lights from light stands, tree branches, cables strung from tree to tree, and ladders. I’ve already said my next project will be indoors where you have much better control over all of the above.”

Nevertheless, he said, “I was prepared for some of the hurdles that came up. I knew scheduling cast and crew would be an issue, but scheduling became a lot more complicated when you factor in the weather.”

Filmed on locations throughout the state including Burlington, Liberty, Trinity and the Appalachian mountains, In the Devil’s Courthouse was completed in 2010, but post-production considerations were put aside when Comito’s parents fell ill. Both have since passed away, and “it’s been a very hard and emotional couple of years for my family,” he said. “The completion of this movie means a lot to me and I wish my parents were here to see it finished.”

Comito and members of the film’s cast and crew will be on hand for the Greensboro premiere. He said he’s as ready as he’ll ever be.

“I am my worst critic,” Comito admitted. “I see things in the movie and say to myself ‘Oh, I should’ve done this or that.’ But, overall, I’m happy and ready to see it on the big screen.”

Comito’s been a horror fan since he was a little boy. “I saw George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead when it first came out in 1968,” he recalled. “I was four. It both scared the crap out of me and inspired me. I also love John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson and Hitchcock. I [also] have to mention Jaws…. I think it’s Spielberg’s best work and a near-perfect movie.”

Having waited until his 40s for the moviemaking bug to bite, Comito’s ready to return behind the camera. “I’ve already written a couple of screenplays to try to produce for 2012,” he said. “I’m still polishing the script that I think will work. I’ve had to drop a script or two due to complexity and budget needs. They say never to write with budget in mind, but at the micro-budget indie level, you have to consider budget.”

And, having endured noise and weather on his first film, he’d prefer something that requires no exteriors. “Did I say indoors? Has to be indoors.”

A subsequent screening of In the Devil’s Courthouse is scheduled for 7:45 Sunday, Nov. 13 at the a/perture cinemas (311 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem).

For showtimes and advance tickets, visit the Carousel Luxury Cinemas’ official website: www.carouselbattleground.com. For information or advance tickets at a/perture cinemas, see aperturecinema.com/. For more information about In the Devil’s Courthouse, visit www.brainjuiceproductions.com or www. devilscourthouse.com.

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