In The Devil’s Courthouse: screams (and smiles) of a summer night

by Mark Burger

The makers of thehorror thriller In theDevil’s Courthousecongregated at theUniversity Grill, astone’s throw fromElon University, earlierthis week to celebratecompletion ofprincipal photography.Spirits were high andsmiles were common as members of the productionteam reveled in a job well done, withresident auteur Ken Comito (writer/producer/director) acting as master of ceremonies.He thanked cast, crew, friends, family, locationowners, caterers and particularly his wifeMelanie “who’s put up with all of this.”“You guys put up with a lot,” producer JoseCorrea, also prop master and makeup effectsartist, told those assembled. “You tolerated hotdays, staying up all night and all the blood… Itwas quite a rollercoaster ride, it really was.”The filmmakers hope that audiences fi nd Inthe Devil’s Courthouse a rollercoaster ride,too. Inspired by a Cherokee legend about theDevil’s Courthouse in Transylvania County(appropriate!), the fi lm follows a group ofcharacters who fall prey to a monstrous menaceon a grisly rampage. In order to survive,those who remain alive must combine forces todestroy their common foe. But as their numbersdwindle, it becomes evident that they’re fi ghtingsomething that isn’t human. Will anyonesurvive to fi ght another day? Nobody’s sayingfor sure, but Comito confi rmed with a smilethat the fi lm boasts a big body count.That includes producer Tim Scales, whoshares a love of all things scary with Comito.“I grew up on all the basics: Halloween, Dawnof the Dead, Night of the Living Dead,” and hejumped at the chance to bring one to life.Even though he’s an on-screen casualty, “thishas been an experience like no other,” Scalessaid. “It’s a great group to work with and areally positive experience. We worked hard,but it was a very relaxed atmosphere. We knewwhat we’d set out to do.”“It’s in the ’cabin-in-the-woods’ genre,” saidComito, “a tried-and-true horror theme.”The majority of the fi lm’s budget (in the$100,000 range) was raised in North Carolina,and the fi lm was shot entirely in the state,with locations including Hanging Rock StatePark, Pisgah Covered Bridge in Asheboro,Burlington, Liberty, Trinity, in the AppalachianMountains and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.The fi lm was shot in 18 days, mostly on weekends,and frequently long into the night. (In anyrespectable horror fi lm, a lot happens at night— most of it bad.)Although he dabbled in stop-motion animationand short fi lms as a youngster, this marks the46-year-old Comito’s fi rst feature. “I wish I’ddone it in my twenties,” he said with a shrug,but he was determined to make the most of theopportunity. “There was a lot of planning andorganization,” he said. “I drew up storyboards. Ihad a shot list. We made sure everything was inplace before we started.”One bonus of such thorough pre-planning wastime enough to improvise. If a line of dialogueor a camera angle didn’t work, they had thetime to throw ideas around on the spot, in themoment, to make it work.“It gave it more substance,” Comito said.“We could go beyond, we could add a little bitmore.”For both lead actors, Ashley Nelson andDustin Webb, In the Devil’s Courthouse alsomarks their feature-fi lm debuts. They play Leahand Steve, a brother and sister whose strainedrelationship becomes a secondary considerationwhen their lives are jeopardized. In a roundaboutway, said Comito, “it’s about the importanceof family. Through adversity, the siblingsare forced to become heroes.”“I was humbled — my fi rst time in a featurelengthfi lm and I got the lead,” Webb said. “Iwas really happy with the opportunity. It wasa blast to work with these people, and I hopethere’s more to come.”“I was very excited,“ said Nelson about nabbingthe female lead. “And, yes, I did all myown screaming.”“Horror fi lms used to freak me out,” she said.“Now, I watch them and I laugh. ‘Been there,done that!’ I used to see all the blood and thegore, now I know it’s just syrup and makeup.”Both actors admit that they’ll miss the hardwork and the camaraderie that made this sucha memorable experience, but both are gratefulthat their fi lm debut was a happy one. “I can’twait to see it myself,” Webb said.The film is currently being edited in LosAngeles, after which a distributor will besought. Horror is a popular (and frequentlylucrative) genre, but from the very beginning,said Comito, the plan was simple: “We’re goingto do this for fun,” he said, adding with a laugh,“and if it makes money, even better!”