Demons in our midst

Waning Solstice, an independent fantasy-horror film, is filmed in Chico

SCENES FROM A MAUL <br>Joe Yanez and Allison Rich try to stay warm between takes

Joe Yanez and Allison Rich try to stay warm between takes

Photo By Jason Cassidy

The first clue is the blood streaming down the white bedroom door.

It’s Friday night, and there is something odd about this West Chico home. Photos of demonic looking creatures are hanging in neat rows along the living room wall, and what looks like a dried piece of flesh is stuck to a metal chain hanging from the ceiling.

A messy face is all that’s left of the demon

Photo By Jason Cassidy

I’m led by the host down into the basement.

Laid out across a table at the bottom of the stairs is a pile of decapitated heads, and up ahead are two rooms. One appears to be the red scene of a very grisly crime, and the other is draped in blue screens—and movie lights.

My host, it turns out, is not named Zed, and he’s not taking me into his torture chamber to meet his sex-slave, the Gimp. My host is 26-year-old Shane Will, a recent graduate of the Art Institute in San Francisco, who has returned home to Chico to direct his first feature film, Waning Solstice. Since Christmas, Will, producer William Spaulding and an army of actors and makeup artists have been creeping around Chico at night filming their independent fantasy-horror flick.

Zombie Jason Coventon is ready for his close-up

Photo By Jason Cassidy

“The story is this guy. … He’s a witch hunter, a witch hunter that really existed in the 1630s,” explains Will as he and Spaulding show me around the basement workspaces of Waning Solstice headquarters.

The headquarters, or “studio,” is actually one of the typical student homes of West Chico, which producer Spaulding purchased for the project. Downstairs are the various pre-shoot prep areas, like the table of decapitated heads, which are the remnants of the various stages of monster making. Plaster castings of the actors’ heads provide reusable statues for the molds used to make flesh-like, foam-latex demon masks.

Next to the blood-stained room of a zombie/demon rampage scene is the blue-screen room (where digital special-effects scenes were filmed), which is now the makeup room where zombie actor Jason Coventon gets his skin stretched, wrinkled and tinted green to make him look appropriately dead for the evening’s shoot.

Producer William Spaulding (left) and director Shane Will on the set.

Photo By Jason Cassidy

Upstairs is where much of the crew lives, and on this night, as a group of midgets races a camel on Fox’s Man Versus Beast on TV, the atmosphere for the last night of filming is relaxed and almost familial.

“We started this movie and started this production company,” Spaulding says, explaining the genesis of the Back of the House Production Company. A first-time producer and Bay Area native, Spaulding is using money from his real-estate ventures to fund what he hopes will be his new career.

“It’s been a blast,” says Spaulding, “The people here [in Chico] have been great. The neighbors across the street left their Christmas lights up an extra week until we finished our caroling scene.” Many of the crew have actually expressed an interest in living in Chico once the movie is finished, and Will went so far as to hope that since “we still have our whole crew,” maybe the production company could make Chico its permanent home.

Zombie and demon head shop— “Most of the budget is for the makeup,” admitted producer and occasional zombie William Spaulding. “I got left in the park one night. …I got the zombie make-up on, and I went [into] Chipotle and had dinner.”

Photo By Jason Cassidy

While attending Tom Savini’s Special Makeup Effects Program in Monessan, Penn, Will convinced a group of the school’s graduates to follow him to Chico. He and Spaulding then set up the rest of the crew and held a casting call for actors at Chico Cabaret. (One of the questions put to those auditioning was, “You don’t mind being covered in blood, do you?” One prospect actually responded, “Real blood?")

Based on an original story by Mark Lowery, a friend of Will’s with whom the script was adapted, Solstice follows the somewhat convoluted path of witch hunter Martin Del Rio, who after losing a battle with a demon in the 1600s “possessed himself with a demon until the day he would pop back up.” Thanks to an unwitting 21st-century girl, who uncovers the witch hunter’s stolen journal, the genie is out of the bottle, and Del Rio and a plucky band of college students must save humanity from the unleashed demons and their “army of zombies.”

The final shooting takes place at the south Chico home of Will’s parents. It’s 10:30 p.m., and as the cold, night air begins to sink, I start to believe this could be zombie weather.

Will sets up the scenes quickly, positioning the actors to check blocking and lighting. After a run-through or two he matter-of-factly announces, “Quiet on the set.”

These scenes are for the middle of the movie. Lisa (played by Chico Cabaret regular Allison Rich), in her form-fitting red-velvet Santa dress, returns home with a group of friends to find her family slaughtered by zombies. While Lisa and her boyfriend Robert (Joe Yanez) are surveying the gruesome scene inside, their friends, punk-rock Glen (Scott Brotherton) and punk-jock Eddie (Heriberto Montez), stomp down a couple of zombies in the front yard.

“It’s sad that it’s the last night,” laments Will, looking tired yet quietly satisfied. With post-production editing and special effects on the horizon for the next couple of months, the guys of Back of the House Productions still have a lot of work ahead of them as they prepare to take the film to festivals and seek out distribution.

Will cuts to the chase with his simple wish that, "I’d like for people to actually see it."