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Horror film features USF student

Let’s face it: When it comes to film, Florida has limitations. The Tampa Bay area, with its sprawling suburbs and laid-back beach atmosphere, has never been considered an epicenter for cinema. Despite Disney’s major power and influence, even the city of Orlando failed in its attempt to become an East Coast L.A.

However, the folks at Chameleon Filmworks are trying to change all that. They are an alliance of local filmmakers and crews from Tampa Bay that are desperate to transform their hometown into a functional film industry. One of their first major efforts, Hallows Point, premieres Oct. 12-18.

Hallows Point is an old-fashioned Halloween-night horror movie, complete with mindless cheerleaders, horny jocks and gruesome death scenes. Producer Buddy Winsett and Director Jeffrey Lynn Ward recruited David Naughton (American Werewolf in London), Christa Campbell (2000 Maniacs, Day of the Dead) and Tom Nowicki (The Punisher, Remember the Titans), along with a multitude of young local actors, to help realize their project. One of those young locals, Josh Zimmerman, a finance major at USF, attended an acting class with Hallows Point’s casting director.

“The experience made me realize I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” Zimmerman said.

This illustrates the film’s greatest strength. Everyone – onscreen and off – is fully engaged in the company’s mission to boost Florida’s film catalog. Enthusiasm for this endeavor is unbelievably high and, therefore, inspiring. Nevertheless, Hallows Point is unfortunately lacking in other vital areas.

The story is simple. Twelve high school students trap themselves in an abandoned schoolhouse on Halloween night three years after their murderous teacher, Nathaniel Raber (Nowicki), was killed and burned. A particularly precocious student dressed in gothic attire brings along a dusty book from the advanced section of a nearby occult bookstore that had belonged to Raber. Then the students attempt a séance and, of course, bring back the killer’s spirit after reciting nonsense from the book. Naturally, a lot of stage blood gets tossed around from there.

From a purely cinematic standpoint, the movie is not convincingly scary. Winsett said they kept their budget under $200,000. It shows. Even the digital trickery of post-production can’t help the fact that the blood splattering on the high school walls looks a little too much like fruit punch. Such a sight could be amusing, but the tone of Hallows Point is decidedly serious. It seems as if it’s simply beyond their budget and scope to execute this project correctly.

Of course, that would all be forgivable if the writing was fresh and engaging. Instead, writer/director Ward can’t resist the temptation to embrace stereotypes. The blond cheerleader is amazingly dumb, the jocks just want to play basketball, and the rest just want to fornicate. Consequently, the dialogue acts as meaningless filler between fatalities. Something is going awry when the movie’s best line is, “The jocks get to stay home and jock off.”

What is it about young filmmakers in Florida that traps them in the immature gore of R-rated adolescence? Why is the genre of horror enjoying a resurgence? For a local group of filmmakers trying to establish themselves as professionals in a modern world that is already more serious and scary than any horror flick could manage, perhaps a more grown-up premise would help draw attention to the Sunshine State. After all, popcorn-flick escapism only goes so far.

For more information on Hallows Point, go to hallowspoint.com or myspace.com/hallowspoint.