Listening to Brian Cunningham is infectious. Like a zombie virus, or a killing frenzy, it’s hard not to get caught up when he talks about making “Monsters Wanted,” his first documentary feature film.
Cunningham fell prey to this spreading infection the first time he was exposed to the enthusiasm of Rich Teachout.
Teachout, the subject of “Monsters Wanted,” was an aspiring zombie master – the people who assemble those commercial, multiple-building, multiple show interactive attraction.
Cunningham met Teachout and instantly thought, “Dammit, I’m going to have to follow this guy with a camera.”
The story that was so inspiring to Cunningham was simple: A boy and a girl, Rich Teachout and Janel Nash, shared a dream. (Since it’s full of monsters, we should probably call it a nightmare.)
They dreamed of making a haunted attraction unlike any other in Kentuckiana. They put everything on the line to make it happen. They quit their jobs and spent their life savings.
That’s the risk.
Here’s the reward: Nash and Teachout now have one of the most successful haunted attractions in the region.
The Asylum Scream Park is in its fourth year, and getting bigger every year. So if you watch this movie, and feel a desperate need to go visit this Haunted Attraction, you can document for yourself the documentary, so to speak.
But as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination. And that’s what Cunningham captured so effectively with a totally unorthodox approach.
Along the way, Teachout and Nash met a group of weirdos and misfits, all of whom are obsessed with monsters, zombies, evil clowns, mutants ….
You know, good clean wholesome fun.
Its exciting stuff, even before you add screams and chainsaws.
Cunningham is a locally-based video production guy. When he met Teachout he had just wrapped work on “Overtime,” the first feature-length film from Thoughtfly Films, Cunningham’s production company. He had been working very hard, and he was ready for a break.
“Three days after we had that meeting, Joe was out there with a camera,” says Cunningham of Joe Laughrey, one of his partners at Thoughtfly Media.
The film crew consisted of two people, Cunningham and Laughrey. No sound guys, no lighting gals.
Sometimes, they would ask questions and jump into the middle of the action, and sometimes they would stand back “like a fly on the wall.”
This ability to pick up and start a movie at a moment’s notice is at the core of what Thoughtfly Films wants to do.
“Whenever we get the bug to make a movie, it’s all right here in the building.”
“Monsters Wanted” is Cunningham’s first documentary, though he has spent a good portion of his adult life filming a variety of projects, including a good bit of reality TV.
This stint in reality TV taught him loads of tricks for manufacturing drama and editing things to look like they are full of conflict.
He is very proud to have not used those skills at all on “Monsters Wanted.”
“We didn’t stage anything.”
Along with a great enthusiasm, Cunningham exhibits a genuine love for the people he spent six months following around. This love is most apparent when he talks about the process of coming to understand the themes of the film, which Cunningham claims he didn’t know until the last week of editing.
At first there was no theme, just story. He and Laughrey would “follow this guy, and see why someone would do this,” Cunningham said.
“The theme snuck up on me. I never expected it,” he said. “It was about bringing a community of people together, forming a family, which a lot them don’t necessarily have. Many of them are outcasts.”
Cunningham could feel what the story was about, and wanted “to show that these themes are universal, not just at Asylum Scream Park.” So they went to the Zombie Walk and to other Haunts.
He eventually decided that was the wrong approach. “It turns out the only way to show the theme is to get really intimate with one group of people,” Cunningham said.
(The Zombie Walk and several local haunts are still shown in the film, but their scream time is limited.)
I loved this movie. It entertained me, and made me feel good about the human race. Aside from the human element, it provided an inside look at a fascinating industry.
Anyone can enjoy its off-kilter heartwarming message because almost everyone has felt like an outcast at some point in their lives.
“Monsters Wanted” has some rough language, several F-bombs and a few scary moments, but personally I wouldn’t hesitate to share it with the kids in my life, down to about 8 years old, depending on their temperament and ability to not repeat inappropriate language at school.
Then again, if you show this movie to kids, they might all grow up to quit their jobs and work at haunted houses…
The film clearly has extra appeal for horror fans and is a must-see for haunted house aficionados.
“Monsters Wanted” works on its own as an entertaining documentary, but I also see it having a long second life as a seasonal tradition.
I’ll be watching the copy I bought every year at the start of the Halloween season.
It’s available for purchase or rental through iTunes and Google play, or you can go old school and a buy a DVD through Amazon.com.