Lincoln Park bar inspires horror film, shot on location
Chris LeFleur had the perfect location for a horror film — the second floor of his bar The Caddy Shack.
For a few hours, Frost River Trading Company's main offices in Lincoln Park were transformed from typical office spaces to an FBI interrogation room this week. Inside, actor Chris Mulkey was enacting his scenes as no-nonsense FBI Deputy Director Hank Mullen in LZ Productions' latest horror film "The Hand that Feeds."
Mulkey's name might be familiar to fans of "Twin Peaks," where he played Hank Jennings, or perhaps from his role as Clay in Stephen King's horror series "Castle Rock," and for playing Boss Frank Hague in "Boardwalk Empire." In "The Hand that Feeds," Mulkey's character is part of the investigation surrounding a number of people who have seemingly disappeared without a trace. And it all leads back to a bar called "Roby's Bar & Lounge."
If that name sounds familiar, that's because it's the name of one of several bars that have occupied the space now home to The Caddy Shack Indoor Golf and Pub. It's no coincidence as the Caddy Shack is one of the principal locations in the film which has been shooting in the area since May 1. The bar is co-owned by LZ Productions executive producer Christopher LaFleur and served as the main inspiration for the film.
"I was originally going to work with Blair (the film's director) on another bigger project, but we found out that trying to attract investors to something like that would be difficult," LaFleur said. "So we put it on hold, but still wanted to do something to showcase the area as a film location. So I told Blair, if you have a decent writer, let's write a script that will fit my bar, because it's a real horror show upstairs and we should really use it as a set."
When LaFleur bought the bar, he and his partners discovered they had to gut most of the second floor due to deferred roof maintenance. Water had damaged a lot of the roof and second floor.
"All we needed to add were symbols spray painted on the walls," said production coordinator Kat LaFleur. "Everything else was already like this. It's pretty perfect for a horror movie."
Blair Smith and a few members of the production team visited the bar and agreed. Smith sent photos to screenwriter Wesley Johnson who took on the challenge of crafting a horror movie script around a bar with an eerie second floor.
"It was nice to have a visual to fit the story as opposed to the other way around, which is generally how it goes," Johnson said. "I was drawn to the site and I started to think of ideas."
Johnson said he's a big fan of horror movies and wanted this script to have a decent mixture of campy horror and drama.
The story follows a young man named Russel Biggs who grew up in a broken home. Estranged from his father for many years, he returns home for his father's funeral and will reading to find that he's inherited his bar. But with the bar comes something more than he may have bargained for.
"We also really wanted to tell a story that was different," Johnson said. "There are a lot of demon movies out there, but with this one we were able to work in a lot of our favorite elements and tell a different story."
While he watched Mulkey act out his scene on the monitors situated in the hallway outside the office, Johnson , clad in a "Twin Peaks" T-shirt, reflected on his role in the production.
"I always say, on every set, that I am the luckiest person. I have the best job," Johnson said. "The most rewarding thing for me, for any writer, is being able to have the blueprint and to watch these talented people make it their own. So to find out that Chris was going to be playing a character I had in my head. ... I don't have the words for it."
As Mulkey headed out of the office space between scene setups, he turned to Johnson and the crew and said jokingly, still in character, "I think I heard something outside. I'd better go investigate."
Outside, members of the cast and crew mill about in the warm weather, including Hibbing native Nicholas "Sullie" Sullivan, who plays main character Russel Biggs. Raised in Hibbing, but trained in theater at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Sullivan is now based in Minneapolis.
"I'm slowly moving south," Sullivan joked. "But it's also refreshing to be back in Duluth. And it's fun to get back to doing what I love after this lost year."
Sullivan said the production has flown by quickly. The film has a 21-day shooting schedule which will wrap up by this weekend.
"These past few weeks have felt like just a couple of days," Sullivan said. "But it's all been very smooth and swift."
Director Blair Smith agreed.
"Everything's on schedule, which is great for such a tight shoot," Smith said. "And we're shooting for an October release, since it's a horror movie. Just in time for Halloween."
LaFleur said it's his goal to have the film distributed on streaming sites like Netflix and as widely as possible. It'll be the third film released by his production company and he hopes to do more.
"That's the impetus behind this, to do something that's low budget, micro budget, but looks like a million bucks and attracts more movies and film crews to the area," LaFleur said. "And we can showcase the talent here in St. Louis County. We can show that we have the capability to make high quality films here."
Back on the set, it was time to film another scene. Crew members filed in and out of the tiny office space until Smith called for quiet on the set and finally called action. And Mulkey again picked up his no-nonsense FBI character.