In the two years it’s taken for production company Theatre of Terror to toil away on their eponymous anthology feature, anthology horror has continued a resurgence that makes the film’s premiere Saturday, Jan. 12 at the historic Loew’s Theater in Jersey City perfect timing.
In a vein reminiscent of the “Twilight Zone,” the “Theatre of Terror” features four short films directed by local filmmaker Tom Ryan. Influenced by horror TV that also includes “The Outer Limits” and “Tales from the Dark Side,” Ryan is careful to point out that, while this anthology’s four films have a degree of social commentary, “Theatre of Terror” is mostly in the character-study mold of those shows. “I think we focus on that a lot more than making a broader statement,” Ryan said.
The four films consist of “The Gift,” about a scorned mother who meets a stranger willing to do whatever it takes to be reunited with the family she’s estranged from; “The Bookworm” is the story of a young man getting more than he bargained for when he purchases an old library with his inheritance; “Abducted” is a country bumpkin’s obsession with an alien encounter changing his life forever; and in “Endangered,” three radical activists trying to save endangered wolves find themselves facing something much more dangerous.
The Bloomfield-based production company made sure all four films were shot in the state. “I was born and raised in Jersey City,” Ryan said. “I’ve been living in Bloomfield for maybe the past 15 years or so, but I still work with Jersey City actors and locations, and we actually shot part of our film at the Loew’s. I premiered a feature film I did called ‘Faces’ in 2014 (there). That film was shot all over Jersey City, so I like to return to the town where I grew up.”
Ryan said he didn’t want to write scripts for something that was beyond the capability of the Theatre of Terror team to shoot, “so we basically tried to keep the story within reach of a lot of the locations, and we actually got some really fantastic locations for these “100 percent Jersey-shot” stories.
“As far as the first film, we needed an antique shop, and that was a place that we shot in Bloomfield: a small ma and pa antique shop that was just perfect and creepy. … For our second film, we needed a mansion and we needed a library. I reached out to the town of Bloomfield, and there was a mansion called the Oakside Manor, and it’s an old colonial that was beautiful and perfect. I told them I was a local filmmaker, and they were great about working with me and letting me shoot in there.”
“I also shot in the Glen Ridge Public Library,” Ryan said. “I scouted six or seven libraries, and it was the only one that still had kind of a classical wooden shelf, rows, staircase, wooden trims and everything, as opposed to these more updated libraries which are a lot of metal racks and they’re not as comfortable and as picturesque as Glen Ridge was.”
Friends of the production team happened to have a house out in the woods that fit the third film, said Ryan. He found everything he needed for the fourth film in Branchville. “I found this picturesque diner, and I reached out to the owner, and she let us shoot on her property. And I wound up meeting Mayor Anthony Frato, and he got some locals out, and they wound up being in the film.”
Theatre of Terror team-members Louis Libitz and Michael Beck grew up in Jersey City and still live there. Ryan said they all went to the Loew’s Theatre when it was still fully functioning, and he loves to share his work among the historic architecture the Friends of the Loew’s have renovated.
Doors open at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12 for the 8 p.m. screening of “Theatre of Terror” at the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, 54 Journal Square, in Jersey City. The first 100 people in the door get a free movie poster. Purchasing tickets online gets the buyer a chance to win a copy of “Theatre of Terror” on Blu-Ray.
Check out Theatre of Terror’s Facebook page to learn more about the company’s troupe who are on and off the screen, and check out Ryan’s film “Faces” on Amazon Prime Video.