Monday, July 13, 2020

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – RON McLELLEN


When giving a Lifetime Achievement Award to any filmmaker we have to look at the career of an individual in regards to their effect on their community, the industry, and their career as a whole.  Sometimes the individual is still working in the industry while other times they have retired or in some cases have died.  In the case of this year’s recipient of the award we had to first look for an individual in Georgia whom we believe has had an impact on their community and then in regards to their career.

In the case of our 2020 recipient – Ron McLellen, he has a long history in the horror genre, which just so happened to be his chosen genre.  During his early military career McLellen did his film studies from abroad while serving his country.  Once out or the military he started a career that almost immediately went straight to features.  Many of his early shorts (of all genres) are now lost, but he would first make his splash on the independent scene with the feature film THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (2002).  This film utilized a huge cast of Georgia based talent in his homage to his favorite horror films Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a diverse group of kids are giving the opportunity to win a lot of money if they could survive the night at a camp ground while being hunted down by a family of hillbillies dressed in clown outfits.  The film was plagued with problems as he lost half his original cast during early filming and had to re-shoot most of the film.  This actually worked in his favor as he used footage from the first attempt of filming as flashbacks in the final film as no footage was left on the cutting room floor.  The film is most notable now for being the debut film for actress AnnaLynne McCord (of Nip/Tuck and the reboot of 90210) but it is with his enduring collaboration with Georgia filmmakers Dave R. Watkins and Brent Brooks that would really help cement his relationships with Georgia filmmakers. 

McLellen would spend the next two years before his next feature collaborating with Watkins and Brooks on the competition short film “Night of the Hungry Dead” (2004), part of a competition that paid homage to zombie films and George A. Romero, and as an actor in Watkins’ debut feature STRAGGLERS (2004), which McLellen also co-produced.  With this, McLellen’s career was off and running!

He would next tackle his homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) with his first Halloween themed film JACK O’LANTERN (2004), which allowed him to continue collaborating with Watkins, David Chillan, Joel Hunter, and Greg Thompson, who all worked with his in his previous films but armed with an actual budget he was able to bring in a full and diverse cast and crew on his biggest production yet!  This film found a group of friends chased down by a monster of vengeance after they accidentally kill someone and try to cover it up.  This has a lot of Halloween and Pumpkinhead (1988) in it and even a little of Final Destination (2000) in the way of all the deaths seemingly to have been caused by accidents.  This film would eventual play in several film festivals before getting picked up by Lionsgate Home Entertainment as one of their (many) Halloween releases that year.  This was also the first of McLellen’s three picture collaboration with Hayes Productions.

No time was wasted as McLellen went straight ahead with his second film for Hayes Production and one of the most ambitious in his career which is the time traveling WWII horror & sci-fi film HELL’S END (2005)!  This saw a soldier from the future go back in time to WWII to stop a crazy Nazi scientist from experimenting on soldiers in a POW camp to genetically create a monster that could help the Nazis win the war.  This required the production to convert a Boys Scout camp into a POW camp in Northern Georgia for the two weeks of filming.  The most amazing thing about this film is that this was McLellen’s first large scale production having to cast almost fifty people to play the Nazis and the POW soldiers (not to mention the over 60 extras required for the large crowd scenes and the final escape at the end of the film).  Along with the amazing cast which includes Tom Thon, Rob Elwood, Michael H. Cole, Scott Hodges, Vince Pisani, Brian Avenet-Bradley, Chris Burns, Dave R. Watkins and Jennifer Osburg (as the only female of the all-male cast), among many more!  McLellen was also the costume designer and put together authentic Nazi, British, American, and other nationalities of the POW soldiers including some amazing futuristic costumes.  Unlike McLellen’s previous films this one would more rely on characters and WWII action than on any horror tropes which made selling the final film to a distributor problematic.  This didn’t stop McLellen from pushing the film to film festivals and then embarking on his third film for Hayes Productions – CREATURES OF THE NIGHT.

Unfortunately, CREATURES OF THE NIGHT had problems from beginning to end and this film was never completed despite having an amazing cast and crew.  The film would have been McLellen’s second film to take place during WWII but heading the advice of his sales agent, this film would have had lots more monsters with its vampires verses werewolves verses Nazis!  A regiment of Nazi soldiers in Romania take residence in a castle where the family within are all werewolves who have their own race war with the local gypsies, who happen to be vampires!  About 80% of the film was complete before being shut down temporary to work only the final special fx.  With an entire cast and crew made up of Georgia talent, McLellen reused props and elements from his previous film and enhanced them for this film including the fact that the film was shot on location at an actual castle in Georgia that would masquerade as Romania!  Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, this film would never resume filming and never be completed.  McLellen’s collaboration with Hayes Production would now be at an end.

This would not stop McLellen as elements of COTN would find their way in McLellen’s  “Der Soldat” (2006), a film completely in German, and “The Spider & The Fly” (2007), which shows a glimpse of the battle between the Germans and the Gypsy vampires.  Also, while COTN was first put on hold, McLellen would craft his homage to one of his favorite films Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).  This film would be BAD LAND (2007) which would marry his love of the killer back woods family with voodoo and mad scientist culture with a group of college students during pledge week who are dropped off in the middle of nowhere and must fend for themselves.  Unbeknownst to them, they’ve been dropped off on private property of a back woods family who wll kill to keep their family secrets safe from outsiders.  This is probably the fasted McLellen ever shot a film as it was filmed almost all during the day on weekends and some nights over the course of about a month.  He shot this film while waiting to get back into production on COTN and wanted to finish this film before moving back to that film.  Not wanting to use the same cast as was in COTN, this would be one of his biggest films casting wise as it would be his first collaboration with actors he’d never worked with before.  This was his first film with actors West Cummings, Jennifer Cudnick, Beth Keener, Justin Geer, Greer Howard and many more.  His regular collaborators Cesar Aguirre, Scott Hodges, Michael H. Cole, Ondie Daniel, and Roland Force would be a few of his regular repertoire to return in this film.  Unfortunately for this film, despite being a fun and fast slasher film, Bad Land comes off as part of a trend on back woods killer films of this time.  The film enjoyed a lot of success on the festival circuit!

It would be several years before McLellen would again tackle a feature film due to the fallout of his collaboration with the Hayes Production company.  In 2011, McLellen’s next feature AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2011) would be a return to his roots in paying homage to holiday horror films!  Taking inspiration of Christmas stories, McLellen crafts an anthology of Christmas themed horror stories!  This would be one of his true collaborations with his repertoire of past cast and crew!  Returning to help him craft this film is Watkins, Force, Peg Thon, and many more!  This film was partially filmed on location of many of his previous films which is the property of Roland Force (who also manages to cameo or star in most all McLellen’s films).  If you look closely, you’ll recognize many of the same locations appear in most of McLellen’s films but this film is also filmed on location in many different locations to give the anthology a bigger and more expansive look.  This is probably his biggest list of different locations yet! 

A year later McLellen would set his sights on his biggest and most expansive and ambitious film ALL HALLOWS EVIL: LORD OF THE HARVEST (2012).  This film paid homage to TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007), as the film is an anthology film that follows a lot of different characters and stories that interconnect culminating in a third act that brings everything together.  The story follows a misunderstood student who summons an Evil Force and lets lose all manner of demons and monsters on Halloween!  There are ghosts, werewolves, witches, and all other manner of ghouls and goblins that plague the small town cursed on this Halloween night.  The director’s cut runs almost 3 hours but there is a shorter festival cut of the film as well.  This is McLellen’s most successful festival film as both versions played numerous festivals for years despite the film never having found an official distributor.

Although ALL HALLOWS EVIL would currently be his last feature as director the time in between features would mark a new era for McLellen as he decided to make several films for horror fans with his fan films “Return of the Sandman” [Halloween, 2009], “Revenge of the Sandman” [Halloween, 2012], “The Man in the Lake” [Friday the 13th], and “TCM: New Blood” [Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 2013] among a lot of various other shorts.  It’s also important to note that in addition to his early shorts before MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, there are a lot of “lost” films which includes his sci-fi/horror film “From Above” and his first anthology feature THE SAYER. 

This doesn’t even include all the other films and projects he did outside his own career which includes starring in Watkins’ comedy web series “The Lumber Baron of Jasper County” and feature film RETURN OF THE JACKALOPE (2006).  He also helped in the areas of editing, producing, and cinematography with such films as HOUSE OF SECRETS (2015), “Primal” (2013), “The Vail” (2009), THE SYSTEM (2016), TEARS OF BANKERS (2012), just to name a few.  McLellen has used working with other films as a means to work on all other genres when not working on his own horror films.

During all these years McLellen also managed to run his own film festival Fright Fest Film Festival in in 2003 which then became the Cine-Macabre Film Festival in 2004 (due to some naming rights issues with Six Flags Over Georgia’s similarly named Halloween event).  McLellen’s film festival originated in Gainesville where he makes his home and where many of his films were shot.
Over the last several years McLellen has turned towards his second passion which is music!  Having scored the music for all his films as well as other film-makes’ productions, McLellen’s love of music led him to collaborating with several different bands which continues to this day as he finds a new outlet to indulge his creative and artistic tendencies. 

Throughout McLellen’s career, he has managed to influence and effect not only the creative arts in various cities but have also had tremendous support from those same cities such as Gainesville (the place he calls home and was influential with his film festival as well as productions such as Bad Land and Jack O’Lantern), Rome (on All Hallows Evil, Tears of Bankers, The System) and many more.  He’s managed to cultivate a huge repertoire of cast and crew that repeatedly returned on various films.  Even though he has not directed a film in several years his influence can still be felt within the indie film industry where his films continue to be available through various streaming and online services.

 For this reason, SWFF is presenting McLellen with our 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award!  In honor of this occasion we will be screening the 15 Year Anniversary of his film HELL’S END and his final fan film “Revenge of the Sandman.”  We hope that you join us this August 7-9 for our Online Festival Event!  Tickets on sale now through Film Freeway (https://filmfreeway.com/somethingwickedfilmfestival/tickets) and Ticket Leap (https://something-wicked-film-festival.ticketleap.com/something-wicked-film-festival/) and for more info about SWFF visit us at www.somethingwickedfilmfestival.com

*Not all of McLellen’s films are mentioned in this article and there are even more lost to time but you can find more info on his through Facebook and You Tube!

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