Local filmmakers' movie tells a tale of a talk with the devil

August 29, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Real-life couple Ashley Hutson and Steve Shives of Sharpsburg portray a married editor and writer in Neon Reel Entertainments production of The Darkness and Tom Markos. In the movie, a stranger comes to the couple one night, claims to be the devil, and asks them to write the story of his life.
Photo courtesy of Neon Reel Entertainment

Friends who scare together, stay together.

 Or so it seems for director and editor Matt Matzen, along with his buddies and screenwriters Steve Shives and Rob Talbert, whose horror comedy “The Darkness and Tom Markos” will premiere at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, at Horrorfind Weekend in Gettysburg.

 This is a return trip to Horrorfind for Matzen, who debuted his film, “Black-Eyed Children,” which was written by Shives’ wife, Ashley Hutson.

 Matzen said although they didn’t win top prize during last year’s film festival, they were able to make a buzz at the three-day festival. And most importantly for most up-and-coming filmmakers, Matzen said they were able to network and make connections.

 But that doesn’t mean a prize wouldn’t be nice.

 “I would like to come back with an award — fan favorite, best screenplay or best director,” said Matzen, 28, said while sitting in his Hagerstown home that doubled for the movie’s set. But most importantly, he said he wants “to gain a little bit more of a following. And more fanship on future presentations.”

 Shives, 32, of Sharpsburg, said “The Darkness and Tom Markos” tells the story of a married couple — he’s a struggling writer (played by Shives) and she’s a successful editor (played by Hutson) — visited by a stranger one night. The stranger is the devil, or, as he prefers, Tom Markos (Clayton Myers). 

 “He has this strange request. He wants them to help him tell his life story, because the devil has been maligned by history and our culture, and he wants to set the record straight,” said Shives, who is a Web content writer when not writing scripts.

 Talbert, a 28-year-old freelance writer from Hagerstown, came up for the initial storyline for “The Darkness and Tom Markos.”

 “The inspiration for this movie came while watching the show ‘The Reaper,’ and seeing a devil with comedic qualities, different from any devil I had seen on TV,” Talbert said. “I thought I could do something similar with a darker story behind it.”

 After finishing the script, Talbert gave it to Matzen, who by day is a Web designer and, in his free time, runs Neon Reel Entertainment.

 Matzen said he loved the script, but wanted Shives to polish it a bit.

 From the beginning, Matzen said the script reminded him of “Twilight Zone,” or even “Tales from the Darkside.” And because of that, he said, he had to readjust his visual style. And to give it a more authentic early “Twilight Zone” feel, the movie is in black and white.

 “Normally, I’m more free moving with the camera, with Steadicams and very elaborate shots like a Stanley Kubrick film; however, that wouldn’t have done justice to this film,” Matzen said.

 “... There’s really a lot of interesting conversation with the devil and the couple,” Matzen continued. “I went back and looked at a lot of Rod Serling work, a lot of ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes and how those spots were edited together and how it manipulated the mood and so forth.”

 Serling, a screenwriter who is best known for his “Twlight Zone” series, is a name that was brought up often by each of the men.

 “Our No. 1 common reference point has been ‘The Twilight Zone,’” Shives said. “I know since I’ve been writing with Neon Reel, I’ve been inspired by writers from the golden age like Rod Serling, (TV screenwriter) Reginald Rose and (playwright and screenwriter) Paddy Chayefsky. To take their point of view, that they were basically writing plays for television, and basically infuse it with the supernatural and a little bit of quirk and oddity, is what sets the tone for the story.”

 Even the cadence of Myers’ acting is reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone” with some comedic elements thrown in.

 Whereas “Black-Eyed Children” was made for less than $500, they made “Tom Markos” with a $6,000 budget, allowing their imagination on what they could do on film grow.

 Although they’d like to walk away with any big prize this weekend, all three said they were excited about the 53-minute indie feature finding an audience at Horrorfind.

 “I would really like (the audience) to walk into this with an open mind. I would like them to leave the theater saying ‘Wow, that’s one of the most interesting things I’ve seen,’” Matzen said. “... I want them to be creeped out by some of it. I want them to just really be intrigued and be on the edge of the seats of wondering what’s the devil is going to say next, what’s the next thing is going to happen.”

 Talbert echoes the director’s sentiments.

 “I hope they see all the emotion involved with the movie,” he said. “I hope they have a good time watching it. I hope it makes them think. I hope it really gets them thinking afterward.”

 If you go ...       

 WHAT: Horrorfind Weekend

 WHEN: Friday, Aug. 31, through Sunday, Sept. 2

 WHERE: Wyndham Hotel, Presidential Circle, Gettysburg, Pa.

 COST: Weekend pass $45; day pass, $25; free for children 12 and younger with a paid parent admission

 CONTACT: Call Mike at 443-465-0645, email or go to

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