Calgary-raised filmmaker finds evil in The Curse of Buckout Road

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From the film, The Curse of Buckout Road. Calgary

Filmmaker Matthew Currie Holmes says his characters tend to have one common trait. They all require therapy.

“None of my characters in any of my movies are doing OK,” says Holmes with a laugh, in an interview with Postmedia from his home in Los Angeles.

Of course, this is a bonus when you are working in the horror genre. Judging by his directorial debut, The Curse of Buckout Road, virtually all the denizens of Westchester County portrayed in the film could use significant time on the couch sorting out their personal demons. As is often the case with horror films, most are haunted by past tragedies that will eventually manifest in some nightmarish way before the film is over.

“You will find, in every one of my movies, some sort of unbelievable trauma,” Holmes says. “I tend to gravitate toward the mind and how the mind perceives trauma and what we do to stay fit and move on. Even if it’s in a vampire movie.”

There are no vampires in The Curse of Buckout Road — we’ll have to wait until Holmes completes his followup, Self Storage, for that — but there are plenty of horror-movie tropes beyond characters with haunted pasts.

Call it the curse of the former video-store manager, a job that Holmes held for much of his 20s while living in Calgary, but his directorial debut is full of allusions and direct homages to a number of films he admired while growing up.

Horror aficionados might catch subtle and not-so-subtle tributes to everything from 1980 slasher obscurities to Hammer gothic films. There are also nods to artsier fare such as Park Chan-wook’s Stoker or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but the spirit of the movie seems linked to more unhinged, lower-budget flicks that Holmes would have encountered in the horror section of his video store.

Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Henry Czerny in a scene from the film, The Curse of Buckout Road. Calgary

“The whole movie is a giant love letter to what I call the ’80s midnight movies of my youth,” Holmes says. “I was obsessed with these films at the video stores. I had a subscription to Gorezone magazine, I was way into Fangoria. There was a really great time between 1978 and into the early 1990s where you could put out these movies, these low-budget gems, that still had a bit of quality behind them. These movies would have a home on home video, especially when VHS was huge. Movies like The Unnamable, movies like Renny Harlin’s Prison, Slaughterhouse Rock, Rawhead Rex — the lesser-known gems. I was obsessed with all of them.”

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So it’s hardly surprising that Holmes was also drawn to the glut of urban legends that swirl around the real Buckout Road, a creepily remote passage in New York connecting Westchester to White Plains that is said to harbour everything from the ghosts of witches burned at the stake to albino cannibals.

Apparently, there are more than a dozen such urban legends attached to Buckout Road. So Holmes had to be selective with the ones he presents in the movie. Those include the albinos and the witches, but also ones he invented such as those involving a tyrannical, wife-beating slave owner and restless ghost. All of those characters fill the nightmares of our young protagonists, which include Cleo (Wynonna Earp’s Dominique Provost-Chalkley), the gothy daughter of a local detective (Henry Czerny); Aaron, the orphaned adult grandson of the local preacher-turned-psychiatrist (Danny Glover) and two stoner fraternal twins named Derek (Jim Watson) and Erik (Kyle Mac.) Initially, Cleo and the twins delve into these urban legends as a college project, hoping to debunk the myths in a way that befits their atheism. Aaron returns from the military to visit his grandfather and all four find themselves untangling the mysteries of Buckout before realizing these evil forces are invading their dreams due to some very personal, long-buried secrets. It all makes for a goofy and fun journey, with good acting and a healthy dose of humour. Along with  Glover and Czerny, Holmes was also able to enlist veteran Canadian actor Colm Feore to play a helpful if occasionally creepy priest.

Holmes is a former actor himself — his early Calgary-based roles included guest shots in the teen drama Caitlin’s Way and a role in Dave Schultz’s debut 2001 drama Jet Boy — who spent most of his childhood here before moving to London, Ont., to attend high school. He returned before he was 20 and spent another decade in Calgary managing the video store while playing with local rock band Shiver. Now dividing his time between Toronto and L.A., Holmes has since earned a reputation as a script-polisher.

That’s why he was initially enlisted by producers of The Curse of Buckout Road. But instead of simply punching up the script they had, Holmes pitched a complete rewrite and eventually penned his own treatment. It was impressive enough to producers that he was offered the gig as both screenwriter and director.

“I said ‘Guys, the elephant in the room is the fact that there is a road in America that is home to 13 urban legends,” he says. “I don’t know any one singular place that has that kind of evil, hell-mouthy type vibe to it. We should explore that. That’s what really hooked them. What place has that much evil? What does the evil want? The urban legends are great, they’re amazing. But let’s talk about what’s going on in this stretch of road.”

Holmes shot the film in 2016, mostly in Sudbury, Ont. It screened at the 2017 Calgary International Film Festival and spent more than a year racking up acclaim and awards on the international festival circuit. It has landed a theatrical release that brings it to Calgary’s Globe Cinema on Oct. 1, opening that night as a double-feature with the 1974 cult-classic Black Christmas. It is also available on video-on-demand and digital HD.

Like many a good horror film, The Curse of Buckout Road also gives audiences some food for deeper philosophical thought. Underneath the story about nightmares and cannibals, witches and curses is a thoughtful take on faith and the place of religion in modern times.

“One of the things I’m obsessed with is religion and how faith versus fact is becoming more prevalent as we’re rolling further in the 21st century,” Holmes says. “More people are identifying as atheists. Every religion generally has a 2,000-year lifespan before it goes away. Are we seeing the end of religion? Does it have a death rattle? Does God care? All these things I find super interesting. If I can put that debate out on screen somehow in an entertaining way, I’ve done my job.”

Curse of Buckout Road opens Oct. 1 at the Globe Cinema. 

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