Monday, July 13, 2015

The Murder of Sgt. Macklin (1993)




For most movie fans the idea of finding a new film to enjoy is one of pride. While most cinephiles like to think we’ve seen it all, the sad matter of fact is that we’ve only scratched the surface. Sure, we try to broaden our pallets with foreign films and obscure shot-on-video titles from the mid-80’s to late 90’s, but the truth is that there are thousands of movies left untouched, and unfortunately, forgotten by the masses.  The past few years have shown that films once thought lost, like The Basement or Run Coyote Run, can be seen again and appreciated by new audiences.

What I’m getting at is that finding a film that has no history, or barely a mention anywhere on the internet is pretty much the bee’s knees of being a movie fan. Where was it made? What was the background?  How many copies were distributed? Was it primarily a regional release? The more questions come up, the sooner the answers arrive.

As those who have been reading the blog and listening to our podcast are aware we’re avid VHS hunters.  While following a Craigslist post for a media sale in Southern New Hampshire I found myself digging through banana boxes of analog titles, grabbing a few sealed blanks and couple other random movies. Then, I see a title released by a company I was unfamiliar with: Stage 1 Productions. With the haunting visage of a scowling man adorning the cover, the name of the movie would become a quest: The Murder of Sgt. Macklin.

The Murder of Sgt. Macklin spills the legend of a school house in La Junta, Colorado that just so happens to be built on the same ground as the horrendous Sand Hill Massacre. New owner Harry Furgeson experiences a chilling spiritual attack while walking the school, and finds drifter Mike Broderick to take on the roll of manager for his new building. Soon, Mike himself starts to experience strange goings-on inside the empty school, even seeing a ghastly apparition come out of the night. Alongside locals Ellie Franklin and Harry’s wife, Sylvia, Mike and the women get to the bottom of what exactly happened all those years ago.

“Like many of my generation, I had wanted to make movies as long as I could
remember. We bought the old schoolhouse and moved to La Junta in 1991 with the intent of making it into a film production center. Because we had very little money, I wrote a script to use the building, people and equipment available. Macklin's Sand Hill Massacre theme was a fictional adaptation of the horrendous Sand Creek Massacre committed in this area in the 19th Century. I figured anything of that magnitude should have at least one unsettled spirit hanging about.”

With smaller films you’re apt to expect and forgive a few shortcomings in terms of production value. However with Macklin, most aspects you’d expect to be lackluster are surprisingly tip-top.  The actors and actresses, while being of no significant note and without national recognition in 2015, all fit their characters well, and handle the dialogue with enough believability to bring you into the world. The story, while being a slow-burn, offers ample atmosphere with the talents of Director of Photography Vincent Gearhart with Key Grip Bill Milliken and the synth-centric soundtrack from Kevin Foster.

“The whole project took a little over a year from scripting to release. A local group here in La Junta held a Dinner Premier for us and we ultimately sold maybe 250 copies”

After I had enjoyed Macklin more questions bubbled up. I listed those questions earlier, so try to keep up.  Thankfully on the back of the film there was contact info for the writer, director and producer Bob DuBois. Through a few emails back and forth I was able to learn more about this unique little ghost story out of south-eastern Colorado.

“The actual shooting schedule was 22 days, but because of a volunteer cast and crew it took about 10 weeks to complete. Our principal acquisition camera was either a Panasonic AG 450 or the 455, I don't remember exactly when I upgraded. For a couple of scenes (such as Mike & Sylvia exploring the building in the dark) we used our DP's personal Sony (C or 8mm, I forget which) in tandem with the Panasonic. We used his for low-light acquisition and the Panasonic for recording with better audio.”

An interesting note I had learned in talking with Mr. DuBois in regards to the production of the Macklin. Key Grip and friend Bill Milliken had taken residence in the school house that was purchased for the hopeful production studio. Roughly halfway through the making of Macklin Bill Milliken suffered a heart attack, and although he survived and is living to this day, that had to make for a nervous bump in the road. One has to wonder if there were more spiritual happenings going on than just what was captured on video.

Ultimately, The Murder of Sgt. Macklin is a prime example of someone who has an idea, and goes about creating a story using the location and actual historical events to elevate the yarn being spun. While learning the background of the film is one mystery solved, I feel the bigger question is how this independently made and distributed VHS survived a trip halfway across the country to a little church book sale in southern New Hampshire. However the trip may have started, I’m happy that Macklin ended up in my hands. It was a fun, no-nonsense spiritual trip that I now aim to offer to a like-minded and wide audience.

**Thanks to Josh Schafer from Lunchmeat for the editing of this article.**

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