PARK CITY, Utah — Clinger, a campy made-in-Houston horror movie about the traumas of first love, premiered over the weekend before an enthusiastic audience at Slamdance, the alternative film conclave that takes place at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival, and three St. John's School graduates, Michael Steves, Gabi Chennisi Duncombe and Bubba Fish, were thrilled with the outcome.
In fact, Steves, who directed and co-wrote the film with Duncombe and Fish, told the audience in a question-and-answer session that the trio had secured financing for a second film, a horror western set in the 1870s, because of the prestige of having Clinger chosen for Slamdance, a competition now in its 21st year that fosters the development of unique and innovative filmmakers.
"The Houston community was amazingly supportive, donating food, donating resources, donating locations and time. I don't think it could have happened anywhere else."
The trio, who co-wrote and directed several popular short films and commercials while at St. John's before going their separate ways to college in 2009 and reuniting in Los Angeles after graduation to form a production company, financed their first film through family, Houston friends and a Kickstarter campaign with 177 backers.
They filmed the movie in Houston in the summer of 2013, using a novice crew and outdoor locations, including their alma mater and the grounds around a Memorial home.
"We always said when we got into college we were going to come back to Houston and make a movie and so we did," Duncombe said. "The Houston community was amazingly supportive, donating food, donating resources, donating locations and time. It was really phenomenal. I don't think it could have happened anywhere else."
"We had the opposite of red tape in Houston," Fish said. "What's the opposite of red tape? A green arrow to everything. It was so great."
The gory story stars another Houstonian, Episcopal High School grad Jennifer Laporte, as an independent high schooler whose overly affectionate boyfriend, played by Vincent Martella (Everybody Hates Chris), dies in an embarrassing accident but returns as a romantically frustrated ghost who plots to kill his girlfriend so they can be together forever. Though bloody, with severed heads and man-eating teddy bears, it's played for laughs and seems destined for the midnight movie circuit.
As part of the fun evening, each audience member received a blood-red scarf with the movie's logo and a red condom packaged in a white wrapper with the tag line "Nothing is scarier than your first love."
Steves said he got the idea for the plot after he was accidentally stabbed in the chest when rehearsing a play during his freshman year in college after a real sword had accidentally been switched with a prop sword.
"While I was in the ambulance I sent a text to my high school girlfriend (they had been in the process of breaking up), thinking this is totally the part in the movie where it's my third act twist, and I get the girl again. And I was totally wrong," Steves recalled.
"High school teaches guys that if you love someone, or think you love someone, that they must love you back. And real life teaches you something else, which is that you don't deserve the love of anyone unless you two both love each other."