When AMC River Park Square opened in the summer of 1999, it had an ace in the hole from an unlikely source. A locally produced film, The Basket, helped launch the new theater in downtown Spokane, and it wound up playing for 12 weeks. The Basket remains one of the biggest hits ever to run at AMC. Now North by Northwest, the local production company that brought us that film, is back with another movie they hope has a long run here and elsewhere: Hangman's Curse.
Filmed entirely in Spokane last summer, the film is designed to appeal primarily to teens. Distributed by an arm of 20th Century Fox, Namesake Entertainment, this film may have the widest distribution of any North by Northwest film. The rights to it have already been sold to 15 countries, and it is being rolled out in six American cities, including Spokane. If it does well, it will be given a wider release.
Namesake was created specifically to offer films that will appeal to younger people -- and to parents worried about what they're watching. Power Hollywood producer Ralph Winter (X-Men, Planet of the Apes) is involved in the effort, as is the Total Living Network, a network of Christian broadcasters. Winter has another link to Spokane: two of his kids attend Whitworth College.
But the name above the title is Frank Peretti, called "the king of the Christian Fiction genre" by Time magazine. Peretti, a former musician, carpenter and pastor, has more than 10 million books in print, most for the so-called "tween" readership of kids aged 10-14. Hangman's Curse is based on his book of the same name, and his sequel, Nightmare Academy, is already in development by Namesake. With Curse, Peretti has created a concoction that is equal parts CSI, Spy Kids and Goosebumps.
"Kids just love these kinds of things," said Peretti just after a screening in Dallas last week, "but what's fun is to give them a movie that's scary but that's not harmful. There's no foul language, no gratuitous violence, no nudity. It's just a nice family-friendly film."
Peretti has an Inland Northwest connection, too, as he makes his home in the Silver Valley near Kellogg. And he also makes an appearance in the film, as the eccentric Professor Algernon.
"I knew the guy when I wrote him, so of course I knew what he was like," laughs Peretti. "I lobbied for the part for about two seconds, but everybody else already had me figured [for the part]."
Filmed at Rogers High School and Riverside State Park, the story follows the Veritas Project, a family of investigators who are called in when local law enforcement is stumped. Seems football players are falling ill at the high school, and nobody can figure out why. Some students fear it's the ghost of Abel Frye, a bullied student who killed himself 10 years before the film takes place. Mom and Dad are played by David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) and Mel Harris (Thirtysomething). Yet another Travolta sibling, Margaret, plays the high school principal, and hundreds of Rogers students were used as extras, with some earning significant screen time. (North by Northwest calculates that they provided roughly 800 pizzas and 2,000 snow cones.) Vincent DeFelice, former North by Northwest employee and current Galleria DeFelice owner, was the production designer.
Along with some of the filmmakers, Peretti will be at the AMC premiere at 7:45 pm, this Friday night, answering questions and handing out goodies. He says he hopes the film will attract a big enough audience to prove there is a profitable market for good, clean fun.
"I'm still a kid myself," Peretti says, "and I just get excited about these stories. And if I get excited about them, they seem to work."