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On the ‘Road’ to fame

Actors Trevor Morgan Hallock Deals work scene from 'Munger Road' last summer outside Smitty's restaurant downtown St. Charles.

Actors Trevor Morgan and Hallock Deals work on a scene from "Munger Road" last summer outside Smitty's restaurant in downtown St. Charles.

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Updated: November 16, 2011 9:34AM



ST. CHARLES — Last week, the locally-made scary movie “Munger Road” was the talk of the town in St. Charles. After 6,000-plus young moviegoers jammed the Classic Charlestowne 18 Cinemas to see it over the weekend, this first film directed and written by 26-year-old St. Charles native Nick Smith is the talk of the town in Hollywood.

Nothing impresses the film world’s movers and shakers like cash flowing in. And when last weekend’s ticket sales were added up by Rentrack — a paid-subscription service that monitors box office receipts for the entertainment industry — the company’s charts showed that “Munger Road” had brought in more ticket-sales money per screen the movie was playing on than any other movie playing anywhere in the United States.

Of course, Charlestowne 18 was the only theater playing it, and only on two screens there. But it also ranked as the 10th highest-grossing “engagement” — one theater showing one movie on any number of screens — in the country, even though Charlestowne’s $8 adult admission price is well below the $11-and-up charged in some big cities.

As a result, Smith said Wednesday, he received a call from an executive at Universal Pictures, and it’s possible that “Munger Road” will be released nationwide on Halloween weekend. It also will open at eight more theaters on Friday, including the Marcus Elgin, the South Barrington 30, the Regal Cantera in Warrenville and the Randall 16 in Batavia. It will open across the Chicago area on Oct. 14.

And stars Bruce Davison, Randall Batinkoff and Trevor Morgan will make periodic personal appearances at St. Charles’ Scarecrow Fest on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“It was the talk of the industry Monday,” said Chris Johnson, vice president of Tivoli Classic Cinemas, which owns Charlestowne 18. “This was amazing for a movie of this type. For every success like this, there are probably 5,000” small-budget films made by inexperienced young directors “that just don’t make it.”

Johnson said “Munger Road” accounted for half of all tickets sold at Charlestowne 18 last weekend, and many showings sold out. Its $36,000 per-screen average compared with perhaps $10,000 per screen for a typical hit from Hollywood.

Scarecrow Fest plays a role in the movie’s plot — as does a legend spread among teenagers that a railway crossing on the real Munger Road in Bartlett is haunted by the ghosts of children killed in a train-bus accident (which apparently never really happened).

In the movie, four teenagers are stranded for hours along the desolate road after they go there to test out the ghost story and their SUV mysteriously stalls.

In a parallel plot line set back in downtown St. Charles, the city’s top-ranking police officers search for an escaped serial killer and try to hush up that threat lest they scare away crowds from the upcoming festival.

In a style more reminiscent of Hitchcock than torture-porn, Smith relies mainly on sounds, music and off-screen violence to scare his audience and build suspense. Gore is almost nonexistent. The eerie, bass-heavy soundtrack was written by 31-year-old composer Wojciech Golczewski, who lives in Poland but saw Smith’s request for musical submissions online.

A three-star review from super-critic Roger Ebert didn’t hurt any. But probably playing bigger roles in spreading the word about “Munger Road” were Internet chatter and word of mouth. On www.mungerroad.com, dozens of teens and former teens recount their visits to the real railroad crossing and the various ghost legends they have heard.

Smith said one questionable bit of history in the movie — that downtown St. Charles contains long-forgotten tunnels used by 1920s bootleggers and possibly by 1850s Underground Railroaders — is more than a legend. “I have a map of the real tunnels, and they do go under the Hotel Baker and under the river,” he said.

But he said the scenes filmed in these tunnels actually were shot on an artificially constructed set.

The film’s surprise ending shouts out for a sequel, and Smith said he already has written one. When Part Two will be filmed has not yet been set, he said.

But judging by Part One’s success so far, it probably will be filmed.



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