Every town and city has an urban myth. We grow up hearing them as children. They are used to warn us about invisible dangers outside in the dark. Our parents use legends as a beacon of caution, warning us not to be out too late, or not to take the shortcut home through the forest…
Every urban legend is the same – if you do this thing, then bad things will happen to you.
I first heard the legend of Toad Road (Fantasia review here) from my group of misfit friends growing up in York, Penn. They told me that there was an insane asylum back in the woods on the outskirts of town. All the unwanted weirdos were put in the asylum and they built a road leading up to it with seven gates. The gates were constructed as layers of security so the inmates couldn’t get out. At some point there was a horrible fire where most of the inmates died. The few that did escape ran to the forest and were killed by local residents in terror.
The gates remained standing long after the fire. The people that walked through them started to realize that there was something strange about the gates. With each gate something new happened, and it became more and more paranormal the further down the road you went.
At the first gate you sense something is watching you. At the second gate you start to hear things running in the woods around you. At the third gate you actually start to see things and they warn you not to go further. At the fourth gate you pass out feeling hot or cold, and this is meant to scare you into turning back. The fifth gate is the one that nobody has gotten past… but it is rumored that you move through time. It is this gate that inspired much of the movie.
For me, watching my friends begin experimenting with drugs was a lot like walking down Toad Road. Why would you want to start? As a filmmaker, what is fascinating to me about human nature is that we have this instinct to push everything as far as it can go… Why would anybody set off on a road that leads to Hell? There is a huge amount of absurdity in it but also a fundamental parallel to drug use and an underexposed gaze on youth culture.
I wanted to go back to where I grew up and be able to capture the voice of a specific time and place. It’s a bit like shining a flashlight on the experiments of being a reckless teen that I was not willing to take. The legend to Toad Road was the perfect legend for this story. It created a haunting backdrop for the film where the conceptual journey into drug abuse and madness is met with the literal journey down the road.
Of course nobody knows what the sixth and seventh gates are. Some say the seventh gate is a black void; others say it’s Hell.
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