There’s a certain something about hospitals that make them unsettling, abandoned or fully operational. When one ends up in an infirmary, there’s usually an awful event associated with it, be that an accident or illness. Even visiting a loved one in such an institution can be unsettling, and there is always the chance that death is lurking just around the corner… maybe not for you, but for someone.
The uneasy feeling that creeps into the brain when confronted with such a setting is what Inoperable writer and director Christopher Lawrence Chapman used as the basic building blocks for the Tampa Bay set Dread Central visited recently.
The story of Inoperable may sound straightforward at first, but the tale of a young woman waking up in a peculiar institution, known as Bay General Hospital, following an apparent accident is not all that it seems. A massive storm has arrived with an ominous supernatural force in tow. If that were not enough to contend with, time is fractured and rearranged, leaving the characters in a time loop.
Without giving too much away, there’s far more at work than genre fans may realize at first. With that being said, the creation of the Inoperable story has its roots in reality–namely, with the abovementioned fear of hospitals and a force of nature Floridians and many Atlantic states deal with each year: a hurricane.
Chapman’s inspiration came about over a decade ago when Hurricane Charley was set to rip through Florida. The director was suffering from food poisoning and had to be admitted to a sanatorium in Tampa (the major metropolitan area that was right in Charley’s path). The streets were already flooding, and the hospital’s staff was on edge as an evacuation may become mandatory. The major bridges into Tampa had closed, and things were looking quite dire. The creative mind that is Chapman’s started to race at all the unpleasant outcomes that could be in store for him, from being stranded to the potential power failure of both the grid and the diesel generator in the basement. The more terrible thought, though, was what such an incident may trigger in the mind of an already unstable patient. Would this natural disaster be just what a killer needs to start a rampage of blood and gore while draped in a fresh new hospital gown?
It was that spark of fear and anxiety which led to this point. Mr. Chapman and co-writer/producer Jeff Miller invited DC out to take a look at day #7 of shooting in what may be one of the few remaining abandoned hospitals in Tampa. Upon entering the structure, the signs of extreme wear and tear were screaming out for demolition. Insulation and wires hung from the ceiling like muscle and veins from some long forgotten giant. Ceiling tiles swelled with water damage and drooped low, like dirty hammocks for the rats. What could now be called ancient technology lingered on the remaining desks, yellowing with age and longing for the days when AOL 3.0 was all the rage. The moist environment Florida is well known for left trails of blood-colored rust drizzled across many of the walls. In short, the crew could not have asked for a better location.
Day #7 was earmarked by a handful of scenes, several of which included the familiar face of scream queen Danielle Harris and her co-star Katie Keene (ClownTown, Union Furnace) as Amy and Jen. Along for the ride in a particularly stomach-churning scene is the imposing Chris Hahn (The Funhouse Massacre, Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan), who plays an equally ominous orderly. The first half of the day found the cast and crew on the second floor of the aging building. Some of the aforementioned elements of the time loop were in play, and the frustration caused to the characters was beginning to show. Some tears and a few expletives were signs that tensions could start to run high and breaking points may soon be pressed as the characters tried to make sense of an insane situation. At midday more of the gory elements came into play as the pungent remains of a semi-freshly butchered cow. Again, the details of how these bloody remains were used are under wraps, but the shoot did leave an impression on the cast and crew. A gagging, choking, retching impression.
Watching Chapman work with his crew gave off the feeling that this ambitious idea could pay off. The filmmaking staff was comprised of Florida locals and those hailing all the way from LA, some of which had worked with Chapman in the past. A bond was already present and things remained calm, even when some shots ran over. He trusted his crew to know their craft, only telling them what he wanted and letting the crew build the shot using their skills. There was absolutely no micromanagement. Chapman contributed this work ethic in part to the help of producer Jeff Miller. While Chapman is the creative force, Miller is the statistical brains, tempering the wild ideas with the reality of what will work for the intended audience. It is on that note that Inoperable goes from what sounds like a typical haunted hospital film into something a bit different. Jeff and Chris worked together first on Clowntown.
What was most notable during this visit to Inoperable was the emphasis on subtly. Chapman mentioned that he did not want to beat messages (subliminal or otherwise) into the heads of his audience. He is aiming for the thinking person’s horror film. He made the analogy that the story itself was a multi-layered plane intersecting with another totally different plane, leaving the story open to interpretation depending on the preconceptions the viewer was already accustomed to. While one horror junkie may see just the kills and ladies as the main draw, a fan of more cerebral films may come away with a totally different experience if they pay close enough attention to the details. The easier way to encapsulate the film would be to call it the spawn of a mating ritual among Silent Hill, Triangle, and Shutter Island.
Gore is certainly present for those fearing this film may be tame, but it is there when it makes sense to the scene. A character may be dressed in a sexy dress, but the context in which she is dressed makes sense. This director feels that there is a better way to tell a story without doing things for the sake of pleasing the typical genre tropes. Chapman called it the type of movie you’d want to watch with a friend, girlfriend, or boyfriend.
Walking away from the set at the end of the night, a feeling of relief came across the frosty air. Instead of taking the easy road to the horror movie lover’s heart, Chris Chapman and Jeff Miller have decided to take their carriage of haunted goods and time travel down the path less traveled in hopes of bringing the fans of the scare a memorable and watchable experience.