Locally Sourced Stake: The Dreaded (1990)

Dave heads down to Corsicana, Texas, and chats to writer-producer James Willis about a bloodsucking regional horror movie.

“I was, like, twenty at the time!” laughs co-writer and producer James Willis. “We shot on 16mm film with an Arriflex camera. This was our first time shooting on film, and we then had the footage transferred to 3/4″ U-matic videotape for editing. Quality ’80s technology. You’ve got to love it!”

He’s right. You do have to love it – because for its many flaws, THE DREADED has ambition rippling through it. Filmed in the small Texas city of Corsicana, which lies sixty miles south of Dallas, Chris Robinson’s first and last feature film is a rare regional spin on the vampire mythology.

When the mysterious Andrew Frazier (Tim Cobb) moves into town along with his butler Filmore (Harry McCord), bodies soon begin piling up around the city. Detective Stovalle (Todd Jones) is hot on the case to investigate, but finds his inquiries complicated by his on-off girlfriend Melanie (Lisa Watts), who is falling under the hypnotic spell of Frazier; the number one suspect whose nocturnal pastimes hint at a hankering for blood.

“Chris Robinson, was a major horror movie fan,” recalls Willis. “He wanted to tell a different version of the vampire genre, where the lead was suffering from a condition or illness that made him what he was and hated himself for it. The story was definitely unique, but I guess we fell down on acting and sound, as so many shoe-string budget films do – but we used what we had available.”

It’s true, there are elements here which hint at the naivety of the production. Whether it’s a technical aspect like “Aaand action” being heard before a scene, or more artistic elements such as the script, which serves to highlight that three men in their early twenties aren’t necessarily well-suited to penning romance. For Willis, though, it was more a case about the need to get it done.

“Frankly, we were just scared to death that we would never make it all the way through. We shot almost every weekend from May to July, sometimes doing the simple scenes in a single take to reduce our costs. It was a gamble. Spreading out the shooting schedule could have done us in if we lost an actor for one reason or another. Then there was that ever present fear that we would get a roll of film back that had an issue and would need to do re-shoots.”

Featuring a local repertory ensemble of actors, it would be easy to scoff at a handful of shaky performances. Cobb is comfortable as the vampiric Frazier, even if the sight of him kitted out in a cardigan, beige slacks, and a buttoned-up polo shirt hardly evokes the image of Max Schreck; while Jones is perhaps an unwitting Texan Van Helsing, despite the Stetson and cowboy boots being ideal props.

Premiering in their hometown in August 1990, it would be three years before The Dreaded finally hit VHS via the forgettable Home Video Films label. No British cassette was forthcoming – but the film did unexpectedly surface on DVD through Boulevard, the renowned UK budget label, in late 2003.

USA ● 1990 ● Horror ● 85mins

Tim Cobb, Lisa Watts, Todd Jones, Brad Cook ● Dir. Chris Robinson ● Wri. Chris Robinson, David Blessing, James Willis

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