Making of a horror film

Not as scary as you think

By Nallely Ortega Prater 

Horror, guts, and severed tongues are part of gruesome death scenes during the filming of Hell at Heathridge. For the staff involved, Jenna Kramer, one of the actors, said it is enough to give her nightmares.

About 300 students and volunteers are spending the summer working on the full-length feature horror film at Kent State University. They are focusing on professional relationships, close friendships and shared experiences.

Kramer, who plays the part of Emily, a killer-ghost, spends much of her time on set dressed in a bloodstained gown.

“I had this one nightmare; it was just a whole bunch of blood, a puddle of blood,” she said.

Nightmares come in a different form to others. For Kirsten Charlton, unit production manager, working 75 hours a week has given her nightmares.

“I dream about the job all the time,” she said. “I’m here 90% of the time because this is what I want to do with my life. I absolutely love being here.”

Students began filming the movie June 11 and have since been working four to six 12-hour days a week. During the course of shooting, Kramer’s anxiety level has intensified.

“I started hearing noises in the cupboards in my apartment,” she said. “Then my phone—I didn’t realize at the time that the battery was wet—but a bunch of sixes just started appearing on my screen, and it was so terrifying.”

According to the film’s fundraising site at (, Bryan Kelly, a self-proclaimed horror movie buff and the film’s writer, was inspired to write the script after experiencing some unexplained events during his time as a resident assistant at Kent State.

But not everyone on set is running scared. Property master Beth Benjamin appreciates that the crew has accepted her as part of the team.

“I can see that they have a lot of passion,” she said. “I’m really lucky that they allowed me to come in and sort of make an impact on their film.”

Working as property master has allowed her to envision how she can manipulate everyday items into props.

“It opens my creative door,” Benjamin said.

Her father, who was a biology teacher for 35 years, exposed her to bodily organs, so she is not squeamish about manipulating them.

“The idea of saying ‘we need a severed tongue,’ was not out of the ordinary,” she said. “It’s just trying to figure out how to make it realistic on camera—since I’ve never really worked in film—and not gross so that everyone on set throws up.”

Buddy Candela, the film’s casting director and locations manager, also describes himself as a horror movie buff, but he said he does not find the experience scary.

“I’m so excited to work on this because this is what I’ve always wanted to do—work on film,” he said. “This is like a dream come true for me.”

The making of this film has formed strong bonds, both professional and personal. David Smeltzer, Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications and the film’s executive director, finds this a pretty unique opportunity.

“Everyone was doing their little 15-20 minute film. No one did a feature-length film in film school,” he said.

Kramer, who is currently majoring in theatre, says making this film has been a good experience.

“I’m making a lot of friends. I’m excited about that. I’m now an electronic media minor so I’ll be in this building [Franklin Hall], and I’ll actually know people,” she said. “I’ll always remember the first movie I’ve ever been in.”

Candela said Kramer was the first person to audition for Emily’s character, and instantly they knew she had it. “She was really versatile because she came in and she did a monologue from some romantic play, and she was really good at that, so we had her do some creepy stuff and she was good with that too.”

Kinsley Funari, an actress playing Christina, says one of the most memorable experiences has been working with this crew.

“I’ve met so many people that I’m just so happy that I got to know and meet,” she said. “Hopefully I have some lifelong friends, and we’re going to make a great film together.”

For director Caroline Abbey, the making of this film has been challenging and rewarding.

“I had to quit my job to be able to direct,” she said. “Making this film has shown me that I’m always going to be in the movie industry. Any job I do, I want to be in this field, and I would love to be a director forever.”

Hell at Heathridge is currently under production. The crew plans on calling the final cut on Aug. 3 and debuting the film at the Kent State University Ballroom Dec. 5.