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Monday, October 7, 2013

"FOREST OF FEAR"---A ZOMBIE HORROR FILM SET IN POTTER COUNTY

Po t t e r C o u n t y H i s t o r i c a l S o c i e t y
Q u a r t e r l y B u l l e t i n
308 N Main St.
P.O. Box 605
Coudersport, PA 16915
814 • 274 • 4410
F O R E S T O F F E A R
A ZOMBIE HORROR FILM SET IN POTTER COUNTY
r e s e a r c h e d , w r i t t e n a n d e d i t e d 
by D a v i d C a s t a n o
† … No. 190
OCTOBER 2013

ESCAPE TO GOD’S COUNTRY
Residents of Potter County are often self-critical in
regards to the slow effusion of new trends and social change
into our rural setting. The counter-cultural movements of
the late sixties and early seventies transformed American
politics; it’s socio-economic structure, and every strata of
contemporary life.

The war protests, assassinations of national figures and
the openness of the drug culture spawned nationwide
moritoriums, riots in every major city and active criticism of
the government’s domestic and foreign policies. Among the
seminal moments of these times was the anti-war march on
Washington in 1972, led by thousands of Vietnam veterans
including now secretary of State John Kerry. Within a year,
then President Richard M. Nixon became the target of every
conspiracy theorist as the Watergate cover-up unraveled.
In Potter County, returning veterans came home to
family and work. The political climate in the county rarely
rose to a heated level beyond the candidates for County
Commissioner. In the early 1970’s, the real estate markets
discovered God’s Country. For half a century, only sport
hunters and fishermen kept camps along the streams and
near the vast boundaries of State Game Lands. Meanwhile,
Henry David Thoreau was rediscovered by a more urbane
and utopian-minded segment of American society. Within
a day’s drive of Potter County the working middle class
sought respite from increased crime and social blight that
took hold along the Eastern Megalopolis stretching from
Boston to Baltimore.

Potter County was becoming accessible by the
improved highway systems of the Interstates with Route
80 opening up a Southern route, and Routes 17 and 15
bringing land-seekers from the New York and Philadelphia
markets. Newly-formed real estate ventures enticed
struggling farmers and landowners to sell off unproductive
acreage with prices ranging from $700 to over $4000 per
acre in 1972. At that time the average yearly income of a
Potter County family was $4599. Albert and Ida Schweigart
lived on a 20 acre farm along Whiteman Road three miles
from Mills near the Harrison/Bingham township line. In
1973 they sold their farm, including a house and barn to
John and Mary Triboletti from New York City. The
Tribolettis purchased the property as an investment and a
reclusive getaway that suited their modest budget. Their
son James, while working in the city, met an energetic and
creative young law graduate by the name of Charlie
McCrann.

LET’S MAKE A MOVIE!
Charlie McCrann entered Princeton as a freshman in
September of 1964. He was a groomed ivy-leaguer;
studious, conservative, but easy-going with a puckish sense
of humor. Charlie was adroit at making the best of any
situation. When the only summer job available was working
as a night janitor, it was no problem; that provided quality
time on the golf course during daytime hours. The Vietnam
War ended deferments for Grad students, so Charlie found
a National Guard unit and entered Yale Law School a year
later, in 1969. He always gravitated toward the active and
more controversial legal issues ; and was involved in a mock
trial organized by fellow law student Hillary Rodham.
In the summer of 1974, Charles Austin McCrann,
Princeton graduate, Yale Law School graduate, and now a
single professional living in New York City took his creative
juices into the free-flowing stream of independent film
making. The political climate of the 1970’s was rife with
intrigue, plots and cover-ups. Mistrust of authority was the
by-word for every aspiring film maker, and movies such as
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNCANCE KID,
SERPICO and EASY RIDER opened the door for film
audiences to be more than just entertained. Therefore,
Charlie sought a balance between conspiracy and
entertainment. Portraying government plots required and
attentive movie-goer, but Charlie the Writer, Producer and
Director knew what every audience would in some way
respond to: FRIGHT! This would require the simplest
form of movie monster on his limited film budget. The
answer was the Zombie, in human form, no speaking parts
and available in any number.

The word “Zombi” is of West African origin and was
introduced into the West Indies and the American Gulf
Region through the slave trade. The basic premise was
that a corpse could be brought back to life by supernatural
powers (VooDoo) and become a mindless slave of a
VooDoo Master. The introduction into American movie
culture came with the detective film (Film Noir) of the
1930’s and 40’s, with the plot locale in the Caribbean or
in Louisiana, where the American VooDoo cult was then
prevalent.

In the genre of American horror films, Zombie movies
were a standard at drive-ins through the 1950’s and 60’s
with a host of “B” film-makers trotting out “Undead”
movies to the gasps and screams of teenaged audiences.
The political transition of the plots in these films actually
began through independent film-makers in the early
1970’s, just as Charles McCrann began his explorations
into the intricacies of film production. During the same
year (1974) that he was assembling his cast and crew, a
small movie production company used an abandoned coal
mine near the Western Pennsylvania town of Kittaning to
film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, a cult classic to
this day whose plot parallels in many ways the thematic
use of a chemical or atmospheric anomaly that transforms
living humans into violent cannibalistic humanoids
impervious to pain and relentless in their attacks on a
panic-stricken public. The twist was that unlike the
Zombies of earlier films, these creatures were not under
the control of a VooDoo master.

Their destruction required an individual or team of
resourceful everyday people to risk and sacrifice
themselves, if need be, to stop this savage Zombie army .
Early in the summer of 1974, fifteen members of the
cast and production crew arrived at the Triboletti property
in Northeastern Potter County to begin filming. The movie
was shot using 16mm film on a very tight production
schedule of just 16 days!

Various cast members arrived or departed depending
upon their roles in each carefully contrived scene.
The film opens with two men stalking through the
woods with deer rifles. They open fire on a young hippie
girl bathing at a makeshift camp. They kill the girl and
are suddenly attacked and killed in turn by a pair of knifewielding hippies. It turns out that the shooters were
Federal Drug Officers and the hippies are marijuana
growers who have come to harvest their illegal crop. When
the two officers do not report back to their boss at a
government command post, he orders the area secretly
sprayed with a new herbicide to kill off the crop. The
hippies are caught in the spraying, carried out by a drunken
crop-dusting pilot. They fall ill and begin craving meat
and soon become homicidal!

Meanwhile, forest ranger Tom Cole (played by Charles
McCrann) takes his wife and his half-brother on a fishing
trip into the forests as the hippies, now Zombies, go on a
rampage killing anyone they stumble across. This includes
a family of four on a camping trip. The parents are killed
but the children escape into the woods. A local farmer
meets his fate on a woodland road, and the infected cropdusting
pilot kills his nagging wife before he succumbs to
his injuries. Ranger Cole rescues the orphaned children
and discovers a remote cabin. A hermit who had
befriended the marijuana farmers reluctantly shelters Cole
and his party. During the night the Zombies lay siege to
the cabin, Cole and company escapes, but the Hermit falls
victim to his former hippie friends.

The climax of the movie comes as Tom Cole assumes
he is being rescued by a second pair of federal agents, only
to discover that they mean to kill him and his companions
to cover up the botched crop spraying and resulting
slaughter. Cole manages to overpower one of the agents,
and the Zombies suddenly appear to extract more mayhem.
The price is high as Ranger Cole’s wife and half-brother
are killed in a final Zombie assault. The last scene features
a heavy-hearted Tom Cole fueling up at a local gas station
near a village on the edge of the forest. The residents are
unaware of the events that occurred just a few miles away.
The government scrambles to cover up the incident as
Tom Cole, hero, pawn of the government and recent
widower, drives away from the station and disappears down
a stretch of two-lane blacktop.

LIGHTS, CAMERAS, ACTION!
Ninety percent of the scenes in the movie were shot
in the farmhouse and surrounding fields and woodlands.
An airfield is the setting for the drunken pilot’s
preparations for his fateful crop dusting of the Zombietransforming defoliant. The yellow bi-plane is not shown
in the footage at the hanger. In all probability it is a
Grumman two-seater aircraft commonly used for crop
dusting because of it’s low stall speed. The clips may be
stock footage, although the Rhinebeck airfield, north of
New York City displays many antique bi-planes and could
be the source of McCrann’s aviation scenes. The hanger
depicted in the movie is on Bailey Hill, a few miles
southeast of Ulysses. It was used by Raymond Buck around
the time that the film was shot. It is likely that Charlie
McCann inquired about a site that had an airfield and
hanger. It is a twenty minute drive from the Triboletti
house to film the hanger sequence. He then spliced it
with the bi-plane footage during editing.

One half mile from the farm, at North Bingham is
Lloyd Lake. The family camping scenes were shot at this
locale. The road shots were the Harrison Rooks Road,
the Mills/Bingham Road and Whiteman Road in Harrison
Township. The Hermit’s cabin, partially constructed of
logs is prominent in the Zombie attack scene against Cole
and the Hermit. The site of this cabin is unknown at the
time of this writing, but may be contained within the twenty
acre farm property formerly belonging to Albert
Schweigart, Sr.

The most easily recognized filming site is Sherwood’s
Garage along Route 49 just a mile east of Ulysses proper.
This is the last scene in the film as the tragic hero, Tom
Cole fuels up and then drives off leaving “the forest of
fear”. The only other character in the scene is the station
attendant. This man is not identified in the film credits,
and our research cannot identify him as a local. He bears
a resemblance to one of the hippie-Zombies with a wig
and beard. The local twist in this scene is the parked
vehicles in the background. The modified stockcar
belonged to Harold Sherwood and was run at Woodhull
Raceway as number 11Jr. It’s parked in Harold and Shirley
Sherwood’s front lawn, right beside the garage in the movie.
The muscle car was owned by Shirley. Today this model
is a classic car of the era (a Buick with the Spirit of America
paint scheme) featured in many Buick commercials in
1973.

The make-up and special effects were the realm of
Craig Harris. Considering the tight budget and limited
material resources, his skill in make-up show even through
the gore, amputations and head bashing! Harris went on
to do sound effects and editing on such hit movies as
BRAVEHEART, BACK TO THE FUTURE and THE
PRINCESS BRIDE.

Except for a few encounters with locals during film
production, usually as the hippie/Zombies wandered
through the countryside, the cast and crew kept to
themselves around the farm site. A teenaged Art Kear and
his companion, while riding dirtbikes, happened upon a
number of the cast members lounging on the front steps
of the farmhouse on a sunny afternoon, strumming guitars.
Art hung out with them for the afternoon and was
impressed by the friendly and relaxed atmosphere. One
of the female cast members, probably the lovely Debbie
Link, who portrayed the nude hippie girl shot while bathing
by the federal agents, stepped onto the porch wearing only
a towel around her. Young Art was given celebrity status
around Ulysses among his peers when relating the
encounter!

Within two weeks of their arrival at the farm, the
filming was complete and Charlie, his cast and crew
returned to New York to edit the film. Several mountain
scenes, shown as vistas early in the storyline, were spliced
in. The panoramas were actually the Rockies and western
pine forests. The airplane and crop dusting shots were also
added with the sound dubbed in. The background music
was generic and often absent with no dramatic crescendo
during the attack scenes.

The movie was finally completed with a running time
of 89 minutes. The working title, FOREST OF FEAR, was
changed to TOXIC ZOMBIES, although it’s European
releases also substituted BLOOD EATERS and BLOOD
BUTCHERS as titles. The featured actors were listed as
Charles McCrann, Beverly Shapiro and John Amplas.
Amplas was a previously well-known actor in independent
film circles. He was the lead performer in George A.
Romero’s MARTIN three years before his rather minor
role in TOXIC ZOMBIES. It wasn’t until 1980 that
McCrann released the film to the public.

THE UNDEAD IN AMERICA
The evolution of the Zombie archtype from it’s
VooDoo origins to the concept of “Toxic” transformation
first appeared in independent horror films in the early
1970s. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and McCrann’s
TOXIC ZOMBIES were created and filmed within a few
months of each other. Charlie’s film-making began and
ended with his production. NIGHT OF THE LIVING
DEAD released part II, and the image of living people
rather than corpses taking on Zombie personas became a
horror film standard.

The AMC cable television series WALKING DEAD
is now in its 3rd season with a multitude of Emmys. The
2013 release of the movie blockbuster WORLD WAR Z
stunned movie-goers with its apocalyptic take-over of a
post-nuclear world by millions of swarming Zombies.
The 16 days of filming in Potter County in the summer
of 1974 can be looked back on in two ways. This was
Charlie McCrann’s only flight of horror fantasy, or as a
catalyst for the probability of government breakdown
creating world-wide social chaos. His film was banned for
over 28 years in Great Britain as too gory; but other films
much more savage in nature, but not using a government
conspiracy plot, did not fall under the BBFC ban.

EVERYONE KNEW CHARLIE
Charles Austin McCrann, in his own easygoing fashion,
became involved with the Insurance Industry by
happenstance. He had just married his wife Michelle in
1979 and was ready to settle into family life; all he needed
was a career. Charlie first worked in midtown Manhattan
as a corporate lawyer for Marsh & McLennan, Inc. He was known throughout the company as a kind person with a
good sense of humor, a rarity in the l990 ‘s era of corporate
greed. A photo of Charlie taken in front of Princeton
Stadium in 1999, shows him with his 12 year old daughter
Maxine, his hand rests lightly on her arm, his head is
inclined slightly towards her, and he is smiling with both
affection and humor. In late August of 2001, Senior Vice
President of Marsh & McLennan, Charles McCrann
relocated to 1 World Trade Center with his office on the
100th floor. His insurance and financial company occupied
seven floors high in the first tower. On September 11th
Charlie and 295 employees were listed as missing after the
terror attack and the tower’s collapse.

On that Tuesday morning the world changed beyond
anything a screenwriter could have scripted. Charles
McCrann’s Zombie cult classic was rediscovered after his
death; and film historians recognized the early parallels
between this tiny little film venture shot in Potter County
and the number one rated television series, THE
WALKING DEAD. These film locations still exist in
Bingham, Harrison, Ulysses and Hector Townships.
Charlie would give a grin and a nod for a sequel.

R E S O U R C E S
¨ Dave Goudsward - Film Historian, 2010
correspondence
¨ Arthur Kear - Research notes 1010-12, photo credit
¨ Dr. Shane Blake - Research notes 1013,, Harrison/
Bingham Twps.
¨ David Castano - Research notes 1013 PCHS