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COVER STORY | Vol. 7, No. 40, October 4, 2007
('Threshold of Hell' Journey Complete)

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'Threshold of Hell' Journey Complete

by Duwayne Escobedo

Tex Kennedy wants your vote in the year 3000.

He pops up in national presidential debates on YouTube wearing dark sunglasses, a loosened tie and three-day-old beard insulting moderator Wolf Blitzer for having to bail him out of "Disney jail" once and trying to explain away a big shiner on his right eye on being in a battle where a kid's arm got blown off and hit him.

While you might actually want to vote for a guy like that given 2008's less-than-thrilling political candidates, by now you've guessed it's all a ruse. Right?

The minute-long clips are actually part of a national ad campaign to get movie-goers from Pensacola to Minneapolis and Raleigh, N.C., to Portland, Ore., to go see "Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell."

That's right, after three years and against all odds, the movie shot on Pensacola Beach in July 2004 by Gulf Breeze product Kevin Wheatley, aka "Tex," is hitting the big screen Oct. 19 in more than two dozen cities across the United States.

"We knew it had this potential or otherwise we would have quit," says Wheatley, the movie's star, creator, director and executive producer in an exclusive interview with the Independent News from Los Angeles. "We knew 99 percent of all independent films never end up in theaters at all. I was coolly optimistic. But if it didn't make it I would've been upset, knowing we had great scenes and knowing how much everyone involved with it believed in it."

National Lampoon, a comedy powerhouse for 40 years with motion pictures such as "Animal House" and the "Vacation" series by comedian Chevy Chase, announced plans recently to distribute "Threshold of Hell." The post-apocalyptic comedy is part of Lampoon's recommitment in June to finance, produce and distribute its own feature films. That's something it essentially stopped doing since the early 1990s.

Jaime Bullock sounds like a soothsayer now in a June 2004 IN article done right before shooting began on Pensacola Beach. A 26-year-old Bullock insisted then: "We're going to do it. And, this is just the beginning of what we're going to do."

Today, the actress and producer laughs at her hubris. But Bullock, who plays "Cannibal" Sue in the movie, says she never gave up hope the campy film would one day gain a national audience.

"There was something about it that you knew this was supposed to happen," she says. "I had this feeling somewhere inside that this had potential. And it was like we had a guardian angel every time we needed it."

Several guardian angels most likely. The film and actors faced several obstacles and near-death experiences. For one, the film was shot on 22 days between July 5, 2004 and Aug. 4, 2004. On the beach. In heat indexes pushing 120 degrees.

Thanks to the supposedly endangered beach mouse-really nothing more than transplanted field mice that have adapted to the barrier island-"Threshold of Hell" lost its location when a mouse was discovered on the property.

Plus, because the film was being shot on the Gulf Islands National Seashore's Fort Pickens, it had to hire a park ranger to make sure the crew and actors stayed off the precious sea oats. They were warned a fine of $500 a pop would be assessed for each damaged sea oat.

During shooting, a drunken driver nearly swiped Wheatley's younger brother Scott before almost plowing into the director's grip truck head-on. The collision sent several crew members to the hospital.

Luckily, the "Threshold of Hell" wrapped up shooting just in time to barely miss Hurricane Ivan, which annihilated Fort Pickens and, of course, ripped up a lot of those pricey sea oats.

Once the finished product made the rounds of a string of film festivals last year, including the Pensacola Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival and Toronto After Dark in Canada, Wheatley says he spent his time setting straight industry insiders' false perceptions that the flick was merely a bloody, hack em and stack em on the beach, teen-age, B-movie horror flick.

It's much more than that. It's a dark comedy. It's a political satire. It's awell, Wheatley in his own words has described it as "a comedy/horror/western/political/post-apocalyptic/historical narrative."

In short, Tex Kennedy (Wheatley) in the year 2097 A.D. is trying to unite a battered "New America" that's beginning to reemerge two decades after a nuclear war nearly wiped out the nation. To build a new nation, Kennedy must go on a terrifying epic journey to the Threshold of Hell, as the future capital of New America is notoriously known.

The characters include Kennedy's two robot companions, "Cannibal" Sue, the great, great, great grandson of Fidel Castro, a giant sea snake, a Satanic cult and other bizarre heroes and psycho villains.

"Threshold of Hell's" cast includes Jane Seymour, who's currently on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," and most recently appeared in "Wedding Crashers;" Daniel Baldwin, the second oldest of the four Baldwin brother actors; Bill English, who's set to appear in ABC's new television series "Cavemen" as Joel, and gained recognition in the Broadway hit "20th Century;" and Bullock, who's acting rsum includes "Something's Gotta Give," and TV hit "Arrested Development."

Wheatley is busy producing a dozen YouTube videos promoting the movie, podcasts, radio and TV commercials and revamping the movie's website as the Oct. 19 release in 25 cities approaches.

By the way, those interested in the movie must play the "Feed Cannibal Sue Game" on the movie's website (thresholdofhell.com). You upload a picture of a "friend or loved one" (In our case, pictures of our favorite local politicians.) and watch a cartoon character of Cannibal Sue loudly chomp away as blood spurts everywhere.

"Right now, I'm really trying to get people in the seats," says Wheatley, who plans to be at the Pensacola opening night at the Carmike 10 Theater on Nine Mile Road.

National Lampoon is convinced "Threshold of Hell"-started on a projected $15,000 budget-will become its next cult classic. Financial terms were undisclosed.

Tom Daniels, Lampoon's president of worldwide distribution, says the edginess and attitude of the film attracted him to the film among the thousands he views a year.

"Stylistically and its attitude really works well for us," Daniels says. "Not everything National Lampoon does is slapstick or bathroom humor. That's not what we're about. This film here is typical. It's something with an edge to it and offbeat. We don't do anything we can't make money on."

Pensacola Film Festival Director Tom Roush remembers seeing the original 100-page script written by Wheatley and admits not being very impressed. Wheatley, who's acting career includes a list of doomed TV pilots, wrote the apocalyptic fantasy while on the set of the Warner Brothers pilot "Joint Custody."

"I remember it didn't read well," Roush says. "On the page, it was pretty chaotic. It was very hard to imagine what the characters were like."

But then, Roush saw the trailer made from more than 90 hours of shooting. Roush played the trailer at the 2005 Pensacola Film Festival and the movie last year and now predicts success for "Threshold of Hell."

"They cut a great trailer," he says. "They wrote it. Got it shot. Got it put together. Got it scene. And got it sold. They created their own pitch. You couldn't have done this even five years ago before MySpace and YouTube."

Those who remember watching the movie's hometown premiere in Ferdinand Plaza in the cold November air can expect to see a few changes in the theaters this time around.

For one, about 20 minutes has been shaved off the film. Also, much of the movie's music has been changed to avoid high royalty charges-some costing $30,000 for two seconds-and to better suit the scenes.

Wheatley and Bullock say they scoured MySpace to find music that represented "the roots of New America" and more importantly was cheap.

"We ran down musicians from across the U.S.," Wheatley says. "They're super talented, futuristic and fun loving. I really like what's going on with the soundtrack right now."

For now, Wheatley says sequels, originally planned to begin in November, are on hold for the story he says he has obsessed about since his childhood in Gulf Breeze. He's focused on promoting "Threshold of Hell" and he's working on another screenplay "Henchmen" about two expendable villains who decide to take matters into their own hands.

"I can't really go into too much right now, but I'll say that there is a lot of interest in the future story of Threshold,'" Wheatley says. "Much of that interest has refocused strongly to developing a Threshold of Hell' television series, tentatively titled Life and Times in the Threshold of Hell.' Obviously the series approach will allow us to explore the world much deeper. The idea for a series came about when I was 60 pages into the sequel script and had yet to introduce the main characters from the first film. There is still a lot to this epic Threshold' world that I can't wait to dive back into."

Meanwhile, Lampoon's Daniels doesn't rule out future "Threshold of Hell" movies, either. For now, the film is expected to be released on DVD early next year and begin hitting hotel's and cable network's on-demand services.

"Let's say this is a brand with deep characters and story and a sequel is certainly a possibility," he says.

Bullock, who is now focusing on producing commercials and documentaries instead of acting, says she would come back to play Cannibal Sue.

"The actress in me says, Yes, I would,'" she says. "I love being Cannibal Sue. What an awesome character to have written for you. The producer in me, though, says Yes, unless casting Jessica Alba as Sue in the next one will sell more tickets.'"

Wheatley jokingly says "Threshold of Hell's" release means his parents may now forgive him for having about 25 people involved in shooting the film hole up in their Gulf Breeze house for over a month.

"Looking back on the hardships we experienced is interesting at this point," he writes in a note on the comedy's website. "Against all odds we've made it this far when critics were telling us we'd fail every step of the way. But failure wasn't an option, and we were blessed with the opportunity to shape this dream our own way, without compromise."

FILMS SHOT IN NORTHWEST FLORIDA  
(Title, Year, Company, Location Used)
 
1.  "Molly O"  1921, Mack Sennett Film Company, Pensacola
2.  "Wings of the Navy" 1939, Warner Brothers, Pensacola
3.  "Flight Command" 1940, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Pensacola (briefly)
4.  "Dive Bomber" 1941, MGM, Pensacola (briefly)
5.  "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" 1944, MGM, Mary Esther, Ft. Walton Beach
6.  "Twelve O' Clock High" 1949, 20th Century Fox, Fort Walton Beach
7.  "The Wings of Eagles" 1957, MGM, Pensacola
8.  "Creature from the Black Lagoon" 1954, Universal, Wakulla Springs
9.  "The Green Berets" 1968, Warner, Ft. Walton Beach
10. "Threshold: the Blue Angels Experience" 1975, (No data), Pensacola
11. "Midway" 1976, Universal, Pensacola
12. "Jaws 2" 1978, Universal, Pensacola, Navarre
13. "The Winds of War" 1983, Paramount Television, Pensacola
14. "Bob Hope's High-Flying Birthday" 1986, NBC-Live, Pensacola
15. "War and Remembrance" 1988, ABC Films, Pensacola
16. "Unsolved Mysteries (Series Premiere Episode)" 1988, NBC-TV, Pensacola, Gulf Breeze
17. "Good Morning America (1st visit)" 1990, ABC-TV Live, Pensacola
19. "Vampire Cop" 1990, Panorama Entertainment, Pensacola
20. "Grand Isle" 1991, Turner Entertainment, Destin
21. "Stone Cold" 1991, Stone Group Pictures, Pensacola (briefly)
22. "UFO - The Untold Stories" 1994, Central Independent TV (England), Pensacola, Gulf Breeze
23. "Felony" 1995, Southern Star Films, Pensacola (briefly)
24. "The Magic of Flight (IMAX)" 1996, MacGillivray Freeman Films, Pensacola
25. "Air Force One" 1997, Columbia Pictures, Mary Esther, Fort Walton Beach
26. "Pensacola: Wings of Gold (2nd Season)" 1997, CBS Eyemark Entertainment, Pensacola (briefly)
27. "The Truman Show" 1998, Paramount Pictures, Seaside
28. "VH1 Rock Across America" 1998, (no data), Pensacola Beach
29. "Steven Irwin: Crocodile Hunter" 1999, Animal Planet, Fort Walton Beach
30. "Good Morning America (second visit)" 1999, ABC-TV Live, Pensacola
31. "America Undercover: Soldiers in the Army of God" 2001, HBO, Pensacola
32. "World Traveler" 2001, (no data), Pensacola Beach
33. "In the Shadow of the Blade" 2003, Arrowhead Films, Pensacola (briefly)
34. "Oriskany: Sinking of an Aircraft Carrier" 2006, Discovery Channel, Pensacola
35. "What We Did on our Holidays" 2006, (no data), Pensacola, Milton
36. "Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell" 2006, (no data), Pensacola
37. "Prison Break (second Season Finale)" 2007, Fox-TV, Penscola Beach (briefly)
 
Source: KENNETH L. MANNING, Bagdad, Florida.

The Beach Party At The Threshold Of Hell

Director: Kevin Wheatley and Jonny Gillette
Starring: Kevin Wheatley (Tex Kennedy), Paul Whitty (Quincy), Chandler Parker (Yul), Jamie Bullock (Cannibal Sue), Bill English (Benny Remington), Daniel Baldwin (Clark Remington) and Jane Seymour (President Laura Coffey)

Website: www.thresholdofhell.com.

Synopsis: The history of New America unfolds in the year 2097 A.D. Two decades ago, the great nation of the United States fell forever in a nuclear war. Now, the survivors must re-emerge from the ashes as the founding fathers of a brutal and bizarre new nation. We join Tex Kennedy (Wheatley), driven by the passionate objective to unite this battered nation, as he journeys to the deadly future capital of New America notoriously known as the Threshold of Hell. Standing by Tex's side are his two robot companions Yul (Parker) and Quincy (Whitty) and a fabled young woman known through legend as "Cannibal" Sue (Bullock). As Tex's epic journey progresses we learn how a young appointed king, his murderously jealous cousin, a giant sea snake, the great, great, great grandson of Fidel Castro, a powerful communication radio tower, and the spawn of Satan himself, all hold a vital presence in the New American mythology. Through the strange adventures of Tex Kennedy, the humble and terrifying birth of New America began. The events of this fantastical dark comedy will create our early heroes, our early villains and shape the history of our new nation forever.

National Debut
National Lampoon is distributing "The Beach Party At The Threshold Of Hell" in the following 25 markets, beginning Friday, Oct. 19:

Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Birmingham, Ala.; Boston; Chattanooga, Tenn., Colorado Springs, Colo., Decatur, Ill.; Durham, N.C.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Greensboro, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; La Crosse, Wis.; Los Angeles; Manhattan, Kan.; Minneapolis; Mobile; Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn; Pensacola; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh, N.C.; Richmond, Va.; San Francisco; Savannah, Ga.; and Winston/Salem, N.C.

National Lampoon and Feature Films
In June 2007, National Lampoon announced its intention to finance, produce and distribute its own feature films. Ultimately, the company hopes to release four of its own movies annually and acquire up to eight more for distribution. National Lampoon plans to produce 12 films over the course of the next three years, and in fact the first three are already in the works, with scheduled releases next year.

National Lampoon is best known for its 1978 comedy classic "Animal House," and its "Vacation" movies starring comedian Chevy Chase.

Announced projects include: "National Lampoon's Bag Boy," "National Lampoon's Ratko: The Dictator's Son" and "National Lampoon's 301: The Legend of Awesomest Maximus Wallace Leonidas."