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Five Horrific Questions with ‘Closed for the Season’s Jay Woelfel

Menacing clown in Jay Woelfel's 'Closed for the Season'
Menacing clown in Jay Woelfel's 'Closed for the Season'
It’s that time of year again! Time to ask another horde of hungry horror filmmakers five horrific questions about the genre and why we like to have our pants scared off.

Kicking off our second annual fearful feature is Jay Woelfel. The writer, director, producer and Columbus, Ohio, native is well known for his creature features, including the scary tale mentioned in our headline, Closed for the Season. The film was shot on location at an abandoned amusement park in Chippewa Lake, Ohio, and based on folklore about the spooky setting.

While Woelfel has produced his fair share of horror films – Season of Darkness, Live Evil, Ghost Lake and Unseen Evil – he has also produced and directed crime dramas, war films and a SF convention fan-favorite, Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming. He won the Interactive Academy Award for Best Documentary for his Titanic, narrated by Patrick Stewart.

The Ohio State University included him in its Buckeye Brilliance permanent display of outstanding achievements by graduates, and he lectures film students across the country at UCLA, OSU, Bowling Green State University and more.

And when you get down to brass tacks, Woelfel just knows how to scare you to death.

Five Horrific Questions with Jay Woelfel

MMM: What makes a horror movie scary? 

Filmmaker Jay Woelfel on the set of 'Closed for the Season'
Filmmaker Jay Woelfel on the set of
'Closed for the Season'
Jay Woelfel: Most of the same things that make any movie good.  And that’s not to say that anybody can make a good horror movie—plenty of people have proved they can’t.  There is a certain atmosphere and imagination, both from the filmmakers and one that must be awakened in the audience, for it to work.  It’s not something for everyone – or in everyone – to get involved with enjoy. 

I guess you have to believe a good horror movie, because a lot of things in horror films are not in everyday life. You have to be convinced and sucked into the story. More than that, the world or the rules of the specific story – or both.  So you need an atmosphere to breathe and really live there and be scared. 

You also need a sense of discovery in a horror movie. That is why copy cat films and redone or homage scenes don’t add up to a good horror movie.  Dread. You need that in a scary movie.

And not Judge Dredd either. Let me repeat Judge Dredd doesn’t not make a movie scary.

MMM: What movie frightened you the most? 

Jay Woelfel: There isn’t just one, but JAWS was the scariest movie I had seen up to that time, and the film I’ve seen the most times since.   The movie that still frightens me the most is LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH
But let’s face it. Most people get scared the most when they are kids and before they ever go out to see a movie.  So you’re apt to be scared by television or the Internet now probably. 

Behind the scenes at Chippewa Lake abandoned amusement park.
Behind the scenes at Chippewa Lake abandoned amusement park.
The Twilight Zone episode THE JUNGLE scared and scares me.  The Star Trek episode DEVIL IN THE DARK scared me.  THE CHANGELING with George C. Scott has some great quick scares and also a slow build of scares that grow upon each other.  It also has an answer that makes sense of the question of all haunted house movies, ‘Why don’t they just leave?” 

And here’s a film that deserves another look, SEE NO EVIL with Mia Farrow, for many reasons. But the idea of coming home and finding out, slowly but inevitably, that everyone you knew has been killed in the house while you were gone and the killer is coming back for you.  Oh, and one more thing about that movie, BEWARE THE BOOTS.

MMM: Who is your horror inspiration? 

Jay Woelfel: Robert Bloch, both for his own style and brand of fiction and screenplay work, but because he led me to Lovecraft and others.  Stephen King, but oddly really for his NIGHT SHIFT short story collection, and he credits Bloch as an inspiration too. But also and especially for his casual non-fiction book about horror, DANSE MACABRE.  If you only read two books about how horror works and what it’s about, read that and Lovecraft’s non-fiction essay SUPERNATURAL HORROR IN LITERATURE.  Anyone who wants genuine inspiration and knowledge about horror must read both of those. And if you haven’t?   You’ll have a hard time convincing me you really know horror.

MMM: Why do we like to be scared? 

Jay Woelfel: I think it was Hitchcock who said that people like to experience emotions in films, and fear is an emotion like anything else. So of course we like being scared at movies. 

Applying makeup to horror clown
Applying make-up.
It’s also a safe place to experience fear and learn to deal with it through characters in the story.   We can then overcome it, grow from experiencing it, learn to deal with it.  Regular media knows it draws an audience and uses the promise of fear and destruction all the time. 

Fear is also a primal emotion.  It’s been argued that it’s the first emotion any species has.   When you confront it you are dealing with the basic choices and struggles of good and evil and that brings up potential big questions of life beyond this one, gods and devils. 

So being scared is both a cheap rollercoaster thrill and it’s an end game life changer question of cosmic truths and fears.  Am I saying it’s all things to all people?  Maybe….

MMM: What movie would you like to turn into a horror movie? 

A horror version of 'Gilligan's Island'? Sign us up!
A horror version of 'Gilligan's Island'? Sign us up!
Jay Woelfel: Well it’s not a movie, but GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.  They always remake everything and anything that was ever made so I thought, “Why not do GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, only don’t try to make it a comedy because that’s already been done?” 

Though LOST sort of “stole” my idea and did with it what I would have until they killed off Terry O’Quinn that is something you just do not do.  The best parts of that show are the scariest ones.  That show also got lost in flashbacks and forgot there was a non-flashback story we were supposed to be experiencing. 

And where was the cannibalism? 

Well perhaps I can still do it as a movie after all.

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