Meet the Man Who Spent a Million Dollars Making a Corey Feldman Film

By  · Published on May 14th, 2015

At the turn of the century, the owner of a successful traffic control business spent a million dollars to bring his horror screenplay to life. The script was based on his experiences being haunted as a young man and featured a group of college students playing around with candles and secret chants on a dark, stormy night. Seance (also called Killer in the Dark) was meant to be a pilot episode for a television series, but then Corey Feldman joined the project. Then Adam West signed on for a cameo. It got bigger, and so did the budget.

Up until yesterday, the movie had earned its writer/financier Richard Vasquez exactly $46.11.

That number may go up because Vasquez’s son’s friend made an ironic-appreciation-loving internet aware of the project on Reddit, in a post that had all the ingredients for success. Bizarre story, six figures, Adam West, Corey Feldman, a trailer that would give Tommy Wiseau Reasonable Chub. The entire film is now on YouTube in 10 separate, clunky parts (which is somehow completely appropriate for this thing). The People are ready to throw their spoons at it.

It would be disingenuous to say that the story behind the making of the movie or the reasons why it didn’t make it into the public eye until 15 years later are somehow more interesting than the film itself. That’s because this is a fairly common story of dusty Hollywood connections, first-time filmmakers, empty promises and less than fifty bucks in revenue. It’s a tragic tale in two parts that begins with a fallen child star.

“My director John Preston was friends at one time with Corey,” Vasquez tells me. “He was able and willing to get a script to Corey. The day we started casting, Corey called me and told me he loved the script and wanted to be the main character.”

That main character, Jon, is a young man tortured by childhood memories of a ghost tortured by childhood memories (of being killed). The little boy ghost would visit his and his brother’s bedroom at night and play with their toys, and when mom finds out, she searches for a spiritual expert to cleanse their house.

After he shares that story with his asshole friends, they decide to have a seance to wake the spirit and bad things start to happen.

Naturally, Adam West plays a homeless angel.

West was brought on through the same method that snagged Feldman. The movie’s casting director’s daughter (yup) was West’s agent in 2000. “At that time, which was before Family Guy, Adam was available and willing to come on board with certain restrictions: no calling him Batman or making any reference to the character,” Vasquez says. That may be the most heart-breaking element of the entire story, one echoed by Jason Perez, who played one of the young boys in the film.

“Adam West wasn’t that cool, and I always found it funny how highly billed he was especially since he was just in the film for a couple scenes,” Perez commented on Reddit. “When he came to set we all had to be locked inside our trailers so that we wouldn’t disturb him and we also weren’t allowed to mention Batman if we ever interacted with him…which as a kid was such a dream crusher.”

Speaking of dreams being crushed, we’ve come to Part Two of the story. The movie’s finished, West has done his work irritating the hometown cast, and Vasquez is keen to get it into theaters.

Here’s what happened in Vasquez’s own words.

“When we finished the film, a contact of one of my producers introduced me to David Keith, one of the producers of Elm Street, and we met. He reviewed the film and told me that he could move the product, however he needed a 5-year contract. Because of his prior success with the Elm Street series, I signed.

“Not one bit did I hear from David. Throughout the five years I contacted him, but there was no movement of the film at all. So that was 5 years. Then I was advised that I should get an entertainment lawyer to help me find distribution. Once again this person had all the faith that it would be a slam dunk. After I paid for a trip to Cannes, which turned out to be a Greek island, he came back with no results. Actually no sales over the 5 years. However, he recommended a woman who says she knows everybody in television and she would move it on TV. Never happened. So that was 12 years of the picture’s life.”

This is the slightly confusing, sad part of the story. I asked for clarification on the “Greek island” comment, and it turns out Vasquez paid for the lawyer to go to Cannes to represent the movie, and it’s clear that he segued the trip into a vacation in Greece, but it’s unclear exactly how much work was done to try to sell Seance at the film market.

The other weird thing is that I can’t find anyone named David Keith associated with the Elm Street franchise. Not on IMDB. Not on Google. Nothing. I’m currently waiting for Vasquez to return an email clearing that up. Either he’s not remembering the details correctly, or someone named David Keith claimed to be a part of making A Nightmare on Elm Street in order to score a distribution contract from a first-time producer.

There’s one more important thing to note here, and since Vasquez seems wholly genuine in his intentions and enthusiasm for the project, it pains me a little to say. The truth is that anyone who saw this movie and proclaimed that they could sell it – at a film market or at a flea market – was either incompetent or lying to make money. The issue with Seance is that it’s generically bad, a poorly lit effort from a director who wouldn’t go on to work again and a writer who only had to answer to his own bank account.

That’s not to say that there aren’t schlocky horror films out there that find willing distributors. There are, and their stories are almost always the same.

What’s more fascinating about this particular schlocky film is how it stands out from the stereotype of self-financing. As Landon Palmer points out using The Room, Easy Rider 2 and the work of Neil Breen as examples, there’s a subset of self-financed movies that are usually 1) made by white, middle-aged guys and 2) focus on a white, middle-aged, put-upon hero who shows everybody. You know, really show ‘em.

Where they are each singular exceptions to any traditional approach to filmmaking, The Room, Easy Rider 2: The Ride Back, and Breen’s oeuvre show remarkable overlaps evident in their star-making visions of exceptional individualism that play out in their themes, the stories of their making via individual fortunes, their odd and sometimes troubling representations of women opposite prodigious men, and even their shared priorities in displaying their makers’ naked bodies in front of the camera.

Vasquez’s project doesn’t fit into any of these categories. Yes, the story was based on his own experiences, but the rest of the film is a departure from them, Vasquez never appears on screen, and the focus is a lesson not to mess with the occult instead of an exercise in self-aggrandizement. This was a guy who closed off traffic for gigantic events for a living, putting his money into a movie he believed in, scoring actors who were desperately available, and created a masterpiece of amateurism.

Ten years after Vasquez produced Seance, he learned that The Bosco Group (a sales rep and distributor that trades in horror schlock like Ron Jeremy in Haunted Trailer) might want to sell his film.

Contracts were signed, and the company set a release date in 2010. This is when Vasquez made the $46.11.

That’s where the story ended until the Reddit post. As of right now, the first installment of the movie has been viewed (or, more likely, loaded) over 120,000 times. The final installment has been viewed less than 2,000 – making it a kind of new cine-sadist endurance test. The production has set up a PayPal account so that appreciative fans can donate to the cause. Recouping a million seems largely unlikely, but so did a potato salad scoring thousands of dollars in funding, so who knows. Forget it, Jake. It’s the internet.

When I ask Vasquez whether he’s comfortable with his movie being loved ironically, he answers with a level head for a guy who poured a million dollars of his own money into a movie he sincerely likes, but that’s languished for years.

“Oh, it’s very understandable. With my budget and sources for production, it can not be compared to a major motion picture. It has a fear and humor that was brought to the board that could make it a fun – not the best production – but a good fun ride.”

Fifteen years later, the ride isn’t quite over yet.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.