MARION - Filmmaker Hunter Adams intended to direct his new gothic thriller "Dig Two Graves" in the rural areas of his home state of Wisconsin.
He abruptly relocated the production to the southern tip of Illinois. Why?
"Tax incentives!" Adams said. "When we started to hone in on locations, the tax credits (of Illinois) became very enticing."
He met with guides who drove him around the southern counties. Adams suddenly realized he had stuck a visual gold mine, as well
"It was perfect!" he declared. "It was exactly what we were looking for! It's weird and wild! It's got swamps. It's hilly. It's a perfect backdrop for a gothic thriller."
His movie -- a creepy little tale about a girl who makes a deal with mysterious moonshiners to sacrifice an innocent classmate so she can bring her dead brother back to life -- takes place during both the 1940s and the 1970s.
"Dig Two Graves" was released March 24, on I-Tunes and in Chicago theaters. The movie will be screened at the Marion Civic and Cultural Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 15.
Adams and his crew spent four weeks shooting in January 2014, then came back for a few weeks during July and August to finish the summer scenes.
"Anywhere I pointed the camera looked cool!" said Adams, who tends to speak in exclamation points.
"Southern Illinois is so different from the rest of Illinois. It has this wild feel to it. It gave the film a greater grandeur. It's really hard to screw up the shots because it's so gorgeous!"
P.J. Fishwick of Chicago, one of the producers, met Adams when they both worked on Michael Mann's crime thriller, "Public Enemy."
"We were all over southern Illinois," Fishwick said. "Those locations are gorgeous, but they're really hard to get to sometimes. You don't want to spend half a day moving across two counties."
Travel times were more than offset by the support the filmmaker received from the local citizens.
"Everyone was really excited that southern Illinois was being featured in a movie and they wanted to help," Fishwick said. "In Chicago, it's like, ugh! You're shutting down my street for 'Chicago P.D.' again?' Shooting down south was really refreshing."
Southern Illinois historian and author Jon Musgrave said Adams wanted to tie the story into the mythology and culture of the region.
"When you get south of Marion into the hills, we have a very dramatic history, a very violent history," Musgrave said. "Even though 'Two Graves' is fiction, it fits very well into the region, especially in the 1940s."
Adams said that the region's colorful, violent past (riddled with river pirates, moonshiners, gangsters, assassinations and casinos) helped shape his final story.
"It was also helpful that the place felt just a little bit out of time, you know?" Adam said. "We could roll into town and with very little window dressing, we could start shooting.
"People had old cars. Local thrift shops and antique stores had all things we could use. It was very easy to replicate the 1970s."
Local biologist Tony Gerard supplied two of the film's key visual details, a menacing snake and the dead animals used in dressing up the moonshiners' set.
Gerard spent weeks collecting road kill, which he stored in his freezer until the carcasses were ready for their close-ups.
To hear the filmmakers' account of the weather, Gerard probably didn't need his freezer.
"We probably could not have chosen a colder time to be there," Adams lamented. "Often time, we were out in the middle of nowhere. No water. No power. No easy way to keep warm. Every house we filmed in had been abandoned. People just picked up and left. It was really cold."
"But southern Illinois was so incredibly gracious in allowing us to shoot down there," Producer Claire Connelly. "Incredible locations and very, very nice people."
And a few superstitious ones, too.
Connelly hired a couple of men to watch over an old house used as the Proctor's house in the movie.
"These guys are not afraid of much, but the next morning, they told us 'We're not going back into that house!'" she said. "Something crazy happened there during the night. A door slammed shut and other crazy things happened. They were convinced the place was haunted."
"Not so much haunted as cold," Adams added. "There were a few really spooky places we worked at.
"But people mostly just wanted to be warm."