Heights filmmaker Mel House jokes that he blacked out and when he woke up, he had the script for his newest film, “Mystery Spot.”
“It came really easy,” House said of the script, which he wrote four years ago and recently finished shooting in Hempstead.
Some former collaborators came on board for the project. Lisa Wilcox of two of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films has a starring role in the movie, as does Graham Skipper, who most recently appeared in the horror film “Bliss,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
A mystery spot is a gravity influenced visual illusion, the most famous of which is a tourist attraction near Santa Cruz, California. Called a “gravity box” or “tilted house,” visitors experience confusion with regard to the height and orientation of objects.
“It’s not a gore fest,” House said of his movie. “It’s more like an old-school ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”
For the past two weeks, the actors and crew, including many from Los Angeles, have been staying at the Hempstead Country Inn, which is also the location for the movie. House and his crew are working from 7 a.m-7 p.m. for 12 days, including two overnights, to complete the shoot.
“They are a bunch of really talented people,” House said. “It is easier to do movies like this (in Texas), and cheaper.”
The last horror film House wrote and directed was 2010’s Psychic Experiment, or Walking Distance as it is also known. It was filmed in Texas City, Houston and the Strand in Galveston and picked up by Lions Gate Entertainment for U.S. DVD release, followed by releases in Japan, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. House wrote “Imago” with Chris Warren who also directed that movie in 2009. And in 2007, House directed “Closet Space,” written by Jason Stewart, and starring wife Melanie Donihoo.
The new movie is part of an evolution of sorts for House, who is father to an elementary school daughter – Regan, who has a small role in “Mystery Spot.”
“The older I get, the more I experience life and it goes back into my work,” House said.
Lyle Kanouse, who is one of the movie’s producers along with wife Audrey Wasilewski, said they were drawn to the project because of the story and the characters. Kanouse helped flesh out an early version of the script.
“It has a great story,” Kanouse said. “It’s kind of like a David Lynch-style telling of things. It’s really fun and just kind of resonates.”
Kanouse appeared in nine national tours of Broadway shows and also appeared with Annette Bening, Alfred Molina and Frances Fisher in “The Cherry Orchard” in the mid-2000s. Wasilewski appeared in the films “RED,” “What Women Want” and “My Life as a Teenage Robot.” House said he had a good working relationship with both them from previous projects.
As producers of a movie like “Mystery Spot,” Kanouse and Wasilewski fulfill a multitude of jobs. Wasilewski is also working as a costumer and in a craft services capacity.
Kanouse said they are fulfilling an artistic role as well.
“(Mel) told us he needed creative people he could trust to offer input and critique,” Kanouse said. “We’d never tell a director what to do. We’re just another set of eyes.”
When he is not making feature films, House’s production company makes video projects for commercial clients as well as produces and provides support and equipment for several independent shorts and music videos. House grew up in Northwest Houston and attended Oak Forest Elementary, Ruby Sue Clifton Middle School and Scarborough High School.
Another local tie to “Mystery Spot” are two of its actors. Julie Osterman works in local theatre and also directs children’s plays and musicals. She’s been in two music videos with House and he asked her to be in “Mystery Spot.” She plays Tracy, an aspiring actress, who gets into something she really doesn’t understand.
“I have learned so much from Graham (Skipper) and Lisa (Wilcox) in terms of acting for film,” Osterman said. “The entire cast and crew has been so welcoming. It’s also been so interesting to hear the stories of how they became involved in this project, whether they’re fellow Texans or hail from Los Angeles, Canada and even Australia. It’s like Seven Degrees of Mel House.”
Osterman’s 9-year old daughter and Oak Forest Elementary fourth grader, Emma, also plays her daughter in the movie.
“It was fun to meet new people and to see how a movie is made,” Emma said. “I’ve been in a lot of plays, but I’ve never been in a movie. It’s really different. In a movie, you keep on doing the scene until you get it right. But in a play, you do it once and that’s it. I’m really excited to see how it turns out.”