Eric Stanze is the most successful filmmaker in St. Louis. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Stanze has passed up lucrative job offers from Hollywood to stay with his team and go the underground route. "I got a job offer from a fairly prominent production company in LA that was cranking out movies for the home-video market and for cable," he says, "movies that had million-dollar budgets, $2 million budgets, somewhere in there. I had a job offer to be an editor on those features. It would pay me decent and get my name on a whole lot of hiring product that would have been shown on cable and gotten a much higher saturation than the video rental.

"But I wouldn't be directing," says Stanze, who won't give up control to anybody on his projects. "I wouldn't be anywhere close to being in charge of anything. I would be assigned, and, most importantly, I wouldn't be working with the people I'm working with in St. Louis."

After he gathered his team and told them of the offer, they advised him to go for the Hollywood gold. "I thought about it for about an hour and decided I'd rather stay here," Stanze says. "I didn't realize until recently how much of an impact it had on them.

Jeremy Wallace is directing The Undertow, which Stanze describes as "Deliverance meets Freddy Krueger."
Jennifer Silverberg
Jeremy Wallace is directing The Undertow, which Stanze describes as "Deliverance meets Freddy Krueger."
DJ Vivona kills off humans in ghastly ways in Ice From the Sun.
Jennifer Silverberg
DJ Vivona kills off humans in ghastly ways in Ice From the Sun.

"When you sacrifice like that and show your team that you're willing to scrape by to get these movies made, that influences them a lot and inspires them to be dedicated to the process."

The team that works with him most consistently is a combination of fellow misfits who grew up with him in Jefferson County -- Windsor High and Jefferson College alums -- Webster University malcontents and Way Out Club punkers.

DJ Vivona -- the Presence in Ice, along with roles in several Wicked Pixel shorts -- performed in competitive drama meets with Stanze at Windsor High. The two alternated playing the crazy characters in The Zoo Story and Ordinary People.

Jason Christ, who chokes on his tongue in Ice and will direct Savage Harvest 2: October Blood for Sub Rosa Extreme, remembers walking in the rain to see the Jefferson College premiere of "The Scare Game" because "I was blown away that anybody was making a movie in Jefferson County." Christ was stopped at the door, however, because at the time he was underage.

Ramona Midgett is ripped in half by a demon in Savage Harvest and spent about an hour-and-a-half in bathwater in Stanze's apartment, shooting the suicide scene in Ice From the Sun. She's also an alum of Windsor High and Jefferson College, where she played Joan in George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. She says she'd work with Stanze again in a phone call: "I consider Eric a great friend."

Ramona is married to David Midgett of local punk band the Ded Bugs, for whom Stanze has made music videos. Brian McClelland of local band Hotel Faux Pas has compiled the soundtracks to Stanze's pictures. Ice From the Sun includes songs by another local band, Johnny Magnet.

Jeremy Wallace reminisces fondly about the days when, to keep themselves going while making a movie, he and Stanze slugged extra-strong coffee to wash down No-Doz and teaspoonfuls of Folgers Instant. They trudged around Imperial with a Super-8 when they were teenagers.

Wallace is now directing The Undertow for Sub Rosa Extreme and has worked as Stanze's producer on both Ice and Scrapbook. He also directed one of the dumbest movies ever made, The Christmas Season Massacre. Christmas tells the story of a serial killer who wears one shoe, a pirate's eye patch and a red bandana. Stanze has a cameo in the film as Boomer, who drinks tequila and takes a very long piss before he dies.

Just about everybody dies in Christmas, but none of them soon enough.

After checking the lights inside a small cinder-block shack at the end of a rutted road near Old Mines, Missouri -- horror country -- Stanze has a few words to say about violence in films: "Everybody who complains loudest about violent movies, violent TV, violent videos, are the ones most worried about their own parenting. Kids don't shoot each other because of violent movies. Kids shoot each other because of bad parenting."

On location for The Undertow, two parents, John and Katrina Specht, smear mud on their ten-year-old son, John. They cover his T-shirt, arms and pants. Young John doesn't look too happy about it, but once it's done he's on his feet, smiling. "I feel better now," he says.

Stepdad John, who's handling the mic today, has already prepared little John and fellow cast member Ed Belt for the upcoming scene.

This is Belt's property. He's anxious to get the shooting done so he can mow the tall grass around the trailer, but, he says, "They want it like this for the movie." Belt is a gray-haired, wiry 52-year-old. He plays the mayor, who trains his mentally challenged inbred son, "the Boy," to kill those who would infiltrate and corrupt his small backwoods Missouri town. Stanze refers to The Undertow as "Deliverance meets Freddy Krueger."

"He's been in movies before," stepdad John assures Belt. "He's a pro. You can say anything. You can use the F-word. He's heard it before."

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