Media Life: New horror film debuts with a hush and a twist of Auburn

First screening of "Transcendent" at Portland film festival this weekend
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Media Life columnist
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Auburn filmmaker Chris Crites will debut his “labor of Lovecraft” this weekend at a Portland horror film festival.

Crites, who goes by the nom de film of Mars, has crafted the 36-minute frightfest “Transcendent” over the last three years on a budget of less than $10,000 and with a local cast and crew that obviously didn’t sign on for the money.

Taking a cue from 2011’s Best Picture Oscar winner “The Artist,” “Transcendent” is black-and-white and mostly silent.

“I realistically don’t think that a silent film is commercially viable - “The Artist” was a fluke,” Crites said. “But I love the silent horror films and I’m happy with the way this one turned out.”

Saturday is the big day for Crites and “Transcendent,” when the film premieres at Portland’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. The film’s plot is inspired by the writings of Lovecraft, who corresponded with Auburn fantasy writer and poet Clark Ashton Smith over a period of decades. “Transcendent” is loosely adopted from Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and is a homecoming story of one woman’s journey to find her place in the world.


Multitasking filmmaker

Crites, who does double duty on “Transcendent” as screenwriter and director, describes it as a short film that lives somewhere between art, surrealist experimentalism and horror. A go-to composer in the world of independent horror-film soundtracks, Crites was also onboard writing and performing music that helps set the scene for the unfolding horror in “Transcendent.”

Eventually Crites is hoping for a showing in Auburn. He’s already booked a screening at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival in October.

Fittingly, Auburn settings are all over “Transcendent,” with some of the more noticeable locations at the Bernhard House winery, Old Town Auburn and Auburn Ravine.

Cassie Mosher has the lead role as Mary Celeste Marsh. Crites said that the character’s moniker name-checks the 19th century ‘ghost ship” Mary Celeste. Teal Sherer, best known for her role as “Venom” on the award-winning web-series “The Guild,” also has a key role.

For some of the other characters, Crites dipped into his pool of Auburn-area friends and acquaintances dating back to his school days in Auburn. Marc Hathaway shows up as a high priest. Patrick McDonough appears as a character described as a “goat whisperer.” Placer High alumni “Skinner,” who uses the one-name professionally and crafts toys and art sold in Japan, built a giant altar statue for key scenes.


Auburn wonder kid appears

Even 11-year-old Auburn wunderkind Sylvia Todd, host of the online “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show” and a recent White House guest for a science fair visited by President Obama, makes an appearance. Todd, by the way, was featured in a New York Times article on the White House Science Fair last month. Obama tested out her award-winning WaterColorBot and she reported getting to shake the president’s hand twice. Obama’s doodle, painted by the robot, will be framed, she told the Times reporter.

Crites said that PlacerArts executive director Angela Tahti was a huge help in gaining access to a Placer County government building to film an office scene. Also providing a behind-the-scenes boost to the production was Beverly Lewis of the Placer-Tahoe Film Office.

Crites’ small but mighty production has the 8 p.m. Saturday night slot at the festival and expects as many as 200 audience members for “Transcendent’s” first showing.