A Night with Living Dead horror icon Judith O'Dea
Post by Maddie Greene on 7/3/2012 3:00pm
On a sunny day in Racine, in sight of the blue and horizonless lake, horror icon Judith O’Dea stands in a crisp clean dress and the full-body makeup of a walking corpse. Right now she’s preparing to film a scene for Jason Paul Collum’s movie Safe Inside. When she wraps this picture, she’ll lend her talents to Columbus-based filmmaker Cory Udler’s short film "Ed Gein: DDS," part of a horror film anthology to which both Udler and Collum are contributing.
“I love Wisconsin!” said O’Dea. “I’m glad to be back. I have a history with Wisconsin, having performed with the (Door County) Peninsula Players in the mid-sixties.”
Judith O’Dea is an icon of zombie history. In the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, O’Dea’s Barbra is beset by graveside zombies before quickly descending into hysteria under the undead onslaught. In horror cinema, no one has quite managed to do ethereal, terrified catatonia like O’Dea did it.
In Racine she exhibits a different kind of quiet. Reclining in a coffin for over an hour while crew buzzes around prepping, she’s professionally patient. Charming, too—she breaks a scene-prepping silence with a song: “Kids! What the devil’s wrong with these kids today?” Formerly a regular performer in musicals and revues (including weekly revues with the Peninsula Players), she faced a choice some decades ago: music or acting. “I chose to focus on the spoken word,” she said. This focus led not only to more regular film roles but also to O’Dea Communications, a company specializing in oral communication training.
Safe Inside, which is shot in and around Racine, follows a man who inherits the home of his recently deceased mother (O’Dea) and finds that he is not alone in it. The idea for this particular movie – the third he has shot with O’Dea – came to Collum in 2009. He confides that the story was largely inspired by the very house in which it was primarily shot. The 103-year-old farmhouse’s old tiles and crumbling plasters evoke a certain atmosphere, and its alarming crawlspaces, hidden doors, and varied nooks and crannies provide the perfect set for a creepy movie.
But Collum’s isn’t the only movie being shot tonight. It isn’t even the only movie inspired by a spooky object. Udler’s "Ed Gein: DDS" came about when star Tom Running, who plays Gein, acquired a mid-century dental chair that a former Mendota Mental Health Institute worker rescued from the trash. Its age makes it possible that Gein himself received dental work in the chair during his years at Mendota.
Running insists that sitting in a dentist’s chair with possible Gein connections is not particularly eerie. “It was a bright sunny day,” he said. “No, I didn’t get any heebie-jeebies from it, to be honest.”
The heebie-jeebies are plentiful, though, in Running’s scene with O’Dea. After dark Udler and his crew brave swarms of summer gnats to set up the scene for O’Dea’s cameo as Ed Gein’s mother. A furious, Biblical soliloquy highlights O’Dea’s vocal talents as she moves from stentorian Bible readings to manipulative harridan to doting mother. It’s not hard to cheer her decision to focus on the spoken word – O’Dea’s voice is an instrument.
The next day, O’Dea will return to her home in Flagstaff, Ariz., while Collum and Udler will review and edit the film they shot. Neither Safe Inside nor "Ed Gein: DDS" will be available to local audiences anytime soon. Collum has pickup shooting and CGI work ahead of him, and Udler plans to hold his short film until the other pieces of Hole in the Wall, the planned anthology, are ready while he continues to work on his full-length feature IDS Rising.
Photo: SAFE INSIDE. Copyright 2012, B+Boy Productions, LLC./photo by Kevin Manning