REMEMBERING THE KING OF MIDWEST HORROR
by Chris Dettone
A Life Between Frames – Mark Burchett (1960 – 2014)
Cincinnati’s history in the film industry, while widely varied, sporadic, and even sparse at times, would be incomplete without certain names; Steven Spielberg, Emilio Esteves, Tiffany Hines, Tim DeZarn, and so many others. However, often left unmentioned is Cincinnati’s Independent Film history, and with it, its own set of Icons. Today we will take an up-close look at the life of one of those icons, as well as the legacy he left behind, to paint a clear picture of his contribution to the now established filmmaking community in the Queen City.
Mark Allan Burchett was born on April 20, 1960 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was a director and writer, known for Evil Ambitions (1996), Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II (2004), and Hell-O-Ween (2011), though these were far from his only works. Mark worked throughout the mid nineties to 2012 directing a portfolio of seven titles and assisting on many more.
Mark quickly became legend in the indie film community especially with his cunning blend of sex and blood, in Vamps. Still, lest you think turning out such potentially tawdry fare takes little finesse or directorial skills, take another lap around the coffin.
"He was very good with working with actors and the actresses," says one of his Assistant Directors, Eric Chatterjee. "You get a lot of stuff that requires nudity, and that’s a pretty vulnerable position for an actress to be in, especially surrounded by a whole bunch of crew. Mark was always really good at making people feel comfortable, and I don’t talk about just in terms of the nude scenes, I’m talking in general. He was really an amiable guy. He was one of those people you enjoyed hanging out with, so when you’re working 16 hours days, having somebody around like that makes it so much easier, especially when you’re in production.”
"The thing you have to remember is that these actors, most of them weren’t actors," Vamps cinematographer Jeff Barklage says. "At least most of the girls were actual real strippers (laughs), that work at night.
So we have an eight o’clock crew call and they’d roll in at noon. It was a hard situation to deal with."
Mark knew how to attract talent behind the camera. Mark had a conversation with Barklage, who was known at the time for shooting commercials. "When he mentioned vampire hookers, I went, well, this is going to be fun. (laughs) He showed me a trailer for something he did about some kind of crazy janitor. Janitor From Hell was the name of the project they had shot with somebody else. A lot of T&A, and blood and guts and stuff, and I thought, this looks like fun."
His Vamps series is an ode to the origins of lovably campy horror, with the first debuting in 1995, and a sequel following in 2002. The films follow tribes of suitably seductive vampiric strippers, and a morally questionable but ultimately good-hearted priest named Seamus (Paul Morris) as they battle over the fate of the Strip Club’s only human employee; the destitute but hopeful student, Heather (Jennifer Huss), who was recently hired at the club in order to pay her way through college. Seamus’s obsession with horror films, as well as his own waning faith guide his hand as he attempts to prevent Tasha, the club’s vampiric owner, from turning Heather into her eternal, undead love interest.
While, as can be expected, Vamps was met with mixed reviews; it ultimately developed a following in the circles of horror devotees and cemented Mark’s name in the annals of Independent Horror.
"He was very much from the storytelling aspect rather than the camera aspect," says Chatterjee. "A lot of films, particularly horror films spend more time on creating mood and an atmosphere through their visual content and soundtrack, and sort of slights the story. I think Mark was at the opposite side of the spectrum where there was a real plot there, more than it was about shaky camera movement and moving from the dark."
His subsequent films such as Evil Ambitions (1996), Curse of the Bokor Mask (2010), and Hell-O-Ween (2011) capitalized on this following, leading to a wide reception for those titles across the fanbase of indie horror as well.
As is often the case in the world of Independent Film, Mark fille dmany roles, writing as well as
directing most of his projects in addition to often appearing in them himself. Such was his
passion for creating film.
"People realized that people who have jobs elsewhere outside the industry can actually make
movies," says Barklage. "At that time, Mark worked at the Showcase Cinemas as a manager. Here’s a guy who manages a movie theater and then goes out on weekends and makes movies. That’s pretty cool.You can tell he (was) a total fan."
"Mark really launched a ton of careers," Chatterjee adds. "What we lost with Mark is that he did that every time he did another film, to launch more peoples’ careers."
In the wake of his passing in 2014, the Independent Film community in Cincinnati honored him and his contributions with a ceremony held at the 20th Century Theatre where friends, family, and fans gathered to remember him, his work, and all the lives he touched along the way.