Curbside Press has highlighted movies made in Oregon before, even iconic scary movies that are known all over the world. But those films obtained their reach because of lots of money and influence that spanned to Hollywood and beyond.
Today, we’re focusing on a truly Oregon-made film -- a series of films, really -- all written by Milwaukie, Oregon-born Ted Pfeifer. They were filmed here in The Beaver State, using a local cast and crew.
The small production means they probably aren’t as polished as some of the big budget slasher films you’re used to watching, but that’s no problem for this series. These films celebrate their campiness and embrace the problems that tend to mount when taking on a feature-length production.
Pfeifer is proud enough that he made his dream a reality: he made a movie, and it was so much fun he made two more.
Check out the trailer below and read on for a deeper dive into the films and their creator.
Pfeifer has been writing screenplays for much of his life, often with his brother, Chris. Both siblings initially penned the story that would be adapted by Pfeifer into Harvest of Fear, the first slasher in a series about a small town that’s caught in the grips of a deadly cycle.
The story focuses on Billy McKinley, a medical intern who arrives in the fictional town of Devils Lake right as a string of murders takes place during the annual harvest festival. A masked killer is targeting the town’s young adults (of course), and it all seems to fit the M.O. of a string of killings decades years prior.
The local sheriff’s office is overwhelmed by the violence, and it isn’t clear until the very end who the homicidal maniac terrorizing the town may be.
Pfeifer said he’s always been drawn to the horror genre. He cited Alfred Hitchcock as a major influence, as well as classic slasher films like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th.
Pfeifer also said that, while he’s always loved cinema, he really expanded his influences after he managed a Blockbuster Video store many years ago. Every day while opening the store, he’d pop a VHS into the television and watch some old flick while getting ready for the day.
He wrote screenplays with his brother for years and even got to be an extra on a Portland-produced slasher film in 1992, Dr. Giggles. But getting a taste of the larger aspects of moviemaking didn’t come until later.
The Harvest of Fear production came about after Pfeifer, who’s main profession was as a real estate agent at the time, met a local home builder who was also an actor. They decided they wanted to get into the movie-making business, so they set out to make the film just one week after meeting.
Local actors and technical crew members made up the production, which took place in 2003. Filming took just two weeks and Pfeifer estimated the budget at $65,000. Pfeifer doesn’t consider the low budget and local production to be a barrier, however, as the horror genre lends itself to cheesy performances and at-times campy scenarios. Pfeifer even has a role as Deputy Lee Silver, who he says was a “goofy deputy character” that he wrote for himself.
The newness of filmmaking to this freshman production crew also shows in some continuity issues, like a scene where a corpse at the medical examiner's office is clearly breathing, though this blunder is not meant to be in the story and other actors on screen don’t acknowledge it.
Pfeifer chuckled when he explained that when they filmed the scene they first watched on a tiny little camera monitor and couldn’t quite tell if the actress’ breathing was noticeable in the frame. They told her to do her best holding her breath and they carried on with filming.
When they went to watch it on a larger computer monitor during the editing process, they caught a little bit of movement but thought it wasn’t terribly noticeable. When they held the premiere for the movie, on the big screen, the slight breathing was overwhelmingly apparent.
The crowd burst into laughter. But that’s alright by Pfeifer.
“At the premiere, the second she starts breathing the whole audience cracks out laughing,” Pfeifer said. “We knew then it was gonna be a good night because it’s supposed to be campy and goofy.”
The anecdote highlights just how little the film or its producers let such problems derail their passion. Sure, it’s no masterpiece, but they lived and learned. Besides, the point was to have fun making movies. And the quality of the future films would benefit from these lessons learned.
But it isn’t all fun and games. Pfeifer also described how the next two films were fraught with their own production woes.
The sequel, Path of Evil, was filmed promptly after the release of Harvest in 2004. During that shooting process, Pfeifer says the director and other producers on the film changed a lot of elements in his script.
“One of the good and bad parts of being a writer is seeing a scene go exactly how you planned it or seeing it changed, like by a director,” Pfeifer said. “That can be sad because that was your baby. But overall I loved it.”
That’s why he decided to direct the whole production in the third and final film in the trilogy, Devils Lake, which is currently being edited and does not yet have a release date. It was filmed in Oregon City and West Linn.
While he’s just as proud of the accomplishment as he is in completing these other films, Pfeifer called Devils Lake’s production a “comedy of errors.”
“There were performance issues and, really, when I first scheduled it out I wanted to shoot in 16 days and then we cut it down to 12,” he said. “There were times where we were trying to do too many pages in a day.”
Pfeifer also said some of the shooting locations that hadn’t been scouted properly beforehand fell through, so he was having to re-write and rearrange scenes on the fly to keep things moving and not get stalled.
“If we had spent more time up-front doing pre-production, we probably could have ironed some of this out,” he said.
He also described it as rather overwhelming to “wear so many hats” during production -- being a writer, producer, actor AND director for this final film. Pfeifer reprises his role as Lee Silver, now the sheriff of the town in the new movie.
Plus, Devils Lake was filmed during the Covid pandemic, meaning the production had to adhere to all the safety standards imposed on the movie industry. The cast and crew had to wear masks the whole time (when not on camera) and get tested multiple times a week. A health safety administrator was on set every day taking peoples’ temperatures and making sure they had a negative test.
It slowed things down and made more work for the makeup department (masks save lives but they also cause smudging!), so the rushed production was made even more so by the realities of filming during a health crisis.
Even still, Pfeifer says he looks back at the whole process fondly. The act of filmmaking -- participating in an artform that he holds such a passion for -- is enough to keep him coming back. Plus, as a disciple of B-rated horror movies, Pfeifer knows that a film’s true quality isn’t what its critics have to say, it’s in whether the audience enjoys watching it.
“Whether it’s a good movie or a bad movie, my goal is to make something that at least one person likes,” Pfeifer said. “Because that means my art, putting my heart and soul into something, it at least touched one person. It was worth it.”
More images from the films: