The ghosts are the least of your worries

In the mid-90s, Blood and I were hired by a small production company to work on a music video for a thrash-metal band. The band was signed to a medium-sized label and enjoyed some success touring Europe and Japan. We were supposed to provide audio support for the shoot, meaning we would set up a small PA system and play back the band’s CD, and they would mime and lip-sync the song. Our friend Chris was hired to direct. Chris had gotten got the gig because he knew who Lucio Fulci was. The band were big Zombie fans, and that was the ‘look’ that they wanted their video to have.

Being an occult-themed thrash metal act, the band wanted to shoot their video in a cemetery. Specifically, they wanted to shoot in the Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery near Midlothian, Illinois. This cemetery is supposedly very haunted, and is featured in many of the “Haunted Chicago”-type books you find in the local interest section at Border’s.

Our line producer described it as “an active cemetery.” What does that mean, I asked—they’re still burying people there?

“No, the last burial was around 1989. ‘Active’ means there are still people buried there.”

So, “active cemetery” as opposed to “field,” I guess.

Bachelors Grove Cemetery

Bachelor's Grove Cemetery

Tucked back in a forest preserve, Bachelor’s Grove has become a popular destination for vandals, and authorities have reported finding evidence of black-magic rituals taking place there. There are also reports of ghosts, strange lights, and a phantom farmhouse that appears and disappears.

On the day of the shoot, I knew none of this stuff. For all I knew we were headed out to shoot in one of those modern, manicured, golf-course-looking cemeteries you see in funeral scenes in movies like Watchmen with “Sounds of Silence” playing in the background. We had asked if the producers had secured permission to shoot at the location. We were assured that all the necessary permits had been taken care of.

That wasn’t entirely true. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our first stop of the day was at the band’s rehearsal space, a converted warehouse on Chicago’s west side. This building was like most dedicated band rehearsal facilities in the 1990s, each floor divided into 10×10 rooms with thin walls and lots of black paint, inhabited by thirty or so bands playing as loud as they could to drown out the band in the next space. The walls of this band’s space were plastered with posters of metal bands and photos from hardcore porn magazines. The drumset was perched atop an eight-foot wooden riser, leaving almost no space between the cymbals and the ceiling. The room smelled vaguely of stale beer, cigarettes and pot. The band members were already in full video shoot regalia—leather, chains, studded wristbands. A short guy with a shaved head introduced himself as “Jeff Deth” and said he was going to be doing lights. We helped the band load their gear into their van and headed out to the location.

This is about where we set up the band

This is about where we set up the band

Bachelor’s Grove is a monumentally creepy place. The headstones have been tipped over and dragged around by vandals for forty years, the grass and weeds are chaotically overgrown. It’s easy to understand why a band whose music is occult-related would want to use it as a setting for a video. It’d be a great location for a horror film too.

Not that I’m suggesting anyone try to shoot one there.

Because it’s hidden back inside a forest preserve, there’s no accessible road to the cemetery. So we had to park out by the main road and carry the gear in, probably a half-mile to the cemetery. Hiking in, Jeff Deth told us about his dream project: to make a scat porn movie starring real supermodels. He made us swear to not steal the idea. We agreed, wondering what galaxy this guy inhabited wherein someone might rip off that particular setup. It’s really altogether too disgusting and degrading to go into further detail, so his concept remains safe (though I’ve found a more detailed description on someone else’s blog; apparently we’re not the only people to whom Jeff pitched his film).

The path to Bachelors Grove Cemetery

The path to Bachelor's Grove Cemetery

Blood and I had a couple of speakers, a mixer, an amp and a small generator to power it all. We had also been asked to bring any cool props we might have lying around…and by “cool props” the band meant “guns.” So, I had three plastic replica guns in my duffel bag as well. Specifically I had a black water pistol that looked like a Colt 1911 .45 caliber pistol, a cap gun that resembled a Walther PPK, and something that looked vaguely like a Scorpion submachine gun. Additionally, Blood was also going to do makeup and effects. He had a bunch of Zombie green makeup, latex scars and bullet holes, fake blood and even a fake arm with him. Who he was going to apply this makeup to was never very clearly defined by the band. It’s possible they originally planned for groupies to be there to be the Zombs, but on shoot day there was nobody.

The band set up their gear amidst the scattered headstones and once we got the PA system sorted out, the director called for us to do a take. The music blared, the band gyrated, banged their heads and otherwise commenced looking badass…and out of the corner of my eye I saw two men in brown uniforms standing at the edge of the cemetery looking at us.

Police officers.

I got Chris’ attention, and he cut the take. The police approached us. Blood indicated that the director was the guy to talk to, and we hung back. Blood told me later his first thought was, please guys, tell me you left all that pot at the rehearsal space.

“What’re you guys doing?”

“We’re filming a music video.”

“You know you’re not allowed to be back here. This place is not open to the public.”

“The band told me they’d gotten permission to shoot here.”

Waitaminit, I thought—the BAND? And the producer didn’t double check? Oh geez.

Needless to say, no one was able to produce a permit or any other sort of documentation proving that we had permission.

“Come on, fellas. No one’s gonna give you permission to shoot in a cemetery. Pack up all this stuff and get going.”

So we started packing up the gear. At one point, I was wrapping cables with my duffel bag open next to me. One cop looked down and saw the prop firearms.

“Hey, are those real guns?”

He was looking at what appeared to be two handguns and a submachine gun, sitting in my bag atop a bunch of audio cables. I’m pretty sure his hand was on his own firearm. Not looking up, and especially not making a move toward the bag I said slowly, “No, sir, those are fakes. Feel free to take a look at them.” He didn’t. Though a few minutes later as I was farther away packing the generator I saw that Chris, or maybe Jeff Deth, had taken the guns out to show them to the cop. Okay, maybe he was just curious, but I still stand by my decision to not risk getting shot by a police officer for grabbing a fake gun while being kicked out of a graveyard for inadvertently trespassing. I’m sure that’d at least earn me 100 years in purgatory just for being stupid.

Under the no-doubt-bemused but nonetheless stern glare of the police we hoofed all the gear back out the half-mile to the vans. The band assured Chris they’d get in touch when they’d actually gotten another location lined up—properly this time. None of us ever heard from them again. And I don’t think Jeff Deth ever made his movie.

Images of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery are from and are linked courtesy of Matt Hucke. Thank you, Matt!


About toxicbag

Toxic Bag Productions, Inc. provides sound effects and music for independent films, animated shorts, theatrical productions, dance performances, podcasts and video games. They work out of their studio on the north side of Chicago.

Posted on March 25, 2009, in Confessions of a Guerilla Filmmaker and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Chris the hired gun director

    all true. and i have to say i don’t remember who took the guns out to show the cop–sounds like me, though.

  2. what a WEIRD chain of events… and to never hear from them again… even stranger.

  3. last time i went there i wasnt creeped out at all until i was about 30 yards away from the path leaving .something compelled me to turn around -as i did it felt like i startled a presense that was 1 step behind me -it was like i high energy field is the only way i can describe it.I am a christian so i told whatever it was not to follow me in the name of JESUS.I dont know why i go -sometimes to think.

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