Town filmmaker creeps out audiences in‘The Housesitter’

There’s a new horror movie in town, just in time for Halloween, and it’s a product of Greenwich.

The Housesitter, which was produced and shot entirely in Greenwich, celebrated its premiere just this past Tuesday at the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas at Greenwich Plaza on Railroad Avenue. This marks writer and director Thomas Ascenzi’s first film, which he has been dreaming of for years.

Mr. Ascenzi, a 38-year-old Cos Cob resident, has been an avid fan of the horror genre ever since childhood, and in an interview with the Post, he said that choosing to do a horror movie as his first feature film was a no-brainer.

The idea first came to him simply as a title: The Housesitter.

To him it seemed like the ideal name for a horror movie, describing the fear-inducing scenario of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Ideas rapidly coalesced and a plot developed — enough for Mr. Ascenzi to even begin confidently planning for the sequel in this series, which he has titled the Demons Cross Saga.

 

The Housesitter is the story of an elite secret society from a New England college that celebrates a rather chilling rite of passage. Unbeknownst to them, they have made enemies of some rather dangerous characters, who seek revenge for this offense. A group of young and unsuspecting friends, affiliated loosely with the secret society, find themselves mired in this sordid battle, and the victims of a terrifying stalking by a killer on the loose.

Writing the film was only the first of several uphill barriers for Mr. Ascenzi and his producer, Pablo Bonelli. With a modest production budget of roughly $7,000, assembling a dedicated cast and crew presented a challenge. To their great fortune, they said, they discovered plenty of ready and willing individuals, and found themselves even having to turn down applications. There are a number of local actors in the production, including Brigid Keiran from Greenwich, who has one of the lead roles. Stamford’s Paul Tafoya has the lead role of the killer, something that’s quite a contrast from his day job as a firefighter and EMT.

“We are very fortunate that there really are a lot of very talented people locally,” Mr. Ascenzi said. “Film people are always hungry for their next projects. It’s addictive, the combination of the atmosphere on the set and the completion of each shot.”

During filming of The Housesitter, Mr. Bonelli and Mr. Ascenzi saw their abilities to solve problems creatively put to the test. Bonelli constructed a homemade dolly for some of the shots and even found a way to create 20-foot-high scaffolding. For locations, they recruited the homes of friends and family, which significantly curbed their expenses.

“The lack of any real budget can be a great test. Pablo Bonelli is a master of solving problems,” said Mr. Ascenzi.

Mr. Ascenzi is the first to admit the difficulty of producing and directing an independent, low-budget film. However, he counts this as one of the most rewarding experiences of his life, citing the cast and crew as the main reason. They were so sold on making this dream a reality that it encouraged him and made him want to work harder for them.

“It was an incredible experience,” Mr. Ascenzi said. “As a crew we really came together despite long hours and a low budget. We just had a tremendous spirit on the set. It is very gratifying to see your work come to life, and as a writer, I had to stop and watch every once in a while, just to take in how marvelous it was to see people take my words and ideas and just run with them.”

He and his team are currently researching their options for distribution. By the beginning of next year, The Housesitter will be available for online streaming and in DVD. He is planning the sequel, tentatively titled The Ranchhand, which is slated for summer 2013. A third movie, called The Grave Robber, is set to be the final film in the trilogy.

“Things are now very busy for us, and both Pablo and I hope that they stay that way! We are gathering investors for our next projects, and looking to shoot The Ranchhand in the spring of next year,” Mr. Ascenzi said.

Since he was once a kid who snuck out of the house to catch the midnight showing of the low-budget horror classic Halloween, Mr. Ascenzi said that he finally feels right where he belongs, behind the camera. He has big plans in store and promises that “they’ll be bloody.”

More information is available online at Housesitterthemovie.com.

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