Saturday, December 3, 2016

Horror Movie With an Ohio State Connection

I just watched a straight-to-video horror movie called Beyond Dream's Door that some copyright violator posted to YouTube in its entirety. It was supposedly made for $60,000, and looked it. Low production values don't bother me, but I've never been a horror fan. It was one of those "is it a dream or is it reality" movies but the dreams and reality switched up so often that after a while I stopped caring which was which. But, it gets fairly respectable reviews on Amazon.

The interesting thing was that this movie was filmed in and near Boyd Laboratory, the building I spent four years in during grad school at Ohio State. During filming, in 1988, I was a mere undergrad, but later I spent the better part of '95 through '99 in that building, attending classes, doing research and teaching. If any of my former students happen by this blog: Hey, guys and gals! Hope you're doing well. If you were in the first class I taught: sorry. The first haircut a barber gives is probably pretty bad, too. If you were in the last class I taught: you got a high-quality education in elementary dynamics, so if your machines don't work, it's not my fault.

I'd never heard about any horror movie having been filmed at Ohio State until I ran across it this week. It's funny, because there were all kinds of silly rumors at Ohio State - about the steam tunnels, a body being buried in some academic building, the origins of the albino squirrels, there being a swimming pool in Drackett Tower (wait a minute, that was true), Jeffrey Dahmer having lived in the Towers (uh, that was also true.) But nothing about any horror movie.

Boyd was part of an attached three-building complex that included Haskett Hall and Johnston Lab. The site I linked above claimed that the office and classroom scenes were filmed in Boyd, but I think it was probably Johnston. The offices in the movie had window air conditioners, but Boyd had central air. I used to crank it up to bone-chilling levels so my students wouldn't dilly-dally during office hours. And the classroom had those chalkboards you can slide upward on rails after you fill them. Boyd didn't have those. I did kind of recognize some hallways and stairs, but a lot of buildings had the same generic look.  One thing I noticed right away was the phones, which played an oddly prominent role in the movie. They were real OSU phones, with the UNITS labels on the keypad. UNITS was the campus phone service. I think it stood for UNIversity Telephone Service or something. I also saw a poster for MARCON on a bulletin board, which was some kind of yearly sci-fi festival. I didn't see any MATH TUTOR PAUL $9 signs, which will come as a surprise to anyone who went to OSU during that time.

Current OSU students would be shocked at how shabby and run-down the place was 20 years ago. Post-WW2 a large number of buildings were thrown up or cheaply renovated, and those were all on their last legs by the 90s. In the 1970s, OSU blew its construction budget on the ill-conceived West Campus and Towers/Drake Union project instead of on the main area east of the stadium. The entire east side of High Street from about 12th to 8th was a series of firetrap beer-by-the-bucket joints that the university finally lost patience with and tore out in the late 90s. Now it's fancy shops and restaurants. Larkins, the fitness center, was not air conditioned; they used to bring in big fans during the summer, but the whole building smelled like a men's room anyway. The new fitness center looks like a high-end resort.

Although Boyd was attached to Johnston Lab and Haskett, I never went into either building the whole nine years I was a student at OSU. At the end of one hallway in Boyd, there was a door marked JOHNSTON LAB but it was always locked. I later found out Johnston was built to liquefy hydrogen for thermonuclear weapons research. Haskett was some kind of derelict highway research lab that was being used by the photography department when I was there. The entire complex was demolished in 2012 to make way for a new chemistry building.

All three buildings were old and ugly. When I first started grad school, my desk was in the basement in an abandoned lab that was strewn with beaten-up office furniture and some old vacuum-tube electronics. Next door had been a biomechanics lab but the biomechanics guy had moved to a different university. There was a big freezer that was unplugged. One day a maintenance crew was sent in to clean out the space, and when they opened the freezer, they got hit by the stench of rotting bones that the biomechanics guy left there. I think they were human bones. While researching this post I ran across a story about some "ghost hunter" students (really?!) who were going to look for ghosts in Boyd Lab after it had been closed up because "Maybe somebody died in there." I have no idea why they would have thought that, but they may not have been far from the truth.

One scene that definitely involved Boyd was when the student and his TA needed to get into Haskett but the door was locked. That was a back door that led to both Boyd and Haskett, and I used to go in and out of it all the time. They ended up having to climb onto the awning and shinny through the open window of a men's room on the Haskett side.

Terrified student has to get into Haskett to turn in a late term paper. Inside the door you can see the foot of a staircase that leads off to the right to Haskett, but if you go straight ahead you end up in Boyd Lab.

The creepiest scenes in the movie weren't the ones with the decapitated corpses, the bloody claws or the disembodied hands. No, the scariest scenes were those filmed in the upper stacks of the main library. That was a truly spooky place in real life; they didn't need to dress the set at all.  It was dark and cramped, with few windows, and it smelled musty. Not that nice old-books smell. More like that dead horse smell. I remember seeing little cubbyholes with desks assigned to, I guess, grad students in the humanities, who must have wanted that M.A. really, really badly. Female students would go up there to find a book and they'd get flashed. It was that kind of place.

Beyond Dream's Door was not the kind of movie one could build an acting career on. Sure enough, the female lead, Susan Pinsky, was a graduate of the OSU College of Medicine and is a family doc in Florida now. LinkedIn informs me that the obligatory naked chick was played by Darby Vasbinder, who is now a personal trainer in Columbus and still looking good if I may say so.

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