Be careful when playing in dark places. You might find yourself inside the unsettling, leather-clad mind of Michigan native David Tybor, writer and director of the psycho-terror thriller Rachel’s Attic. On Oct. 13 you’ll have the opportunity to dive into Rachel’s pleasure-torture crawlspace when Gothic Pictures premieres its first feature-length film at Center Stage in Canton.
Welcome to a leather-covered world with cock rings and home-baked cookies, with powerful girls and the very, very bad boys they’re paid to punish. Meet a business-savvy murderer who thinks he’s Jack the Ripper with a camcorder. And there’s the occasional bad bunny. Rachel’s Attic was shot entirely in metro Detroit on the micro-micro budget of $83,000 and showcases local talent, with the exception of Gunnar Hansen, the man behind Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But this inexpensive indie film has a big-budget look and attitude thanks to well-crafted special effects, shot composition and Tybor’s disquieting imagination.
“I was always doing the camera work for our family vacations,” he remembers.
At 7, Tybor was already armed with his dad’s Super 8 camera, anticipating his future in film while growing up in Taylor. After sharpening his chops at a cable station in Flat Rock, he attended Wayne State University where he met his Gothic Pictures partner, Robert Skates, in a film production class.
Tybor chose the horror genre in light of marketing opportunities, just as director and former Michigan resident Sam Raimi did, managing to stick his foot in the industry door. But there’s more to this tale than money. As a child, Tybor realized the potency of fear, having been intensely affected by films such as The Exorcist and Halloween.
“You’re watching a film, and you’re captive to what the director throws at you. I envied being able to evoke that emotion, that reaction. I wanted to do that myself one day.”
As a teenager, Tybor worked as a camp counselor at Camp de Sales in the Irish Hills and shot Super 8 films with the kids he was in charge of.
“I had them write a script and then we did a little film. They all tended to be in the horror genre because that’s what I liked — that’s what I pushed. Our little Friday the 13th knockoffs. These kids were getting lined up to get killed. Then at night, I would tell horror stories around the campfire and also back at the cabin. Midway through some of these stories they’d be yelling at me to stop. It’s almost child abuse in some ways, ’cause I was scaring the hell out of these kids. Not everyone can do it.”
Summer camp was the training arena for Tybor’s imagination, arousing his sense of suspense and horror; the fodder for Attic scenes like Alice in the Playhouse, where he imagined what a snuff film would look like with a European flavor, and ended up mixing absurd objects and imagery to fuel high-powered horror. This catfight plays out in a mock Wonderland with a (somehow appropriately) drugged-up Alice in gruesome combat with a tightly wrapped, shiny-black surprise package, like a “Batman” episode gone very wrong.
“I wanted to do something strange. It felt right for this film. Something kind of off balance and sickening. In the S&M world, costumes and role-playing are pretty prominent.” Although Tybor did most of his research of the “I’ve been bad” world on the Internet, Keith Howarth of Noir Leather in Royal Oak supplied him with bondage in-and-outs and most of the S&M costumes used in the film. See Noir Leather make a location cameo in Rachel’s Attic, as well as the Motor lounge, Twingo’s Cafe, Thomas Video and other metro-Detroit familiars.
Research and imagination weren’t the only resources for Rachel’s Attic. Tybor drew from his own life experiences too.
“When I was about 6, my best friend and I were walking through the woods — actually, we played in the woods all the time. Some big guy (Hansen’s character in the film), a guy with a yo-yo in his hand, accused us of breaking one of his windows. He threw down the yo-yo, grabbed me and said, ‘I’m gonna take you back to my window and show you what you did, then I’m gonna call the police.’ So he started dragging me through the woods, and my friend threw a rock and hit him. When he grabbed my friend, he let me go, and I ran (it happened a little bit differently in the film). I ran and I found these teenage girls about a quarter-mile away. I was screaming and crying, and they went back with me and stopped this guy dragging my buddy into the woods. So nobody really got abducted — they almost did. But about three months later, there was a boy about our age that was stabbed to death about 100 times in that same woods. They never caught the guy. It just stayed with me my whole life, that experience.”
It stayed with him and found its way into the dark, unwinding plot of his first feature-length film.
Center Stage is an interesting choice of venue, considering its multiple screens: Plug in Rachel’s Attic’s layers of screens upon screens, and you’re likely to get a kind of weird, mirroring, psycho-sexual funhouse, the perfect atmosphere for Tybor to trap us in his memory-spun psychological net. And watch out for the Saran Wrap scene!
Rachel’s Attic premieres Sat., Oct. 13, 9 p.m. at Center Stage in Canton. Q&A with cast and crew follows. Call 734-981-5122 or see www.rachelsattic.com. Advance tickets at Noir Leather in Royal Oak.Anita Schmaltz writes about theater and performance for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]