Having covered the Wilmington film industry for more than seven years as a journalist, I can almost guarantee that you’ve been scared by something that was shot in Wilmington.
As a student of film history, there is no escaping horror’s early influence on the local film industry. In the mid-1980s, the emergence of the Wilmington film scene was driven, in part, by big-screen movies pulled straight from Stephen King’s nightmares, including “Firestarter,” “Cat’s Eye,” “Silver Bullet” and “Maximum Overdrive.”
But the horror didn’t stop there. For the last three decades, the horror genre has served as a pillar of the local industry. David Lynch’s 1986 “Blue Velvet,” a classic shot in Wilmington, left audiences feeling unsettled, if not downright terrified.
More recently, the billion-dollar cinematic universe of “The Conjuring” was born locally with the 2012 original film. Even when the films weren’t especially good – namely, forgotten sequels like “Evil Dead II” and “The Exorcist II” – they still upped the scare factor in their own way.
Wilmington’s charm and natural beauty aside, the film industry has staked its reputation on being able to play Anywhere, USA, and it’s in some of the area’s more ordinary locations that its heritage of horror has thrived. In the last few years, Wilmington has reestablished itself as the home of horror by landing star-studded reboots of classics and upcoming new nightmares. Over the next few months, some of these highly anticipated movies will scare audiences worldwide, and it may only be the beginning.
The 2018 reboot of "Halloween" brought back series heroine Jamie Lee Curtis for a new story that boldly ignored every sequel following the 1978 original that introduced Michael Myers to the world.
In this new trilogy, Laurie Strode (Curtis) has lived with the trauma of the original film’s events for four decades, only to learn her nemesis has escaped prison. Since filming in Wilmington in 2019, the rumor mill has been churning overtime with buzz on the sequel “Halloween Kills,” which will be given a prestigious debut out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in September. In the film (in theaters Oct. 15, 2021), Michael has survived her latest trap, forcing Laurie and the town of Haddonfield, Ill., to turn the tables on the knife-wielding killer to end his Halloween night rampage for good. While in Wilmington, the project spent most of its time in residential neighborhoods, the streets of which will play host to Michael’s reign of terror. A suspenseful scene was also shot near Wallace Park. But the most noteworthy glimpse at production came when a blood-splattered Curtis, along with costars Judy Greer and Andi Madichak, was spotted outside a building on Cape Fear Community College’s downtown campus, which was turned into a chaotic hospital for filming.
The original “Scream” franchise, created by North Carolina native Kevin Williamson and directed by late horror legend Wes Craven, came to define the self-aware slasher genre of the 1990s. For its long-awaited relaunch, the new “Scream” (in theaters Jan. 14, 2022) will bring back three beloved original survivors (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette) to help usher in a new generation of victims, all of whom will face off with Ghostface in what I’ve been told is a bloody good tribute to Craven’s unparalleled legacy.
Most of the production for “Scream” was completed on sets constructed on Cinespace Studios Wilmington's sound stages, but the cast did venture out to film scenes at local places like Cardinal Lanes and Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern.
THE BLACK PHONE
Director Scott Derrickson and Oscar-nominated actor Ethan Hawke first scared audiences together with 2012’s chilling “Sinister.” The pair has reteamed in Wilmington for a new tale of terror that might prove even more ambitious. “The Black Phone” (in theaters Feb. 4, 2022) follows the latest victim of a kidnapper who uses an old, disconnected phone to communicate with his captor’s previous victims, who could help him escape their fate. The production was pretty quiet in Wilmington, spending most of its time on sound stages to protect the secrets of its mysterious story. The film is said to be a totally new take on terror, so it’s anyone’s guess what horror Wilmington has cooked up this time.