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What a Blockbuster Movie Can Do to a Small Town

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What if a story about your little hometown became extremely popular and brought visitors from all over the world seeking a piece of it? When a book or movie puts a quiet little town on the map, you have to expect people will want to come and see it. Whether that's a benefit or curse may depend on the movie.

Forks, Washington

Some towns revel in the notoriety that comes with a movie. Thousands of fans make their way to Forks, Washington (population 3,221) every month to enjoy the atmosphere of the setting for the Twilight books and movies. Local businesses have erected signs referring to the movies. The principal of Forks High School says the school has designated lockers for the characters Edward and Bella -for the benefit of the tourists. Sales of Twilight merchandise and tourist services have energized the small town that once depended on logging for its economy. Even those residents who don't like the books welcome the money the tourists bring in.

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The Forks Chamber of Commerce website has an entire section on Twilight, including a map of "points of interest", and (of course), an online store where you can buy a "New Moon Over Forks" sweatshirt for only $40. Last summer, Forks hosted an event called Summer School in Forks: A "Twilight" Symposium at Forks High School. The ultimate event of the symposium was a prom featuring Twilight cast member look-alikes. Twilight has been good for business since the first book was published.

Burkittsville, Maryland

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The residents of Burkettsville, Maryland (population 171) have mixed feelings about the movie that put them on the map. The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999 and promoted as a documentary, although it was a work of fiction. The city website urges visitors to:

Please understand, while the town of Burkittsville is real, the movie is just that, a movie. The legend is a fake. True, there is a dark, dense woods to the west of town, but most people are convinced there is no Stick Manchild-stealing witch inhabiting those woods.. Burkittsville is a small, sleepy, historic village nestled between two Civil War battlefields in central Maryland. Yet Burkittsville is visited annually by thousands of movie and witchcraft fans -- just wanting to "see" for themselves. It is a pretty town (pictures), it is an historic town, but it is not haunted town. Hmmmmm...what about all of those spirits from the nearby battlefields?

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The success of the movie brought sudden and unexpected notoriety to Bukittsville. The town signs were stolen over and over again, and the cemetery was vandalized. Even now, tourists are warned that the locals might not be welcoming. However, money talks. Even as it steers you away from believing what is depicted in the movie, Burkittsville invites you to shop there for Halloween costumes and explore the local businesses that cater to witch-hunting tourists.

Amityville, New York

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Amityville, New York is famous twice for horrifying stories. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed six members of his family in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue. The same house later became the subject of the 1979 movie The Amityville Horror. The movie was not about the murders, but about the ghosts that remained behind in the home to haunt the new owners, George and Kathleen Lutz. The movie and the 1977 book it was based on, The Amityville Horror - A True Story, were promoted as a real-life account of paranormal phenomenon. Eight other movies followed. The publicity surrounding the book and movie brought tons of tourists into Amityville, much more so than the DeFeo murders. People pulled shingles off the roof of the house and destroyed the yard as they marched through uninvited, upsetting Barbara Crowmarty, the next homeowner. She estimated 5,000 people came to her home in one month. Her neighbors were also upset. Souvenir-seekers grabbed parts of their homes as well!
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Much of the anger of the Amityville residents came from the Lutz's claim that the haunting was a true story. As years passed, those claims fell apart. A friend of George Lutz who was also Ronald DeFeo Jr's lawyer admitted he helped concoct the story. None of the subsequent owners of the home experienced any unusual or paranormal events. Several times the idea of turning the house into a bed and breakfast was turned down by the village council. In the years since The Amityville Horror, the house address has been changed, and the home was remodeled to make it less recognizable as the haunted house in the movie. And that's the way Amityville residents want it.

What causes such a difference in the way small towns react to the notoriety a film brings? The three towns here are much too small of a sample to draw any conclusions. It could be the suddenness of the onslaught, or the behavior of tourists, or the need for the economic boost tourism brings. It very well could be the amount of controversy that surrounds the film. Amityville had to deal with thousands of people who believed the house was truly haunted, on top of the tragedy of the earlier murders of a local family. In the case of Burkittsville, a large part of the audience was skeptical of The Blair Witch Project's documentary marketing stunt, which the film makers didn't bother to defend. After all, the students who disappeared during the movie later gave interviews about it. Forks, Washington has no need to correct tourists' perceptions, as there are no claims that vampires actually go to high school there. If the locals can have some fun with their notoriety and make a profit, it's all good -as long as the tourists behave themselves.

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10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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IFC Films

In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

IFC Films

Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

IFC Films

In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow
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Play the Sneakers Computer Press Kit from 1992
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Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow

In September 1992, the computer hacking movie Sneakers hit theaters. To correspond with its launch, members of the press received a floppy disk containing a mysterious DOS program that, when launched, asked for a password. Once the reporters "hacked" their way in, they found the Sneakers Computer Press Kit. Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can play at being the film press of 1992.

It's hard to characterize exactly what this electronic press kit is. Is it a game? Sort of. It's essentially a very gentle computer hacking simulator, in which the "hacking" consists entirely of guessing passwords (complete with helpful prompts from the program itself), and the payload you discover is silly stuff like mini-biographies of Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, and Sidney Poitier. Still, it's a good match for the film itself, which helped set the template for Hollywood depictions of computer hacking.

A paper folder lies open on a wooden floor, with a black floppy disk on top. The folder is labeled SNEAKERS in giant red letters, as is the floppy. Inside the folder is printed material. On the right flap of the folder are instructions on how to load it.
Inside the Sneakers Computer Press Kit's paper folder. (The right flap contains installation instructions, along with a note that the studio will FedEx printed material if the user doesn't have access to a printer.)
Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow

Always remember: "My voice is my passport. Verify me." Now, get cracking on this press kit and don't be flummoxed—if you can't figure out a password right away, just wait a moment.

(Incidentally, Sneakers did also include printed materials for the press, in case they lacked a computer and/or the patience to deal with this approach. But who in the world would look at that, when they could play with this? There's also a method in the Computer Press Kit that allows the user to print out more detailed materials—provided they have a printer, and it's attached to a particular printer port on the computer.)

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