Warning: This article contains graphic imagery…
Campfires were made for scary stories. The dark surrounds us as the shadows flicker in firelight, and invariably, someone knows a story. It may be a story we’ve heard a hundred times, but something about the looming trees and primal sounds of the woods still puts chills in our bones and shivers in our spines.
Some of those stories last forever and a mere mention of the name puts us back into those woods. For many who grew up in the northeastern part of the United States, a singular name is synonymous with campfires and scary stories: CROPSEY.
In one of his newest scripts, Adam Robitel, writer/director of The Taking of Deborah Logan and director of the upcoming Insidious Chapter 4, has teamed with Old Lime Productions to breathe new life into the terrifying urban legend and, they hope, into the slasher sub-genre of horror films.
Old Lime approached Robitel with the legend and asked him to see what he could do with the infamous story. They were a newly formed company at the time with an exciting slate of ideas that they hoped would provide content for a variety of the new streaming platforms now available.
“We feel like there is such a need and want for content out there with all these new streaming services coming out practically every month,” says Raymond Esposito of Old Lime, “and we are looking forward to playing in that sandbox.”
However, when faced with the Cropsey legend, the writer/director was, to say the least, stumped. This was a story that had been told before and had provided inspiration for classic genre films like The Burning and Friday the 13th. They were great movies, but the story had definitely been “done”, and he admits that the task ahead was daunting.
“I felt like the slasher genre had to come back because it’s all cyclical,” Robitel says. “Still, I struggled for a long time to find a different way in with the Cropsey legend that felt fresh. I kept looking at it as the essential cautionary tale and its play on vengeance as a theme. We’re in a new age, now though, where violence is an internet click away. It has to be violent but also engaging. How do I do that?!”
For those unfamiliar with this particular urban legend, it is essentially the granddaddy of all campfire stories originating in Catskill summer camps and dating back to the 1950’s. Cropsey is essentially the story of an adult male (often a doctor, lawyer, judge, etc.) who was driven to madness when his family was killed (sometimes by accident) in a fire set by a group of teenagers. Most versions of the tale include the fact that Cropsey, himself, was severely burned during his attempt to save his family. In a state of total blood lust and revenge, Cropsey dons some serious head gear, picks up an ax, and begins tracking down the boys who set fire to his home.
As if often the case with these sorts of tales, Cropsey could not be satiated by his revenge and so he continues to stalk the woods, preying on those who stray too far from the safety of camp.
Does it sound familiar, now? Pick a slasher out of the 80s and tell me it doesn’t relate…go ahead, I’ll wait.
Still, Robitel did not want to follow the outline of that urban legend completely. In fact, he toyed with several different plotlines before he finally felt like he’d hit the bull’s eye.
“I went through all kinds of crazy ideas,” he admits. “I had an alien craft landing and the alien was telepathically enslaving townies and causing them to do crazy things. I had a period piece set in the 60s that involved an inner city Catholic school group on a camp outing in the Catskills where they ended up being tracked by a wendigo. Yeah, I might have gone off the edge a couple of times.”
Ultimately, however, Robitel settled on a more basic idea that took the script back to the roots of what the Cropsey legend was all about, and he found the perfect setting in those same Catskill Mountains, now an eerie ghost town of massive abandoned hotels and resorts.
A man and his wife, in the midst of marital problems, decide they need a fresh start. They pack up their family and head into the Catskills intent on restoring one of the old abandoned resorts that still dot the countryside to its original splendor and hopefully do the same to their marriage. Unbeknownst to them, however, an entire tribe of drug-addled, almost feral people have chosen to squat on the land where their new start sits.
It’s their drug of choice, Krokodil, which makes this tribe so dangerous and so unbelievably terrifying. I admit I’d never heard of it before speaking with Robitel about the project, but he was quick with details and with pictures to back up his claims. A derivative of morphine, Krokodil may be the nastiest synthetic drug known to man. It has a solid 50% morbidity rate and is almost entirely addictive for most after one use. Unfortunately for those addicts, their flesh begins to become necrotic and most end up dying of sepsis. The drug, borne in Russia, is now making its way into America and Robitel found that grounding the film’s world in a very real horror was the scariest way forward.
Of course, these two worlds do not collide easily, nor can they coexist.
“The violence in the script is almost operatic in scale. I’ve always appreciated that kind of ratcheting violence,” Robitel points out citing Sam Peckinpah, Wes Craven, and the French film Ils (Them) as major influences.
Operatic is exactly the right word for the story he’s telling. John, the patriarch of the family, slowly sees his own humanity stripped away by the assault of this primitive tribe of addicts in a way that would make Shakespeare’s King Lear or Job from the Bible wince.
“The dad is somewhat complicit in the sin, so to speak,” he says. “He could have chosen not to react the way he did on their first meeting. He could have made different decisions, but he’s human and his choices fail him.”
With a completed script that is, in my own opinion, quite terrifying, Robitel and Old Lime are on the lookout now for a director to helm the piece. Robitel intends to produce alongside the company, and he says his dream would be to find a young director who is capable of handling the violence and tension of the script while preserving the fact that at its core, this is the story of a family faced with a set of circumstances they could never imagine.
Cropsey could easily be the film that sparks a slasher revolution with Old Lime and Robitel at its helm. It’s the perfect combination of something old mixed with something new and revitalizing, and iHorror will be at the foreground, keeping you posted every step of the way!