With ghosts dangling from front-yard trees and witches peering from windows, it’s only natural at this time of the year to want to watch a few slasher flicks.
The classics — “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” — may be the go-to titles, but if you want something that hits a little closer to home, you might consider one of the many horror films with ties to South Jersey.
Whether it be 1979’s “Amityville Horror,” parts of which were filmed at a home in Toms River, or even 1981’s cult classic “The Prowler,” shot at the Inn of Cape May, the region has drawn everything from large productions to independent horror filmmakers.
Bobby Miller is one of the latest young horror directors to emerge from South Jersey. His film, “The Master Cleanse,” was shown at the South By Southwest Festival in 2016, and he expects it to be officially released in 2018.
The Buena Regional High School graduate said his newfound success started with making movies with his sister and exploring the woods by his house in Newfield, Gloucester County.
“I grew up in South Jersey and had access to a small forest. As a kid, the woods are a mysterious place. Your imagination can get the best of you,” Miller said. “I think imagining what strange creatures were waiting underneath a bush or a log influenced my first feature film, for sure.”
But before, Miller was a comedy writer, and his only horror interests as a kid were “The Gremlins” and “Beetlejuice.”
“I wouldn’t classify either as horror, really, but more of a gateway drug into horror,” Miller said.
His interest in the films of director David Cronenberg (“The Fly,” “Scanners”) also pushed him in the direction of horror.
“The Master Cleanse,” which was shot in Vancouver, Canada, is somewhat of a body-horror film starring Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) as he attends a spiritual retreat to cleanse his body of toxins but gets more than the retreat has to offer.
Miller said working with Galecki was a delight.
“He’s an amazing actor considering he had to act with a puppet creature for a lot of the film. Not an easy feat when you can see the three puppeteers huddled under the table near you,” he said.
Ernie Rockelman’s love of horror films started as a kid when he had to sneak out from his conservative parents to watch John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The Absegami High School teacher and part-time Stockton University video producer has directed multiple shorts throughout the area and co-directed a feature film in 2014 called “Haunted Inc.,” which was shot in Bergen and Atlantic counties.
He said he is not surprised New Jersey has been the location of some big-name horror films in the past 50 years.
“There is definitely a lure, and with stuff like the Weird New Jersey magazines that recognize the oddities in this area that are good for horror and storytelling,” said Rockelman, of Galloway Township.
While “The Master Cleanse” and “Horror Inc.” are the most recent horror movies with ties to South Jersey, they’re not the only ones.
“The 13th Child: Legend of The Jersey Devil” was co-written by Michael Maryk, who spent 30 years in central New Jersey. The independent movie was filmed in Batsto Village and other locations in southern New Jersey in 2000. It was the first big-screen treatment of the Jersey Devil character, born to Mother Leeds in 1735.
The slasher film “The Prowler” takes place in a small, fictional town in New Jersey called Avalon Bay, where an unknown killer in World War II attire stalks a group of college kids during a spring dance.
In addition to those movies, the 2006 horror film “Dark Ride” was shot in Asbury Park.