The titular gatekeeper to this halfway space is a cockeyed character with expressive eyebrows. He wields a shovel and has a deal-with-the-devil conversation with a young, silent girl based on whether she can tell if the stories he presents are fact or fiction.
What is that dark figure in that woman’s basement?
Who is moving the contractor’s boots?
What is that image in the background of a wedding photograph from the Depot’s Great Hall?
Hopkins’ first feature-length film, which screens at 1 p.m. Sunday at Zinema 2, combines his interests in “Tales from the Crypt”-style storytelling and spooky local lore. “Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House” is an anthology film that includes documentary interviews with regional ghost hunters and the keepers of potentially haunted spaces in addition to short, fictional, spooky stories.
“I used to love camping as a kid,” said Hopkins, who works in news promotion at KBJR. “My dad was a great teller of ghost stories. I’ve never had a ghost experience myself, but I’ve always been interested in them.
“It seemed like a natural thing to pursue here.”
A case aboard the William A. Irvin is one of the spooky tales in Keith Hopkins’ “Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House.” (Photo courtesy of Keith Hopkins)
Meet the Digger
The movie opens with an introduction to its titular not-quite-trustworthy host played by Matt Rasmussen, Hopkins’ crony in all things creepy. (Consider this: Rasmussen, who is also a filmmaker, once traveled to Haunted Harbor in Salem, Mass., to celebrate Halloween and is the resident Ecto Cooler collector from a small local Ghostbusters group.)
As Gravedigger Dave, Rasmussen sets the scene as an animated crypt-keeper fashioned after the traditional horror story host from decades-ago TV — Vampira, Elvira, or the actual Cryptkeeper from “Tales from the Crypt.” Rasmussen met the latter, or at least John Kassir, the voice of the puppet, while in Salem.
“I told him ‘I’m playing a character, and I have you in mind and he was like ‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,’” Rasmussen said, imitating his signature high-pitched sound. “It was the coolest thing. He did the laugh and threw a couple of silly puns at me.”
After the shovel-wielding star lays the premise, the film segues into its stories: a late-working office worker struggles with from-beyond messages from the copy machine; regional paranormal investigators consider the case of the William A. Irvin, the docked ore ship long-rumored to be haunted; Ken Buehler, executive director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, tells the curious story of an uninvited wedding guest at the Depot; a short fictional piece about a contractor’s experience during the remodel of an apartment — which played as a stand-alone short movie during Duluth Superior Film Festival.
Hopkins’ screening will also include trailers for other locally-made films, including one on the horizon by Lance Karasti, known for his innovative work, “Outsourced: The New Wisconsin Idea,” a documentary by Katie Lindow and Megan McGarvey that started when the University of Wisconsin-Superior suspended 25 programs, and Rasmussen’s documentary about Ecto Cooler, a Hi-C limited release flavor with a tie to “Ghostbusters.”
Ghost ships are one of the paranormal curiosities considered in Keith Hopkins’ first feature-length film. (photo submitted by Keith Hopkins)
‘The movies of my childhood’
Hopkins has a background in film and television and has been involved with special projects that have aired on the local CW affiliate, including “Night at the Armory,” a series that placed musicians in the storied, albeit unused venue, and “Night at the Movies,” which showcased pieces by regional filmmakers.
In his own work, Hopkins’ influences have a certain aesthetic.
“The movies of my childhood,” he said. “‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘The Blues Brothers,’ ‘Batman’ with Michael Keaton. These movies captured my imagination. I wanted to learn how I could make something like that.”
He said he expected it to be trickier to find tales of local hauntings, but one led to another which led to another.
Hopkins plans to eventually make the film available on Amazon Prime. As for the creative work, this might not be the end of the story. He said he has a sequel in mind. For now:
“I just want local people to see it and be kind of spooked out by the creepy things around town,” he said.
“Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House” will eventually be available for streaming. (Image courtesy of Keith Hopkins)
If you go
What: “Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House” screening
When: 1 p.m. Sunday, March 1