Local stars help light up a Dark Xmas

One local director studied photography at YSU.
AUSTINTOWN -- Although there was plenty of Hollywood presence at the fourth annual Dark Xmas convention here, fans of horror and sci-fi films also found a good amount of home-grown talent.
The annual three-day convention, which brings together movie stars and those who enjoy the horror and science fiction genre, was started in 2003 by Warren resident Travis Bowen. It concludes today at 6 p.m. at the Best Value Inn on state Route 46.
Rick Fusselman of Girard said horror films have to have names that grab you, like his company DSK's "Toxic Shock Zombies." He's been working on films for about three years, with "Hot Justice: The Second Coming," a spoof of superhero movies, his latest offering.
"We want to gross you out and make you laugh at the same time," he said. "The horror movies of the 1980s are some of the best ever made, and we want to bring that back."
David A. Caleris, director of photography for Hubbard-based Schotten Film Works, found his film niche behind the camera. He studied photography at Youngstown State University and is self-taught in cinematography.
"Dead Life," "Sabbath" and "Dread" are among his film credits to date.
"I've had this nagging sensation to do movies my whole life," he said. "When I saw 'Star Wars,' -- the original one -- at 10, that changed my life."
In zombie makeup
Actors and filmmakers Sal Lizard of Circleville, Ohio, and Ray Basham of Mount Vernon, Ohio, put on their best zombie makeup and shared a table, working off each other's twisted humor to drum up business.
They worked together on "Abe's Tomb" and "A Wicked Business," with some of "Abe's Tomb" shot on Basham's farm. Playing the lead role in a horror movie as he did in "Abe's Tomb" means your character is the one that hangs around the longest, he said.
Lizard is an actor, stand-up comedian and Santa Claus, both the traditional Christmas and horror film-zombie varieties. He has a master's degree in computer technology and turned to acting after his job was outsourced, making him "overqualified for just about everything."
Ryan Hooks and Matt Jerrams traveled from Mansfield to network with artists and reconnect with people from "Cabin Fever" they've worked with before.
Hooks is in a soon-to-be-released horror film called "The Rage" about "kids and a mad scientist." He was sworn to secrecy about other details of the film before its release.
Hooks has worked with Jerrams of Precinct 13, a special-effects production company. He is interested in acting in general and said independent horror films are a good place to start.
Good place to start
The horror film "Children of the Corn" proved to be a good place to start a career for actor Courtney Gains, who landed the role of Malachi right out of high school. Born in Los Angeles, he looks and talks like a Midwesterner, mostly a result of his training from his Iowa-born acting coach.
Some of his other films are "Back to the Future" with Michael J. Fox and "The 'Burbs" with Tom Hanks. Most recently he was a guest star on the television drama "NCIS" and appeared with Stacy Keach and Patrick Duffy in the western "Desolation Canyon" on the Hallmark Channel.
Gains said he knew he wanted to be an actor from age 6, after his first performance as The Prince in "Snow White."
"As soon as I 'hit the boards,' -- actor talk for taking the stage -- a calm came over me and I knew I was home," he said. "As the Prince, I leaned over and kissed Snow White and everyone roared. I was hooked."

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