Hand-scrawled signs warn would-be trespassers away from the abandoned gas station in east Oklahoma City. Surrounded by concrete cracked by overgrown weeds, the small building is slowly sloughing off into piles of brick and rubble.
The last of the station’s customers left years ago, paying only $1.38 for a gallon of unleaded. Last summer, the building was temporarily restored to serve a few new patrons ” including some who never left alive.
When “Splinter”‘s production started in 2007, the building near N.E. 63rd Street and Sooner Road was transformed from “an empty concrete shell” into a replica of a working gas station, British director Toby Wilkins said. The six-week process brought lights, electricity, gas pumps and a large storage freezer to the unoccupied station, a location that served to unite three unlikely characters as they ward off a horrifying monster.
The film screens Thursday through Saturday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and is also available to digital cable subscribers with On Demand.
“Splinter” starts as the story of two couples. Polly (Jill Wagner, TV’s “Blade: The Series”) has convinced her reluctant biologist/nerd boyfriend, Seth (Paulo Costanzo, TV’s “Joey,” “Road Trip”), to spend a night with her camping underneath the stars. Swatting at bugs and generally grumbling about the lack of air conditioning, Seth is relieved when the pair fails to erect the tent and is forced to repack the truck and head for a nearby motel.
At the same time, another couple ” wanted convict Dennis (Shea Whigham, “Pride and Glory”) and Lacey (Rachel Kerbs, who performed in Holdenville native Sterlin Harjo’s “Four Sheets to the Wind”) ditch their truck and set out on foot. Disheveled and frantic, they are desperate and obviously running from something. When Polly and Seth stop along the same road, Dennis sees his opportunity and hijacks the happy couple and their car, forcing them to chauffeur at gunpoint. Lacey’s behavior is increasingly erratic and, despite several opportunities, Seth repeatedly fails to man up and save Polly and himself.
Polly accidentally hits a critter while driving, flattening one of their truck’s tires. Upon inspection of the animal’s carcass, at the insistence of a frenzied Lacey, Seth sees something he can’t attribute to a textbook. The animal’s dead body seethes and squirms as pieces seemingly reform at will. Dennis replaces the tire and breaks the up the carcass investigation up before Seth gleans anything useful, and the four head back down the road, stopping at a gas station when the truck starts to overheat.
The station attendant, nowhere to be seen at first, is eventually discovered in the bathroom. No longer human, the attendant’s body has been consumed by a spiky scourge which lashes out and attacks the woman, cutting and infecting her. Like the attendant, Lacey is quickly stricken with the monstrous plague which grows from within the body, forcing the victim’s limbs to bend and flail, breaking bones and tearing skin, as the host human succumbs to the ravenous splinters.
MAKE THEIR PEACE
Polly and Seth must make their peace with Dennis, their captor, and hunker down in the station to fend off the two splinter-zombies, while formulating an escape plan and trying to determine just what makes the monsters work.
It was the erratic, body-breaking movement that inspired the monster’s creation, said helmer Wilkins, who created the creature concept with visual effects supervisor George Cawoon.
“It started with a visual idea we had been toying with for a few years,” Wilkins said. “What if it could infect the human body and take it over from the inside … using your skeleton with no regard for how your joints move?”
The resulting “Splinter” monster movement and convulsions were choreographed by gymnast and a mime, he said ” a horrifying screen dance acted out instead of being created through CGI or other digital manipulation techniques.
Wilkins’ 2005 short thriller “Staring at the Sun” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has screened at dozens of festivals, picking up the Best Horror award at ScreamFest in Los Angeles and attracting the attention of acclaimed director Sam Raimi, who tapped Wilkins to direct a series of horror shorts to promote “The Grudge 2,” which Raimi produced in 2006.
“Splinter” was filmed entirely in Oklahoma City over several months last summer, Wilkins said. He and much of the Oklahoma cast and crew will attend and answer audience questions at Thursday’s screening. “Joe Wertz