In partnership with Hudson Valley MOCA, the annual Peekskill Film Festival, recognized for its unique mix of international and local features, kicks off its fourth year at the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater this weekend. The opening night feature on Friday, July 26 will be Ghost in the Graveyard, a ghost story filmed in Westchester by director and long-time Somers resident Charlie Comparetto.
Ghost in the Graveyard is Comparetto’s directorial debut, following a young girl — Sally Sullivan, played by Disney-alumna Kelli Berglund — who is haunted both metaphorically and physically by her past and the death of a close childhood friend during a game of the film’s namesake.
“Ghost in the graveyard,” for those who may not know, is a much scarier version of tag played at night, similar in practice to the game manhunt. With Stranger Things and its ilk proving the long-held tradition that children in horror are infinitely creepier than adults, the game — complete with Freddy Krueger-esque nursery rhyme — actually made Comparetto audibly say, “Someone should turn this into a horror movie.”
Over the next ten years, Comparetto worked on the script and picked shooting locations, all within his proverbial backyard. From the Stewart Fruit Farm, to Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish, to Kelloggs & Lawrence Hardware, Yorktown Town Hall, and Somers Middle School, it seems like no identifiable landmark was left untouched.
“There are just these great locations here,” says Comparetto. “We were all over the place: Ossining, Yorktown, Tarrytown, Katonah, Bedford, and Somers.”
Surprisingly, Comparetto himself is not a huge horror fan himself, though his five daughters and wife most definitely are. Nonetheless, he was immediately attracted to the obviously morbid nature of the childhood game. The idea came to him by “just watching my kids play ghost in the graveyard in our backyard. The game lends itself to horror,” says Comparetto.
However, the final product represents a ghost story much more than the stereotypical “slasher” flick. Though his first script — which he admitted lacked much structure and storytelling — was much more horror-like, Comparetto felt the plot was more predictable that way, and so decided to focus on building a compelling story.
“Someone said [Ghost in the Graveyard] is a horror movie with heart,” explains Comparetto. “And it is; it has a soft side to it.” The main character is still reeling from her friend’s death, which was perhaps her fault and for which some other girls blame her. For Comparetto, that storyline “was harder to pull off than [having] everyone die.”
So he looked to the ghost stories he grew up watching, like Don’t Look Now (1971) and Ghost Story (1981). To Comparetto, the slow build intrinsic to these films was much more compelling than jump scares and bloody messes.
“I’m not sure how audiences today will respond to that, but they made you feel uneasy; little clues as to something was wrong — like how the camera moves, quick shots of the ghost — they have the audience questioning what’s going on.”
Despite any misgivings, reviews of Ghost in the Graveyard have been mostly positive. And though Comparetto is no fan of horror — “I think it’s an old Eddie Murphy joke, but if I came into a house and heard ‘get out,’ I would be running for the hills; I’d be out of there” — opening yourself and your work to criticism and judgment can be just as terrifying as a good jump scare.
“When that first review came out and it was very positive, we were very pleased that they noticed how it was different,” says Comparetto. “Once we got one good review, I could go on knowing at least one person likes what we made.”
Comparetto is thrilled to have Ghost in the Graveyard featured this week at the Peekskill Film Festival, having gone himself last year and leaving blown away by the level of filmmaking: “We’re really humbled to be picked to show there, and to open up their festival.”
Ghost in the Graveyard stars Kelli Berglund, Jake Busey, and Olivia Larsen, and screens Friday, July 26. Shorts begin screening at 6:30 p.m. with the feature to follow.
Find more information about the Peekskill Film Festival and its other showcases on their website. Tickets can be purchased here and range from $10 (Thursday/Sunday) and $15 (Friday/Saturday) day passes to $40 all-access festival passes.