ASHEBORO — Asheboro may not be the film capital but its Sunset Theatre was the first to show “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” during its 50-year anniversary in 2024.
And there at the inaugural Sunset Film Festival was none other than Allen Danziger, one of the few surviving members of the Chainsaw crew.
During a timeout from film watching last Thursday, Danziger, now 81, took time to reflect on his career. “I’m happy to still be vertical after all these years,” he quipped.
He said he left The Bronx in his youth to go to college in Texas. Afterward, he started Three Ring Service, an entertainment company, and for a while was a comic musician. Then he met Tobe Hooper, who was filming “Egg Shells.”
Four years later, Hooper was set to produce what became a cult classic in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “He asked me to be in it,” Danziger said.
Now, “I go to conventions and people line up for me. I meet a lot of young people. I’m having a great time in North Carolina.”
Danziger was sitting next to one of those young people — Britton Buchanan of Sanford who was runner-up in the 2018 edition of The Voice. His coach was Alicia Keys, who remains in contact with him.
Buchanan said he met Danziger — “I love horror films” — “and he told me to come to the film festival.” Buchanan sang during the Wednesday reception and served during the festival by presenting awards and hosting Q&A sessions.
As for Danziger, he was the narrator for one of the festival films, “Cannibal Comedian,” and is now producing “The Weedhacker Massacre.” Seems he just can’t get away from the blood and gore.
The Mightier Than The Sword Awards at Sunset Film Festival was the result of a collaboration between the City of Asheboro Cultural and Recreation Department and Ty Brueilly, a local musician/artist/entrepreneur/filmmaker. One of his short films, “A Night In Charlotte With Sweeny Ty,” was selected for the TCL Chinese Theatre film festival in Hollywood, and has since been shown in multiple festivals.
But after 18 film festivals last year, Brueilly said he was “fed up” with them. He was at a festival in Los Angeles when he was asked to watch “Cannibal Comedian” by Sean Haitz, the writer and director. Brueilly said he had an early flight back home the next morning and was about to leave. But he was talked into staying.
Spending time with Haitz and his crew, Brueilly was pulled back into the film festival spirit. “I got the idea of taking it to Asheboro, with its historic theatre.”
He came back home from LA in November and talked to the staff at the Sunset Theatre. “They had dates for a film festival but not how to do it. I reached out to Sean and built the festival around ‘Cannibal Comedian.’ ”
Haitz said that during the festival in LA, he was inspired and “felt the energy” during his film’s showing. “That gave me the inspiration to do this.”
Brueilly built on that energy and used it to draw other filmmakers to the Sunset Film Festival. “It’s not typical LA but Southern hoopla,” he said of the local event.
While Brueilly has drawn from small-time filmmakers from other states, he said, “I try to get as much from around here as possible.”
Films shot locally included “Killers Three” in 1968 and starring Dick Clark and “Just Plowboys,” a 2019 documentary about the 1970 Farmer High School baseball team that won the state championship.
Another local film was “Tethered,” shot in the Thomasville area by Asheboro’s Cooper Thornton and Dan Robinette of Greensboro. The two are currently working on two more scripts.
During a break from the films, Thornton and Robinette were networking with Haitz and Ryan James, a producer/director/actor. They exchanged stories about their successes and tips on how they did this and that.
Thornton praised Brueilly for bringing the film festival to Asheboro in such a short amount of time. “To start something from the ground up like this, that’s amazing,” he said.
But a film festival is about more than watching movies, Thornton said. “In all my experience with film festivals, it’s about meeting other people. One person leads to another. That’s really crucial for aspiring filmmakers — getting advice from others.”
Robinette talked about meeting Mike Flanigan and exchanging cell numbers. Now Flanigan has become “wildly successful” as a horror film director, doing a sequel to Stephen King’s “The Shining” with “Dr. Sleep,” another King story.
“Having these kinds of connections helps,” Robinette said, “and anything that shines a light on ‘Tethered’ or the other films.”
Robinette said just talking to others in the film industry helps keep him going. “You meet a lot of people from other parts of the country and talk to them and you’re super comfortable. Just finding like-minded people to share with.”
Thornton said, “Ty loves being from this town and we love being here. We’ll always shoot (films) in North Carolina.
“That’s why I’m appreciative of what Ty has done. He’s really passionate and has done a really good job.”