Theater Activists Putting Horror Flick to Work

By Sanchez, Robert | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 31, 2003 | Go to article overview

Theater Activists Putting Horror Flick to Work


Sanchez, Robert, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Robert Sanchez Daily Herald Staff Writer

A group of first-time horror filmmakers is hoping to scare up support for a historic theater in downtown Wheaton.

Mark Norton and Elizabeth Pizzola were inspired to film a homespun slasher flick inside the Wheaton Grand Theater after touring the 78-year-old building along North Hale Street.

The Wheaton couple even borrowed a title from the first film shown at the theater. A 1925 photograph of opening day shows the marquee advertising "The Dressmaker from Paris."

"Once we decided to put the movie together, it snowballed from there," Pizzola said.

With a $95 budget, one video camera, borrowed lenses and a cast of 35 non-actors, Norton directed the macabre version of "The Dressmaker" in nine weeks. Wheaton resident Jon Marshall edited the movie in time for Halloween.

Pizzola said the project isn't just an ode to the theater that inspired it. She hopes the project raises awareness about the efforts of a not-for-profit group spearheading the theater's restoration.

The Grand Theater Corp. has spent about $200,000 on a new roof, tuckpointing, heating and cooling system improvements, new carpeting and other necessities.

But another $6 million to $7 million is needed to restore the theater to its original grandeur, with a large dome and huge stage.

"We would like to go faster, but it's going well," said Stephen Rathje, whose family was among the theater's founders.

"If we had the money, we could restore the theater in 10 months," he said. "But it could be years."

So Rathje and other volunteers devoting their time to the theater say they appreciate what the makers of "The Dressmaker from Paris" have done. Rathje even played a role in the movie.

"We thought this film would be a good way to bring some money into the theater," Pizzola said.

A special midnight showing of "The Dressmaker" is planned for tonight at the theater. Half the proceeds will go to the theater preservation.

The film focuses on an actress-turned-murderess who goes on a decades-long killing spree after a fire ruins the premiere of her movie in the 1920s. …

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