Brothers serving up Hollywood-style scares in Snow Camp for three decades

Posted 10/18/19

SNOW CAMP — Years before brothers Dean and Starr Jones left their native Alamance County for the West Coast to pursue careers in the film industry, Hollywood came to them.

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Brothers serving up Hollywood-style scares in Snow Camp for three decades

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SNOW CAMP — Years before brothers Dean and Starr Jones left their native Alamance County for the West Coast to pursue careers in the film industry, Hollywood came to them.

Sort of.

They were young kids at the time — it was in the late 60s — when Dick Clark, of “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” fame, arrived in North Carolina to produce and star in a movie called “Killers Three.”

The crime drama was shot in Ramseur.

“One day,” Starr said, “our parents took us out of school to go watch the movie being filmed.”

From the sidelines, the young brothers watched the crew of professionals as they set about the task of filming the movie’s climactic gunfight. Of particular interest to the boys was the work of a make-up artist who, during a break in shooting, applied prosthetics to an actor, “sculpting a bullet wound right on the guy’s face,” Starr said.

For the Jones brothers — both already big movie fans, especially of the classic Universal monster films and the horror movies produced by legendary London-based Hammer Film Productions — witnessing the behind-the-scenes work, particularly the on-the-fly creation of a special movie effect, was a pivotal experience.

They carried the memory home, where they began trying to create their own movie-like special effects.

“We started to look around the house for stuff we could do make-up with,” said Starr. “Flour, corn meal, whatever we could find to make some effect. That was sort of how it all began.”

When Halloween, a favorite holiday of the Jones brothers, next rolled around, Dean and Starr put their burgeoning talents to timely use, creating costumes and make-up for the occasion.

A decade or so later, Starr was pursuing an undergraduate degree at UNC-Greensboro and his older brother was in graduate school, also at UNC-G, when they got their first taste of real film production work. A producer of low-budget films came to campus to help assemble a crew for a movie — “The Dark Power,” starring Lash LaRue — he planned to film in Kernersville.

Both Joneses signed up.

“Dean was asked to help with the make-up and got cast in a part,” said Starr.

Starr was also involved, mostly on weekends and after classes.

But Dean, facing a dilemma because he couldn’t work on the movie and simultaneously continue his work as a student at UNC-G, had to make a choice.

“He really wanted to do a movie,” Starr said, “so he dropped out of graduate school.”

“The Dark Power” was their first movie credit, not counting the numerous home movies they’d created as kids, and they liked the experience.

“Dean eventually decided to move to Los Angeles,” Starr said. “And when I graduated, I moved there. And we worked on a lot of movies.”

They “got lucky,” Starr said, finding employment with Roger Corman, the renowned independent moviemaker who had worked with “just about everybody in the world,” Starr said. Jack Nicholson got early roles in Corman productions, including 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors,” and future “Terminator” and “Titanic” director James Cameron’s early directing credits were for Corman productions.

“We were [Roger Corman’s] in-house make-up artists for about three years,” said Starr of the period in the late 80s.

Working at Corman’s shop (“in Venice, California,” Starr said, “on Lincoln Boulevard”) was “a great training ground, kind of like a working school; and a great experience,” Starr said.

“We were doing a lot of different things — medieval movies, science fiction, horror movies — tons of things,” Starr said. “And then we got our foot in the door with the ‘Star Trek’ shows.”

Whether a fan of horror and sci-fi films or not, it’s likely you’ve seen their work on hundreds of movies and television shows.

“We did the pilot episode of ‘Dexter,’” Starr said.

Their Internet Movie Database entries list many of their credits, which include several of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” James Cameron’s “The Abyss,” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” which earned Dean a pair of Primetime Emmys.

It was sort of a lark — and a hole in their movie work schedules — that prompted the pair 30 years ago to bring a bit of Hollywood back home to Alamance County.

In August 1989, with autumn looming and their schedules free through November, that Starr proposed they fill the void by opening a haunted house attraction, on home turf, for Halloween.

They’d helped some local churches and civic groups with costumes and make-up for a few seasonal fundraisers, but “we’d actually never done one that we put together ourselves,” said Starr.

It took them a few weeks to find a suitable venue but after some work and hunting down leads they found what they were looking for in Snow Camp: an old farm property on Bass Mountain Road. Leasing the property for short-term use, they went to work, using a lot of movie props flown in from their effect shop in California, transforming the Snow Camp farm into a movie-worthy haunted house.

“It was going to be a one-time deal,” Starr said. “Just for fun.”

They called it “The Original Hollywood Horror Show,” and their first foray into the form — rushed though it was that autumn of ‘89 — was well-received.

“We had a pretty good response that first year,” said Starr, so they did it again the following October.

“One year after the other,” Starr said. “Here we are, 30 years later. Now it’s become somewhat of a tradition.”

They say it’s the largest indoor haunted house attraction in North Carolina.

Since opening for this year’s installment the last week in September, guests are visiting the Snow Camp attraction on weekend evenings to walk the meandering paths through the 10,000-square-foot “horror show,” which includes the haunted house, a castle and a large-scale pirate ship, while a cast of around 100 do their best to spook them. (Unlike some similar attractions elsewhere, Starr said, visitors are never grabbed or touched by the cast.)

Some of the large crew they enlist to help put on the elaborate show year-after-year have been with them since nearly the beginning. One staffer is a 29-year veteran of the show.

Others, like former law enforcement officer Mark Ellington of Siler City, have joined the production in more recent years.

Ellington, though, was a fan first.

“I have been going to the Hollywood Horror Show annually or bi-annually for many, many years as a customer,” Ellington said. “It was something of a Halloween tradition to go there for my son Zack and me. My wife [Jeannie ] would go, too, but she never went through. She would get hot chocolate and wait for us in the car.”

A few years ago, after he retired from an IT job with Chatham County government, Ellington began working at the horror show, returning — now involved in the production — year after year.

“Since beginning working at the Horror Show,” Ellington said, “I’ve been a zombie, a ‘temple creature,’ Sgt. Rock, a maze clown, Leatherface (complete with chainsaw, of course) and Twisty the Clown. This year, I’m a crew member who helps look after actors and the show from behind the scenes. But I still plan to get some time to do my favorite part: scare folks who are there to be scared.”

Over the past three decades, the production has evolved, of course.

“We change it up a bit,” said Dean, “add some things.”

The pirate ship is new as of the last couple of years. This year, they’ve created an “escape room.”

But one thing hasn’t changed: their Hollywood-honed attention to detail.

“Everything is built to look real,” Starr said. “I would say it’s the closest thing you can get to walking through a film set.”

In fact, they’ve used the property — they purchased it a number of years ago, once they realized the annual event was no longer a mere lark — for several of their own film shoots.

While both brothers continue to work full-time in the film industry (Starr was in Georgia a few weeks ago working on a film production; and Dean is still based in California) they’re planning to do more film work here at home, planning a slate of movies they’ve written which they’ll produce and direct.

Working in their home state, they say, is important.

After tax incentives for the state’s once-booming movie industry were tinkered with by state legislators a few years ago, the North Carolina movie industry “all went away,” Starr said.

The Joneses aim to do their part to bring some of it back.

“We want to do our movies here,” Starr said, “so we can continue putting money back into the local economy.”

But for now, through the rest of this month, they have “The Original Hollywood Horror Show” to oversee.

The Original Hollywood Horror Show will up and running Oct. 18-20, Oct. 24-31 and Nov. 1-2, open from 8 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday nights and 8 to 11 p.m. all other nights.

“It can be daunting, because there’s a lot to it. But we do enjoy it,” said Starr. “It would be hard to imagine Halloween without it.”

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.

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