A Good Read from the September 2020 Newsletter
Blood Bride – Made in Middletown Springs
Richard Spitalny, a part-time resident of Middletown Springs and a Historical Society member for many years, answered written questions from Editor David Wright for this article, recognizing the 40th anniversary of the film he made in Middletown Springs.
In the early spring of 1979 Middletown Springs was buzzing with rumors that a film crew was coming to make a movie, and that they would be staying at the Middletown Springs Inn! Innkeepers Dorine DeVries and Paul Sipple had been in dis-cussions since November with Richard Spitalny, who at that time owned the Burnham Hollow Orchard while running a film production company in Manhattan, NY. All the Sipples knew was that some of the film crew would be staying at the Inn and having breakfast there during a period of a few weeks in late February and early March. Richard Spitalny was 29 at the time, living in Chappaqua, NY. He and his wife, Dianne, were ex-pecting their first child. He had lived in Middletown Springs from 1972-74 in a house on Orchard Road beyond the orchard, currently owned by Russell Lattuca.
During that time he helped Harry Reeser run the Orchard, while volunteering as Assistant Scoutmaster, under Bob Gilmour, and serving on the Poultney Rescue Squad.
Spitalny had graduated from college in 1972 with a major in film, soon started his own production company, and around 1977, joined forces with Robert Avrech, who had been editor of Millimeter Magazine, a professional trade journal for television and film post production.
Avrech had written the screenplay for the film The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia starring Mark Hamill, Dennis Quaid and Kristy McNichol. Among the projects that Spitalny and Avrech developed, and the first to come to fruition, was Blood Bride originally known simply as “Marie”. While visiting Spitalny at the Orchard Road house, Avrech had come up with the idea to write a novel in which a new bride becomes snowbound in a remote location with her new husband who turns out to be a psychotic killer. Avrech adapted Marie, his novel of over 500 pages, into a screenplay.
Robert Avrech had always wanted to direct, and he and Spitalny decided to produce an independent feature film based on his screenplay. They published casting calls in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, as well as in the New York City film publications such as Back Stage. They held readings and auditions in their offices in Man-hattan and soon chose Ellen Barber and Philip English as well as most of the rest of the cast. They hired Robert Bordiga, whom Spitalny had met at a film finance class at NYU’s New School, as Production Manager. He came with two shoe boxes filled with index cards with contact information for every conceivable film produc-tion service imaginable! Through Bordiga they hired all of the New York crew, rented their equipment and se-cured a post production facility.
Spitalny says that he and Avrech “faced a major, constant, production challenge in producing a feature film with high production values on a low budget, a challenge we wrestled with throughout the project, always trying to find a way to get the biggest bang for the buck!”
While approximately half the film was shot in Brooklyn, NY, in a townhouse rented through a film location company, Vermont filming was to be done at Spitalny’s Orchard Road House. The cast and crew were roomed and fed at “off season” rates at the local Inn and at the Coy Hill Road home of Kissy and Larry Roach. Production laborers, volunteering or hired at local rates, included Nan Gilmour and Sally Sady, helping Kissy with the catering, Winsome Moran, seamstress, and David Wright, carpenter. Local kids Jim Gilmour, Beth Anderson, and others were excited to pitch in where needed.
The cast and crew of Marie arrived in Middletown Springs in early March in the middle of what turned out to be a protracted thaw. “Snowbound Productions” turned out to be an ironic name for the company!
“The biggest production challenge for Marie, was the weather. The production company created for the film was named Snowbound Productions and an abundance of snow was envisioned to explain why our tormented bride couldn’t escape her deranged hus-band”, says Spitalny. But not only was there no snow on the ground, the unseasonal thaw created so much mud the large trucks full of rented equipment were not able to be driven up Orchard Road from Rte 140 to the filming location at Spitalny’s house. Plans were soon changed to film at the Middletown Springs Inn, where most of the cast and crew were staying.
The lack of snow was an ongoing issue. For the scene where our damsel in distress lowers herself from the broken bedroom window into the deep snow on the ground below, the producers had to rent a dump truck to go get a load of snow from Killington Ski Area which they emptied onto the ground under the special, breakaway window with ‘glass’ made from sugar!
Filming was easier at the Inn with larger rooms, historic character, easy access and accomodat-ing hosts. Dorine Sipple was later given an autograph book in which actors, producers, and crew praised her for her “charm and patience” (Avrech), “kindness and patience” (Barber), “infinite patience …kindness and good humor” (Jane Landis).
The carriage barn at the Inn became the set for the tense standoff between Marie and her threatening husband. David Wright remembers carefully cutting a barn attic window in two and mounting the parts on a sliding track. In the film credits they spookily sepa-rate for a probing camera shot of the dark interior.
All post production for the film took place at Sound One’s facilities in Manhattan. Robert worked very closely with Film Editor Rick Shaine, who is the well-known editor on numerous major motion pic-tures. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 9, 1980 and has been distributed worldwide on VHS tape and DVDs.
Richard Spitalny remains in touch with Robert Avrech. Avrech mentored Spitalny’s eldest daughter, Beth (born later in 1979) when she was getting her Masters Degree in film at the University of Southern California, and worked closely with her on her thesis film, which she wrote and directed.
The story of the making of Blood Bride was brought to light thanks to Historical Society Trustee Jon Mathewson, who was recently given a copy of the film by a collector friend. The “Middletown Springs Gala Premier Anniversary Showing” of Blood Bride, with commentary by Richard Spitalny, is tentatively scheduled for some time in 2021.