A movie director with local roots is planning to terrify moviegoers this week with the premiere of his new movie “Primitive” at the Palm Theatre on Thursday. The movie will show at 9:15 p.m. each night through Monday, with a 7 p.m. showing on Sunday.
This is 36-year-old Ben Cooper’s third feature-length movie — his previous two have been sold in markets all over the world. Cooper said he thought this movie could be his version of the movie “Forbidden Planet.”
“Everything just sort of went right,” Cooper said about the making of the movie.
The film centers around a Hollywood special effects employee who gets a demon released from inside him by a hypnotist, Cooper said, and the main character has to stop the demon when it starts killing people he has a problem with. Cooper said he sees a lot of himself in this character.
Cooper began with a script he bought from relative Ken Province, who wrote it in 2005. It was Province’s first horror screenplay, and he said the idea was inspired by his fascination with the Freudian concept of “id,” and the idea that a misconception during childhood can lead to a lot of anger later in life.
Province hadn’t seen the finished movie until last week, and said there were certain aspects that were exactly as he had envisioned. Because of the budget there were some elements that had to be cut, but all in all, he said he was very pleased.
He added that he can see Cooper getting bigger budgets for each new movie he makes.
“The more he has to work with, the more fabulous the movies are going to be,” Province said.
Cooper now lives in Burbank, but he originally grew up in Arroyo Grande. Because of this, he chose to do most of his filming around the Central Coast. He said it made sense to shoot it locally — he had a big support system here and the area had everything he needed, such as a forest and a sheriff’s office. Some of the movie’s hospital shots were even filmed at Allan Hancock College, where he went to film school, Cooper said.
Cooper has had an interest in movies since he was young — he said when his family got a video camera he “took it over.”
“I always wanted to do something creative,” Cooper said.
Cooper said when he first started in the business, he looked to independent directors like Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi. His first movie was a psychological thriller shot in his garage and released on VHS in 1999, and his second was a ghost movie released in 2006.
His favorite genre is science fiction, with horror as a close second, he said.
He started on “Primitive” five years ago, and it took three of those to raise enough money from investors to make it, Cooper said.
“That’s why it’s so important to pick a project I like,” Cooper said.
For the movie’s manpower, Cooper was able to hire some cast members from Los Angeles as well as some local actors and a predominantly local crew. Reggie Bannister of the “Phantasm” horror franchise was among the cast, and said he thought the story was “terrific” and called his hypnotherapist character “wonderful.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” Bannister said.
One of the local actors was Dax Balzer, a Cal Poly alumnus who teaches at Pioneer Valley High School in Santa Maria and has known Cooper since he was in film school. Though this was his first experience working on a horror movie, Balzer said he thinks “it’s going to be good.” He compared the quality of the project to movies on the Syfy Channel.
“If you’re into cult-classic movies or things that are not typical, then it’s for you,” Balzer said.
This movie is Cooper’s first to get a real theatrical release, and he said he thought it definitely deserved one. He chose to approach the Palm Theatre because of its indie-friendly vibe, he said.
Palm Theatre owner Jim Dee said he gets a lot of requests from people to play their movies, but in this case, he liked the local slant and thought the trailer looked “pretty good.”
“(Cooper)’s got a lot of energy and I thought, ‘OK, let’s give it a shot,’” Dee said.
Making movies is like landing on the moon, Cooper said — you either succeed or fail spectacularly.
“I was a shy kid,” Cooper said. “This kind of thing … it’s an opportunity to express myself. If someone appreciates it after five years of effort, yeah, that’s a big deal.”