STATE COLLEGE - An evil baby, cannibalism and a Chinese restaurant. These are just a few ingredients that make up the soup of cinematic comic horror , "Won Ton Baby!"
Written and directed by James Morgart of State College, the film debuts tonight at the State Theatre.
With echoes of gritty, low-budget horror films from the early 1960s-late 70s era like "Basket Case" and "It's Alive," "Won Ton Baby!" is the story of a mother protecting her family from a cannibalistic, parasitic twin removed from the stomach of her own daughter.
The cast and crew of the horror/comedy “Won Ton Baby!” from local director James Morgart. The first full-length film from Morgart, bottom left, debuts tonight at the State Theatre in State College.
Morgart gives his crew instructions for a scene from “Won Ton Baby!”
The film follows former brothel owner Madam Won Ton (played by Debbie Rochon), who has converted her business into a Chinese restaurant, and her daughter Little Wing "Lily" Won Ton (Suzi Lorraine). A growth is discovered in Lily's stomach, a shocking abnormality that threatens the well being of the Won Ton family.
Upon removal, the growth is discovered to be a fetal twin absorbed into Lily's body while in her mother's womb. More shocking still, the baby is still alive... and thirsty for blood.
A graduate student at Penn State University, Morgart and the tale of the Won Ton Baby began about a year ago while working on a short film with "Won Ton Baby!" star Lorraine.
"During some downtime on the set, Lorraine said she had this idea about a killer "fetus-in-fetu"-a phenomenon that she saw on something like the Discovery Channel - and it reminded her of the N.J. - based horror flick 'BasketCase.'" said Morgart.
"She wanted to title it "Won Ton Baby!" as she had been joking with other actors on a set about how there were some accents she just could never get away playing as a blonde white girl."
With that little push, Morgart dedicated the next three months to writing a script.
"What came out was a low-brow, shock value, camp-influenced horror flick that I think will really entertain those who grew up with the genre. In that regard, it's sort of like 'American Pie' goes to the old Grindhouse theatres." said Morgart.
Primary filming took place in New Jersey with a minimal crew. A load of the work was placed on these crew members, especially Morgart, who is credited as director and writer.
With little manpower and resources, Morgart found himself dealing with all aspects of production except makeup, production design and post production work.
Most of the film was shot in three locations. An empty office building served as the Won Ton apartment, and two area restaurants were used for other scenes. One challenge was was filming in the restaurants during early morning hours, so that regular daily business was not disrupted.
"Basically, on a low budget film like this, you work with a minimal crew by having department heads and a handful of PA's who multi-task with you," said Morgart. "So, for example, James Fazzaro was our director of photography, but since we shot every scene with three cameras simultaneously, all the PAs and myself would pitch in with lighting setups and camera operation."
Editor and two-time Emmy nominee Ken Yankee even flew out from California to aide in production.
The director did not have to look far for additional help as his wife, Jennifer, did a majority of the production set design work.
"It was an amazing experience working with her," said Morgart. "When she sets her mind, she's the hardest worker I know, and she worked her heart out on the production design of this film."
This is not the first film-related project the couple has worked on together. Along with co-op of actors and filmmakers, James and Jennifer started Morgue Arts Films, a small film company Morgart uses to attain credit lines for his films, including "Won Ton Baby!"
However, the upcoming film is actually owned by Won Ton Baby LLC.
Though still tinkering with the final cut, "Won Ton Baby!" producers have scheduled its official world premiere at the GoreZone in London on Saturday.
Nervous times are still ahead with submissions out for other festivals, including the New York City Horror Fest.
"It was definitely a nail-biter in terms of whether or not we'd get it done in time for these events," said Morgart. "On the one hand, I'm beside myself every time I get news we've been accepted or someone has even heard of us. On the other, we have such a recognizable cast to horror fans and cult horror/comedy fans, that I'm not that surprised that people have taken a liking to it."
This cast includes genre veterans Rochon, Lorraine, Lou Martini Jr. and Gunnar Hansen, better known as Leatherface from the 1974 cult classic "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."
Morgart and Morgue Arts Films looks to continue to stay busy as hype for "Won Ton Baby!" builds toward its opening. Additional films are in the works for Morgue Arts Films this winter, including a possible sequel.
"I've already been kicking around ideas for WTB!2 with Suzi as well as with stop-motion animator Michael Granberry, who has done a lot of work for (Cartoon Network stop-motion animation comedy series) 'Robot Chicken,' Mike actually contributed some really helpful pointers regarding composite work on Won Ton Baby! and when he finally saw some of the raw footage, he was floored by how outrageous and how much fun it was," said Morgart.
"Suzi and I knew that if we could shock someone who's worked with (flamboyantly edgy'Robot Chicken' executive producer) Seth Green, then fans would definitely be itching for a sequel. Aside from that I've got 'Guy With a Camera,' a mockumentary about an aspiring photographer who can't seem to connect with women any other way than by hiring them as models. It stars Harry Terjanian, who voices Won Ton Baby, and should be out of post (production) sometime in the next month or two."
How about more from the husband/wife duo?
"She's actually planning to make her own debut as a director for one of the shorts we're shooting over the winter, so now all I have to do is point the camera and shoot," said Morgart. "Well, I have to write as well, but that's not much of a task."