Michael Yurinko’s riveting new horror film Impuratus began with a dilapidated shed next to a rural Pennsylvania farmhouse that spurred him to write the screenplay for his multi-award-winning new thriller.
At the time, Yurinko was laid up for two weeks recovering from a painful back injury where he couldn’t move, sit down, stand or walk, “when the shed caught my eye for some weird reason and I took this image of the shed and worked with it.”
He says that he knew he wanted to write a horror movie and he was inspired by the ominous old rickety shed. “I just knew this would be a heck of a place for a haunted house, where you can’t run away.”
Yurinko said he decided to go back in time to the Civil War era as a way to “take technology away from the characters, and make them fight with their own spirit, as well as their bare hands. I also love the noir genre, the look, and feel of films like Casablanca and other old movies, so setting this in the 1930s and also during the Civil War felt right to me.”
The road to the finish line was never a simple one since Yurinko wrote the first draft for Impuratus some 10 years ago, and spent five to six years working with Fountainville, PA., producer Guy Quigley of Thundersmoke Media getting pushed back for at least a year because of COVID. Impuratus is slated for a March 2023 release.
For six weeks during a brutally cold winter, the A-list cast of actors, supported by a top-notch crew, headed to Penrose Strawbridge House in Horsham, Pennsylvania, and Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, PA., both located just outside of Philadelphia.
The teaser for Impuratus has won several dozen film festival awards and the movie has won five awards; including those for Yurinko and Tom Sizemore.
Recently retired from the police force, Detective Douglas, who has basically seen it all during his decades in law enforcement, travels through the wooded country road on his way home.
He has to decide whether to go home and finally be the husband and father he needs to be OR turn down the other road towards the insane asylum – towards the doctor that called him earlier in the day in a frantic tone before the line went dead.
Out in the vast emptiness sits the massive state hospital. He is quickly met by Dr. Heysinger (Robert Miano) who tells him about the mysterious man in the basement who oddly enough asked for the detective by name. That disturbed man, Daniel Glassman, a Civil War soldier who wants to confess to something horrible, yearns to confess specifically to Detective Douglas.
Deep down in the bowels of the asylum, locked in a room is Daniel Glassman – a bloated, half-dead old man covered in scars and bruises. Already in the room is Sister Rose (Airen DeLaMater), who is present for medical aid and spiritual guidance.
As Dr. Heysinger breaks the sealed envelope and reads the strangely typed confession, we are transported back to 1862 and we see firsthand what unbelievable events took place. Not only will it shock everyone involved but it will have them questioning the very fabric of their faith and fighting for their lives.
Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Impuratus, how things went bump in the asylum and Michael Yurinko’s future movie plans.
What is the advantage of being a screenwriter-director?
Michael Yurinko: A lot of times when I write a script, I start thinking about how I’m going to make it. With Impuratus I started just to have fun in the writing process and see where it went. A lot of times I’ll map out the beats in the story. This one just started from the beginning and went through. So, once I got the first draft I had a bird’s eye view of it and saw how I could nip and tuck and change things here and there and finally sculpt it into what I wanted it to be.
When did you first write this screenplay?
It would have to be 10 years ago because Guy Quigley and I were trying to get this going for at least a good five or six years.
I’m sure COVID didn’t help the production process.
No. We were kind of getting close to getting the thing put together when it happened, but it just pushed us out a year. We all took precautions, we all had morning safety meetings, everybody wore masks and there was testing involved. Nobody got sick, it was a good film shoot.
How do you describe the movie in a few sentences? Why do you want people to see it?
It comes down to the Daniel Glassman character. The movie is strange in how we’re following Clayton Douglas, the detective, and how he gets us to meet Daniel. Once we meet Daniel and we get all the way to the end, it’s a story about, I wouldn’t say being a martyr or self-sacrificing, it’s like stepping up when no one else can to help others. He sort of takes on the role of, I’m going to be this demonic puppet so I can warn everybody, so I can educate people.
Your two primary locations were the Penrose Strawbridge Mansion, and Pennhurst Asylum. So, how creepy was it filming in the asylum? Do you know any creepy or supernatural things going on during the process?
There was one moment. I remember a still photograph or a frame from the image of the movie that wasn’t fully digitized. It was a low-res version of it. It was when they were upstairs on the third floor in Daniel’s old room, and Airen is kind of walking through the doorway and it looks like somebody else. Her face was pale, distorted, and looked almost demonic. It was extremely creepy.
So, Dylan, our DIT guy brought me over to look at the image and I’m like, “That is nuts.” And everybody was hovering over the monitors looking at this. And I went to Airen and asked her, “Are you feeling, okay?” And she said she was fine. But I told her, “Don’t be alarmed but you may be possessed.” She looked at the image and was like, “Oh, my God!” So that was kind of strange, but then we did a high-res version of the footage, and turns out to be nothing. It was just a weird pixelation or something.
On the same set, at the Video Village where everybody’s sitting and watching the monitors was in a room adjacent to the set, and our driver, Daniel, said he saw a red ball, almost like the size of a basketball, go flying from behind everybody and shoot out the door. And his comment was, “How did you guys do that?” And of course, nobody else saw it. So, I’m asking him to describe this thing, but he was a little bit shaken up. He felt it had to do with the movie.
Any other memorable tales from the filming?
There were many. One that comes to mind is that there was also a blowing of this whistle, it’s like this Aztec death whistle to cue the actors to hear when Daniel screams from the basement, to make everybody react to the sound. And this death whistle has this terrifying scream that sounds like a woman being hacked up in the woods about a mile away. That’s what this thing sounds like; it’s horrific. I was using that whistle to get the actors motivated and stuff, but every time I was doing that some people were starting to feel uneasy, like it was doing something to the building, like changing the energy.
Talk about what it’s like knowing you wrote this screenplay years ago; you got the movie made and people are going to see it in March. As a writer-director what is that like?
This is the first movie that I made where there were moments in the movie going, “Damn, that’s a movie. It feels like a movie.” I think that’s about as close as I can get to that. And for other people to see it, you’re nervous, you hope that you hit all your beats and it makes sense. Because it really isn’t like a straightforward ending, it sort of kind of leaves it open-ended and you’re hoping people will understand this and that.
Is this a genre that you grew up enjoying?
I really didn’t get into horror until I saw The Exorcist when I was 13, which is a beautiful age to see that movie. I’d watch horror movies, but I didn’t really get into movies until after I graduated high school and wanted to be an actor for a hot five minutes.
I was always praised for my writing in high school, so I kind of put writing and the filmmaking thing and decided to go that route. It was just a sidebar idea that turned into this lifelong ambition and passion.
The movie has already won five awards. How does that feel?
It is a big relief. Yes, because the movie was sort of made within a very narrow vacuum. We didn’t do test screenings; we didn’t show it to anybody, which is kind of like an internal process. So, when Guy has been entering some festivals and he just put that out there, it’s like a big weight off my shoulders. Okay, we’re at least hitting the major marks of a horror movie.
Why was Airen DeLaMater so great for this role? What can you tell us in terms of her performance? She told me that she worked with a coach that really helped her a lot.
I saw Airen for the first time in one of Guy’s other movies, Apparition. She played the Irish maid. It was a small part but she did an amazing job. And then I met her at the afterparty and we kept in close touch. I would send her scripts and have conversations. She’s a smart person and a very talented actor. Originally that role was for a priest and Guy wanted things changed around to “lessen the testosterone in the room.” And we decided to give Airen a shot.
I knew she was a little younger than what I was originally thinking for that character, so I just tailored it a little bit toward her, and thankfully she accepted. I was really blessed with the whole cast, everybody’s just great at their job. That’s sort of my favorite part of it; talking with the actors before we start rolling, and uncovering things about characters that even though I wrote it I’m still uncovering ideas from the characters and the story. It’s like, “Yeah, I never thought of that.” She’s great with that. Yeah, she’s a complete professional. I will work with her any day on any project, she’s awesome.
I heard that despite the intense cold and the heaters and other stuff like that, nobody was really complaining.
Yes, we had heaters around and you would take time out, and everybody would go to their car for lunch and warm up. We tried to make it as painless as possible. Jody (Quigley) had the worst of it because there are scenes, where he’s outside. So yes, he’s a trooper, I’ll tell you. Everybody at the hospital was kind of dressed up for it, and then Jody just was underneath a heating blanket to stay alive.
We know Tom Sizemore’s body of work, but were there any surprises?
In the first couple of days, I’m thinking, hmm, maybe we need to pump up the energy a little bit here, but Tom had that character nailed. He knew exactly what to do with him. And it was just quite easy editing that performance together. He’s a smart guy, like I said, he’s just oozing talent and he just played that role perfectly.
What about Tom’s other work? Were there movies of his that you particularly liked?
I love Heat. I love him in Heat, that movie’s great. I was always, always– again, I might have been too young to have seen it, but his Scagnetti role in Natural Born Killers, God, that whole movie kind of twisted me up a little bit. It was almost like a comic book killing. It took killing to a comedic level and it was off-putting for me, and his Scagnetti role was just, he was crazy, just like these guys, the killers. So, he did a great job in that.
And Tom had a small role in Point Break with Keanu Reeves that left an impression on me. These are things that just imprinted on me before I knew Tom Sizemore. That came later with Saving Private Ryan and some of his bigger film roles that he did. I think he’s one of our finer actors working right now. He really is a very unassuming, very giving person. Tom has no ego, just a nice guy to be around.
And your relationship with Robert Miano?
Robert is a firecracker, which I love, too. Tom is more like, “I got an idea. I’m going to go this way.” Robert will, “What about this?” “What does this mean?” “Do I think I should be wearing a bowtie?” He will analyze everything and then that gets me thinking in other ways too. It’s like, “You know what, let’s try it this way,” “That way.” And he’ll go all day long too. Robert will play all day long. He has great energy, is smart, and has a great sense of humor. I got along with everybody, it was an extremely cool experience
Are you and Guy going to work together again? Do you have your next movie in mind?
Yes, I’d love to. I have the script written for the prequel to Impuratus. It takes place in September the months before Impuratus. There are little things in the movie that talks about that. It’s the nurse who typed up the confession, it’s that story. How did that confession be created? And it’s a bizarre, bizarre film. I’d love to be able to do that.
Also, Guy is talking about a sequel to Impuratus. I have some ideas but I don’t have them written, yet. I can’t really speak on that one. Yes, so there is more material in this realm that we created. But yeah, when we had the lockdowns, I spent all my time writing scripts, and I have three that are ready to go.