HORROR STORIES: Into the Canyon

HORROR STORIES: On the Set of Bride of Violence

This series is a record of the wild events which took place during the filming of Bride of Violence in early 2017.

Story 1: Into the Canyon

The location chosen for our movie Bride of Violence was a canyon property thirty miles from Globe, Arizona. We scouted it twice and made what we felt were the necessary preparations for an eight day shoot.

Let me paint you a picture of this place. A bumpy mountain road leads you down, one that we were warned to have four-wheel drive vehicles for but that we had already descended and mounted with our “regular” trucks. In the canyon we were staying in a cabin. There is no electricity. There is no cell service. Everything is run off of solar and propane. We brought generators with us for additional power. The water comes straight from hoses connected to mountain springs.

Upon arrival, we discovered our location in a new state. A snowfall hit a couple days before then and the mountain road leading down to our location was covered in powder and of course beneath that, ice. My truck made it down thanks to that snow and so did a four-wheel drive Suzuki our producer Katie Hauer borrowed for the production. But in the back of our minds, we knew that sun would melt the powder and the night would freeze a new layer of ice…

The next day, we set out, Katie and I, at the break of dawn in the little Suzuki to climb this cold mountain. At the top sat our RV, where the ladies of the cast/crew were supposed to stay for the duration and where we were scheduled to receive Dania Blanco (Make-up Artist) and Mike Rea (Gaffer and AD). Katie and I will never forget that drive up.

Worried we might stall on the icy slope in that touchy stick-shift, I rode shotgun and gave pep talk, shouting over the motor: “You got this”, “More gas”, “Don’t slow down”, “Keep it up, Katie.” You see, the day before we’d gotten stuck halfway up and had help. This morning we didn’t have help. But Katie drove with confidence. Our wheels slid this way and that but we made it to the top in one piece. The sunrise was beautiful and though we couldn’t have run off the edge and plunged to our deaths, I insisted on trying to capture a picture of it, a picture which thankfully wasn’t our last.

Our team members showed up. We loaded Dania’s truck with as much as we could. I decided to ride with her in case things got rough. Katie and Mike took the lead in the Suzuki. Boy oh boy did things get rough…

Not far down we started to slide and I mean really slide. Dania put the emergency brake on and we thankfully came to a stop. The Suzuki was too far ahead of us to see that we were in trouble. I knew Katie and Mike would get to the cabin and then know after a while that we needed help, come back up to our rescue. But… I wasn’t ready to give up. Dania let the brakes off and we slid again and again stopped.

Now there are two sides to this road: one leads to a small ditch with water and rocks running through it. The other leads down the mountain (a.k.a. death Thelma and Louise style). I got out of the truck and stood on the side leading off the ridge. Again I encouraged Dania to let off the brakes, thinking that perhaps I could aim the vehicle with my weight back in the right direction. We slid. We stopped. Dania’s face showed true fear. I asked if she had any control of the truck. She said, “No.” We sat there, friends and partners in a desperate situation, trying to decide what to do.

The stubbornness to get the truck down without help fled me and I decided to hike down to find the others, while Dania stayed with the truck (rocks under the tires of course). Thankfully Katie and Mike did just as we predicted. The Suzuki met me halfway down the mountain. We brainstormed for a few minutes what to do. What followed was one of the craziest experiences of my life.

I may get things out of order because the following events took place over the next couple hours:

Plan A –  We thought with shovels that we could move enough snow onto the path to give it some traction over the ice. On top of that, we planned to steer the truck with our increased manpower (Topher, our audio guy, and Jared, our DP, were there now). Dania got behind the wheel and we tried. When she turned the wheel towards the ridge, I yelled in my angry director voice “Never turn the wheel.” But her instincts were correct. We over-compensated and moved the truck within inches of sliding into that ditch. It would have been safe of course but not easy to pull out.

Plan B – Mike and I decided to hike back to the RV and take his van to Globe. The goal: buy snow chains. We took pictures of her tires with the sizes, made a trip to Auto Zone and guess what? They gave us the wrong size. Of course, we didn’t know this until an hour later, struggling to put them on back at the slope. At this point, John (the property owner) was with us. He’s the definition of a man’s man: handy and tough. He came up with the next plan…

Plan C – John suggested he go down to get some rope and chain to tie Dania’s truck to his. Then she’d let off the break and he’d be her drag down the mountain. It made some wild crazy sense. Of course, to do so John first had to get his four-wheel drive truck around hers on this narrow road. He attempted to do so on the ditch side, using the full force of his vehicle and what at first looked like an easy maneuver turned into another situation. John was now stuck in the ditch and at one point almost tipped over. He’d driven to a point where if we kept going, he would absolutely tip the truck. There was a giant boulder in front of him. We all worked our hardest to move the rock and set a path so that he wouldn’t go further into the ditch. Here is a video which shows some of this experience:

 

 

 

John broke free from the ditch. I jumped in his truck and we traveled down to his own cabin. We loaded up chains and rope. His buddy Rich, a guy he’s been friends with for forty years, woke up from his nap to help us. He drove behind in his new Hummer.

We reached Dania’s truck and the team in wait. John wasn’t taking another chance with the ditch so we had to get her truck down far enough down to a wide part of the road where John could squeeze by, get behind her and be her drag the rest of the way down. This is where the real action began.

We worked as a pit crew, laying branches, chains and rocks in front of Dania’s truck as John sat behind the wheel and let off the brakes. He’d roll over six feet of branches and chains to slow the truck down and then say “Drop the rocks” and we would do so, bringing the vehicle to another halt. It was wild. It was dangerous. It was fun.

Stretch by stretch, Dania’s truck reached a spot where John could get around her. He went up the rest of the way, turned around and came back down. We attached two chains and a rope to both vehicles, giving plenty of distance of one needed time to stop before sliding into the other. It was decided John would drive his own and Rich, his friend, would lead in Dania’s (I must confess I was far too nervous to be behind the wheel unless I had to at this point).

I distinctively remember Rich asking us all to pile in Dania’s vehicle to weigh it down. We hopped in over the gear and I thought, “Well at least we’ll go together if something bad happens.” Rich also gave me a message to relay to John before we started: “Tell John I don’t give a fuck what he thinks, run his truck in reverse the whole way down.” I repeated it word for word. Mike told me later that after I walked away, John refused to do so. These are true friends who operate in the way only men who have known each other for years can.

Here is a video of the slow crawl down the mountain:

 

 

When we arrived at the bottom we were all thankful to be safe and to have our vehicles out of that mess. You could say I’m exaggerating, but we’d already been in death-defying situation and filming hadn’t even started…

To be continued.

-Director Travis Mills