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Local film maker to be at St. Clair Library Feb. 22

Photo courtesy of Sarah Simmons Two days of shooting for the local production of the film, ‘Morrow Road’ took place in Casco Township in October.

“Morrow Road” tells tale of Casco Township legend

By Barb Pert Templeton

It’s a haunting story that dates to the 1800’s about a ghost looking for her lost child that has    fascinated fans of horror in St. Clair County for decades now. In fact, the legend of Morrow Road is one of the oldest in Michigan.

Francis Sampier, of Casco Township, is the producer, director, editor and writer, of the thriller and is bringing the ghost story to the big screen in 2024. The owner of the Casco Township based video company, Raptors Den, is making the film under his new company, Morrow Road Productions LLC.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Simmons
Director Francis Sampier and the actress playing Isabella Chartier–the Ghost of Morrow Road-Marleigh Arnold.

Sampier will appear in a free program at the St. Clair County Library System Main Branch in Port Huron on Wednesday, February 22, 2023 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to talk about the project. He will give attendees an exclusive inside look at the film via stories, still shots and older trailers from his movie.

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Sampier, who grew up on Harsens Island, has been planning the horror film including penning the screenplay, for nearly 18 years. The story is loosely based on the actual Clay Township, Michigan legend about a woman who died mysteriously while searching for her lost child. The script promotes horror first followed by mystery and suspense. 

Photo courtesy of Sarah Simmons
Local actor Verne Vackaro has a minor role in the film, “Morrow Road” portraying a character called “Coot”.

Sampier said he spent literal years researching the topic and interviewed over 100 people before sitting down to write his script. Filmed entirely in Michigan utilizing lots of local talent, including the cast, crew and volunteers, the film will explore several theories surrounding the legend. 

In a phone interview on Feb. 16, Sampier said he’s currently in the shooting and editing phase of the project. He said he spent two full days filming scenes from his own Casco Township property last October and there’s likely another 30 days of shooting left to complete the film. The most recent shoot included four dozen people who make up the cast, crew and devoted volunteers on set.

The first day of filming took place in two locations, at a covered bridge constructed on Sampier’s property for the film and also some exterior shots of his home. The second day involved filming at the Algonac Clay Historical Museum and on Harsens Island. 

Photo courtesy of Sarah Simmons
The crew doing the hair and makeup for the moved are pictured here left to right: Tina Ponessa, Marie Kulman (owner of The Lily Rose, Algonac), Amber Johnson, Director Francis Sampier and Lisa Sattler (Richmond Grondins Manager) They are all doing Hair and Key Make-Up.

“It was amazing and chaotic,” smiled Sampier. “It costs, on average, about $10,000 a day for shooting and right now all the money left is for labor.”

Noting that the film’s budget currently includes only half the funding needed to complete his project, Sampier said a two-minute “announcement teaser” will be released in March featuring active footage not just concepts for the story and will hopefully draw in more investors. 

“I’m excited to show this to people,” Sampier said. “Only one or two people have seen it so far and they have just been blown away by it.”

Music for the short “teaser” will feature the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and they may do the soundtrack for the entire film, a decision on that hasn’t been finalized yet, Sampier said.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Simmons 
Actress Carmen Raad mentally prepares for the minor character Kelley in the 1957 sequence. The infamous “bloody hands” on the window.

The script includes ten major parts amid dozens of smaller parts and extras. 

One example of a local actor’s devotion to the film is that of 87-year-old Verne Vackaro, of Waterford. He’s stuck with the film for 18 years now including through the pandemic. He has a minor role portraying a character called “Coot” and Sampier said all of his scenes and lines were shot in October so his work is complete.

“When COVID hit he became a bit reluctant to stay with the film, said he’d retired now but I talked to him and he came out and did a great job,” Sampier said.

If all goes well, Sampier hopes to have the film ready for release in 2024.

St. Clair County Library System Main Branch is located at 210 McMorran Blvd
Port Huron.

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