Mark Borchardt on “PSYCHOPATH”


Victor Marquez has a dream. No, it’s not to retire one day and lounge around on some far-off beach with a tiny umbrella residing in a tall, bright drink; nor is it to hike the outback of Australia with only a backpack slung over the shoulder; neither is it to just slump forevermore in front of a big-screen TV after forty years of good service and a gold watch meet eye to eye. No, nothing like that at all. You see Victor’s one and only obsession is with conjuring some backwoods terror at almost any cost, his steadfast vision in life is to create a haunted theme park. A haunted trail if you will. And the heartwarming as well as heart-stopping filmic rollercoaster ride of “Psycho Path” (which is also the name of the trail) documents that perilous road of uncertainty to attain a very risky dream.

I had a chance to sit down with filmmaker Manny Marquez (Victor’s nephew) and his beautiful family. His enthusiasm for life and his work was readily apparent but in short order he put a sinister spin on things when he revealed: “When I was a kid my dad had a best friend…who was a serial killer…and when I was eight years-old he tried to kill me.” Whoa – how’s that for encountering the fear factor right out of the proverbial gate? Manny wrote a script based on that fiendish incident and is still seriously considering making a film about it – he plans on making it a dark comedy. Dark indeed. And that incident leads to the road we find ourselves on now.

For it was while scouting locations for his “Murder Movie” based on that horrific encounter, that he came upon his uncle Victor’s land and as well as his vision to create the ghostly trail: “Psycho Path.” Manny became enamored with the land itself and the quest to turn it into something more than a swamp. “The woods itself became a character,” Manny realized as he began to document the earnest proceedings. He saw his uncle taking on his dream so Manny pursued his own as well. Manny had been stuck working on truly bad reality shows of which he found had “nothing to do with cinema” – his true calling. Now finding himself back in his formative stomping grounds, Manny had something he could sink his real talents into.

It turns out that Victor and Manny both possess the same kind of pesky creative visions, the sort that just won‘t go away until something is thoroughly done about them. And their interests both happen to fall into the realm of the visual arts. Consequently, a neat symbiosis occurs as nephew documents uncle. Victor even bought Manny an ARRI BL 16mm camera for film school – talk about tactile support. “He’s been an enabler of cinematic mischief,” he fondly says of his uncle.

In his youth, Victor himself touted around a Super-8 camera and then moved on to video, bringing about short horror films and the like to the small screen. Manny was very inspired by his uncle’s formative cinematic adventures. “I wouldn’t be a filmmaker if it wasn’t for Victor,” Manny attests, obviously carrying a deep affection for their relationship.

Initially, Victor wanted to go out to Hollywood to be a special effects make-up artist but the fickle fingers of fate had other plans for him. Instead he found his calling in his own backyard. Literally – well, five miles from his backyard. On forty acres of dubious terrain.

And that brings us back to our story. Sperry, Oklahoma is the location of said perilous property which one of Victor’s other nephews, David, poignantly deems a “shithole.” Certainly no condos are going to crop up there anytime soon amid the tangled trees, snakes, mosquitoes and general swamp land. The property is also near a Civil War battleground and it’s alleged to be haunted. A neighbor, Robert Sisk corroborates, “You get an immense feeling that you shouldn’t be there…it’s like crossing a barrier almost…you get the feeling something doesn’t want you there.”

If other-worldly manifestations nipping at Victor’s heels weren’t enough, as luck would have it, the neighbors are very unhappy about other mysterious goings-on, those conjured up by Marquez and his colleagues. And unfortunately the Sheriff owns some of the adjacent land. His wife takes a petition around to the local residents to get Victor to stop whatever it is that he’s doing – no one seems certain – but they do know that they want no part of it. A large clan, the Sisk family, doesn’t want any part of it either. And there’s a lot of them.

Not only that, but Victor of course plans on opening for the Halloween season and that coincides directly with another season: hunting. The film crew goes around querying the community at hand and they all seem none-too-happy about those parallel events. One even plans on hiring a lawyer and speculates, “It’s going to get rough on them…it’s going to get real bad.”

I myself thought, man, if your neighbors are against you on top of it all, that’s really a rough, rough thing – my heart just broke. And if there ever was a time to throw in the towel…but Victor’s got a will of steel and presses forward. Yet, with the local’s ire stirred, he and his enterprise are summoned to the county board. This is getting real. But the local government lets him proceed, temporarily that is, allowing him to prove that his project won’t be a public nuisance, nor hazard.

Victor’s been a sanitation man for over thirty years but obviously that’s not where his dreams lie. He puts whatever penny he can in the project and after a day’s work of slinging trash bags he looks forward to the only thing he wants to really do: work on that park. Neighbors, government, weather and the like have not stopped him yet. But it’s a long road to continuously conjure interest in all the work that needs to be done: lots of land has to be cleared, numerous props need to be built and a general cohesion of scare-worthy terror needs to be created in short order.

On the home front Victor has both his supporters and his detractors. His father, brother and son all have their doubts and keep a safe distance. And that son makes it clear to his father: “that’s your dream, not my dream.” But it’s his wife Suezette, daughter Victoria, and best friend Mike Perry, who stick by him with much needed support, not only psychologically but hands-on, both very necessary to retain the course. It’s revealed that Victor didn’t marry his high school sweetheart, but rather, his teacher. Good for him. And Suezette. In fact they absconded into the proverbial sunset heading to California with Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” playing all the way. Talk about a romantic vision made manifest.

But those glory days are long past and with the heavy financial strain bearing down on the family by the scare trail, they even consider putting the fate of their home in the mix as well. Suezette is still a teacher and when she asks her current students if any of them has any interest in attending “Psycho Path” not one raises their hand. Man, it’s disheartening when you can’t even rally the kids to your side. And with familial contentions understandably brewing as well regarding the taxing project, one couldn’t fault the over-burdened Victor if he threw up his hands at any time and called it a day. But iron-clad warrior that he is, he persists diligently through the storms of challenge.

Well, others do rally to the cause, and enter Kage Hunter, (not his real name but one he bestowed upon himself) a troubled youth from a dysfunctional family. Suezette found him as a student to be an “Off-the-wall different-type personality.” It becomes rapidly apparent that he’s really into the world of monsters and special effects. Consequently, he fits into this project like hand-in-glove and becomes Victor’s ambitious right-hand man. He’s an enthusiastic ally and carries with him the ideas and energies of the young man that he is. But on down the line he’s found to be a bit too enthusiastic and rubs some people the wrong way, and after an unfortunate incident, he has to be let go – his own zeal doing him in. And later on, Kage regrettably passes away. But that sad note cemented a realization in Manny: “It wasn’t until that Kage died that I realized we had a movie.” Mr. Hunter’s legacy has been ensured.

A local troupe of actors comes out to the spook park in-the-making, spear-headed by one visionary Tom McCay. He’s a man of energy and imagination, too, and he wants to do more than just provide thespians it soon turns out as he puts his hand in the broader proceedings as well. Victor is taken off-guard by this, for he himself is to be the sole visionary – but he can’t really knock what he’s damn lucky to have. McCay even sets up a party to attract more interest to the cause, but all that’s really attracted is a rain storm and tornado warnings. But the show must go on, hell or high-water.

Helping hands abound but that doesn’t erase the dire reality of how much more needs to get accomplished by opening night. Suezette becomes increasingly worried by the daunting due date and the ongoing stress puts her in the hospital. Trooper that she is, once checked out, she gets back on-point. Victor remains one lucky man. And Manny and crew even put their cameras down behind the “behind the scenes” to help Victor out when it comes down to serious crunch time. That’s the stuff.

But when Manny did have the cameras rolling over the course of ten years, he eventually shot over 250 hours of footage in nine different formats and he stressed that his film wasn’t any how-to video: “We’re talking about a man’s life and dreams on the line.” Ain’t that the truth.

October 1st arrives and so does the aforementioned hunting season. Shots are heard in the ominous dark one night and the haunted crew surmise that those shots are probably intended for them. And they are extremely disappointed by the abject turnout, only a few people trickle in.

But wait, hold on to your hats – we’ve come too far to let it all end like this. Soon, people do start to arrive in gradually increasing numbers. And even a large contingent of the Sisk family comes out – once the endeavor’s staunchest detractors. In a surprising, heartwarming twist, they even offer to help out with “Psycho Path” next year. Wow.

We cut to 2013. It is the first year that the park has turned a profit, drawing close to 10,000 visitors. Tom McCay is still on board and he embodies the role of “Trail Master.” Victor Marquez and family have been granted their victory, albeit a very hard-earned one.

And Manny makes clear of his documentary’s intent: “It’s not a movie about a haunted house, it’s not a movie about zoning laws, it’s a movie about a man and his dreams and failures…and his eventual success.” Yes, truly, “PsychoPath” the film glows as a loving tribute to his uncle, his family, his coterie of believers and their preternatural determination.

Ultimately, Manny puts forth to the audience at large: “I hope you’ll like the movie otherwise I just made the world’s most expensive home movie…”

Don’t worry, Manny, we all like the movie.