Filmmakers hope scary trees kill at box office


March 21, 2004|By Ken Byron | Ken Byron,Hartford Courant

As claims to fame go, saying you've cornered the market in killer-tree movies is not a big brag. Yet that is what Andrew Gernhard and Michael Pleckaitis have spent the past several years doing.

Since 1999, the Bristol, Conn., filmmakers have produced two feature-length movies -- Trees, released in 2000, and The Root of All Evil, which will make its premiere this weekend in Connecticut. Tomorrow the world?

The unlikely stars of these movies are Christmas-tree-size white pines that come to life, sprout legs, go on killing sprees and generally terrorize the small, fictional town of Hazelville.

Pleckaitis said they realized they needed a very unusual idea after entering a short piece in a film festival in New York City and saw the competitive film world up close. "I figured we had to come up with the dumbest, most ridiculous idea we could think of and make a movie about it," Pleckaitis said, "something people would see out of curiosity."

Trees spoofs the Steven Spielberg classic Jaws, borrowing the film's plot almost scene for scene. But instead of beaches and an ocean-side community, Trees is set in the woods. The Root of All Evil is set in the same woodsy community, but instead of one menacing tree, a horde of pines comes to life, eager to kill anyone in its path.

Both movies were made with the intent of going straight to video. Gernhard and Pleckaitis said they did not have nearly enough money to make something with any hope of its being released in theaters.

"The absurdity of Trees made me howl with laughter," said actor Ron Palillo, who signed on for the sequel. (He played Horshack in the hit 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.) "I think Root is going to be a cult hit, and it might get into theater."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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