J. Winfield Heckert and friends celebrate their first feature film, premiering at Theatre N

Snacking on chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant, J. Winfield “Win” Heckert doesn’t initially strike me as an artist on the verge of his first feature-length film debut. He’s relaxed, low-key, but clearly a guy who loves creating good art. In his case, that means film.

Heckert, 38, grew up near Arden (he’s even filmed scenes in nearby Sherwood Forest). In 2002, he won “best student short” for his film, Technically Deceased, at the Wilmington Independent Film Festival.

Now, In the House of Madness—the movie Heckert produced and directed as well as co-wrote with Nate Farrar—premieres on Thursday, May 10, at Wilmington’s Theatre N.

Is he feeling overwhelmed? “At times, yes,” he laughs. “That’s why it took me two years to finish.” But ultimately, he concedes, “This was really just a great reason to get together and hang out with this group [of artists].” The group he refers to is the loosely-based, all-volunteer collective known as the Wilmington Film Mob, of which Heckert and Farrar are founding members (See Out & About, February 2016). 

Together, the two have produced a number of short films. The first was Rockabilly High School in 2015, which was screened at Fringe Wilmington and the Wilmington Film Fest, followed by Dead & Waiting, directed by Farrar. They frequently cast and write for other members and “friends” of the Mob.

But back to In the House of Madness … The plot: Struggling art student Alice returns to her family’s sprawling estate after a difficult semester. Soon after, she has visions of monsters lurking in the shadows; her aunt is dragged into the basement by unknown forces; her cousins are killed. And a curse upon the family and her return has somehow triggered it all. Now Alice, her uncle and two overzealous police detectives must fight evil forces and close the portal to hell.

In the House of Madness—the title is a play on the 1994 John Carpenter flick In the Mouth of Madness—is an homage to horror movies of the 1980s. Heckert grew up a fan of Carpenter and of movies like Evil Dead and The Hidden (“It’s flawless,” he says of the latter), and he wanted his first feature to reflect the feel of the films he loved.

“We wanted to make it seem like it was shot in the ‘80s,” Heckert says, “so why not make the title sound like it could have actually been released during that time as well?”

‘80s Horror Rises Anew

Staying true to 1980s cinema, Heckert shot entirely on film. He credits friends at Wilmington’s video production company, the Kitchen, for help. Zack Phillips and company supplied Heckert with extra film stock they didn’t need, providing a tremendous unforeseen bonus.

Shooting for Madness began in March 2016 and wrapped in December of that year. Locations included Chester, Wilmington and Lehighton, Pa. While Heckert wouldn’t reveal the film’s exact overall budget, he quips, “…you could buy a decent used Honda for the budget of this movie.”

The most challenging aspect of the film was the sound. “It was definitely labor-intensive,” Heckert says, “to get the right sound effects for this level [of a project].” (Heckert handled all of the post-production work in his home studio.)

Wilmington audiences will be able to easily ID some familiar haunts in the film like the Jackson Inn, Jimmy John’s Hot Dogs, 1984 and Tri-State Mall, as well as some well-known Wilmington-area faces.

Emma D. Orr stars in the role of Alice. Other members of the cast include Bethany Bullington (Aunt Marie); Kevin Francis (Father Vicar); Ted Bond (Heckart); Dan Murphy (Humbart); and several others. Cameos are made by Farrar as Bill Haley and Mo Russ as Frankie Smith (of Double Dutch Bus fame).

Orr was all-in when Heckert and Farrar approached her for the role; she’d appeared in Heckert’s short films but never a feature.

“I saw it as a great way to get the gang together for more than a day or two and make some weird art—in a good way—along the way,” she says. “After I saw the script and especially after the first read-through, I thought, ‘Yup…this is absolutely bonkers, and I am totally in!’”

Orr describes her character as a combination of many “stereotypical horror-movie girls. She’s privileged, shallow, has no idea what she’s doing most of the time…but gets by either with dumb luck or because she is protected by some supernatural force,” she says. “But in the end, you’re still rooting for her.”

Orr says the film is an homage to everything this crew loves about campy, B-movie horror. “The humor is madcap and random. The movie makes fun of itself every step of the way.”

Heckert shot the film at several local locations, including the Jackson Inn and Tri-State Mall. Photo Kristin Iacobucci

Heckert hopes audiences will appreciate the tribute to past horror classics and laugh along with them. They even added intentional continuity errors (a la B movie slips), “…because we think it’s funny.”

What are Heckert’s goals for the movie going forward? “Our goal was to make a movie,” he laughs. “We didn’t plan much beyond that — like, ‘Now what do I do with it?’” In truth, he hopes to submit to film festivals in Colorado and “horror-con” type festivals in the fall.

As part of the Theatre N red carpet extravaganza (I did suggest to Heckert that he invest in a step-and-repeat banner for photos ops), audiences can enjoy a pre-show cocktail hour with the cast, In the House of Madness screening at 7 p.m., and a bonus screening of Farrar’s The Hat Man following. Tickets are $12 in advance at ticketleap.com.

Orr sums it up for potential fans: “If you like zombies, haunted mansions and car chases, all backed by a sweet synth soundtrack—you’re in for a treat, my friends.”

LaFate’s Art Honors Love and the Art of Caregiving

Delaware folk artist Eunice LaFate invites art lovers to a very special exhibit on Friday, May 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. at her downtown LaFate Gallery. The exhibit, entitled “The Heart of Caregiving,” lovingly honors the memory of LaFate’s late husband, Robert, and supports the local organization that cared for him before he passed.

In November 2014, LaFate’s husband entered Regency Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, on Broom Street in Wilmington’s Cool Spring/Tilton Park neighborhood, during his longtime battle with cancer. Sadly, he lost the fight in May 2015.

“I visited him daily [at Regency], not missing a day in four months,” LaFate recalls. “I created my series of paintings at his bedside.” Since his passing, LaFate has adopted and championed the causes of caregiving and cancer awareness.

The works that she created during her husband’s fight will be offered for sale during the May 4 event. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Regency Healthcare. LaFate’s new focus is creating art that highlights caregiving, a healthy lifestyle and cancer awareness.

“I chose Regency as my beneficiary because they took excellent care of my loved one,” says LaFate. “My gallery was born out of my sorrow. It has helped me to rebound from grief to growth and has strengthened my resolve to continue helping my community.”

The event, at 227 N. Market St. in the LoMa (Lower Market) district, will include refreshments and live music.

Nomad’s Monthly Jam “the BASSment” Undergoes Facelift

Regulars of Wilmington’s jazz/R&B/soul live music hotspot The Nomad have long been enjoying the Wednesday jam sessions known as “the BASSment.” The evening is hosted by local band The Souldaires—Darnell Miller, guitar/vocals; Tom Minor, guitar; Rich Minor, bass; Mike McKenzie, keys; Wayne Browne, drums, and featured vocalist Nihkee Bleu. Miller himself is an R&B/soul/rock powerhouse on the local music scene as well as a teaching artist at Christina Cultural Arts Center. He recently released his own EP, Jesus & Jameson.

Miller and The Souldaires started the BASSment to pay homage to the neo-soul movement that happened a few years ago at places like the 5-Spot in Philadelphia and the Apache Cafe in Atlanta.

“Those places birthed a slew of young hot artists that truly changed music,” Miller says.

The Souldaires are now looking to expand their jam to include featured guests on the first Wednesday of every month. Miller notes that both singers and musicians are welcome, and they accept guest submissions from anywhere.

“We started features to expose people to up-and-coming local, regional and even national artists,” he says. “We also curate a monthly Spotify playlist that features great throwback tunes and hot new cutting-edge R&B/soul artists.”

The BASSment’s first special guest set is Wednesday, May 2, at 9 p.m., and will feature Briz & the Revival. This Philly-based ensemble fuses R&B, jazz, rock and funk. In July of 2017, they played the Groove Stage at the Wawa Welcome America Celebration in Philadelphia.

On their website, lead singer Briz notes: “…we know music causes an awakening to life. It’s why our name is ‘The Revival.’ We want to make you feel alive and connected to us and to each other.”

Does Miller have a “dream” guest for the BASSment roster? “I think that would be someone like Emily King or, more locally, an artist named Donn T from Philadelphia,” he says.

Check out the next installment of the BASSment at The Nomad on Orange Street in downtown Wilmington. As always, there is no cover, and there are new drink specials each month as well as The Souldaires’ own signature drinks.

To submit an act for consideration in the BASSment roster, connect with hiddenpalaceentertainment@gmail.com.

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald
Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald is the owner of arts publicity company Arts in Media and manager of the blog Delaware Arts Info. She is a self-described "cheerleader" for the arts and animal rescue, a die-hard Penn Stater and a doting dog mom. She's a big fan of The Beatles, Bon Jovi, strong java and red blends, and in a parallel universe, she's pretty sure she's a writer for Rolling Stone. She and hubby Scott Fitzgerald share their Wilmington home with lovable mutt Eli.