In the silent era of film it was just as likely to find films being produced in New England as in New York or Hollywood. Early examples, taking advantage of the rich local history, include Benedict Arnold (1909), Ralph Once’s Battle of Bunker Hill (1911) and Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1914). The benefits at the time were the varied landscape, the cooler climate and—this would change—easy access to local or regional film distributors. Thomas Edison’s film company was one who opted to schedule film shoots there during the summer. This trend continues to this day, with films as recent as David Mamet’s State and Main (2000).
Such unique aspects offered by the land and nature of New England have also inspired others, particularly in the genres of suspense and horror. In fact, one of the earliest films to mine this vein was 1900’s Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel, in which the title character finds himself forced to spend a night in a haunted building. Only ten years earlier there was a child born in Rhode Island who would grow up to be a legendary influence on horror fiction: H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s numerous tales of terror in pulp magazines often took place or were influenced by the history and land of his home region. In 1963, director Roger Corman adapted a novella by Lovecraft, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” to become the film titled The Haunted Palace. The Dunwich Horror (1970), Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986) and The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) are some of the other films set in New England towns which are taken from the pages of Lovecraft’s writing. It isn’t just Lovecraft himself that worked to flesh out his Cthulhu Mythos but a range of others who have added to this fictional universe through their own work, such as directors Sam Raimi and John Carpenter and writers Mike Mignola and Robert E. Howard. Carpenter used the fictional, Lovecraftian town of Hobb’s End, New Hampshire as the setting for his homage to the author, 1995’s In the Mouth of Madness.
Drawing comparisons to H.P Lovecraft, author Stephen King has created a shared universe for his own characters. New England, specifically King’s home state of Maine, features prominently in nearly all of his works. Some have said that Stephen King has “probably done more to shape popular culture images of New England than anyone since Eugene O’Neill.” Both Lovecraft and King heavily used the supernatural in their stories, possibly drawing on the literature written by predecessors like Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne wrote “Young Goodman Brown” in 1835, using the type of satanic meetings that were alleged to have taken place in the Salem Witch Trials. This shameful part of the region’s history has been featured frequently on the big screen, starting with Maid of Salem (1937) and continuing with films such as I Married a Witch (1942), The Devonsville Terror (1983), Warlock (1989) and The Crucible (1996).
Some dramas also took inspiration from other times and addressed problems in New England’s past. The films Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951), concerning labor complaints, and Lost Boundaries (1949), about bigotry—filmed in and around Portsmouth, New Hampshire. New Hampshire movie cinemas dot the map and Portsmouth is home to the iconic New Hampshire Film Festival. In efforts to preserve New England’s history in film and continue it, such expositions are planned annually across the New England countryside.
Progress is helped along with the development of inexpensive but quality recording equipment and software. Historian Phil Hall attests, “The digital video revolution has encouraged a great many filmmakers, particularly in New England…” Hall does have some concern as about a flooded marketplace, especially in regional or local markets, such as movie theaters in Portsmouth, NH. Technology still, it must be admitted, is making it easier to film, edit and distribute films made in New England not just in Hollywood but worldwide.