Bloomfield filmmaker brings horror to film festival screen

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Bloomfield resident and filmmaker Tom Ryan has a tale from another of his terror anthologies in the 20th annual Garden State Film Festival opening later this month.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The 20th annual Garden State Film Festival will have an entry from Bloomfield resident Tom Ryan, who continues in the horror genre with a tale from his second four-story anthology. Ryan’s work regularly shows at film festivals, and his first anthology was four short films grouped together as “The Theatre of Terror.” He is currently at work on the fourth and final story of his “Return to the Theatre of Terror.” His entry in this year’s state festival, “Splinter,” is the second story of this anthology. It has a running time of 55 minutes. In addition to directing and producing the movies, Ryan is also the writer. At a Bloomfield diner last week, he talked about his movies.

“I enjoy exploring different subject matter, and an anthology affords me the opportunity to get out as many of my ideas as possible,” he said. “And they give the audience the opportunity to see that terror can touch anyone at any time or place.

“It’s funny, because all my films exist in the same world. If I use the same actors, they appear as the same character. Whenever I have a newsman in my movies, it’s always the same actor or his voice is heard,” he continued. “Often I have references about one of the movies in another of the movies. These are my Easter egg tie-ins.”

He said “Splinter” focuses on a man named Scott who returns to his childhood home in Dover, Del., with his wife and daughter. He has inherited the house from his mother, who had left him in the care of relatives living in Baltimore, Md., just before disappearing from his life, returning to the house he has now inherited, to live out her days.

“He has no connection to his mother, and his father left the family,” Ryan said. “They abandon him on the same night, but not together. This is the opening scene.”

While renovating the house, Scott gets a splinter in his foot. This injury triggers a chain of events and fever dreams, which lead him to uncover dark secrets about the town and about why he had been abandoned by his parents. Meanwhile, his wife discovers a cache of material left behind by the mother, which contributes to his understanding of the past.

Ryan used a Westfield home for the house scenes and, when Scott requires medical attention, a doctor’s office in Bloomfield, at Bay Avenue and Broad Street. Scenes were also shot in Jersey City. Scott is played by Jim Thalman, of Union City, and the movie was shot on a five-day schedule between September and December 2020. Postproduction required two months.

Ryan acknowledges the recurring theme in his movies of a father’s importance to a son and family but said he is unsure if he does that consciously. 

“The abusive father has been done a million times,” he said. “In ‘Splinter,’ it pushes the character to be a better father.”

The first movie in the second anthology is the 20-minute “Soothsayer.” It was exhibited as a black-and-white movie and won for best short science fiction at the Cutting Room International Short Film Festival in New York City. Anthony Grasso, of Nutley, who played the lead, was chosen as best actor in the short sci-fi category. The third film in the anthology is the completed “Robot,” a 20-minute short. Under production is the fourth and final movie, “Haunted.” Ryan is attempting to raise the money to complete this movie.

He said an inspiration for his moviemaking is C.M. Eddy Jr., a writer of horror, mystery and supernatural short stories, but he has been influenced by other writers, TV shows and movies, ingesting everything and then gravitating toward horror. Ryan’s anthology movies have collected numerous awards from various festivals, including the Garden State Film Festival, the Macabre Faire Film Festival and the Long Island International Film Expo.

“It’s difficult to make movies on a grand scale with small money,” he said. “My goal is to make big movies with big money. Hopefully, my anthologies will facilitate that.”

The 20th-annual Garden State Film Festival will take place live and in person from March 23 to 27, in Cranford, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. It will be available virtually from March 28 to April 3. “Splinter” will be screened on March 23 at 7 p.m. at the Cranford Theater, 25 North Ave. W. in Cranford. For further information and ticketing information, visit www.gsff.org.

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