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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: Baker, Chris
Date published: January 4, 2012

Years ago, a man wrongfully convicted of murder was confined to an abandoned shack at the end of Whiskey Hollow Road in Van Buren. He died there mysteriously while awaiting his sentencing. Overcome with grief, his young wife hanged herself from a tree in the woods nearby. On quiet days in the woods, hikers can still see the wife's bloodied blanket floating through the woods and hear her cries of remorse echoing deep in the Hollow's caves. Or so legend says.

The allegedly haunted woods around Whiskey Hollow Road on the western outskirts of Baldwinsville have been a source of such campfire horror stories for decades. Named for moonshiners who used the road to smuggle booze during Prohibition, the road and surrounding woods have become a destination for hikers, legend-seekers and (most often) underage partiers with nowhere else to go.

Haunted or not, however, the area possesses an undeniable creepiness. The narrow, mile-long road twists and turns through a dark, dense ravine. No houses line the road. Hidden deep in the trees are abandoned fire pits, discarded beer cans, bat caves and the decaying shell of an old automobile.

It's this creepiness that local filmmaker Matt Lipke sought to capitalize on with his horror film Whiskey Hollow, which debuts at Eastwood's Palace Theater on Saturday, Jan. 7, at 8 p.m. "I grew up hiking in the woods there and I've heard all the legends," said 19-year-old Lipke. "It's the perfect place for a horror film because you can play off what's already there."

Lipke, a 2011 graduate of C.W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville, wrote, directed, produced and edited the 90- minute film last summer. His cast and crew consisted of friends and fellow 2011 graduates of Baker High. "It started off as something to do for fun before we all left for college," Lipke said. "But we all worked so hard I wanted to do something big with the premiere."

While home for Thanksgiving, Lipke contacted Michael Heagerty, owner of the Palace Theatre, who has a history of screening local films and was excited to work with the young filmmaker. "Everyone wants to see their work shown on a big screen, and I like to give local filmmakers the opportunity to do just that," Heagerty said. "Plus, these things are usually very well-attended. I bet we'll have half of Baker High School here for it."

Lipke hopes for such an attendance, but not for his own sake. All the proceeds from the film will benefit the American Cancer Society. The cast and crew have a team that participates in Baldwinsville's annual Relay For Life, which raises funds for the ACS. Lipke's team is known for its creative themes and team names. Last year they dressed as cowboys, brought bales of hay to the event and named their team "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Cancer."

"These kids have such great enthusiasm; they really emulate the spirit of the Relay," said Jeff Carella, chair of the Baldwinsville Relay For Life. "They're certainly one of our standout teams."

The team consists primarily of 2011 graduates of Baker High, most of whom were involved with them film, including Lipke's right-hand man Aaron Stollicker and Matt Keim, the class valedictorian. Last year they raised $950 and, with the help of the film, they hope to break $1,000 in 2012.

Lipke and classmate Stolicker wrote the script for Whiskey Hollow last spring, finishing just prior to graduation. They spread the word about the film to friends and classmates at Baker High's theater department. By July, they had compiled a cast and crew of 14, including Lipke, 10 actors, an executive producer and two "camel boys"-younger brothers of cast members who lugged the group's gear through the woods.

"We started shooting July 14 and were out there almost every day by 8:30 a.m.," Lipke said. "Most of us worked jobs in the afternoons or at night so we had to adhere to a strict schedule."

The film uses "found footage," meaning the actors use handheld camcorders to film the action themselves, in the vein of Paranormal Activity. Although Lipke cited Psycho as his primary inspiration, the similarities to The Blair Witch Project are undeniable. Cameras follow a group of teens through the woods as they seek to uncover truth behind the legends of Whiskey Hollow.

"Unfortunately we didn't find much truth to the legends while filming," Lipke admitted. "But we did get lost a few times in the woods. That was creepy enough."

Shooting wrapped up at the end of August, just in time for most of the crew to leave for college. Lipke chose to premiere the film Jan. 7 so his friends would still be home for Christmas break and could attend the screening.

"It's great to see young people pursuing their passions like this," said Heagerty. "And it's for a good cause. The whole event should be a lot of fun."

Tickets to the premiere of Whiskey Hollow at the Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., cost $10. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; showtime is at 8 p.m.. For more information, visit whiskeyhollowfilm.com.

-Chris Baker

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