Erie-based filmmaker shoots ‘grindhouse-action-women-in-prison-biker-martial-arts’ movie in Chambersburg’s Old Jail

CHAMBERSBURG – Erie-based filmmaker Len Kabasinski filmed portions of his film “Hellcat’s Revenge II: Deadman’s Hand” in Chambersburg’s Old Jail (175 E. King St.).

Not only will Chambersburgers recognize the set – the Old Jail scenes represent more than half of the film – but they might also see people they know performing as extras.

The Chambersburg portions of the filming were carried out in two sessions: the first from June 30-July 1 and then the cast and crew returned on July 28-29. Additional filming was done in Erie.

The film went into post-production in August, and it is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day through KillerWolf Films’ Patreon site.

Kabasinski explained that he was tipped off to the Old Jail as a possible location through the Pennsylvania Film Office’s website filminpa.com, whose mission is “to help filmmakers make great films in PA using the expertise, talent, tax incentives and beautiful locations of our state.”

Using information acquired from the Pennsylvania Film Office, Kabasinski reached out to the Historical Society and described his project and its requirements.

“It’s really been great filming there,” said Kabasinski. “The people at the prison were super awesome.”

Kabasinski visited the location in April to scout it out and make sure that it would be suitable for his needs.

“Neil Rensch, one of the volunteers at the prison, showed us around,” he said. “Everybody has been really super great to us. I have zero to complain about.”

Photo credit: Aaron Bratcher, film editor and photographer

The original “Hellcat’s Revenge” (2017), which was written and directed by Kabasinski (who also did the stunt choreography), featured Playboy centerfold Lisa Neeld, Donna Hamblin and Kabasinski in a plot that pits two biker gangs against each other to avenge a murdered leader.

“Hellcat’s Revenge” is available now to watch on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Tubi TV.

In “Hellcat’s Revenge II: Deadman’s Hand,” Neeld, Hamblin and Kabasinski reprise their roles as Kat, Rosie and Snake, respectively, but this time Kabasinski wanted to build on that biker-action genre foundation.

“What I’m going for this time around, really, is to do my first grindhouse picture – something I don’t feel I’ve done yet at this point in my career,” he explained in a video on Indiegogo at the project’s inception. “It’s going to be that women-in-prison movie kind of feel…mixed with a martial arts movie, mixed with an action movie, and continuing much like the first ‘Hellcat’s Revenge’ movie that was released a couple of years ago, we’re going to continue, of course, with that biker-based action picture.”

The grindhouse aesthetic can be difficult to put into words, but you know it almost immediately when you see it.

“They’re usually lower-budgeted movies,” explained Kabasinski. “They’re exploitation cinema. There’s usually violence and nudity and things like that in those kinds of pictures. They’re normally centered around New York City. There are a lot of prison-genre films in grindhouse cinema. It’s usually between horror and action. That’s really where grindhouse cinema has its foundation.”

With the exception of 2018’s “Challenge of Five Gauntlets” (once again starring Neeld, Hamblin, Kabasinski but this time alongside the legendary Leo Fong), which Kabasinski said would be PG-13 for martial arts violence, the majority of Kabasinski’s pictures are “R-rated material because they’re either action or horror with violence and nudity and things like that.”

Photo credit: Aaron Bratcher, film editor and photographer

Kim Clark, a volunteer in the genealogical library at the Franklin County Historical Society, was an extra in the film.

“I had heard that they were looking for some local volunteers to act as female prisoners here in the jail, and I, of course, volunteered because I had never been in a movie before, and that’s one of the things on my bucket list.”

Clark explained that the jail had been converted into a cafeteria and the extras were asked to perform a variety of tasks including eating, playing cards, walking around and looking down from the catwalk onto the action below.

“They fought here in the cafeteria area and one smacked the other with one with a tray,” said Clark. “They had to have several takes on that, and we were all laughing.”

As an extra, Clark didn’t have access to a script, so she can only wonder how some of the scenes will fit within the whole of the finished film.

“There was, like, six or eight of us, and there was an altercation going on over here,” Clark said of one sequence. “A girl was getting stabbed, so we run over and we’re pounding and beating on the guard and we just keep running on all the way down here. And that was it. It was fun.”

Clark said of the experience: “He (Kabasinski) was very nice to work with. Everyone was so pleasant.”

Clark got a fake tattoo for the part, and she was still getting compliments on it for several weeks after the shoot.

She was really impressed with the first movie and that she’s anxious to see this one.

“They’re going to provide us each with a copy of the movie,” she said. “And, of course, our names are going to be in the credits at the end.”

Kim Clark, a volunteer in the genealogical library at the Franklin County Historical Society, recreates her performance as an extra in “Hellcat’s Revenge II: Deadman’s Hand.”

Kabasinski started out in live theater in the Erie area as a certified stunt man through the Society of American Fight Directors. He has choreographed the stunts and fight scenes for productions ranging from classics like “Treasure Island” to more contemporary shows like “Carrie: The Musical.”

“I still do that to this day,” he said. “Our local theater will call me up and say, ‘Hey, we have this fight scene, can you come in and show these guys how to do it safely – without them really killing each other?’”

But once the digital cameras made shooting and editing movies easier, Kabasinski found his media of choice, and he’s been growing and exploring its capabilities – in front of and behind the camera – ever since.

“The technology revolution for cameras really brought me into being able to do my own pictures,” he said. “I would say that the ‘me’ of 2005 is vastly, vastly different than the ‘me’ of 2019. And that’s not just technology doing that. That’s hopefully – that’s for the audience to say – hopefully me getting better at what I do.”

Photo credit: Aaron Bratcher, film editor and photographer

What stands out about Kabasinski when you speak to him is his infectious celebration of all cinema – high and low. This love is evident in his podcast “Fist of the Filmmaker” and video series “Len’s Forgotten Movie Den” (both accessible through his Patreon page), but even a brief phone interview with Kabasinski is enough to make a casual film viewer take a more active – and appreciative – approach to movie consumption.

“You’re not going to find me watching ‘The Piano’ too often,” he said. “I would rather be watching ‘Dead Heat’ with Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams. Or I’d rather be watching ‘King of the Kickboxers’ or something like that.”

“Not that I can’t get behind a good drama,” he continued. “For example my favorite movie of all time is ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’ which has nothing to do with people getting karate chopped or anything like that. Most people, if they see me or know me and know what music I listen to or what films I like to watch, wouldn’t have guessed that would be my favorite movie, but it is.”

Photo credit: Aaron Bratcher, film editor and photographer

But as with the music industry and publishing, the transition to digital has drastically altered the distribution landscape and financial models in ways that producers and consumers will be reckoning with for the foreseeable future.

For example, Kabasinski explained that he has retained the rights to the Blu-Ray of “Challenge of Five Gauntlets” while Sector 5 Films will handle the digital and overseas distribution.

“That’s kind of where you try to make your money – overseas – on these kinds of things,” said Kabasinski.

He added: “In America, it’s not as glamorous as you might think. You’re lucky if you break even and get to do another movie.”

Kabasinski loves making movies. He loves watching movies. He loves talking about movies. And he loves the people he works with.

The list of recurring names in his casts (Lisa Neeld, Donna Hamblin, Adele Crotty, Tim O’Hearn, and Bob Dobiesz to name just a few) suggests that like Tim Burton (or Ed Wood), Kabasinski has assembled around himself a film-making family that shares his vision.

“That’s really what gets these pictures done,” he said. “The people around you are passionate about doing this thing and they get on-board with the project and they believe in it and you put a picture together. I’m very fortunate for the talent I have around me.”

[Featured image caption: The filming of “Hellcat’s Revenge II: Deadman’s Hand” in Chambersburg’s Old Jail. Photo credit: Aaron Bratcher, film editor and photographer. The quote in the headline comes from Kabasinski’s description of the project in the initial Indiegogo video. The quote has been altered slightly. In the original he said “action” twice.]

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