They came with their friends, they came with their families - but some may have never left.
For over 150 years, Rocky Point was known as Rhode Island’s summertime playground. Generations of New Englanders headed to the seaside park for the thrills of a roller-coaster ride, to enjoy clam cakes and more by the shore, or to beat the summer heat with the park’s cool Narragansett Bay breezes.
The park was abandoned for more than 15 years after it closed in 1995. During that time, local filmmakers were granted special access to the derelict remains of the park, and through their explorations, interviews and exhaustive research, they claim to have found evidence that the park was cursed.
Soon, they’ll ask audiences to fasten their seatbelts and grab hold of their safety bars for a haunted ride through Rocky Point’s history with their new film, “Tales of Rocky Point Park.”
“We love the fact that the response has been so incredible,” director Jason Mayoh said. “We’ve been collecting footage essentially since the park closed, so it’s a collection of different footage over the eras all the way to when it was abandoned and beyond. There’s footage that people have never seen before, which is exciting for us.”
On New Year’s Day, Mayoh and his assistant director, Jacob Tasho, released a creepy movie poster through social media about the upcoming film using the tagline, “Summer 2016.” It became a viral sensation, with many thrilled by the project while others questioned its authenticity.
“The thing that’s kind of fascinated us is, online, people keep asking, ‘Is this real?’” Tasho said. “They think it’s just a teaser. Some people think it’s real, some people think it’s fake just to get people hyped up. This is a real story and project, and people will want to see this just out of curiosity.”
Mayoh and Tasho have over the years bonded through friendship and their passion for all things Rocky Point. In 2008, Mayoh published a graphic novel, “Tales of Rocky Point Park.” The book chronicled some of the strange history of Rocky Point, and alleged that a curse had plagued the park since its beginning. The new film is an adaptation of that work.
“It’s similar to the comic in that it follows the storyline; it uses the idea of a curse at the park to explore different urban legends, folklore, and history of the park. We also introduce former park patrons and employees,” Mayoh said. “It follows the House of Horrors, the Skyliner and Flume, all the urban legends surrounding those rides. But it also chronicles what has happened to the park over the past 15 years, being decayed and abandoned and then the state taking it over.”
The film uses a narrator, Andrew Lake, son of weatherman Art Lake, whose eerie and gravely voice sets an ominous tone throughout. The curse is used as a motif to tell the tale of the park’s legends, and the intent of the film is to challenge viewers to determine what’s real.
“I remember all these urban legends when I was a kid, and that’s what we try to explore in the film, how did they start?” said Mayoh. “I don’t want to create a one-sided documentary where the place is just cursed, there’s a lot of people in it who say these things happen in other amusement parks. And playing with, well, maybe some of this stuff is real, maybe it isn’t, and hopefully by the end of the film, the viewer will be able to decipher that for themselves.”
Taking a cue from such works at “The Blair Witch Project,” the film uses “found footage” from 2008, discovered deep within the park’s former dump located in the back of the property.
“Within the comic, people would ask me what was true and what was not. I liked to say 80 percent is true, 20 percent is fiction,” Mayoh said. “Picture it as little vignettes or like an anthology. It goes from the House of Horrors to the Flume and there’s things filtered in and out of other accidents, legends, the hurricanes, and the park’s fires.”
Along with an ever-present curse, the film also explores the reincarnation of the park again and again over time.
“There’s also the idea that the park itself never dies, with the different hurricanes and different fires over the years, and how it sort of keeps coming back to life one way or another,” Mayoh said. “What we were trying to do was not just create this dark story; it’s the telling of the park’s history and incorporating its 150 years into this tangible format.”
The film utilizes interviews with park patrons, former employees and management staff, such as former general manager David Cascioli, author Kelly Sullivan Pezza and historian George LaCross, among others.
One scene sure to move viewers deals with the death of a Vietnam veteran, Edwin Walker, on one of the parks rides. It’s an extremely moving scene from a story few know about.
“I certainly don’t want to be exploiting any situation, but there are key elements in the film that I want to draw attention to. That is a true incident that’s covered in our film along with some of the other accidents that people have speculated about. This will certainly bring it to the forefront,” Mayoh said. “I keep going back to it, and I keep asking, how do we come out of this dark tale and leave on a high note, how do you pull that off? We attempt to do that.”
Almost a decade in the making, the filmmakers hope their project provides a new take for a generation that never experienced the park in its heyday.
“We want to keep the memory alive, we don’t want to see it die,” Tasho said. “The rides may be gone and nothing is there anymore, but everybody from Rhode Island that’s over 25 still has a memory from the park and it’s usually a happy one. The movie’s about things that aren’t as glamorous. Everyone remembers the glamorous side of the park and we look at, not the bad side, but maybe a little bit darker side of the park. It’s certainly a different take. It’s been a labor of love.”
“There’s a little bit of dark humor here, it’s a way of telling the history that’s a little bit dark,” Mayoh said. “I really want to keep people engaged and on the edge of their seats like, ‘What happens next?’”
“Tales of Rocky Point Park” premiers Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Park Theatre in Cranston. Tickets are $10 and are available now at The Time Capsule, 537 Pontiac Ave., Cranston, or online at www.talesofrockypointpark.com.