Hoosier horror movie features West Baden Springs Hotel


A supernatural horror movie with deep Indiana roots, “So Cold the River,” was released Friday and is playing in select theaters.

The movie also is available digitally and on demand.

From award-winning writer and director Paul Shoulberg, the film is a suspenseful adaptation of a book by the same name by New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta, inspired by West Baden Springs Hotel, where the movie was filmed. It is the highest-scale movie made in Indiana since Pigasus Pictures and Shoulberg’s previous film, “The Good Catholic,” in 2016.

In the film, documentary filmmaker Erica Shaw, played by Bethany Joy Lenz (“Dexter” and “One Tree Hill”) is hired by Alyssa Bradford-Cohen (Alysia Reiner, “Orange Is the New Black”) to profile her dying father-in-law, the enigmatic millionaire Campbell Bradford. While researching Bradford as a guest of a massive, opulent resort with a dark past, Erica begins to uncover a dark familial curse that unleashes unspeakable evil.

Other movie cast members include Tony Award winner Deanna Dunagan, Katie Sarife (“Annabelle Comes Home”) and Andrew J. West (“The Walking Dead”).

Koryta was raised in Bloomington and began writing at a very early age. As an eight-year-old boy, he wrote to his favorite writers. Then by the time he was 16, he had decided he wanted to become a crime novelist. He graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and is the author of 14 novels.

He used the iconic West Baden Springs Hotel and French Lick as the setting for his novel. In turn, “So Cold the River” was filmed on location entirely at the hotel and the surrounding community.

Koryta said he had been trying to wrestle his novel to where it is now (a movie) for more than 15 years.

“That’s how long I’ve been thinking about it, and I was in Los Angeles trying to explain to people that the hotel was real, and they didn’t believe it,” he said. “I was advocating that it be shot here, which no one wanted to do.”

Then Koryta reached out to Zachary Spicer, chief executive officer of Bloomington-based Pigasus Pictures film production company.

“A now good friend, fellow IU alumni, (and New York Times bestselling author to boot) Michael Koryta approached me about the possibility of turning his beloved novel, ‘So Cold the River,’ into the feature film. It was always meant to be in Indiana,” Spicer said.

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and brought people into this new world, Spicer said he was fortunate enough to be part of one of the largest and most ambitious undertakings he ever could have imagined.

The film was executive produced by Carl Cook, Pete Yonkman, Michael Koryta and Bethany Joy Lenz in collaboration with Cook Group, the parent company of French Lick Resort, which encompasses both West Baden Springs Hotel and French Lick Springs Hotel, and Indiana production company Pigasus Pictures (“The Miseducation of Bindu,” “Ms. White Light,” “The Good Catholic”).

Spicer said the excitement and passion of Koryta, Yonkman and the Cooks about having this story told was the spark to start the collaboration.

“Writer and director Paul Shoulberg adapted the 500-page novel set at the majestic West Baden Hotel into a taught thriller, and we were off to the races,” Spicer said. “In the end, we managed to make the film how we always have with all of our oldest and most trusted friends rising to new heights in their artistry.”

He said with its rich history and eye-catching architecture, West Baden Springs Hotel inherently became a character of its own in the film.

“From the original inspiration for the storyline to the film’s release, this is a true full-circle moment,” Spicer said. “We are proud to bring this thrilling storyline to the big screen and with it highlight an Indiana landmark.”

Spicer said the challenge was to tell the story of how big and how grand West Baden Springs Hotel actually is.

“We started filming here January of 2020 and a core group of us moved in right before New Year’s Eve, so we saw the last New Year’s Eve party held here before the pandemic, which gave us a good touchstone for the party scene in the movie,” he said. “We had a call out for 500 extras in southern Indiana for the party scene and about 1,400 signed up so we had to tell the majority we couldn’t fit them in.”

The Cook Group allowed the entire hotel to be shut down completely for six weeks while cast and crew had full run of the resort because with the acoustics in the atrium, they couldn’t take a chance of any background noise.

“I lived here around two and a half months, and the entire cast and crew stayed here the entire time,” Spicer said. “The challenging thing was we had to shoot most of the filming at night from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the better part of six weeks.”

The community support and involvement, not just from the hotel but from the town of French Lick and the community, really helped them put all of the pieces together, he said.

Hotel visitors will recognize several spots around the hotel in the movie, most strikingly the atrium. Room 4626, now dubbed “The Movie Room,” is preserved as it appeared in the movie’s filming as the room of the movie’s main character, documentary filmmaker Erica Shaw, played by Lenz (“Dexter” and “One Tree Hill”).

When asked why she was drawn to playing the role of Erica, Lenz said she was interested in exploring a topic that was part of her personality, and a lot of people’s personality, that’s often pushed away.

“I think we all kind of turn our heads to it, like when we make the choice to do the right thing or we make the choice to get away with something because nobody’s going to find out,” she said. “It’s a topic that’s so universal and such a daily thing we wrestle with.”

Lenz said when she came to West Baden to film the movie, it was her first time visiting Indiana. She loved it and the people were all so wonderful and easy to work with.

“So Cold the River” can be seen at select theaters in Indianapolis, Washington, French Lick and more. Also, the movie can be seen at 7 p.m. today at the Historic Artcraft Theater, 57 N. Main St., Franklin, with doors opening 60 minutes prior to the movie. There will be a post-show question-and-answer session with members of the filmmaking crew.

To learn more about the film and watch the trailer, visit pigasuspictures.com/so-cold-the-river.

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