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Dealing with the devil

As if high school weren't hellish enough, new locally shot series brings Satan into the mix

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Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, a 13-part TV series for the Space cable network, is pitched as an amalgam of "The Evil Dead and The Breakfast Club" by Craig Wallace, the Coquitlam, B.C.-spawned writer-director-creator-executive producer who based the series on his 2003 short film of the same name.

"I think it's more Freaks & Geeks meets Weird Science," says 20-something actress Maggie Castle, who plays Jenny, "a tough indie-rock chick" who frequently runs afoul of the titular tome, a satanic book that grants wishes to those high school students who possess it.

At the halfway point of the series' nine-week Winnipeg shoot, Castle, on a break from the location shoot at Tec Voc, itemized the things she's done on the show so far.

"I've worn a fat suit for five days, which was tons of prosthetics and sitting in makeup chairs for three hours at a time," she says.

"Just this past week, I was possessed by a ghost from the '50s, so I was wearing the whole poodle skirt (ensemble) and doing that Greased Lightning sort of thing.

"I've kissed girls. Never did that before," she says. "So every day for me, at least with the character I'm playing, it's all over the place."

"I'm in a haz-mat suit one week and the next I'm in a recording studio recording a Les Miz-esque musical number," says 21-year-old actress Melanie Leishman, who plays a science geek named Hannah (she may be best remembered as the deranged wannabe party animal Mandy in the Winnipeg-lensed comedy series House Party).

Castle is especially enthused by the show's weirdo status in the big picture of teen-targeted programming.

"None of the leads are like your typical leads," she says. "We're not like the good-looking kids on the CW who have rich-kid issues. Our issues are like: Oh, no, my best friend died last week from that zombie!"

* * *

For the purposes of the shoot, Winnipeg production company Frantic Films helped cast the disused Silver Heights Collegiate in St. James to stand in for Todd's school, significantly named Crowley High. The production moved to Tec Voc last week to utilize the school's gym (the scene of a rock concert by Todd's demonically powered heavy metal band) and the woodworking shop, the scene of a gruesome industrial accident for Todd's best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull).

While overlooking the concert shoot (wherein Todd gets his wish to become a metal god, causing his audience's eyes and ears to bleed) executive producer Wallace, 34, explains the premise of the series:

"I wanted to tell a modern updating of Faust," he says. "In every episode, the book falls into a different student's hands, but it's still very much Todd's story. It's him and his friends trying to figure out who has the book and how to get the book back so they can figure out a way to destroy it."

"When I read all the scripts, it was one of the funniest things I've ever had to take part in," says Alex House, who plays Todd. "I just knew going in it was going to be a lot of fun. It's a little edgier than the other things I've been in."

Frantic Films teamed up with Toronto companies Aircraft Pictures and Corvid Pictures to produce the series. Frantic honcho Jamie Brown "understood the material and the tone of the show, which is really tricky because there's real moments of innocence and sweetness and then there's a lot of pushing-boundaries material," Wallace says.

"I try to let the creative people decide what's best with minimal interference," Brown says, adding the show may be ready for broadcast on Space this fall.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2010 C1

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About Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

Randall has been content to cover the entertainment beat in one capacity or another since 1990.

His beat is film, and the job has placed him in the same room as diverse talents, from Martin Scorsese to Martin Short, from Julie Christie to Julia Styles. He has met three James Bonds (four if you count Woody Allen), and director Russ Meyer once told him: "I like your style."

He really likes his job.


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