At around one o'clock in the morning, the Kachur Sand & Gravel pits off Garven Road in the Birds Hill area resemble a lunar landscape, with lifeless hills of sand rising dramatically to a black sky.
But on this particular Friday morning, a bright harvest moon gives the lie to the perception of a lunar setting, shining its cold white light over some dark doings.
A group of people is here to watch one man kill another in an exceedingly gruesome fashion. So, befitting the air of pagan sacrifice, the atmosphere is jubilant.
We're almost three weeks into the shooting of the film Joy Ride 3, and as the shoot winds down to its conclusion, writer-director Declan O'Brien is killing off many of the cast members with whom he has been working on this second sequel to the 2001 thriller Joy Ride. That film, directed by John Dahl and co-scripted by J.J. Abrams of Star Trek fame, introduced the fiendish character of "Rusty Nail," a trucker who takes the phenomenon of road rage to gruesome Grand Guignol extremes. In this film, he is played by former stuntman Ken Kirzinger, who entered the horror pantheon some years earlier, when he played iconic killing machine Jason Voorhees in 2003's Freddy vs. Jason.
"We've managed to get a lot filmed in Birds Hill Park, some interesting kills," says the ebullient O'Brien, who oversaw similar violent mayhem in Brandon when he shot the direct-to-DVD feature Wrong Turn 4 there in the winter of 2011.
"And now we're out here in a gravel pit for a little jacking around."
O'Brien loves a pun. Tonight's "kill" -- genre parlance for a typically gory murder scene -- involves a hapless guy who finds his head sandwiched between a trailer's rear fender and a hydraulic jack.
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As with Wrong Turn 4, Joy Ride 3 is being produced by Winnipeg's Kim Todd for eventual release on Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Todd says that the great advantage of working on a low-budget horror franchise is that it is crewed by local talent who might not otherwise get a chance to shine.
"On the bigger-budget things, people (are brought) in from Los Angeles or wherever and we'll work with them," she says. "The great thing about this is that you can feature a lot of local people that are really talented. Our people are running the show and they do a great job."
Case in point: Stunt co-ordinator Rick Skene oversees some spectacular motorized mayhem, all captured by city cinematographer Michael Marshall.
"We did an SUV rollover that was spectacular," O'Brien enthuses. "And then we had a perfect explosion where a police car is T-boned by Rusty's truck and it rips it in half with the parts flying and the truck goes through the burning wreckage.
"And all we did was puncture a radiator with our truck, so I was happy with that. It was easy to replace," he says.
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Canadian actor Ben Hollingsworth, originally from Peterborough, Ont., is the lucky guy whose head is getting the big squeeze in tonight's kill.
You would think it might be disturbing to watch a model of yourself succumb to a gory head-crushing, but you would be wrong.
"I think it's cool," Hollingsworth says. "When you have a life-size replica of your dismembered body being squashed right in front of you and you're watching it on the monitors, it's kind of surreal," he admits. "But I don't have a sense of preciousness about it. It's one of those fascinating things that not a lot of people get to experience."
In fact, he has been offed in movies before.
"But this one's definitely unique," he says. "Declan has quite the imagination when it comes to killing people."
Indeed he does, and the director, surely one of the nicest guys who ever crushed a head with a hydraulic truck jack, is not afraid to get down and dirty with the process. Prior to the bloody-spurting, eye-popping head-crushing scene, O'Brien calls for some glycerine and gets down on all fours to apply it himself to Hollingsworth's rubber head.
"Glycerine makes the eyes shine, guys!" O'Brien explains to any within earshot. "Makes 'em look alive!"
Joy Ride 3 wraps production on Friday.