Melissa Merli: No weak links in 'House of Thaddeus'

Melissa Merli: No weak links in 'House of Thaddeus'

Back in the late 1980s or early '90s, I interviewed Duane Prentice about the Frank Lloyd Wright-style house he had just purchased in Danville to turn into a bed and breakfast.

Some 20 years later, the house in the 400 block of North Hazel Street, also known as the Virginia Jewell House, belonged to someone else and became a — if not the — main character in Mike Boedicker's entertaining movie "House of Thaddeus."

The movie premiered in August before a nearly full house at the Art Theater Co-op in Champaign. If you missed it, you will have other chances to see it soon.

"House of Thaddeus" will be shown in high definition at 7 p.m. Thursday and 8:30 p.m. Friday at Sleepy Creek Vineyards near Fairmount.

Boedicker also plans to screen "House of Thaddeus," tentatively, on Dec. 13 at the Kathryn Randolph Theatre in Danville and again some time at the Art Co-op.

And he plans to release it by next month on DVD and Blu-ray, with bonus features accompanying the latter. He's also exploring the possibility of putting the feature-length movie online.

He wants to enter it in film festivals. It would have a good chance of winning a best actress award for lead actress Joi Hoffsommer of Champaign.

I joked with Boedicker this past week that "House of Thaddeus" comes off as a vehicle for the actress. He laughed, then said he had known of her work for years, having seen her in plays in Champaign-Urbana.

Because she's a subtle and nuanced actress, Hoffsommer easily makes the transition from stage to screen.

"I am a big fan," Boedicker said. "When I met her two summers ago, I told her that — and that I hoped she would come on board. This is a bad pun, but she was a joy to work with."

As Claire, the wife of Tom, a high school teacher played by Bill Kephart, Hoffsommer carries the movie. But Kephart and the other cast members are strong, too; there really is no "weak link" in the movie.

The story revolves around the house, once occupied by a sort of cult figure named "Thaddeus," who in the early 20th century took in wayward girls and women. Later a mass murder takes place in the house.

Claire, a classical pianist, and Tom turn up from out of town, looking for a home. They, especially Claire, love the house but are unaware of its history.

Later, Claire becomes obsessed with its past, and that drives a wedge between her and her husband.

"We knew going in that it would be a marital drama, not a horror film," Boedicker said. "What we were interested in was this whole idea of how a house could come between a couple and become like a character."

Boedicker, now assistant director at the Danville Public Library, wrote the first draft of the script; he and Kephart later revised it. Both edited the movie.

Kephart, the subject of today's Studio Visit, did so much work on the movie that he also was given a credit as co-producer.

In the movie, the house is owned by Prescott, played by Gary Gardner, who owned the house in real life.

He grew up in Danville and as a 9-year-old newspaper carrier was once given a tour of the house by owner Virginia Jewell.

Gardner then went home and told his family he would buy it one day.

After it became available some years ago, a Realtor called Gardner in Los Angeles, where he lived. He bought the house without returning to check it out.

Perhaps one of the spookiest life-imitates-art aspects of "House of Thaddeus" is Gardner's participation.

After selling the house to Claire and Tom, Gardner's character dies. Claire visits the body, lying in a casket. (That scene was shot at a funeral home in Covington, Ind.; the other scenes were shot in Danville and Champaign.)

Originally, Gardner's character just sort of disappeared from the narrative. It was his idea to have his character die and to have Claire visit the body.

"Julia (Megan Sullivan) made him up in heavy makeup" for the casket scene, Boedicker said. "Gary loved it. He has this gallows humor. He thought it was fantastic."

After the movie was finished, Mr. Gardner died unexpectedly on June 15 at his home in Los Angeles; he had taught theater, film and television at UCLA for 40 years. He had received his Ph.D. in theater from the University of Illinois.

At his memorial, Boedicker showed from "House of Thaddeus" outtakes shot surreptitiously of Mr. Gardner singing show tunes between shots. He also loved to tell stories and jokes.

The movie is dedicated to him.

"Without Gary, there would be no film," Boedicker wrote at

Mr. Gardner gave Boedicker and crew free use of the house for a lengthy production period and supported the project throughout. Before he died, he saw a rough cut of the movie.

Overall, I was impressed with "House of Thaddeus." It is suspenseful and engaging, and humorous at times, and the lighting inside the house was excellent.

The special effects are well-done, too. They include scenes shot through the perspective of a creepy six-pointed star with a red eye, left in the house by Thaddeus.

In a still photograph shown in the movie, Thaddeus is "portrayed" by Johnny Robinson, director of photography.

The only complaint about "House of Thaddeus" that I as well as others have is that the connection between the House of Thaddeus and the murderer, played by Steve Keen, is unclear.

Boedicker plans to post, under a spoilers section at, back-story information to clear that up.

One thing I did appreciate was seeing on the big screen so many Vermilion and Champaign county residents — and hearing the original score by John Toenjes, music director for the UI dance department. Other music in "Thaddeus" is by Claude Debussy and Frederic Chopin. A piece by J.S. Bach in the trailer was performed on player piano.

If you plan to see "House of Thaddeus" at the winery, make a reservation via or by calling 733-0330. Admission is $8.

Master class

Most of you likely know that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed last night at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

You probably don't know that four of its members taught master classes earlier Saturday for UI music students. Among the masters was Chicago Symphony principal oboist Eugene Izotov, who worked with oboe students.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave Krannert money to enable the four Chicago musicians to work with the UI students, according to John Dee, UI professor of oboe, who holds the Bill A. Nugent Endowed Professor of Music Performance chair.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (2):Film, People