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CU slasher film returns home

The Virginia Theater marquee reads "REWIND 92.5 MOVIE SERIES FINAL SUMMER, SUG. 10, 7PM."
"Final Summer" will be screened at the Virginia Theater in Champaign on Aug. 10. The movie is a slasher film directed, acted, and filmed by Champaign-Urbana residents.

Final Summer” is a Champaign-Urbana-made indie slasher film about a group of counselors at a summer camp who find themselves fighting to stay alive while being hunted down by a masked killer, intended as a love letter to the classic horror films of the 1980s and featuring a local cast and crew.

After premiering a year ago and being screened at festivals around the world, the film is returning to Champaign’s Virginia Theater for a screening on Aug. 10 as part of their Rewind 92.5 movie series, which holds monthly screenings.

The film’s creator, John Isberg, sat down for an interview to talk about some of his inspiration for the film, what it’s like to bring the film back to central Illinois, and more.

“Final Summer,” written and directed by Champaign-Urbana resident John Isberg, is a horror film set at a summer camp in 1991. Isberg said he wanted his film to evoke the slasher movies of the 1980s. Courtesy John Isberg

OWEN HENDERSON: Can you tell me a little bit about “Final Summer”? What were some of the things you drew upon when making this film?

JOHN ISBERG: So “Final Summer” is kind of in the mold of a throwback slasher. I kind of wanted it to feel like a forgotten slasher franchise from the ’80s.

To the personal side of it, I didn’t just want to tell a story about a masked killer in the woods. I wanted to tell a story about being a survivor, because I also am one. You know, I went through some pretty terrible, terrifying situations in my personal life. And as I got out of it, I really started to identify with the “final girl” in horror film. I just started looking at it from that point of view, and then, you know, teaching kids with emotional disabilities, and then I had PTSD. And then my dad, who was a paramedic for 35 years had PTSD. So I wanted that to play a large part of the film.

I think, for me, it’s like, I found things that I went through — personally, I found it hard to relate to other people. But I can always relate to horror films. And so I think that’s kind of my personal approach to the film.

HENDERSON: What’s it like to bring this film back to where it began?

ISBERG: This is truly, like, Champaign-Urbana-made film. So all of the crew, I was doing this free indie film workshop out of the back of Shatterglass (Shatterglass Studios, a film production company based in Champaign) since 2017, I think I started it. And so most of the crew on the film came out of my workshop, and then all the actors and then the people who supported the film were from here. So I think it’s a dream to kind of come back and just do one final thing.

It’s fun to kind of land back home, you know, because I love this town anyway. And I have a lot of just great connections here. And I would love to make people feel like Champaign could be like another Austin for film, like how Austin had Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez and all of the film that came out of there. So I think we’re trying to do that here, too.

HENDERSON: Do you have any ideas for what might be next?

ISBERG: So I think going into my next film, I think I’m leaning more towards a kind of a paranormal/haunted house kind of film, because I feel like that might be better sensibility for me. Because I think the tough thing was slasher audiences, they do come with almost like a checklist of expectations. So they’re watching they’re like, “Check or not check. Okay, no, no, no, no. Okay. I hate this film.” And you’re like, “Wait!”

Well, I think paranormal audiences might be a little bit more forgiving. You know, it’s funny to me. You know, if you give them the film that they want, they’re going to be mad that you didn’t do anything new. So if you do something new, they get mad that they didn’t get the film that they want, and you’re like, “Alright, well, screw it. I’m just going to make a film I want to make.”

“Final Summer” will be available for streaming starting Sept. 12, 2023 on Amazon, Vudu and iTunes.

Picture of Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson covers arts and culture, as well as LGBTQ issues for Illinois Public Media News. He studied journalism, Spanish and theater at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has worked with Illinois Public Media in various capacities since 2021.

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