James Kelley Young – who prefers to be addressed by his middle name – was born on an Air Force base in Tokyo, but his family moved to Fort Worth a year later in 1964. He has lived here ever since, and the city has helped to define his moviegoing sensibilities in many ways. He waxes nostalgic about seeing horror movies on Channel 11’s Nightmare Theater and at local drive-ins.
“It’s a more private experience,” he recalled. “You brought a cooler of beer. You weren’t sitting with strangers. If the movie wasn’t good, you could do something else.” He also recalled watching the 1976 filming of Logan’s Run in Fort Worth. “I saw the men setting up the lights and the cameras, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ “
After spending some years working on film crews for other directors (“I never wanted to go to film school”), Young has now seized his chance to make his own low-budget film, Midnight Drive In. The plot, which revolves around a cursed ring, was inspired by the filmmaker’s own experience. “I used to write scripts in [Arlington’s] Highland Park in the 1980s,” he said. “One day I found a ring in the riverbed there, and I put it on. In the next few months, I lost my job, my car, and my girlfriend. I threw it back.”
The film, which includes cameo appearances by Conrad Brooks (a repertory actor from Ed Wood’s films) and Blood Feast star Mal Arnold, is intended as an homage to the gorefests that played at drive-in theaters. Indeed, the main character works at such a theater, and Young filmed some scenes at the Brazos Drive In Movie Theater in Granbury. The rest of the film was shot mostly in Fort Worth, with a crew assembled through Craigslist. Young recognized that technological advances like Craigslist and digital cameras have opened up filmmaking to him, but he still ran into issues that old-school directors would recognize. “I was shooting on Riverside Drive, and a cop stopped me as I was dragging a fake corpse around,” said Young. “He pulled his gun on me.”
The filmmaker also had to deal with medical problems. Young was diagnosed with colon cancer last August and has been living off various forms of public assistance since then. His slender, ragged appearance testified to his recent illness, though his manner is no less energetic for it. While he still admitted to having “bad days,” he said he feels much better now, citing the improved condition of his liver. The diagnosis “made it that much more important to finish the project,” he said. He credits his wife Lisa (who works as an optician and can be seen in the movie playing a police secretary) with handling the catering and finances on the film. “She really held down the fort,” he said.
He also gives thanks to the film’s leading man, Josh Moreno, for his help with casting and other matters related
Young’s next planned project is a haunted house movie, and he entertains notions of building an outdoor theater as an add-on to the 100-year-old Victorian house where he lives.
He is unabashedly about making movies for people who grew up watching the same blood-and-entrails horror flicks that he did. “If someone throws up [because of my movie], that’s like a standing ovation to me.”