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The Gallows: From YouTube Clip to Big Screen Scare

This summer's new nightmare of the silver screen started out as a creepy little clip on YouTube.


This never happens. Two guys don’t just make a movie with a handheld camera then land a deal with Warner Bros. – unless they’re Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, the self-taught horror maestros behind the freaky new film, The Gallows.

The two met a few years back, and their “remember when” story sounds like a page ripped straight a movie script. The victim of a Ponzi scheme, Cluff was broke and battling oversize red bouncy balls for cash as a contestant on Wipeout – ABC’s goofy reality game show where America’s not-so-finest face plant into plush obstacles for money. Unlike many of the show’s contenders, Cluff actually won. Watch him in action here as Super Shorts:

Thanks to the show, Cluff found his calling – not in broadcast tomfoolery, but in the production process that goes down behind the camera. His interests led him to Lofing, who happened to be casting stuntmen for his Batman-meets-V for Vendetta student film. The two hit it off and became fast friends. They then hatched a plan for a horror movie.

Related: 8 Superstitions with Spooky Origins 

Set in small town Beatrice, Nebraska, The Gallows follows a group of drama students who resurrect a failed play that took the life of Charlie Grimille several years prior. Here’s the opening scene, which gives you a better idea of what Charlie’s death scene looked like. This is where we say “spoiler alert.”

As you can see, The Gallows uses the found footage approach made famous by freaky films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.

These days, the shaky-cam subgenre is often met with eye rolls. But hear us out: When money’s tight, guerilla filmmaking is the only way to get your movie made.

Related: 17 Seriously Scary Found Footage Horror Movies 

The Gallows didn’t start out as the glossy production; it didn’t even start out as The Gallows. The film was originally called Superstition and its humble beginnings lie in a creepy teaser clip the duo uploaded to YouTube to test the waters.

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  • Photo Credit: Blumhouse Productions

Niche blogs made a fuss over it; The Weinstein Company even gave them a call. Yet their biggest bite came from Dean Schnider at Management 360. Schnider, who signed on as the duo’s manager, introduced the film to Jason Blum and Couper Samuelson at Blumhouse – the production company behind Insidious, The Purge, and Paranormal Activity.

Blown away by the nightmare Cluff and Lofing dreamed up on a shoestring budget, the horror producers handed over some actual dough to see what the duo could do. Test screenings went down and scores went through the roof. Soon, New Line Cinema, a unit of Warner Bros., bought the film, renamed it The Gallows, and the summer blockbuster was born.

Cluff and Lofing are already earning comparisons to James Wan, the demented director behind Saw and its tricycle-riding maniacal puppet. While it may be too early to slather on such praise, we’re definitely rooting for Cluff and Lofing, who went from YouTube freaksters to major movie directors by the sheer merit of their work. They’re already at work on their next big scare, which we hear is a sci-fi TV series.

Related: 12 Fresh and Terrifying Horror Movies You Can Stream on Netflix Right Now 

So whether The Gallows is a hit or just another reel that should’ve stayed unfound, you have to hand it to the boys: Anything’s possible – when you hang your balls out there.

The Gallows premieres Friday, July 10.

Featured photo: Blumhouse Productions