The summer Riverside was Hollywood

Back in 1992, 'Darkness' descended on the village

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By Chris Ulrich

Special to the Landmark

It was the summer of 1992 when Riverside was transformed into a small Wisconsin town.

There wasn't much excitement growing up in Riverside in the early '90s, but that all changed for one summer as Riverside was the filming location of the 1993 made-for-TV thriller "In the Company of Darkness."

Thinking back on that summer is quite the treat. I was just 12 years old, so experiencing your hometown turned Hollywood for a summer was incredibly exciting at such an age. 

Riverside residents had to rely on the local newspaper and word of mouth for rumors and celebrity sightings. The producer, Don Johnson was seen around town with his '90s wife, Melanie Griffith. 

The up-and-coming star and future Academy Award-winning actress, Helen Hunt, was spotted at various local restaurants. Steven Weber, star of the TV show "Wings," who played the role of a child killer, frequented the homes of local residents as they began filming. 

Even "Rudy" Ruettiger, who was getting ready for his biographical movie to be released, played the local police dispatcher

I'll never forget when I hid in the bushes with my friends as actor Jeff Fahey ran past while shooting a night scene. He frantically ran to the corner gas station at Burlington and Delaplaine Road, known as Howie's to local residents. 

They filmed several dramatic takes at the old corner phone booth, the same place that my friends and I would frequently ride our bikes for a vending machine soda and quick prank call. 

Of course, you won't find any movie props there today. The gas station was later converted into a low-rise condo project. This childhood gathering place may be gone, but it will live on forever through the playback of my worn-out VHS tape.

I was lucky enough to be asked to act in this film. OK, so I was an extra. Yes, that was me in the opening credits. I was the chubby kid jumping off the diving board. And no, the splash was not computer generated; that was all me from years of endless practice at the Riverside Swim Club. 

Many of my friends joined me in these small, yet important roles. Whether it was the Little League softball team celebrating, the paperboy making his deliveries or even playing the killer's victims, I guess my friends and I were "lucky" to be the same age as the killer's prey. Thus, giving us the opportunity to be a part of the movie magic.

I had never even been to California at the time, but for just a moment our town got to experience the Hollywood life. For one amazing summer the chatter around town was all related to the movie. 

Rumors would fly about where they would be filming next as film trailers lined the streets and parking lots. There was no Twitter or social media, so my friends and I would find the next shooting location by riding our bikes at night, gazing over the treetops for a sky illuminated by the production lighting cranes.

When it was all said and done, we had more than a movie to look forward to. We had an experience that this village had never seen before. So many residents contributed to the production in so many ways that the anticipation for the final product was overwhelming. 

How was the movie? I couldn't tell you. Probably as good as any made-for-TV movie can be. 

All I see when I watch the film are friends and neighbors. I see the streets I would ride my bike down regularly, the parks I would play ball in and houses that I used to sell candy bars to when raising money for the Little League. 

I think of the summer of 1992 as I watch the film, and I'm flooded with the memories of being 12 years old. It's a reminder of what it was like to be naïve, innocent, young and dumb. 

It's a reminder of when life was simple and why I'm lucky to have grown up with such great friends and family in such a wonderful village that I still call home.

See movie at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQNc3OS5FKo

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