With historic fodder so ripe for mining, it’s a wonder that Cassadaga, just an hour’s drive from Orlando, hasn’t ended up in a horror film until now. But it may be the town’s smallest wonder. Steeped in mystic history that predates the spiritualist camp founded amid dense wilderness in 1894, Cassadaga can now add 'movie set' to its list of credentials.
Lest fans go looking, the sign in this movie still is a prop, but the eerie pines beyond are all too real. — Photo courtesy of Cassadaga LLC
The film “Cassadaga” tells the story of deaf woman in mourning who, seeking comfort in the community, unintentionally connects with the ghost of a murder victim and is compelled to unravel the circumstances of her death.
Shooting in and around the sleepy central Florida town was director Anthony DiBlasi, on his first extended immersion into the wilds of Central Florida. “It’s rich for making a horror film,” he says, “quiet and strange and historic.”
He got what some might say was first taste of its residents’ gifts while on a location scout. “It was misty,” he explains. “The sun hadn’t quite come up. And as we were driving through town, everyone began to come out on their porches…. It was the weirdest thing.” He speculates the townsfolk found the chain of cars an odd sight in their quiet burg.
But in Cassadaga, of course, there’s also the possibility they knew he was coming.
The Cassadaga Hotel: lovers of the paranormal, behold your Central Florida haven. — Photo courtesy of Cassadaga Hotel
That’s precisely the reason the town gets many visitors from Orlando for day trips or overnights at its historic, haunted Cassadaga Hotel, where an array of psychics and mediums offer readings, past-life regressions and other services – palmists, numerologists, healers and tarot readers among them. Appointments are available; walk-ins welcome. At the hotel gift shop they’re unlikely to recommend anyone in particular. They will, instead, allow you to see who’s available and choose someone toward whom you might feel a natural pull. A free meditation station is available. It may help clear your mind before making a decision.
Ghosts do little to quicken one's pulse past the pace of small-town America on the hotel's expansive porch. — Photo courtesy of Cassadaga Hotel
Built in 1927, the hotel evokes the small-town south – a seat on the porch begs for a sleeping dog at the feet and a glass of sweet tea in the hand – while the surrounding moss-laden oaks evoke the region’s primordial essence. Think Bon Temps, sans sexy vampires. Visitors may come for a reading, a bite in the cafe or an overnight stay with hope of enjoying spirited company – perhaps even a paranormal investigation; see hotel website for details.
This historic Orlando home was among those used in the making of "Cassadaga." — Photo courtesy of Cassadaga LLC
The community that started it all – the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp – is still here. Opened in 1894, the 57-acre property was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Its members welcome both curious and skeptical. Tours – from those about Cassadaga’s mysterious beginnings to nighttime photography excursions to encounter spirits (orbs) – populate the camp’s calendar throughout October and beyond.
“Cassadaga” is in limited theater release, but available anytime on-demand. Check the film’s website for details and give it a watch before your visit for chilling inspiration.
“I don’t get scared,” chuckles its director, speaking of a historic home in which they filmed; even its owner had little interest in lingering after dropping off the keys. “But this house freaked everybody out. It hadn’t been lived-in for awhile. There was a crew of 50 in the home and people still went to the bathroom in pairs.” DiBlasi says he felt eyes on him, a presence.
Spirited destination: the actual ghosts of Cassadaga are far friendlier than the fictional. — Photo courtesy of Cassadaga LLC
He felt a warmer one in the Cassadaga Hotel, though, which both cast and crew enjoyed – though he superstitiously dissuaded lead actress Kelen Coleman (The Newsroom) from getting a reading until filming was done. He says the town’s charm and aura make it a centerpiece for the film. “Get a taste of it,” he suggests. “It fulfills that Halloween sense of tradition and history and fun, not just killing and massacre.”
The film will do plenty to slake your thirst for the latter.