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Blair Witch Project director will turn Ybor City into a horror hotbed

Ybor City’s Cuban Club will be featured in a horror web series directed by The Blair Witch Project’s Dan Myrick. Then, in October, it will host the iHorror.com film festival. [Times files]
Published May 21

The community that made Tampa Cigar City will be temporarily transformed into Horror City.

Director Dan Myrick, whose The Blair Witch Project is one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time, will make a horror web series this summer tentatively titled Lost Ybor, based and shot in Ybor City.

And on Oct. 5, Ybor's Cuban Club will host the iHorror.com Film Festival for short movies from that genre. The iHorror Film Festival has previously been an online-only event.

"I am getting submissions from around the world," said Anthony Pernicka, founder of the St. Petersburg-based online publication dedicated to covering horror with more than four million followers. "This festival will bring more global awareness to Ybor."

Last week, Hillsborough County Film Commissioner Tyler Martinolich let the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce know their community would become a production hub this summer.

"Everyone is so excited," said Lori Rosso, the chamber's executive director. "We can't wait to see what happens."

Myrick did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked about plot details, Martinolich would only say that the series was originally called Southern Gothic. Southern Gothic's December application for a county production incentive was described it as a 10-episode "short-form horror anthology series set in Florida" and stated that 10 of the 15 shooting days would occur in Ybor.

RELATED: Steinbrenner grandson to produce two films and a web series in Hillsborough

While touring Ybor for locations, Myrick so fell in love with its architectural charm and history that he then rewrote the scripts to make the Latin District a character rather than just a nameless backdrop, Martinolich said.

"Ybor is a historic gem that provides a rich tapestry of history, myth and tradition that is ripe for story tellers to take advantage of," Martinolich said.

Myrick told Pat Manteiga, a Cuban Club board member, that the district's unique locations and colorful history, including its era as cigar rolling capital of the world, would be woven into the fictional tales.

"Instead of someone being at some clubhouse, they will be at the Cuban Club," for instance, Manteiga said. "The Cuban Club will be called a 'mutual aid society' for Cuban immigrants and not just some organization."

According to its application for an incentive, this project is part of the trio of productions being made in the Tampa Bay area by Pinstripe Productions, helmed by Robert Molloy of the Steinbrenner family.

Pinstripe recently wrapped shooting I Saw A Man With Yellow Eyes starring Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr.

The third project has yet to be announced.

For spending $400,000 in Hillsborough on Lost Ybor, Pinstripe will be eligible to receive a $40,000 incentive from the county, according to it application that lists local expenditures as including $50,000 on five principle actors, $10,000 on eight members of the supporting cast and $250,000 on 43 crew members.

Pernicka, whose iHorror will help market Lost Ybor, predicts that because of the web series "people from across the world will hear about Ybor for the first time."

The Cuban Club already has a reputation among the paranormal community, Pernicka said, citing that the Travel Channel ranks it as the fourth most haunted building in the United States.

Ghosts of those who haunt the century-old, four-story, 30,000-square-foot yellow brick structure supposedly include an actor who died on stage in the theater and an 8-year-old-boy who drowned in a pool located in the basement that now houses a cantina.

SyFy channel's Ghost Hunters visited the Cuban Club in 2009. The episode included footage of the paranormal investigators communicating with the drown boy's ghost who flickered a flashlight to answer questions.

Pernicka said the day-long film festival will likely include ghost and history tours of the Cuban Club.

"Who knows? They might experience something themselves."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

YBOR'S FAMOUS HORRORS

If Lost Ybor director Dan Myrick wants to incorporate the Latin District's real life horror stories into his scripts, he has options.

Here are three:

The Marijuana Murders: In 1933, Victor Licata killed his parents and siblings with an axe in their Ybor home.

Licata told police that while he slept, his parents pulled him from bed, held him against the wall, sawed off his arms with a knife, and jabbed wooden arms with iron claws into his stumps, all while his siblings laughed. Licata said he grabbed a "funny axe" — rubbery, like it was from a cartoon — and knocked each of his family members unconscious with it then wrung blood from it as though it was a wet towel.

RELATED: Mental illness or mob hit? Questions arise as man moves into home where family was slaughtered

Initially, police blamed his actions on moonshine and marijuana. But a judge later ruled early dementia and schizophrenia were to blame. Still, the murder was later used by the federal government to criminalize marijuana.

The Firebug: In 1911 and 1912, Robert Anderson, who historians believe might have been the nation's first African American serial killer, murdered at least 10 people in Tampa and often wore a wig and a dress as a disguise.

RELATED: Eerily similar Tampa serial killer cases a century apart

Two of the murders occurred in Ybor, plus he burned its Centro Asturiano social club building to the ground.

Dr. Strange: The story of José Luis Avellanal is a mix of fact and fiction.

Avellanal, who died in 1982 at 78, claimed to be a gynecologist and plastic surgeon yet was likely never trained in either field. He wore the uniform of a Mexican lieutenant general but may have never served a day in that country's armed forces and was known to kill stray cats for experiments in reviving the dead.

What is false is that Avellanal lured women into the El Pasaje Hotel, where he lived, at 1320 E. Ninth Ave. in Ybor, stuck them in a freezer until they died and then tried to revive them through cryogenic experiments.

Still, over the years, the two versions have been woven together to create one horrific tale.

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