RIVERVIEW — An old banner hanging inside the Showmen’s Museum has inspired an independent movie, and possibly a series of movies, based on the area’s history as a retirement community for carnival and sideshow workers.
The banner promotes “Wolf Boy,” called such because he was covered in hair from head to toe.
During a 2019 visit to the Riverview museum that tells the history of carnivals and fairs, Tampa independent film producer Ed McKeever said his now-14-year-old son, Michael McKeever, wondered aloud what the Wolf Boy would be up to today.
“I thought, ‘That’s a great idea for a movie,’” McKeever said. “So, we went home and started writing the story together.”
Director Robert Masciantonio of Philadelphia then turned their concept into a screenplay.
Titled The Beast Comes at Midnight, the movie is tentatively scheduled to begin filming in July and wrap in August.
It stars Michael Paré, best known for his portrayal of musician Eddie in two Eddie and the Cruisers movies in the 1980s.
Paré also recently starred in another local movie, portraying Captain Stryker in The Wild Man: Skunk Ape. It’s about the hunt for the Florida Bigfoot after it is rumored to be responsible for several murders in South Florida. The movie was shot in Tampa in October 2020. A release date has not yet been announced.
The Beast Comes at Midnight will follow the search for a werewolf, McKeever said. “A kid thinks a werewolf is running amok in the Tampa Bay area, so seeks out the help of a monster hunter hiding in retirement in Gibsonton where all the old carnival workers are retired.”
They will also shoot in Ybor City, FishHawk and Plant City.
It will be distributed by Briefcase Pictures, a company helmed by George C. Romero, son of Night of the Living Dead creator George A. Romero.
“We want to show people how we can make a film with a low budget that will be profitable,” said Tampa’s Todd Oifer, one of the founders of Briefcase Pictures.
The Beast Comes at Midnight will have a budget of around $165,000.
Briefcase Pictures is seeking to raise $30 million to fund brick-and-mortar production facilities in Tampa and Lexington, Kentucky, plus a slate of five films that could include more stories based out of Gibsonton.
“We definitely want to do more films in what we call the ‘show town area,’” McKeever said.
Gibsonton was an inspiration for the town of Jupiter in the American Horror Story: Freak Show television series but will serve as the actual backdrop for The Beast Comes at Midnight.
“We want to show off the flavor of Gibsonton,” McKeever said. “The stories we can tell based around its fascinating history are limitless.”
Royal American Shows, once promoted as the world’s largest traveling midway, began making the Tampa area its winter home in the 1930s. Smaller traveling carnival shows then followed.
Those who starred as human oddities in the midway “freak shows,” as they were called, made Gibsonton home because it provided a reclusive environment.
Among Gibsonton’s most famous residents were Al Tomaini, billed as “The Tallest Man in the World” at 8 feet, 4 inches tall, and his wife, Jeannie Tomaini, called the “The Living Half Girl” because she was born without legs and was just over 2 feet tall.
A marble reproduction of Al Tomaini’s 35-inch-high boot sits atop a granite pillar on U.S. 41 south of the Alafia River Bridge. That monument will be featured in The Beast Comes at Midnight.
As for Wolf Boy, sideshows throughout the nation boasted one, said Chris Christ, who for half a century ran the World of Wonders sideshow with his late partner Ward Hall. They both retired to Gibsonton.
“It was someone covered with hair,” Christ said. “Sometimes they’d say he was raised by wolves.”
But the banner that inspired The Beast Comes at Midnight promotes something different, Showmen’s Museum curator and executive director David “Doc” Rivera said.
That Wolf Boy wasn’t even a living being. It was made by hand by Homer Tate, who in the early 20th century was famous for creating strange attractions such as mermaids and mummies that were promoted as real.
“Who knows what Wolf Boy was made of,” Rivera said. “It might have been made from pig skin and had some sort of animal hair on it. The guy was a craftsman. He tried to make the things look as real as possible.”
The banner, he said, “simply promoted, ‘See the Wolf Boy,’ and that’s the catch. When you were walking through the midway, you’d see the banner, but it never said he was alive. It never said it’s real. But their curiosity caused them to spend the 10 cents to go see what the Wolf Boy was.”
While Tate did not live locally, Rivera hopes such creations are featured in The Beast Comes at Midnight.
“We could certainly allude to them,” McKeever said. “We are trying to mention all things that are related to the carnival and sideshow culture.”