Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Cousins Brothers
Night Marchers ruled the dark.

Night marchers
were feared in
ancient Hawaii

Brothers break the
box office in Hilo

By Tim Ryan

In a remote corner of the Big Island, near where the road ends and legends begin, Blake and Brent Cousins of Honokaa have created the nightmare of their dreams.

After some 19 months of production -- October 1999 to February 2001 -- they have released "The Night Marchers," a 67-minute tale about a documentary crew searching for beings out of Hawaii legends -- "who are never seen again."

The Cousins are actually brothers, identical twins who've formed Cousins Brothers Productions.

The film cost them $40,000 to produce. They also directed and edited the film, which is breaking attendance records at Kress Cinemas in Hilo. In its first week it had nearly triple the number of viewers as "Hannibal," which was screening in the same multiplex.

The unrated film, which opened Feb. 16 for a week's engagement, just celebrated its month anniversary at Kress. The film stops next in Kona, then heads to Oahu just before the May 25 release of "Pearl Harbor," Blake said.

Night marchers are the ghosts of Hawaiian warriors who walk through ancient battle fields on the night of Huaka'ipo, or the 27th phase of the moon. Legend says if you look directly at them, or if you're in their way, you'll die. You might be saved if one of your ancestors is in the march. The only other way to be saved is to lie face down on the ground.

The producers worked with Hawaiian scholars and Reynold and Abraham Kamakawiwo'ole to ensure authenticity.

High school classmates Kelvin and Kevin Antonio, also twins, co-wrote the film with the Cousins and co-star as guides who lead the group into Waipio Valley, through caves and secret lava tubes that take them into the valley where they encounter the night marchers.

Cousins describes the film as "very scary" with "extreme language" but absent of "gore, blood and violence."

The plot about a video crew that goes missing resembles the successful "Blair Witch Project" -- down to the ensuing investigation and discovery of cameras -- but Blake dismisses the comparison.

"We had footage like what's in 'Blair Witch' years before it came out," he said, referring to the use of rough footage from moving cameras. "We take it 10 steps further than 'Blair Witch.' "

Sound and video problems are intentional, to add to the atmosphere, Cousins said. The duo never expected the film to draw more viewers -- at least at home -- than a Hollywood blockbuster like "Hannibal," which grossed $58 million nationally its first weekend.

"We think it's because local people can appreciate the storyline because they know about night marchers," Blake said.

The brothers moved to Oahu at age 3 from California, then to the Big Island's Honokaa at age 11. They graduated from Honokaa High School in 1989.

"The Night Marchers" is the Cousins' fourth film. Their first, a high school effort, won third place in the John Carpenter Awards at the Great Video Review Shoot-Off in New York. Their films have included a classic horror 50-minute short, "Slaughterday"; the government conspiracy coverup story "Loose Cannon"; and "Quarantine," about an alien species.

"The Night Marchers" is the 30-year-old brothers' biggest project. "We've gone serious and grown up," Blake laughed.

Their film careers began when parents Tom and Carmel Cousins loaned the 5-year-old brothers a Super 8 camera. Their first project was an "Indiana Jones"-type film they made with friends, Blake said. The following Christmas, mom and pop gave the boys their own video camera.

The motivation for this latest epic is simple, Blake said. "Growing up on the Big Island made us interested in Hawaiian myth and legends, so we said, 'Let's scare local people Hawaiian style.' "

The Cousins revised the storyline five times to "make it better and more hip"; editing took six months, on a Macintosh computer in their home.

"The Night Marchers" contains five minutes of computerized special effects. Some required two weeks of filming for scenes just one minute long, Blake said. " 'Jurassic Park' has only six minutes of special effects."

The brothers attended film school in California, but left discouraged because of "all the competition there."

"We figured we should focus on Hawaii to see what happens with our work," he said, and they have no shortage of ideas. Their next project is an action adventure about the City of Refuge, Blake said. Criminals in ancient Hawaii found sanctuary in the city if they could reach it before the warriors of the ali'i could catch them.

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