Reviews of the film ran the gamut. Aaron D. Hoag at E! Insiders called it "a gut-wrenching, stomach-turning, yet ultimately redeeming movie that hits you with base, raw emotion," while Film Freak Central's Travis Mackenzie Hoover considered it "an uncomfortable chore to sit through with no real intellectual payoff."

Frazier was satisfied with the film version of his novel, though. "I wasn't expecting too much from the final product, but all in all, I think Rocky did a remarkable job given the limited resources he had to work with. The actors all did commendable jobs, as did everyone else who worked on the project."

The movie even caught the eye of a better-known Hollywood director. An actor who came in to audition for Costanzo mentioned that Jeepers Creepers' Victor Salva was a fan. Costanzo was impressed that a filmmaker he'd heard of was giving him respect—until he was informed, during an interview for this article, that Salva's interest in the subject matter may be more than merely aesthetic, since Salva did prison time for acting on some man-boy lusts of his own. "Oh—I didn't know!" says Costanzo. "That's probably why he liked the damn thing. He's probably, 'Oh, little boys in underwear!' Well, that's not really credible, then."

Rocky Costanzo, ready for your close-up
Russ Roca
Rocky Costanzo, ready for your close-up
From Left: Chris Wolcott, Costanzo and Thomasson on their home turf in Huntington Beach
Russ Roca
From Left: Chris Wolcott, Costanzo and Thomasson on their home turf in Huntington Beach

Return to Innocence made approximately $35,000 and was sold to several East Coast retailers and Amazon.com, on which it was the No. 3 best-seller for seven months—in the Netherlands.

They had hoped for better results. When instant fame and fortune failed to materialize, Costanzo got more ambitious. He decided his next project would feature union actors. Titled 11:11, it would be the story of two childhood friends who meet again as adults and find their lives have taken very different paths. He managed to shoot the childhood sequences in the summer of 2004, but then disaster struck: The investors backed out. (Thomasson won't say who they are or how much they put up, even though they screwed him; he insists on honoring their nondisclosure agreement.) Costanzo actually went to their Orange headquarters to try to talk them out of it, only to discover "they weren't even there anymore—they just literally packed up and left. At that point, I really wondered if filmmaking was really worth it. I started to have mixed feelings about my life—if it was even worth living."

But he soon changed his mind. "The thing was, we had a camera and we had our own editing system," he says, "so we decided to just make a cheesy slasher film."

An expansion of the Godsend short, Hallowed was both Costanzo's tribute to his cinematic hero, John Carpenter, and an exorcism of his childhood fears when door-to-door Christian missionaries would come to his home. The very basic story of a crazed killer was shot in various OC locations that were also used in the original Halloween.

While a fun flick, it is almost infuriatingly truncated, ending before the protagonist can have a final confrontation with the villain. "You have to leave an opening for a sequel," Thomasson says.

Costanzo elaborates a bit more: "The lead actor bailed on us halfway through."

That actor, an unknown named Rich Lava, helped to give the filmmakers access to some underground tunnels in the Anaheim area where they really weren't supposed to be shooting, and at a certain point, Lava thought Costanzo was somehow going to publicly spill the beans as to the secret locations. "To make a long story short, he protested and left," recalls Costanzo, "so we threw Roy in his place. After that, all the behind shots were really Roy."

Lava proved impossible to contact even when his royalty checks started coming in; Costanzo believes the actor may have been driving a cab in Los Angeles. The Weekly checked with the LA Taxicab Authority, but no one named Rich Lava is currently registered with them.

While Hallowed is Costanzo's least favorite of his own full-length films, it's also his most successful.

"It was me setting up the lights, doing the audio, being the cinematographer, everything," says Costanzo. "Roy was there, but he's not a filmmaker, really. He's a good producer, and when it comes to distribution and networking, he's great, but he's not a hands-on filmmaker. We whipped up Hallowed—and, surprisingly enough, that's the only film so far that's been bought by an actual distributor."

Though LifeLine have the means to distribute films themselves—and have done so on every other project—Costanzo and Thomasson don't enjoy that part of the process and were happy to have a subdivision of Universal take care of all the marketing and DVD production.

*     *     *

For his next feature, Costanzo went in a completely different—and more personal—direction. He had been friends with the Fountain Valley-based Goth-rock band the Last Dance ever since a colleague dragged him to a performance in 1999. Later, he would set up an event at the Galaxy Concert Theater with the Last Dance on the same bill as a screening of Godsend, knowing the band's fan base would give his short film a larger audience than he could gather. Costanzo bonded with the band over their similar experiences as artists, he says, since they also maintain day jobs while putting out albums and touring.

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