Two Los Angeles-based filmmakers are preparing to shoot a movie about a family of Kansas innkeepers who killed about a dozen travelers in the 1870s.
Director John Alexander and producer JC Guest – both 24 – plan to shoot the “The Bender Claim” from July 10 through Aug. 11 at locations in Junction City, El Dorado and Wichita.
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“It’s a Hitchcock-like psychological thriller set in the Old West,” Alexander said. “It’s eerie, moody, suspenseful, tense and very quiet.”
Alexander and Guest met during their freshman year at Harvard University and decided they wanted to make a film based on a true legend of the western frontier. Then they learned of the Benders, who owned an inn and general store in Labette County from 1871 to 1873. They’re accused of killing travelers and burying them in their apple orchard. Before the bodies were found, the family fled.
Alexander said the story gave him goose bumps.
“It’s an unsolved mystery of the West, and it has not been shared with a worldwide audience,” Alexander said.
The production will have a seven-person crew and a cast comprised of Hollywood veterans and local professionals. The film will star James Karen (“Wall Street,” “Nixon,” “Mulholland Drive”); Linda Purl (“Matlock,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Homeland”); Golden Globe-winner Bruce Davison (“Longtime Companion,” “Six Degrees of Separation,” “X-Men”); child actor Chance Caeden (“Brady”); and Buck Taylor (“Gunsmoke,” “Dallas”).
Alexander and Guest began writing the script in 2009-10, while juggling their sophomore-year studies at Harvard.
“We wrote a ton of drafts,” Alexander said.
After their graduations in 2011, they moved to Los Angeles. Alexander worked on a movie called “Running Wild,” while Guest worked at the Venice Art Market. Eventually, they decided to “bite the bullet” and move forward on the Bender film.
Last June, they traveled to Junction City to scout locations.
“One thing we were seeking when we came out to Kansas was prairie, places where you still see vistas,” Guest said. “We try to avoid power lines and windmills and oil rigs.”
The movie is expected to be completed next year. Alexander and Guest said they will be entering it in film festivals, including the Tallgrass Film Festival in Kansas.