Over the weekend, those who closely follow horror movies experienced a disappointing rehash of the headiest days of #MeToo, as an article in The Daily Beast laid out how Dallas-based production company Cinestate—which also owns a trio of websites, Fangoria, Birth.Movies.Death, and Rebeller—had enabled and failed to report a predatory producer named Adam Donaghey in its ranks. Dubbed by writer Marlow Stern to be “the Harvey Weinstein of indie film,” anonymous sources confirmed that Donaghey’s reputation as a sexual harasser who blatantly flouted safety and labor regulations on Texas film sets was well known, even before he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault of a minor in mid-April.
That reputation is supported by audio recorded by a woman named Cristen Leah Haynes, who’s worked on a number of indie films shot around the region. In 2014, when Haynes was 21 years old, she was working on a film called Occupy Texas with Donaghey, and surreptitiously recorded him using his influence as a line producer to pressure her into sex. She tells The Daily Beast that she first played the audio for a group of colleagues in December 2016, and since then it’s circulated throughout the Texas film community—going so far as to reach Cinestate head Dallas Sonnier and producer Amanda Presmyk. In the article, Sonnier and Presmyk claim they’ve never heard the audio. But 10 other sources say they’ve approached the duo about Donaghey, and, as one filmmaker puts it, “they completely swept it under the rug.”
Regardless, the company continued to employ Donaghey as a line producer on its films Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, The Standoff At Sparrow Creek, Satanic Panic, and VFW—all but one of which were released under the “Fangoria Presents” banner—long after Sonnier says he heard “the gist” about the producer in mid-2017. (He also produced David Lowery’s A Ghost Story in 2016, among other projects. Lowery denies knowledge of the allegations.)
Those last two films also experienced on-set incidents that are detailed in the article: Three crew members from VFW say they were told to implement a “buddy system” after reporting aggressive groping and harassment from co-star Fred Williamson to Presmyk. And a crew member on Satanic Panic says that actress Ruby Modine was coerced into performing a sex scene with what’s described as an “obsessed fanboy” that made her uncomfortable. (Donaghey’s alleged response? “I don’t care what she says, we’re going to shoot our movie.) The directors of both films, Joe Begos and Chelsea Stardust, deny knowledge of the events.
Following the article’s release on Saturday, writers, editors, and podcasters began leaving Cinestate-owned websites—some privately, some publicly—in droves. A number of podcasts once hosted by Fangoria, including A Nightmare On Film Street and Post Mortem With Mick Garris, left the network, as did actress, producer, and Fangoria columnist Barbara Crampton and horror host and critic Joe Bob Briggs, who wrote for both Fangoria and Rebeller.
Initially, the staffs of Birth.Movies. Death and Fangoria released a statement calling for sexual harassment training at Cinestate and donations to “an organization like the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center or RAINN,” announcing a work stoppage until management presented a long-term plan for improving conditions at the company. (Rebeller, whose right-wing stances have stirred up their own share of controversy in recent months, did not join the statement.)
Today, they followed up by essentially disbanding all three publications. Once again, Fangoria and Birth.Movies.Death joined together for a statement saying that, “since our initial statement, we have come to understand and respect that Fangoria and Birth.Movies.Death cannot continue under the Cinestate banner.” Rebeller folded more quietly, in the form of a tweet thread from editor-in-chief Sonny Bunch.
Even as his company crumbles, however, Sonnier continues to insist that he can fix this, telling the Dallas Observer in a statement, “I am so proud of the company we’ve built, the movies we’ve produced and the brands we’ve saved. We are committed to doing the hard work to make our sets the absolute safest in the business, and we are excited to announce several measures in the coming weeks on those fronts. I am grateful for the grace that’s been shown to us by our trusted crew members as we strive to make things right.” That statement was in response to an article further detailing more safety violations on Cinestate sets, which you can read about here.
Note: The A.V. Club’s Britt Hayes also contributes to Birth.Movies.Death.