"Thrill Ride," started as a promise Chris Parrish kept to his son and has now turned into an award-winning film for fantasy-adventure fans.
The feature-length film will have its theatrical and national debut in December. "Thrill Ride" will be shown Dec. 1-7 at suburban Chicago Classic Cinemas Theatres in Naperville, Elk Grove Village and Woodstock. It will be released Dec. 12 on iTunes and Amazon.
Parrish's son, Mason, came up with the film's plot in 2010 during a car ride when he was nine. Unfortunately, he was never able to see his story come to life. Mason was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer and died a year later.
"Mason would be very proud," says Parrish, a veteran screenwriter who teaches writing for television at DePaul University's School of Cinematic Arts. "I think he would be very happy with the film. Mason's mandate was to make family movies - kid's movies - where the children are the heroes and so 'Thrill Ride' is the first of those films."
"Thrill Ride" tells the adventure of three children who sneak into an abandoned amusement park in search of Al Capone's legendary hidden treasure. After the attractions come to life, the children must team up with a friendly sea witch to find a secret underground ride while taking on an evil mermaid, bloodthirsty pirates, a fire-breathing dragon and an armada of monsters. The film stars Kristen Johnston of "Third Rock from the Sun" and Lucas Jade Zumann of "20th Century Women."
"When we were at the Burbank (International) Film Festival, it was an emotional trip for us because we hadn't been back since all of us moved to Illinois together," Parrish says. "Several of Mason's friends and their families came to the screening and so it was kind of a reunion and it was a way to have Mason connect with them again." The film was selected as the Best Science Fiction/Fantasy at the California festival earlier this year.
"Thrill Ride" has won awards at other film festivals including best film at 2017 Gen Con Film Festival in Indianapolis and best family feature in the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival in New York.
The film was also in this year's Cleveland International Film Festival, Laughlin International Film Festival in Nevada and Annual Drive-In Film Festival in Brooklyn. It will be part of the upcoming Beloit International Film Festival in Wisconsin.
"Thrill Ride" is very much a Parrish family production. Mason has co-writing credit and Parrish's wife is a co-producer. Parrish, who has written or consulted on various television shows including "The King of Queens" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," directed the film.
Production was also a united effort between Parrish, a local philanthropist and DePaul University faculty, students and alumni. "If it wasn't for DePaul University, there's absolutely no way we could have made the film," Parrish says.
This film also has another purpose with half the profits supporting the Mason Parrish Foundation, a nonprofit organization Parrish created with his wife to fund research for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, the type of cancer Mason had. Because DIPG is very rare, Parrish explains, it doesn't get much funding. "So we thought, what if we were to take one of Mason's stories and turn it into a movie and have the profits go toward fighting this disease," he says.
The other half of "Thrill Ride" profits will go toward Mason's Movies, in order to continue making films. Parrish says Mason's cancer left him without the ability to walk. "But it never took his gift for storytelling," he adds. "It never was able to touch his creativity."
"We're either going to be doing a Christmas movie, or another kids' adventure film and in both of them, the lead characters, the heroes, are kids," Parrish says.