Emily Cordes led Cody Knotts slowly to the living room couch, pushed him down and told him, “Sit back and relax. I know you like to watch” before slowly stripping down to a red bra and matching pair of frilly panties.
Then the director yelled cut, and Knotts looked up and laughed.
“I’m obviously never running for state House again,” he said with a smile. “These pictures are going to haunt me.”
He and Cordes spent the better part of their Sunday morning running through one of the seduction scenes featured in a horror film Knotts — a newspaper publisher and two-time state representative candidate on the Republican ticket — wrote last year.
But Knotts, 42, of North Strabane, also is the executive producer of the film, as well as one of its lead actors.
“I’ve been thinking about doing this for 20 years because I have multiple problems with the way religion is depicted in horror films,” he said. “This is a realistic portrayal of a young woman who is possessed by a succubus.”
Explaining that a succubus is a female demon that leads men to their destruction through sexual desire, Knotts, owner of the Weekly Recorder newspaper, plays the role of a Pentecostal preacher who gets seduced by Susie, the possessed college-age teenager Cordes portrays.
“Horror films never portray God as having true power over demons. Men of faith are never portrayed as really believing what they are preaching,” he said. “Why can’t they be portrayed as people who are flawed and who may fail, but ultimately believe?”
Titled “Lucifer’s,” the 95-minute film does contain sexually explicit language and suggestive scenes, but Knotts stressed there is no nudity.
And while it’s a horror film complete with gore, it is ultimately a story about redemption.
“It has a good Christian message,” he said, adding that another of the lead roles — this one played by New York-based actor Andrew Roth — is that of Jacob, a special investigator (looking into the suicide of Knotts’ onscreen wife) for the Pentacostal church.
But Jacob is no ordinary investigator. He also can see demons, and is the only character to realize that Susie is possessed. It is that discovery, Knotts said, that leads to her ultimate exorcism.
“He drinks. He smokes. He has a good time,” he said of the Jacob character, who believes he is an instrument of the lord. “He serves God out of fear of punishment.”
And Roth said the complex nature of the character was one of many reasons he decided to sign on for the role.
“He is a dark character but he is part of the light,” Roth, who has starred in 40 films over the past 10 years, said.
Knotts said Roth will fly in from New York next month to film his scenes, adding that he is one of four paid actors in the movie, which has a budget of about $35,000.
Filming has been under way on the streets of Donora and at a farmhouse in Taylorstown for the past several weeks. Knotts said he hopes to enter the film into several festivals specific to the horror genre. The movie, he added, is expected to be completed and ready to ship to potential distributors by this time next year.
Marcus Mercante Staley, 31, of North Strabane, who plays the role of Susie's father, Steve, said he has "high hopes" for the movie and its chances in those festivals.
"Like with any low-budget film, you hope for the best," the behavioral specialist consultant and mental-health therapist said. "There are a lot of wow factors in this movie — a lot of twists and turns. I think it's going to be an entertaining film."
Staley, who will also appear on the ballot as a in the upcoming primary election, added that the character he portrays has challenged him.
"The character is basically the complete opposite of me," he said. "In the movie I have to cry. I told Cody, 'I've cried twice since the year 2000, and you expect me to do it on screen?'"
Matt Uram, a business owner and board member for the Washington Business District Authority, serves as one of the film’s executive producers and said “people need to be prepared to be surprised” by it.
The movie, he said, has garnered financial investments from numerous local folks, who all believe that “Lucifer’s” will be an indie hit.
“It’s not a small mix of people or Cody’s fan club,” Uram said. “It’s high risk, but intriguing. Look what it could do for the area.”
With more producers filming in nearby Pittsburgh, he said the movie could highlight the fact that Washington County “would be a beautiful backdrop for a film.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Uram added.
Knotts agreed, saying he even considered applying for a film tax credit offered by the state. That credit, he said, reimburses 25 percent of a movie’s budget for those operations where 60 percent of the cast and crew are Pennsylvanians.
And he also agreed that people could be shocked to see him in his new role as screenwriter, actor and movie producer.
Widely known as the face of the Weekly Recorder, Knotts narrowly lost a campaign against State Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane, in November’s general election. He also ran for the state House post in 2000.
But despite those roles, Knotts said: Let them be shocked.
“I’m nothing like people think I am,” he said. “People have never understood what I was about, and that’s OK.”