Elburn, Marengo, other Illinois towns on screen in 'Lovecraft Country' premiering on HBO

Jordan Peele, J.J. Abrams among executive producers

The wait is almost over to watch “Lovecraft Country,” which was filmed in Elburn, Marengo, La Salle, Woodstock and other Illinois towns two summers ago.

The horror-drama will premiere on HBO and HBO Max at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Academy Award-winning director and writer of “Get Out” Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, a creator of “Lost” and a “Star Wars” director, served as executive producers for the 10-episode series.

“The whole town of Elburn enjoyed having [the cast and crew] come in here and film here,” said Janelle Ream, a partner at the family-owned Ream’s Meat Market in Elburn.

The production company transformed the facades of businesses along Route 47 in downtown Elburn into a town’s circa-1955 main street to film scenes for the drama.

The former site of the market, now the Old Elburn Hall – a music and events venue created by the Ream family – was used for the show. The building was transformed into a diner and the starting-off point for a high-speed chase, said Randy Ream, Janelle’s husband.

According to HBO, the show, based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff, follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he meets up with his friend, Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), and his uncle, George (Courtney B. Vance), “to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from [an H.P.] Lovecraft paperback.”

Randy Ream provides a nugget of trivia that shows way fewer than six degrees of separation for Elburn and H.P. Lovecraft, a horror fiction writer who died in 1937. He said the magician, Mardoni (Clayton Hines), who lived in Elburn for a time, attended a seance held by magician Harry Houdini, who hired Lovecraft as a ghost writer.

An extensive build-out was done to create the restaurant scene.

“They put in a whole little diner with stools and booths and had a little kitchen in the back,” Randy Ream said.

Extensive scouting for locations was done for the series, and Randy Ream said the building was picked not only for the visual appropriateness to the time period but because it had recently undergone a renovation.

“It was nice and clean because we just redid it,” he said. “The actors don’t like going into old abandoned buildings [with] mold. They liked doing it here.”

In addition, Elburn’s Kountry Kettle, which closed in 2019, was turned into Nanny’s Bakery for the series.

Someone else who will be watching for the Elburn portion of the action is Village Administrator John Nevenhoven.

“Overall, the filming went fairly well,” Nevenhoven said. “Obviously, when you shut down a major thoroughfare [Route 47] through downtown Elburn, it causes some problems.”

Rather than focus on the celebrities filming, he said he primarily was on the scene “making sure we were getting traffic through [to] keep the disruption to a minimum.”

Despite the traffic headaches, he called it a neat experience for the community.

“When they were done [shooting for the day], all came downtown to see the different facades and how it had been made over – and that people really enjoyed,” Nevenhoven said.

He said he believes the only other major filming in Elburn was for a 1974 Art Carney movie, “Harry and Tonto,” which was shot at a cemetery. He said it was a simpler process back when the village was much smaller.

Some unplanned excitement was part of the “Lovecraft Country” filming. In an Elburn chase scene, a stunt car driver was taken to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva for the treatment of injuries that were not life-threatening after the car flipped onto its side.

The premium cable channel series also was filmed in Marengo, Woodstock, Hebron and La Salle, as well as in Ogle County on Route 52 and in White Pines State Park.

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