13-yr-old McKinley Middle student creates horror film


A family vacation to the mountains in Tennessee prompted McKinley Middle Magnet student Zion Johnson to create a work of art that very few kids his age are capable of.

The 13-year-old, with some help from his aunt, wrote, directed, and edited a short horror/comedy called “Tales of the Cabin” that included his family as the cast.

“We arrived there late at night and were driving around a lot of sharp turns and everybody was scared,” Johnson said. “We all said it would be cool to make a horror movie and that’s where the idea came from.”

Johnson is learning cinematography, among other forms of art at McKinley’s School of Visual and Performing arts, but making movies isn’t the thing that he’s most passionate about.

“My passion is musical theatre,” the teen said. “I’m a singer and an actor.”

Johnson auditioned and was accepted into the school’s talented theatre and music program in the first grade. He said he used the skills he learned from Shane Stewart, the talented theatre teacher at McKinley, and applied them to the film. He said 10 people in his class were selected to be in the program.

Johnson has performed in several musicals and plays throughout his young career, including the Wiz Jr., The Lion King Jr., and Aladdin.

The film is nearly eight minutes long and is about a mysterious killer who terrorizes everyone in the cabin in various ways.

The film ends without the audience knowing who the killer is, leaving the possibility in the air of Part 2 in the future.


“It was all good,” Johnson said of the reception to the film after it was uploaded to YouTube on June 10, 2022. “People are asking for a Part 2. They want to know who the killer is.”

With an all-family cast to evaluate, Johnson wouldn’t divulge who he felt did the best job acting.

“Everyone held their own,” he said.

The teen has been a part of the talented art community since a very young age, according to his mother and father, Tyquencia and Reginald Johnson.

“I think Zion was in a diaper and was performing,” Reginald said. “I think that’s a God-given gift. McKinley has helped and gave him a platform. His mom and his grandfather are performers. It’s in his blood. I don’t think he understands the magnitude of what he’s doing.”

Johnson said if he films a Part 2, it will be on the next family vacation.

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