Banshee Chapter is an independent film that uses government drug experimentation in the ’60s as a backdrop for modern day horror. Screening on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, the film is set to scare the pants off of viewers if the trailer is anything to go by. We had a chance to catch up with director Blair Erickson before the screening of his film.
Describe your film in 10 words or less.
A terrifying journey into Lovecraftian secrets and government conspiracies.
You wrote and directed the film. What was the inspiration for the story?
I had been reading a lot of books about the real MKULTRA chemical experiments that the US government performed on unsuspecting Americans during the 1950’s and 1960’s and became fascinated by several ideas. First was that nobody ever faced any legal consequences for these horrifying actions. It was simply swept under the rug. The other was that the CIA and Army chemists were searching for “mind control” drugs. Substances that could control and manipulate people.
After reading about patients who reported seeing otherworldly entities and terrifying visions, from there it was a short jump to imagine that the scientists might have stumbled on a horrifying gateway chemical that opened up people’s minds to a terrifying phenomenon beyond human comprehension.
You have some fantastic young talent in this film, such as Michael McMillan and Katia Winter, as well as seasoned veterans like Ted Levine. How did you begin casting the film?
Ted was obviously our first choice for playing Thomas Blackburn. He was simply the perfect actor for the role. And he brought a level of energy and incredible performance that was exactly what the character, who can be both scary and hilarious at times, needed.
Finding Katia was a long process that involved screening hundreds of actors and looking for the perfect match of wit, intelligence, bravery, and intensity. There’s something about her that makes everything in the story seem much more believeable. She’s so compelling as a performer that she can bring real gravitas to otherwise insane events. We weren’t surprised to see her move quickly after Banshee Chapter onto a big hit like Sleepy Hollow on Fox because it’s pretty clear from her talent she’s got a huge career ahead.
And casting Michael McMillan was a no brainer. He was perfect for the role. We had worked together on student films in college at Carnegie Mellon and having seen his incredible performances in TV shows like True Blood and What I Like About You I knew he had such a tremendous range as an actor, it made sense to ask him to play the role of the missing writer. Thankfully he said yes right away!
The film has some “big name” cachet attached to it with Zachary Quinto as a producer / executive producer. How has his involvement affected the film?
Zach and his partners Corey, Neal, and Sean at Before the Door bring a level of experience in producing to the table that was critical in making a movie like this. We were working with a very small budget, but because of their experiences producing films like Margin Call, All is Lost and Breakup at a Wedding they were able to elevate our project to the realm of a big budget feature. They’re very engaged as a producing team, and always working to make sure every angle is covered. It meant everything to a movie like ours having an A-list team like that going to bat for us.
What was the biggest challenge making this film?
Working with a microbudget, shooting all these ridiculously varied locations all over Alburquerque, New Mexico. Houses, TV shops, and eventually underground military budgets, all in less than 30 days. It’s insane looking back to realize that we even pulled it off at the budget level we were working with. Thankfully our amazing location manager, Alex Gianopoulos, had tons of experience from Breaking Bad to know how to pull off the incredible demands of our film. We actually owe that entire series a huge debt of gratitude because the cast and crew of that show were a huge part of putting our film together. Almost all of our supporting cast and production crew worked on that series as well.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?
The film is layered with secrets that we leave for the audience to discover. And even though we’re not one of those horror films that goes around saying “based on a true story” the events and story in the film are far more true than most people want to imagine.
What are you working on next?
A haunting love story about a young guy and girl falling for each other in college during the mid 1990’s. She’s killed tragically and his life is devastated. Seventeen years later, when he’s a much older man, she shows up at his door one night looking exactly the same. Over the course of the next several days they’re both forced to confront love and loss on their own terms.
What are you most excited about seeing/doing this year at Toronto After Dark this year?
I’m still dying to see Bobcat Goldthwait’s new film Willow Creek. After his masterful and mind-blowing work on the dark satire God Bless America I would watch that guy direct the phone book. Nobody had ever dared tell a story like that before. He’s one of the most visionary minds in film today.