For me personally, it just hasn’t been a great year for independent American horror. That’s why it’s refreshing to end 2013 on a fairly high note with a film like Banshee Chapter. Based on actual testimony and uncovered documents, the story is based on the MK-ULTRA experiments conducted in the Sixties on people like Ken Kesey.
So, in theory, we can all probably blame the CIA for the invention of tie-dye.
It’s always encouraging to see a first-time director deliver, and Blair Erickson has done exactly that. Hear what he has to say about the film below.
Dread Central: I enjoyed the film and it’s nice when I don’t have to go back to old classics all the time to get my horror fix.
Blair Erickson: I know what you mean. A lot of times you feel like everything is just stale and repetitive and you’ve seen it before. We were definitely trying something weird, and it’s cool because horror fans are interesting enough people where they can give a chance to something different, unlike most genres where you kind of get in trouble if you do something a little too weird.
DC: “Weird” is my middle name! Had you been wanting to tell this story for a long time and what got you into horror and made you want to jump off the ledge and try directing in the first place?
BE: You know, I had. You could probably say the idea goes back to even college, maybe. The idea of this chemical that did something like that had been something that we played with for ages, and then, after reading so many books about MK-ULTRA experiments, I just started using that has a background to build a little mythology around. It ended up being more true than you’d think but it’s clearly a fictional story, but I think it became a great metaphorical vehicle for exploring what it is about our government that is so disturbing right now.
Why I decided to finally pull the trigger on it was I had been a creative director at this ad agency and we were doing these great, interactive, transmedia projects where I was writing and directing a lot of short, live-action content for “The Terminator” series or the new Dreamworks movie and it just sort of hit me, ‘Why am I doing this for other people’s stories when I could be coming up with my own and telling my own stories? I should just try that.’ The first draft was, of course, way too big and way too expansive and then just trimming it down to get ninety minutes of material.
DC: It makes sense that you first thought of the idea in college. I hope you weren’t experimented on, though.
BE: I’ve never, ever taken dimethyltryptamine [DMT]. I think, at this point, after researching it so much I don’t think I ever would. Ever since the script came out, people started offering it to me. I think there is something to it. You can call it other dimensions; you can call it just fucking with your mind. But there’s something that chemical does to your mind that I’m not comfortable screwing around with. I do think it serves as a great setup for the questions that it raises.
DC: Did you ever do acid? Did you ever want to go really psychedelic with the film at all and make it really out there?
BE: Years ago in college, absolutely. The prehistoric ancestor to this film was, in college, myself and Michael McMillian, who’s actually in the film, had made this short thirty-minute film called “Night Trip” about these three kids who drop acid and as they’re driving there’s a dead body in the middle of the road. From there, it increasingly becomes a more terrifying acid trip. In this one, it became less about the drugs and more about the creepy paranoia and how that really is a legitimate thing. What we ultimately ended up mining is the fear in this that the government would unleash something that would never go away and would follow you to the ends of the Earth and have these malicious intentions toward you. When you look at things like the NSA, is that really so far fetched? Does it really have to be a movie monster or is it something that might actually exist.
DC: You can explore that in a horror film and people agree with it and it becomes part of the collective unconscious as opposed to ramming it down our throats saying we have chips in our brains.
BE: Right. Exactly. I think saying “the collective unconscious” is exactly right. If you really trace the origins of this, this goes back many decades to our government doing stuff like this. In many ways, this is the origin story of the NSA. At some point, our government felt very comfortable doing terrible things to U.S. citizens and no one was ever called into account for it. If you think about it, why wouldn’t that be just the appetizer for something very terrible, and that’s exactly what it seems like right now. We have characters in their early twenties that are discovering this but I think anybody from the older generation, especially people in their fifties and sixties, these things were just like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re aware of that.’ What’s funny to me is that Americans tend to be the least aware of these things. When I go around and people ask what the movie’s about and I say the MK-ULTRA projects, five times out of ten in the U.S. I’m going to get a blank stare back. We have this idea that if we ignore, it goes away, but of course, we all know that’s now true and I think we’re seeing that more and more every day.
Banshee Chapter is now available for digital rental or purchase and also on DVD (for under ten bucks!) from Amazon.
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