Piše: Sven Mikulec
Last year, Blair Erickson wrote and directed his first movie, a psychological horror The Banshee Chapter. With the help of experienced actor Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs, American Gangster, Monk…) and promising youngster Katia Winter, Erickson’s film was greeted rather well by the critics, and besides showing the world that X-Files stories are still appealing to the audience, it brought an interesting new filmmaker under the spotlight. I had the chance to talk to him about the horror genre, as well as the current state of the American society, whose sins from the past were the subject of Erickson’s film debut.
What is it in the world of horror that particularly attracts you and why?
One of the best things about “horror” as a genre is that its outside the mainstream of the film industry and that allows it to be far more transgressive and explore subjects that most mainstream films would never touch. You can dabble in ideas and insane concepts without fear of overstepping the mainstream mandate to fulfill audience expectations. That’s actually the biggest strength really. Horror doesn’t require a happy ending, and that means the audience doesn’t know what to expect. When was the last time you could truly say that about a big budget mainstream film? Most of the time you know exactly how the story will probably end before you even buy the ticket.
What made you start researching about the government’s experiments? As far as I understood, that research actually led you to the idea for the movie, right?
If I trace it back to the beginning, I want to say that it all started around 1998 when I first picked up the novel Storming Heaven by Jay Stevens. After tracing back the origin of LSD and finding that it actually originated in CIA testing before it spread through America and triggered the counter culture movement I was hooked. From there I just started digging into the MKUltra program and the more layers you peel back, the more fucked up the story gets. It’s a helluva thing when you finally realize how different our government is run compared to what most people believe.
How important is it for the United States to talk openly about its sins and blunders, such as Clinton did when he apologized for the government’s past experiments?
We have a big problem in the U.S. which is a combination of apathy and short attention spans. Americans tend to just shrug their shoulders when they discover that their own government was up to horrific misdeeds. Unfortunately generations of that have lead to where we are now, where an entrenched DeepState basically controls our nation through power. The kinds of terrifying Orwellian stuff that people used to dismiss as fringe conspiracy are now open secrets that we just accept. And to add to all of that is this thick layer of corruption that does the bidding of monied interests rather than citizens. I don’t see how democracy survives long in an environment like that.
How much did Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” help you develop the story? What’s your opinion on Lovecraft’s writing?
I think Lovecraft was incredibly ahead of his time and his story for “From Beyond” definitely echoed around in my head as I dug through the MKULTRA project and DMT research. He hits on the same stuff, shadowy figures, conspiracies, and pineal glands opening gateways to alternate dimensions. I guess I lucked out in that science caught up with him and found out he wasn’t so far off the mark.
Can you comment on the connection between ‘Banshee Chapter’ and ‘X-Files’? Our reviewer, who was very fond of your film, noted that „Banshee Chapter“ was more in the spirit of „X-Files“ than „X-Files“ itself. Source of inspiration or a deeper connection?
I think the X-Files was a major influence on me growing up and watching in the 90’s. I loved that the show had the freedom to play around the edges of conspiracy theories and supernatural experiences. I think that’s a huge compliment to our story because the X-Files definitely created a memorable moment in culture that we’re still talking about today. I guess in our film the Scully is journalist Anne Roland and the Mulder is our deranged counterculture author Thomas Blackburn. That works for me.
I’ve read that you know Zachary Quinto from college. Can you tell us what lead to your collaboration on ‘Banshee Chapter’?
He had just finished producing and starring in the excellent Wall Street thriller “Margin Call” which I was a big fan of. He and his fellow producers Neal Dodson and Corey Moosa at their production company Before the Door had all read the script and were big fans. So it just kind of clicked and we all really wanted to work together. Collaborating with them was incredible. Those guys have an exceptional talent for creating elevated material and truly Oscar worthy stories.
How was it to work with such a distinguished character actor as Ted Levine?
Oh it’s great and it’s terrifying at the same time. He’s this veteran actor who’s worked with all these incredibly acclaimed film directors like Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and Ridley Scott and then there’s me, first time director making this crazy horror story. But Ted always brought his A game to the character and truly crafted an unforgettable performance. I think Blackburn’s manic insanity and energy is the engine that drives the narrative through the darkness.
How could you tell Katia Winter was the right choice for the female lead? You mentioned you interviewed several hundred women.
It’s hard to explain… there’s just this “thing” that some people have. A kind of energy where you can tell they’re not “acting” but they’re deeper into the performance than most people go. I think the film industry tends to attract some people for the wrong reason. Some people just want their face on the big screen to be famous. Katia is the opposite. She doesn’t even want to watch herself in the film. I think she’s entirely about the craft of acting. She embeds herself in there and brings a real performance to the piece in a way that is rarely seen. We went through hundreds of actresses before we finally saw her reel and the moment we did, I knew we had our Anne Roland.
What is, in your opinion, the best horror film of all time and why?
I’m going to say… Candyman. Because I think it hits on so many wonderful and terrifying notes in such an elegant story. You get the creepiness of urban legends, the American tragedy of slavery, racism, and class divisions. Plus there’s that rich dark love story pulsing beneath the surface of a very sad tale. And that beautiful Philip Glass score just pulls it all together as such a surreal masterpiece.
Can you tell us anything about your future projects?
I am working on a new film about tragedy that blurs the lines between a love story and a horror story. One of the quintessential flaws that most films have is that if you know the genre, you know how it ends. This film, you cannot say for certain what type of story it is until you reach the ending. And in that sense, I think it’s a perfect metaphor for life.
What would you say to all those film lovers dreaming of a career in filmmaking? Is talent and love for the movies enough to survive in the business?
Hah, it’s the only reason you’d do this. It’s certainly not a business to get into for the money, there’s far easier and faster ways to make money. You just have to be passionate. But to those dreaming of a career, I would say stop dreaming, we have powerful cheap cameras now so get the hell out there and start creating!