H.P. Lovecraft is a tricky subject. Being an author that was very descriptive yet never wholly described anything, he’s hard to grasp in film form. It takes a fan to even attempt to take on his work.
Director Blair Erickson did just that and pulled together some excellent help to do it. Shock sat down with him and discussed tackling such material with a little project known as The Banshee Chapter (arriving on VOD December 12th).
On the trail of a missing friend (Michael McMillian) who had been experimenting with mind-altering drugs, a young journalist (Katia Winter) – aided by a rogue counter-culture writer (Ted Levine, The Silence of The Lambs) — finds herself drawn into the dangerous world of top-secret government chemical research and the mystery of a disturbing radio signal of unknown origin. A fast-paced thriller blending fact and fiction, Banshee Chapter is based on real documents, actual test subject testimony, and uncovered secrets about covert programs run by the CIA.
Shock Till You Drop: Are you a Lovecraft fan?
Blair Erickson: Of course. I don’t think you can be a horror fan and not be a Lovecraft fan. Well I suppose it’s possible, but I have yet to meet that person.
Shock: How did the story develop?
Erickson: It was reading a lot research on what the government had been doing. They had been trying to create an empty person that they could puppet. I was reading about these chemical experiments and things like that and for some reason, it started to remind me of From Beyond. In that you had people who were basically playing with something that was connecting to an alternate dimension. I think for me, we had this real story, but what if the real story connected to a fictional mythology in the Lovecraft world. I think that sort of Lovecraft touch helped bring it more to a horror area than just a typical conspiracy tale.
Shock: How difficult was it to find your two leads?
Erickson: Ted Levine, who plays Blackburn, that was actually really easy. We put together this huge list of people who could play the part and we sent him the script and he loved it! So that was easy. Finding the female lead turned out to be very difficult. Because there aren’t a lot of actresses that can deliver that level of serious intensity, and hit their mark every time, and bring a little bit of wit, and improve, and edge to the character. So finding Katia, I want to say we went through several hundred. We found her and she hadn’t really done a lot at that time, but we tested her and we saw right away that she’s got it. Whatever that thing is, she has it. So we brought her over from Europe and she brought exactly what we hoped to the story and really pulled it together.
Shock: Ted Levine definitely had a Hunter S. Thompson thing going on…
Erickson: He’s a mix of Hunter S. Thompson, but he also mixed in some Timothy Leary, and Ken Kesey. We knew he was gonna be that kind of character so we just figured out the beats of those characters combined to create someone you were familiar with even though he’s completely fictional.
Shock: What was the most difficult part of pulling off such an ambitious project?
Erickson: Seriously enough, it was all location. We had such a small budget; this was such a little film. We had all these ridiculous locations. That was a big risk. Can we pull off all these locations in the short amount of time we have to them? All we had was 28 days. We actually ended up being saved by our location manager, who was Alex Gianopoulos. He was also the location manager on Breaking Bad, so he had all these great places in the back of his pocket and was able to get us in there. Not only that, but we worked with a lot of the crew from Breaking Bad and they really helped us control the production. Even though we were so simple, they really insulated us and got us through a lot of the difficult challenges. We ended up surviving due to their level of expertise.
Shock: Since you are a Lovecraft fan, did you have specific ideas on what the creatures would look like?
Erickson: I put together a bunch of reference materials and then we played with the different stages of how the entity might appear. How much of it we see and when we see that. At the beginning, you just see glimpses of each face when it’s formed. You start to get the idea that it hollows people out and wears them. That whole idea came from the real MK Ultra program. They wanted to take a person and core them out like an apple, so there wouldn’t be any kind of conscience inside them and they would be able to completely manipulate them and make them into puppets.
Shock: Is there anything you wanted to pull off but couldn’t?
Erickson: There might have been a few moments here or there where we felt that if we only had a few more takes, or we could maybe have tried something there. You know? There were some things that we had to cut from the film. It had to be faster paced, so we lost some characters at the beginning. In general, when we look back at the script and what we have here, it’s pretty close. So I wouldn’t say I have any regrets. I think it works for what it needs to do. And I think that is the best way to look at it for me.
Shock: Is there a greater mythology that you would like to explore in the future?
Erickson: There is definitely a lot more to explore. We play with the past. We play with the past’s effect on now. Even with the MK Ultra project there are lots and lots of creepy stories around it that we had to cut out of the script, but are definitely worth exploring. Were there MK Ultra connections to some of the assassinations that took place during that era? People talk about the UnaBomber being part of the program. There’s a lot of interesting stories to explore.