One of the scariest films that was released late last year was the paranormal horror Banshee Chapter. Well you can read my official review here and I got a chance to speak with the director Blair Erickson on how he made this creepy film.
How much research on white noise and small number radio frequencies was done prior to the filming of Banshee Chapter?
I’ve been fascinated by the short wave radio phenomenon for years and it all came about together in weird ways . I’m reading about different dimensions and short wave radios and i’m trying to see how all this can come together. There is a lot of people who think shortwave radio is connected to government agencies or the NSA but they are not sure how it’s really used. So I thought this is the way in we are going to start there. That kind of noise was going to be the signifier. Kinda like the shark fin in Jaws. Its where you know it’s out there you don't see it but you hear it. It ends up being a great real creepy way to do that. It’s one of the things where you have to use the real sound. We tried but there was no way you could create something as eerie as that noise. So we ended up using full audio for that. Thats real the thing that sets peoples hair on edge when they hear it because its so creepy and you can immediately tell something isn’t right. It gives you this weird feeling that something is in the room with you.
Is The Banshee Chapter based off on any actual accounts, is any of this true?
Yes and I highly recommend people go and look this up too, because thats part of the fun of the movie. Yes the story is fictional but it is based so much on true stuff. It’s actually way more true than most people would believe. The fictionalization part is british journalist and the fake online news site those aren't real. If you take the Blackburn character and how it turns out that he was injected with chemicals. Most of his life is based on the author Ken Kesey who wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. He was experimented on as a student and it messed him up deeply.He took one of the chemicals from the project and it ended up being LSD. So he took it all over the US and started giving it to other people and thats how we got the whole counter culture revolution. Basically it was an escaped experimental drug. So we based it a lot on that. The reason its called The Banshee Chapter is because when they did the DMT experiment at the University of Arizona that was the name that a lot of the people were using to describe the entity when they saw them, they called them Banshees. That thing where they would all see them was a common thread in the experiment. There was a pattern where they would electro shock people until they couldn’t remember what was done to them was also a part of the experiment. That all happened but we take it in a more fun route like lets introduce a little HP Lovecraft element. So their connecting this drug that connects you to this ultimate dimension and the connection is through the radio signals that are coming out of your brain and that becomes a horrible Lovecraftian feel from beyond the dimension.What they see is there is something deeply unpleasant coming for them.
Is the character Thomas Blackburn played by Ted Levine based off of someone? He reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson.
Yes he has a lot of the mannerisms and his style is reminded of him. That was very fortunate that I had this counterculture figure and I knew that the audience would have familiarity with him. It makes you want to connect to him. You feel as if you kinda know this guy even though he is a new character. So we pulled from that and also from Kesey. We also pulled from Timothy Leary’s life and how he advocated for chemical research and how he got into it with the strange experiments he did in his own house. So we pulled from a lot of those guys. So he ends up being this hybrid character thats kinda familiar with to the audience.
What do you think is the hardest challenge of scaring audiences these days?
The audience has seen it all. You have to really do something new. That was the big challenge for us as we were making something that was completely out of the box there. Like this isn’t a slasher movie this isn't a ghost story what is this. We were determined that the stuff in there was creepy enough to work that people would go with it even though they may not have heard of this stuff before. It would get them excited and it would feel real enough that they would just go with it. I think that was the big challenge going into it and so far based on what some of the critics have said it seems to scare a lot of people so it does seem to work on that level. I also think thats because we were pushing a little bit of the subconscious right now with the fear of the government and the fear of them doing these things that we don't have control over. They are doing stuff to us and watching over us and I think that feeling is sort of there in the film and thats definitely what we were manipulating a little bit.
So how was it working with Katia Winter?
Shes is absolutely wonderful I don't think on a tiny budget and the tiny short shooting schedule we had I don't think we could have done it with another actress. Shes is one of the few people who could ten times out of ten give you a wonderful performance first take and a wonderful performance last take. If you need her to improvise something she does it. She’s always believable and always serious. If you meet the girl in person she is the exact opposite but her character was very serious. She didn't smile a lot and she doesn't believe all these crazy and outlandish things going on around her. But she’s great because she is very serious about being an actress. It's hard to find people like that. Sometimes you are watching a horror movie and there is some teeny bopper who you can tell doesn’t really believe in any of their lines. Like “Come on Mike lets go to the Cabin!” So you want someone who is the opposite of that. Someone who you really believed would actually go out and look for something like this. That was a hard challenge to find someone like that and she is one of the few who was able to pull it off so its been great to have her. It was not a surprise at all to see her go on to shows like Dexter and Sleepy Hollow because she's got that thing. Whatever that thing is she has it.
Where was the research facility located?
There were two buildings that we used to create that. The interior is the lower basement sublevel of an old semi conductor factory that had been abandoned. It has those hallways that just go on forever and there is no lights down there. It’s very creepy if you are down there all you have is this flashlight which is great because we could shoot all these scenes just using the flashlight. The camera technology we were using was able to pick up all that light so there was a real nice black detail. Not like most films with the blue light that lights everything up that you are filming. We had none of that you only see what is being seen in the scene. That was the interior and the exterior we went to a missile testing facility somewhere in the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. In that missile testing range is where there was the bunker with the tower on it and that’s how we used that part.
Tell me the reason’s behind the documentary look and feel for Banshee Chapter?
So I think that was a conscious decision because we knew we were using some real historical footage and real archival stories. There is so much real stuff used that I knew I wanted to blend it in. With the narrative in there I knew I could not have a hard cut narrative storytelling with the photography in there. So there is a little bit of a found footage feeling with everything mixed in with the older archival footage.Then very slowly in the first act we transition away from that to a more documentary style of camera work. So it makes you feel like the camera is just another character in the story. So you don't have any idea what’s about to happen it helps portray that tension, that unease,. In most film the camera kinda places itself there and you are ready to see what’s about to happen. In this case the camera is always reacting to it . So you kinda feel as an audience member you constantly turning and looking like “wait what is that that just happened?”. It gives that seen of orientation and gave an immediate threat that I felt was very important to add the paranoia and anxiety that we wanted to get across in the second half of the film.
I would like to thank Blair once again for his time. The Banshee Chapter is in theaters today and available on most VOD outlets. Its stars Katia Winter, Ted Levine and Michael McMillian. It is being distributed courtesy of XLrator Media.