Director: Blair Erikson
Screenplay: Blair Erikson
Starring: Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian, Monique Candelaria
Running Time: 82 mins
Reviewed by Guy Adams
My experience of hallucinogenics is limited. When I was young I once consumed a reasonable quantity of magic mushrooms and spent the following few hours attempting to climb stairs. At some point during my ascent I understood the secret truth of the universe. Then I had some clumsy teenage sex, drank a lot of vodka and passed out.
The participants in Project MKUltra were not so fortunate. Running through the fifties, sixties and drawing to a halt in the early seventies, Project MKUltra was a program run by the CIA’s Scientific Intelligence Division. To this day, its experiments are surrounded by controversy and mystery, due to the fact that it sometimes pumped brain-melting pharmaceuticals into unwilling participants. That sort of thing is just plain naughty.
In BANSHEE CHAPTER, writer and director, Blair Erikson has folded the insidious and creepy practices of Project MKUltra into a retelling of H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond. Test subjects have been injected with DMT-19, a drug that allows them to perceive entities from outside our reality. In turn, the drug allows those entities to perceive them. Investigative journalist, Anne Roland (Winter) teams up with Hunter S. Thompson… sorry, Thomas Blackburn (Levine, in a performance so on the button that he may have been possessed from beyond the grave by the much-missed Gonzo King). Naturally, by the end of the movie, she wishes she’d left the whole unsettling affair alone.
BANSHEE CHAPTER is a compelling and genuinely disturbing micro-budget feature.
I will confess that I feared I was entering found-footage hell when the movie began (though often effective, it’s a trope I tire of because for every BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or REC there is TAPE 407 and… oh Lord… 2005’s Singaporean quality-vacuum, CURSE, I can only stand so many teenagers screaming at a camcorder before the red mist descends). To Erikson, however, the style is just one of many used in the movie, alongside conventional filming and genuine archive material. The sum total is a disorientating blend, building to a masterful whole.
BANSHEE CHAPTER is genuinely scary, indeed it won the Scariest Movie Award at Frightfest 2013) . You have no idea how refreshing that is to an old lag like me. I have toiled in the horror movie mines for years and it’s been a while since a movie got under my skin.
The paucity of budget is plain and, for me, Katia Winter’s performance occasionally teetered on the brink of breaking the carefully constructed sense of verisimilitude, but there can be no doubting BANSHEE CHAPTER is a success. Clever, fast-paced, horrifying and not an experience you’ll forget in a hurry.
The DVD, from 101 Films, comes with three behind the scenes pieces, covering both the production and the details of the original experiments.