Tag Archives: conspiracy

Banshee Chapter

Banshee Chapter
Banshee Chapter

Format: DVD + VOD

Release date: 27 January 2014

Distributor: 101 Films

Director: Blair Erickson

Writers: Blair Erickson, Daniel J. Healy

Cast: Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian

Germany/USA 2013

87 mins

Taking as its inspiration the C.I.A.’s MKUltra project, an experimental programme in mind control techniques covertly conducted during the latter half of the 20th century, Blair Erickson’s Banshee Chapter promises more than it can ultimately deliver, failing to mine the promise of its richly paranoid subject matter. Despite an entertaining turn from Ted Levine as a Hunter S. Thompson stand-in, the film only shows a Wikipedia-level understanding of its counter-cultural milieu, and ultimately falls apart in a haze of nonsensical writing and sloppy direction.

Opening with real documentary footage relating to the C.I.A. experiments, Banshee Chapter seems to be positioning itself as yet another found-footage genre movie, as we first witness James (Michael McMillian) testing a suppressed drug he claims was used in the MKUltra programme (with predictably dire off-camera results), and then pick up with James’s old college buddy, investigative journalist Anne (Katia Winter), vowing to discover what happened to him (and that’s pretty much all she does, Winter’s rather thankless role basically being to get the audience from A to B and to serve as the ubiquitous final girl in a tight tank top). All of this material is delivered documentary-style, either on camera or in voiceover, but having set itself this formal limitation, the film seems to subsequently shy away from the demands of the sub-genre, only occasionally (and pointlessly) cutting away to ‘real’ video footage at random interludes thereafter (a can’t-be-bothered quality it shares with other such semi-found footage films as David Ayer’s recent End of Watch and Ti West’s upcoming The Sacrament).

In a scene that signposts the all-too-convenient scripting that is to follow, Anne then heads to James’s abandoned house, and within minutes finds a letter written to him from the unnamed Colorado source that supplied the illegal drug, a communication that was handily not discovered by the police. The letter ultimately leads her to Thomas Blackburn, a burnt-out author modelled closely on the aforementioned Thompson. Despite Levine’s game performance, one can’t help but notice the film is largely content to portray the author in one-dimensional gonzo mode, with little suggestion of the fierce intelligence and questioning of authority that fuelled HST’s seminal early work, a sense of which might have added more depth to the narrative. One might argue that Thompson eventually became a victim of his own image, and that Banshee Chapter is only reflecting his real life arc (perhaps not without some regret), but equally the suspicion is that if he’d lived to see his cartoon portrayal here, he’d have been reaching for his gun collection within seconds.

It transpires that Blackburn’s drug opens up levels of perception in the user’s brain, allowing them to see entities existing on other planes; the drawback being that said entities can then also see them back (the lift from Lovecraft’s From Beyond is intentional, the film knowingly establishing its genre cred by having Blackburn reference the actual story). And once they see us humans, they want to ‘wear us’ (a nicely chilling moment of dialogue). The fact that Blackburn has had the drug in his possession for quite some time and yet apparently hasn’t bothered to sample it unfortunately serves to question either his supposed drug fiend status, or else Erickson’s ability to write a coherent, believable screenplay.

Horror predictably ensues thereafter; but sadly, the film avoids any real attempt at constructing scarily effective set-pieces in favour of having one of the unnamed entities pop screeching out of the dark whack-a-mole-style every few minutes. Dodging these clichés as they go, Anne and Blackburn soon follow the trail of convenient plot points to a disused military installation in the desert, abandoned entirely without any governmental security despite the fact that, as we discover, Bad Things are still present there. After which Erickson is content to go through the usual genre motions of wrapping everything up before pulling out a nonsensical ‘aha’ epilogue (the MKUltra drug apparently not the only formula the film’s characters are following).

A shame, because if Banshee Chapter had dug deeper into its characters and the real life conspiracies and horrors of the C.I.A.’s covert activities, we might have had a meaty, subversive genre film worth reckoning with. But as it stands, it’s not enough fear and too much loathing.

Sean Hogan

Watch the trailer:



Format: DVD (Region 1 + 2) + Blu-ray

Director: Joseph Ruben

Writers: David Loughery, Chuck Russell, Joseph Ruben

Based on the play by: Kenneth G. Ross

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Kate Capshaw, David Patrick Kelly, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert

USA 1984

99 mins

A few months before Freddy Krueger began stalking the sleep of American teens in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and almost three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape used the world of dreams as a battleground. Where A Nightmare on Elm Street subverted the slasher genre and Inception was an inverted heist movie, Dreamscape was a sci-fi thriller in which the very future of the planet was at stake. Very loosely based on a treatment author Roger Zelazny wrote of his novel The Dream Master (1966), Dreamscape touched on an issue very much in people’s minds at the time. With fears of the possibility of nuclear Armageddon at their height, Ruben’s movie posited a scenario in which a trained dream-assassin would murder the president in his sleep, thus killing him in real life and halting his plans to bring nuclear proliferation to a halt.

Shady government agencies, compromised scientists and powerful psychics scheme, betray and fight in both the real and dream worlds. Dennis Quaid’s Alex Gardner, an affable but wayward psychic, is coerced into assisting on what is ostensibly a government-funded project to cure people of their nightmares. The programme’s star pupil and covert dream-assassin, Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) – brash, egotistical and deeply troubled – is the Yang to Gardner’s Yin. Glatman’s damaged psyche makes him a dangerous weapon, easily able to terrorize the minds of those around him. Kelly gives a memorable performance as the proto-Krueger; turning dreams to nightmares, shape-shifting and even sporting blades for fingernails at one point. Gardner, by contrast, reconnects with his conscience and moral values as he is charged with stopping Glatman from carrying out his mission. The equally apposite, and equally manipulative, figures of Doctor Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) and the project’s overseer, CIA operative Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer), are the older reflections of Gardner’s naïve protégé and Glatman’s malleable prodigy. While Novotny wants to use the psychic’s abilities as a force for good, Blair’s crooked agent is bent on stopping the President’s plans, believing they will hand the initiative in the Cold War to the Russians.

Blending action movie tropes with horror movie imagery into a science fiction narrative written as a thriller gave Dreamscape a fresh feel and cross-genre appeal. Visions of monsters conjured up in the imaginations of psychologically scarred children, and post-nuclear wastelands in the president’s tortured mind, are as fittingly nightmarish as could be realised on screen by special effects teams at the time. The theme of dream and inner worlds, alternate realities and what-if scenarios seen in many later science fiction and horror movies, from Brainstorm to Source Code, Dream Demon to From Beyond, proved an enduring and endlessly recyclable one. The fact that the ‘enemy’ in Dreamscape comes from within, literally and figuratively, leaves the viewer in no doubt that Ruben and screenwriters David Loughery and Chuck Russell understand that sometimes those guarding our safety can do as much to endanger it as any perceived external threat. That the president is seen as a figurehead to be maneuvered and toyed with marionette-like by those agencies also speaks volumes for their views on the true locations of the power bases in American politics.

Somewhat under-appreciated, possibly due to a superfluous romantic sub-plot involving Gardner and Kate Capshaw’s research assistant Jane DeVries, Dreamscape nonetheless remains an important step on the evolutionary road for science fiction cinema. Alien, Blade Runner and the Star Wars franchise may be the era’s science fiction titans, but Dreamscape, along with Brainstorm, deserves more recognition for delving into inner rather than outer space in its futuristic what-if narrative.

Neil Mitchell

Mock Up on Mu

Parsons Columns_KalSpelletich

Format: DVD (NSTC Region 0)

Distributor: Other Cinema

Director: Craig Baldwin

Writer: Craig Baldwin

Cast: Stoney Burke, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Damon Packard, Michelle Silva

USA 2008

114 mins

Craig Baldwin has made some of the finest underground feature films of the last 20 years. He draws on the visual detritus of the 20th century, using found footage liberated from B-movies, educational shorts, long-lost adverts and many other sources, and creates an aesthetic of recontextualised images melded to his own narrative ends. From his conspiratorial epic Tribulation 99 (1991) through to Spectres of the Spectrum (1999), Baldwin has engaged with the history and secret histories of the 20th century, tearing through accepted fact and outré conspiracy theories, reality and hyper-reality. His latest feature, Mock Up on Mu, delves deep into Baldwin’s interests in science fiction, rocket science, occult California and the New Age.

Mixing his familiar plunderphonic methods with original footage of his small cast (including underground filmmaker Damon Packard), Mock Up on Mu draws on the biographies of magickian and rocket scientist Jack Parsons, occultist and Beat artist Marjorie Cameron and Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. A sci-fi history mash-up, the film spins biography, pseudo-biography, actuality, conspiracy and speculation with a gleeful disregard for any distinctions. Baldwin detours into plots and subplots that subvert the historical record. But he isn’t just creating a fantasy so much as he is exploring the mythologies that already existed beneath the collective notion of history. Reality is more than reality and fantasy is more than fantasy.

For more details, visit the Other Cinema website. Watch the first chapter.

Like his previous works, Mock Up on Mu is tightly edited, rapid-paced, informative and irreverent, and coming in at nearly two hours there’s enough here to watch and re-watch. The world may ever seem quite the same again.

Jack Sargeant