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'Erie Hall': The Next 'Blair Witch'?

This week, Back Stage is running a casting notice for Erie Hall, an upcoming indie feature film shooting late August in the Hudson Valley region of NY. The plot revolves around actual supernatural events experienced by students attending SUNY Geneseo in the mid-1980s.

Blair witch_missing poster_white More than 10 years ago, Back Stage ran a casting notice for another unheralded independent horror film, The Blair Witch Project. How do I know this? I attended the audition.

My best recollection is that I was asked to do a brief improv exercise with two other actors (I wasn't called back). With a budget of around $60,000, The Blair Witch Project premiered at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and went on to gross almost $250 million worldwide; the film is now celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. It was shot in a "faux-documentary" style; all the footage used in the film was supposedly "discovered" in the Maryland woods after a film crew had gone missing while investigating the "legend" of the Blair Witch.

As a film, The Blair Witch Project does have some very scary moments and upon its initial release in 1999, audiences were somewhat confused as to whether they were watching actual filmed events. Blair Witch 2 was released Fall 2000 by Columbia Tri-Star. At an estimated cost of $15 million, its worldwide gross was under $50 million.

Unlike The Blair Witch Project, the producers of Erie Hall are basing their story on actual photographs, recordings, and student journals taken at the time which describe the paranormal activity. Most importantly, Christopher DiCesare, the Geneseo student who was the main subject of these supernatural visitations, is working as the Historical Consultant for the film. I had the opportunity to speak briefly with DiCesare, as well as the film's director, Mara Lyon. DiCesare's story is riveting and revealing.

Erie Hall is not just a film about a haunting; it also explores the deep emotional and psychological trauma that DiCesare and his college friends experienced as they tried to understand and come to terms with these strange occurrences. At first, DiCesare kept his observations to himself. He didn't want to believe what he was seeing was real, and was looking for any other explanation.

"The turning point was when roommates started talking about seeing the same things without being informed by me,"  he says.

This brings to mind another scary movie in its day, The Amityville Horror (1979; yes there was a remake in 2005) based on the best-selling 1977 book by Jay Anson. Anson's story was derived from actual interviews of a family who had purchased a house in Long Island only to discover that it was "haunted" after moving in.

Director Mara Lyon told me roles in Erie Hall are still being cast, but don't delay: the film begins shooting Aug. 27. Mara is especially seeking male actors, ages 18-27.

Upon completion, Erie Hall will be submitted to festivals. Be prepared to be scared!

For more info, visit www.eriehall.com or check out the Back Stage casting notice online at BackStage.com.

-- Andy Valvano

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