Friday night at the Avon Theater, local ghost mogul Troy Taylor (link to prairieghosts.com here) is going to be presenting a very special free broadcast of a film he appeared in back in 2000, "The St. Francisville Experiment." Originally conceived as a legitimate documentary about four young people spending a night in a supposedly haunted house, the film spun completely out of control and became a fictionalized horror movie during the process of shooting, one that closely emulated the style (but not the success) of the 1999 release of "The Blair Witch Project". It now holds the distinction of "probably the worst horror movie out there starring Troy Taylor," as evidenced by its robust 3.8 rating on IMDB.
As a good sport about appearing in what is reportedly a pretty terrible film, Taylor is going to be providing running commentary throughout the movie in the style of my favorite TV show of all time, Mystery Science Theater 3000. "The St. Francisville Experiment" screens at 10:30 p.m. Friday, and if my interview with Taylor is any indication, it sounds like he's probably going to have some pretty good fodder for mockery.
Jim V: How were you first contacted about the movie?
Troy Taylor: I got involved in it through a friend who was a writer on the film. We put together the concept of what the film was supposed to be. Originally it was called the St. Francisville "experiment" because it was an experiment in fear, putting people in a location that was alleged to be haunted to see what would happen inside over the course of a night. They were supposed to be doing all these assignments and tasks throughout the night, but it all got lost in the shuffle.
What kind of tasks?
They were supposed to say, go to a certain part of the house by themselves and stay there to experience something, but it pretty much all went out the window.
So, it started off as a real documentary, and then became a fictionalized account over time? I read that reshoots were in an entirely different house?
What you actually see in the finished film is three different film shoots in three different houses. Interior-wise the one in California looked very similar to the house in Louisiana. By that point, the film had become utter chaos and my part in it had long been over.
What do you do while playing yourself in the film, then?
My purpose was to be the ghost hunter who comes in and instructs the cast in how to use ghost hunting equipment and what to do inside the house in Louisiana. Most of that stuff got left in the film. The parts where I tell them about their assignments and tasks was mostly left out. The backstory for the place was taken from a book I had recently written about New Orleans hauntings.
What is this location, exactly? Had you been there before? Does it have a genuine history of hauntings?
I had never been there before. It was a house that was actually lived in by a family; they tried to make it look like an old, abandoned mansion for the movie. A lot of the furniture was moved out. As for the hauntings, it's an old plantation house in Louisiana, and they pretty much all have stories.
What was the director, Ted Nicolaou, like? Was it apparent that this was a Blair Witch cash-in attempt?
"Director" might be the wrong word because nobody was really directing anything; he was literally outside in a trailer watching things in the house. I'm not sure whose idea the reshoots and the change in the film's story even were. The production company changed while we were there in Louisiana; they literally fired the current people and brought in new ones. It was very confusing. Nobody was actually saying "Blair Witch" at the time, but it was pretty obvious that's what was happening when they decided not to do it as a documentary.
When did things seem to really be going off the rails? When did you first actually see the final film?
While we were there doing the filming I became suspicious when my writer friend and I were banned from the trailer in the back. And then once we heard they were doing reshoots, we knew that it probably had nothing to do with the way that it had been originally conceived.
I got some advance cuts of the movie with some ridiculous new scenes, like the infamous "bug in the sandwich" scene. By that point it was all pretty bad. You can almost see in the movie the moment where the actors stop improvising and start acting-poorly.
Did you ever speak to any of the actors or director again? What did they think of the finished work?
I still stay in touch with all of the actors; we have a shared horror of the film I think. I don't think any of us were too thrilled. A few of the guys didn't even use their real names for the movie because they have actual careers behind the scenes in Hollywood.
Have you ever done MST3k-style riffing before? It's not easy. Are you confident it will go better than what's actually happening on the screen?
We actually did a DVD commentary for this thing that never got used, so I've got a lot of material. Hopefully people will be interested in hearing about what was going on as this terrible movie was being made.
Well, that's it. Sometimes you think you're making an innocent little documentary, and then whammo, you're in a straight-to-DVD horror movie with a trailer narrated by Zelda Rubinstein. These things happen. Best just to roll with the punches.
What do you think, sirs?