“Voodoo Possession,” from Rough Rider Studios and Front Row Productions, brings to the screen a deep journey into post earthquake Haiti and its voodoo spirit world to find and free possessed and stolen souls.
Written and Directed by Walter Baholst, “Voodoo Possession,” stars David Thomas Jenkins, Ryan Caltagirone, Bree Nelson, Catherine Haena Kim, Abe Springer and Danny Trejo.
“Voodoo Possession,” begins with a young child witnessing the suicide of his mother as a spirit taunts her into believing he has returned. The deep mental instability and inability to fight off, through medicine or religion, the demonic attacks are passed down to the two sons.
In order to rescue his brother Dr. Cody Chase, Aiden Chase along with his girlfriend’s documentary crew enter the darkened world of Haiti’s Voodoo religion.
Having the opportunity to speak with “Voodoo Possession” Director Walter Baholst we talked on the birth of the film, his challenges, Haiti and dealing with the Chicken talent. He is funny, informative and genuinely interesting as he presented his story of navigating the newness of filmmaking.
Janet Walker: So tell me a little bit about “Voodoo Possession.” It is certainly intriguing and there are so many elements to it. When you first got the script describe to me your first reaction and what made you decide to make the film?
Walter Baholst: Well the genesis of the film, I was working as an attorney at Image Entertainment and the distributor and the producer, Mark Burman, was doing a film and we got to talking and I told him I was a writer-director and I showed him a Zombie short film I did and a Zombie script based on that.
He said “‘Oh, that’s great. But there is a lot of competition in the zombie genre this was a couple of years ago when “Walking Dead” was first coming out. So what do you think about doing a film in the Voodoo Horror genre we haven’t seen that in a while.'”
So I said, “‘That sounds very interesting. I know nothing about Voodoo so let me find out. Let me do some research.”‘ And the more research I did the more fascinating I found Voodoo to be.
A couple of things I discovered in my research, in Voodoo being possessed by a spirit it is an honor. It’s not scary, necessarily. And then the ceremonies are happy celebrations because your god possesses you. I mean it is awesome.
So okay, that doesn’t really work for us as a horror movie. I needed to find a spirit that could possess somebody there was one spirit, Lenglensou, which was mentioned in the movie.
He is around violent acts and violent scenarios and he created buckets of blood and then it was bam, there’s my horror movie it is about that guy. So I also found out that he punishes people that go back on their word so okay that gives me something for the character to do they can go back on their word and get punished for it and try to figure a way out of this scenario.
The main characters, actually all the characters in the film, go back on their word some and they end up in this place.
Another thing that heavily influenced this story, I read when a voodoo spirit possesses a person only one soul can possess a body at a time so that made me ask, “‘Where does the person’s soul go to while they are being possessed?”‘
So that is where I took creative license to create all of these different spirit worlds for that soul to go. So I kind of put those two things together to create the story and when you have all these disparate elements and you are trying to put it in a genre movie it gets a bit complicated and I think that is the kind of storyteller I am.
I do like complicated, interested, multi-layered movies and this is kind of like an exception in the horror world. But is still genre and you have to make it somewhat simplified and you know interesting and cinematic. So it was really putting together a lot of different things I discovered about voodoo into a genre schematic.
JW: What challenged you most about the script and making the film?
WB: There were two things one was getting the script right. I think I know why people don’t do a lot of voodoo movies it has to do with religion it is a very touchy subject. The easy way out is to be very stereotypical do things, like sticky pins and needles into dolls, or glossy over it and not giving the religion its fair due.
I did not want to be stereotypical and the more you get into it the harder it becomes to both pay homage to a religion and do something fantastical in a horror genre.
And so that part was very difficult and the more you go supernatural and earlier drafting had all these spirits fighting each other and shooting lightning bolts at each other and Marc was like, “‘this is going to cost 5 million dollars.”‘
So there’s a long process and I’m somewhat of a new filmmaker and when I write an action scene with fireballs shooting out of peoples eyeballs I don’t know how much that costs. So that was the first part, getting the script right.
And the second part when we did get the script right, it was a much bigger movie than the budget and schedule allowed.
So we had to cut here, twist there, squeeze and stretch to find a way to tell the story within a limited means and we could have held off and gotten money later on and you never knows how that happens, “oh we’re close to money it will be another month” and another month could be three years.
So it was “‘let’s get the movie made”‘ and we’ll scale it down from this gigantic vision that I had earlier and that was a challenge, that was a real challenge, you kind of kill your baby, so to speak and cutting scenes out and changing things and making some of the deaths less gruesome, killing off people. It sounds horrible but since we’re talking about a horror movie its okay.
Shooting “Voodoo Possession”
JW: I noticed some of the exterior shots looked like Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Were those actual shots of Haiti?
WB: Some of those shots are of Haiti. The front of the asylum is not. Some of the Haiti footage, you know we had thought about going to Haiti and shooting some stuff but that balloons the budget.
So I did find some footage online, the Department of Defense actually, is where I got it and they have a lot of great footage and it is totally free to filmmakers, so that’s a little tidbit for the filmmakers out there.
They want filmmakers to use that footage and they, the DOD, the Army, the military, they did a lot of great work in Haiti and catalogued it and so we got a lot of Haitian footage that we didn’t have to go there to get, and its difficult, you’re on a limited budget you can’t be paying $500., $1000., $2000., for stock footage which is what some people are charging and I fell in love with this one shot and it was $4000., and that’s like a half-a-day of shooting.
JW: So tell me more about the interior and voodoo shots. Describe the set and the use of the animals. I assume no animals were harmed and you really didn’t cut the chicken’s head off. It certainly looks like you did so why don’t you describe that aspect of the film?
WB: Wow we have so many stories about that chicken. I mean, our production designer, Haley Atchison, she was given the job to find a chicken and at first she was like, “‘I’m the production designer I’m not an animal wrangler,”‘ but hey low budget filmmaking so here we go everyone has seven jobs.
Somehow she found three people that had chickens in some capacity. But the chicken, let’s say, when it got excitable it would leave a mess. (laughing) So, I think, it took her thirty minutes to grab it and track it and then she put it in her car, and it left a mess in her car and on top of that if you frighten the chicken too much, it might die of fright. So we’re like ‘”this is the most baggage of any actor I’ve ever heard of.'”
So when we got on the set it was very tense. We kind of got it in the first take all treva at the end, who played the voodoo priest Jean, was pick it up walk around with it and show it to the room and show it to the camera and then we had a fake chicken brought in with our dynamite make-up and special effects team.
“Voodoo Possession” may not be for everyone, depending on your tolerance for horror or extreme religions, as it is realistic with graphic moments it may present scenes that are too violent.
“Voodoo Possession” also presents animal sacrifice, and as explained no animals were harmed in the filming. It is however realistic.
“Voodoo Possession” is available on DVD.