Chills and Thrills

Local filmmakers make their mark with independent horror movie.
Lighting was key in creating the spooky effects in Peter Hurd’s and Logan Gion’s stylized thriller, The Control Group.

Peter Hurd and Logan Gion grew up on blood and gore—movies, that is. And they turned their love for the horror genre into their indie film The Control Group, which premiered to enthusiastic reviews at the Twin Cities Film Festival in October.

Hurd, a Hugo resident who graduated from White Bear Lake Area High School in 2008, became interested in filmmaking while in college. He bought a used DVX camcorder and some cheap equipment online and just started shooting, even completing a full-length feature. After college, he started working but also pursued film projects. He approached his high school friend Gion, a 2007 graduate, to write a screenplay centered on the abandoned Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center. Though working on an oil rig in North Dakota at the time, Gion, with a degree in film, jumped at the opportunity.

“We initially wanted to do something simple,” Hurd explains, adjusting his black knit cap and sliding into a booth at a local coffee shop. “Logan and I began bouncing our favorite horror clichés back and forth and how to subvert them in clever ways. We ended up making a film about five college students, stuck in an insane asylum with a scientist, who have to band together when they encounter a supernatural threat. We’re using the typical character types, like the jock and the preppy girl. But here, the characters do different things than you’d expect.”

Once they finalized their script, Hurd conducted online casting calls, securing actors from Los Angeles and New Mexico as well as Minnesota. Now calling their venture Point and Shoot Productions, the duo caught a break when they hired Golden Globe-winning actor Brad Dourif to play a leading role. Dourif, known for his work as the voice of Chucky in Child’s Play, Grima Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and many other roles on the big and small screen, really liked the script. “He was great to work with and professional,” Hurd says. “Sometimes he interjected his own ideas, but he didn’t fight for his way.”

Serving as producer and director, Hurd describes the 23-day production process as chaotic as he made last-minute changes to fix plot holes and develop characters more completely. Using a full production crew and rented equipment, they filmed in Fergus Falls, with scenes in an abandoned brick building during the day, hanging garbage bags over the windows to simulate nighttime and using sonar to keep the bats away. The city of Fergus Falls, which owns the historic site, provided the building free of charge except for electricity, helping the pair stay within their $1 million dollar budget.

Italian filmmaker Dario Argento inspired their filmmaking. Known for his colorful, stylized films from the 1970s and 1980s, Argento’s movies look more like art films, Hurd says. He and Gion achieved that look through lighting. Their post-production company used computer-generated imagery for many scenes but tried to make the film look less polished, like a 1970s grindhouse film.

After the movie’s premiere in October, Hurd and Gion traveled to the American Film Market in California to pitch the movie to potential film distributors. They had a showing during the eight-day networking event, gathering buzz through their trailer and costumed “crow people” from the movie in the lobby beforehand.

Now, the team is working on distribution deals, and a sale agent is distributing international rights to the film. The distribution process can take a long time, Hurd explains. And while they wait, Hurd and Gion continue to slice and dice new ways to scare us, devoting themselves to four new potential horror and thriller projects. And how do they have time to pursue more films? “We quit our day jobs,” Hurd says.