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By Doug Brunell | May 11, 2006

The film quality is spotty to say the least. It’s obvious it was done with a cheap camera. The voice of the man on the screen isn’t disguised. His face, however, is hidden in shadows. A weird pentagram is barely apparent behind his head. He talks of Satanic rituals, sacrifices, and having a cache of arms stashed in his basement. He says it’s “enough to start a small war.” At one point toward the end of the interview he holds up a container full of some liquid. The color of the liquid isn’t discernible due to the lighting, but the man in the shadows assures viewers it is the blood of one of his recent sacrifices. He keeps it chilled in his refrigerator.

The man in the video was me. My friends and I filmed it about seventeen years ago for another friend who was still in high school — a high school from which I had already graduated. He had to interview someone interesting from the community for some lame assignment, and I had a love of pranks which caused me to run into problems during my high school years. The administration also thought I was Satanic simply because I liked Iron Maiden, had long hair and challenged authority. It seemed like the perfect marriage, and I had a ball doing it. When my friend showed it in class, however, all hell broke loose.

Film is one of two mediums (the other being the written word) where people tend to believe whatever they see (or read) no matter how ridiculous it may be. (Remember the people who believed Spinal Tap actually existed?) It’s one of the reasons I love film so much. It’s a strong artform that can do wonders in the right hands. It’s also very easy to abuse. (Think about that the next time the government provides “evidence” footage as a pretext to war.)

I obviously wasn’t in the class when my interview debuted, but I heard about it. The students started off giggling and not believing what they were hearing. As the interview went on, however, and I got more and more serious (and, I might add, more outrageous), they started to buy it. When the video ended, the teacher didn’t say a word. He yanked the video from the machine and took it right to the office so that the “proper authorities” could deal with it. My friend later had to confess it was a joke, and he may have given me up. (I was never contacted about it, though. There was no need to. The police were already keeping an eye on me for other things, so this was just one more note in a file somewhere.)

When we filmed the video, I didn’t think anyone could possibly take it seriously, though I secretly hoped they would. I figured that anyone who been on the edge of belief by the time I pulled out the “blood,” would’ve suddenly got the joke. The exact opposite happened, however.

At the time I couldn’t understand why the students and teacher believed the interview was real. But now I know. They were drawn in. At some point they started to believe the fantasy. Their reality started to change. The believed this character I created existed, and by the time I got to talking about weapons and a war, they were convinced this could happen in their town (they had been hearing hints of it for years thanks to the overactive imagination of school staff members and gullible parents), and they were scared.

Moving images on a screen do that sort of thing to you. They are familiar, and you can’t stop watching. Humans like to see humans. Put one on a screen and they hold our attention. Now put a captive audience into the mix and throw in something that feeds off people’s fears and natural curiosity, and you have a formula for magic.

We did the video as a prank. We never really thought anyone would have any reaction to it other than laughter. At the most I thought it would piss off the teacher. Now I know better. I know how film is used to lure you in and alter your perceptions of things. Its an inclusive media. It distorts through sight, sound and familiarity. It uses static and non-static images to create a desired effect, and most of us are pretty powerless to it. It usually can’t reach into the depths of the soul the way a book can, but it doesn’t need to. It has the ability to affect surface emotions, which in turn affects the subconscious. More importantly, it makes disbelievers into the faithful, and (as we proved with our amateur video) it doesn’t take much to do it.

I often wonder what those kids who saw the video think these days. Do they still remember it? Do they tell their friends about it? Or is it forgotten, a memory erased by years of alcohol and Fox sitcoms? It doesn’t really matter. I had them for that one afternoon, and that’s something I’ll never forget.

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