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The damp and dreary evening is classic horror movie weather, with lashing rain and gusting wind. It's the kind of night when a couple's car breaks down on a lonely stretch of road and they're forced to seek help by knocking on the door of the only sinister gothic mansion for miles around.

The wet gloom lends an appropriately spooky vibe to the proceedings inside a small storefront in St. Paul Park, where auditions are under way for a locally produced slasher film.

"Experimental Insanity" was written by St. Paul Park resident Michael Sellstedt, who also will direct. He's organizing locations, casting and financing from a production office inside Greg's Tax Service, which donated the space.

The film, which follows in the bloody footsteps of "Saw" and "The Shining," is about a

rogue doctor who holes up in a remote insane asylum, where he conducts heinous experiments on the criminally insane inmates.

"He's looking for a cure and (how to do) transplants that have never been done before," Sellstedt said. "What's interesting about the doctor is that he is himself very mentally disturbed. That's why he can do these things and not have a conscience about what he's doing."

Needless to say, the results of the experiments won't be published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The maniacal inmates stage a coup, and suddenly it's the doctor and his staff who are going under the knife. Presumably, a hefty slice of the film's $30,000 budget will go for buckets of blood and a harvest of severed limbs.

Inside the production office, a promotional poster for "Experimental Insanity" shares wall space with photos of actors. A tag line on the poster reads "The doctor will see you now."

"We want to try to do something different that's never been done before," said Sellstedt, who counts the Coen Brothers as a key influence.

"Everybody involved in the project are from Minnesota, mainly the Twin Cities area," he said.

That includes co-producers Jennifer Prettyman and Roxanne Williams. Both have lead roles in the film and are also serving as casting directors.

"Horror is a big deal in the Midwest," explains Prettyman, who has written and directed her own films. "Horror films really do well in festivals. We would like to show this film in festivals like (Seattle film fest) Crypticon."

Most of the lead roles have all been cast, but the crew is still scouting locations. They still need to find a building that can double as the asylum. They're also looking to fill several key crew positions, including lighting, sound and special effects.

Once that happens, shooting can begin.

Other crew include line producer Lori Valento of St. Paul Park, camera assistant Jason Bieza and web designer Olivia Williams of Woodbury and senior production assistant Zack Nelson of Cottage Grove.

Actor CJ DeVaan auditioned for the part of Wilson, an orderly who works at the asylum. DeVaan has numerous acting credits, including an uncredited appearance in "Kumiko the Treasure Hunter," which was shot in south Washington County in 2013. His latest role is in "Lake Runs Red," a horror film shot in northern Minnesota. He's familiar with the grueling struggle to make a film on little money and less time.

"The hardest part is getting everyone together on the same day when you're not paying them," he said. "You're taking them away from their own lives."

For more information, visit eiofficial.com.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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