It’s been eight years since Charlestown-bred filmmaker Johnny Hickey brought the OxyContin epidemic to America’s attention with “Oxy Morons.”
Based on his life, trials, and near-death experiences in the nascent throes of the opioid crisis, the film was a gut-wrenching wakeup call to anybody who at that point hadn’t come to understand the dangers of prescription painkillers and heroin.
For his second feature film,”Habitual,” which opens at Showcase Cinema de Lux theaters in Revere, Foxboro, and Lowell this Friday, Hickey kept the theme in his macabre wheelhouse, but also dove much deeper into horror territory in order to capture the nightmare of the current fentanyl scourge.
“I wanted my second feature to be in the world of the drug epidemic, but I didn’t want it to be a true event movie [like Oxy Morons],” Hickey told the Metro on a call from Los Angeles, where he was headed to his final post-production screening of Habitual before returning to Mass for this week’s premiere party at Patriot Place.
“There’s always been bad drugs, and you’ve always heard of bad trips—that can happen with acid, ecstasy, anything,” Hickey said. “Typically people didn’t die from the drug itself in my time, but now you have fentanyl and you don’t know what you’re doing. You might think you’re doing cocaine, and you don’t really know what you are doing. Some people want the fentanyl because they want to be that high, but the real underlying message in the movie is that drugs are always going to be here whether you like it or not, and more than ever young people around the world need to think twice before taking them.”
Anti-drug bona fides aside, “Habitual” is no after-school special. The movie is a bloodbath highlighted with intense special effects and some seriously horrifying backdrops. Hickey’s crew was able to film at the abandoned Westborough State Hospital (once known as the Westborough Insane Hospital), as well as in a comparably creepy building on the grounds of Tewksbury State Hospital.
“It was 18 degrees out and there was no power,” Hickey says of Tewksbury. “We were limited to what we could do there, but the energy was wild. A ghost didn’t walk by or anything like that, but you could feel something.”
To fill those settings, Hickey said he “brought in a group of characters who were believable—not a stereotypical group of kids who get killed in a horror movie.” For authenticity, he relied on actors including Boston rapper and radio personality Stiz Grimey, his daughter Jaylee Hickey, and a host of MTV stars including Chris “C.T.” Tamburello, who Hickey grew up with in Charlestown.
“Having one of my childhood best friends in it with me makes all of this that much more real,” Hickey said. “This is a Massachusetts movie. It’s going to go out to the world pretty soon, but for all of these reasons, I really had to share it with the Boston crowd first.”
Chris Faraone is the editorial director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, where he works with Johnny Hickey on the F.I.G.H.T. Opiates program. To donate or learn more about their videos visit binjonline.org.