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'First Purge' director Gerard McMurray finds the Buffalo vibe perfect for filming

It was a vintage ballpark that originally attracted Hollywood to Buffalo to film “The Natural.”

“Marshall” was drawn here by our vintage 1930s and ‘40s architecture.

For the filmmakers behind “The First Purge,” the initial appeal was the Buffalo vibe – the smell of Cheerios was an unexpected bonus.

“The look, the feel and the vibe of the city worked for the film,” director Gerard McMurray said about his new movie, “The First Purge” which was filmed here in 2017 and premieres Tuesday at area theaters including the North Park Theatre, where T-shirts and hats from the movie will be part of a special giveaway.

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Buffalo’s role in the film was to stand in for Staten Island and McMurray said our city played its part perfectly.

“Buffalo had to replicate Staten Island and it did. Buffalo tapped into a sense of Staten Island that worked to tell the story,” he said. “The locations were fantastic. All the nooks and crannies we found –they were spot on and helped me tell the story I wanted to tell.”

One such location can be called the “Cheerios location” – the area around the General Mills plant on the Buffalo River on South Michigan Avenue.

“We shot a lot of scary stuff by the Cheerios,” he said. ”It felt real and authentic and isolated like it could really happen in the place.”

McMurray laughed when recalling the first time the crew caught the unlikely aroma of Cheerios. “The smell – they smelled so good. We smelled Cheerios at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and it kept me up,” he said.

The Marine Drive Apartments can be seen behind actress Lex Scott Davis in a scene from "The First Purge."(Universal)

The crew filmed in many locations throughout the area including downtown Buffalo, the interior of One Seneca Tower, the Marine Drive Apartments, Perry Projects, in Kaisertown (the Peter Machnica Community Center) and on the West Side.

"The First Purge," the fourth film in the popular horror franchise, is a prequel that sets in motion the events that led to the creation of the purge of the title – the 12 hours during which all crime is legal. It is again written by James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the first three films.

The original 2013 movie, starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, was made for only $3 million and earned a surprising $65 million at the box office, spawning the sequels “The Purge: Anarchy” (2014) and “The Purge: Election Year” (2016).

This official poster for "The First Purge" features a street scene near West Ferry and Grant.

McMurray, who previously directed "Burning Sands" and was an associated producer on the acclaimed drama "Fruitvale Station," said he fell in love with the material immediately after being approached to direct the film by Blumhouse Productions. “I thought it would be fun and a way to tell a cool story in a genre piece without being too heavy handed,” he said.

Fun is not the first word that comes to mind when discussing any of "The Purge" films, but McMurray used it repeatedly throughout our phone interview. "I want people to go and enjoy the film, just go and have fun," he said, sharing some of the elements fans enjoy about "The Purge" movies.

“People like the action, the cool masks, the jump scares. And they really like the horror of it, the political commentary. It seems relevant now and people like that. With my film in particular, we have great music, a great cast. It’s culturally significant for the times we live in now.

“I was always into the idea of ‘The Purge’ and its concept of how the horror genre deals with our real world. That is important. Sometimes horror takes real life and turns it into boogeyman, a metaphor for life and telling the story.”

While he was here he was sure to explores the sights - and tastes - of the city. "I definitely had a lot of Buffalo wings," he laughed. " I would take time out on the weekend to explore and also get a feel of the people and the vibe as I was casting."

He said he was thrilled with the reception the production was given from Mayor Byron Brown and the community. “They opened the city to for us," he said. "The community was supportive; they came through and let me do what I wanted to do to make the film special.

“I would go back to Buffalo any time, any day for any film.”

"The Purge"

Opens July 3 with evening shows followed by a wide release on July 4. Starring Y'Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade and Marisa Tomei. 97 minutes. Rated R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.

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