A GHOSTLY AFFAIR

In 2005 academic Mark Spencer and his wife buy a beautiful mansion in Monticello, Arkansas, only to discover its dark history.  A socialite jilted by her lover committed suicide there over half a century ago, and now haunts the house.

When Mark Spencer finds the long-hidden love letters between Ladell Allen Bonner and her secret lover Prentiss Hemingway Savage, he uncovers the story of a hidden love affair that dates back to 1948.

“There, scattered, are all these letters.  And these letters are addressed to Ladell.  I thought these letters that I held in my hands, were possibly the answer to that mystery, that question: why did Ladell die?”

Mark Spencer

For director James Bryce, this treasure trove of historical documents proved invaluable –

not just as the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the house’s hauntings, but also as an unparalleled insight into the characters of the real people whose spirits now haunt the Spencers’ house.

Says James: “It’s exceptional to have such intimate knowledge of the lives and motivations of the spirit characters in Paranormal Witness.  We usually have clues, historical documents, stories handed down.  But this cache of letters really is remarkable.  They reveal a heart-breaking story – over the course of 83 letters, we see a romance blossom, wither, and end in tragedy.”

The Allen Mansion was built in 1906 by a wealthy bank president called Joe Lee Allen for his wife and their three daughters: Lonnie, Lewie and Ladell. 

A dazzling socialite, Ladell was famously the most beautiful daughter, and her story would prove to be the most interesting and ultimately, tragic.

Prentiss Hemingway Savage grew up in Monticello and had met Ladell when they were both teenagers in Monticello in 1913.  They dated, but they didn’t stay together.  They both then married other people.

 But in March 1948, 35 years after their first romance, Prentiss visits Monticello and comes back to the Allen House to see Ladell – now divorced, taking care of her ailing mother, Caddie, and grieving over the death of her only son.

They immediately fall in love, even though Prentiss is still married.

In one of his letters Prentiss writes:

“I don’t know why I should be worrying about when or how you write me so long as you want to.  Typewritten envelopes are not noticed by anyone so hereafter write me when you wish and don’t wait so long darling.  Your letters are the next best thing to being with you and I love to get them.”

Time passes and we see, from the letters, how Prentiss’ love grows:

“Yes, I hate that thought of seeing someone and then having to say goodbye.  It’s awful some times and I dread it, but we better look forward to the pleasures and maybe the thoughts of saying goodbye won’t be so ever-present in our minds.”

In his letters he talks about Ladell tending her rose bushes and how fond they both are of gardening.

“Yes honey, I guess you are a better gardener than I am because my roses are not even started yet, but I have uncovered them and they are not dead and that is something.”

Prentiss promises to leave his wife – things seem to be perfect:

“These last five days will live in my memory always as the happiest ones in my entire life… I love you.  Don’t ever forget I’m thinking of you always.”

But then something goes wrong with the affair. Prentiss seems to get cold feet about leaving his wife.  His letters change in tone over the months and they became less frequent.  He becomes cold and distant.

“It is so easy for someone to say just go ahead and do so and so but when it comes to doing it one finds it much more difficult, and especially if there are some other things to get settled that you just can’t seem to settle.  It is hard for me to write you just what I mean.

I am not in much of a mood to write today because I have this problem on my mind and I want to try and settle it soon, and so if my letters don’t sound like you would like to have them, please overlook it for the time being.”

Previously, Prentiss had written that he would ‘surely’ be in Monticello for the holidays.  But, reading the letters, it seemed increasingly unlikely that he would come to Ladell’s mother’s famous annual Christmas party.

“The way things are now I do not believe I had best try and go to Monticello during the holiday because this would complicate things.”

Prentiss Hemingway Savage didn’t come to Monticello for the Christmas holidays in 1948, and Mark Spencer believes that might have tipped Ladell over the edge.  She had pinned her future on the return of her childhood sweetheart.  She was a divorced 54-year-old who’d lost her son, her marriage, and was caring for her ailing mother.  Prentiss was her only hope for a fresh start.

Prentiss’ letters stopped – the rest is silence.

Ladell’s death certificate states that she was admitted to hospital in the early hours of 26th December 1948, and she died on January 2nd 1949, from mercury cyanide poisoning.  She’d taken her own life.  It must have been a prolonged and agonizing death – Mercury Cyanide, unlike the more famous Potassium Cyanide, takes a long and gruesome course through the body before causing death.

James continues: “Writing this script I felt very lucky to have access to so much intimate information about the real people who inhabited this house in the past.  Although we did not have time to use as many of them as I’d have liked, or to tell the whole story of the doomed affair, the letters really gave the ghostly characters an emotional, three-dimensional back-story.

It also meant the film became a kind of detective tale – I could plant clues which would lead to the ultimate explanation of who was haunting the property and why, making sense of the series of seemingly unconnected paranormal events that plagued the Spencers and their friends.

For example: early in the story the gramophone mysteriously plays on its own, then later we hear it echoed in the ethereal music from the Christmas party from 1948.  Bronte hears the sound of ice cubes – they resonate across time from the drink Ladell takes to her room to wash down the mercury cyanide tablets.  And Prentiss’ correspondence about their respective rose bushes becomes symbolic of their blossoming love.  Then, when it goes wrong, Ladell destroys her rose bushes in a fit of rage and despair – and in the process, drops the lipstick which Mark and his kids will discover over sixty years later under the rose bed.  I also asked the Production Designer to include roses in the props and set dressing wherever possible – an attentive viewer will spot roses embroidered on chairs, bed covers, even a lampshade!”

The events in the house - and the fabric of the house itself – are seemingly caught in a repeating loop of the last moments of Ladell’s life at that fateful Christmas party.  The Spencers hope that by telling her story they can break this loop and, finally, give poor Ladell some peace.

RUNNING OVER GHOSTS

The House on the Lake tells the story of Mike Todd, a young man who buys a large, run-down mansion in Saranac Lake, New York to renovate it and rent to tenants.  As soon as Mike begins work on the property strange things begin to happen.  Working late into the night on his own he hears footsteps.  His drill goes missing, only to reappear in a room he hasn’t been in.  In the following weeks he sees a young girl and chases her into a closet, only for her to vanish.  Unable to explain his experiences Mike begins to let out the renovated apartments.  Before long unexplained phenomena and ghostly apparitions are haunting his tenants too.  Finally Mike will discover the mansion’s tragic past but not before the most terrifying encounter of all.

Mike and his girlfriend Nicole visit the property late at night to check on the state of an empty apartment.  The previous tenants had left in a hurry with little explanation.  Mike needs to find out why.  When the couple enter the apartment they are confronted with eerily empty rooms, the walls covered in crucifixes.

Nicole: There were four or five on each of the door casings.

Mike: There were crucifixes everywhere.

Nicole: It was like they were trying to keep something out…

As they look around the rooms, imagining the state of fear of the previous occupants, Nicole begins to feel terribly sick.  Overcome, she runs out of the apartment and into the car.

Nicole: I felt violated. Something had attacked me…


Mike rushes after her and the two drive away at speed.  But there is no escape – on the road leading away from the property there is a figure of a strange man and he is blocking their path.

Mike: It was darker than dark…it came towards the car.

Mike slams on the brakes but it’s too late.  They are going to hit the man at tremendous speed.  The couple brace themselves for the impact as the car hurtles on…

But just as they are about to hit him, the dark figure seems to disappear into mid-air.  Did they hit him?  Where is he?  Mike jumps out of the car to look.  There is no-one there.  The car is undamaged.  Mike checks the road.  There is no sign of anything.

Shooting this escape scene, director Julian Hart and the crew faced a real challenge – how could they make it look like the ghost was hit by a speeding car on a dark and bumpy country road?  First and foremost safety dictated the director’s approach.  Stunt Performers were not an option due to the huge time constraints imposed on setting up a complex stunt.  Many scenes needed to be shot that night and a single stunt shot could take four to five hours.  The problem was how to make the ghost actor, Michael Chwastiak, and the speeding car look like they were going to collide without them being in dangerously close proximity.

The solution: create a fake car.


The grips and lighting technicians assembled a thirty foot track, upon which they placed a camera dolly, essentially a cart with wheels upon which the director of photography, Chris Titus King, could sit and film the shot.  Lights were placed either side of the dolly to emulate the car’s headlights.  Once the fake car was assembled, the crew could push it towards Michael, with Chris shooting from the driver’s point-of-view, and everyone would be safe.  The fake car was also shot from behind the advancing ghost, with the lights out of focus behind him so as not to give away the trick.

Finally the moment of impact, when the ghost disappears, needed another filmic trick.  The camera was placed to the side of the road with Michael, the ghost, on the far left of frame.  The shot required the car to be parked up to his legs and then reversed away from him.  Finally Michael was removed from the shot and the car was filmed hurtling forward through the frame at speed.  By splicing these separate elements together the editor could reverse the movement of the car making it look like it was about to hit the ghost and then remove the ghost as the car zoomed through the space where the ghost had stood.

The elements still took a few hours to film, and once cut together they are over in a matter of seconds.  But we hope the results are 100% convincing!

BEHIND THE SCENES OF ‘THE LYNCHVILLE SECRET’

“There’s a secret here… I’m scared.” - Tonya Kimble

‘The Lynchville Secret’ tells the story of a single mom’s battle with paranormal forces in her new home and her efforts to find out why they are there.


From the moment Tonya Kimble’s family moved into their dream home, strange things start to occur.  At first Tonya dismisses them but the incidents continue to arise: paint thrown across a room, the family locked out with no explanation, footsteps and voices that seem to have no earthly justification whatsoever.  When she starts seeing a presence, Tonya cannot ignore it any longer and starts an investigation into what is haunting her family in their home.  The more Tonya investigates, the worse the activity gets.  Something does not want her to find out what happened in their home.

The final scene sees Tonya piece her mystery together as a result of a violent incident.  We see Tonya, and her daughters Hailey and Michayla (‘KK’), describe the moment when she was attacked by an invisible presence.

Tonya Kimble:  “I feel like that I’m so close to solving this puzzle, things are coming together… Then all of a sudden something cuts off my airway.  I can’t breathe.  I’m being choked.”

Hayley Kimble:  “I saw my Mom being picked up and lifted and dragged across the room.  It was kinda like someone was picking her up.”

KK Kimble:  “I didn’t know what was going on.  She was touching her throat; her legs were barely on the floor.”

From the powerful, moving and emotional testimonies of Tonya and her two young daughters, Hailey and ‘KK’, the crew knew that recreating this experience for the screen would be an immense challenge.

The problem facing director Sebastian Smith was being able to craft a realistic-looking scene that depicts the emotion and significance of this incident, but also portrays something which defies all explanation.

 “It’s so important for Paranormal Witness to feel real and if we just had someone floating across a room it would just scream ‘FAKE!’”  Sebastian Smith, Director

To keep the scene grounded in reality it was decided that the stunt would be shot on location, rather than in a studio against green screen and then brought to life using visual effects.  Unfortunately, the confines of the room ruled out using wires and rigs that would usually be used to create such an effect.  So Max Macdonald, Special Effects Supervisor, was brought it to assist with all the practicalities.

Tonya Kimble:  “I was dragged from the couch.  I’m being pulled.  I can’t do anything, I can’t fight what I can’t see.”


The action starts with Tonya sitting on the couch and being lifted by the throat, so Max had to figure out a way of lifting the actress playing Tonya, Sarah Jean Hodkinson, from a sitting position; he hit upon the idea of using compressed air.  After customizing the couch by replacing the cushion with an inflatable airbag Max attached it to a cylinder of highly compressed air; on cue, the valve was opened and the pressurised air quickly filled the ‘new’ cushion, causing Sarah Jean to rise up from the couch.

Once in the air the next stage was to drag our Tonya over the back and slam her into a wall.  For this Max designed a custom rig that was small enough to fit in the confines of the house and yet strong enough to lift a person into the air and drag them around; he created an aptly named device called The Dragulator.


Essentially this was a seesaw on wheels; one end had a seat which Sarah Jean was strapped into, the other end was pushed down by some burly men. Once Sarah Jean was in the air they were able to drag her around to fit the action.  The Dragulator was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible but any parts of the apparatus that were visible were then removed in Post Production – hence the vivid green colour.

In early tests it was obvious that the seat design needed improvement and a simple modification to Sarah Jean’s shoes – felt patches on the heels to help them slide – meant things began to move along smoothly.

The scene needed to feel as violent and chaotic as possible.  With this in mind, Sebastian and director of photography Chris Titus King, decided to shoot the scene in a very frenetic hand-held style, deliberately
obscuring the action so the viewer’s mind filled in the blanks.  Glimpses of the action are seen rather than everything at once and this more documentary style would hopefully make the scene more realistic.

Much of the scene is witnessed by Tonya’s two daughters and by focusing on their reactions, seeing the action through their eyes, the experience should feel more real and ultimately scarier.  Most of the action would simply rely on some incredible physical acting by Sarah Jean Hodkinson who would literally have to act being choked.

The Dragulator assisted with the movement, but a lot of the scene is down to Sarah Jean’s acting as she enthusiastically throws herself around the room; overturning pictures and plants, breaking lamps and smashing glasses.

 

After a broken Tonya is smashed into a window and thrown to the ground by the malevolent spirit, she is in no doubt why she was attacked.

Tonya Kimble:  “Whatever had me was threatening me.  It’s gonna let me know that it can hurt me.  I’m so terrified.  If it can do it to me, what can it do to my daughters?”

The Lynchville Secret is a battle between a powerful spirit who will stop at nothing to protect his dark past and a mother who is willing to risk everything to protect her daughters.  There can be only one victor…

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE ‘SANTA MUERTE’ - THE HOLY DEATH


Santa Muerte – Spanish for “Saint Death”, or “Holy Death” – is a sacred grim reaper figure.  This renegade saint has been worshipped in Mexico for approximately half a century, although the cult is now spreading into the United States and Central America.


The image of the Santa Muerte
is a personification of death – a robed skeleton carrying a scythe and globe or scales.  Often depicted as a female saint or Goddess, she’s worshipped as a non-judgmental, some would say amoral, source of supernatural power.  Followers believe that if they perform the correct rituals and offer the proper sacrifices they can invoke her intervention.  More than half the prayers directed at her are thought to include appeals to harm other people via curses and death magic.  Santa Muerte followers are typically poor, uneducated, and superstitious individuals practicing a form of unsanctioned folk Catholicism.

A mixture of pre-Columbian Mexican reverence for death and Spanish Catholic beliefs, the veneration of Santa Muerte has been condemned by the Vatican as ‘blasphemous.  The president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, denounced the cult as a ‘degeneration of religion’.  The Catholic Church in Mexico states that Santa Muerte is an ‘idol’ and accuses devotees of mixing Christianity with Satanic practices.


Santa Muerte is popularly believed to be very powerful and to grant many favors.  Like images of Catholic saints, images of Santa Muerte are treated as holy and are thought to be able to give favors and perform miracles in return for the faith of the devotee.  Often called Señora de la Noche (“Lady of the Night”), she is petitioned by those exposed to the dangers of working at night – taxi-drivers, bar-workers, musicians, police and prostitutes.  Believers hope she will protect them from accidents, assaults, gun violence, and all types of violent death.

Santa Muerte has self-proclaimed priests, temples shrines, and many ritualized elements.  High priest Romo Guillén was arrested by Mexican authorities on kidnapping charges in December 2010.  In 2009 he called for a holy war against the Catholic Church.  During that same year, the Mexican army destroyed numerous Santa Muerte shrines.  Members of the Catholic Church and the army see the growth of this cult as a dangerous development.

Santa Muerte has always had a following among those who live in extreme circumstances as a “saint of last resort.” Mexico’s economic problems and rising crime do seem to have fuelled this “cult of crisis.”  The Mexican authorities report that the cult’s popularity has grown since the late 1980s and early 1990s, alongside the rise in illicit narcotics trafficking and gang culture in Mexico.

A sizeable minority of believers now follow a criminalized version of Santa Muerte worship, soaked in drug culture.  This more brutal variant has gained popularity among the criminal underclass in Mexico as drug-related violence has spread and intensified.  For most of the gangs’ foot soldiers a brutal death proves almost certain.  The reality of imminent mortality makes the worship of Santa Muerte all about the glorification of death and violence in the pursuit of immediate material rewards.  So prayers and sacrifices are offered up for essentials for instance: a dangerous reputation, fabulous riches, beautiful women, the death of an enemy, protection from harm, or the hope for a quick and glorious death.  With the stakes so high, the offerings to Santa Muerte have become more extreme.  Where traditionally plates of food, beer, and tobacco would suffice. Here bowls of blood—animal and human—are smeared on the religious icons, and on the devotees as part of a blood-pact.  In some instances, the heads of victims - and by association their souls - serve to invoke the most powerful divine intervention.

THE WOLF PACK

It’s a foggy night on the Labor Day weekend of 2006 and Shelley and Eric Martin are relaxing on the front porch of their remote cabin in Palmyra, Maine. They are scanning the woods behind their yard with a flashlight to see if any of the local deer are visiting to drink from the pond. But it’s quite…too quiet.

Abruptly, seasoned hunter Eric senses something is wrong. “We have to go inside now”, he says to his wife. Shelley is perplexed, annoyed. As Eric tries to bundle her to safety, Shelley shines the flashlight across the yard. She and Eric stop dead in their tracks.

There, illuminated by the torch beam, are three large wolf-like creatures, coming for them through the long grass. Suddenly a twig snaps over to the left. Shelley swings her torch around to see another huge, menacing creature. Before they have time to react, there is another noise – this time to the right. A swift sweep of the flashlight reveals a fifth, enormous lupine animal. Slowly, fearlessly, standing seven feet tall on its hind legs, the huge beast rises up to face them.

Director Will Bridges remembers:

The biggest challenge on The Wolf Pack was devising the wolf pack itself. How do you make a convincing “wolf-like creature” that has ‘glowing, almost florescent eyes”? And not just one – but five!

The answer turned out to be a crack team of costume and make-up wizards and some top physical performers.

Casting was interesting – asking groups of five grown me to crawl along the production office floor pretending to ‘prowl’ like a predatory animal. It showed us that finding our ‘pack’ was going to be more difficult than we’d thought.  There were a lot of giggles from the crew that day. I admit I was guilty of a few myself!

We played the idea of casting trained dancers or gymnasts to get the movement we wanted – we didn’t want our ferocious pack to just look like guys in wolf-suits.  The Martin family talked at length about the movement of the creatures they saw; they talked about how they could move just as easily on four legs as they did on two.

Luckily, once we found our main ‘wolf’, things began to fall into place.  Ian O’Brien turned up and blew us away with his audition.  He could move just like a creature!  I remember asking him in the audition how he came up with his wolf-like gait.  He described how he was thinking about moving like a lizard rather than a wolf – more upright with the arms tucked into the body.  I knew we had our guy.

In the end we used a mix of stunt men, gymnasts, tall extras, and our ‘hero wolf’ Ian.  I remember one take we did where we had just three of the wolves prowling slowly towards the house in full costume.  They were moving on all-fours as Ian had shown them.  It was night, very dark, very low lighting.  We had pumped mist into the air, it was very atmospheric – lots of great shadows.  There were quite a few crew watching the action on the monitor.  I called out, “Now come at us.  Fast as you can!”

They did. And it looked great.  I called, “Cut”… There was no giggling from the crew that time.

A SLAYING IN SLANESVILLE

Director Russell England talks about finding the solitary house in the woods that was the real setting for The Bad Man and how Paranormal Witness tracked down the story behind the haunting.

Set deep in the woods of West Virginia, The Bad Man is the chilling tale of how Belinda and her children are visited by the spirits of a little boy and girl.  The family eventually realizes that the ghostly children are there to warn them, and to try and save them from the evil clutches of a ghostly prowler.

Last October Interview Director Amy Lee-Jones and I traveled to Arizona to meet our primary witnesses for The Bad Man – Belinda Milburn and her daughter Blaire. They had previously lived in the small town of Slanesville in the Appalachian Mountains where the haunting had happened more than 20 years ago.

The interviews went very well with both Belinda and Blaire proving to be compelling witnesses.  However, the warmth and sun of Tucson felt a long way from the mountains of West Virginia.

While we were there we had a stroke of luck – Blaire called her father Brian Kendall who still lives in West Virginia.  Brian, along with Belinda’s sister-in-law Barbara Milburn, then agreed to be interviewed for the film and invited us to come up and take a tour of Slanesville with them.

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Slanesville actually used to be called ‘Dog Town,’ (because of the high canine population) and then ‘Slainsville’ (in honor of the local Slain family).

This already felt like a good portent for a horror film!

The name was misspelled along the way, and the new spelling stuck.

It takes just a couple of hours to drive from Washington DC to Slanesville, but it feels like entering another world.  It has a real small town feel – Brian refers to it affectionately as ‘hick.’

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The real Slanesville gas station and general store

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The location chosen for the drama filming

There’s a church, a fire station, the general store and gas station - and that’s pretty much it.  More houses are now being built as second-home owners and people attracted by the staggeringly beautiful landscape move in to the area.

With Brian as our guide, we soon found the ranch-style house that his family moved into in 1991, before abruptly leaving just months later.

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We approached the house with caution – stories of careless travelers being welcomed by the twin barrels of a shotgun were very much on our minds.  But we needn’t have worried as the combination of our British accents and Brian’s friendly West Virginian drawl soon seemed to put the current occupants at ease.

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In fact, Mr and Mrs Dickens were very welcoming and curious to hear about their house being the subject of a Paranormal Witness film.  Karol Dickens declared herself an avid fan of paranormal TV shows.  She had no idea of the history of the house.  Although when we told her our tale, she did profess to being aware of some spooky goings-on in the house!

Although West Virginia in the fall is exceptionally beautiful on a sunny day, we were starting to get a sense of the history that can sometimes remain hidden behind this landscape of trees, rivers and ravines. 

Barbara then led us to the small family graveyard in the trees which her sister-in-law, Belinda, came across soon after moving into the house. Belinda believes that the occupants of these graves could be the mysterious children that appeared to her and her daughter, Blaire.

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The backwoods of West Virginia contain other secrets too.  It was here that Brian told us of the local rumor of the slaying of a child-molester behind their old house.  Certainly, people have been said to ‘disappear’ in the endless woods of this sparsely-populated State.  Brian says that it’s known locally as Vigilante Justice.  One such story of a summary execution forms the dramatic climax to Brian and Belinda’s story.

Back at the graveyard, the sun was going down and the birds in the trees had fallen silent.  Amy and I looked around us in the gathering gloom.  All of a sudden the air felt chilly.  We hurried back to our hire-car, glad to be out of the woods of Slanesville, leaving the trees to their secrets.

Designing the Grim Reaper

“I’m in a room with my dying patient, alone, and something has entered the room. Not only can I feel it, but I can see it, and I’m afraid.” Hospice nurse Vickie Durst

Medical professionals frequently witness paranormal activity. Few talk about it.

The Hospital Haunting recounts events that occurred in hospitals across America between 1993 and the present day. All the witnesses tell a similar story – of a dark presence that visits patients at the point of death.

The design of the dark menacing shadow that stalks the corridors and operating theatres of the The Hospital Haunting presented the Paranormal Witness team with a number of challenges.

The first question was what are we designing here? According to Ron Koval, the Psychiatric Nursing Auxiliary, it was the Angel of Death.

Ron, who felt the dark shadow brush past him, is a Catholic, and it was the hospital priest that gave a name to the black shape that knocked the breath from him and caused him to choke almost to death.

Ron gave Paranormal Witness a pretty clear physical description of this black, towering mass. It was about seven feet tall. It moved quickly, and he felt it move through him.

Ron was not the only eyewitness providing testimony in The Hospital Haunting.

This was a dark, shadowy being, moving at will through the hospital. Something, in the words of EMT Mike Epp, like a ghost - but black.

Hospice nurse Vickie Durst also described a black shadow, one that seemed to move every time she turned - something wispy, ethereal and elusive.

This same dark shadow was seen by Tonya and her mother Priscilla Thompson, as they maintained a vigil by the bedside of the critically ill Derrell. Priscilla offered up her own conclusion - it was Death itself.

So, how do you design Death, the Grim Reaper?

Director Carl Hindmarch says, “Historically images of Death portray a skeleton in a hood, carrying a scythe. In the 21st century such a gettup is more likely to be seen in a spoof horror film, or a Halloween parade. What’s more, none of the eyewitness contributors made any mention of a man with a scythe.”

Carl sat down with the production team, and shared his vision for bringing to life a character as old as time itself, while remaining true to the eyewitness testimony. 

“First thing to go was the scythe and the hood. This left us with a shadowy black mass, moving, almost floating, at great speed.”

“All the eyewitnesses in The Hospital Haunting describe a physical presence. This is not just about the temperature changing, or catching sight of things out of the corner of your eye. This is something with weight and mass, a physical entity. It was important to have an actual presence in the room rather than relying on smoke and mirrors and CGI.”

Carl had seen the mummified bodies in the British Museum and felt that Death should have a skin and bone structure with a similar texture. “I also saw an exhibition of ace Canadian makeup artist Gordon Smith at the TiFF Light Box which was a profound inspiration. The X-Men characters wore their make-up and costume rather than it dominating them, and this was important to me when trying to bring Death to life on screen.”

Costume Designer Peter Olczak referenced the paintings of artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. “We drew inspiration from his use of shadows and the colors of decaying bones in his paintings. It played a big role of how we approached this creation.”

The challenge was casting someone to play the role. Luckily theatre actor and rock and roll singer Gerard Everard fitted the bill. Standing well over six feet tall Gerard had the physical presence and the movement skills to creep people out even at audition.

With Gerard as their canvas the team set about adding to his menacing appearance.

Peter along with assistant Alex Laderoute set about creating the structure with various materials including leather pieces, soft rubber hoses, metal chains and even bicycle inner tubes.

Peter Olczak and Gerard Everard

Then it was over to the makeup department.  Andrea Brown and Monik Walmsey added texture with latex, acrylic and spray-paint. Details of pointy finger nails and feathers were incorporated to help with movement and flow of the character. The final touch, and perhaps a nod in the direction of traditional depictions of the Grim Reaper, was an amazing skull mask created by L’Atelier Pirate.

Gerard Everard as Death

This collaboration took a total of 18 hours to make over multiple sessions.

 

Monik Walmsey with Death

Actor Gerrad Everard was such a treat with his awesome upbeat personality (and bladder control) as he was in the costume for many hours on end. He was a trooper!

Carl Hindmarch with Death