“Borley Rectory: The Most Haunted House in England” is an upcoming animated documentary that has attracted top names to star in it like Julian Sands, Reece Shearsmith and Jonathon Rigby. Spooky Isles talks to writer/director Ashley Thorpe about his eagerly-awaited project.
SPOOKY ISLES: Borley Rectory is well-known to fans of the paranormal – but for those less familiar with this iconic “haunted house” – can you tell us a bit about it?
ASHLEY THORPE: Borley Rectory was a gothic-style Victorian mansion erected by the Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull in 1863 to house the local priesthood. Pretty much from its creation Bull recorded curious supernatural phenomena and indeed became so enamoured by the locales seeming infestation of ghosts that he erected a summerhouse wherein he could watch them. His daughters recorded seeing what they believed to be a ghost of a nun close to the house and from then on a legend grew regarding doomed lovers and a nun bricked up within the walls. The rectory continued to be a source of strange phenomena. Bull went so far as to brick up a dining room window due to being terrified at meals by the nun staring in through the window at them! Stories of other phenomena persisted including sightings of a coach and horses drawn by a headless coachmen. The phenomena continued throughout his son’s occupation and on into the Rev Smiths housing there. The Rev Smith’s wife found the skull of a woman hidden within the library and shortly thereafter the servants reported ringing bells at curious hours, lights appearing in windows without explanation and strange footsteps in empty halls. A journalist for the Daily Mirror (to be portrayed by Reece Shearsmith) called V C Wall heard tales of the haunting and broke the story in a piece published June 1929. He then contacted renowned paranormal investigator Harry Price (confirmed tonight to be portrayed by Jonathon Rigby) who investigated, found, perhaps fabricated a wealth of phenomena and after extensive investigations and a number of books helped turn Borley Rectory into the legend it is today. A seance was held trying to divine the identity of the doomed nun and a message was received from another spirit that the Rectory would burn and that proof of the nuns murder would be found in the ruins. Borley Rectory burned down in 1939 and was demolished in 1944.
SPOOKY ISLES: Borley Rectory is a fantastically spooky story on so many levels – that’s why it is going to be such a great film! Tell us about your production plans.
ASHLEY THORPE: “Borley Rectory: The Most Haunted House in England” is to be an animated documentary detailing the essential aspects of the story. It was a story that I discovered via the Usborne Book of Ghosts as a kid and it always stayed with me. The story of Borley is so densely layered, so convoluted with such a richness of reportage and recollection that there’s no way you could do the story justice with a short film. You’d need an HBO series at least! But I’m hoping that I can create at least an insight into the essential elements of the story cast across 60 years or so and evoke both the eras and also what it is that makes the story so extraordinary and fascinating after all this time.Visually it’s going to be a love letter to my passion for spirit photography. I love ghost photographs. Not just because of the subject but because they are often textually very beautiful images, especially the vintage ones. So it’s going to a black and white piece, a very textual evocation of that age and those fascinations and hopefully evoke that sense of ‘loneliness’, that sadness and sense of longing that ghost stories tend to evoke. We have a narration by Julian Sands, a score by Steven Severin and a cast so far boasting Reece Shearsmith and Jonathan Rigby, so I’m very, very excited about it. It’s very much a love letter to all my enthusiasms.
SPOOKY ISLES: Considering Borley Rectory is one of the most legendary and iconic haunted house tales, we haven’t seen many films about it, so it’s fantastic that you are doing what you are doing. But how are you going to make the experience truly memorable?
ASHLEY THORPE: Well, I think the concept of doing an animated documentary for a start. It was only actually when people came back to me to say – ‘Wait… an animated documentary? How the f*** does that work?”. And you know I didn’t even register. It felt like a completely natural thing; to try and tell a story via my own style. It seemed like the natural form. I use a lot of rotoscope animation which I always feel is like a blend of art and reality, ideally suited to stories about myths, that dance between fact and fiction. The story of Borley Rectory is replete with myth, exaggeration and contradiction so to use my style to tell this story seemed totally natural. I want essentially to capture the romance of the story rather than reveal any truth. This is going to be an ultrasound of a haunting, watching a legend grow.
SPOOKY ISLES: What is it about Borley that keeps people interested almost 80 years on?
ASHLEY THORPE: It’s the mystery, it’s the story. I spoke with Stephen Volk about this for the campaign. Sometimes the story is so great people don’t want the truth to get in the way of a good yarn. Borley Rectory a tale full of great gothic archetypes: the doomed lovers, nuns bricked up in the walls, headless coachmen etc etc. Great stuff. It’s the Prince of haunted house tales.
SPOOKY ISLES: I agree, Borley Rectory is the archetypal haunted house with something for everyone. I’m really excited about your animated doco. As this is an independent production, your raising funding through crowd sourcing. Tell us about that and how people can help see Borley Rectory reach their screens.
ASHLEY THORPE: I didn’t want to just launch something that just offered out a cap to throw pennies in. I feel awkward ‘pitching’ at the horror audience, I didn’t want to hustle that audience because I am that audience! I really wanted the campaign to function like a special features package on a Blu-Ray or something, feel like we’re genuinely involved, wherein the updates wouldn’t be just more pleas for money it would be more material, more content talking about or around the subject and getting the audience excited about the subject. Besides, I love film making and animation is such a solitary thing whereas my Fangoria work has really developed my hunger to talk to people about the subjects that excite them. So with ‘Borley Rectory‘ we have the best of both worlds: An obsessionally-detailed animation that will be rendered with love over nine months and these very spontaneous expressions of excitement about ghosts and what-not from some of the most fantastic faces in the field. I spent a lot of time subsequently coming up with rewards. The idea of doing a limited edition vinyl of the soundtrack was Steven’s idea. I was playing around with some poster ideas and for fun did a mock up of what an old LP would look like if this film had come out during the ’70s and Steven absolutely loved it and instantly suggested that we should make a vinyl as a reward for backers. Something really special. A genuine labour of love. So we’re getting a very limited amount pressed and each record will be signed by Steven, our narrator Julian Sands and myself… but don’t let that put you off. Reece has a rabid fanbase and has really enlivened the project. We’re offering signed posters / DVD’s etc , stuff signed by Reece , Julian and a great perk for the high end supporters wherein you’ll get a call of thanks from Julian Sands for supporting the film. Help us raise a few ghosts. You won’t regret it!
You can find out more about Borley Rectory and how you can support the film and get some of the fantastic goodies as part of the crowd-sourcing project here.