Della Farrant, the widow of legendary British occultist and paranormal investigator David Farrant, reviews the new Discovery Channel documentary The Curse of The Highgate Vampire, exclusively for the Spooky Isles…
This case has a misleading name because it can either refer to a fictional vampire presented as fact by its creator, Sean Manchester, or to a ghostly entity which has haunted Swains Lane in Highgate for many years.
For context, David Farrant, who died in 2019 was, my husband and is the main focus of the documentary. David saw the entity in 1969 and, although he went on to investigate hundreds of other cases as President of the British Psychic and Occult Society, it was this case which retained his curiosity until his passing.
The Curse of The Highgate Vampire became available to stream on Discovery+ on 29 October – and the responses across social media so far aren’t great. People who have been waiting years for this case to get a big budget treatment seem to feel patronised and let down. And those who had never heard of it want 40 minutes of their life back. So, what went wrong? And are there any good bits?
David Farrant was a controversial figure, but looking at Twitter and Facebook I can see that even some peeps who were antipathetic to him have been expressing their disgust at the tacky way his death has been exploited by the Discovery Channel for ratings.
The Curse of Highgate Cemetery, full of low moments
“The Curse…” predictably inserts a bunch of amateur investigators – ‘paranormal thrill seekers’, as they describe themselves – into the storyboard, using footage from 2020 filmed illicitly at night in Highgate Cemetery.
Amongst the default screaming and swearing they claim to hear the name David. Although this is not remotely audible the audience are primed to hear it. The crew conclude that David Farrant wants them to continue his investigation into the Highgate entity, because unlike them he didn’t know (with his 50 years of non-screaming paranormal research experience) how to ‘Get rid of “it”’.
In the original YouTube footage, the team repeatedly call out to ‘Scary Dave’ hoping to get a response which is just as insulting to the deceased as it is to the bereaved. It is just sad really. So sad. I was told by the director Andy Robbins that ‘Alex Paranormal’ et al had never Googled the history of the cemetery prior to their visit and therefore had never heard of David Farrant. MMmmmkkkk.
Pretending that someone who died just two and half years ago is trapped in some ghostly existence, and that audio and visual evidence exists which ‘proves’ this is simply not on. How low can you go? If Alex et al were that confident, why didn’t they contact me directly instead of putting it on YouTube?
As to how this silliness ended up on television – the sad reality is that paranormal programming schedules are heavily saturated with contrived footage of amateur investigators shouting, waving around high-tech gadgets and endlessly replaying dubious EVPs and specks of dust and moths caught on night vision cameras. That’s what the execs in board rooms think people like you want to pay to watch.
People like you – who read The Spooky Isles and maybe the Fortean Times, who visit haunted locations, who read books. Who understand that not every alleged supernatural occurrence is ‘bone-chilling!’ or ‘terrifying!’? Who don’t demand irrefutable evidence (it would be nice though)? Who have even, perhaps, had unexplained (and unscripted) experiences of their own?
Towards the end we also learn from the show that the David Farrant Gravy Train no longer follows the ley line to Highgate Wood where David practised High Magic but to Queens Wood where he did not practice any magic at all. Here we see a portion of a staged rite dedicated to Hecate – a deity who David had no interest in even in his pre-1982 Wiccan days.
The amateur investigators then turn up and it gets even more vague. Were the people in black in Queens Wood meant to represent Satanists in Highgate Cemetery? Who knows? By this point the viewer is lost in a psychogeographical jumble sale with no David Farrant or Highgate Vampire in sight. Indeed, medium Clare can’t see a thing despite her psychic ability. She’s in good company.
Producers get formula wrong, patronise audience
It is a real shame that 2021 interviews with two of David’s friends from the 1960s and also that of an extremely experienced spirit release medium who was asked to visit Highgate Cemetery in August ended up on the cutting room floor. In my opinion the channel has got the formula wrong.
Either that or the general public are so used to being duped that they largely no longer bother to challenge insults to their intelligence. It is a sad state of affairs when even the Highgate Vampire, that old stalwart of homegrown British supernatural lore is seemingly powerless against the extreme dumbing down of modern paranormal broadcasting standards.
But there are some good bits! David’s unseen interview from 2007 is pretty intense and relatable. Do look out for the interview with Sam Perrin – a Highgate Cemetery volunteer who had an unusual experience near the North Gate. Dave Milner gives an authentic insight into his friendship with and private thoughts about David. I liked the camera work and the drone footage of Highgate Village, that was great. And the exposés about Sean Manchester’s online behaviours. And the bit where replete with frilly nylon shirt he pulls out a 3ft stake on a train, calls it a ‘whopper’, and still expects people to take him seriously. I suppose it could have been worse.
The bottom line – don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed. You won’t learn a lot about sightings of the ghost – when, where, what it looks like, who saw it etc, because the show largely forgot those bits. But that’s all out there elsewhere inc. in books. Just please, please don’t surrender to the notion that this is this really the best that the Highgate ghost, and you as a paranormal ‘consumer’, deserve.
Readers who wish to learn more about David Farrant and the entity which became known as the Highgate Vampire are welcome to visit https://www.davidfarrant.org.
David Farrant Articles on Spooky Isles
- David Farrant Obituary by Patsy Sorenti
- Videos from Spooky Isles hosted Highgate Vampire Night in 2013 with David Farrant
- Haunted Places to Visit in Highgate by David Farrant
- Other David Farrant articles on Spooky Isles