Makers of spooky films find Craigdarroch Castle has screen presence

When Norwegian film producer Patrick Bensen moved to Victoria three years ago and began asking locals, “What’s spooky around here?” he was struck by how often Craigdarroch Castle came up.

After consulting with paranormal investigators and learning more about Victoria’s haunted history, Bensen and his partners became so intrigued they decided to build a feature film around it.

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“We decided to create a unique story, backed up by evidence from real cases,” said Bensen, explaining the origins of The Castle, the working title of their “reinvention” of the paranormal thriller.

Bensen’s collaborators include executive producer Michael Porter, whose recent credits include executive producer of Atom Egoyan’s upcoming Remember and co-producing director Roger Spottiswoode’s Midnight Sun.

Their film, about the spooky experiences of eight young adults haunted by a mystifying spirit, will never be mistaken for genre hits such as the Paranormal Activity films, Bensen said.

“We’ve come up with something audiences haven’t seen in a long time,” said the Alpha Film Productions founder, whose projects include the documentary Finding Identity and the short film The Adventure Board.

“We’ve revamped something that shouldn’t be forgotten, something both old and new,” Bensen said.

“Instead of horror films that are now mainly bloody, and zombie movies, this will be more like Hitchcock.”

Andrea Bailey, founder of Unearthing Shadows Paranormal, said she became involved because she was impressed by the filmmakers’ willingness to listen to real accounts of paranormal occurrences.

“I’m a pretty level-headed researcher and we try to get factual evidence,” said Bailey, whose group investigates and documents evidence of paranormal phenomena.

“A lot of people have taken old wives’ tales about hauntings and run with it, but we’re very honest about what we do.”

Bailey said there are a lot of misconceptions about paranormal activity and investigations and the feature could help to dispel them.

While the screenplay is still in development, the film’s premise will put a unique spin on the classic formula in which several strangers are invited to spend a night as guests at a spooky location, where strange things happen.

The eccentric guests are greeted by Randal McRay, the elderly British caretaker of Craigdarroch Castle, which is featured in the film.

After McRay, the last surviving member of his cursed family, reveals that his guests are all descendants themselves, they have just 12 hours to get out of the castle alive by solving ancient riddles.

The screenplay was inspired by Craigdarroch Castle itself, with support from its executive director, John Hughes, and his staff.

“We’ve been in conversations with them for a while and we’re meeting next week to sign contracts,” said Hughes. The main staircase, library, dining room and other areas would be used, he added.

A demo trailer has been posted to the production company’s page for its IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign launched by Bensen and production partner Maria Isabel Bances.

“It’s interesting that they’re writing for the space rather than the space fitting the script,” said Hughes, who has just finished hosting crews for another spooky thriller.

Filming recently wrapped at the castle on scenes for The Boy, Lakeshore Entertainment’s psychological thriller starring Lauren Cohan, Diana Hardcastle and Jim Norton.

“It was one of the biggest productions here from my perspective,” Hughes recalled. “There were 50 people working here with a ton of gear, a really good crew.”

The historical museum doubled as part of a spooky English country manor where weirdness ensues after a nanny arrives to care for an eccentric elderly couple’s son.

“They had the run of the castle,” Hughes said, adding crews erected false walls “to transition between us and [scenes filmed at] Hatley Castle.”

Craigdarroch Castle is a popular location for producers of films and television shows with supernatural themes, including Spooky House and Spooksville.

What differentiates the project Bensen and his partners are trying to get off the ground is “we want to use only 100 per cent Victoria or Canadian people, to show we have enough talent here to do this.”

Porter said one of his “pet peeves” is how Victoria is often passed off as other locations. It’s a situation the partners are determined to reverse.

“We want to say high and loud that we are in Victoria, B.C. It’s not set in California or Scotland or Paris,” Bensen said.

Victoria film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert said she will do whatever she can to support it.

“We want to encourage and promote local independent productions as much as we can, because you just don’t know where the next Steven Spielberg is coming from,” she said.

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