A few days ago I noticed an Indiegogo fundraising campaign for a film about Borley Rectory. I was surprised because we have just had one by Ashley Thorpe called Borley Rectory, released by his Carrion Films (yes, very good) in June this year. I haven’t seen it yet but I know it is receiving very positive publicity, and considerable acclamation at festivals. Thorpe also sought finance via Indiegogo and managed to raise 330% of his original requirement.
The Haunting of Borley Rectory on the other hand is being produced by Steven M Smith, an Essex lad who seems best known for cheaply-made films, mostly horror. According to his Internet Movie Database (IMDB) page, “He grew up in Wickford, Essex attending Beauchamps Comprehensive school where is (sic) wrote, produced and directed his first film a media project entitled "Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide". It was a cheap-looking horror flick and never (sic) been released. His first film debut (sic) was "Time Of Her Life" and was shown at the Cannes film festival in 2005. He is currently working on several new projects and his wife is expecting their first child. He still lives in Wickford, Essex today.” This is not inspiring confidence.
Smith’s Indiegogo fundraising goal is a very modest $5,000, which at the time of writing had reached less than a tenth of the required total. Amusingly, the headings for the explanation of the film’s aims are done in a style reminiscent of the wall writings at Borley. Presumably he is unaware Thorpe has beaten him to the punch because the page claims:
“This infamous and chilling location in Essex, has fascinated me since childhood. I want to be the first to bring this story of mystery, intrigue and seduction to life on screen in my own unique storyline that will cross timelines … Located in a remote part of Victorian England and isolated from any nearby community [actually Borley is about a mile from Long Melford and less than four miles from Sudbury], Borley Rectory was a Gothic-style mansion with a long history of death, murder and the supernatural. Though famed as the most haunted house in England, this is a tale that – incredibly – has never before been told on film in its true account.”
Too late to be first I’m afraid, though perhaps Smith considers Thorpe’s effort to be untruthful compared to his own attempts to achieve stringent accuracy as he sees it, even if that involves crossing timelines. Perhaps he was writing before Thorpe’s effort appeared and just hasn’t got round to updating his pitch. Despite the impression given on the Indiegogo page, this is not a new project. Smith posted a call for unpaid actors on Stage 32 (a website for those working in film, television and theatre) job board in 2012, though at that point the title was a simple Borley.
Smith runs Greenway Entertainment, registered in Wickford, but the Borley film, while listed on the Greenway website among dire-sounding horror titles, is being made by Divinity Pictures,
“created to produce unique and powerful stories that have never been told before. The story of Borley is well known by many, and we are committed to telling it as accurately and truthfully as possible, but with a approach (sic) that is budget restrictive” (a euphemism for ultra-cheap).
I don’t think Divinity Pictures has any footprint apart from this reference, and strongly suspect this is not going to be a film on the scale of Thorpe’s labour of love. The Indiegogo page claims that 80% of the required funding has already been achieved (and further that distribution deals are already in place), despite the small sum so far pledged; the appeal is more to “to support the film and give opportunities for fans to get involved”, a kind gesture by the filmmakers. Naturally there are a number of perks on offer depending on the size of the donation, none of which at the time of writing had been taken up. The list of items requiring extra funding makes startling reading:
Creature Make Up.
Gore? Creature design and make-up? Some of these items are so basic you wonder what the film will look like if the Indiegogo fundraising fails. Contingency cashflow for example doesn’t sound like an optional extra. There may not yet be much money for locations and costumes, but in true Roger Corman style there is a basic poster.
What makes Smith’s film particularly interesting is that, in true exploitation movie fashion, he has taken advantage of two hooks, each attractive to punters but which together he might expect to achieve synergy and thereby do even better box office: Borley and Ed and Lorraine Warren. Here is what the Indiegogo page says:
“The Haunting Of Borley Rectory is one of the best known Ghost (random cap in original) stories of the United Kingdom. Ed and Lorraine Warren (The Conjuring) visited Borley on many occasions fascinated by the story. Our film will be a fresh and original take on the ghost story.”
The Warrens? Ye gods. The page includes part of an interview with the Warrens about Borley, which they claimed to have visited over two dozen times. It’s a curious interview, with Lorraine doing most of the talking but not really saying much of substance. She refers to the church but not the rectory, so it is unclear how the Warrens will fit into a film which according to the title involves the rectory (by crossing timelines perhaps).
Despite the lack of enthusiasm by potential backers it’s full steam ahead on pre-production. The Indiegogo page claims “We are currently in talks with an array of exciting, A-list talent to bring this story to life.” So far the page lists Smith as writer/producer/director (the film’s Facebook page currently shows Anthony Hickox as director, but then it has a release date of 2016, so presumably is out of date); Jon-Paul Gates as actor/producer; Elizabeth Saint (in real life a paranormal investigator among other things) as actor; and Hans Hernke as actor/executive producer. The film’s IMDB page has a busy Mark Behar as co-writer/contributing producer/actor/production manager/second unit director (they have a second unit?) and ‘deadly weapons props handler’; Smith himself as actor, and Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers as Lionel Foyster (looking at his photo it is hard to tell them apart). The IMDB page has a different poster: a bloody hand sticking out of the ground in front of a burning Borley Rectory, and a note that filming begins in September, presumably 2017 as the page was last updated in May this year.
I can’t see any exciting A-list talent among that lot but I expect those so far involved will be supplemented by the A-listers when they have been signed up. Intriguingly, a brochure published for the 2014 Cannes film festival by UK Film lists Smith’s Borley project with Julian Sands and Dan McSherry in the cast. Presumably Sands, who if not an A-lister is at least someone you’ve heard of, jumped ship when Thorpe’s Borley film came along as he is not now associated with Smith’s version, having acted in Thorpe’s. McSherry (a University of Cambridge graduate I see) seems to have left as well, and the film is not listed in his IMDB filmography, though he is credited as associate producer on Smith’s Haunted 2: Apparitions, scheduled for release next year.
As far as The Haunting of Borley Rectory is concerned, according to the Indiegogo page there will be filming next year, with a release date of November 2018. I’ll be keeping an eye on developments, and hoping it is better than it sounds. I’ll certainly be giving the opportunity to invest a miss. The reference to the Warrens does not bode well, but they may disappear from the film, partly because Smith might otherwise find himself involved in litigation with Lorraine, and partly because it would be hard to place them at the rectory when they visited Borley decades after its destruction, crossed timelines notwithstanding. Whatever form it takes, it is doubtful Ashley Thorpe will be losing sleep over the competition, and to be fair I suspect Smith couldn’t care less.