INTERVIEW: Ashley Thorpe, director of Borley Rectory
– By James Pemberton
I sat down with Ashley Thorpe for a brief chat about the making of his film BORLEY RECTORY after its world premiere at Grimmfest (Sunday 8th October, 2017)…
JP: First of all, Ashley, I liked the film. It was unique and certainly one of the more interesting films of this weekend. How did you get around to making BORLEY RECTORY? Obviously this is a passion project that you have been making for 6 years, but how did you get around to learning about the real life story itself?
AT: It was through the Usborne Book of Ghosts and it was that particular story that caught my imagination – and it never really went away. It had that title ‘the most haunted house in England’ with all these great Gothic archetypes of all the different types of ghosts and it was just like a great melting pot really of all the good stuff. It kind of stuck there lingering in the background for years until I was lost for what to do next. After doing a number of short films this just seemed like an obvious thing to do. I just kind of launched in head first really and it started off as a short, but then more people came on board and, with the quality of the cast, I started embellishing their parts really. Adding more and more parts pulled directly form Price’s book (Harry Price – famous paranormal investigator), and then it just grew and grew and became a feature.
JP: Going back to the filmic style of it, it reminded me very much of the old school horror, ghost stories of the 50’s, and also the work of Canadian director Guy Maddin, whose most recent film THE FORBIDDEN ROOM I was thinking of while watching BORLEY, as it had that lost footage feel, that the old footage shot had been discovered.
AT: Yeah, that’s the thing as he’s still doing it and it’s those kind of artists that fascinated me anyway. Like the Brothers Quay or Jan Svankmajer, these kind of characters who will take a subject and they will apply what ever they feel is the relevant style of film-making and the relevant techniques. As opposed to crushing the story into whatever the fashionable way of making something is. It would be really strange to make BORLEY RECTORY in the style of something like, I don’t know, like THE X FILES. It had to have that creeky, very old fashioned, eerie quality and I wanted to have really slow beats. To go back to those Laurence Gordon Clark Ghost Stories For Christmas style things from the 70’s, where everything would be leisurely paced and that the ghosts would either be glimpsed or you missed them, or you had been staring at one for the past 30 seconds at the back of the room, and that was the kind of thing I wanted to evoke.
JP: Was that the original intention for the style, as part of me thinks, even though I like the style of the film, this could be made into a portmanteau film with the history of the place and the many characters?
AT: You could. It kind of grew in an organic way and you could do a portmanteau film and it could lend itself in some ways to that. I think the story of Borley is so dense that you could easily do a HBO 13-part hour long episode series about it. I feel that this is an introduction to the Borley story, that it’s skimming the surface of a lot of the stories. I mean Marry Anne Foister deserves a series of her own. She was up to all sorts of extraordinary things, being chased about by private detectives across America because they thought she had murdered her husband and being married to three different men at the same time.
JP: Yeah, that’s the craziest part at the end, where I was reading she was committing bigamy.
AT: That’s it, you can open a can of worms, and you’re like “yeah, I would love to know more about that.” But I have to come back to that idea of the Usborne Book Of Ghosts where it’s the storytelling, get all the relevant stuff in there and then the other stories could be another project for someone else and could get people to go off and do their own reading.
JP: Another thing about the style is that, in essence, when you’re watching an old black and white film, you have to remember that most likely the cast and crew are not alive any more and that essentially we are watching ghosts ourselves, as a viewer, on screen. Is that one of the other reasons for using this old style look of classic cinema?
AT: Yeah, absolutely. I think films from that era do have that uncanny, eerie quality, increasingly. My grandparents would probably have a different feeling to watching black and white films as I did, because I was very much raised watching lots of black and white films on the telly. I loved the Bogart movies and the old Universal horrors. And it is an eerie feeling that most of these people are dead now, but there is also that style and that becomes all the more magical to me as I became older as it’s a style no longer used. And I suspect that it would be interesting to speak to someone like Guy Maddin and ask him “why that style?” Is it because it invokes another era and also does it invoke strange psychological reactions from it, because it’s at complete odds to the style of film-making that’s generally used now. Where it’s not slippery, very clean, very polished, high definition. Whereas we were shooting this in high definition and I was saying “I’m gonna smash it to bits. I’m going to bump loads of it out of focus, I’m going to grain it, distort it”, and it’s quite a freeing experience to do that to high definition footage.
JP: Just a couple of final questions. Do you believe in ghosts yourself and have you ever seen or encountered a ghost?
AT: I haven’t seen a ghost myself but my nan used to be a firm believer in spiritualism and always used to tell me never to touch Ouija boards and all these sort of things. There was a great belief in our house and my mum claims she saw a ghost. Strangely a man sat near her bed in a top hat. But personally I haven’t seen a ghost myself. In terms of do I believe in it? I think I believe in something and I think I believe in people seeing something, very much so. But I believe it could be like a STONE TAPE type of thing. It could be like a Nigel Kneale type of explanation, like a type of energy that we haven’t figured.
JP: Yeah, or even a parallel dimension type of thing. Final question now: where next for BORLEY RECTORY? Festival screenings you mentioned, Sheffield next?
AT: Yeah, it’s off to Celluloid Screams. 21st October in Edinburgh. It’s showing at Telluride, also at Buffalo Dreams in America, and looking like a screening in Toronto as well. But they’re appearing each day, I keep getting emails every day saying “do you want to screen it here or there,” and hopefully there will be a London screening at some point. The screenings keep popping up so I’m just trying to add them and keep updating the website.
If you want to keep up to date with BORLEY RECTORY and to find out about any up and coming screenings head over to http://carrionfilms.co.uk/