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Book Review: The Last Days of Jack Sparks

Jack Sparks

BOOK REVIEW: THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS, BY JASON ARNOPP

 

I’LL BEGIN this the easy way: If you love horror, read The Last Days of Jack Sparks. If you want to know why, and you have a moment, read on…

I’m used to writing reviews. What I am not used to, though, is finding a review hard to write. When I read The Last Days of Jack Sparks recently, I knew this would be a tough one to summarise and describe. For how do you define and categorise a novel that seemingly has it all?

First and foremost, I am an avid horror fan. When I spotted The Last Days of Jack Sparks on Amazon and read the synopsis, I wanted to give it a go. I spotted words in the description that are an instant hook to me: exorcisms, demons, death and the occult. Make no mistake – this book has layer upon layer of darkness. The horror fan in me was more than satisfied; there was one moment when I looked away from the page, because I was nervous about the next scene. This novel has atmosphere and creepiness in droves. It doesn’t stop there though, oh no. Jack Sparks has so much more. It is quirky. It is funny – yes, I laughed out loud many times. It is a book about the complexity of the human condition, of grief, of addiction, and more than anything, about facing our demons, head on.

The story itself focuses on our central character, Jack Sparks, as he goes about investigating all aspects of the paranormal with the aim of writing a book to prove that ghosts do not exist. Nor the after-life, or God, or the devil himself. The deeply wedged cynicism in Sparks triggers him to trek across the world, facing down all manners of experiments, religious ceremonies and occultists, in order to show, once and for all, that there are no monsters under the bed. All we have is the here and now. Nothing more.

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Left, author Jason Arnopp

 

It is after Jack Sparks witnesses an exorcism taking place that the story really unleashes, with a forceful kick. Is the ceremony staged? Do demons exist? This is the foundation of the story, and of Jack’s journey into mental, physical and emotional hell.

Jason Arnopp has written the character of Jack Sparks masterfully. So richly detailed, so vivid, so heartbreakingly real, the reader can see him surely as clearly as the demons that trail across the pages of Jack’s own accounts within the novel. He isn’t the nicest character, either. There are touches of the broken man behind the bravado, that pulls the reader into a deeper investment, and then within the turn of the page we find ourselves angry at his words, his attitude, his stubbornness. He made me mad – then he made me feel sad. He became, for me, one of the most authentic characters I have read in a novel.

I am also a big fan of the use of multimedia communications in novels – and this story has plenty of it. I don’t know why, but in much the same way that I enjoy ‘found footage’ horror movies, I also love books that use real life media. Interspersed in this novel, many times, we have various sample chapters, emails, transcripts and footnotes. I love it. The ploy is used brilliantly and just the right amount – beautifully placed and, in truth, it adds a whole other dimension to the story. The emails between characters give readers a whole new insight into the behaviour of our central character -we even, if we are paying attention, become privy to information our main character doesn’t even want us to know. It makes the story real, more human, and frighteningly so.

All in all, this is a fantastic book. Once I began it, I became addicted. It ticks all the boxes for me. It is unnerving, frightening, unusual. Very original. Beneath that, the moments of humour give lighter moments, and the drama of the relationships between characters are just as engrossing as the horror that unfolds during Jack’s paranormal investigations.

Simply brilliant.

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I rate this book 5 out of 5. One of my favourite reads of 2016.

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You can order The Last Days of Jack Sparks on AMAZON, WATERSTONES and in most book stores!

 

Interview with Jayne Harris – In Pursuit of the Paranormal

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Interview with Jayne Harris –

Paranormal Investigator and Pioneer of Spirit Attachment Studies

 

I FIRST interviewed Jayne Harris about a year ago for this website, and also reviewed her book (co-authored by Dan Weatherer) which focuses on haunted dolls. Jayne has been passionate about the paranormal since she was a young girl, and has been in constant pursuit of exploring the theory that items can retain energy and result in paranormal activity.

The last year or so has been especially busy for Jayne. She had several articles written about her and her haunted doll Peggy (in national newspapers), starred in Deadly Possessions TV show alongside Zak Bagans, and even began running her own course on Spirit Attachment. With so much going on, I was eager to know more about Jayne’s recent experiences – and where the future is heading. Jayne kindly agreed to an interview. I hope you enjoy our exchange as much as I did…

 

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Above – Jayne Harris with Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures and Deadly Possessions

I thought it’d be nice to catch up on your work. What projects have you been involved with over the last year or so? 

 

First of all, thanks for inviting me back for another interview! The last year has been the busiest yet and Simon and I have had some wonderful experiences. Roughly this time last year I was interviewed at home for what looks set to be a really wonderful paranormal documentary called “The Other Side’ by Sugarmouse Films. October 2015 saw the release of the book ‘What Dwells Within’ which I co-wrote with Dan Weatherer so that was exciting. Shortly after that I had the chance to return to one of my favourite places in the world, Edinburgh, to be interviewed for the Netherlands NPO networks ‘Lauren!’ show as they were filming a supernatural special and needed an ‘expert’ (I often cringe at the term as I don’t believe anyone can truly be an expert in such a subjective and unexplained field but there you go!) When they asked me where would be a good place to film I had no hesitation in recommending Greyfriars Kirkyard as a suitably macabre backdrop – It was the perfect day at work for me!

December 2015 we flew to Las Vegas to film an episode of Deadly Possessions with the GAC crew, which was followed by a much needed New Year break in our beloved Cornwall. So far in 2016 I’ve been juggling a few projects one of them being a 2nd book which is now near completion. Simon and I also agreed this year to host a series of public events at a wonderful – and incredibly haunted – coaching inn The Talbot Hotel. With the help of psychic medium Ian Griffiths and Paranormal Investigator Paul Bosworth the first was in April and we had some seriously unbelievable experiences. I’ve visited many reputedly haunted locations over the years but something happened in the cellars there, to me and 5 other people simultaneously, which is right up there with the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait to go back!

At the beginning of last month I was in Paris being interviewed for a paranormal special for the Canal+ network – it was my first appearance in front of a live TV studio audience and yes there were nerves – especially given the language barrier! thank goodness for interpreters. The following week I was part of a German TV report on Haunted Dolls, which was fun. I found it fascinating how there are such different cultural beliefs and approaches to the paranormal – the idea of an afterlife is much less accepted in both France and Germany.  Our investigative work continues on the case of Peggy the Doll…leaving us with more questions than answers most of the time. I’m due to give a lecture on the subject of Haunted Dolls at this years ASSAP (Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena) conference in September at Reading University, so I’m hoping to be able to clear up a lot of misconceptions while there, as well as meet up with some good friends and colleagues.

As and when time allows we are also in the middle of producing an independent documentary on a fascinating 70 year old murder mystery, “Who put Bella in the Wych-Elm?” which will end with the first ever paranormal investigation at the crime scene, now THAT is something I am looking forward to!

How was your experience of starring in the Deadly Possessions show with Zak Bagans? Was it as you expected? 

 

Being in Vegas was great, and yes we enjoyed taking part in the show. The production team were wonderful, and made sure we had everything we needed – mainly Starbucks coffee on tap! The museum itself was surreal as it looks nothing like you’d expect outside. It’s very discreet, you’d never know it was there, which I’m sure is the idea. We spent about 12 hours on set in total, for what ended up as a 20 minute segment…it’s crazy how much time is involved in producing this type of TV show.

 

There is a major trend – which seems to be increasing – amongst people selling and trading in haunted objects. What do you think about this, in particular with the growing market on Ebay etc?

I know that eBay and other online auction sites have tried to clamp down on the trade however sellers will always find a way around it.   I get emails all the time from people who have purchased something they were told was haunted, only to find out it’s just a regular object. That’s always going to be the gamble and people need to exercise good judgment as much as possible. Ask yourself what is the likelihood of something actually being a useable and reliable source or conduit for paranormal or spirit energy. Do your research.

It is a growing problem, but you will get frauds in any field where there seems to be money to be made. In reality a lot of these sellers have a short shelf life. They may spend a few months or even a few years selling ordinary objects claiming they are haunted, however sooner or later it comes to an end and they move on to selling other things. I’ve seen it happen countless times. Unfortunately by that point there have been plenty of unsuspecting buyers fall foul of their deceit.

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You now run an online course on Spirit Attachment. How is it going? What inspired this project?

 

The course has been a real success I’m so proud of it, and of the 80 + learners who have completed it. I get excited for them when it’s time to issue them with their certificates, and just love receiving photos of them proudly holding them up. I’ve always felt that it’s a very misunderstood, and often overlooked area of the paranormal, and in actual fact if you google Spirit Attachment most of the information out there is relating to Demonic possession so if nothing else, I’m pleased that in using the phrase at every opportunity when discussing these isolated hauntings I’ve helped people understand the difference. It makes me smile when I see people setting up their own haunted object groups on social media with “Spirit Attachment” in the name as a couple of years ago it wasn’t even used in reference to haunted objects so I know at least 1 thing I’ve said over the years has stuck so thats good! My primary goal with the course was to inform and to some degree educate anyone wanting to better understand the field. I didn’t want it to be too heavy as I knew it would be a completely new realm for some and I wanted to make sure it was a manageable stepping stone, hopefully to future learning. I’m no tutor but I have enough years experience behind me to be confident in explaining what I’ve learned and I’ve had some lovely feedback from people.

 

You have become quite a well known name in the paranormal realm. People enjoy your books, social media and investigations etc. Have you found getting to know others in the same field to be eye opening? Has your experience been positive so far, of the people you have met and worked with?

 

Haha, oh no is that a leading question!? to be honest I try not to have too many preconceived ideas about what people may or may not be like, after all you never know if you’re just catching them on a bad day if and when you do meet someone. There are a lot of big egos out there in the paranormal community, whether in terms of their celebrity status or their educational achievements but ultimately it doesn’t matter whether you’re famous or the man on the street, whether you have a PhD or didn’t finish high school. You don’t need to be highly educated or famous to have a paranormal experience.

I’ve met some really kind genuine people over the past couple of years, and some arrogant individuals! – it’s the same in any field.

What do you recommend to people who feel they might own a haunted object. What are the best techniques for confirmation of a paranormal presence? 


 I always start by trying to establish WHY people think the activity they are experiencing is as a result of a specific object. Often people may have inherited something from a deceased relative for example, and because they have then subsequently been having dreams of that person, or felt them around the home they decide that it must be as a result of the object. A lot of the time it’s simply a psychological thing, triggered by the introduction of something which once belonged to that person. In other words, that person is subconsciously on their mind. In cases where people have no idea about an objects history, maybe they bought it recently, then it becomes more interesting. In these cases you really need to be looking at the potential haunting in the same way you would a potentially haunted building.

If someone feels they had acquired a haunted object they should set out monitoring and trying to record anything which they perceive as paranormal activity. Keeping a log or diary of events, times, duration that kind of thing to see if any patterns emerge. It can be a long process and requires patience. Some people prefer a more spiritual approach and take their object along to psychic mediums to be ‘read’ using Psychometry. It can be interesting but remember you never know exactly where the medium is receiving the information from. It could be the object, but it could also be from you, your energy or your thoughts. As with anything when it comes to paranormal research and investigation, there are no cut and dried ways of identifying haunted objects, but personally I find a combination of both the scientific and the spiritual works best.

 

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Jayne Harris, above, with Zak Bagans and the doll Peggy during séance

 

 

What does the future hold for you? What projects are coming up?

The very near future is hopefully looking fairly calm at the moment, but then things change at the drop of the hat! I’m hoping to focus on the Wych-Elm project over the next month or so to get that well on the way to being completed. I’m editing it and it requires concentration and patience – both of which I lack at times! I’m taking part in Haunted Magazines ‘Women in the Paranormal’ special edition coming soon and have written a few articles for that which were fun to do, and have several radio interviews lined up.

A big responsibility I’ve taken on is that of President and Chair for the Midlands Society for Paranormal Research (MSPR), a non-profit organisation which aims to not only develop and roll out a series of paranormal trials over the next few years, but also to offer support to Midlands based individuals or teams who have ideas for their own trials. The MSPR has gained quite a few members already which we’re thrilled about given that we only launched a few weeks ago. We are currently working on building up an advisory panel and already have some great advisors onboard namely Eamonn Vann-Harris, Malcolm Robinson, Alan Cox, Norie Miles and Greg Martin. At some point over the next few months I’ll begin planning the first MSPR conference for 2017 which we’re all very excited about so watch this space for that one.

There are 2 US based projects potentially in the pipeline if time allows but I can’t say much about those at the moment unfortunately.

But now for the most mind blowing development of 2016… my daughter will be starting school in September, a thought which just scares the life out of me as I literally have no understanding of where the last 4 years have disappeared to! I’d say that’s the project that I am most nervous about!

 

For fun – what are your favourite scary movies?

 

You know it’s a weird thing, I used to love horror movies when I was a kid. Freddie Kruger was a particularly favourite, however as I’ve got older, I find myself more unsettled when watching them…although I still do! I love anything supernatural (unsurprisingly) or psychological. I would consider The Shining to be right up there with my favourites, Jack Nicholson is genuinely disturbing, a wonderful portrayal. Silence of the Lambs has also always been a favourite, and I think that Shutter Island is fantastic. I also have a bit of a penchant for a good old fashioned Hammer Horror, oh and the original Psycho!

 

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

The best place is the website www.hdparanormal.com, but also Facebook and Twitter.

Anyone wanting to learn more about the Midlands Society for Paranormal Research can visit www.themspr.com

 

A BIG thank you to Jayne for taking the time out to answer my questions!

The Hidden – Out Now

THE HIDDEN BOOK COVER

The Hidden – Short Story Release

MY SHORT story, The Hidden, is out now. It is an exclusive release on Amazon, for the bargain price of 0.99p.

The Hidden is a paranormal story based on a real Urban Legend of Japan. From the back cover:

Charlotte Howarth makes the 12 hour journey to Japan to meet her penpal for the first time. Friends since they were teenagers, Charlotte thinks the break away from home will do her good. However, after her arrival, things take a sinister turn. What are the unexplained noises, the nightly apparitions and the unusual behaviour from her friend caused by? Charlotte soon realises she must find out the truth, before it’s too late to save her friend, her sanity, and perhaps even her life…

The Hidden is a short story based on a traditional Japanese Urban Legend. This Kindle edition contains a bonus feature at the end of the story: a Q & A session with a professor and expert on Japanese myths, ghosts and urban legends.

This story is sure to delight fans of the traditional ghost story, as well as those interested in urban legends. Dare you take the trip with Charlotte?

The first advance review is in from Fans of Modern Horror, who had this to say:

“…Readers are left speechless! Dodwell will drag you in with her relatable, interesting characters and eerie atmospheres and she does not disappoint! This was an amazingly detailed and suspenseful for such a short!  I will definitely read this again, as I will read anything this awesome author lays upon us.  I most highly recommend to all fans of modern horror!”

The Hidden can be pre-ordered from Amazon now, and has bonus content – an interview with a Japanese professor who specialises in urban legends and mythology.

Link for Amazon HERE

Thanks for stopping by – if you fancy giving The Hidden a try, I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to know your thoughts!

The Ouija Trials – Upcoming Show and Story Release

 

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IF you’re interested in the paranormal – in particular with Ouija boards – then you might want to check out an upcoming show called The Ouija Trials, organised and directed by Atticus Machiavellian.

What’s it about? The Ouija Trials will be bringing together five complete strangers, sitting them together before a Ouija board – and seeing what happens when they attempt to make contact with the Other Side. Will they face ZoZo, an infamous entity that has infiltrated mainstream media through TV, books and films? Will the five strangers make contact with departed loved ones? Either way, the show promises to be a fascinating one.

Here is an excerpt taken from the Ouija Trials website:

 

•About THE OUIJA trials•

6 STRANGERS, 1 BOARD.
6 PEOPLE WILL GATHER AROUND THE TABLE, ALL HOPING TO CONNECT TO SOMEONE THAT ONCE WALKED THIS mortal coil.
WILL PASSED LOVED ONES come through OR WILL SOMETHING ELSE CROSS THE THRESHOLD BETWEEN THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT?
JOIN US AS WE ATTEMPT TO UNLOCK THE MYSTERIES OF THE AFTERLIFE

This fascinating concept grabbed my attention from the start, and I am happy to say that although I will not be involved directly in the show myself, I am hoping to complete a fictionalised short story entitled The Ouija Trials to be released alongside the film; a story that will use elements of the real experiment.

I will update you on the film and the upcoming short story release as and when I have more information, but in the meantime, if you want to check out more about The Ouija Trials, you can do here: LINK.

This promises to be a fascinating exploration into the paranormal phenomena associated with the Ouija Board.

Stay tuned for more.

 

Most Haunted – The Top 5?

MOST HAUNTED – THE TOP 5

 

MOST HAUNTED has been a popular series for many paranormal enthusiasts. Since its conception in 2002, the show (presented by Yvette Fielding and husband co-producer Karl Beattie) has been running since, filming paranormal investigations across not only the UK, but across the world. The show has reached 17 series, and, during that time, has shown itself to have fascinating insight into the art of paranormal investigation.

Of course, as with any show, certain episodes stand out against others. In order to celebrate the news that Most Haunted is returning for a brand new series this summer, I thought it would be fun to look back on my top 5 favourite episodes brought to us by the team. Of course, your favourites may be very different to mine, and if you have any special memories of certain episodes that you want to share, please feel free to leave your choices in the comments below.

So, here are my top five favourites from the Most Haunted show:

 

                1.      EDINBURGH VAULTS LIVE – STUART’S ATTACK

Few amongst the dedicated army of Most Haunted fans will ever forget the Edinburgh Vaults special, broadcast live from the eerie location. The Edinburgh Vaults, which were constructed in the late 1700s, has a rich and morbid history.Originally built to be used for storage space for local South Bridge businesses, the Vaults were eventually taken over by city slum dwellers and the poor, as well as prostitutes. The Vaults were small, dark, dirty and cramped. Many were ill and unhappy there. Most Haunted undertook a Live special from the Vaults in 2006, and the results were frightening and unnerving. During the Live, several members of the crew felt that they were under attack from a dark and negative entity. Stuart Torevell experienced a heightened attack, when, whilst standing in one of the Vaults, he was heavily scratched and marked by an unseen entity across his back. This terrifying encounter was documented fully on film. Due to the severity of Stuart’s experience (and further attacks on co-presenter and producer Karl Beattie),  Yvette Fielding became visibly distressed on location during filming. This Live remains to date, in my opinion, one of the strongest episodes to air.

Above, the stone circle where some have said to have been attacked  in the Vaults

2.        30, EAST DRIVE – THE LIVE AT HALLOWEEN

Halloween of 2015 saw what was perhaps one of the most impressive and frightening Most Haunted investigations. 30 East Drive is a quiet and unassuming house in Pontefract, made famous by the Pritchard family after they experienced severe poltergeist activity. The haunting was depicted in horror film When the Lights Go Out. The Pritchard’s daughter was, at one point, petrified when she found herself being dragged up the stairs by unseen hands. Most Haunted bravely stayed at this location for a Halloween special, and the results were nothing short of amazing. Items moved, intelligent voices captured live on EVP, a knife locked in a box was later found in another location – and, most eerie of all, co-presenter Karl Beattie found himself dragged up the stairs. Later, red marks were found on his skin. To top it off, both Karl and Stuart Torevell experienced severe burn marks on their arms whilst at East Drive. This location has to be one of the most significant  investigated by the show.

 

Above, the team during filming at 30 East Drive

3.   DARTFORD LIBRARY, SERIES 9

Perhaps one of Most Haunted’s forgotten gems, the episode filmed at Dartford Library for series nine of the show remains one of my all-time favourite episodes. Dartford Library, which was opened in 1916, was used by many soldiers of World War 1, as they rested and recovered in nearby military hospitals. Employees and visitors have witnessed paranormal activity, and because of this, Most Haunted filmed an episode there in 2007. This episode was full of impressive and inexplicable activity, including books being thrown from shelves after members of the team asked for certain titles to appear. The atmosphere was taut throughout the episode, and made a lasting impression on me.

 

Yvette Fielding in action, above

4.     MICHELHAM PRIORY – 100TH EPISODE

Michelham Priory was originally a church built on a medieval island. It was then converted into a family home in 1556, where many families and residents claim to have experienced deep tragedy and bad luck. The Most Haunted team first investigated the location in the early days of the show, however the crew returned in 2006 for what would turn out to be its 100th episode. This episode remains to be one of my favourites. Paranormal activity was high and impressive, and included the sound of a harpsichord playing by itself in an empty room, and a chair caught moving my itself on a lock-off camera. The crew seemed nervous at times, the energy seemed palpable. This location has a fascinating history, and it would be great to see another return to the property in the future.

Above, Michelham Priory

5.     THE QUEEN MARY SHIP, PARTS ONE AND TWO

The Most Haunted team filmed a two-part special aboard The Queen Mary in 2005. The Queen Mary sailed the North Atlantic Ocean between the years of 1936-1967, and ran a weekly express service between Southampton and New York. Even though it is now a tourist attraction, the ship attracts paranormal enthusiasts, as many who have been aboard have made claims of witnessing ghostly activity. The Most Haunted team spent three weeks aboard the ship, filming an investigation that was eventually whittled down to a two-episode special. These episodes were remarkable – not only were haunting and clear voices captured during investigation (including a ghostly child calling out for his Mum), but watery footprints were also seen to appear out of nowhere, near the pool area. One of the team members were confident in their reports of seeing the spirit of a lady near the pool area too. The two episodes were unnerving and very atmospheric. I’d love to see the team return.

Above, hallway in the Queen Mary

So, there you have it. My top five of the Most Haunted series. Of course, it’s almost impossible to pick favourites. The entire series is highly enjoyable, and from the early days has continued to grow in strength and impressiveness of investigative technique.

I very much look forward to the new series this summer, as do the army of devoted fans that support the show. I’m sure there will be many future favourites amongst the new episodes.

Thanks for reading!

Howell – A Deliciously Dark Short

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SPOTLIGHT FEATURE:

HOWELL – BY LEON DAVID WILLIAMS

 

LEON DAVID WILLIAMS is rapidly working towards making a name for himself in the film industry. Setting his sights on writing, producing and directing, he has ambitions to take dark drama and interweave it with moments of humour. A mix that isn’t always easy to get right, but a balance that Leon clearly appears to have mastered.

When I heard that he had produced a short film starring Lee Bane, I was intrigued. I have enjoyed many other projects Lee has been involved in, so I wanted to find out more about Howell. I was invited to watch this short film and was honoured to do so.

 

The synopsis of Howell is as follows:

Howell is attending a supporters group meeting, along with others that share his condition. He has many issues …. but he is trying his best to find himself.

Interest piqued, I watched Howell and I have to say, I was hooked – and impressed. It runs at just under five minutes long, and it swiftly managed to grab my attention, holding onto it firmly until the last scene. The story itself focuses on central character Howell (played by Lee Bane) as he attends a support group for his extremely unusual “predicament.”

What I particularly like about this feature is the fact that it manages to be dark and hard-hitting, whilst at the same time throwing in moments of sarcasm and humour. I can’t imagine it is easy to cross genres in such a way, yet Leon has managed this with apparent ease in Howell. His writing is sharp, quick witted and very engrossing.

Lee Bane fills his role exceptionally well, highlighting his character’s dark psychology whilst also revealing vulnerability, depravity – and fantastic humour. One minute you’ll be laughing out loud, the next, shielding your eyes. There really is so much variety to this role, and it is truly amazing how much of that depth is captured in such a short space of time.

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Actor Lee Bane, above

I was pleased to hear that Howell has been accepted into 10 festivals so far, including the Horror Hound Film Festival where it will get its world premiere.

This short film deserves any success is can gather. Beautifully directed and cleverly written, Howell manages to really pack a punch.

I will personally be looking forward to future projects from Leon Williams.

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A big thanks to Leon for allowing me to view the short film.

On Movies, Exorcism & Horror – Andrew Jones

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INTERVIEW WITH  ANDREW JONES – HORROR DIRECTOR

I’VE BEEN A FAN of Andrew Jones’s approach to directing since I saw Robert, which was released in 2015. His films often have a sense of foreboding and eeriness, and almost always feel incredibly real and authentic, like a dark version of reality has been somehow captured. Since then, I’ve watched many of his other titles and have been impressed. When his latest release hit the shelves last week – The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund – I knew I’d want to invite Andrew here to discuss the new project. Andrew graciously accepted my invitation, and here is the result of the interview. I hope you enjoy reading his responses, as much I did. This is a frank, in-depth exchange which gives us a lot of information and insight into Andrew’s approach to horror and directing. I wish to thank him for taking the time out to share with us.

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Welcome back to Study Paranormal, and thanks for taking the time out to answer a few questions. This week saw the release of your new film, The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund. Can you tell us what inspired you to create a film about this famous true-life story?

I have always wanted to make an Exorcism film so I was delighted when the distribution company I work with, 4Digital Media, said they were interested in releasing a film about possession. Of course ‘The Exorcist’ is the ultimate example of the sub genre, it’s an incredible film, but being the exploitation fan I am I have always been equally enamored with the various B-movies which sprung up in the 1970s capitalising on the success of William Friedkin’s film. Ovidio Assonitis made ‘Beyond the Door’ which had a terrifying trailer! I actually wrote a remake of that film for Ovidio back in 2008 but it didn’t get into production. William Girdler made ‘Abby’. The Spanish Lon Chaney, Paul Naschy, did ‘Exorcismo’. Alberto De Martino made ‘The Antichrist’. There have been so many! So I’ve seen and enjoyed a lot of films in the possession sub genre and I jumped at the chance to make one myself.

This project began life as a script called ‘Flight 666’ and the basic concept of that was an Exorcism occurring on a plane, possession at 30,000 feet! I thought the setting would make it a bit different to other Exorcism films, they had put zombies and snakes on a plane before so why not possession? The story followed Vatican investigator Father Lamont who is on a flight where one of the passengers is a sick girl. When the plane is in the air all hell breaks loose and it becomes clear she’s possessed and Lamont has to go against the Vatican code and conduct an unauthorized Exorcism to save the lives of the passengers. The distributors even had artwork designed for it which looked great. But ultimately when we presented the idea to the marketing team and retailers the general consensus seemed to be that an Exorcism film is an easier sell if the action happens on the ground! As a filmmaker who is always seeking to give distributors and retailers what they want I have to accept that concepts will often go through an evolution to make them more marketable and I’m all for that because I don’t want to end up making a film that doesn’t get released.

So seeking to do a more conventional Exorcism story we looked at some true life cases and discovered Anna Ecklund’s case hadn’t been adapted into a film before. What I particularly liked about the story was that Anna was taken to a convent to be exorcised. It just felt like an interesting place to take off from, the ultimate evil in the house of God. I embellished on the real life story and added new characters to the mix to give it more layers. The character of Father Lamont being a Vatican investigator struggling with the skeptical nature of his job was a part of ‘Flight 666’ and I transferred that character over to the new script because I was interested in dealing with a conflicted man struggling to rediscover his purpose. The other element which I took from ‘Flight 666’ was the idea of the various demons inside a possessed girl entering new hosts when she is exorcised. In ‘Flight 666’ the demons entered the other passengers on the plane, in ‘The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund’ they enter the priests and nuns at the convent. I enjoyed that element a lot, there aren’t many films where you get to see a priest stab a nun with a crucifix then smash her head repeatedly in a door! We kind of turned Father Lamont into Ash from the ‘Evil Dead’ in the latter part of the film!

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Above, actor Lee Bane portrays Father Lamont in Exorcism of Anna Ecklund

 

What was the experience like of writing the script? Did it run smoothly – was it challenging?

When writing scripts I’m always working to tight deadlines which means I don’t have the time to be consumed by inhibitions and doubts, I just need to power through and whip the material into shape as best I can. The script could be considered a strange cross between the B-movie whackiness of possessed clergy and serious philosophical musings about life and religion. But I embraced the idea of mixing deeper themes with an exploitation sensibility, it’s what I’ve always tried to do really.

Although many people feel ‘Exorcist II: The Heretic’ pales in comparison to the original I liked that they made references in that film to the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which I’ve read. Of course in ‘Exorcist II’ they assign his ideas to the Father Merrin character and it’s done somewhat briefly so I wanted to go back to the real life man and bring his theories to the forefront of this film. Chardin was a Jesuit priest and philosopher who believed that mankind was heading towards an elevated consciousness and evil would do all it could to disrupt that. In ‘The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund’ Anna is revealed to have special healing abilities, so the greatest good has attracted the greatest evil and that provides a more interesting reason for her possession beyond the violation of innocence. It was interesting to write a character who goes from spitting obscenities at the clergy to being their final hope to fend off evil. Anna in this film is essentially two characters in one and I’m grateful to have had such a terrific actress Tiffany Ceri to bring that to life. Father Lamont’s character name is of course a reference to Richard Burton’s character name in ‘Exorcist II’ so it’s fitting that we also had a great Welsh actor Lee Bane playing the role!

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Actress Tiffany Ceri, as possessed victim, Ecklund

Even at the writing stage you know that any possession film will be compared unfavourably with ‘The Exorcist’, but I didn’t get hung up on that as it’s obvious no one will ever make a film on the subject which will have more impact than William Friedkin’s movie. All possession films share familiar tropes and there have been hundreds of them, I think anyone would be hard pressed to do something completely different to what has gone before. So there’s no point trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s better to just embrace the trappings of the genre and enjoy them. You certainly can’t aim for the heights of ‘The Exorcist’ at this budget level. All you can do is have fun with the theme and try to focus on elements that interest you personally so that’s what I did.

Where there elements of the story you found hard to capture or produce on film; anything that was tricky to bring to life on screen? Anything that you had to leave off the finished product that you wished you could have used?

It’s always difficult when you’re working with limited time and resources to bring something like this to the screen. You have to accept that the gap between your unlimited imagination and what your limited budget and schedule allows you to do is always going to be pretty big. All you can do is work with the time and money you’ve got and try to make that gap as small as it can be in the circumstances. Personally I feel everyone did a great job considering the shooting schedule was just eight days. Most people wouldn’t even attempt to do this in such a short space of time so I’m very proud of the team for getting a pretty ambitious story in the can on such a tight schedule.

There were a lot of elements in the real life case which didn’t make it into the film, mainly involving a relative who practiced Witchcraft trying to keep Anna possessed and a complicated relationship with her father. That would have been interesting to deal with but when you’re trying to tailor material to a tight budget and schedule you have to scale things back to the essentials. There are a lot of elements taken straight from the real life case, particularly the dialogue and relationship between the Father Reisinger and Mother Superior characters, but I still felt the need to embellish because with most real life cases there are rarely enough twists and turns to sustain a film narrative.

There were some beautiful references to religion – did you do a lot of research, or have you studied this subject in the past?

I’ve always been fascinated by religion and spirituality so there wasn’t a lot of research involved. I’ve read various religious books out of personal interest for many years. My personal stance is that I believe in some form of higher energy or destiny, although I don’t define it as a particular God of any particular religion. I could never nail my flag to any religion’s mast because, among other things, I’m continually dismayed by religious prejudice against homosexuals. Persecution of human beings on the basis of who they sleep with is baffling to me. It’s a pity things like that happen because, whatever your personal view on faith is, religious books are fascinating literature and often touch on some deep universal truths about the human experience.

What is next for you? What does 2016 hold?

We’ve already shot and edited one film this year and we have several others in various stages of development. When we’ve completed post production on the latest one we’ll decide what we’re going to shoot next. We have about eleven projects on the slate so our output is likely to remain prolific for the foreseeable future. The aim is to shoot at least another two films this year if it proves to be possible from a financial perspective. What I’d like to do is work with different writers and directors on some projects, we’re aiming to diversify the material we produce in the future so it would be good to bring new voices into the North Bank Entertainment family. I love writing and directing myself but I also want to give new talent opportunities to get feature film experience and that’s what I hope to do more of this year and beyond.

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Director Andrew Jones has been working on Robert sequel

Would you mind sharing with readers what some of your favourite horror movies have been of the last year or so?

A recent film I enjoyed is the remake of ‘The Town that Dreaded Sundown’. It was set in the modern day but created an old school feel, I really liked it. It had some really cool visuals and a great way of incorporating the original film into the modern story. I always try to pick up some independent films to support indie filmmakers. I liked the indie film ‘Eden Lodge’ which featured Georgina Blackledge who I worked with on ‘The Last House on Cemetery Lane’ and Cyd Casados who I worked with on ‘Robert’. A lot of the time I try to discover or rediscover lesser known horror films from the 70s and 80s as I really enjoy the style of filmmaking from those eras. In the 70s and 80s it seemed filmmakers were allowed to pace themselves and let characters and stories breathe, whereas now if you don’t have an explosion going off every five minutes a portion of the modern audience lose interest. All of the modern horror films I enjoy are typically those which are throwbacks to the style of 70s and 80s filmmaking.

What inspires you, in writing and directing? What spurs you on?

Simply the love of filmmaking. I love every stage of the process – writing, filming, editing. The desire to learn and improve as a filmmaker with each film spurs me on a great deal. After all, I’m only about three and a half years into a career as a filmmaker whose films are commercially released, so I’ve still got so much to learn. I’ve produced twelve films in that time but I’m still just getting started and finding my feet. To be honest, being a producer can be a pain in the arse. It’s a thankless job really, you put in a lot of work and always have the best of intentions yet most people still think you’re a prick. But I put up with that because I have a deep love for filmmaking that will never go away. I often get frustrated by the challenging business aspects of the industry but working with the amazing team of Tony Taglienti, Steve Beecham and Sally Wood at the distribution company 4Digital Media, my incredible producing partners Rob Graham, Beccy Graham and Lee Bane, as well as the fantastic crew and cast we have on each film, makes the stress that sometimes crops up worthwhile. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the nicest and most hard working people in the industry and together we overcome many obstacles and come out stronger for it.

To many people, horror and exploitation films are disposable junk. But to me they are the reason I get out of bed in the morning. I have no aspirations to be a studio filmmaker or a classy award winner, I love being a divisive exploitation filmmaker. A lot of filmmakers aspire to be David Fincher. I’d rather be David DeCoteau.

Finally, can you tell us about the upcoming sequel of the Robert film, and when this will be released?

We shot ‘The Curse of Robert the Doll’ in January 2016 and it is hands down my favourite ever filmmaking experience. We had a really atmospheric main location, an amazing cast and crew working on the film and it was great fun taking Robert to the next level and enhancing his body count! There is a reference to the earlier ‘Robert’ film in one sequence but it functions mainly as a stand alone movie which you don’t need to have seen the original to understand. The story focuses on Emily Barker a student who starts a night job cleaning a local museum. She discovers that one of the exhibits, Robert, is alive and soon the security and cleaning staff on the night shift start turning up dead. A local detective considers Emily the prime suspect in the murders so she has to convince the police that the doll is responsible in order to stay out of jail. There are lots of fun supporting characters in it like a shady museum owner, corrupt cops and a sinister old Toymaker. It’s a more traditional horror film in it’s style than the first film which was more of a psychological drama that used the doll sparingly. The doll is very much at the forefront of this one and we see a lot of him in action.

The distributors are aiming for a UK release in the third quarter, so it’ll probably be out sometime between July and September this year. I really hope it’s successful as I would love to continue making ‘Robert’ films. I’d like to at least get to the franchise entry where we shoot him up into space!

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Above, Jeff Ragget portrays exorcism priest in Anna Ecklund

A big thanks to Andrew Jones for taking part in this Q & A