sychological Thriller - Starring Paul McCarthy, Jonathan Rhodes, Mike Langridge, Ros Povey. Producers Craig Griffith, William Charles & May Gwen. Executive Producers Mike Pringle & Mark Stevenson. Written and Directed by Craig Griffith.
Through the Looking Glass Synopsis
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE!
When we heard about a dark psychological horror that had been filmed here in the UK, in a real haunted house which is over 1000 years old and is even mentioned in the Doomsday book, we stood up and took notice!
Craig Griffith, Writer/Director of 'Through The Looking Glass', talked to us recently about the movie and what it was like to film in such a daunting yet intriguing environment. So pull up a chair, turn out the lights and read the fascinating interview here:-
Thank you for joining us today Craig to talk about your film Through the Looking Glass.
It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
For those people who haven’t seen ‘Through the Looking Glass’ how would you describe it?
Through The Looking Glass is a horror of the mind. A dark psychological thriller, challenging, thoughtful and atmospheric. It’s a haunted house movie that explores the nature of obsession and how it can lead to a downward spiral of destruction.
It started as an experiment with the idea being we lock ourselves into a real haunted house and improvise around the script depending on the way the environment influenced us. I thought if we were to put ourselves through the same experience that The Artist goes through and see where it led us this would inform the story and give the film an authenticity…but hopefully without the same horrific outcome.
I was really keen to make a film where things have to be worked for. I’ve always trusted that the audience is smart enough to work things out for themselves without everything having to be signposted, where things are hinted at allowing them to interpret for themselves. Of course this makes the film a hard sell as it’s not all blood splashes and big-breasted girls running around places we all know they shouldn’t be. It’s not an easy ride and there is no neat little package tying up all of the strands at the end. It’s ambiguous and left open to interpretation. That to me is scarier than “There’s a chase and then they kill the monster.”
We do a lot of things in the film that you wouldn’t normally do, things designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable and disturbed. All to create a creeping sense of dread, so it gets under your skin as it goes along like the films that disturb me as a kid. The film is challenging and it doesn’t always make sense but all of that is on purpose to put the audience right in there with the characters so they feel what the characters feel and experience the disjointed nature of madness and fear. To create a film that stays with them long after it’s finished.
|Don't look into the mirror|
Who or what was your inspiration when writing ‘Through the Looking Glass’?
I’ve always been more interested in horrors of the mind than blood and guts. Don’t get me wrong I love a good slasher flick but I find them funny in the same way as a roller coaster, they’re not really scary, they just make you jump. I’ve always preferred films that leave things to the imagination. Films that disturb you, that stay with you. Anyone can think up gruesome ways of killing characters or outlandish monsters but nothing is as scary as what the audience invents themselves. If I show you a monster some people will be scared, some won’t but if I leave it up to you, you’re going to scare the shit out of yourself. And that’s the great thing about horror as a genre, we all bring our own bag of fears to the table and that’s half my job done. All I have to do is suggest something and the audience will fill in the blanks. I’m more interested in the hint of terror.
To me JAWS is the scariest film until you see the rubber shark. It’s the same with the first half of THEM. It’s the aftermath of the horror and the sound of the giant ants on the wind that stays with you. That’s what I love about films like ALIEN and THE THING it’s all about wracking up the tension with these slow tracking shots before the quick fire scares. It’s about creating an atmosphere, an oppressive tone. Ha, of course you could never accuses THE THING of leaving things to the imagination but it works because of the tension and paranoia more than the monster.
The most inspiring aspect of these films is the way they use sound. It is such an important element and it so often gets forgotten about. Look at Robert Wise’ THE HAUNTING now there’s a real exercise in using sound to terrify. He knows that the audience is smart enough not to have to be shown every little thing, just compare it to the CGI-fest remake and there’s just no comparison. You don’t see anything in the original and yet it’s still a really scary movie even now. Films such as that, THE SHINING, THE EXORCIST and THE RING are psychologically disturbing and a lot of that comes from the sound and camera angles creating a tone and that’s what I was after. It was really that idea of using those elements to create the terror.
The stately home used in the feature, Compton House in Devon is billed as one of the most haunted houses in the UK, did you have any strange experiences whilst filming there?
Too many to count. To be honest there was a fair amount of practical jokes being played by everyone so it’s hard to know what was real and what wasn’t. We were all letting off steam but things did happen that none of us could really explain.
One of the strangest things happened in the attics where the set of The Artist's studio was built. It was about 3 in the morning and we’re in the middle of the scene where The Artist is first influenced by the mirror. Suddenly all the power goes dead and we’re left there sitting in the dark. At first we think it’s a joke or that someone has accidentally turned the power off down stairs. So we shout down for them to turn it back on and we wait…and wait. The thing is the camera is also dead, which is strange as it’s battery operated. So we swap the battery and still nothing. By this point we’re all a little freaked and then suddenly I get this tingling sensation, the strangest feeling as if someone has put their hand on my head and I just…bolt. I mean I run, along with the rest of the crew in tow and we don’t stop until we got downstairs. Bizarrely the power was all on down there and everything was normal. We decide that there was no way anyone is going back up that night. So we switch the power off, lock everything up and go to bed. Next morning we find the camera in standby with a pretty much fully charged battery, but this is the weird part everything we had filmed the previous night hasn’t gone to tape. The tape had run through the camera, it’s all timecoded properly but there’s simply no image. 20 mins of fuzz with perfect timecode. I’ve used that camera for a long time and it’s never done anything like that before or since. I still can’t explain it.
It was like that all the time. There wasn’t a day went by without at least one of us experiencing something out of the ordinary. I remember on another occasion we were on lunch, well when I say lunch it was actually midnight but for us it was lunch. I’m stood in the courtyard with Paul our lead actor. The yard is surrounded by stables that have been converted into office space. Suddenly Paul spots a green glow up in the windows so we check it out thinking someone’s left a laptop on. We go into the room and it’s empty, no laptop, no lights nothing. And that sort of thing quickly became normal for us. Lights switching off, doors slamming shut, props turning up in different rooms. We got to the point where we started to ignore it otherwise you’d just spend all your time running around like the GHOSTBUSTERS instead of filming.
You know talking about these things now when it’s a nice sunny day outside the window they just sound crazy but when you’re there in that house, in the dark and the cold it’s much harder to rationalize. I’m sure most of it is down to the group dynamic or some kind of mass hysteria but if you ask me if there were ghosts in that house or if ghosts are real? I have no idea but I do know from my experiences things happened, things that I just can’t explain.
|Compton House (still from 'Through the Looking Glass')|
Did you have Compton House in mind when you wrote the feature?
Yes absolutely. The house actually belonged to a friend of mine. We met at film school and we shot a short film there, one of those horrible student films about relationships going wrong. It was a fantastic location and had real character and I always thought the house would be the perfect place for a horror film. The house is amazing and has been there in one form or another for nearly a thousand years, it’s even mentioned in the Domesday Book. From a design point of view it was ideal, we really didn’t have to do much as the house was actually being used as a butterfly farm at the time and was full of the most weird and wonderful things which of course all ended up as props in the film lending the environments an authentic atmosphere that we could never have recreated in a studio even if we had had the money which of course we didn’t. To be honest when you’ve got a location as great as that house you really don’t need a lot of money to make a great looking film.
Do you think filming in a haunted house fuelled the atmosphere of the movie?
Without a doubt. With it’s bizarre, decayed rooms the house was a perfect fit for visually representing what was going on in the head of The Artist. It’s such a character in its own right and I always strived to get that across. The thing I’m most proud of about the film is how incredibly atmospheric it is. There is a real sense of dread to it all and that really comes from the feeling within the house. The tension in there is palpable and it never lets up. All I had to do was get that on tape. In fact after a few nights of filming we began to take our breaks in the family graveyard next to the house because it didn’t feel as scary even at midnight. We used to joke that we’d rather take our chances with the ghost outside than be cooped up with the ones inside. It’s a strange place to lock yourself into and if you were to ask me why anyone would do it I really couldn’t answer you. But without that house the film wouldn’t be half of what it is.
|Interior, Compton House (still from 'Through the Looking Glass')|
You spent a long time in Compton House during the shoot, did this take its toll on the crew?
Man, that crew was the best in the world. I know everyone says that but it’s true for all the shit I put them through. I mean I made them live in a haunted house with no hot water, no heating, it was the middle of February and we were all living in one room, sleeping on camp beds averaging 3 hours sleep a night. That’s hardcore. The paint was peeling off the walls, the wallpaper stained and torn, windows cracked, dead insects everywhere and a permanent dust cloud. So it was by no means a glamorous experience but no one ever complained, not once.
The shoot was the most surreal time, it really was. It was unlike anything any of us had ever been involved with. It was just amazing to take this hardened cynical film crew down to that house and watch them fall apart. We were shooting mostly at night and clocking up 18 hour days so everyone was pretty wired but in a really great way. We were all there to make the best film we could and no one let their ego get in the way. I’ve never worked with such a dedicated, giving crew. We all felt it was a unique experience and something special to be a part of. But you can only work like that for so long. We were all extremely exhausted both physically and emotionally and the way you cope with that is humour, there was a lot of laughing, most of it nervous to be honest. To remove yourself from the real world and lock yourself up in a haunted house, it’s not normal is it? So you laugh or you go mad. We were going from being terrified one minute to laughing hysterically the next. There was a real buzz on that crew, everyone just bonded in a way I’ve never seen before and I put that down to being in that house. If we’d shot in a studio I don’t think it would have been the same.
That house had a profound effect on people. Although we were working really hard there wasn’t a single argument. Instead all that tension came out in people questioning all sorts of things to do with life and death and everything else in between. It was great you’d hear all these debates going on about all manner of things on what it means to be alive, things you wouldn’t normally hear on a film shoot. The crew was asking some very deep questions.
On a personal level I took to walking around talking to the ghosts, telling them what we were doing. Everywhere you went you felt like someone was always there and so for me it was a way of justifying the oppressive feeling I constantly had. In that kind of environment you really stop acting rationally and the odd things become normal. I never believed in ghosts before that house, now I’m not so sure. I saw and heard too many weird things for it all to just be practical jokes or the wind banging an upstairs window.
After a while we all got used to it but then whenever a new crew member would join us you could see how weird it all was. We’d end up taking bets on how long before something spooked them. It was brilliant they’d come in all sure of themselves and you could guarantee within a few hours that place would get to them. There’s just this sense that you are being watched everywhere you go. You just can’t escape it. It got so bad that certain people couldn’t even be on their own; even while going to the toilet. So yeah it did take it’s toll.
|Paul McCarthy - The Artist|
Was it always your intention not to give the characters in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ names?
I could give you some convoluted answer here about how very clever or ironic I was being but I actually can’t remember how that came about. I was probably being too lazy to think up some decent names. I had a list but none of them felt right. I even toyed with the idea of giving the characters the actors’ names but that really is the laziest kind of script writing and I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night. It’s one of those things that really came about while I was developing the script. The way I tend to work is that I’ll write down the type of character I want and give them an archetypal name that tells me the characters function so I don’t get bogged down in trying to remember who ALAN is every time I’m writing him. For example one character will be MAD SCIENTIST, the next EVEN MADDER SCIENTIST and so on. It tends to stay like that until a late script polish when I’ll try and come up with clever or witty names that say something about the character, a good example of that is Darth Vader meaning Dark Father. But in the end I was never really happy with any of the names I came up with and it just stuck really. Of course it’s harder to sympathies with characters when they don’t have a name but I think it works in context to the film.
The movie has received various awards and nominations, did you envision this when you first started shooting?
God no. We made it for such little money it was hard to envision even finishing the film. My aim was always to make a film that would find it’s audience but I always thought of the film as being a small art house horror, kind of a cult film. I’ve always seen myself as a grungy filmmaker and I’m a real believer in just getting out there with a camera. I’m a bit thick headed like that. If someone says to me you can’t do it, then I’ll try even harder to prove them wrong I suppose. I get that from where I grew up.
That’s why I set out to make the film. I wanted to see how far I could go in making a feature film off of my own back. Like everyone else I thought you needed millions of dollars, expensive equipment and big stars to make a film but of course you don’t. You just have to make your film with what you’ve got. The best thing to come out of the whole experience for me is the realization that I can make my films and get them out there and that I don’t have to rely on a studio for all that.
The hard part has always been finding the audience but all that’s changing. It’s such an exciting time to be a filmmaker because the technology now allows you to make and self distribute your films and social media gives you the connection to the audience you would never have had even 5 years ago. Self-D has becoming a viable and credible route for filmmakers now. Clearly the Internet is making a massive difference and we’re at a stage now where the only thing stopping us from making our films is ourselves. I love the fact that there are people out there right now who get it and understand how it all works. They’re making these amazing films and more importantly getting them out to an audience. We might not have the advertising dollars of the majors but there are plenty of people out there who are willing to actively seek out films that are different and off the wall. There’s a real sense that people want to be part of discovering and sharing cool films for themselves, films that would never get made under the majors. I hope so anyway or I’m screwed.
|Ros Povey - The Model|
Was it always your dream to direct your own features?
Yes. As a boy I used to stay at my Gran’s house on Saturday nights and they’d have a late night double bill of horror films on BBC 2. It’d either be the classic 1930’s Universal horrors or the Hammer House of Horrors. We’d stay up late every week to watch it eating cheese sandwiches and drinking tea. I knew then what I wanted to do. Although I got sidetracked for a while being in bands, writing plays for a youth theatre and all the other things that occupy a teenage mind.
I first started making films when my parents bought me a super 8 camera. I was 11 years old and I’d get all my friends to dress up in home made sci-fi or horror costumes and we’d run around rooftops and hillsides mainly chasing and fighting and then either someone would be shot or stabbed. They were rubbish but a lot of fun to make and I suppose they got my head around the idea of what it was to be a filmmaker. I’d cut the films all together and hold screenings at my house. I’d invite my school friends over and charge them 20p admission. So I guess I’ve always done it myself. It’s not really that much different to what I do now. Ha, the budgets are about the same.
Filmmaking wasn’t something you did where I grew up. Ironically it’s where they now make all the BBC drama including DR. WHO. But back then in the early 80’s people looked at you as if you were stupid when you told them you wanted to make films. I remember telling my careers teacher at school that I wanted to make films and she just said I was wasting my time, that it would never happen and that I should get a proper job. There was a real sense of this is your lot in life and that’s all there is to it. I was 1st generation STAR WARS so I never bought into that. I thought you’re wrong, life is what you make it and I still believe that.
|On set, Director/Writer Craig Griffith (Left) and DoP Chris Britton (Right)|
We see you are currently working on a project called ‘Nightvision’, what can you tell us about it?
I’m not allowed to say too much about Nightvision or the producer will kill me. It’s essentially a transmedia horror project. It’s a new way of story telling that plays out on line and the audience is part of that. I love the cross over between movies and the Internet and this to me was a real chance to see what can be achieved by using the Internet as the platform for telling the story and not just another viral marketing thing.
We’ve just finished all the work on it and it’s taken a year or so to get all the elements just right but we’re there now. We were determined to get it right so there’s been a lot of ripping things apart and putting them back together so that everything is as scary as can be which has been a brilliant process. My co-writer Kevin Moss and I have really pushed each other to justify every little element or idea. To be honest I think it was just a chance for us to insult each other for a year.
|Writer/Director Craig Griffith outside Compton House|
When can we expect to see ‘Nightvision’
There’s no date decided yet. We should be starting our test runs in the next few weeks. From those we can finalise things and hopefully start to role it out not long after that. Well that’s the plan but you know how it is with new stuff. Who knows what it’ll throw up but I’m sure it’ll be fun whatever it is.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Right now I have a few projects on the go. I’m shooting my 2nd feature on a micro budget of about nothing. It’s a road movie called THE LONG ROAD. Basically I’ve bought an old MG Midget and I’m shooting hit and run style (no pun intended of course) as and when I can.
I’m also developing a Horror thriller called EVOLUTION CELL, which we’ve just started casting in the US. We’re talking to a couple of well know TV stars for that but it’ll depend on whether we get the money. We were supposed to shoot it a few years back with Brittany Murphy but when she tragically died it all fell apart. As you can imagine it was a real sad time.
And then after that I have a whole slate of films, animations and even a graphic novel that I’d love to get made. You always have to have more than one project on the go because you just never know which one will take off.
Thanks again Craig for your time and we look forward to seeing your future projects.
Through the Looking Glass is released on DVD from 31st October and will be available on Amazon and from www.theworkshoppresents.com
You can also follow Through the Looking Glass for more information at the following locations:-
www.whatsyourreflection.com Facebook Twitter Craig's Blog
Adam 'Evil Eye' Cutler