Described as Britain’s ‘most haunted house’ (even more haunted than that gaffe in Enfield), Borley Rectory has inspired two classics of horror fiction: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Richard Matheson’s Hell House, the film adaptations of these (The Haunting [1962 and The Legend of Hell House ) plus several documentaries (The Ghost Hunters , Strange But True? ) and numerous factual books on the subject. But it was an account by the famed psychic researcher Harry Price published in The Daily Mirror in 1929 that first brought Borley House into the wider public consciousness. Price claimed to have experienced paranormal phenomena at the Rectory, including instances of poltergeist activity. Subsequent well-publicized investigations by the Society for Psychical Research only increased Borley’s reputation over the years; despite concluding that much of the phenomena had been faked, the truth became the legend.
Price’s investigations form the basis for Ashley Thorpe’s film, a fascinating dramatized documentary that tells the story of Borley from the point of view of the various occupants at the Rectory, from the first reports of paranormal events in 1863, to the planchette séances that took place in the late 1930s, in attempts to contact the spirits of the dead, to the 1939 fire that devastated the house and led to its demolition in 1944.
Thorpe’s film started as a short, originally for Channel 4’s Shooting Gallery; but after recording a voice-over narration by Julian Sands, Thorpe realized that there was scope for a longer treatment of the subject. Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix later stepped in with funding, and Thorpe spent six years shooting and editing, making extensive use of green screen to create a work that is visually stunning. Resembling at times the early days of cinema, Borley Rectory evokes the paranormal through the properties of the film medium itself: ghostly black and white lends the images an eerie, timeless quality like old faded photographs of long-deceased relatives. In other places, Borley Rectory takes on a luminosity that conjures up 1940s ghost movie classics like The Uninvited (1944). Thorpe’s intention was indeed to return us to the “quiet” horror of the 1940s, and in this Borley Rectory succeeds remarkably well. Thorpe tells the story through voice-over and dramatic reconstruction of key events at the Rectory, and because of the intimacy of this format Borley Rectory may be best suited to the small screen rather than a festival audience. Either way, Thorpe’s visual craftsmanship shines through, especially in the post-production (which he handled himself), making Borley Rectory a unique - and haunting - viewing experience.
BORLEY RECTORY / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ASHLEY THORPE / STARRING: JONATHAN RIGBY, REECE SHEERSMITH/ RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10