At FrightFest this year we where lucky enough to catch up with The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill director Kevin Gates who talked to us about the crazy true stories behind his fantastic film which blends fact and fiction with frightful results. He also discussed with us occult ceremonies, Zombie Diaries 1 and 2, FrightFest, Owl Man and lots lots more, enjoy.
The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is out on DVD 14 October. Beware this interview contains spoilers so carry on at your peril or make sure you watch Paranormal Diaries: Clophill first which is out now on DVD and Blu-ray!
Love Horror: Before this your previous movies where Zombie Diaries 1 and 2 and it seems many of the people involved in those where in were also in Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, how did you make that transition?
Kevin Gates: Interestingly we actually shot Paranormal Diaries before Zombie Diaries 2 which was strange. This was because we were waiting for funding and had lots of interest and some time wasters. So we decided to get out and shot something. I grow up in Bedfordshire, so I had heard of this place Clophill which was still local to me and I had visited it as a teenager with mates so it had always been in the back of my mind to do something there.
Basically we got a group of friends together that were cast and crew on the previous film and those that had work on Zombie Diaries 2 to get together for a weekend, shoot something very low budget and very experimental as well. So the film is essentially an investigation over a weekend. We set up a lot of stuff just to see what we could get at the end of it. Obviously once we shot the film, then Zombie Diaries 2 got green lit I spent the next year working on that then came back to this.
Love Horror: When watching the film it’s hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction was this intentional?
Kevin Gates: Yes absolutely. Initially there was no script I had an itinerary of what we were going to do. I set up interviews with locals, witnesses, experts we also got this paranormal group involved. We were going to carry out experiments at certain times of the night and just see what happens.
Nobody really knew what we were up to apart from me and Mike (Michael Bartlett) even my friends in the crew weren’t in on the fact that we were going to play a few tricks on the guys towards the end. We managed to practical convinced everyone right to the end it was all real, until we did one scene at the end of the weekend, it was great fun. Rob who was the sound recordist was very cynical and we even managed to trick him. We even had this tough guy security team with us that were really freaked out, when it came to supernatural they didn’t know how to deal with it.
Love Horror: So is everyone in the film real then?
Kevin Gates: There is one expert that is a plant. He’s a friend of Mike’s, who is actually a school teacher and wanted to be in Zombie Diaries 1 but we weren’t sure as he’s not an actor. Mike gave him the challenge of being a Folklorist as he’s got a big interest in the occult but he was actually not an expert at all. Again we managed to trick everyone he was real. Everyone else however was genuine.
Love Horror: So if all the people in Paranormal Diaries are real what about the legend of Clophill and the story of the black mass that took place there in the 60’s?
Kevin Gates: Yes, it’s a completely real event. There was a big revivalist thing of the occult in the 60’s. In March 1963 the church had been a ruin for a number of years, someone had stolen the lead off the roof and it had decayed through. It was one of the harsh winters but in March and a group went up there of Aleister Crowley followers.
Lots of people say it was a black mass but actually is was necromancy they tried to get into lots of the graves and they managed to get into one, Virginia Hunts. They took her bones into the church, arranged them and sacrificed a cockerel, did some weird rights, scribbled stuff on the walls. It was found by two kids the next day one of whom was interviewed in the film. It was a seven day wonder in the press. There were similar incidents that same year churchyard desecration and that sort of thing but it all stemmed from Clophill.
As a result of that Clophill was until the late 70’s plagued by black magic. The police were trying to kind of cover it up. There was a lot of similar stuff going on and the story you see in the film was backed up by about two years later another group of kids who went up and saw this strange black magic right taking place. They tried to report it to the police but the police were more interested in arresting the kids than the people carrying out this incident, which is very interesting.
Whether or not you believe there was a conspiracy I personally don’t think there was. Experts that I spoke to who believe in the occult do think there are highly placed people within society and as long as the rituals don’t go too far they will just turn a blind eye. Whether or not it’s true I find it interesting. I did so much research into the whole legend but you only get to see a small amount in the film. I’ve even written a book on the whole thing which hopefully will come out soon.
Love Horror: Growing up in the area was it a rite of passage to go up to Clophill?
Kevin Gates: Yes definitely. I went up there for the first time in 1990, I was a young teenager in a friends beaten up old car. We drove up the track to the church knowing nothing of it at all, this was pre-internet. There was no information around about it, all we knew was there was a church that was supposed to face the wrong way and we knew the rumors which were exaggerated which said that they had burned witches there. We went up there that night and all scared each other to death and that was it. I didn’t go back there for several years. I always remembered it as a good location for a film. Once I started my research I came to the idea of doing the film on Clophill. It was the right time, in fact its 50 years on from the first incident that the film is coming out which is kind of strange timing.
Love Horror: What’s the difference between creating a work of fiction like Zombie Diaries and making a film like Paranormal Diaries: Clophill where it is fact and fiction?
Kevin Gates: It was a challenge because it was an experimental movie, very low budget because it was all self-financed. Obviously we had to think of our film careers at the same time. Zombie Diaries 1 I find more realistic than 2 because it was a more polished production. In terms of the Paranormal Diaries because in the most part it was real, no acting involved we didn’t have to worry about a script or a story even. It was only when I wrote the additional scenes that we shot elsewhere but the important thing in those was just a matter of keeping them subtle.
Love Horror: So the actors or real life people in the movie are more reacting than acting?
Kevin Gates: Yeah well even when we set up the scenes we were in real locations on our own at night where stuff had happened before so that was in the back of our minds. It was great fun to do it but I had been up to Clophill a few times myself before the shoot just to sample the atmosphere and it is a pretty creepy place.
Love Horror: Did your devilish side come out when tricking people?
Kevin Gates: Rob the sound guy gave us a hard time during Zombie 1 because the sound was so rough. He was always pointing out our mistakes which was fair enough but it was annoying. When it came to getting our own back it was particularly satisfying that we tricked him right up until the end. He was a good sport about it though.
Love Horror: Did you have any experiences up on Clophill that you didn’t set up that were creepy or did you feel anything supernatural at all?
Kevin Gates: Yeah we did lots of Ouija board sessions and séances so all those scenes were really cut down. Lots of people heard noises or saw shadowy figures and there’s a lot more of that than what you see in the film. The Asian lads were genuine and were freaked out about being there so much so you can feel there uncomfortableness through the film. I took him up there a few nights after we shot and he was convinced that something was going to happen as it had before. For me personally Clophill is a fantastic place but nothing supernatural has happened to me there.
Love Horror: Are you a believer in ghost and the paranormal?
Kevin Gates: I’m open minded, not religious at all but I know people like Craig and Chris (Criselda Cabitac) in the film and when they recount there ghost story its completely genuine. Craig is more skeptical than me but he’s had experience he can’t explain. I’m open minded but I’m not going to believe anything until I’ve seen it for myself. Although I do know and trust people who firmly believe so I guess I’m on the fence.
Love Horror: As you mentioned them one of the scariest and most realistic elements in the movie is the central presenter pairing of Craig Stovin and Criselda Cabitac who are actors. In the film they are a couple were the children in their actual children?
Kevin Gates: Yes in real life they are a couple and those are there real kids. The stuff at the beginning about the witches I hadn’t asked them to do it at all. The direction was, I want to film you guys getting ready for the shoot tomorrow. That was it, if you want to get your kids involved you can. It was such a gift what they said to tie in the ending as ghost and witches are what Clophill is all about. Something following them home with the daughter was perfect. You have to be lucky in films, you can plan as much as you want but luck plays a part. We were very lucky during this film take the security guy for instance they weren’t supposed to be in the film at all but something happened so it was just a case of , right get the camera’s start filming.
Love Horror: That’s amazing okay how about the scene where the supernatural investigators use their radio to contact the dead is that real or slightly enhanced?
Kevin Gates: Enhanced slightly if I’m honest. It did say stuff some of the stuff but we worked in a few additional lines like Sophia. Craig was genuinely freaked out, the reaction there are completely genuine. We only did very subtle things, the odd word or something.
Love Horror: The whole film is very believable and very freaky, just one notch up from reality. What’s great is you always think ‘oh that’s weird’ as opposed to ‘that’s silly, I can’t believe any of this now.’ Was it hard to keep the reins on what you did and not do anything ridiculous?
Kevin Gates: Thank you I’m glad you feel that way. It was a risk because some people will expect a jump every few minutes and not a slow burn but it’s not that type of film. We could of taken the easy route and worked in loads of scares every so often but that was never what the film was about, it was a challenge to keep the leash on a bit and not go too far but I am glad people are reacting favorably to the style we went with.
Love Horror: What you have made is not a found fiction film or a documentary it’s sort of a horror enhanced reality film I guess. Personally I hope people watch it with an open mind trying to guess what is fact and fiction and then do their own research after into Clophill and its legends because they will be as shocked as I was on the truth.
Kevin Gates: Its always an interesting game the audience can play to work out what’s real and what’s not. You’ll be surprised by how much is real. On Sunday when we go into the church and the snake is in an S shape that is completely real. It was just there. Whether people believe me or not, even the guys in the crew were just like ‘you set that up!’ I proved I didn’t because the guy who we interviewed turned up before us and knew nothing of the Sophia legend and he was the one who pointed it out to us. It was just one of those things that we were like ‘we’ve just got to get this in the film.’ The reason we think for it was there was a Kestrel nest in the tower and it must have dropped the slow worm thing and it landed in a perfect S. Just bizarre!
Love Horror: You’re here at FrightFest premiering the film but have you had any audience feedback yet?
Kevin Gates: No not from audiences no this is the first screening. We’ve shown to individuals and small groups of friends and its getting a lot of good feedback which is really pleasing because it is something a bit different. It is trying something a bit different with what I think is a bit of a tired sub-genre. Particularly with found footage films every area has been covered now so for us it was about doing something new.
Love Horror: Are you going to see anything else at FrightFest whilst you’re here?
Kevin Gates: Hopefully, I’m here all weekend and I want to catch a few films. I wanted to see You’re Next, but I missed that and heard it was very good. I would also like to catch up with some familiar faces. I’ve been coming as a fan for years, it’s the first time in 6 years I’ve come on the other side as a film maker. There are no egos at FrightFest it’s all just fans and film makers mixing together and having good time, so that’s great.
Love Horror: Do you know who else is coming down from the film?
Kevin Gates: We got Craig and Chris from the main cast, the rest of the crew as well and a lot of the witnesses and family and friends so it should be a good night. I think I’ll probably know most of the people in the screening by the end of it.
Love Horror: Have they all seen the film already?
Kevin Gates: Not many of them no so it will be interesting seeing how they react. I’m sure they’ll be laughter in the cinema, for the ‘oh you put me in that scene!’ bits, I think they’ll have a lot of fun with it so I’m really looking forward to it.
Love Horror: I noticed there is also listed a Tales from the Graveyard: The Clophill Archives is that a whole other movie?
Kevin Gates: Tales from the Graveyard is stuff not included in the film. We shoot so much footage and we had all this material we had to get down to 90 minutes, we really like so much stuff that was left over and we really wanted to use it so that why we put it in Tales from the Graveyard: The Clophill Archives so it wasn’t wasted.
Love Horror: So how many days of raw footage did you shoot?
Kevin Gates: 3 days at Clophill, in June 2010. Then I worked on the additional story lines that were shoot at different locations but they were just a couple of nights really. The Black Mass scene was one whole separate night. In total it was probably only shoot over 5 or 6 days and the nature of the film allowed that. The weekend at Clophill was the framework I based everything around that to move the story on. There wasn’t much to do, found footage films are very quick to shoot, very economical.
Love Horror: Is that more freeing as a film maker or are you tired of the faux documentary genre?
Kevin Gates: The next film I do probably won’t be found footage, after 3 or 4 of these films I want spread my wings and do something a bit different. I do like location shooting, in studios there’s a lot more waiting around so that can be frustrating. I love the immediacy of documentary style as you don’t have to do loads of different lighting set ups or a load of different shots. That is very freeing I do like that approach but equally I am aware found footage is getting very tired. I do want to stay within the horror genre but do something with more of a tradition approach
Love Horror: Do you think you would prefer to step further away from fiction, would you like to make just a straight documentary perhaps?
Kevin Gates: Whether or not that would fit into the Paranormal Diaries series I don’t know. We have another film we are looking at with a location legend attached to it but yes at the same time I would love to do a straight documentary on this type of stuff whether that would be a feature film I would have to make sure the right elements were there. I was always aware that although we wanted Clophill to be as real as possible it also had to work as a commercial horror film, we were totally honest about that from the start. I wouldn’t want to copy the same format exactly again.
Love Horror: The H.P Lovecraft quote at the start of the film, The process of delving into the black abyss is to me the keenest form of fascination, is wonderful why did you choose it?
Kevin Gates: I’m a massive fan of Lovecraft, have been for years but I just stumbled across it and it just fitted really well with the experiment. Just going into a location with all this history behind it and not really knowing what we’ll find out. The intrigue and atmosphere is what the film is about. I had wanted to get something from Lovecraft in there as a way of paying homage to him having read him for so many years.
Love Horror: Would you be tempted to do an adaptation of one of his stories?
Kevin Gates: Yes absolutely, one of the ones that I read I really enjoyed was Dagon. If I was going to do it I would want to do it justice. That’s not necessarily big budget but doing at least one of the short stories and capturing the atmosphere I felt when I first read it, it would be a huge test.
Love Horror: Have you decided already the direction for the next Paranormal Diaries film to take then?
Kevin Gates: We have a location, a small wood in Bedfordshire that has got a link to Clophill in that there were cult groups using it from the 60’s right up till the late 70’s and maybe even more recently. In my research I found in the late 70’s a group of kids saw this Mothman apparition in broad daylight which pursued them across these fields. These guys are now in their mid-forties and still claim their story is genuine. It wasn’t massively publicised, so I spoke to a couple of papers later myself. That was interesting in the same wood I got chatting to people in the area and an ex-soldier who claimed to see a Black Shuck in the exact same wood in the mid 80’s. If I was going to do another one I would also definitely bring the occult to the forefront as I’ve done so much research into it.
Love Horror: That all sound amazing and strange, aren’t the Mothman legends much bigger in America?
Kevin Gates: Yes Point Pleasant, West Virginia is the main place famous for Mothman. The UK equivalent is called Owl Man, which sounds less scary, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Love Horror: Any other projects you’re looking at doing?
Kevin Gates: A few, I’m looking a few scripts at the moment. We’ve got a bigger project we are trying to get off the ground so hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about that in the future. There are lots of discussion going on at the moment. There’s always talk of doing another Zombie Diaries film. What we’ve said about that is we will only do it if we can shot it like a normal film because the end of Zombie Diaries 2 does turn into a tradition film. 3 months after the apocalypse or whatever the believability of people still having and using camcorders I think is taking it a bit too far. I think we probably took it too far at times in Zombie Diaries 2 to be honest. I love the Italian horror films Fulci and the zombie stuff from the late 70’s. That’s what I grew up watching. Not to make a splatter fest as such just to get that atmosphere is what I would like to create
Love Horror: So maybe a supernatural or occult thriller?
Kevin Gates: The occult side of stuff we do have a script we are looking at. It’s more clandestine cults that side of stuff as I do find it quite interesting. In terms of Clophill these groups that carry out these secret ceremonies and then go off into the night. I find that quite fascinating, so along those lines may well be next.
Love Horror: Kevin thank you so much for your time.
The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is out 14 October on DVD!