Horror Favourites – Amanda Boyle

What is better than horror? True Horror thats what and this Halloween Channel 4’s True Horror is back. The Witches’ Prison is True Horror’s Halloween Special directed by award winning director Amanda Boyle who has taken time out to tell us all about her favourite horror film, right here, right now!
From the BAFTA nominated producers of ‘The Enfield Haunting’ will take you again into the heart of a terrifying true horror story with a stand out haunting central performance by Michelle Ryan (Doctor Who) as successful saleswoman Vanessa Mitchell who buys a house which is rumoured to be a former Witches’ prison in St. Osyth, Essex, the village she grew up in. ‘The Cage’ is a cute Tudor cottage but as soon as Vanessa and flatmate Nicole move in, they witness increasingly strange events. Flying objects, mysterious pools of blood and an invisible entity that rattles doors and pushes people downstairs are enough to spook anyone.

As friends and housemates are gradually scared away, Vanessa is left virtually alone. Before she finds that, to her astonishment, she is five and a half months pregnant. Increasingly isolated and oppressed as a working, single-mother in a house besieged by paranormal activity, Vanessa vows to let nothing hurt her new-born child. But can either of them survive the increasingly vicious attacks they endure?

Our Horror Favourites continues with Amanda Boyle, who takes the helm of the Halloween special of Channel 4’s dramatized documentary series TRUE HORROR. Amanda explains:

“I’ve always been both fascinated and genuinely frightened by horror films. I’ve never been blasé. I remember stumbling on Hellraiser as a kid, just seeing a snippet and being haunted by the image of Pinhead. Lots of horror images are just so undeniably strange and visceral. They have such potency that they linger in your subconscious for years, even decades afterwards.

True Horror – The Witches’ Prison is drawn from real life events. At its core it’s an old-fashioned haunted house movie, the story of a woman going mad. It has themes of depression and isolation. As you all know, there is a classic grammar to setting stuff up, particularly jumps, so I wanted to understand this syntax in more detail.

My editor Paul Holland, a horror aficionado – sent me loads of links to famous or clever horror moments when I was writing and, if I’m honest, there is a lot of stuff that I just don’t get. I have a low tolerance to watching cruelty. I think there is too much cruelty in the world and I don’t feel comfortable adding to it through my work. But, as a director, I am drawn to creating atmosphere and exploring ideas. Horror needs to do both, and the way the genre is often a trojan horse is very appealing.

Most recently Get Out did that superbly – I loved that film on many levels. The stuff that I like is often trying to get to grips with what makes us horribly human – stories that genuinely unpick weaknesses and explore morality. It’s a truism that we live in the age of television replete with flawed characters and moral greyness – but I do find these kinds of stories fascinating. As I’ve got older I’ve started to find violence even harder to stomach but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s sometimes necessary for a whole host of reasons in the films we watch or make.

Which takes me to my favourite horror. It’s not classic horror – some of your readers might balk at me calling it that – but it looks at the power of images, explores the morality of horror and creates some undeniably vivid violent moments. I’m talking about Clockwork Orange.

Growing up, my parents had the soundtrack to Clockwork Orange on a cassette tape which I used to play over and over again. The music intrigued me, it was such a brilliant mix – funny and pompous, old and new. I asked my Mum about where the tape was from and she spoke about the film in really unexpected terms – saying that maybe it should have been banned. She had liked it as a book. We lived in a very 70s house with a lot of glass and she used to say it reminded her of the house with glass in Clockwork Orange. All of this made me desperate to see the film.

When I finally saw it, I was dumbstruck. The way the music was used was a total surprise. It was so intoxicating – even the sections that hadn’t aged well. I was disturbed that my Mother would even want to live in a glass house after seeing the film. But it also taught me what a master could do mixing images and music. I loved the film’s language. Its exploration of society and violence; the morality of creating disturbing images – still interests me.

Our stay in our own glass house ended when my Dad died. He went mad in that house in a way. I remember seeing him take a chain saw to prune his beloved trees; which in retrospect was the beginning of the end. The reality of horror in real life can be far more mundane, easy to miss. We are fragile as people. Yet processing it all is very much informed by the horror images we’re exposed to.

Michelle Ryan as Vanessa

Funnily enough, I mentioned to my Mum when I was older how much Clockwork Orange had had an impact on me. I think we went to a play of it. She told me she had met Kubrick. My mother was an artist and she had once done an exhibition of work inspired by tarot cards. Kubrick’s wife, also an artist, had work featured in the show. Apparently, Kubrick attended the private view. I can’t believe this is true but it is typically of my dear Mum that, having introduced me to his work, she wouldn’t have realised what a huge deal that would have been. When I once did the maths of when the exhibition would have taken place… I think I might have been old enough to have attended that private view but…. let’s not go there. Never meet your idols eh…

True Horror is a series designed to give people enjoyable scares. My episode hopefully does just that. It is entertainment and good old Halloween fun. What makes me proud are the glimpses we give to illustrate the state of mind of someone who might see ghosts. As well as the hinting at some of the real ghosts of Britain’s past – those poor old witches. I rewatched Psycho and Suspira as well as more modern fare like The Conjuring and Babadook – when reading the true-life testimonies that the episode is about; they have all informed it a little. As does the Essex countryside and the power of the first-hand accounts. It also has a terrific soundtrack by Jack Mathias, which definitely helps to crank up the tension. Viddy well.”

TRUE HORROR’s THE WITCHES’ PRISON screens first Tonight Monday 29th October at 11pm and then on Halloween night at 1.30am (Thursday 1st November).


Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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