During the blazing hot summer of 2004, in Louisville, Kentucky, two English-born and decidedly unconventional-looking filmmakers descended on a place where nothing much happens beyond the annual Kentucky Derby Festival. They were in Louisville to film a movie at what many consider the most haunted place in the US – Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanitarium. Similar in design to the monstrous Danvers State Mental Hospital depicted in Brad Anderson’s classic “Session 9”, Waverly has loomed over the south end of the city since the early 1920s. And has been the source of more than a few nightmares for residents. I recall passing the place, which rises high on a hill, when I was young and Waverly was then in operation as a geriatric center, and being told that it was an “insane asylum”. It certainly looked like one. And in the intervening years, after any number of ridiculous ideas about what to do with the decaying monstrosity, including tearing it down to build the world’s biggest statue of Jesus (puh-LEASE!!), new owners finally wrested title of the hospital away and began restoring it. Nowadays, it is open for tours at Halloween (very effective as there is no electricity – bring your own flashlight) as well as having part of the building turned into a mini haunted house. But don’t try to visit Waverly any other time – security is very tight. And there ARE the ghosts…
Bloody-Disgusting recently had the opportunity to speak with the wonderfully entertaining Booth Brothers (Philip and Christopher) about their experiences in the “most haunted place” and what they brought away from being in Waverly Hills for what may have been too long.
BD: Thank you so much for the two of you taking time to talk to Bloody-Disgusting about your amazing new film, “Death Tunnel”. First thing though is because of a marked lack of biographical information about The Booth Brothers on the Internet, would the two of you mind giving us your Life Stories, to date? Especially how you got into the filmmaking business.
PB: We were born in Yorkshire, England in a hospital that looked like something out of "Dracula"! I think these incredible places leave imprints within you, as if attached from a past life or experience. We were initially drawn to the music industry and had success and gold records in England and Canada with several rock bands. Chris was the lead singer and I played lead guitar. We moved to LA to conquer the US market where we opened up for Motley Crue, Ratt. The money was running out and big hair never looked good on us anyhow, so we moved on to Film!
CB: We started working on feature films as PAs; if there ever were a tough job, they would say, "Call the Booth Brothers”. Of course Mum thought we were in the movie business now. Eventually, we found a break down and budget on set, and we thought to ourselves, " hell we could do this." We went on to do music videos, commercials and films! Film is a form of ultimate expression, Dali meets Manson. If you’re going to make a cut, make it deep and make it scar.
BD: How did the two of you, rock and roll Englishmen, get involved with Shane Dax Taylor, a Kentucky boy, to make “Death Tunnel”? I remember reading a lot of local press and seeing pictures during filming and I had to wonder what folks that lived near Waverly Hills must think of you two.
CB: We met Shane while working on his cool film "The Grey"! He had grown up in the haunted shadows of Waverly Hills Sanitarium as a teenager and brought the basic concept to us! Shane has great energy and his father Corky (our executive producer) is a true gentleman and our hero. "We all agreed this location is our next film! We met some of the nicest people you could ever meet! I met my beautiful wife at our Ghost Hunt Contest that we had down at Waverly!
PB: The people of Louisville are wonderful and caring and the girls are amongst the most beautiful in the world! We had actually thought about moving there for a while, we had the cowboy hats!! Of course there was a lot of head turning, but we live for that! Mum, always used to say, "Why can't you be normal, Why can't you just fit in!" Our reply, “WHY”
BD: I asked Shane this and I will ask the two of you as well – had you seen Brad Anderson’s amazing “Session 9” before tackling “Death Tunnel”. Both Waverly Hills and Danvers Mental Health Facility were designed by the same man, Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, although Danvers is monstrously larger that Waverly and was strictly used for the mentally ill while Waverly was for TB patients. Did you do much research into Waverly prior to filming?
PB: We have seen “Session 9”, we went actually to the premiere, it was one of the very first HD 24p films to come out, and we loved it!
”Death Tunnel” is a different kind of movie, we wanted to make a grittier film yet with a glossy visual look like the big boys, “Sin City” meets “13 Ghosts”, style-wise. As filmmakers, your creativity should not be suppressed by your budget, you need to just go ahead and film your imagination! This will showcase an Independent filmmaker's true talent, the determination and passion it takes to get picked up by a Major Studio!
We are happy to say, It did! Columbia Tristar called us up at home and told us how much he loves our film!
CB: Extensive research took about 4 months with the invaluable help from the Louisville Library, University and talking to the actual people, the patients, security guards, owners of Waverly Hills and Keith Age of the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society!
BD: What was your first reaction upon seeing Waverly Hills when you got to the top of that long hill? And when you first entered the place?
PB: Well, I imagine it was the same feeling Kubrick had when he first saw The Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”, or Anderson with Danvers State Hospital! "This is the Real Thing, Scary as Hell!”
BD: How did you come up with the plot? I must admit to being a little worried when I first started reading about the plot – college initiation, scantily clad girls. I was afraid Waverly would not be treated with the respect it deserves and the film would descend into the typical T&A teen slasher film. But it did not!
PB: Thanks, we used the scandals and it's tragic history for the basis of the script! The college girl scenario was for domestic sales, the scantily clad Girls were for us! With that said, this film is definitely about bringing much needed attention and respect to the helpless patients, the brave doctors and nurses that tried to fight the monstrous White Plague before the age of antibiotics! Waverly Hills is one of America's last Castles standing! A monument to the heroes of a past era. The sad realization is, the Sanitarium is in imminent danger of being TORN DOWN! Condos are now just thirty feet away! www.waverlyhillstbsanatorium.com
BD: I know about the legend of the Hanged Nurse at Waverly and have been in Room 502 but what about the other ghosts? Did they come up in your research or were they created strictly for the film? I especially loved The Body Collector as he reminded me of The Professor in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses”.
CB: All the ghosts came from research of the haunting of Waverly Hills. In fact there is lot that is still hidden that happened there, we felt this may be why the ghosts haven't crossed over. They need us to know something! Most of the patients died believing in something that did not exist, "A Cure", but there was No Cure in the first twenty years there. The Sanitarium really was a place to hide them, or worse forget them! All the dead were removed secretly through the 500 hundred foot Death Tunnel!
A official TB document entitled No Death states, "the cured and deceased were combined and masked into one total, the total that left the Sanitarium!" We found a very old letter that reads, "Please don't forget us!"
PB: It is important to know that all the GHOST and DEATH scenes in the film are shot exactly where they have been documented and sited! " The Girl with No Eyes," is frequently spotted on the Third Floor, The Pregnant Nurse with TB who took her own life has two tellings: (1) she hanged herself or (2) she jumped off the roof! Actress, Annie Burgstede, actually stood on that very same ledge of the roof and jumped down onto a 45-foot crane just hidden below the camera! There is a documented case of freezing to death, electrocution and the infamous workers that would roll the bodies down the Death Tunnel. Real Spooky!
BD: Philip, you both co-wrote, edited and filmed “Death Tunnel” and got some incredible aerial shots as well as shots that looked archival but Shane said weren’t all old pictures. How did you create those archival aerial shots as well as the pictures used throughout the film?
PB: The aerial shots were amongst the scariest to shoot. You would fly over a vast Kentucky landscape, then all of a sudden, there was Waverly Hills Sanitarium, like a dead, massive ship in the middle of a barren rockscape. I kept feeling we would be dragged down in to this titanic vortex.
CB: Those flash back shots are the authentic fear-filled images taken out of the actual Waverly Hills archival films and photos and then blended in Post with our actors and props!
BD: Christopher, you did nearly everything else in the film: co-writer, producer, composer, production designer, art direction, costume designer. May I ask what the film’s budget was as it looks on screen like a pretty big budget but with the two of you playing so many important roles behind-the-scenes, I’m sure that saved you a lot of money?
CB: It cost just over a million dollars, but being a seasoned film and music producer and art director for years now, I knew how to get the look and feel from the real elements that Waverly had to offer. We had to do it quick and stay on budget but come back with an epic. Needless to say we were ecstatic to work with such great local talents as DP Marcel Cabrera, Art Director James Smith, U.P.M Archie Borders (all Louisvillians).
Originally we were not going to be able to shoot the Death Tunnel, due to extremely hazardous conditions, we had to truck a wonderful, passionate crew of thirty along with 80 k of lights and three 5-ton grip trucks down into a sinking tunnel full of mud and madness. It was like going around Cape Horn in a pirate ship, I felt like Captain Blye, as there was mutiny in the air.
Hollywood kept saying, who will ever know if you shot the real Death Tunnel or not, we replied, “We will know, so we're not coming back until we shoot the real thing.” We stayed there an extra week and captured the gruesome tunnel of death. I can never forget how we all felt in that tunnel 18 hours a day. It was definitely a Zen-like experience. The screams, the ghosts, the fear, we all ended up believing in the after life.
BD: How did you go about casting “Death Tunnel”? There are no “names” in it although I think some of the cast will go on to become “names”, especially Steffany Huckaby, Annie Burgstede and Jilon Ghai who was also in Anthony Ferrante’s “Boo!” about a haunted hospital.
PB: Casting was a long and focused project, we had over 200 hundred girls dressed in lingerie audition, it was a hard job. With the help from our great casting agent Greg Dehn and SAG Indie, we were able to find the people that are screen sexy and great actors too! All of our cast, especially our lead actors, Steffany and Jason, were incredible and intense.
BD: Was the entire film shot in Louisville? I recognized Phoenix Hill Tavern at the beginning of the film, where you had Grammy winning group Nappy Roots perform and it looked like the University of Louisville during the campus scenes. Was anything shot in LA and if so, what?
CB: We were going to split the shoot up, but we felt this movie is about the Sanitarium, so let's shoot it all there! We had a sound stage in LA lined up with all the sets from Stephen King’s “Rose Red”, still standing. It was incredible. But nothing could take the place of the real Sanitarium; I mean Waverly reeked of grit and death. It was like filming in a tomb. It was so cool yet scary. Some pickup shots were filmed in LA at Post Mortem Studios, due to an added scene.
BD: Shane said you all were granted unlimited access to Waverly Hills, which I thought, was amazing as it’s not the safest place due to a previous owner trying to tear it down. Did you in fact make use of the entire building? And how did the new owners receive you all when you approached them about filming at Waverly? People here are very protective of the place.
CB: Well, the owners, Tina and Charlie, are great people! We met with them many times and toured the place, they felt our passion for the Sanitarium and for filmmaking. They told us the darkest truths and even opened up the closed off sections, that haven't been opened in years, the walls were like out of “Beetlejuice”, crooked and peeling with 80 year-old paint, this section in the film quite a bit! We shot every floor except the basement. No one dared go down there.
BD: Where did you find Ron Karkoska who did the amazing SFX and did he also design those creepy “Saw”-like masks the girls wear?
PB: Ron and Mark at Monster FX worked on “Shadowbox”, our other film. They do a lot of major features, they're great! Chris helped design the main Death Mask; we wanted a combination between Elephant Man and the real hoods that they actually wore to hide the deterioration from infectious disease!
BD: When I tried to get a screener of “Death Tunnel”, it took Shane contacting my editor to verify I was legit before he would send me one as he said SO many, I assume, Louisvillians wanted to get a hold of a copy. Have you had incidents like that happen to you as well? And will there be any kind of premiere here in Louisville?
CB: We are blessed with a website with over 4 million hits and a loyal forum fan base of close to 65,000. It is very hard for independent film companies to battle piracy and bootlegging, It's a compliment so many people want to see it, but please buy it, or rent it from legitimate vendors!
We're currently talking to a Kentucky events promoter right now, about a Feb 28th screening and a concert with the local rock acts, 9VoltRevolt and Incursion headlining (they are also on the soundtrack). We will be beamed in on a big screen hosting the event at Expo Five in downtown Louisville.
BD: Did either of you experience anything “unusual” while you were in Waverly Hills? I know it was featured on “The World’s Scariest Places” on Fox-TV a few years ago and the times I have been in it were a little unnerving, especially at night as there is no electricity.
CB: A lot of strange things occurred while filming there. We used actual documented EVPs in the eerie soundtrack and if you pause on the hanging scene you can see weird face in the doorway! But if we may use this as a little plug, we have included some of them in a 20-minute Featurette on the DVD. The Girls, the Crew and the Ghost Hunters all tell their own spooky on-set stories! The fully documented evidence of the damned is included on the documentary, “SPOOKED, The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanitarium”, due out in March. www.spooked.org
BD: Will any profits from “DEATH TUNNEL” or “SPOOKED” go back to Waverly to contribute to its restoration?
CB: Yes, a portion of the film's proceeds will go to restore and help Waverly Hills and its Spectral Inhabitants have a home.
BD: Would you mind telling us a bit more about “Spooked” and how that documentary came about? Was it planned from the beginning or did something during filming plant the seed in someone’s mind that a documentary needed to be filmed about Waverly?
CB: After unlocking the shocking door on Waverly's history, we felt there was so much to share, but including this in the film, “DT” would be more like a "Schindler's List" and it's hard to mix so much horrific, factual information and tragedy and still come out of the film entertained! It would be like taking the wildest roller-coaster ride of jumps and scares, only to be constantly reminded you could die at any time! It was our goal to inspire a morbid fascination with the Sanitarium and then the fun is finding out how true the events are in the film! "SPOOKED" is the prelude to the film; many people will see it and be in awe when they then see the film! It is the perfect appetizer for “DEATH TUNNEL”, “SPOOKED” has already gained critical acclaim and notoriety amongst paranormal societies.
BD: How long did the shoot take and wasn’t it during the summer of 2004? Summer in Louisville – you all must have “loved” that.
PB: The full shoot took about 4 weeks and, yeah it was hot! 100 degrees and humid! Funny thing though, it was deathly cold inside the Sanitarium, I would lean against the wall for balance while I shot hand held, and the walls were like ICE! Sometimes you could see your breath. It was very "The Exorcist"-like being in those hallways, scared of opening a door to the tortured past.
BD: What can you tell us about your next film, “ShadowBox” which I read was Matthew McGrory’s last film after “The Devil’s Rejects”. The plot, again set in the South, sounds intriguing and the website, http://www.shadowboxmovie.com/ is unsettling as well. What is your interest in Southern urban legend and Appalachian folklore all about? And where did you film “ShadowBox”?
PB: Well, we thought “Deliverance” was a twisted movie, We thought if true evil would find a home, it may in the strange backwoods of Appalachia! "If you were locked up in a Box, all alone, in the dark and were able to conjure up, the darkest and most disturbing thoughts! What would you think of?" “ShadowBox” was filmed in the backwoods and at the Hollywood Film Ranch where they shot “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Helter Skelter”.
BD: Since this was Matthew’s last film and his death was a shock to so many people in the horror industry, can you tell us about working with him on “ShadowBox”? Who does he play in the film?
CB: Matty plays Hort a backwoods giant, who preys on the fears of his victims! He is amazing to shoot, his structure and physique are the scariest on film, and in person, he is the nicest person one would ever work with! Matthew was like working with family, and we miss him greatly and miss him like a brother.
BD: How would you briefly describe “ShadowBox” to someone who knows nothing about it? And just how much “horror” is in the film as opposed to psychological thriller?
PB: "Deliverance” meets “Jacob's Ladder”! The images are extremely unsettling and the story is based on Dante's Inferno and Carl Jung’s theory about the Shadow Self, "The Dark Side of Human Nature”! This film gets inside you and opens up the fear within!
BD: When can viewers look forward to “ShadowBox”? I know “Death Tunnel” is finally getting its release on February 28th (Louisvillians rejoice!).
CB: We have talked with the studios, we are all pretty excited, as the release of “SHADOWBOX” is scheduled soon. “SPOOKED: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanitarium” is our next release due out in March.
BD: What other projects do you have cooking in the near future? I heard rumors about a vampire film based on a comic book series…? Is there any truth to that? And do you plan to continue to do just horror films?
CB: The wonderful thing about signing with a major, such as Sony Pictures is you get a lot of offers, We just got back from Sundance, which was incredible for us! As far as Genre goes, we have always been a little twisted! Our next location is the most demented place known to man.
BD: What are some of your favorite horror movies?
PB: “Jacob's Ladder”, “The Shining”, the cult classic Elias J. Mihages’ "Begotten" and, of course, “The Exorcist”.
BD: Do you enjoy any horror novels and if so, which ones?
CB: Stephen King is cool, as well as Clive Barker and Dante's Inferno! The ultimate one is George Bush’s biography.
BD: Is there anything you would like to add that I have neglected to mention or ask?
PB: Yeah, your My Space Rocks! Most of all Elaine, this film has made us all believe in Ghosts!
CB: Yeah, I want to thank everyone that has help make this movie a success especially you Kentuckians, you guys Rock!!!!
BD: What is one thing no one knows about Philip or Christopher that you think people should know?
CB: "We're The Guns ‘n Roses of Filmmaking!"
PB: “There are No Rules in Filmmaking, Just Great Ideas!"
By: Elaine Lamkin