SEX, GHOSTS & ROCK and ROLL. Meet the Booth Brothers. Exclusive Interview by: Elaine Lamkin/Dread Central.
After shooting 'Death Tunnel', the brothers became interested in the stories from the people who had been actual patients at Waverly, and their second career as documentarians was up and going. 'Spooked: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium' was their first "ghost hunters"-style film, followed by 'Children of the Grave' and, most recently, 'The Possessed', about a documented case of possession in Watseka, Illinois, in the late 1800s. 'The Possessed' winner of 'Best Paranormal Documentary 2009' by Haunted America Tours.
Dread Central recently spoke with Christopher and Philip Booth about how two lads from Yorkshire ended up in the States documenting American hauntings when we all know the UK is overflowing with spooks.
DC: Hello, Christopher and Philip! You crazy British cowboys. For the uninitiated, would you mind giving our readers a brief biographical rundown on The Booth Brothers story? And how you both ended up making horror documentaries?
CB: Well, to start, we were born in a creepy old asylum-looking hospital in Yorkshire, England, and grew up as ambitious rock 'n rollers. The music biz was our first taste of success in the entertainment industry. I guess we wanted our amps (volume) to go louder then just ten as at the age of 18 we were playing in front of 20,000 people. We wanted more than music on our agenda. The film biz came somewhat easy in sleazy Hollywood as we started as set boys (art department) on million dollar films and production assistants on adult films while sleeping in station wagons and bathing in pools. We were the ones that had to buy the birth control and the enema stuff by the case and hide when the cashier called a price check - we did anything we could to survive. One show led to another, and before you knew it we worked our way up from HD Playboy and found ourselves on the set of the Twentieth Century Fox Film DreamScape and said, "We can do this, we can do all of this!" So that was the end to the beginning
PB: The next step beyond was when we experienced actual paranormal activity on set, while shooting Sony Pictures' Death Tunnel. While filming on the third floor of Waverly Hills Sanatorium, suddenly the room went ice cold just for a moment, and then the cold moved through me, and then it just left. What was really chilling was discovering a slight icy film on the lens afterwards; no one could explain what happened. Then later in the shoot I saw what appeared to be a little girl running through the hall ahead of me - it was holographic in nature but very real! So this, as well as meeting the real patients of the sanatorium, opened up the door to "real horror" yet with a heart!
DC: Now I've seen the original Death Tunnel as well as the version Sony put out, and I've seen 'Spooked: The Ghosts of Waverly Hills'. Where did you two hear about Waverly, and do you still do any paranormal investigations there?
CB: Waverly was all over the Internet! People were "spooked "about this place. The execs wanted to make a pirate movie, and I said, "No, wait a minute, read this, this is the story we should do!" That story, of course, being the true, haunting story of Waverly Hills Sanatorium. We won't go back to Waverly now; we have the world we want to explore, been there/done that concept!
PB: Waverly has become quite altered and somewhat commercialized now, so it's not really like just stepping in it while the cobwebs are still there. We were allowed in all the closed-off areas when we shot there, our main scenes there as well.
DC: Since the success of the film and the documentary, you have both gone on in the "ghost hunters" mode, investigating sites associated with child hauntings in Children of the Grave (review here)How did that documentary come about?
CB: I wouldn't say we are ghost hunters per se; we are more like epic filmmakers capturing the supernatural. 'Children of the Grave' started with a photo that was sent to us. It was a picture of the top of a dark hillside with dead trees. In between these trees were shadows, shadows of what seemed to resemble twelve or so small children about three-foot tall. They had an imp-like look to them; almost like something disfigured out of 'The Hills Have Eyes'. I remember saying, "If this picture is fucking real, then we are going down there to try and capture this on film". Three months and a lot of research later, we were there, walking six miles down broken roads to the place they call "Zombie Road". The locals actually nicknamed the road due to the murders that happened there back in the day. That is where we caught them, this nest of shadow children. It blew our bloody minds, so that picture was quite real, very real indeed! We got a lot of serious thermal evidence that day! 'Children of the Grave' winner of 'Best Paranormal Documentary 2008' by Haunted America Tours.
PB: We were also shooting footage for other shows and went to a graveyard, and the cameras all shut off and on. Then we picked up what sounded like a "thousand kids screaming". It blew my headphones off, and we sat here in awe. After dedicated research we realized this was where over 600 children had been buried in a mass grave from milk poisoning!
DC: Have you ever consulted with the TAPS guys for any hauntings? Or just gotten together with them to talk ghosts over a beer or two?
CB: We spend an average of six months to a year researching a place, case, or event before we make a movie. Usually when you sit down with a ghost hunter over a beer or (twenty) two, the last thing you're going to talk about is their work. We like to get to know the people we merge with; after all you are going to have to survive the longest road trip and scariest asylums together. When you set out into one of our ghost hunts, you have to make it through "Booth" camp. At the end you are all best buds and just as scared silly!
PB: Jason and Grant are cool guys; we run into all kinds of celeb ghost gurus at shows and stuff. Even though Syfy has us and Ghost Hunters usually back to back, we are very different in style and format. We complement each other. But next time the beers are on them!
DC: Tell us a bit about your latest documentary, The Possessed. (review here) Where did you first hear about the story of Lurancy Vellum, Mary Roff, and Watseka, Illinois?
CB: Based on the true story, The Watseka Wonder. America's first documented possession of 1877 is a chilling journal of a 13-year-old girl from the small town who became possessed by spirits of the insane dead. We filmed on location at the real houses, interviewed the last of the remaining family members of the possessed girl, and redid an actual 100-year-old séance - this time with hi-tech gadgets. We also obtained real possession footage of victims alleged to be under control of the devil. That was very disturbing to us, I must say. To top it all off we investigated an abandoned mental hospital where "demonic" patients were kept. After witnessing the harsh treatments they performed, one knows NOW who the real lunatics are the ones running the asylum!
PB: Troy Taylor also has a book out by the same name about this case as well as we read about it while researching 'The Exorcist'. Something like possession happening in the 1800's sounded epic to us!
DC: Take us through your process for documenting these hauntings. You have some of the equipment the ghost hunters have: EMF detectors, EVP recorders, thermal imaging cameras, etc. But how involved are the two of you in the actual "ghost hunting"?
CB: We are there every twisted step of the way. The stories, the Hunters, the people, and most of all, the Ghosts are the stars. It is our twin mission statement, to "capture the truth" and present it with compelling reason. We do not so much care if a place is haunted, we go after why it is haunted!
PB: At first, and still, we use seasoned professionals that have had real paranormal activity. Sometimes false alarms happen. They have the experience in the field and know if something is "supernatural" or not! But we both have become very involved in the hunt for the truth behind the tragedy and the discovery of actual evidence. You have to care before you scare!
DC: Do you go into these documentaries to debunk the stories, or are you just wanting to get the stories recorded for posterity? And do either of you really believe in ghosts?
CB: We just don't just film anything. I mean, we don't document "Little Suzy's room is haunted by her pet gerbil". That is how silly things seem to be going in paranormal Hollywood. We only take on the "scream of the crop," so to speak. We like the twisted, the inspired, the deadly, and the unknown. We sincerely want to help tell a lost soul's sad story in hopes they will find the closure they need. And we will adapt their after-life story into an epic adventure feature, not as a half hour situation reality show. Yes, we believe in ghosts and the truth, as there is nothing scarier than those two, together as one.
PB: Actually we are not there to debunk anything; we rarely go to film anything that has not already been researched by our team beforehand. We are there to just document the case and to bring the story to the screen on a compassionate and engulfing level. Ghosts - do I believe in them? Oh yeah!
DC: You make use of quite a few experts in the field of the paranormal: Lorraine Warren, John Zaffis (both of whom investigated the Amityville Horror house), Keith Age from the Louisville Ghost Hunters, etc. How do decide whom you want on any particular investigation? And would you ever want to team up with the TAPS folks?
CB: If we need a doctor, we will call the best we can find. Our last demonologist was 70 years old and was advisor to the Vatican; he knew things that only God and Satan should know. He was the real deal! We take our hauntings seriously, and so should you. The last thing you want to do is piss off a ghost with an attitude.
PB: There are so many wonderful experts and teams we have worked with. If they bring the case to us, then they may know the details best or have documented evidence from the case. There was discussion about doing a case with Jason and Grant in the future so you never know!
DC: Are there places in the U.S. that you REALLY want to investigate? Where are they, and what is the attraction?
CB: Yes, whatever has a real solid connection to the afterlife is the attraction!
PB: Unfortunately, we cannot disclose that information.
DC: What scares the Booth Brothers?
CB: That some people believe everything they see and what they are told. It is important to open ones eyes but to be truthful to their heart. Just like people, television should be held responsible for its actions and attacks on others.
PB: Reality TV (laughs). Seriously, we were pretty scared going to the real Exorcist house and asylum!
DC: There have been quite a few movies lately about hauntings, particularly The Haunting in Connecticut, and is apparently in pre-production. Would either of you ever want to return to horror filmmaking as opposed to documentary filmmaking?
CB: We have some film projects in the works which may go into pre-production next year. It takes a big chunk of your life doing a film, our creativity moves far too fast sometimes to lock down. Our current television production deal supports as many new ideas and shows we can pop out as long as they are crafted within the Booth Brothers epic style.
PB: Well, we get a lot more respectively from our current style of "Epic Reality" than the cliché "horror movie" so to speak. With these there are no typical format, they are scary because they are "Real People, Real Stories & Real Fear"! We get to scare people, then deeply move them, hopefully with a message from the afterlife and one for us internally as well. We would not be able to do that with a studio horror film. But we have had some pretty interesting offers, so we'll see which way the wind blows.
DC: Have either of you seen any horror movies lately that impressed you? Weren't the usual!
PG-13/CGI-overload/20-something "actors" crap?
CB: Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Coraline are cool, but I am afraid that Hollywood is playing it safe. It's about numbers, and I don't mean 'The Number 23'.
PB: There are a few out there. I'm afraid the studio formula is numbing the market. We actually like emotional, human dramas with supernatural overtones better than the slasher genre!
DC: What is next for the Booth Brothers?
CB: We've got two new shows that will rock ya. The first one is 'The Haunted Boy, The Secret Diary of the Exorcist'. Which is the true story of what really went down in the movie 'The Exorcist'. We shot on location in St. Louis, Missouri, where the real exorcism occurred. We take you into the real decayed home of the possessed boy, the churches, the asylums, with interviews from the boy's family circle and the associated priests, and we track down the devil boy's furniture that has been locked up in cold storage now for over 20 years. That will be released in 2010.
PB: The other one is 'Soul Catcher, Trail of Fears'. Supernatural guardians, curses of the land, haunted Indian boarding schools, and the most mind-blowing evidence to date! All shot on location like an epic David Lean film!
DC: You both wear SO many hats when filming your documentaries – have you ever thought about handing the reins over to someone else and just produce? And if you have thought about that, whom in the horror genre would you like to see inherit your vision?
CB: Not that many. I have maybe over 20 Stetsons now, which is my favorite make of cowboy hat (laughs)! It is hard to have others represent our shows for television as many parts are unscripted. Much like complex jigsaw puzzles of events and emotions needed to be pieced together, like body parts at a crime scene, once put together correctly you know exactly what you got. Assembled in the wrong order and it's a mess, just average TV. We have many new affiliates and partners with new opportunities so we do hope in the future we can take a break and just produce.
PB: Actually I wear the bandanas (laughs). We utilize the highest end of HD camera equipment, lenses and filterS. Constant updates makes its hard to keep up sometimes. We work with a lot of great talent, but what comes together in the end is very personal and that may be its main potent ingredient!
DC: Have you ever considered adapting a horror novel for the screen? I would be happy to give you a short list of titles that REALLY need to be made.
CB: Love to see that list. We've got a backlog of spooky stories and events that we would love to adapt. We get more and more horror stories every day - we will never have time to do that romantic comedy our agent wanted us to do. Though we have thought about doing some "Scary Fairy" kid flicks.
PB: Oh, please pass them on. Thanks, love!
DC: Why do you think people love to be frightened? Particularly with shows like Ghost Hunters and your documentaries – those really hit home (no pun intended)?
CB: When you scream, you are alive. People are getting tired of their own lives; they are interested in moving to the other side.
PB: Fear is a raw, primal emotion like love. We almost need it to survive - adrenaline junkies hooked on fear from the comfort of your own home!
DC: You are both from Great Britain, a pretty freakin' haunted place in my opinion. Any spooky stories you can relate from growing up there? Would y want t to return there for any documentaries?
CB: Jack the Ripper, the Vampire Graveyard, the real Madhouses of Venice intrigue me. Where we lived, we had an entire family buried in the backyard from the 17th Century who died of Scarlet Fever. It was really hard to sit back in that garden; it put a whole new meaning to the concept of "green thumb".
PB: Ha, the place we were born, Halifax General Hospital, shrouded in fog, that was a scary place. Many offers to go back, but there are few more skeletons in America's closet yet to reveal!
DC: Thank you both so much for taking time to talk to Dread Central. I know that I am waiting for your next documentary. Any special plans for Halloween at the Booth households?
CB: It has been a pleasure. Thank you and special thanks to all our cool fans, team, and family and to our not so "imaginary friends." Halloween is our only day off!
PB: Thank you and to all who have watched and worked on our shows. And, of course, the ghosts for showing up!
You can find out more about the Booth Brothers films at www.spookedtelevisionreleasing.com
For the latest trailers and exclusive media You Tube/Spooked TV
Interview by: Elaine Lamkin/ Dread Central.
If you are ready to see a Booth Brother double feature, you are in luck. 'The Possessed' television premiere is part of the Syfy Channel's "31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN" on 10/08/2009, 9:00 pm/et, and right after that 'Children of the Grave' airs at 11:00 pm/et. 'Death Tunnel' is also on 10/4/2009 at 1:00 pm/et. You can keep up on what they are doing, the latest news at www. SpookedTV.com.