Houses of horror fit for the big screen

Film-maker and horror aficionado Brendan McCarthy describes what makes a creepy film location and rates five Irish properties for spookiness

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 13:02

The Bates Motel, Dracula’s many castles, the creepy hotel in The Shining and its horrific 1970s pattern-tastic carpets all help dial up terror levels to 11 in these classic films.

And while some say that the real horror story in Ireland is the property market, one film expert believes that the market is full of interesting properties that would make excellent creepy film locations.

Brendan McCarthy of Fantastic Films, the nation’s go-to genre film company, creators of Stitches (2012) and Outcast (2010), and who co-produced the short, Six Shooter, which won an Academy Award in 2006, is one such individual.

While schlock-horror film-makers Hammer House made use of heavy wooden beams and strangely-shaped windows to set the scene for their cult films, in Wakewood, the 2011 film he made near Pettigo, in Co Donegal, McCarthy used an old farm that had an archway leading into its storeyard. Hanging from the ominous-looking arch was a bell under which “all kind of rituals were performed”.

McCarthy tends to go for slightly older houses, ideally in their own grounds and in sight of an old graveyard. “A big spooky tree in the garden is a cinematic bonus.” Spiral staircases and creepy looking windows all help conjure up the required atmosphere.

Here’s McCarthy are thoughts on five eerie locations:

Secret chambers
Belvelley Castle, on the banks of the River Blackwater in Cobh, Co Cork, is an early tower house that was once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Builder Tim Carpenter bought it in 2009 and got planning permission to turn the property into a large residential dwelling. He discovered a secret chamber in the castle that he hasn’t managed to open since he bought the property four years ago.

He says that a beautiful ghost haunts the building. Margaret Hodnett, as reported by James Reynolds’s 1947 publication Ghosts in Irish Houses, was so in love with her own reflection that the men in her life had to play second fiddle . She loved to gaze into a Venetian mirror that hung inside the entrance. When she dumped her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Clon Rockenby, he laid siege to the castle, for three long years, after which time the family finally conceded defeat.

By then Margaret was a shadow of her former self. Horrified by what he had done, Clon smashed the mirror and carried her outside, no doubt to give her a dramatic kiss of life. From the parapets her brother fired on Clon, killing him with his bow and arrow. Clon reportedly cursed her with his dying breath, damning her for eternity.

Favourite features: “The curse factor on its own is enough but coupled with the fact that the property has a chamber that even the owner hasn’t been able to access, makes this box-office gold.”

Scare scale: 9/10

Best for a remake of: The 2011 French film The Monk, starring Vincent Cassells

Asking price: €275,000

For sale through: Premier Properties Ireland,

Gothic horror
Annie and Peter Bowyer bought Creagh House near Lough Mask, Co Mayo, in 2002. They loved the “absurdity” of it. Built in 1875 by Col Charles Knox, high sheriff of Co Mayo, it later became a tuberculosis sanatorium and a centre for the Agricultural Institute. The Gothic pile is on 1.5 acres. Along with a tower in a state of disrepair, it has creaking floorboards and bare walls. The family lived here for eight years, during which time they made repairs but the house still needs serious modernising. Now based in Scotland, they have employed a marriedcouple who live as caretakers in an apartment in the courtyard.

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