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


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, premierpropertiesireland.com

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.

Favourite features: “It’s got all the horror ingredients. The chimneys speak volumes and the tower looks menacing. Plus they have a live-in husband-and-wife caretaker.”

Scare scale: 10/10

Best for a remake of: Henry James’ Turn of the Screw

Asking price: €500,000

For sale through: Formerglory.ie

Creepy coach house
Number 1, Dalymount, North Circular Road in Dublin 7, is a four-bed redbrick. While it has some lovely period features, it also has bare boards and ghostly shadowing on the walls left by long-gone mirrors and paintings. A piano is the only remaining piece of furniture. One of the bedrooms contains an en suite bathroom that looks like a panic room.

While the main house is atmospheric, it is the creepy coach house that offers oodles of script ideas. With a brick facade, the structure has two small rectangular windows that look like a pair of eyes. A creaking metal door raises the horror stakes .

Favourite features: “The main house has great scare potential. But the coach house looks like it doesn’t belong at the back of the house and that’s what makes it really appealing.”

Scare scale: 7/10

Best for a remake of: The 1987 Hellraiser based on Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart

Asking price: €350,000

For sale through: Savills, savills.ie

Expressionist noir
Una Magner Molloy bought Liss Church and schoolhouse, in Grogan, Ballycumber, Co Offaly, in 2009, with her former husband, builder Brendan Molloy. It includes the Church of Ireland chapel, graveyard and the granite schoolhouse over the road.

Built circa 1820, the limestone church has a tower, diamond windows and great kitsch horror elements such as a disused organ, moveable pulpit and stone spiral stair to the belfry. The detached granite single-storey schoolhouse, constructed in 1840, measures 66sq m (714sq ft).

Favourite features: “It has a wonderful sort of dereliction and the fact that it has a graveyard adds to its appeal, but it may be a bit obvious for the kind of films that we make.”

Scare scale: 5/10

Best for a remake of: The 1930 German classic Nosferatu

Asking price: €170,000

For sale through: Formerglory.ie

Waking the dead
Bookeen Hall is a restored stone Church of Ireland property near Athenry in Co Galway. Owned by Chris Deakin who runs the property website Former Glory, it has Gothic windows and there are up to six people buried in the graveyard. It isn’t for sale but offers B&B. The guest bedroom has access to a bell tower and the property is on the edge of Dunsandle Woods whose namesake castle has a killing room and murder hole.

Favourite features: “This is unexpectedly lovely and will lull you into a false sense of security, a plot device we love to utilise.”

Scare scale: 7/10

Best for a remake of: The 1971 psychological thriller Straw Dogs starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.

Overnight rate: €90

Available to stay in through: Airbnb.com