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Harrogate Ghost Walk – An interview with Paul Forster

We love Ghost here at Dead Northern and when we found out that our hometown of Harrogate now had its very own Ghost tour we had to find out more. So we tracked down the guide of the Harrogate Ghost walk Paul Forster, and took him out for a pint, because, who doesn’t like a local beer and a good old chinwag about the paranormal.

Q. You’re an entertainer by trade and the Harrogate Ghost walk isn’t your only performance can you give our readers some more details on who you are and what you do?

P. I trained as an actor and worked professionally as one on stage and for the radio for years. I also dabbled in close-up magic but I always found it to feel like a bunch of ‘tricks’. Then I found out about mind-reading which I believe is more personal and engaging as a performance. I started working as a mind reader out of my pure love of entertaining others. I have been making people smile and laugh at weddings, parties, and corporate events all across the UK. It’s always a thrill for me to leave people knowing I gave them a unique and entertaining experience at an event.

On a darker note, I also perform Victorian seances at some of the most haunted places around the UK. This recreation of a traditional parlour show aims to educate, entertain and scare the hell out of you in equal measure. My shows are all heavily researched, well-written, and rehearsed. I always attempt to take a real moment from history, something tragic, sinister, or simply interesting and use the story and characters to create a truly unique dark piece of theatre. 

So creating a ghost walk felt like a natural progression. Combining my training as an actor, my research and writing skills along with my love for the paranormal.

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Q. Harrogate is more known for afternoon Tea and Spa water rather than Ghosts and the otherworldly, what inspired you to produce a Ghost walk?

P. I grew up in a haunted house, strange things often happened and I couldn’t explain them away. I would always seek out a rational explanation but when I often couldn’t I assumed something else was going on. When I visit another town, city, or country, I always seek out a ghost walk. I find it is a fascinating way of getting to know the area as well as the history, plus they’re mostly always a bit of fun and very engaging.

When I moved to Harrogate I found there to be no ghost walk. I thought that perhaps Harrogate wasn’t that haunted, but I was very wrong. It has taken me 6 years to get myself into a position whereby I could launch my ghost walk. I wasn’t working on it the whole time, other projects got in the way and the COVID hit me just as I was about to launch it.  

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Q. The ghost walk takes you on a fantastic tour of Harrogate, and provides as much historical insight into the town as it does the paranormal, where did you find all of your information?

P. I have worked in the museum sector for a number of years and as such, I have a love for history and am a skilled researcher. I bought and read a lot of local history books, this allowed me to seek out some of the oldest buildings, or discover the former usage of some of them. I found a lot of the hotels were requisitioned by the army during World War II to be used as field hospitals, so naturally one can assume that these places could potentially be haunted. I spoke to staff and the locals and found that I was right. I started digging and interviewing people to find a wealth of spooky tales.

I put an advert out on Facebook and the local paper ran an article asking for people to come forward with their own ghost stories and I was inundated with a lot of haunted happenings. I have the local people of Harrogate to thank for a lot of my stories.

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Q. What sort of reactions do you get when conducting research about a location?

P. I mainly get two reactions, the first is that businesses do not want to be associated with ghosts. This could be for a number of reasons like personal views on the subject matter, or that they don’t want to scare customers away. Secondly and mostly I get a lot of people sharing some wonderful tales of creepy stories and hauntings.

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Q. The tour is entirely outdoors, have you spoken to any owners of the locations about doing an indoor event?

P. The original intention was to finish the walk inside a haunted location but due to the pandemic, I decided against this. I don’t think you need to be inside a building to fully immerse yourself in the story. The aim of my ghost walk is to provide a great story and some history in an entertaining fashion whilst encouraging people to visit the places in question in their own time. I get. A lot of local people exclaim that they’ve not been in half of the pubs, bars, or hotels we discuss on the walk. So I would hope that these people not only learn something new about their town but also visit some of the new locations we discover on the walk.

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Q. Have you or any of your audience experienced anything paranormal whilst on the Ghost Walk?

P. This is an interesting question, as I believe that only the individual can answer that. What is paranormal to you may have a rational explanation to someone else. However… there was a photograph taken by a guest on one walk whereby it looks as though the light cast from a street lamp creates a face in some sort of mist which is hanging in the air. I assume the mist is caused by someone’s breath as it was a cold night but I cannot explain the face.

There was a young lady and her mum who were staying in the incredibly beautiful and incredibly haunted Crown Hotel who posted a review of the walk the next day. Along with some kind words about the walk, she went on to say that during the night, their suitcases were knocked over in the dead of night, with no explanation of how it could have happened.

Finally, at the end of every walk, we conducted a spirit bell session. This is an old Victorian method of communing with the dead. You ask a spirit a question and hope to receive one ring for a ‘YES’ answer and two rings for a ‘NO’. We carry out this experiment outside of the famously haunted Harrogate Theatre and we have had mixed reactions. On some occasions, the bell has rung and provided answers for every question, on some nights nothing at all happens and although this is disappointing it does demonstrate that the spirits are in control. 

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Q. When Dead Northern joined you on the Ghost walk, we also experienced storm Arwen, and the joys of ice-cold torrential rain, wind, and sleet. We think that just added to the atmosphere, but it’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea. When is your favourite time to do the tour?

P. Having only run the Harrogate ghost walk since October 2020, I haven’t had much experience of performing it at other times of the year. However, I would say that a cold, dark evening (with no rain) would be the best time for any ghost walk. I am looking forward to hosting the walk during the summer months as the weather will be much improved but I do wonder if the lighter nights may affect the spooky atmosphere, we shall have to wait and see.

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Q. Harrogate’s a big town are there any places that you would have liked to get on the walk but had to leave out?

P. There are loads of stories from further afield. I include three of my favourite on the tour which includes the former Granby hotel, The Cedar Court Hotel, and Ripley Castle, the latter of the three having the most ghost stories. But there are some great tales which have taken place on the moors, such as a couple of farmers who were working late one night on the tops at Blubber houses. It was a dark night and a low mist descended without warning. Their field of view went down to a mere few feet. They decided to stay put where they were rather than risk injury walking in the dense fog. A few minutes passed when they heard what sounded like footsteps marching. Then from out of the mist came an army, a literal army of men dressed in old-fashioned clothing and armor marching over the moors. The two men stood on and watched as the soldiers marched along paying them no heed, their legs below the knee were beneath the ground. The army along with horse-mounted soldiers disappeared into the dark night air. I don’t include this story in the walk but I intend on changing the stories on the walk so that people who have already experienced the walk can come back again for some new tales.

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Q. You’ve mentioned some of your other performances, what have you got coming up in the future?

P. I have a few Victorian séance evenings planned throughout next year which utilise real hauntiques, or haunted antiques. An object which has a spirit attached to them and a spooky tale to tell. I am really looking forward to an event with you guys, ‘My Bloody Valentine, The Seance.’ I have something really special lined up for this, a tale of true love lasting beyond the grave! I have tracked down a couple of incredibly haunted pieces and can’t wait to see what happens on the night. With the event taking place at The Crown Hotel, I am sure that we will experience some unexplainable events. The hotel is very haunted and the room we are hosting the event is known to have some ghostly activity from time to time. 

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Dead Northern has been on the Harrogate ghost walk, and we can confirm it is awesome.

For our full take on the ghost, walk click here

We recommend experiencing the Harrogate Ghost Walk for yourselves.

For more information about the Harrogate Ghost Walk go to https://www.harrogateghostwalk.com/

Get Tickets for Haunted Harrogate’s Ghost Walk at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/harrogate-ghost-walk

Categories
Interviews

An interview with the Headless Horseman

Dead Northern Interviews Illusions Director for stage adaptation of Washington Irvings Sleepy Hollow – Filipe Carvalho

An exciting creative team will resurrect the Headless Horseman and bring the Hollow to life, with jaw-dropping illusions by Filipe J. Carvalho (Back To The Future The Musical; Secret Cinema presents Stranger Things), design by Amy Watts, choreography by Chris Cuming, lighting by Jason Addison and sound design by Sam Glossop. Transforming the American Dream into the American Gothic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a heart-pounding visual masterpiece revitalising the classic text for new audiences.

Q.  From campfire ghost stories to legends of haunted theatres, even Shakespeare himself didn’t shy away from the supernatural. Given that horror works so well in live performance and storytelling, why do you think the genre been so neglected on stage?

F: Just like comedy, creating horror live on stage is rather difficult and requires a specific set of skills. It is a very technical task and it needs a deep understanding of timing and psychology. This means it can be a risky genre to stage. For example, in a comedy show if a joke doesn’t land, everyone is aware of it and there is nowhere to hide. The same thing happens with horror. If you try to create a scary moment and it doesn’t deliver because it isn’t done correctly or the right “ingredients” haven’t been used, it’s evident to the audience that a moment was trying to be achieved but failed. There’s an expectation to be scared or tense at a horror show, and if you don’t achieve this the audience will leave disappointed. As if you’re staging a normal story, there are no preconceived expectations.

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Q. SFX can be problematic when shooting for the screen, but ultimately any issues can (not without difficulty!) be resolved by a reshoot or in post-production. How do you approach creating SFX for a live audience?

F: As you say quite rightly, in live shows if something goes wrong you can’t go back and reshoot or digitally erase something that shouldn’t have happened.

The only thing we can do to make sure illusions or effects go as planned on a live show is to plan as much as possible far ahead, anticipating all thing that can go wrong, and then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And even then, things will go wrong at some point, but that’s the magic of live entertainment.

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Q. Fear can invoke some erratic reactions in people. Have you ever had any peculiar behaviour from your audience?

F: My favourite reactions are the genuine involuntary screams and also when audience members physically can’t move because they are so scared. This especially happens in immersive experiences where audiences are left at their own devices to explore the performance area.

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Q.  Horror, more than any other genre, requires building tension. How do you time the performance to not lose audience immersion during and after the intermission?

F: One the best ways to do that is to finish Act 1 with a strong twist or narrative interrogation mark, so audiences spend the majority of the interval talking what might happen in the Act II. Similar to what TV series do at the end of an episode, they end it in a way you can’t resist to watch the next episode to know the outcome.

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Q. What scare techniques are unique to the stage that just wouldn’t be possible in cinema?

F: In terms of audio-visual techniques, there’s isn’t much we can do in theatre that movies can’t do, apart from having actors appearing in the stalls to scare the audience. Where live shows do have a big advantage over movies is in the fact audiences know that literally anything can be done in movies using CGI, making it harder to impress movie goers. On the other hand, if you’re sitting in a theatre watching a play or in a secret warehouse being part of an immersive show and you see a real person levitate in front of you and you have no idea how that is being done, now that’s impressive, and no one in the house can stay indifferent to that.

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Q. How much does technology play in creating your theatrical illusions over practical effects and what are the advantages and drawbacks of both?

F: I personally love tech – always have done – but, as we know, sometimes tech can fail on us. I don’t start the creative process by deciding if I want to use tech or not. I start by deciding what illusion or visual effect I want to see for a specific moment of the script or storytelling. Once I have an idea of what I want to create, we explore different options of how the effect can be achieved. Usually, there is more than one way of achieving the same effect, and it will depend on all the other factors specific to that show that will make us decide what route is best. For example, for one of the shows we wanted to transform an animal puppet into a puff of confetti. I started developing a way to use electronics to remotely and secretly produce this confetti burst, but as the rehearsals developed and after workshopping different solutions we actually decided to use compressed air and valves, all mechanical with no electronics or wireless triggering, because it just didn’t need to be complicated. When I was a teenager, a mentor of mine used to tell me, always think KISS, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, which usually tends to be the best approach – although it’s very tempting to complicate things sometimes.

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Q. Horror is a popular theme with immersive entertainment such as Secret Cinema. What sort of effect do you think this will have on the genre in Theatre?  

F: I’ve actually worked with Secret Cinema! The last project I did with them was Stranger Things, which was an incredible show. Immersive theatre lends itself perfectly for horror shows as there is no separation between stage and audience. The audience is on stage and are usually part of the action themselves. This removes that comfort and security you feel when you’re sitting in a theatre, as anything can happen around you.

I don’t think horror being popular in immersive shows is going to affect horror in theatre plays, but I definitely think the fact immersive entertainment is becoming exponentially more popular will influence and encourage traditional theatre shows to up their game and try to incorporate more immersive elements.

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Q. What genre story would you like to bring to stage most? 

F: My favourites are horror and of course anything with a magical theme. I think Casper The Friendly Ghost would be a great show.  

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For more information about the stage adaptation of Legend of Sleepy Hollow go to https://www.tiltedwigproductions.com/thelegendofsleepyhollow

Categories
Interviews Reviews

Review – In Search of Darkness: Part II

When the rapidly successful In Search of Darkness (David A. Weiner, 2019) hit screens audiences were gripped by its engrossing take on eighties horror and critics were enthralled by the absorbing and ambitious love letter to what is possibly one of the greatest decades in horror. Thus, it’s no surprise that In Search of Darkness: Part II burst onto the scene with deserved appraisal.

In search of Darkness Part II
Purchase of part II included 3 posters of original artwork, copy of part I and retro pin badge.

After how much content was covered the first four and half hour entry, it bears the worry that Part II would just be a replica and repetitive. However, what we get instead is a more unique and refreshing film that delves into a variety of horror sub topics and a delightfully varied array of films that combined both well-known classics and some more obscure gems that thrived in the 1980s. The film relies heavily on reminiscence and a nostalgic sensibility, yet there is no bounding exclusivity that confines new spectators to the decade; in fact the film is almost an educative bible for those new to horror, acting as a vivacious horror encyclopaedia.

Geretta Geretta Demons
Gerreta Geretta in 80’s cult hit Demons


The four hour long runtime can be intimidating even for seasoned cinema fans, but the film uses cleverly placed sections to not only aid an easy digest for such a long runtime, but to also add depth to the surrounding contexts. As each year is discussed an additional associated topic is presented, with some of the highlighted subjects including the ever present ‘Cinema Horror Italiano- Giallo‘ and the ‘80s Italian Invasion’. Here, we are given a detailed depiction as to why Giallo cinema lingered throughout the decade and how the three maestros ‘Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava’ ruled in power, with their graphically horrifying and pathbreaking filmmaking taking centre stage in their filmography.


Part II takes what worked well in its predecessor and accelerated it; the remarkable line-up consists of some of the biggest contributors within horror, including Tom Atkins, Linnea Quigley, Caroline Williams, John Carpenter, Tom Savini, Joe Dante, Robert Englund, and Cassandra Peterson. This comprehensive cast list had heaps of involvement within eighties horror, introducing a sense of richness to the production, with plenty of behind the scenes knowledge bringing new light to the classics.


Speaking of classics, Part II divulges into a medley of films ranging from slashers to harrowing revenge tales. Rather than solely discussing the big mainstream hits of the decade, we are shown the somewhat forgotten hits such as Alone in the Dark (Jack Sholder, 1982), April Fool’s Day (Fred Walton, 1986), Mother’s Day (Charles Kaufman, 1980), Vamp (Richard Wenk, 1986), and House (Steve Miner, 1985). To accompany each film is an enlightening insight into the cultural context that most of these films were released in.

One particular area that is deeply discussed in relation to Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (Fred Olen Ray, 1988) is the video nasties. As home video soared so did the number of so-called ‘exploitative’ horror films on the market. Unfortunately, due to a mass moral panic over the British public’s wellbeing, 72 films were banned in the UK over fears of them corrupting children’s minds. Part II divulges into this important era for horror through discussing both the absurdity of the nasties and which films were the most prominent.


The film is clearly a demonstration of dedication to a beloved genre. From the outset a sense of togetherness is displayed, that depicts horror as a one-of-a-kind genre that manifests devoted fan bases and remarkable characters that linger within pop culture. Whether or not you are a diehard eighties fan or a newcomer, In Search of Darkness: Part II has something for everyone.

If you want to be part of the ISOD community check out their YouTube, where they are delivering regular interviews with 80’s legends for their new CLIPSHOW.

We interviewed creator Robin Block and director David A. Weiner back in October 2020, in an exclusive interview for the festival where we played Part I to celebrate the release of Part II.

Check it out below:

Categories
Interviews

The Book of Horror

In these times of genuine horror, the horror genre has never been more relevant. And for those of us who take comfort in the darkness, the horror community is one of the most welcoming. It’s all about the outsiders, not the elite, and the only qualification for entry is a genuine love of horror, no matter what kind. 

I’ve been a horror obsessive since childhood, when I realised the world was more Stephen King than Steven Spielberg, and it’s informed almost every aspect of my life.

For the last two decades I’ve worked as a writer for the likes of Total Film, SFX and the Radio Times, and I think people would be surprised how many film critics love horror most of all. Why? Because, at its best, it represents a very pure form of cinema. After all, for a horror film to work, it doesn’t require witty dialogue, nuanced performances or big-budget effects, all it needs to do is scare you. 

When it comes to books about horror films, however, there’s often a double standard. There’s the films we love, and the films we admire, and the books tend to focus on the latter, putting box office and historical significance over the only metric that really matters: are they scary?

The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film by Matt Glasby – Ju-On: The Grudge

Over the last five years, I’ve been lucky enough to write three books about the movies. Based around the illustrations of Andy Tuohy, A-Z Great Film Directors examined the men and women who made the classics. Featuring interviews with the likes of Irvine Welsh, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting to This Is England looked at the UK film industry boom of the 1990s/2000s. But closest to my heart is my latest, The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film, an attempt to find the scariest movies ever made and examine exactly how they work. 

With beautiful black-and-white illustrations by Barney Bodoano, plus infographics and recommendations for further viewing – some I hadn’t even heard of until I started digging really deep –  it’s the culmination of decades of searching, watching and scaring myself silly.

My conclusion? Whether slasher or ghost story, J-horror or New French Extremity, frightening films have more in common with each other than not – just like the rest of us. I can’t wait to see what you think.

Illustration by Barney Bodoano

The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film by Matt Glasby with illustrations by Barney Bodoano is out 22 September, order it here https://www.quartoknows.com/books/9780711251786/The-Book-of-Horror.html?direct=1

Matt Glasby