Paranormal / Film Making
The creators of The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, Kevin Gates and Michael Bartlett, discuss their film based on the actual ruins of the famously haunted St Mary’s Church in the English village of Clophill.
“I always thought it had potential for a film-based project,” Gates said, adding that it wasn’t until later that he did more research about what actually transpired there that the movie idea became a reality. “It was actually a landmark of the occult, certainly in the U.K. in the 1960s, and there was some very interesting stuff going on.”
The church itself is about 500 years old, but a new one was built in the 19th century because the original was located atop a hill and was too small to accommodate the congregation. “In 1956, some thieves stole the lead from the roof, and the church rapidly deteriorated into the condition it’s in today. It wasn’t until a few years after it had been left along on the hillside that a certain incident happened in 1963.”
Gates noted there was a revivalist movement of the occult in the 1960s, and the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, “which led to a lot of witches coming out of the closet, so to speak.” He added that the Witchcraft Act goes back to the 17th century and could be punished very harshly. “Burning at the stake was probably the most extreme form of punishment, but there were certainly those things going on – people were imprisoned.”
He says a lot of other things were going on in the 1600s in keeping with a witch-hunt mentality. “If somebody didn’t like someone else in the village, or if their animals died mysteriously, they could accuse someone of being a witch, and without any real evidence, they could be prosecuted, or even put to death.”
Bartlett explains how the Paranormal Diaries project came about, at a time when he and Gates were trying to get Zombie Diaries 2 off the ground, but that film was being delayed for various reasons. So the duo decided to team up and work on their own project, but weren’t yet sure what.
“Kevin was telling me about when he was a kid, and how he used to go to Clophill – in those days there were a lot of kids who went up there to scare themselves.” It became basically a right of passage for kids to go up to the ruined church site, which he and Gates decided to visit together to see if they could utilize the location and story for their next project.
“We went there actually I think about 4 a.m. one day, and we came in through a back entrance and across a field, so that no one could see us and we could see what was going on and all the kids there,” he said. “We started to formulate the idea really about doing an investigation there, because the two of us had always wanted to do a film like Ghost Watch,” which he goes on to explain was an Orson Wells-style stunt that was pulled on the U.K. public.
He adds that producers of the British TV show still maintain that the show was always meant to be fiction, but he says everybody of his generation thought it was all real. “And that’s where it all comes from, is Kevin and I wanting to do something inspired by Ghost Watch,” Bartlett said.
Gates recounts one experience told to him by an interview subject for the film who spoke of a Black Mass going on at the site of the church ruins and at one point a shotgun blast rang out as well – a rare occurrence for the U.K.
“And the police weren’t interested in what they were saying, they were more interested in getting the kids away from there, that they were trespassing, and they would be arrested if they didn’t leave immediately. They weren’t interested at all that there was a ceremony going on and it seemed the church was being desecrated, and that guns were being fired.”
He said he came across other instances similar to this, in which people said the authorities were more interested in preventing people from observing the ritual activities, rather than preventing the actual ceremonies.
While not willing to categorically declare the Clophill church haunted, Gates did say that a prominent ghost hunter went to the church in 1972 and took a photograph with his wife in front of the church. The ghost hunter said when the photo was developed, he claimed to see a female ghost in the background in the church.
“It’s one of those things, because of the proliferation of graves being desecrated, people believe that’s had a negative effect on the church, and that there are now a lot of spirits in that area.”
Gates said kids who visit the area routinely describe seeing ghostly figures on the premises, and he said this was also the case with members of the filmmaking team’s own security detail, who reported seeing figures moving through the churchyard even though no other people were in the area at the time.
Watch the full interview to learn more about the strange happenings in this haunted hotbed portrayed in The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill.