We’ve all heard the legend surrounding William Friedkin’s 1973 classic “The Exorcist,” where the production was surrounded by so many unusual deaths that many came to believe the film’s set was cursed. Same goes for “The Poltergeist” and “The Omen,” each one earning a bittersweet spot in Hollywood’s haunted history.
Now, the Maine film scene has an “Exorcist” or “Omen” of its own, only without casualties, of course.
Going into the production of his first feature film, “The Hanover House,” Portland filmmaker Corey Norman knew that his setting – a monstrous farmhouse tucked away in the hills of Western Maine – was said to be haunted. In fact, it was one of the many appealing aspects the location offered. Still, Norman was more of a skeptic than a believer, until he had a few ghostly encounters on the set.
For Norman, it all began one night when his dogs were uncharacteristically barking at the end of his bed, seemingly freaking out over nothing. Then Norman opened his eyes. Standing over him was the specter of a man in a suit. Not only did it creep him out, it turned him into a believer. The supernatural shenanigans continued for Norman and his crew, building to a crescendo on the final day of production, as pipes burst throughout the house, setting the production back by a day.
After all of this, Norman and the crew soon came to the realization: “The House gets what it wants.” And thus the film’s tagline was born.
It’s fitting, considering how “The Hanover House” is a cerebral journey from the minds of Norman and his wife, Haley, who are both passionate horror fans with a firm grasp on how to succeed in the genre.
“The horror movies I generally associate with the most always have characters and protagonists you come to care about,” Corey Norman said in a recent interview. “We’re all about building up those characters, and really getting you inside their head, and slowly letting the horror kind of creep in once you’re hooked on these characters.”
The idea for “The Hanover House” was conceived not long after Norman lost his father to cancer. The film stars Brian Chamberlain as Robert Foster, who returns to the town he grew up in for the funeral of his estranged father. As he leaves the funeral, he gets into a car crash that kills a little girl. He runs to a nearby farmhouse for help, knocks on the door, and is greeted by his dead father, baiting him to come into the house. Once he steps inside, Robert fights for his survival and is forced to face his inner demons as he attempts to get out of the house alive.
“I was actually driving to Fright Night [Film Fest] in Louisville, it was like two in the morning, and I was thinking about [my dad]. I was sad. I lost my dad, but you know, he would have been proud to be here,” Norman said. “But at least we had a good relationship. And I thought, ‘man, I wonder what it would be like to lose a loved one and not have a good relationship. What would you say?’”
Once the idea was in place, an actor Norman had worked with handed him the house on a silver platter. It was perfect. Huge, haunted, and they had the homeowner’s permission. Then came the writing and rewriting, the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, and at the end of 2012, Norman and his crew began the haunt-filled 14-day shoot.
While many low-budget horror flicks succumb to the allure of cheap blood and gore effects, Norman’s beliefs are a little different. On top of a strong cast of characters, Norman summed up his philosophy on scaring people by following the lead of Alfred Hitchcock: “It’s not the act itself that scares people. It’s that tension, that climax, that build-up that’s important. I think that is pivotal. I also think you want to leave a lot up to your viewer’s imagination. I love implied action.”
Beyond Hitchcock, Norman, is obsessed with Stanley Kubrick, as every filmmaker should be, citing “The Shining” as one of his greatest influences. He also has an affinity for John Carpenter (“Halloween”), Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”), old-school Wes Craven (“The Last House on the Left”), and he has a deep, deep admiration for “House of the Devil” helmer Ti West.
“In fact,” Norman said, “’House of the Devil.’ I made everybody on my crew watch that before we shot. I said, ‘All right Mr. D.P. [Director of Photography], here are the types of shots we want to go for.”
So will Corey Norman someday be mentioned in the same breath as the masters of horror he’s studied his entire life? I suppose that depends on whether or not the House gets what it wants.
“The Hanover House” will premiere at the Saco Drive-In’s Dead at the Drive-in film festival at 9 p.m. Friday, May 9, and 10:45 p.m., Saturday, May 10. Norman’s short film “Natal” will also premiere those nights. For more on “The Hanover House,” visit thehanoverhousefilm.com, or find “The Hanover House” on Facebook. For more on Dead at the Drive-In, visit deadatthedrivein.com.
Are you a Maine filmmaker? Joel Talks Movies is interested in talking to you about your work and upcoming projects. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.