Wednesday, 16 October 2013

DVD Review: The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill

Situated in the county of Bedfordshire, St Mary's church in Clophill has more than its fair share of supernatural legend.The church was said to have been built over a leper colony and dates back to 1350, while a newer church was built on the same ground around 1840. In the 1960s' and 70s', it was the victim of grave desecration and black magic rites, and its altar was constructed facing the west (which, according to legend, means it's facing The Devil). As well as satanic worship, the church is also reputed to be a site where unquiet spirits walk amongst the shadows - more than enough activity for a whole army of ghostbusters. So, Kevin Gates got together a film crew and a few psychic investigators to shoot The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, aiming to record their findings on film to establish whether Clophill really is haunted. A three-day shoot was decided upon, and the result is a fascinating and decidedly spooky documentary that mixes fact and fiction.
The Paranormal Diaries runs for 88 minutes and is the product of editing many hours of footage to provide an absorbing account of the techniques employed by modern-day investigators. The opening minutes include establishing shots of packing for the trip and departing for and arriving in Clophill before we move onto several interviews with bona fide eyewitnesses who once ventured up to the church and were privy to possible psychic activity and the aftermath of devil worship. By the time darkness falls, the scene is set nicely as the church and surronding area assume a much more forbidding look, illuminated by the light of the full moon. Here, night vision cameras follow shadows mvoign quickly across line of sight, and sound recording equipment catches rustling in the trees and bushes and all manner of noises that could well point to company from beyond the grave.Add to this spine-tingling seances, and a 'Ghost Box' that works in a similar way to a ouija board (but with sound) and you have a quality production that's refreshingly bereft of all the hysteria and amateur dramatics that so often plague televised ghost hunts.
With several jump out of your seat moments and instances where the crew can see something that we can't, The Paranormal Diaries is certainly not for the faint-hearted and fully deserved its inclusion in the 2013 Frightfest film line-up. After watching this nerve-jangling, often quite disturbing film, you're sure to have many questions about its content and the whole filmmaking process, and Second Sight's DVD is well served by two audio commentary tracks. In the first, co-director Kevin Gates goes solo, confessing the film was "as much an experience as a filmmaking process", and going on to adopt a mostly scene-specific approach. Gates explains why the film took three years to make; tells a wonderful story about a local pub that's straight out of a Hammer film, and explains that a surprisingly high percentage of the footage was reality rather than digital manipulation. Refreshingly, Gates points out certain ideas that simply didn't work - and they are few - and neatly separates fact from fiction. The second commentary track sees Gates back at the wheel, joined by Craig Stovin (documentary co-ordinator) and Creselda Cabitac (interviewer). Inevitably, there is some overlap with the first commentary, but it's an absorbing experience and contains a few surprises. This DVD also includes 23 minutes of deleted scnes that didn't make the final cut. While there's nothing that really sceamed out for inclusion, there is a story about a black cat seen prowling around the grounds that would have linked in nicely with the heart-stopping finale.

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is out now on the Second Sight label, and just in time for Halloween. Don't watch it alone!

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