Welsh Gothic: Andrew Jones on The Haunting of Margam Castle

Dave catches up with the workaholic Welshman to get the skinny on his latest.

The Haunting of Margam Castle marks the twenty-fifth feature from prolific director Andrew Jones in the last seven years, and it could well be his most impressive-looking movie so far.

The Welshman has always had an eye for a good shot; from the sparse but effective chiller A Haunting at the Rectory (2015) to his robust spin on macaroni combat with D-Day Assassins (2019), he has an uncanny knack for delivering movies that belie their frugal budgets.

It’s a similar scenario here, albeit elevated by the lush – and imposing – figure of this Victorian era country house situated outside Port Talbot in South Wales. Used as a venue for reality-based spook shows Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters, it’s long been considered one of the key haunted places in Britain with sightings of a gamekeeper and children dressed in Victorian era clothing – both of which make it into Jones’ picture.

For the filmmaker, it’s a history that he was already au fait with:

I had always been aware of Margam Castle but it was one of my producing partners Rob Graham who went on a Ghost Walk there and suggested it could be a great venue for a horror movie.  When I went to visit, it was such a striking building I knew we could get a level of production value which would far exceed any previous film we’d made and that was the major appeal of the setting for me.”

Although The Haunting of Margam Castle is choc-full of many of the traits that we’ve come to associate with the writer-director, from a brooding atmosphere to a tightly structured narrative, the real surprise is in the casting. Having favoured his own stock company of players for so many of his films, Jones has packed his latest with a barrage of beloved genre stars including Derren Nesbitt (Where Eagles Dare (1968)), Caroline Munro (Captain Cronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)), Jane Merrow (Hands of the Ripper (1971)) and Judy Matheson (Lust for a Vampire (1971)).

Jones admits that this was partly due to an increased budget, but he’s also keen to stress how his vision for the picture played a role too:

“I was stylistically influenced by Pete Walker’s House of the Long Shadows and some Hammer films so it was great to get actors like Caroline Munro, Jane Merrow and Judy Matheson who had actually starred in several Hammer titles. I just wanted to work with people I’d grown up watching in classic films. It was hard work shooting nights in a Castle in November, it was incredibly cold and they all handled it with true grace and did a tremendous job.”

It’s undeniably an ensemble that elevates the quality of the picture, although it begins in an American setting as Professor Annie Holzer (Amy Quick) and Dr. Daniel Barron (Ashton Spear) are tasked with heading across the pond in order to boost the flagging funds in the University’s coffers – “It’s in Wales. Ever heard of Wales before?” asks the Dean (Garrick Hagon). So they assemble their team, head to the land of the dragons, and after a brief American Werewolf in London (1981)-style moment of cultural differences, they arrive in Margam for the night.

With Hugh Morgan (Nesbitt) on hand to provide a little history, as well as Edith Withers (Merrow) supplying her psychic expertise, it’s left to Annie, Daniel and their crew to survive a night in the chilling surroundings of this Tudor-Gothic edifice and navigate the ghostly figures that lie within.

The Haunting of Margam Castle is an admirable British horror movie. While Jones’ sturdy professionalism and a bevy of familiar faces ensures that it ranks high on the filmmaker’s lengthy resume, there’s no doubting that the castle is the star of the piece, and it’s an assertion that the director is happy to agree with.

“It’s definitely the best location I’ve ever had access to. On a low budget the biggest challenge you have is that a Castle is huge and we only had a relatively small number of lights in comparison to a big budget production. But I think our Director of Photography Jon McLaughlin and his team did a fantastic job of lighting, they really brought out the Gothic atmosphere superbly.”

For a supposedly haunted location, it does, however, beg the question whether or not Jones experienced anything untoward during the shoot.

“I personally didn’t,” admits the director. “Because when you’re producing and directing a film on a limited schedule you’re rushed off your feet and don’t have time to think about anything other than the next shot. But my wife Sharron (who co-produced the film) and I did have our photograph taken on the main staircase at Margam which is said to be one of the most haunted areas of the building. After it was taken many people noticed a creepy face on the wall beside us! I had a strange experience with an actor before we even started production. They signed on to make the feature and then a few weeks before filming broke their contract because they’d looked into the back story of the Castle and were so freaked out that there were real hauntings there they didn’t want to play the role anymore!”

In a direct-to-video marketplace that’s awash with an array of shoddily shot hauntings and plastic possessions, it’s a delight to finally see something home-grown that treats its subject matter with deference, and has its roots planted firmly in a golden era of British horror filmmaking.

The Haunting of Margam Castle will be released in both the UK and US by 4Digital sometime in 2020.

Follow Dave on Twitter @thedavewain

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