Now playing on TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast: The Demon Huntsman by Ashley Thorpe, Directed by Glenn McQuaid. First presented on January 11 2010 as the final episode of Season One, Huntsman stars Michael Cerveris and Owen Campbell, Aidan Redmond and Joel Garland, and is dripping with atmosphere. A true TALES classic. McQuaid and Thorpe discussed the tale in a recent sit-down.
Campbell, Garland, McQuaid, Redmond, Cerveris
On re-listening to THE DEMON HUNTSMAN, I was really impressed by the sense of location that comes through in your writing, not just the natural ambiance but the geography, geology, and folklore too, it’s clear you have a great fascination for your home turf of Dartmoor, when did you become aware of the horror genre’s obsession with it too?
Dartmoor and its myths have long been an obsession of mine. I’ve been surrounded by those tales and their tellers for as long as I can remember. The ghosts, myths and legends of Devon seeped into my personal mythology from an early age and their blend of horror, folk and fairy-lore have influenced much of my work. I remember hearing many of these stories when I was a kid, sat listening wide eyed in terror as an elderly couple my parents used to take out to the pub sat and recounted these things. I especially remember being terrified by the tale of ‘The Hairy Hands’ and spent most of the journey home across pitch black moorland staring at the wheel from the back seat waiting for these horrible things to seize my Dad’s hands and wrestle us off the road.
Being so in love with Dartmoor and all its devilish tales I was especially excited as a child when I saw ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ and realsing it was set ‘in my backyard’. My favourite part of ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ was always the telling of the cruel master who first fell foul of the spectral hound. Subsequently hearing that that squire was based upon Lord Cabel of Buckfastleigh made it twice as thrilling. That was – and indeed still is – a big part of the magic for me. That you can visit an old churchyard, a stately home, an ancient cross and there is a tale intrinsically linked to the place. The prehistoric stones and soils of Dartmoor are alive with these stories. Endless inspiration.
I love that your Dad is partly responsible for your interest in horror, my own Dad used to make up a bunch of horror stories that really sparked my imagination as a kid. He once told me that a monster lived in an old abandoned boat on a river we’d drive past daily. Do you think these early introductions to the fantastic and the macabre are what set us off down this path? Because I’ve tried and I can’t quite bring myself to write a nice romantic comedy.
You know I genuinely think that ALL my adult obsessions were sown in childhood. I suppose I was actually quite lucky in a way because the 1970’s, especially in England, was a very strange off-kilter era. You literally couldn’t escape the ‘weird’. It was everywhere. Electronics were just being embraced so although there was a strange throw back to folk-roots in horror we seemed on the cusp of a new digital ‘synthy’ age. Child friendly Sci-Fi on TV was Tom Baker era Dr Who, very gothic, unashamedly scary for young kids. You had Donald Pleasance voicing the ‘Spirit of dark and lonely water’ between afternoon cartoons, a reaper watching children drowning in flooded quarries. The Yorkshire Ripper on tea time news. Sapphire and Steel and Hammer Horror double bills on TV at night. Public safety films hosted by celebrities who have since been outed as sexual predators. It was a time of great cultural darkness yet a of a pioneering artistic bravery actually. It was certainly a time that moulded me. Well, I say lucky, but I suffered from night terrors from infancy up until I was about 15 and it really wouldn’t take much to trigger these things off. I may have a lovely night out watching fireworks on Nov 5th but I can remember coming home and glimpsing the beginning of Hmmer House of Horror’s ‘The House that bled to death’ on TV while eating a bag of chips and that was me fucked for that night.
And you know people have asked me whether I’ve ever considered writing anything other than horror too. I remember telling someone once an idea I had for a children’s book about a tribe of mis-shapen creatures that chase children home across the rooftops of their street if they venture out after dark, and they just looked at me in horror.
We had very similar childhoods in terms of the deeply weird popular culture we were soaking up. Looking back on it, it still seems completely off kilter and experimental, it’s all aged very well. Did I ever tell you the first video recorder we owned came free with a copy of The Wicker Man? I didn’t stand a chance!
Getting back to The Demon Huntsman! You’re a filmmaker known for your unique imagery, how did you find the experience of letting go of visuals and concentrating solely on sound to tell a story?
‘The Demon Huntsman’ is still one of the things I’ve done that I’m most proud of. I must admit, when you first asked me if I’d like to do it I said yes blindly without any genuine idea of whether or not I could actually do it! I said yes because I thought it was a wonderful project and I’d be a fool not to be part of it. However, although quite challenging, strangely it was quite a freeing exercise. The story itself came together very organically and it was brilliant fun knitting together the various myths into this overall tale, but the best part was definitely being able to almost paint with words and the soundscape. There’s something so primal about the experience of being told a tale and having it augmented with sound to further stimulate the imagination makes it a very exciting experience not just for the listener but also for the artist. I do tend to imagine sound when I animate and will often add textural sounds once a shot is complete to see if it’s creating the vib I want. I’m very obsessive when it comes to my images, almost like a mad minaturist, so it was a strange experience to be able to paint something really quite epic in scale through sound and let the listener work into the details in their imagination. It’s such an immersive experience. It’s like they say ‘ the pictures are always better on the radio’.
And Don’t forget to buy Ashley’s Masterpiece Borley Rectory, produced by McQuaid and Fessenden