Once again, the spirit world is restless in The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia. Getting a limited release alongside VOD platforms on February 1st, Ghosts of Georgia finds Andy Wyrick (Chad Michael Murray), his wife Lisa (Abigail Spencer), daughter Heidi (Emily Alyn Lind) and his sister-in-law Joyce (Katee Sackhoff) moving into their new Georgia home. What they never could have anticipated is the terrifying secret the grounds hold or the malevolent presence that threatens them all. Director Tom Elkins (editor of The Apparition, Haunting in Connecticut and White Noise 2: The Light) spoke exclusively to me by phone about crafting a spooky ghost story.
You’ve edited quite a few horror movies. What made this an interesting vehicle for your directorial debut?
It’s partly what the first film, Haunting in Connecticut, had and that is this awesome mix of heart and horror, which I think is a unique thing in today’s world of scary movies. I love the fact the movie is unapologetically unashamed of the heart it has. The story itself was engaging. It has great characters in a very unique situation with the underground rail road. It’s a story based on true events. It was all just like this one big awesome package. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have that kind of script be my first thing.
There’s so much going in The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia. How would you sum up the premise?
There is a lot going on in the movie and that was an interesting challenge as the director and then as the editor. How do you get all that information across? All that history and all those stories and still keep the movie under two and a half hours and keep the tension up and keep it scary. That in itself was quite a balance to try and strike. If I had to bottom line it, you have a young family that moves to an old, historic, haunted property and the gifts the women in that family have enable them to see in full color what happened on that land. Lisa, Joyce and Heidi are able to see and sense what happened and be in touch with these terrible events.
The beginning states this was based on a true story. How closely did you stick to those real-life events?
First of all, when it comes to the Wyrick family, we felt the spirit of their story was not only how sweet and genuine the family is as a whole, but also the Heidi and Mr. Gordy (Grant James) connection. The true story of that part of it is fascinating to me, the fact Heidi visited with this Mr. Gordy before anyone knew he existed. Then they found out through paper work from the city that this guy she had been talking about for months and months was a real guy. Then they took Heidi to the cemetery because Heidi thought he was alive. So they take her to the cemetery and Heidi walks right to his gravestone. It’s the spirit of Heidi and Mr. Gordy that was the dominant part of the true aspect, along with Lisa and Katee’s characters having to deal with these terrible visions. And, honestly, Andy’s character is very much like the real guy was. Andy passed away last year, but writer David Coggeshall will tell you the Andy that is played by Chad Michael Murray is pretty spot on to the real Andy. He was a big tough guy that would get in bar fights, but all this ghost stuff scared the hell out of him.
How did working on The Apparition and the original Haunting in Connecticut inform the way you handled the ghosts and visions?
It was interesting because we had so much to convey in terms of, “Well, what do the visions look like when Heidi is having them?” People are individuals, so we thought we needed to give Joyce, Lisa and Heidi their own kind of look. As it relates to Haunting in Connecticut, since I edited that one and these are companion pieces, I decided to follow a similar sort of motif in terms of the visions. You’ll notice Joyce has a sort of sepia look to her vision. Heidi’s tends to be more kindly and grey. Lisa’s visions are terrifying and nightmares and flashes and scary faces. That was very deliberate.
You rely on practical effects more than the previous instalment.
Yeah, this film didn’t have quite the resources to use a lot of computer graphics. Honestly, the storyline in this one didn’t call for it as much. We don’t have big terrifying ghosts that morph and do all these things. We didn’t want to make the slave characters, Nell (Lauren Pennington) and Levi (Jared Mitchell), these hybrid, terrifying creatures because they are benevolent. And we wanted to keep it ambiguous as to whether they are good or bad. Not only could we not afford to make every single shot of a ghost a CG shot, but we also felt it served the story better to keep them as real as possible. We had some key sequences that required really intricate visual effects, but other than that, it was practical by design and necessity.
Sometimes that forces you to be more creative. You didn’t go for the gore, so it’s more atmospheric scares.
It’s true. That’s the struggle. Everybody is upping their trailer moments. It’s competitive. Our movie has to stand on its own as a complete story and event. We had to do out story as best we could. As we told the story, we didn’t need a lot of visual effects. We did go through what we felt was some creative visual design.
How did filming on location help produce an eerie ambiance?
That location was very practical. The property we found was just outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was very isolated. It was in a neighborhood, but it was kind of off on its own. The script called for a creepy tree line, a big gnarled tree, a scary mobile home and a creepy little house. That property had it all. All that stuff was there. It also had its own bit of lore. There were rumors that a century ago, the property hosted devil worshipping and sacrifices. The current owners of the property are always chasing high school kids off because they are wanting to get on there to see if they can sense anything. It was really cool. When we were filming out in the woods, we were out in the woods. It’s not like the trailers were 20 feet behind us.
A lot of this movie rests on the shoulders of the character Heidi. How did you end up casting Emily?
We interviewed a lot of kids. There was a lot of casting that took place looking for the right kid. Emily was unbelievably wonderful. The thing about her was she snapped in and out of character instantly. What Emily brought to the role was a real genuine love and curiosity for the story and for film making. One great little anecdote is when Heidi sees the bad guy for the first time in the movie. She did not want to see that guy in his makeup before we shot it. When she sees him for the first time, that’s completely organic. When she’s reacting, she’s terrified. That’s the kind of actor she is. She’s passionate, easy to work with and never has an attitude. I cannot say enough about my cast. They were top to bottom spectacular.