I stared blankly at an equally blank page of 'word', trying for quite some time to figure out exactly what to say about what I have just been reading and seeing. The problem as I see it is that there's been an error in my life to date. I recently became a film reviewer here at 'The Ginger Nuts of Horror' website, and an assignment which came my way was to review 'Dead Still', a SyFy channel offering from The Booth Brothers. It stars Ben Browder and Ray Wise, two names I was familiar with and liked the work of, so all was well.
(click here for an exclusive interview with The Booth Brothers)
As a long time devotee of horror films and a completely self-opinionated windbag I was obviously happy to get to see a horror film for the cost of a few hundred words on whether it was worth the effort. This is where the error comes into things, because if I hadn't have seen 'Dead Still' I may never have heard of The Booth Brothers or been introduced to their work. There are different flavours of horror fan, some preferring the psychological stuff to the teen slasher flick, or the standard haunted houses to gorefests. I like a little of everything, but one thing I like above all is a good story. I generally see the usual major studio productions only to find Hollywood invariably fails me on the story side of things with the modern reliance on remakes, found-footage fiascos and run-of-the-mill 'teen tits and arse' showcases. Many of the low-budget offerings are tooth-grindingly amateurish: poorly executed, badly acted and with stories ripped off from more successful films.
There are very few film-makers around who actually give a damn about the more discerning audience, but out there in the big wide world of horror there are some champions of the cause, amongst which are The Booth Brothers. Christopher Saint Booth and Philip Adrian Booth are twins from Yorkshire who look more like they have just finished playing a rock concert than making a movie, which is hardly surprising given they have had quite a successful outing as musicians, but I am not going to talk about that.
I am proceeding with caution here, because there's a lot of negativity in many online reviews, and I can be very scathing in that area. For anyone who doubts that please read my review of 'I Frankenstein'. I would recommend that for a sense of balance, because I may soon come across as something of a Booth Brothers 'fanboy', but to be perfectly honest with you the more I see of The Booth Brothers' work the more impressed I am. I said in my review of their film 'Dead Still' that they must be liars, because the production values on what is essentially a low-budget film have a look of something considerably more expensive.
Their work to date also includes DarkPlace starring the late Matthew McGrory (Devil's Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses). The Possessed. Spooked. The Ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium and Children of the Grave. Very much favourite Halloween viewing on the SyFy channel.
I began with 'Dead Still' but have since been introduced to 'Death Tunnel' (Sony Pictures), which was made prior to and on half of the budget of 'Dead Still'. I was delighted to see that this early work was just as polished.
'Death Tunnel' sounds like a run-of-the-mill story, a Sanatorium haunted by five ghosts, one on each floor of the building. Five girls, one per floor, have to survive for five hours, with five ghosts wreaking havoc.
Routine fare? Actually no.
It does have much of the usual about it, there's the haunted Asylum as in 'Session 9', the scantily clad babes with differing stereotypical personalities and of course the specialty ghosts (13 ghosts anyone?). So what does 'Death Tunnel' give us that we haven't seen before? Quite a lot as it happens, because it's not so much about what you see in this film as what you feel, and THAT is where The Booth Brothers hold all of the aces, they actually film with such great feeling and sensitivity for their subject matter that it brings a whole new dimension to the films. They feel no small amount of sorrow for the victims of what is a fictionalized account of an undeniable truth and that translates readily to the screen.
'Death Tunnel' is something of a love-letter to the Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which is a real place, that's right folks, none of the invented Asylums from stories of old, this place is real and according to many sources this place is haunted partly by those very same five ghosts on those very same five floors which The Booth Brothers filmed on. This is one of the secrets of their success in that they care enough about the filmgoer to make films which are not only based on genuine cases of hauntings but are filmed in the actual locations. For 'Death Tunnel' they actually had intended for part of their shoot to be on a set used in Stephen King's 'Rose Red', but turned it down in favour of spending their entire shoot on location in the real Waverly Hills Sanatorium. That, my fellow horror fans, is in itself a gift to us all. How many times have we seen classic buildings in our favourite horrors only to find they were built on a backlot in one of the major studios? We want the real deal, we want to be able to go there in person and take a selfie, or at the very least be able to find it on Google Earth. With the Waverly Hills Sanatorium we can do exactly that.
What else can we do? We can find lots of information on what happened there, we can get what's really going on, because 'Death Tunnel' isn't simply a horror movie, it's more of a biopic. It's the story of a famous institution and the horrors which went on there. Okay, there's an element of 'the names have been changed to protect the innocent', and of course the story is to some degree fictionalized, but there's a core truth to it and that is what really gives this movie its clout. One thing which The Booth Brothers have a lot of is integrity, they want us to have a rollicking good time and have the pants scared off us, which is a given for the genre, but they also want to give a sympathetic view of the real horrors which are the subtle undercurrent of the films they make. I'm not saying that they are in favour of the medical staff and their often barbaric treatments, but that there's a genuine feeling for the plight of the patients. The number of deaths, quite astonishing at in excess of 63,000 is not to be taken lightly, that's a hell of a lot of suffering going on within that institution, and that suffering is not downplayed in 'Death Tunnel', it's more of the backdrop to the much more modern style of storytelling we've become familiar with.
At this point it's fair to say that there's something of a documentary vibe with horrors like this, they usually have long exposition by one character who is usually the one who set everything up. 'Death Tunnel' doesn't do that, because it doesn't need to. The Booth Brothers map out everything with precision and it soon becomes apparent that they are magicians bringing us the magic of film-making and illusion on a grand scale. The smoke and mirrors light shows are so richly set up that we are engrossed by what we see, and it's all there, they are masters of 'Show, don't tell'.
They show us the exceptional building, a colossal 800,000 square feet of desolate degradation which in itself is scary to contemplate, add to that the 63,000+ deaths from the 'White Plague' of Tuberculosis which is referenced to throughout and the feeling of impending doom is multiplied. This could be a simple review of 'Death Tunnel', but it isn't, this is more of an introduction to the Booth Brothers and a body of work which is a hybrid of traditional film making and Cinéma vérité. The Booth Brothers don't just make a horror film, they experience one. They are paranormal investigators with state of the art equipment for catching any phenomena they can detect, and when they have some they are happy to not only share it in a documentary format but include it for authenticity in their horror films. Those 'trick of the light phantoms' you spot in the background might just be the real images they filmed with ultra-sensitive cameras, the sounds you hear; they are genuine EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). These boys don't mess around.
As if making horror movies which they write/produce/direct/score and even make the tea isn't enough The Booth Brothers make documentaries too, which brings me on to their film 'The Exorcist File' which is the true story behind the story which was the inspiration for the film we all know and love. I won't say much about it as I don't want to give away spoilers, but it contains exclusive material which any exorcist fan would be bound to appreciate. Here's a sneak preview:
I won't go on much longer except to say that I am now a fan of theirs and eagerly await their future output. If you like what you have read and seen so far you would do well to check out the following links as there're plenty more trailers and items from The Booth Brothers available via their YouTubechannel;
And when that whets your appetite for more you can go to their Vimeo Channel for VOD offers:
For DVDs and merchandise you can visit their sales site: