You know how sometimes you just stumble upon something, and you go how did I miss this? The unique animated stylings of Ashley Thorpe and his production company Carrion Films very possibly could be one of those very things. Thorpe to put it mildly is a guru of the macabre. Not only does he create some of most extraordinary animated shorts in British horror. He is also an acclaimed artist with works gracing the cover for the legendary horror mag Fangoria. Oh, and he’s a correspondent for the magazine in his free time.
His current project, ‘Borley Rectory’, is on’Sandman’ creator Neil Gaiman’s radar even. The short animated film is based on UK’s most famous haunting. From the clips and stills I’ve seen, it looks fantastic. Somewhere between a Universal Monster and early Hammer production in style. He’s just completed crowdfunding on Indiegogo, but you still get involved (lots of goodies).
Propitiously for SJP, he was willing to answer a few questions. Enjoy!
Duff: Many of our readers might not familiar with your acclaimed work, could you give a brief refresher?
Ashley Thorpe:I’m a Devon based animator whose work is inspired by what I believe to be the neglected aspects of British folklore and myth. My first animated films were ‘Scayrecrow’ (a tale of a ghostly highwayman), ‘The Screaming Skull’ (a tale of hereditary madness and bone locked spirits) and ‘The Hairy Hands’ (based on a famous Dartmoor legend). I grew up in Devon so was surrounded by this sort of material but always wondered why this sort of thing never made it to the screen. So when I was made redundant a number of years back I took a leap of faith and set to doing something about it!
Other than making animated horror shorts I’ve also written a couple of radio plays for Larry Fessenden’s ‘Tales from Beyond the Pale’ radio dramas (‘The Demon Huntsman’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’). I’m also an illustrator and have painted commissions for Headpress / Critical Vision, Little Shoppe of Horrors and Fangoria magazine (cover art for issues 305 the Amicus one and issue 307 Alice Cooper) wherein I’m also a regular contributor as a writer, most recently providing the John Hurt interview for issue 336.
Duff: You’ve also painted covers for Fangoria? What are some of your favorites?
Ashley Thorpe:My favourite of my own was definitely the Amicus ‘Tales from the Crypt’ one of Grimsdyke (Cushing) purely because it was the first and as a die hard reader of Fango for nigh on thirty years really I never dreamed for a million years that I’d not only get to do cover art but that it would be an image of Cushing.
My favourite Fangoria covers generally would have to be the ones from around 1986 purely for nostalgic reasons. I still picture those dog eared copies on the news stand now when I think of the magazine.
Duff:The Borley Rectory is one of the most famous hauntings in the world. What drew you to it?
Ashley Thorpe:I discovered it when I was about 9 or so via the ‘Usbourne book of Ghosts’. I think it was that moniker ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ that really struck a chord. This wasn’t just ‘a’ haunting, it was ‘THE’ haunting. And being someone who thinks very visually first and foremost it was a story that was full of these wonderful gothic archetypal ghosts; the phantom Nun, the ghostly carriage, all that wonderful stuff. The book had the story broken down into these little square pictures of the key happenings and so the story stuck in my head almost like bullet points. And it lurked there for years until I was making ‘The Screaming Skull’ and started researching famous hauntings.
Duff:Are you a paranormal buff?
Ashley Thorpe:I LOVE a good ghost story, love a mystery, always been a sucker for that but as to whether I’m a paranormal buff I’m not so sure. I believe that ghosts may be some sort of residual energy that we don’t understand or can measure yet. But I’m probably the sort of person that most paranormal buffs despise as I genuinely don’t care if something is real or not. The chase is enough for me. It’s the ideas that I love, the stories. Who cares if the Surgeon’s photo of Nessie is real? It’s a fascinating image because of the extraordinary resonance it carries. Fuck me it’s a monster, y’know! What if? Weirdly that’s enough for me. When I see ghost photography I’ll get the occasional chill but more often than not I’m struck by how beautiful many of these images are.
Duff:What’s the process behind an animated horror film like the ‘Borley Rectory’?
Ashley Thorpe:Lots of hard work! Years of stress! No, seriously the approach is slightly different to shooting a straight live action film because the really hard work begins once the shooting ends. There’s no edit and grade and off to the screening room. Post shoot comes the months of animation. The majority of my work is rotoscoped, a mix of photography and digital painting against digitally painted backgrounds. I predominantly work in After Effects wherein I assemble all the elements and work into them. With it being crowfunded this time aswell I have the luxury of really working into each scene and making it exactly the way I want. It’s been RSI inducing but a very rewarding process actually as I wanted to make something that had the textural qualities of both ghost photography but also vintage film (circa 1930’s) and I didn’t want to just resort to slapping a load of adobe filters on it. So I’ve been splitting layers and running them at different focal lengths, each slightly more blurred to give many of the shots that strange yet lovely look that portraits from the 1920’s had. Incredibly laborious but it’s a labour of love and absolutely worth it.
Duff:Tell us about some of the voices behind your ghoulish creation?
Ashley Thorpe:Absolutely. We have a phenomenal cast aboard. Borley Rectory stars Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen, Inside No 9, The Widower and new ITV drama Chasing Shadows), Jonathan Rigby (Kenneth Horne in BBC production ‘Round the Horne Revisited’, renowned horror historian and author of English Gothic), Nicholas Vince (Hellraiser, Hellbound, Nightbreed), Richard Strange (Batman, Inkheart, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Claire Louise Amias (Provoked, Telling Lies, Women of Twilight), Sally Mortemore (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, A Cake for Mabel) and ‘Brit scream queen’ Sabrina Dickens as our phantom Nun. We also have a narration by Julian Sands (Warlock, Arachnophobia, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and an original score by Steven Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees).
Because this project has grown slowly and by reputation I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to be ale to cast the film exactly as I wanted. t’s all been very organic. I was listening back to Julian’s VO the other day and it’s just wonderful. I can’t wait to marry these images and that voice together.
Duff:How can people get involved with this project?
Ashley Thorpe:We have a crowdfunder running until December 15th. We raised enough last year to get started so now we’re raising the extra monies for further shoots in the studio. Decent greenscreen facilities make such a difference to my work and save so much time on shoddy set-ups. The more we raise the longer we get in the studio. We have a fantastic array of perks on offer from limited edition prints by Richard Wells, to signed Hellraiser / Nightbreed stills, Vinyl copies of the soundtrack (once complete), a doll of the phantom Nun, a signed Clive Barker print and even a perk for the budding exec types wherein a pledge gets you a personal call of thanks from Julian Sands himself! Something for everyone.
Duff:Will the Borley Rectory haunt state side anytime soon?
Ashley Thorpe:I sincerely hope so. Fangoria hosted our extended clip for the campaign launch on Halloween and that had a great response. We have a huge amount of work ahead of us before completion but we’re already getting requests to screen either segments or sections of the film stateside. I’m reluctant to show too much more before we’re done purely to keep some surprises. We’ve have been approached by an up and coming award winning indie production unit with the mind of turning this into a feature. So who knows what horrors the future may bring…
To support the project visit the campaign page: http://igg.me/at/BorleyRectoryReturns/x/262667
Watch Ashley’s Work on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH3tmPgl3WHCTloGUl4eFVg
Follow Ashley on Twitter: https://twitter.com/carrionscreamin