Horror film 'curses' have a strong tradition in movie folklore, whether it's the death of multiple family members during the making of The Exorcist, or lightning striking Gregory Peck's plane on his way to film The Omen.
I've always dismissed such stories as nonsense, so when we set about making Matthew Broughton's 'The Rain Maker' - an English horror story for Radio 4's Afternoon Play - I was pretty confident the production would pass without incident. I was wrong...
We set out to record the play on location in a forest in Kent, in the stifling heat of early July. From the start the omens weren't good. As we drove into the countryside we were greeted by a single magpie picking at the wet flesh of a dead rabbit. We attempted to laugh off the superstitious significance, but continued down the narrow country lanes with a collective sense of what increasingly felt like dread.
Then, suddenly a truck hurtled around a blind bend towards us. The back of the truck was filled with gas canisters and as it screeched to a halt a couple of these were catapulted into the air. One narrowly missed our windscreen and erupted on the ground in front of us. The driver hopped out and with a smile and a wave tossed the offending canister back into the truck, before hurtling off again, spewing a cloud of white gas behind him like some demonic spirit.
Once we arrived at Apple Tree Farm - our base - we got ready for a long day recording in the woods. It was hot and we were slightly concerned about the prospect of insect bites. Kat (who runs the farm) declared she had just the thing and swiftly produced a bottle of sheep dip. We decided we'd take our chances with the insects.
As we descended into the thick green forest, we soon remembered why we'd come. Our actors (Kenneth Cranham and Joe Dempsie) sounded fantastic echoing around the trees; the tall canopy like a vast cathedral of nature. But we were wrong to disregard the threat of the flies. Huge blood suckers, as big as prunes, constantly hovered around our ankles and nipped at our knees.
We persevered and after a very successful day of recording we got ready to wrap things up. We began work on the final scene, when something peculiar happened. A cool wind swept through the woods sending a collective shiver down our spines, then the sound man's face turned white and his mouth opened wide in a look of sheer terror. Something had just wiped the disc. We'd lost everything we'd recorded that day. It was almost as if the woods didn't want to be heard.
Numb and in a state of shock we packed up our things and headed back to the car. But we took a wrong turn. It was getting dark and we were lost. We stumbled around the woods searching for the path. Panic spread quickly through the group as the light faded and malevolent faces seemed to lurk in the dark shadows.
To cut a long story short, and avoid sounding overly melodramatic, we managed to find our way back to London in one piece. And we managed to retrieve the 'lost' audio from the corrupted disc so, thankfully, you can hear the fruits of our labour. But there was certainly something in the air down there, in the woods, in Kent.
Of course there are those who'd say that so called 'curses' are entirely manufactured as a means of marketing a story by increasing the supernatural aura around it. It's certainly often difficult to separate fact from fiction, but all I know for sure is this: In the six weeks since we recorded The Rain Maker, everyone involved in the production has been struck down by insect bite related infections. Including the Executive Producer, and he didn't even go to Kent...
James Robinson is producer and director of The Rain Maker
- The Rain Maker stars Kenneth Cranham (Layer Cake) and Joe Dempsie (Skins) and is written by Matthew Broughton (@Broughton500 on Twitter).
- Listen, if you dare, to The Rain Maker tomorrow afternoon, August 24, at 1415 and on the Radio 4 web site for seven days after that.
- The picture shows, left to right, James Robinson, Caleb Knightley (Studio Manager), Kenneth Cranham and Joe Dempsie. They don't look very happy do they?