Savannah native William Mark McCullough had no idea when he set out to make his debut feature film “A Savannah Haunting,” what kind of demons he would be waking—literally.
A fictional movie based on true events that happened inside McCullough’s fathers home, “A Savannah Haunting” couldn’t be anymore authentic.
According to IMDB.com, “‘A Savannah Haunting’ centers around a family who moves to Savannah to escape the memory of their young daughter’s tragic drowning. Once in their new home, the mother begins to experience chilling phenomena that lead her to believe she is being haunted by her dead daughter. But an old black woman with ties to the home’s slavery past warns there may be darker, more sinister forces dwelling beneath the house. The family is torn apart as the haunting turns each of them against the other.”
It was filmed on location inside the home that McCullough said has been haunting his family for over 50 years.
“My dad bought the house in 1974,” McCullough said. “I didn’t actually grow up in the house because my parents were divorced. But I did visit my dad all the time. Creepy things happened a lot, doors opened and closed on their own, stuff like that. I think I kinda just wrote it off and tried to make logical excuses for it when I was a kid, I think everyone did.”
McCullough added that it was around seven years ago, when he moved back to Savannah and into the house, that he began to acknowledge the weird stuff that had happened inside.
“My dad passed away and I decided I wanted to move back to Savannah so I moved into his house,” he said. “My good friend and co-producer of the film, Alexis Nelson, was visiting me frequently from Los Angeles and she’s actually the one who brought the strange stuff out into the open.”
According to McCullough, he had never spoken to anyone about the fact that his father’s house was haunted.
“After Alexis got here horrible things started happening to her and she said ‘hey what’s going on?’ The things that happened to her staying in the house were things that happened to many people through the years. She told me I should sit down and write the script for the film using the real experiences that happened here.”
In 2013, McCullough took Nelson’s advice and wrote the script for “A Savannah Haunting.” Deciding it was the best way to bring authenticity to the screen, the pair chose to film the movie inside the actual house. But, their decision didn’t come without consequences.
“The thing that’s in the house really got ramped up when we started making the film,” he said.
“The day after we signed the investment agreement, I woke up (I live alone) and proceeded to go into my bathroom to find my mirrors fogged up as if someone had taken a shower. Not only that - there were these weird drawings of symbols all over my mirror.”
McCullough said odd paranormal occurrences continued to happen on set and many actors and crew members became so uncomfortable that many wanted to quit.
But, with the sudden outbreak of COVID, production came to a halt and the actors and some crew members went back to L.A.
It was then that the production team used their down time to shoot a feature length documentary about the struggles they endured while they were trying to film in an actual haunted house.
The result is a separate making-of documentary feature film, “A Savannah Haunting: The Documentary,” which is scheduled to be released soon.
“With Covid we got shut down for about five months,” McCullough said. “So, we decided to shoot a documentary during that time period about the history of the haunting. We interviewed family that had lived here, friends that visited.... We also brought in mediums, paranormal experts, and a voodoo priestess. Honestly, we were just trying to calm it down because some of our crew and cast members were just completely freaked out.
According to McCullough, the mediums told him something that he didn’t want to hear.
“There used to be something in the upstairs bedroom which is kind of a focal point in the movie, where we were told by mediums that, whatever was in there was not a dead human, it was something much darker,” he said. “Another medium said it was the most powerful energy she’d ever felt.”
McCullough added that “the thing that was dangerous,” with the help of the priestess, they were able to get out of the house, but it didn’t completely clear all of the paranormal activity.
“Weird things still happen,” he said. “But I don’t feel threatened or afraid to be inside the home anymore.”
McCullough also added that filming inside the actual house was simultaneously the scariest decision and the best decision he’s ever made.
“One of the things I’m most proud of in regards to the film is the level of authenticity we were able to bring,” he said. “Filming with the cast and crew there really added to what we were doing because it was right there in front of our faces and we were filming in the haunted house that the script was based on. But at the same time, it was really intense and a wild ride.”
“A Savannah Haunting” recently started its festival run and has won multiple awards, including: Best Film, Best Thriller Film, Best Horror Film, Best Director and more. The film will screen virtually at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival which runs Oct. 23 - 30. For more information visit filmfest.scad.edu