The Hanover House is a feature length horror film made in Maine by Corey and Haley Norman. The film was financed, in part, by a successful crowd-funding campaign.
I talked with Corey about his interest in the genre—particularly 70s horror—his influences, and what goes through the mind of a filmmaker when the stresses of production mount up. He was an incredibly sweet and gracious conversationalist.
The Hanover House is premiering at SPACE Gallery on Sunday, June 8th.
What can folks expect from The Hanover House?
Well, it is kind of a throw-back style of horror film. When we made it we wanted to create something that felt a little more at home in the 1970s than in modern day. It is very much inspired by Amityville and The Shining, where it is more about the tension and atmosphere than the blood and the guts.
The film itself follows the protagonist Robert Foster, who is on his way back from his father’s funeral when he hits a little girl on a cold Maine road. He seeks help at a nearby farmhouse only to find out that it’s his dead father who answers the door. It leads him into a struggle where he faces his own demons. The question becomes “Does he ever get out alive?”
Where does your interest in that particular era of horror come from?
I grew up on horror movies. I remember going to the drive in with my dad at four-years-old. We went to see Cujo, so a lot of my love for the genre came from my father. For me, The Shining is probably my favorite horror movie of all time and he and I would watch the classics every time I was with him—every weekend. I think that really became a big part of it.
From a technical standpoint, The Hanover House looks like a modern horror film, but the atmosphere looks back to that era. My wife is also a big horror fan. One of the big problems I have with modern horror is that it feels like they just throw in as much blood and boobs as they can and eliminate the story as a result. When we set out to make this particular film, we tried to create a drama that turns into a horror. We tried to pay as much attention to character development and overall story-flow as we could.
You mentioned your appreciation for the genre stemming from your father. You mentioned The Shining, which is, at its core, a movie about a father and son. A father/son relationship is at the center of your film. What about that relationship makes for good drama?
The way this whole story even came about is from when a couple of years ago we were touring around for our short film The Barn. When you drive to Chicago or to Kentucky, you have a lot of time to think when you’re on the road at say 2 in the morning. I remember being on the way to Louisville and thinking, “Man, Dad would have been so proud to have seen this film and to have seen where we are.” I had lost him a few years prior to that to cancer. I got thinking about how good of a relationship we had. He was my best friend and I talked to him every day. That really shaped who I was as a person. That made me wonder what it would be like to not have that relationship with your father. For me it was so second nature—it is such an integral part of who I am—but I began to wonder how a person would develop from the lack of that relationship? And if that estranged father died, what kind of things would a son want to say to them if they had a chance to? Family is one of those holy things that a lot of people take for granted unless somebody is missing from the equation. I think that breeds good drama.
I lost my father a couple of years ago, and for a lot of sons the loss of a father—or of either parent, I imagine—becomes a real-time ghost story.
You’re perpetually connecting with a memory, wondering what they would have thought about this and that, and so it is very rooted in reality.
Yes, very much so.
Can you talk a bit about the logistics of moving from making a short film to making something lengthier. I assume there are some differences in the magnitude of production.
It has been crazy. Up until we made this film, we had made one short that was a half-hour in length. Up until then, we had made a lot of micro-shorts that were about 5-10 minutes in length. For those, you can gather up your friends and shoot, but you are only committing to a day or two. One of the craziest things about making The Hanover House was trying to get people to commit to a 16-day shoot. That brought in this whole new set of logistics. We all lived together on the set, so not only did we have typical film making concerns—how are we going to get the shot and how are we going to make these walls bleed—we were also constantly looking at where people were going to sleep and if there was enough food for everybody. Because of this we had a whole team of Production Assistants on the ground who were looking after our daily needs. For me, that was a surreal experience.
When you do the shorts, it is not a big commitment from your cast and crew and from yourself. When you do these features, it is. Because everyone is putting so much of their time into this project, you want to make sure that it comes out as best as possible. This influenced the caliber of equipment we ended up investing in using. The costs related to that was really the biggest shock because we raised about $9,000 on Kickstarter and our movie ended up costing us about $23,000 when all was said and done so I found myself draining credit cards and cashing in my 401k so that we could finish. That was definitely very different. You have to finish what you are set out to do no matter what comes up.
So you’re into your shoot and you are starting to realize that you are at over half of the budget you raised, and you are in a communal living scenario. Where were you at mentally when that all settled in? I feel like that might be both exhilarating and quite stressful.
It was definitely stressful, but my team is made up of all of my friends. That environment was so nurturing. Whenever anything went wrong, I had this great support structure, so the levels of stress were there, but it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. We had budgeted pretty well, but what killed us was the night that the pipes burst at our location. We had to have a plumber come out at three in the morning and that’s a whole other crazy story. That was about the most stressful part. I just figured we had credit cards we could fall back on and in a worst-case-scenario, I just wouldn’t pay my bills for a month.
It wasn’t stressful as much as it was just tiring. For our particular shoot, we shot almost all during the night. It would start when the sun went down around 6 and then we would shoot until about 4 or 5 in the morning before sleeping for a little bit. It was very tiring and very cold.
At the same time, just to be making a feature and to be surrounded by the people I would want to be surrounded by anyway was such a positive experience. I remember all of the good times and the stress is nothing but an afterthought.