Greg Hemphill pays tribute to greats with new horror show

He is best known as one half of the partnership behind the hit Scottish comedy Still Game.
Long Night at Blackstone.  Photographer: Paul CampbellLong Night at Blackstone.  Photographer: Paul Campbell
Long Night at Blackstone. Photographer: Paul Campbell

Now a haunted house story inspired by years of watching horror films in his basement is set to send shivers down the spines of his fans.

Greg Hemphill has masterminded a new dark comedy about a band of Scottish ghostbusters who get much more than they bargained at a run-down stately home.

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His love of horror classics like Psycho, The Blair Witch Project, Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is reflected in a series of chilling sequences which build up to a nerve-shredding climax.

Long Night at Blackstone also lifts the lid on the behind-the-scenes fakery involved in TV shows exploring paranormal phenomena by turning the tables on a team of tricksters when they least expect it.

The cast includes Gregory’s Girl star John Gordon Sinclair, Taggart favourite John Michie, Scot Squad and Balamory actress Julie Wilson Nimmo and Deacon Blue singer Lorraine McIntosh, in her latest acting .

Hemphill, who co-wrote Long Night at Blackstone with Donny McLeary, deployed a real-life mansion for the BBC Scotland show, which goes out on Easter Monday, and has reunited the cast from his first feature-length drama, West Skerra Light, which focused on a cursed lighthouse.

In Long Night at Blackstone, McIntosh plays Faye Bowers, the cynical yet convincing host of Ghost Hunt Live, which she fronts with Sinclair’s psychic sidekick Pat Tomorrow, another master of fakery.

Hemphill and McLeary completely re-wrote their script after coming across 18th century Hunterston House, in Ayrshire, which stands in for the fictional Blackstone Manor, run by Michie’s sinister laird.

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Hemphill said: “When we went there we just fell in love with it and rewrote the whole story around it. It literally did become a character. It was such a beautiful, atmospheric place. The original idea was to do a straight haunted house story. But as we started to work on it we thought we would put our own twist on it.

“It’s not really a parody of those paranormal activity shows. The story is just set in that world. I actually love them. There’s something hugely entertaining about them. I wanted to doff my cap, in a way. It’s easy to be cynical about ghosts, so we thought we would have a bit of fun.

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“We went away to stay by the sea in Elie, in Fife, and wrote it in the haar. We could start at ten in the morning and keep going until ten at night. If you do that you can have these amazingly productive days. You can immerse yourself in the story and when you go to bed it’s all you’re thinking about. It’s quite good fun for a couple of geeks like me and Donnie.”

Hemphill admitted he and McLeary, who collaborated previously on a musical inspired by the Scottish horror film The Wicker Man, had enjoyed creating subtle tributes to some of their favourite horror movie moments.

He added: “You really put them in for fans of the genre, but they really have to fit in with the story. Donnie and I spent 15 years in my basement watching horror movies every Sunday night. If you’re going to steal from anybody you should steal from the masters like Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter and Wes Craven. You like to put something in there that people will recognise.

“It’s a bit odd that there have not been more horrors made in Scotland, considering the locations we have and the events that have happened here. Anywhere with as old a history as Scotland should be a great place to tell ghost stories. We really just need the industry to support that.

“We’d love to do a feature film. Donny and I are actually developing a script at the minute. We love the genre. It’s one of the few genres that benefits from having a low budget. You have to be inventive. What you don’t see and what the audience fills in with its imagination is even more scary. We didn’t really want to make an out-and-out horror film. Blood and guts coming into your living room is a bit weird unless you’ve gone out to find it yourself. If we’d made something with limbs getting cut off and chainsaws and all that kind of stuff, which is magic by the way, I think they’d have asked for the money back.

“We wanted to make something that people who are maybe a bit squeamish could still enjoy. It’s more of a dark and creepy story that you can watch late at night with the sound turned up and the lights down low.”

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Nimmo added: “There definitely seems to bwe an audience out there who like both comedy and horror. There is a generation who like things that are really scary, but also an absolute riot. It sits somewhere in the middle.

“The house we shot this in was really quite frightening. I couldn’t tell you how many times Lorraine and I got lost. It was just perfect to have somewhere like that to play in.”

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Sinclair said: “When they called ‘wrap’ you didn’t want to be the last person out the building, that’s for sure.

“The great thing about Pat Tomorrow is that he he is a bit of a sham and a con-artist, so when he does start to genuinely see things absolutely nobody belives him.

“There are a lot of gags in there, but we were all very much aware that we were going for the frights when we were making it.”