Several years ago, writer-director Ted Geoghegan, a horror and exploitation film buff, decided he wanted to write a screenplay that would represent his own "take" on Lucio Fulci's 1981 horror film House by the Cemetery.
"It's a movie I always really enjoyed," explains Geoghegan in a recent phone interview. "We came up with the concept of grieving parents moving into a spooky old house and discovering that there's a presence in the home, and they realize it's a presence that's much more malevolent than they first thought it was."
Geoghegan's resulting film, We Are Still Here, was a hit at South by Southwest. It shows at midnight May 22 and 23 at the Capitol Theatre, and Geoghegan will attend the screenings to conduct Q&A sessions. The film comes off as an old-school horror flick as it starts slow and then builds to a climactic end as the couple — Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) — encounters the ghost of the family that previously occupied the home. It turns into a commentary on how we deal with grief and how a mob mentality can turn people against one another — heady stuff for a haunted house movie.
With its cavernous basement, the house itself acts as a character in the movie. Geoghegan says a bit of good luck helped him find a place that was old enough and creepy enough to take on the role.
"The house was actually the last cast member to be cast," he says. "It's a major character in the film. We got to the filming location and still didn't have the house. Thankfully, my producer had previously shot a film in the area and had reached out to several church groups and, shockingly, one of the pastors reached out to his congregation and a member had a gorgeous old house. When we got there, I was floored. It was the house from the script; so much so that when I asked him what year the house was built, he told me it was 1859 — which is the exact year the house in our script was built."
Geoghegan enlisted the help of Oddtopsy Effects, a special effects company, to help create the family that haunts the house.
"The Dagmar family, who are the ghosts — a mother, a father and a little girl — are a fantastical presence in the film," he says. "They're these people from the 1800s who were burned to death and are still haunting the home. They still have hair and even though they're ghosts, they're still a physical presence. They're not see-through."
Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that things come to a particularly gruesome climax as the ghosts become particularly violent by the movie's end.
"The climax of the film, which turns it into a bloodbath and home invasion movie, is very atypical for a haunted house movie," says Geoghegan. "We wanted to do something exciting and out of left field as well as something that pays off the tension that has been building. We brought in a lot of extras from town. They just gave it their all, from top to bottom. It was extremely stressful but also really rewarding. The end of the film does come off as very authentic."