On an isolated stretch of land fifty miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester (Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren) heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, it is a structure that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant 24-hour a day, 7-day a week mania for decades, it stands 7 stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms. To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness.
But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook), or for her physician (Jason Clarke). No… She is assembling a prison, an asylum for a legion of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters and their legacy of bullets and death.
Based on a true story, Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built is set for release in February of 2018. But we, along with a select group of genre sites and channels, got to visit “the mystery house” – the real Winchester Mansion, and were treated to a sneak peek at what fans will see in the film.
We were given a guided tour by the directors, Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (Undead, Daybreakers, Jigsaw), not once – but twice! The first walk through took place in the amber light of late afternoon, then we returned in the dead of dark for a spooky candlelight expedition complete with recreation actors and eerie things going bump in the night.
Check out our exclusive photos, taken mostly during the day (we’re not kidding when we say the night time tour was in the dark!).
It’s really a stunning structure, and deserving of its Historical Landmark status. Before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 toppled the top two floors, it stood 7-stories tall. Even now, it’s quite the trek from basement to belfry, with lots of stairs, twists, and turns.
When it comes to the more delicate bits of interior design, a lot of thought went in. Sarah was fascinated with the number 13 and worked the number into the house: There are 13 bathrooms, windows have 13 panes, chandeliers have 13 candles, etc. There are also dozens of daisies worked into the décor. The daisy was special to Sarah for two reasons. First, it symbolizes the initiate to spiritual awakening. Second, it is nature’s finest examples of the “hidden” number 13. Many varieties of the daisy have 13 petals. What’s more, most daisy plants have 13 branches growing out of their stalks.
The richness of history is lush and deep, begging further investigation. But for now, let’s focus on the film.
Dread Central: It seems like there would be a lot of difficult and painstaking things involved with bringing the very first Winchester major motion picture to life. Even though it’s not really a standard biopic and more about the supernatural, what was the hardest part in making it real?
The Spierig Brothers: Well, we haven’t finished it yet so the hardest part might still be coming! The shoot is always hard, you try and do a lot and the budget wasn’t that high. But really, the hardest part is crossing over to a period film. You’re trying to get that accurate and right. You can’t just go and shoot on the street. You have to get every element – costume design, production, vehicles, whatever it may be, right and when you shoot a real place, like just out here you can’t even do an aerial shot and just drop it in the movie. You have to do the aerial shot with a ton of visual effects, because the mall doesn’t exist in 1906. So the period element is really complicated part of making the movie.
DC: Since this house is so old and historic and shrouded in mystery, you must have had a hard time deciding what to fit into the runtime.
TSB: Yes. There’s a couple of things that didn’t fit into the story. If there was a sequel we’d throw them in. The Door to Nowhere is in the film, but it’s just sort of in the background. We’d love to use that some more. With a sequel, we can play with that one. But we tried to incorporate just about everything we could in the house. Even things we didn’t quite show, there’s cupboards that open up to rooms and stuff like that we’d play on that quite a bit as well. You open a closet door and it’s a window into another room and there’s things like that that are really trippy.
DC: Did you work all the staircases into the story?
TSB: Yeah. There’s the stairs that go to the ceiling that you see in the trailer. There’s certain things that are true stories in the house that you saw on the tour. But we found more doing a bit more research – that’s in the movie so I won’t spoil it for you – but there’s things that are real that we didn’t invent for the film. They’re actually part of the history of the house and Sarah Winchester. The hard thing is the house [now] doesn’t have all the rooms and stories it did before the earthquake. We don’t actually know what a lot of the rooms were for back in that time period because they were torn down, so you can assume certain things, but it was a much bigger house a hundred years ago. So much was built and torn down and rebuilt.
DC: The people who do the Winchester House tours are so great. They really get into character.
TSB: We also used some of the employees in the film, so they are actually in the movie. When we shot here at the house we put them in period costumes and got them to play maids. A lot of these people are theatre actors.
DC: You also built a set of the house in Australia. So, how much was actually filmed here in the house itself?
TSB: There’s maybe 10% at the actual house. But that 10% goes a long way because there’s a lot of big wide shots. We shot the grand ballroom, we shot a lot of the hallways. In the trailer you can shots where there’s a maid opening up the door inside that’s looking straight up [and that’s here]. There’s lots of little pieces that we put into it that we shot at the actual house and integrated it into the film. There’s gonna be a point where we forget what we actually built and what was at the house.
DC: Who from real life, aside from Sarah Winchester, do we see in the movie?
TSB: The foreman, John Hanson, is in the film and her niece Marian I. Marriott. There were a lot of gardeners and maids, aside from the construction workers. It’s interesting because when she died, no one ever said a bad thing about her. I don’t think she was ever this mean old lady. I think she was very nice and I think she really cared for her employees. We tried to make that a part of the film, that she cared for them.
The film stars Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester along with Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Angus Sampson, and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey. Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig directed and co-wrote the script with Tom Vaughan. Tim McGahan and Brett Tomberlin produced for CBS Films.
Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built comes out February 2, 2018.
Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester (Academy Award winner Helen Mirren), heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end. Constructed in an incessant twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week mania for decades, it stands seven stories tall and contains hundreds of rooms.
To the outsider it looks like a monstrous monument to a disturbed woman’s madness. But Sarah is not building for herself, for her niece (Sarah Snook), or for the brilliant Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke), whom she has summoned to the house. She is building a prison, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters