You can forget Hitchcock's The Birds
- it's flocks of beady-eyed sheep that will give you nightmares
in cinema's latest horror outing. Rob Driscoll uncovers the spooky
evidence for a Wales-set chiller whose cast and crew never once
set foot in the country
SPOOKY sheep, windswept Welsh moors
and creepy Celtic myths are the chilling ingredients of a major
new supernatural horror film released in cinemas this weekend.
The Dark features Hollywood stars Sean
Bean and Maria Bello as an estranged couple trying to patch their
lives back together in an old cliff-top farmhouse in Wales.
And that's the place where their young
daughter is swept out to sea, and the ghosts of a terrifying
local pagan cult come to haunt them.
Perhaps most disturbingly of all, however,
is that not one single frame of The Dark was shot in Wales at
Instead, location filming took place
on the Isle of Man, followed by interiors at London's Ealing
Further location work was completed
'We shot on the Isle of Man because
it looks so like Wales,' explains the film's producer, Jeremy
Bolt. 'It's just as creepy and their tax breaks made it much
Based on the novel Sheep by Simon Maginn,
The Dark is, nevertheless, most undeniably set in Wales, with
much of its eerie back-story focusing on the classic myth of
Annwyn, named after the Celtic legend of 'a realm where all things
are possible and not bound by the constraints of time or space'.
The film also offers a crucial supporting
role to Welsh schoolgirl Abigail Stone, who makes her professional
acting debut as the ghostly, scarred little runaway named Ebrill,
whom the central couple find after their own daughter dies when
being swept out to sea.
Producer Bolt was first sent the script,
loosely based on the 1994 novel Sheep, three years ago.
'The story was located in remote Wales
and I was rather taken with it, because I felt we hadn't seen
supernatural horror in a rural setting for quite some time,'
'I'm a huge fan of The Wicker Man and
Straw Dogs and, like those thriller classics, Paul Tamasy's screenplay
tapped into an atmospheric fish-out-water element with great
'The script also included an interesting
look at the old religious beliefs for some unique plot twists.'
In The Dark, the cliff-top farmhouse
into which the central family move was once owned by shepherd
Rowan, head of the flock of worshippers who believed in the legend
of Annywn (pronounced Anoon). Annwyn was the pagan version of
heaven or hell, depending on whether you think you are a good
or bad person.
'In our story, Rowan forced a mass suicide
in the 1950s to bring his daughter Ebrill back from the dead,'
explains Bolt. 'Unfortunately she returns with a dark gift he
tries to remove by trepanning (a medical process of drilling
or cutting a hole into the skull to relieve pressure on the brain).
'There were such cults in Wales that
existed but they never went as far as the fatal events commemorated
by the Stumblehead Monument prop we prominently feature in The
Aside from these highly-affecting supernatural
elements, The Dark features numerous, chilling scenes with sheep.
'When I started telling people I was directing a movie featuring
spooky sheep, everyone would start laughing,' says director John
'But frankly, I'm going to have the
last laugh, because when you see the movie you are never going
to think about sheep in the same way ever again.
'They are really scary creatures and
literally our only extras in the five-character ensemble.
'Rowan, the Shepherd, uses the same
abattoir he trepans his flock as the church for his cult acolytes.
So the topic is raised in many sly ways.
'We added a scene where Ebrill sees
her father's face turn sheep-like because of our confidence in
the creatures' nightmarish qualities.
'It's their eyes, all black, beady and
demonic-looking. And when they get mangy and dirty and group
around you... ugh!'
For the film's German-born cinematographer
Christian Sebalt, his biggest challenge was without question
filming the sheep.
'I only had to look at them and they
gave me chills,' recalls Sebalt. 'Especially when they had to
be bloodied up by the make-up department to look super-mangy.
'It was so difficult to get our flock
of 200 to do anything at first. We had dogs, poles, fences, wires
and people hidden everywhere to direct the sheep to where we
'They were skittish and most unreliable
to begin with, not even wanting to get close to us or near the
'But by the time we had left, they had
turned into Hollywood sheep, not afraid to mingle with the crew.
'Any more time with them and they would
have worn sunglasses and wanted trailers!
'We all took huge sighs of relief when
they did eventually get used to us.'
Welsh schoolgirl Abigail Stone is too
young to see the chilling, 15-certificate supernatural thriller
Yet she provides some of the spookiest
moments of the movie herself, playing the strange, scarred little
girl named Ebrill, who may be a runaway, or who may be a ghost.
Two years ago Abigail was plucked from
her school, Cynffig Comprehensive in Bridgend, and chosen to
play the crucial character, at the tender age of 11.
'They came to my school wanting someone
with a certain look,' says Abigail, who's now 13.
'Seven of us auditioned, six of us went
on to the next stage and so on, until they chose me.
'I'd only acted in school plays before,
nothing major, so it's wicked to be in such a big movie with
famous movie stars.'
Nevertheless, some of Abigail's scenes
as the eerie, other-wordly Ebrill must have been quite disturbing
At several points in the film, her head
is in bandages, her face covered in blood, stitches and scars.
Abigail's biggest challenge turns out
to have been mastering the handful of Welsh phrases her character
utters. 'That was the most difficult, but I had a voice coach
who spoke fluent Welsh, and Richard Elwyn, who plays my father,
is Welsh too, and he gave me a lot of help.'
She has since watched The Dark twice
- once at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and again at last autumn's
Films Festival in Cardiff.
'It made me jump - it was scary,' confesses
Abigail, who's officially too young to watch the 15-certificate
horror. 'But at lot of the time I knew what was coming, so I
wasn't too bothered. The weirdest thing is watching myself on
the big screen, and the way I sound.'
John Fawcett, The Dark's director, says
he chose Abigail to play Ebrill because of her 'awkward Welshness.'
He said, 'I wanted someone Welsh for
maximum authenticity, so we held auditions in schools all over
Wales to look for exactly the right girl.
'I wanted someone awkward whom the audience
would believe had been reborn from another world.
'Abigail was totally fresh with a strange
ethereal look you didn't feel was acting. She was a risky choice
in many ways, to go with someone so amateur, but it has worked
out uncannily well.'
Since her taste of movie stardom, Abigail
admits she wouldn't mind trying a bit more film acting; indeed,
she's already been to one or two auditions.
And the question most asked about Abigail's
thrilling film debut by her intrigued fellow pupils at school
is, How much money did you make?
'I don't know the answer to that - my
Mum won't let me know yet!'