There’s a movie in my head called House on the Witchpit.
Actually, scratch that. It’s not true.
There are about half a dozen movies in my head called House on the Witchpit.
We’ve had the title in development for a decade now, and the seed of the idea came to me a few years before that. At the very beginning of the naughties, I lived with Pippa in a flat above a shop in Leigh on Sea. I was working for an internet service provider, running occasional stand-up comedy nights and dreaming of ideas for movies.
Down the road from our flat, there was an area of wasteland which hadn’t been built on for as long as I could remember (despite being pretty well positioned real-estate). Pub rumour suggested that the land was waterlogged, and was the site upon which (hundreds of years previously) local women had been accused of witchcraft and drowned. Pub rumour (which was far too fascinating to warrant investigation into factual veracity, although it appears that there was more than a grain of truth to it – check out Syd Moore’s great novel The Drowning Pool for more) went on to suggest that the waterlogging was permanent; that this ground with the awful past was spoiled, somehow.
When they announced plans to build flats on the ground, that was the kicker. After all:
“Who’d want to live in a house on the Witchpit?”
The first draft was simply ‘WitchPit’. A straightforward comedy-horror with a focus on sexy witches seeking vengeance and a structure almost entirely ripped off from Warlock, it wasn’t my finest writing but had something about it that I liked. Probably the sexy witches. Nonetheless, they were the first things to go when the script acquired the ‘House on the…’ prefix, and along the way got a much, much darker tone.
In fact, for much of the mid-to-late naughties, the screenplay became my dumping ground for serious ideas and sick jokes just too bleak to fit into my other scripts. It acquired a young widow called Rachel Morely as its protagonist, and became a valuable creative outlet that I was no longer sure would ever become a coherent narrative again.
Some time around 2009, though, it did.
I stripped the bleakest and darkest stuff out and fashioned it back into an actual narrative. Somewhere along the line the screenplay had acquired a lot of material about technology and media representations of reality, and we got involved with some really exciting discussions with a cutting-edge video technology company about interesting things we could do with production. We agreed to a plan that was ridiculous and kind of awesome: we would multi-camera live-stream the entire shoot. There’s a video on YouTube somewhere of me just after that meeting. I loved the idea. Still do, as a matter of fact. I loved the idea that Jinx could make the entire filmmaking process transparent. If someone wanted to just sit and watch the production office all day, they could. If someone wanted to watch the cast having lunch, or the director sitting and crying, they could. We’d stream everything, and worry about it later. The money was in place, the technology was in place (and a far taller order in 2009 than it would be today) and the script was exciting. We were all good to go.
Then the video streaming company went under, and the entire project collapsed. Incidentally, I’d still be up for a streamed shoot (we have literally nothing to hide in terms of our productions), so if there’s a company out there interested in working something out feel free to get in touch.
There was a brief twitch of life during the whole Strippers vs Werewolves thing, around which time I grandly announced that Witchpit would finally go in front of the cameras that year. It didn’t. And then, all was silence.
Behind the scenes, the screenplay had also suffered a major amputation. I’d removed Rachel Morely, the bereaved protagonist, and dropped her into the screenplay for ‘Your Lying Eyes’.
Witchpit was left without a heart once more; my poor, long-suffering script was being raided for spares. I did a quick and dirty draft replacing my fully-rounded, interestingly fleshed-out lead character with a pale copycat called Anna – just different enough for Witchpit to still stand as a script in its own right whilst its lead character was off having adventures in a screenplay with better prospects and a less troubled past – but my heart wasn’t in it. Maybe the project was dead after all.
The House on the WitchPit has been sitting derelict for a while now. The screenplay for Your Lying Eyes had a VERY exciting 2014 (I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before I can tell you about some of that, but not yet) while the screenplay which donated that script its protagonist sat on the shelf.
This morning, I looked at that familiar but doomed building for the first time in a long time. I thought about its history, wondered about its future. I stared at the House on the Witchpit and thought about all those things and more.
And, as I did so, a chill went through me. In the upstairs bedroom, where all the worst things happened, a light came on.
The House isn’t dead. The House will never be dead. And I think the dark stuff just woke up again.