Curse of the Witching Tree

Starburst Magazine interview with Writer and Director James Crow on Curse of the Witching Tree

James Crow is the writer, producer, director, cinematographer and editor (he actually located the sets too!) of new British horror film CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE. The film follows a young family as they confront both their own ghosts, and those of their new homes dark past.

STARBURST: Your background is primarily in writing so what was it about this story that made you want to take on directing?

James Crow: The first thing is that (Curse of the Witching Tree) is entirely mine. A lot of the other things I’ve done have already had a director or producers on board. With this film I was allowed to do pretty much anything I wanted. 4Digital had seen what I’d done before and gave me the chance and this is a film that’s produced very much in house so there was little interference.

Where did the original idea come from? Was there a real story that inspired you?

I love horror films and there aren’t a lot of people making British ones anymore so that was what I really wanted to do. There didn’t seem to be many witch films around either so we thought it would be a good subject for a very traditional style film. There were lots of rumours about how and where witches were hung and I’ve always been fascinated by the subject. This is very much a revenge film too with the witch almost as the innocent as there were a lot of men who persecuted and kill women for gain. That was the basis of the story really.

There seems to be a subtlety and a less-is-more approach to your directing. Was this a conscious decision and if there was any specific inspiration for you?

I set out to build tension like in the films I watched when I was younger, such as the original The Haunting as that’s what really inspired me to want to be a cinematographer. I wanted to make this more of a psychological horror as those films are scarier for me than the gore and the violence that American studios are pushing. Curse of the Witching Tree is much more like a 1970’s film than a modern day one.

Those films rely on strong performances so could you talk about the casting?

I spent a hell of a long time casting the leads. They were mainly people I’d worked with before and in many ways they really helped shape the film. Lucy (Clarvis – Emma), as well as being very beautiful, has a real presence and vulnerability about her which connected with Lawrence (Weller – Jake) as her brother. This was actually the first time he’d acted and it was proving hard to find someone for Jake but I saw him in an amateur dramatic performance and he actually steals many of the scenes he’s in.

And you have Jon Campling?

Jon and I came up with the Irish part of his character which I felt added a folklore element to the film. Many of the woodland scenes also felt very Celtic in nature which I liked. There was an eerie, almost Irish feeling to everything. We’re also in talks about working together again.

Can you talk about that at all?

Jon will possibly be the lead for a script I’m developing which should hopefully get going in the next few months. That’s about all I can say.

The locations are key to the story. Did you find a house to match the script or did the house you found in some way shape the story?

The actual house is a livery for horses and is owned by a friend of mine. It’s an 800-year-old medieval house so we knew what it was like. The film was set around it and we had free reign, but we weren’t allowed to film the Ouija board scenes in the house which is why they’re in the barn. The owner was worried what might get brought up from the history of an 800-year-old property! The house really had all the secret hideaways you see in the film.

You took on a lot of roles in your film?

It was something I’m incredibly passionate about. I want to become a director with my own style and because of the lack of studio interference I was allowed to develop that with Curse of the Witching Tree. Of course, we had a smaller budget because of that but that’s the way it works. I was frustrated as a writer watching my work being changed so it was important to make sure that this film was a part of me.

Could you talk about the music in the film?

I worked very closely with Pete Colman to create a traditional sound, mixing classic themes with abstract and whimsical sounds. There are two sides to everything, those sounds on the one side and dread on the other.

And a sequel?

Perhaps. There’s a lot of backstory to tell.