Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Enfield Poltergeist, on Apple TV+

If you have tapes of anything sinister sitting around in storage, hold onto them, because they could be documentary gold. Audio recordings of Ed Gein’s original police interviews became the basis for the four-part Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein, capitalizing on his notoriety as the inspiration for Norman Bates. Rather fortuitously, Maurice Grosse, a keen new member of the Society for Psychical Research, recorded hours of audio tape while investigating England’s most widely reported haunting of the 1970s. Those tapes provide the audio track of the four-part The Enfield Haunting, directed by Jerry Rothwell, which premieres this Friday on Apple TV+.

In a way,
Enfield Poltergeist is bit like what an episode of In Search of… might look like, if it were directed by Clio Barnard, employing the techniques she used for The Arbor. Every spoken word, frightened shriek, and bump in the night was recorded by Grosse or Guy Lyon Playfair, a spiritualist who soon teamed up with him. Cast-members lip-synch along with the tapes within a soundstage that faithfully recreates the fateful working-class row house. Yet, periodically, Rothwell pulls back, to expose the studio backdrops, for a postmodern effect.

Grosse is definitely the hero of this story, which the surviving Hodgson sisters confirm in their traditional talking head style interviews. He clearly wanted to help to help the struggling family, devoting years to their case.

The tapes he recorded are indeed creepy.
Enfield Poltergeist might not necessarily convince skeptical viewers of the supernatural, but it is clearly the family was stuck in a terrible situation outside their own control.

The haunting itself will already be familiar to horror fans, since it was the subject of
The Conjuring 2. The real-life Ed and Lorainne Warren only make a relatively brief appearance in Enfield Poltergeist, but from the narrative Rothwell and company shape from the tapes, fans can see how well the film expanded the Warrens’ role into the story, so far as Grosse and the Hodgsons knew it.

Ironically, the imperfect 1970s audio fidelity of the tapes makes the recreated hauntings sound even eerier. The lighting is appropriately spooky, even though it sometimes gives the series a paranormal “reality tv” look. The fourth episode is a bit padded and somewhat loses the momentum, but for the most part, it highly atmospheric and surprisingly intense.

Even though he is never audibly speaking, Christopher Ettridge does a very nice job projecting Grosse’s compassion as Grosse, who turns out to be a very complex character. The same is true for Christos Lawton as Playfair, but with considerably less screentime.

The Lost Ed Gein Tapes, The Enfield Poltergeist falls somewhere between documentary and In Search of... clones. It is a shame we never got to see Leonard Nimoy walk through the Enfield house in his turtleneck and corduroy sport jacket. Regardless, this is some pretty scary streaming TV. Recommended for horror fans (and anyone who remembers the British tabloid coverage), The Enfield Poltergeist starts streaming Friday (10/27) on Apple TV+.