Like father, like son. Having acted since childhood in his father, Oliver Stone’s films, Sean Stone is taking a cue from his famous pop with his feature directorial debut, “Greystone Park,” a paranormal thriller sure to frighten fans of the “Paranormal Activity” series. His dad even makes an appearance. The film takes place on one fall night, where three filmmakers break into Greystone Park, a hospital known for its radical treatment of patients with mental illness. Once inside, the group discover that they are not alone; and having entered this realm, reality as they know it will never again be the same. Below Stone shares an exclusive scene from his film and recounts the creepy experience of making the horror film. “Greystone Park” is now available on VOD and will be available on DVD on October 16th through XLrator Media.
The opening is almost cliche. It was a dark and stormy night, only two weeks before Halloween. My father, Oliver Stone, was in the midst of production on “Wall Street 2” in New York City, and I was flying home to Los Angeles in two days. He invited me to dinner with a couple of friends, one of whom was a young man named Alexander Wraith. And if his last name didn’t indicate as much, Alex was fascinated by the paranormal. I had never met Alex before, but we shared more than just an interest in filmmaking. We were looking for projects that were unique and raw. I had an idea for a found-footage film. And he had a location. More than a location, he said it was like the hotel from “The Shining.” An abandoned mental hospital out in the forest of New Jersey. Part of it had been destroyed by fire, he claimed. Explorers had died inside. Urban legends abounded about escaped mental patients roaming the empty corridors. It was haunted by wandering ‘shadows.’ And years after it had been forsaken, the lights were still on. Was someone, or something, home?
Having grown up reading R.L. Stine ghost stories and watching horror films since I was four years-old, it would be an understatement to say that I was fascinated. Finally, I’d be able to have a real life ghost-hunting adventure. And so the following night, Alex, me, and a young girl friend of mine broke into the abandoned hospital; what ensued was the basis of my first feature film, “Greystone Park.” Little did we know, when starting pre-production in October 2009, that it would become a three-year odyssey from inception to completion; that “Paranormal Activity” and its sequels and imitators would come out in the interim; that the entire concept of hand-held filmmaking would become a sub-genre in its own right; and that people would finally be given a fact-based ghost story, based on actual events, only to accuse us of plagiarizing other films and making it all up! It was like the boy who cried wolf; after years of ‘fake’ found-footage dating back to the fictional “Blair Witch,” when a film was finally made about a real abandoned mental hospital, starring kids who’d actually broken in to ghost-hunt (well over a dozen times), we were now accused of being cliche.
If you had asked me in October 2009, did I believe in ghosts, I would have given an uncertain shrug. Now, when people ask me, I don’t know where to begin. I think it began after we first explored Greystone, when I had a shadow in my room. Anyone who’s seen “Paranormal Activity” knows about shadows haunting unwitting victims in the night. Well, at the same time that I saw that film, I had my very own shadow creeping around my room each night. Lore has it that they are energy vampires who feed on people’s energy while sleeping. Many who’ve had sleep paralysis, or night terrors, have had the sensation of a shadow partaking in the attack. And since I didn’t envy being fed upon by some wandering shadow from another dimension, I spent the next week lying awake with a knife under my pillow until dawn, at which point the shadow would disappear. When my 17-year-old brother mocked my fear of a ‘shadow,’ I dared him to sleep in my bed. The next day he called me, stating plainly, “I woke up unable to move from sleep paralysis… twice. And both times, I saw a shadow floating over me.” The shadow never bothered me after that; I think he got his fill of feeding on my brother.
After the shadow attack, I started receiving demonic phone calls from blocked numbers during our pre-production; the sound itself is best described as ‘white noise,’ or an electronic voice phenomenon. I recorded some of these calls and actually used them in the film. If you pay attention to the sound design, you’ll hear all kinds of strange electronic voices, wails and demonic whispers coming from the beyond. That was the pleasure of making a film like “Greystone Park”; we totally immersed ourselves in the paranormal realm. When we first lost financing on our little indie, Alex and I busied ourselves that winter by exploring asylums in search of the perfect filming locations. We wanted an aura of authenticity to the movie, as though you were watching a documentary. And toward that end, I cast my father to play himself in the opening, recreating the dinner table talk that catalyzed the journey.
On page 2, Sean explains why he cast his father in the film, and recalls an incident where he believes one his actors became possessed.It was an ironic twist of roles; for years my father had directed me in cameos in his films, from “The Doors” and “JFK” as a child to “W.” and “Savages” as a young man. Now, the camera would be turned on my father as he recounted a ghost story he had told me as a boy – the story of old Crazy Kate who lived in the forest, stalking and killing young campers. My father told the story as though he’d actually seen Crazy Kate one night in the woods; and as a child, I was uncertain if he had actually seen her, or if he was making it up to scare me. Perhaps that is the fundamental curiosity that drove me to explore the paranormal realm – are these ghost stories people recount true; or are they fantasies created by frightened imaginations?
I’ll give you an example. We were filming one night in Letchworth Village, an old mental hospital for children in upstate New York. No one in the crew particularly liked this place; even our toughest grips wouldn’t wander off alone without hearing footsteps and whispers. We were working on recreating Alex’s reaction to first seeing the ghost of a crazy old lady, whose appearance was creepily reminiscent of my father’s Crazy Kate story. Alex was psyching himself up for the scene, going to a place of intense fear. When he’d first seen the old lady ghost in Greystone, he was on the cusp of vomiting in disgust. And as he recreated that experience in Letchworth, I could see he was reliving the terror… and moments later, he wandered off into the dark corridors of the hospital.
A pang of unease shot through me; where was Alex? Antonella Lentini, my co-star, and I walked through the corridors, continuing to record, as we shouted his name to no avail. It was like a game of hide and seek. We slowly opened the door of a darkened room, and found him, standing on top of a TV in the corner, with his back to us and his hands covering his face. As I called out to him, I could only hear his whimpers; or were they laughs? I was literally chilled to the bone, unsure if he was possessed or method acting! I got closer and closer, trying to reassure him with my voice, until at last I saw his face. He had the wickedest, weirdest grin I’d ever seen. He nearly fell on top of me as he pushed me away and started yelling at me to get away from him. I kept directing him through my commands to tone it down, thinking he was only acting. But it was more than acting. I couldn’t tell if he’d lose control and attack me at any moment. So as I gave him his space, he disappeared once again, this time running outside into the dense forest. I called ‘cut,’ knowing I’d captured a great moment on camera; but simultaneously, I was terrified that he was truly possessed and might do something to hurt himself.
Without an actor to keep shooting, I called for a lunch-break while our production assistants trudged into the forest, looking for Alex. After about twenty minutes, he popped out of the shadows, his gaze distant, and marched out of the forest without really looking at anyone. The assistant later told me he was terrified by the look in Alex’s eyes and believed he was possessed. Personally, I agree with that assessment, and when you watch the scene in “Greystone Park,” you can judge for yourself. But that is the fine line between the paranormal and madness. Perhaps Alex was possessed. Or maybe he only tricked himself into believing as much, in order to act-out a powerful moment. It is not my place to tell you that the paranormal is real. The phenomena I have experienced were real enough; but the reasons for it are far more elusive. We as filmmakers did our best to document and recreate our experience into a very dark world of phantoms, demons and insanity. In the end, it is not easy to draw a distinct line between ‘reality’ and ‘hallucination.’ I can sit here now and tell you about the shadow, the demonic phone calls, the photographs of ghosts, the possessions I’ve witnessed… but these are only my stories. You will have to answer the question for yourself, do you believe in the paranormal? All I can do is caution you, when walking amongst the shadows, that way madness lies…