Imitates Art in Filming Wellman's Story
"Up Under the Roof"
Filmmaker Darin Read had been a fan of Manly
Wade Wellman and his contemporaries for many years when he decided
to directa film version of his favorite Wellman story Up Under the
Roof. "I grew up reading horror stories and watching scary
films because I was afraid of everything as a child and I wanted
to overcome my intense fears", he explains. As a result, Darin
became somewhat of an encyclopedia of the horror genre. "I
have a special place in my heart for the horror writers of the early
20th century" he confesses, "when I went to film school,
all I could think of for several years was how and when I'd be able
to turn Up Under the Roof into a film. I could relate to the story
so much because of my own childhood, but I also was very touched
by the humanity of it." Darin called legendary literary agent
Kirby McCauley every week for a year before I was finally granted
permission by the rights holder.
Up Under the Roof is about a ten-year-old boy who
hears disturbing noises at night coming from the attic in an oppressive
household. Darin felt finding the perfect house was paramount in
telling the story on the big screen. "The house is another
character in the film," he often explains. "The house
is a cage where the boy lives." Several months of location
scouting proved fruitless and
Darin and I were very close to giving up. He'd found a house in
Perris, California that he fell in love with. It was an old Victorian
with peeling paint and sinister gables. But the owner was extremely
reluctant to allow filming and the interior was contemporary and
not suitable. Not having the budget for capital improvements to
someone else's home, we continued our search for another location
to film the interiors.
Again, close to giving up on the film completely,
a fluke contactwith a southern California real estate agent made
out of sheer desperation led to a promising lead, which in turn
panned out and provided a solution. Darin made contact with a local
historic preservation group. They had the perfect house, a living
museum bequeathed to them by an elderly resident after her death.
This unique Victorian home (now a museum) is still furnished and
dressed as if it were the 1930's. It's a time machine to the early
20th century. The heritage group had never allowed filming at any
of its facilities, yet somehow we'd have to convince them to allow
an entire crew and scores of equipment cases onto the property.
After a presentation and several rounds of negotiation, swayed by
his sincerity, the preservation society granted Darin permission
to film Up Under the Roof at the vintage house-museum.
inside the home was a delicate and painstaking process as the crew
worked diligently to have as little impact as possibleeven while
re-dressing rooms and hauling in heavy equipment. The biggest surprise
the house had for us, however, didn't happen during the work day.
It took place after dark, during those lonely hours between midnight
Because this was an independent production and
Darin was financing the project himself, there was no budget for
security or a fleet of trucks to hold the equipment overnight. Instead,
during the 5-day shoot, Darin slept inside the old Victorian home
and guarded the house and equipment himself each night. Many people
asked him if he was afraid. Darin simply replied, "no."
"But what about the ghost," they'd ask? Darin assured
everyone he'd be fine.
Turns out, this old grand house itself had a sinister
history that equals the storyline in Up Under the Roof. The octogenarian
resident had been murdered on the premises and local folklore maintains
that the house is haunted. Capitalizing on the rumors, the preservation
society also rigs the house to appear as if someone occupies the
home to deter vandalism. A shape in the window at night
that come on by themselves
all help to keep the legend alive.
Working late at night at the home, many crew members
were reluctant to go upstairs by themselves, including myself. The
vintage lights weren't bright enough to cast away shadows and fears,
and the floorboards naturally creaked. Everyone denied they were
afraid, of course, but it was obvious and humorous how the upper
floors and attic would quickly empty out when the crew thinned
out for the night. The last two people on site every night were
the producers: me and Darin. I worried for Darin. Each night I asked
if he was going to be OK alone in the house overnight. Darin never
flinched and sent me on my way to drop the film in Hollywood at
What did Darin see and hear on those lonely overnighters
in the hulking Victorian alone? Did he get a glimpse of the proud
homeowner herself, Mrs. D? "I've had terrible nightmares my
entire life," he answers cryptically. "But were you scared,"
I would ask. "Did you have any unusual nightmares?"
Darin would just laugh and say "my worst nightmares
are that we damage this house and that we don't complete the film.
Anything else, I can handle."
So, the secrets of the beautiful home that appears on-screen in
Up Under the Roof live on and remain unspoiled. A passionate fan
of early horror, Darin believes mysteries are important in storytelling
and as far as his experiences sleeping overnight, alone in a house
rumored to be haunted are concerned, his lips are sealed.
If you get a chance to make one of our upcoming
screenings, perhaps you'll be able to pry some information out of
him regarding his perilous slumber in the venerable Mrs. D's home.
Producer, co-writer Up Under the Roof