Lost Film Shot in Highgate Cemetery
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The gallery below is actually comprised of stills, taken from a movie in which I was asked to participate around November 1972. The original idea for the film was a recreation of the 1971 séance conducted at Highgate Cemetery by members of the British Psychic and Occult Society and the Wiccan coven which I then attended in Barnet. The purpose of this ceremony had been to establish contact with the tall dark figure which had been sighted by many local people, and to find out its purpose or origin. Whilst the séance was a success in so far as a shadowy form did manifest within the triangle designated for this purpose, the overtly malignant psychic energy which it exuded resulted in the early termination of the experiment. In fact, one girl fainted, and when she came round described an overwhelming feeling that the entity had tried to strangle her.
A Highgate-based journalist, Mike Kirsch, had become aware of this incident after approaching me on another matter. Mike had a personal interest in all things supernatural after investigating the ‘Battersea Poltergeist’ some years previously.
This poltergeist had even been known to demand Mike’s presence in the house it ‘haunted’ by way of bizarre scribbled notes, which unnerved him greatly. I was therefore confident of Mike’s sincerity regarding his interest in my own paranormal and esoteric experiences, and those of my group.
I agreed to the re-enactment, and a pretty London-based model in her early 20s called Jesse Stone was chosen to play the role of the woman who had taken part in the 1971 ceremony. However the news agency which Mike was at that time working for decided that in light of all the stories in the popular press about the so-called vampire of Highgate Cemetery, the intended storyline needed a bit of ‘sexing up’. Mike had been to my flat, and seen my altar and all the various occult symbols and tools therein. However by the day of shooting it had become clear that his superiors were very keen to represent the tall dark figure as something much closer to a Hammer Horror vampire than it actually was. Naively I didn’t really see the harm in this, and filming went ahead. In fact, when Mike was called as a witness at my Old Bailey trial in 1974 he confirmed that it was he who had asked me to bring along a Bible and a crucifix which he had seen in my home. Mike’s voluntary appearance in court was as a result of the police’s claims that the stills from the film which they found when they raided my flat were evidence of real vampire hunting! Do they look like that to you, reader?! Anyway …
With no way of predicting that such an innocuous little film would later get distorted in such a way, I went along with what was a rather ludicrous plot which had little to do with the 1971 séance.
As can seen from the stills Jesse’s role had by now evolved into that of a Mina Murray-esque character straight out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who had identified the tomb in which a ‘vampire’ slept in Highgate Cemetery and was being psychically drawn to it against her will – with me restraining and psychically protecting her in a kind of Van Helsing capacity! Indeed I wasn’t even clear what the film was ultimately intended to be used for – neither it seemed was anyone else! Filming was not technically permitted within the cemetery without written permission, but this was comparatively easy in those days as it was open to the public. That said, visitors still had to get past the formidable Mr. Law (the Cemetery Superintendent) whose office was just inside the main entrance, and convince him that there were no movie cameras in their bags! The Sunday when we filmed must have been Law’s day off (or perhaps he was at church!), as we managed to record some pretty extensive sequences in the Circle of Lebanon and The Egyptian Avenue without being challenged. In fact we were running all over the place as you can see!
I heard little more about the film until four months later when it was featured in Titbits magazine (see below). When the narrative you are reading now inevitably comes to the notice of Highgate ‘purists’ who seek to analyse and overanalyse every action of mine from 1969 onwards then I am sure my lack of ire will be taken entirely out of context. But simply, I was aware then as I am now that working with the press is always a gamble, and I was just pleased that my distinction between ‘vampiric’ psychic entities and Hammer Horror vampires had been accurately reported for once.
You see, by this time, unbeknownst to me, reporter Kit Miller who worked for TitBits and was a then associate of Mike’s, had got involved with the project. And boy did he get involved! The article could have been a lot more sensational, believe me (no offence, Kit, if you are reading this!). To put things in context, in 1976 for example Kit – who even persuaded a lady to sue a BBC weather forecaster because it rained against his advice in order to get a frontpage headline – was desperately trying to get me to agree to fly to Scotland to carry out an exorcism of Aleister Crowley’s former home at Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness, then occupied by musician Jimmy Page. Goodness knows what media coverage that would have resulted in, and I respectfully declined.
Jesse Stone, the model and aspiring actress who had played my associate in the movie, was now credited as having attended the original séance and not only that – she had allegedly fallen prey to the hypnotic influence and “roaming power” of a bloodsucking vampire which lurked in Highgate Cemetery! To his credit Kit had retained my definition of the entity as incorporeal and not a vampire of the ‘bloodsucking’ variety, but had clearly worked on Jesse whose interview as a ‘witness’ to the entity was blatantly based on the earlier interviews with myself were printed alongside hers. Although Jesse used the word ‘vampire’, in direct context of my own contribution it remained clear that she was speaking in an incorporeal sense. However, contrasted with the other subjects discussed in the piece the overall impression was (typically for Kit!) much less distinct. I liked Jesse, and Kit who was only doing his job after all, and didn’t really worry about the article at the time – I still don’t! The whole scenario was merely a product of its time, and Jesse can’t be blamed for acting upon the promises of career advancement which were no doubt offered to her by Kit – who later went onto promote the careers of many famous models such as Samantha Fox …
Titbits was a very popular magazine in the early 1970s, and was sold all over the country. Locally it was available on newspaper stalls all along the Holloway Road, at Archway and in Highgate itself. It was therefore inevitable that ‘certain people’ in the village with an interest in vampirism – as well as normal people in the local pubs – read the article, and I did receive quite a bit of ribbing for it at the time.
You can imagine my surprise however when later in 1973 another young lady appeared in the press, this time in Witchcraft magazine (vol. 2, no. 8, pages 52–5) – also wide-eyed, petite and blonde, wearing her long hair centrally parted, and also claiming to having to come “face to face with the Highgate Vampire”. Named in the article as “Jacqui Frances”, and described by its author and photographic illustrator as a pretty 22 year old blonde, this ‘1960s photographer’s model’ as she is these days described was in 1973 actually claiming the genuine experience of having met a blood sucking vampire at the cemetery ‘in the flesh’! Bizarrely she also appeared to have had a near identical experience to that of the female witness to the entity in Swain’s Lane which I had recounted in Titbits just months previously, and like Jesse who claimed ‘I believed in vampires before, but now I am frightened of them,’ Miss Frances ‘no longer laugh at things she did not understand’.
Anyway, I just thought I would publish a bit of background here to what would today be an impossible photograph sequence to achieve within locked and gated Highgate Cemetery. I hope you enjoy the photographs simply for what they are – a moment captured in time.
David Farrant 2014