FILM: A Suspenseful Ghost Story

FILM: A Suspenseful Ghost Story
Cast members during a beach scene
Cast members during a beach scene

By Joe Lowrey

This is a story about how two local guys combined passion, skill and determination to deliver their creative visions with lights, camera and action. That is what began to unfold about two years ago when Robert Stephens and Jeff Carleton started writing the screenplay for “The House Behind The Wall,” a skillfully crafted, suspense charged ghost story about betrayal and the evil it unleashes.

The film was shot in about two weeks using a digital video camera and a hard working crew of talented Hampton Roads based pros. Robert Stephens directed and edited. He and Jeff Carleton share writing and producing credits. In Stephens’s words, “We set out to make a horror film, but it turned into something slightly different. It really became a suspense film about these young characters, their relationships with each other, and whether or not there’s something else in this house that may wish them harm. We tried to craft a story where the anticipation would create the fear.”

“The House Behind The Wall” takes place mostly at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va. A few scenes were shot at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The Fort was established by Captain John Smith in the early 1600s.  Over the years many people have had contact with otherworldly forces behind those walls. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned there and his ghost is reportedly seen walking the ramparts at the Fort. During his time behind bars there his wife came to comfort him and her ghost has been sighted. Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Edgar Allen Poe are part of Fort Monroe’s legacy and their spirits have been seen too.

This film is based loosely on one of the more well-known tales, the Woman in White. In the Stephens/Carleton adaptation the action begins when we see a weary 19th century soldier astride a slow horse returning to his home at Fort Monroe. He hears sounds of passion when he arrives home, climbs the stairs and discovers his wife in the arms of another man.  Blood flows when he responds to this betrayal and slays both of them.

Ink flows when five present day college seniors sign the lease to rent the same house.  Will and Catherine are played by Josh Plasse and Errin O’Sullivan.  John Lesser is Trip. His lover Liz is played by Spike Leffke. The two couples are joined by Elyse DuFour’s character Jess.  All five are college seniors from well to do families but Jess’s family has recently been rocked by her father’s imprisonment for a sleazy stock market swindle.  She is forced to work as a waitress while her roommates spend their leisure time sharing meals and reminiscing about fun times they have had together.

Jess’s shame tags along with her to her third floor bedroom, the very same room where the soldier from long ago discovered betrayal.  Strange things begin to happen around the house. Catherine points a finger at Jess. Will has the hots for Jess and makes a move on her.  The environment around the house is clouded by suspicion, fear and betrayal. Spirits from the past are awakened and become a sinister force in the daily lives of the five college seniors.

This film is not burdened by special effects, buckets of blood and overt violence. It unfolds in an old school Hitchcockian fashion.  The characters carry the plot and Elyse DuFour delivers an especially impressive performance as Jess. Bright sunny daytime shots of the scenic Fort are contrasted with the darkness and mistrust in the house.  Glowing coals of passions from the distant past are fanned. Flames reach across the years and begin to consume the current day residents.  The suspense and tension unfolding on the screen are intense and make this a great way to spend a couple hours in “The House Behind  The Wall”.

Robert Stephens and Jeff Carleton have known each other for maybe 15 years. I have known and worked with them during some of that time. Both exhibited quite a bit of creative flair and imagination in the TV commercials, resort marketing and corporate work we did together… as much as they could get away with on limited budgets and tight schedules.

“The House Behind The Wall” will be shown April 16 at the American Theatre as part of the ongoing Phoebus Film Club Series. Showtime is 7:30 PM. It was released as a DVD at an Amazon store in mid-February and should be available on iTunes in the spring.  Buy the DVD ($19.99) online now at