Madman finds thrills and chills in theme park

29 October, 2015 by Don Groves

Following the success of That Sugar Film, Madman Production is co-producing Spookers, its second feature documentary which examines the characters who inhabit Australasia’s only haunted theme park.

Berlin-born, New Zealand-based director Florian Habicht is shooting Spookers at the eponymous “scream park” in a converted hospital located near Karaka, a 50 minute drive from Auckland.


The attraction was created 10 years ago by a sheep farming family, which has transformed their lives and employed hundreds of aspiring horror performers.

The New Zealand Film Commission is co-funding the doc, produced by Kiwi Lani-Rain Feltham and Madman Production’s Nick Batzias and Suzanne Walker.

Madman Entertainment co-founder Paul Wiegard has been to the park and marvelled at the crazy characters including zombies, clowns, a blood-curdling butcher and a guy in a baseball mask wielding a chainsaw.

"We follow the hopes, dreams and fears of key characters as they face unchartered territory," Wiegard tells IF. Veronica Gleeson and Peter O’Donoghue will co-write the hybrid doco-fiction form.

On average five people wet their pants at Spookers each night. "It is very, very common and most people aren't embarrassed about it at all," the park’s director Beth Watson told the New Zealand Herald.

Wiegard likens the style of the film to Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind and believes it will have international appeal, particularly the US and Europe. He has had interest already from several sales agents.

Batzias says, "We are thrilled with the support and high level of international market interest in Spookers so far. The authentic balance of Australia/New Zealand components straddles the ditch well and the project represents a great opportunity for Madman to move into the co-production space with our Kiwi neighbours. We are already hard at work on what is shaping up to be a relevant, big-hearted film. Spirits (pun intended) are high."

Wiegard has followed Habicht’s career since his debut film Woodenhead in 2003. Madman handled ancillary sales of his 2011 New York-shot feature Love Story, which won best film, best director and best editor at that year’s New Zealand Film Awards.

Spookers plans to launch its first Australian park in a derelict Geelong distillery. Once that is well established, Watson says, “We will be looking at opening in other cities across Australia.”

At its last board meeting the NZFC also approved investment in Tip Top Taj Mahal, an adaptation of Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis’s play Krishnan's Dairy. It will be produced by John Barnett and Sally Campbell for South Pacific Pictures, directed by Bharat Nalluri.

The plot follows Gobi, a recent immigrant who is proud of his little shop in New Zealand. Ever the optimist, he is certain he can overcome all obstacles but his wife Zina wants to return to India.

While Gobi struggles to hold his dream together, Zina escapes into stories from home and delights their son Apu by bringing the tale of the Taj Mahal alive in their shop. But when Apu goes missing, it triggers events which will transform the humble store into a monument to love that rivals the Taj Mahal.

“It’s an immigrant story about dreams and aspirations,” Barnett tells IF. “It’s based on a very successful stage play which has been regularly performed here and in Australia, the UK, the US and Singapore over the past 17 years.”