Florian Habicht’s feature documentary Spookers, which examines the weird and wonderful characters who inhabit Australasia’s only haunted theme park, has been sold to an AMC Networks-owned SVOD platform in the US and German-speaking territories.
Horror streaming service Shudder will release the film, which had its world premiere in Toronto’s Hotdocs festival in April.
The co-production between New Zealand’s Junkyard Universe Films and Madman Production Company (MPC) screened at the Sydney Film Festival and at The Civic theatre in Auckland last Saturday during the New Zealand International Film Festival.
The Berlin-born, New Zealand-based director shot the film at the eponymous “scream park” in a converted psychiatric hospital located near Karaka, a 50 minute drive from Auckland. Created in 2005 by sheep farmers Beth and Andy Watson, the attraction transformed their lives and employs hundreds of aspiring horror performers.
“At the start we thought we were getting a Christopher Guest-like mockumentary but it turned out to be much more than that,” Madman co-founder Paul Wiegard told IF.
“It’s an eye-opening experience to watch these performers, who some would regard as misfits, engaging with each other as zombies, evil clowns, axe murderers and other weird characters. Florian uses a mixture of interviews and a scripted dream sequence to drive the narrative.”
Wiegard, who is mapping out release plans for Australia and New Zealand, was encouraged by the reactions from the 2,000-strong audience at the Civic, where some of the performers in full costume whooped it up.
In his Hotdocs wrap Roger Ebert.com’s Matt Fagerholm described the film as thoroughly enjoyable, noting Habicht gives the performers the chance to reflect on the potentially upsetting implications of their work.
Junkee’s Tom Clift hailed Spookers as one of the nicest and most heart-warming titles at the SFF, observing: “For this close-knit crew of amateur performers, who devise their own characters and learn to apply their own prosthetics, dressing up as monsters and maniacs doubles as a form of therapy — a way of dealing with everything from low self-esteem and shyness to, in one young man’s case, an HIV diagnosis.”
Produced by MPC’s Nick Batzias, Suzanne Walker and Virginia Whitwell and Kiwi Lani-rain Feltham, the doc was co-funded by Screen Australia, the New Zealand Film Commission and Madman. The UK-based Journeyman Pictures is selling international rights.
Wiegard had followed Habicht’s career since his debut film Woodenhead in 2003 and 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.
Also on Madman’s slate is writer-director Paul Williams’ Gurrumul, a feature doc which profiles blind singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, who died in hospital in Darwin on Tuesday, aged 46, after years of suffering from liver and kidney diseases.
Wiegard says he is “giving space” to Gurrumul’s family and the producers before figuring out the release strategy.