When Sony Pictures’ “The Unholy” hits theatres on Good Friday, April 2, its ghastly babies may very well enter the realm of creepiest movie dolls.
It was Felicity Abbott’s responsibility as production designer to create these totems, which were traditionally buried at the far end of fields by Celtic farmers in Scotland as a means of attracting prosperity.
Director Evan Spiliotopoulos explained that they had hoped “the dolls would absorb all the negative energy in the field, and everything would be cleansed.” The novel, written by James Herbert in 1983, is about a tree with magical abilities that heals people, and this film is an adaptation of that novel.
A Mysterious Twist
The film added a mysterious twist to the traditional Scottish ritual by following a deaf and mute girl who gains her sense of hearing and speech after paying a visit to the tree.
Spiliotopoulos moved the film’s setting from the United Kingdom to the Bay State of Massachusetts. Gerry Fenn, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, is a journalist in dire straits who is dispatched to the sleepy town of Banfield for an assignment.
There, he unearths a tiny infant whose remains were preserved inside an oak tree that had long since been petrified. A metal tag bearing the implausible date of February 31, 1845 is put around the baby’s wrist.
You can Trace the Date Back to a Grave Marker for a Witch in South Carolina.
Spiliotopoulos elaborates, “The logic was when you place an impossible date on the tomb of an evil entity, that thing cannot come back since that date will never come to pass.”
As filmmaker Evan Spiliotopoulos explains, “the dolls would absorb all the negative energy in the field, and everything would be cleansed.”
Based on James Herbert’s horror novel “Shrine,” which was published in 1983, the film centres on a tree with mystical healing powers. The movie added a spooky twist to the traditional Scottish ritual by concentrating on a mute girl who suddenly begins to hear when she visits the tree.
It wasn’t just the dolls’ intention to terrify the viewing public. The supernatural elements of the film’s plot, including a statue of the Virgin Mary that can be manipulated by sorcery, required Abbott and set decorator Michael C. Stone to transform a nondenominational church in Sudbury into a Catholic church.
The pandemic added another layer of difficulty by causing production to stop on March 16th, only four weeks into filming.
After our September downtime, we returned to difficult shipping conditions. Since the items didn’t show up, things got tricky,” Stone adds.
The Virgin Mary statue is one of the objects that has gone missing. In spite of this, Stone didn’t give up. I tracked down a man in Pennsylvania who had amassed a collection of many thousand statues of the Blessed Mother, he says.
In the end, Spiliotopoulos claims he was able to “cast” the perfect Virgin Mary from a pool of eight candidates.