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Why Villisca '76 Was Art House

We've heard a few whispers of wonderment about the last paranormal feature documentary we released in 2019. And before you say "documentaries should be more than 25 minutes," tell that to Cannes or Sundance and then hit me back up. Our 4 features were the places we chose to create larger-scale, longer version videos of. They were locations selected for their reputations, our prior experiences, and filmability. Ohio State Reformatory is infamous, and incredibly photogenic. We make videos, so we're constantly looking to capture the cinematic aspects of the places we investigate, to the best of our amateur, self-taught abilities. The way a place can appear on camera is part of our process, but it doesn't lead it. The locations for 2019 were a haunted late 1700's mansion in upstate, New York, Ohio State Reformatory, White Hill Mansion in New Jersey, (also 1700's), and the most infamous, and smallest, of the 4, the Villisca Ax Murder House.

*To this day, I do not have a clear answer on why the word "ax" is spelled the way it is.

How the 1970's became part of our Villisca experience, is probably wrapped up in the way the trip came together. In planning out the filming in and around the home, we thought we'd try something different on the back end of the process, by filtering and color-grading the footage with a 1970's look. It can't be denied that something about the setting of the house, the nature of the murder, and the remoteness of the town lended itself to a particular decade in horror film making. Art House films are often for a niche market, experimental, and centered around modest production and real life locations, so our conceptualization fit within the frame and scope of the paranormal investigation itself.

Older film was, of course, actual film, not digital, and we knew going into it all that as crispy as our cameras can be, we'd eventually be purposely compromising the quality for an artistic appearance. We never want to compromise our investigation, though, or the actions we normally take while spending hours within a reportedly haunted location overnight. So we had to think about how we'd make sure we could cover all our bases to be paranormal investigators first, and filmmakers second.

What worked to our advantage the most was how the Ax Murder House is decorated. It appears to have had historic or antique pieces of furniture for every room of the house carefully placed and decorated to reflect the way it looked the night of the incident. In true murder house fashion, there is even an ax mark on the wall that had been hidden under wallpaper for the remaining years it was a family home. When the house was purchased to be preserved, and decorated thus, the wallpaper was removed and a vivid reminder of June 10, 1912 has been glaring down from the parent's bedroom wall ever since.

The last piece of bringing an Art House project to life was ourselves, and literally playing dress up. The age old kid's past time (I'm sure it's not anymore, I'm very very ancient now), of donning a costume of sorts was how we filled in the last gap in how the video would look. This time, however, instead of having to throw some 1800's clothes on our friends to create the ghostly figures of our b-roll, we all dressed like hippies and nerds with paisley, suede fringe, bellbottoms and aviator (or Jeffrey Dahmer) glasses. The 70's are surprisingly easy to appropriate, clothing-wise, but very easy to overdo. Thankfully we all have enough of a sense of fashion to pull it together without looking like the BeeGees.

This was an idea, really, that came together out of attempting to create something a little bit different than the usual, and to try our hands at a bigger, more focused project. The look of the house was what really drove it home. But being able to give a timelessness to the technology from lanterns to 4K cameras, high tops to hemp necklaces, was exciting to pull off. Everything about what we experienced in 2019 is presented within a 1970's atmosphere, while in the environment of a 1912 home. I can say, it was immensely fun to create this project (and see Daryl roll up in a fringe vest), with the added bonus of further creativity driving an already incredibly exciting and daunting investigation. I think between Ryan's original song "I am the Monster", written and recorded exclusively for this project, our dedication to the look, and the experiences we had within the house, we made an Art House video, and we love it.

Thanks for reading,


I'm Amy L. Bennett, a writer, multimedia artist, recovering archaeologist and YouTuber from Upstate, New York. I've been invested in all things strange and unusual since my dad gave me the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy when I was way too young. Along with my fiancé, Ryan, we've explored countless haunted locations in the US and abroad in search of the Weird.
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