Last Halloween, Faster Horse Pictures announced there development plans for a new horror franchise centered around one of New Orleans’ most haunted locations: The LaLaurie Mansion. The property is home to over 100 years of cruelty, bad luck, and all manor ill-fated happenings. In other words, this house seems to have made it it’s business to become a hotbed for restless spirits and ghastly apparitions.
The LaLaurie Franchise is still in early development but attached to help bring this haunting tale to life are The Conjuring screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes. We were fortunate enough to speak with producer Doug McKay while at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival about the project, and about the sheer volume of terrible things that seem to always happen at the infamous LaLaurie Mansion.
“…there’s just no end to the stories and things that have gone on in there, whether it be crimes that have been committed there or suicides or, you know, obviously the horrible things that happened when Madame LaLaurie lived in the house.”
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: I understand you are interested in ghosts.
Doug McKay: I am interested in ghosts. I have always been interested in ghosts. We’re particularly excited about this the LaLaurie property that we’re developing and I think it has the potential to be really great one.
NOFS: And you’re working on it currently with Chad and Carey Hayes, who wrote The Conjuring?
DM: Yes, yes. So the way that this all came together was- my partner Cindy Bond and I have a company called Faster Horse Pictures and we also have a colleague and frequent collaborator named Michael Whalen. The three of us were talking and Michael said, “you know, we really ought to develop a movie about my house”. I had known that Michael had owned this mansion and that it’s also not his primary residence, but he’s a really private guy and having been around the French Quarter a bit, you know, the people who are interested in the ghost tours there, it’s common knowledge [that] nobody’s been inside this house, except for the owners, for years and there’s been no public access for decades. Every time we go on the tours around there, nobody can get in the house and nobody’s seen inside the house and I always just thought that was part and parcel with Michael being a guy who likes his privacy.
And so that’s at least the excuse I tell myself for not having come up with the idea myself to try to do a movie about his house. I would have assumed he just wouldn’t be interested in that but he said it, and he’s very interested in it and so we had a conversation about it and Cindy said, “You know, who’d be great for this? Chad and Carey Hayes, who I’ve been friends with for 20 some years”. I didn’t know, even though she was my partner, I had no idea that Cindy had been close friends with they Hayes brothers but as soon as she said that, I said “Oh, that’s a fantastic idea. I can’t think of many who’d be better for it than they”.
So she called them up, they called her back about 20 minutes later and she started to tell them the idea and the story of what the LaLaurie mansion is, and after just a few moments, they cut her off and said “Cindy, we know. We know all about this place. We’ve been down there on the ghost tours and we know all the stories. We’ve stood outside that house and have kind of been obsessed with it for years” and they said “I can’t believe we’re getting this phone call right now but absolutely, we want to do this with you guys. And three or four days later, the whole group was down there in New Orleans on a research trip. The whole thing came together so quickly. It was fun to see and a rare thing for the group to come together in such quick and easy fashion.
NOFS: I’ve kind of intentionally avoided researching anything about the LaLaurie Mansion. Can you maybe tell me what’s made it so infamous?
DM: Well, I think the most notorious story and the most well-known story of the house surrounded the character of Madame LaLaurie herself. She was a socialite and very wealthy, very influential woman in New Orleans in the early 1800s. It came out, because there had been a fire at the house so people came in to try to stop the fire, and what was revealed was that she had, for a long time apparently been murdering and torturing her slaves in the home and nobody knew about it. It was just this sort of enormous uproar that this woman who was famous and well known had been doing these things and no one had been aware of it.
So that was a story that has kind of been told throughout the years since that happened and I think that’s the most famous one, and the thing that the house is most famous for, but when you dig into the history and do the research, which we’ve done, that place has a long and varied history of terrible things happening there. It’s really pretty amazing all that has happened and all the different things that that house has been whether it be a mansion for one family or broken up into different apartments- and it goes on and on because it’s been a lot of years- but there’s just such a wealth of material for a story to be told because there’s just been so many things that have gone on there over the years, it’s unbelievable.
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“One of the great things about having the Hayes brothers on this has been [that] when we began the conversation, they immediately identified this as something that had the legs, if we did it right, could be made into a whole series of films”
NOFS: Wow. It sounds like if you just focused on the stories everyone around the French Quarter tells about the mansion, you could have a franchise that went on forever.
DM: One of the great things about having the Hayes brothers on this has been [that] when we began the conversation, they immediately identified this as something that had the legs, if we did it right, could be made into a whole series of films and branch out as a franchise. It’s been fascinating for me to be a part of that development process with them and see how things like that are designed. If anybody’s good at it, it’s Chad and Carey Hayes. I think one of the advantages that we have here is that it’s a rare case where something from the very beginning is looked at and designed to be a franchise.
Obviously the first movie has to be terrific and that is absolutely our goal but also, at the same time, to be designing it to be able to branch out in that way- and I think you know, you have your Marvel universe’s and things like that where clearly from the outset, the idea was for it to happen like that- but there’s not too many of them and a lot of things to me anyway, I feel like, ‘Okay, one film was successful so let’s, sort of after the fact, tack on ways that we could make other movies about this’, and I think when that is the case you can feel it as an audience member. And so, this time, to have planned it from the very beginning is, I think, a really exciting thing and a real advantage to what we’re trying to do.
NOFS: It’s really interesting because it’s not too often you hear someone announce an entire franchise, but it seems like this story is completely suited for that. I’m sure you don’t want to talk too much about it but have you guys figured out how you’re going to establish it as a franchise?
DM: From the beginning, the idea was to map things out and have a plan and, of course, never lose sight of the fact that we don’t get to do any of that if the first movie doesn’t just nail it and so there’s a ton of emphasis on the first movie. But at the same time, like I was saying, doing the things you need to do in setting up the structure so that it can branch out that way and we’re not really yet getting into the storyline or the scope of the franchise or what our take on all of it is, but it’s been very intentional. It’s been a fun development process so far, and the brothers are actually down there in the house right now writing the script.
NOFS: Did anything strange happen to you all while you were down there during that first visit.
DM: We stayed in the house, and the brothers are staying in the house now, and I’ll tell you it is not a place I would want to stay in again. It is truly a disturbing, unsettling atmosphere in that house. And I generally kind of assumed that the stories that you hear from the tour groups of people passing out near the house, and things like that, were just to kind of drum up business. But the more we talk, and there’s been an incredible amount of research that has gone into this, the more we talk to people, the more we found out that it’s not just made up publicity. It is a very strange place, there is a very unsettling feeling which, of course, only intensifies when you go inside the house. A lot of people have seen and heard a lot of strange things. There have been a lot of first-hand accounts over the years and yeah, it’s a night and day feel from when you’re outside to when you go inside. I don’t know any other way to describe it.
“The more we talk to people, the more we found out that it’s not just made up publicity. It is a very strange place”
NOFS: Given that you have so much access to the house, are you planning on filming inside?
DM: We have yet to plan out the exact way we’ll go about the production but our intention is definitely to shoot some portion of the movie inside the house because we feel that there’s something special about that and there’s an authenticity that comes with that, that we want to bring to the film that we’re going to make. Michael has just been so great as our partner in this to be providing this kind of access which is so rare and yeah, we definitely want to do some filming in the house.
NOFS: And have you been shortlisting who you’d like to direct the film?
DM: We’ve been having conversations about that from the beginning and we have a number of different ideas about who we could go to and who would make a good attachment as a director to this but we haven’t really gone there yet in any sort of real formal way. Right now, everything’s been mapped out [but] the script itself is just now being written. We’re not quite there yet but we’ve definitely got some ideas.
NOFS: Tonally, is there a group of films that you could point to, to say “This is what we’re aiming for”?
DM: I would say our approach, unlike some of the other approaches [to the LaLaurie story], is to take a very serious, dark look at these things. I feel like we want to not just make a really good horror movie, we want to make a really good movie. The word “Elevated” gets bandied about a lot and, of course, you here that is the goal from a lot of different things. The company I worked for before, we produced Black Swan and Shutter Island and Zodiac, and I feel like what we managed to do was take genre material that had the quality that could elevate it, and make not just a really good genre movie, but a really good movie. And so we’re most definitely approaching this in that regard. We feel like this is going to be not just a great, great film and we’re talking that kind of serious approach.
NOFS: Yeah, I don’t think Elevated Horror is a bad thing. When I hear that I just think, ‘Oh, you’re making a horror movie for adults’. I think we can all appreciate that.
DM: Yeah. You know, Shutter Island could have very easily just been a spooky story but, you know, it had the potential to, again, not just be a really good horror movie- and that was a gothic horror movie- but to kind of transcend the genre and just, in and of itself, be a great film and I think that the Hayes brothers accomplished that, for example, with The Conjuring. […] They lend that authenticity and that elevated sense to their work and we feel very confident that they can bring that to this as well.
NOFS: Yeah, I definitely think you have the opportunity to make a really dark movie, especially given the history behind the house.
DM: I wouldn’t say dark for dark sake but, you know, you see some movie these days that kind of have a tongue in cheek aspect or a campy aspect to it or a comedy-horror aspect to it. When I say dark, what I mean is serious. I think the Hayes brothers are really good at, like I said- how do you make an audience engaged in a film? Well, it’s not just pulling jump scare stunts the whole time, you have to give them something to care about, and that elevates it too. So it’s not all darkness is just authenticity and taking the drama of it seriously.
“…there’s something about that spot. It feels different, and not in a good way.”
NOFS: It sounds like you’re going to try and make a movie where I’m going to actually care about these people, and really hope they get through it or feel terrible when something bad happens to them, and I think you’ve definitely got the right writing team for it.
DM: That’s absolutely the intention. I’m just a fan of the genre, and I am a fan of horror movies and I feel like I’ve seen plenty of horror movies that I liked where it’s a bunch of jump scares, and that was a fun thing to watch, and then it kind of leaves my mind a few minutes after I walk out of the theater. It was a good experience, but it doesn’t stick with me. We want to want to create something here that sticks with people.
NOFS: So, what’s one story that you’ve heard about this house that scared you the most?
DM: Oh my goodness, there’s just no end to the stories and things that have gone on in there, whether it be crimes that have been committed there or suicides or, you know, obviously the horrible things that happened when Madame LaLaurie lived in the house. I mean, it goes on and on. I don’t know if I could pick a favorite. I think probably the thing that I come away with most is just the overall sense of ‘I can’t believe all the terrible things that went on under this one roof’. The sheer accumulation of all these stories, the mass of stories, the number of things that have gone on in there, it blows you away […] I think there’s something about that spot. It feels different, and not in a good way.
‘The LaLaurie Mansion’ is currently in development, with The Conjuring screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes penning what will soon be the first film in the franchise. Click HERE to learn more about the history of the La Laurie Mansion, and be sure to share your own ghost stories with us on social media while we all collective wait for what may be our new favourite supernatural horror franchise. You can find Nightmare on Film Street on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.