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Following the sucess of their revival of the classic science fiction series THE OUTER LIMITS [ Dreamwatch 37], Trilogy Entertainment have turned to Tobe Hooper's 1982 film "Poltergeist" for inspiration for their new series, POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY, but as the producers tell Haley Wood, they left their source material far behind them...
Some people scoffed at the idea of a POLTERGEIST tv series, expecting a premise much like the movie, in which a family just gets haunted by various ghosts, week after week.
But the partners at Trilogy Entertainment Group - Richard Lewis, John Watson and Pen Densham - have created something more than a ghost of the week. On the heels of the award-winning new OUTER LIMITS, Trilogy extended their television profile with a full two-season order of POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY, created by Trilogy partner Richard Lewis.
The show owes little more than its name to its film forefather, setting a sexy series in a paranormal world woven into a rich, intelligent history. The chief difference between the TV show and the movie is the creation of The Legacy, a secret society that the show claims has been in existence since the sixth century.
Dedicated to the collecting of knowledge and artifacts, The Legacy's centuries-old challenge is protecting mankind from poltergeists and other supernatural evils as well. Whether you realised it or not, former members of The Legacy include Robert Luis Stevenson, Edgar Alen Poe, H P Lovecraft, Sigmund Freud and of course, Albert Einstein.
The show, set in San Francisco, centres around the work of The Legacy team which includes Dr Derek Rayne (Derek de Lint), the Precept of the house with degrees in both theology and anthropology: Nick Boyle (Martin Cummins), an ex-Navy SEAL; Alex Moreau (Robbi Chong), a psychic and the House's chief researcher, Father Philip Callaghan (Patrick Fitzgerald), a priest with some inner conflicts, and Dr Rachel Corrigan, a psychologist who approaches the paranormal with an eye to the scientific explanation.
Played by the talented Helen Shaver, Rachel is an outsider who gets pulled into The Legacy, and the eyes through which the audience was first introduced to this spooky underworld. In the pilot to the series, when she's visiting the grave of her husband and son in Ireland, she has an encounter with a demon she believes to be her dead husband. She conceives a demon child born with the appearance of her dead ten-year-old son, and this gripping and horrific scene was one of the things that attracted Shaver to the role.
"Rachel is definitely caught in a tide of things," she says, but is quick to point out that "... I don't see her as a victim, because in the end she triumphs. It's a classic struggle between good and evil.
"I was very involved in how that scene was shot," she says of the demon seduction scene. "I told them that we had had plenty of male fantasies, and I believed that this should be an incredible female fantasy. I've never seen anything like it on TV."
In fact, the producers and writers are very open to hearing the actors' ideas and comments on the show, she says, sculpting the characters around the cast's strengths. "That's why I said yes," she said. "They're very emancipated around here... They also said they'd let me direct. It was my first chance to go behind the camera. I directed POLTERGEIST, and an OUTER LIMITS too. It's a very collaborative event.
"How many great scripts are there for anyone — men or women? I believe that TV offers more opportunities for women. Especially now that the first baby boomers are turning forty, I believe there has been a slight opening for women instead of girls."
And Shaver believes that part of POLTERGEIST'S unique vision of the paranormal comes from its innate femininity. "There are feminine fantasies and images and masculine fantasies. POLTERGEIST involves a lot that is intuitive — not just female in the sense that women are in the show, but part of all that's feminine. There's a lot that's seductive and broodingly sensual — the psychic dimension."
Producer Mark Stern says that most of POLTERGEIST's stories are based on myths and legends that we've all grown up with. "For instance, Ghost in the Road is based on the common urban legend about the guy who picks up the hitch-hiker, only to later discover that she's been dead for a year. 13th Generation is loosely based on the Salem Witch trials."
"Joseph Campbell studied myths and legends," points out Trilogy partner and OUTER LIMITS/ POLTERGEIST executive producer Pen Densham. "And what he found was that in all the religions, all the stories, of all the nations of the earth, essentially when you analysed it, they were telling the same steps in the story.
"These heroes were always ethical and they always went through these processes, and he could see parts of Jesus and his process in Osiris. Well, if you look at that logically, it means that really there's only one story and it's called human."
There's a very important purpose to horror in this fabric of humanity, he says, and very often society doesn't take it seriously. "I don't think the human animal reads or deals with anything without a purpose," says Densham. "I don't think there are any accidents of human behaviour.
"It is usually young, pre-teens who like horror most, and these are people who are just learning about their own mortality. Horror is about ritual death. It's about people who have sex and then get killed, and it's about that process of coming to grips where Mummy can't 'kiss it better' any more, coming to grips with the reality that you will move forward, you will mate and at a certain point, you also will be consigned to oblivion and your children will take over.
"And it's a metaphor process for dealing with these extraordinary, gigantic thoughts. The thoughts of 'What is this? Why are we here? What does this mean?' And having sex means that you're committed to the same life cycle and the same earth and the same feeding back into that earth. It's phenomenally powerful, but we don't look at it that way. Mainstream society looks at it as being trash. And there's a real fear, I think, of rewarding what are basically modern folk tales because they deal so closely with things that frighten us."
RICHARD LEWIS, DENSHAM'S PARTNER AND POLTERGEIST'S mastermind, spent six years on THE OUTER LIMITS as well, and he says that the two shows are decidedly different. The differences allow the writers and creators to explore stories from varied perspectives. For one, POLTERGEIST follows the journeys of continuing characters where OUTER LIMITS is like a mini-movie each week. "And there are different sets of rules for the supernatural than for science fiction," he says. "These people believe in ghosts: they are tuned in and have an innate sense."
Stern agrees: "The supernatural and exploration of unexplained phenomena, particularly the emotional exploration, and how it reflects our lives and problems back at us, has always held a fascination for us. We explore these kinds of emotional and allegorical themes on a sci-fi level every week on our other series, THE OUTER LIMITS. POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY was a way for us to explore them in a supernatural way."
And explore them they do. With stories surrounding succubi, werewolves, demon possession and various kinds of witchcraft, POLTERGEIST truly goes where many "sci-fi" shows fear to tread. But as the show entered its second season, producers decided they needed to focus more on developing their main characters and Father Philip was eventually phased out as a regular.
Taking his place briefly was a recognisable TV face. Daniel J Travanti assumed the role of William Sloan in The New Guard early in season two, but the mix still wasn't quite right. As the show enters season three, the changes aren't over. Lewis says that while it was a real kick to have the HILL STREET BLUES TV veteran among the cast, the chemistry didn't really work, and they will be adding a new character in the third season.
"We felt we needed a little more energy," says Lewis. "The new character will be a younger woman, who will definitely clash at times with Rachel. She comes in and thinks she knows it all. That will be an interesting dynamic between the younger woman and the older woman."
Shaver is looking forward to exploring further facets of Rachel's character and says that is one of the joys of working on television. And she feels perfectly at home in their paranormal setting, being more of a believer than perhaps even her television counterpart.
"I've always considered the supernatural natural," she enthuses. "I've never questioned that angels surround me and that if I'm thinking of you, you can feel my thoughts. Our finite minds use time to organise things, line things up. At moments of wholeness, and this is only brief moments in my life, I can feel the timelessness of things.
"Everything happens at once. even if I'm only aware of one. People speak of past lives, and I believe they're really just parallel lives, because all things are happening now. When our finite mind tries to imagine God, for instance, it endows him with all kinds of human qualities like being judgmental. In truth, are not all things that go bump in the night part of us, part of our own psyche?" Now that sounds like an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS...
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