There are stories of ghosts, hauntings and unexplained activity, and then there’s the story of the Enfield Poltergeist.
A new offering from Apple TV+, just in time for Halloween, explores the supposed paranormal activity that gripped the quiet London suburb of Enfield, U.K. in the late 1970s, and it’s far from your run-of-the-mill ghost story.
Between 1977 and 1979, single mother Peggy Hodgson and three of her four children — in particular 11-year-old Janet — appeared to have been visited by what they and many others believed to be a poltergeist.
It’s become of the most defining ghost stories of the last century, given the Hollywood treatment in James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, along with countless other documentaries, plays and news specials.
Movie trailer: The Conjuring 2
Now, The Enfield Poltergeist is giving the subject a more thoughtful and creative exploration, bringing the hundreds of hours of audiotapes to life by dubbing them into scenes performed by actors. This creative lip-synced approach, along with the fastidious recreation of the drab interior of 234 Green Street (typical of British public housing at the time) immerses viewers into the home and time period of when the disturbing events took place.
Through the four-part docudrama, the combination of real-life footage, interviews with the actual people involved and staged recreations make for a compelling watch for anyone interested in the paranormal, or for anyone who just wants to be a bit creeped out during this haunting time of year.
A real-life nightmare takes shape
In 1977, divorced mom Penny Hodgson called London’s Metropolitan Police after she and three of her children noticed some very strange stuff happening in their two-storey attached home: heavy furniture sliding across the floor on its own and strange knocking on the wall, mostly at night.
Janet Hodgson, 11 years old at the time, and her 13-year-old sister, Margaret, seemed to bear the brunt of the strange activity in the room they shared, beds side-by-side. Chairs tipped over and objects went flying, along with other unexplained but scary occurrences.
Despite witnessing a chair “wobble and slide” when they paid a visit to the house, police told Penny that because the strange activity wasn’t a crime, they couldn’t be of much help to her. Not knowing where to turn, Penny reached out to the Society from Psychical Research (SPR), a group in the U.K. known to investigate paranormal activity.
For the next two years Maurice Grosse, an inventor and amateur paranormal researcher with the SPR, embedded himself in the Hodgson household, documenting the strange goings-on and recording more than 200 hours of audio, including interviews with each member of the family over that time.
As time passed, the activity in the house ramped up and became increasingly violent. Grosse, who would often stay in the main floor living room after the family had gone to bed, captured audio of many of the events in real-time. In just one example, his tapes documented a time when the drapes on Janet’s side of the room somehow made their way around her neck, trying to strangle her.
One night, while responding to one of the many disturbances, a cardboard box that had been sitting on the bedroom floor flew up and hit him directly in the face.
As the unexplained happenings became more frequent and Janet became increasingly terrified, the family decided to all sleep in the same bedroom together.
Grosse, meanwhile, realizing he was slightly out of his league, called for backup.
A full-fledged investigation
Among those he turned to for help were fellow SPR member, Guy Playfair, a writer who fully believed in the paranormal and was more experienced in investigations, and Daily Mirror photojournalist Graham Morris, who had previously visited the home while on assignment and reported being hit in the head by a Lego brick that had mysteriously flown across the room.
Morris, speaking this week to Metro.co.uk ahead of the Apple TV+ series, told the outlet that his first encounters at the Hodgson home “convinced me there was something happening in the house. So I stayed on, I was there for months after that.”
Once he teamed up with Grosse and Playfair, Morris became determined to capture photo evidence inside the bedroom.
“It got to the point where things are happening. We realized that Janet was the sort of epicentre of everything that happened in the house, it would happen around her and we just sat there night after night after night just waiting for things to happen.”
And after nights of waiting, his chance came.
He had set up a microphone and camera in the family bedroom, the shutter attached to a long trigger cord that he could fire from the living room as soon as there was any indication of a disturbance.
One night, as they heard a series of bangs, followed by the family screaming, Morris triggered the high-speed shutter. When he developed the film, he was astonished to see a series of photos that showed Janet going from a sleeping position to flying through the air and slamming down to the floor — all in the span of a second.
When he handed the images over to the SPR, the Society described the series of photos as a “levitation.”
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As time went on, the supposed entity inhabiting 234 Green Street appeared to become responsive to human communication, resulting in the creepiest turn of events. Grosse’s audiotapes show that the spirit began to “answer” simple yes-or-no questions by tapping on the wall or floor.
Encouraged, Grosse began coaxing out what sounded like a human voice.
In response to Grosse’s persistent questioning, Janet began speaking in a low, gravelly voice, claiming to be Bill Wilkins, a former tenant who had died at the property. Several of the recordings captured the eerie voice of the man coming out of Janet’s mouth.
At one point, he said: “Just before I died, I went blind and then I had a hemorrhage and I fell asleep and died in the chair in the corner downstairs.”
Asked why Janet could not feel him, the voice said, “I’m invisible… because I’m a G.H.O.S.T.”
When local media played the voice on the radio as part of their reporting, a man called in to tell the station that the voice he heard was that of this father.
The man confirmed that his father, named Bill Wilkins, had lived in the house many years earlier and died in the way that was described coming out of Janet’s mouth — a fact the investigators said Janet had no way of knowing.
Despite many claiming that the voice was solely the work of the young girl, Janet, who appears in the later episodes of the Apple TV+ series, maintains that she couldn’t control the voice and only felt vibrations along the back of her head when the voice was speaking through her.
Without spoiling the second half of the docuseries, the events at 234 Green Street eventually began to peter out, but the surviving players of the ordeal, including Janet and Margaret, remain traumatized by the events that occurred in the house over the course of those two years.
In the past, the sisters have admitted to staging some of the activity, including bending spoons themselves to try to prove that the spirit was giving Janet telekinesis powers.
In a 1980 interview, Janet told ITV news: “Oh yeah, once or twice (we faked events), just to see if Mr. Grosse and Mr. Playfair would catch us. They always did.”
A family that moved into the house more recently told the Daily Mail that they also experienced strange activity and moved out after just two months.
To this day, however, there are plenty of skeptics and just as many believers. Was there an actual poltergeist at play in Enfield? A ghost? Or some sort of other phenomena that’s yet to be uncovered?
Regardless, the events that took place remain one of the world’s most documented experiences of alleged paranormal activity and no one has been able to fully disprove or account for all of the happenings that terrorized the Hodgson family.
‘The Enfield Poltergeist’ is available for streaming on Apple TV+ beginning Oct. 27.
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