More than 200 hours of audio tapes provide the best “evidence” of the Enfield poltergeist available.
Screams and bangs; interviews with those who said they had just experienced the supernatural; the voice of a 72-year-old man allegedly coming out of an 11-year-old girl named Janet.
They form the basis of a four-part docu-series exploring a phenomenon that gripped the north London suburb of Enfield – and the rest of the country – in the 1970s.
Not that director Jerry Rothwell sets out to prove or disprove any theories with The Enfield Poltergeist. He wants to keep the audience in the space between knowing and not knowing, he told Sky News.
“It’s about how do we know what’s real and what might be beyond our perceptions, beyond our senses?”
Seen in a reconstruction of the semi-detached house where the Hodgson family were apparently plagued by the paranormal for 18 months, the series weaves audio recordings together with contemporary interviews and photos from the time.
Paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse of the Society for Psychical Research was sent to investigate, spending months at the family’s home between 1977 and 1979. The audio he recorded there is central to the series. In addition to interviewing people, he would run the tape for long periods.
“What you get is a sense of the context of family life that’s going on. Sometimes you’ll hear a noise, a scream, a bang or a rap and people’s reaction to that,” Rothwell said.
But the origin of these sounds is “incredibly ambiguous”.
“I don’t think there are many incidents where we see the paranormal cause of something, what we see are the effects of this on people.
“If we see a cauldron overturn, we catch it in the last centimeters of its flight rather than seeing how it started – which I think is consistent with people’s experience of the paranormal.”
To witness the inexplicable
Former Daily Mirror photographer Graham Morris was one of the first people at the Enfield home after the Hodgsons’ neighbors called the paper about the strange happenings.
“Up to 18 months I spent on and off in that house and saw so much happen from the first night I was hit by that Lego brick,” he told Sky News.
He said that as soon as 11-year-old Janet entered the house, loose objects such as marbles and Legos began “whirling around the room” – with one of them hitting him above the eye, leaving a lump that lasted for days.
From his vantage point through the camera lens, he could see that no one had thrown it, he said.
It was “inexplicable” he said – but he knew it was “true”.
“So so much happened. It would have been impossible for the girls or any member of the family to have done that. It’s just too much. It was constant, it was relentless.”
One of Mr. Morris’s photos was used by the paranormal investigators as evidence of the supernatural; they said it showed Janet levitating.
The shot of Janet “flying across the room” was taken in the dark, with Mr Morris operating the camera remotely from below, ready to press the button at any noise.
“The [the paranormal investigators] are the experts. If they want to say she’s floating, fine.
“I was there as a photographer. I’m not there to say what happens – I have my own theories – but as a pure layman I just left it to the experts.”
So as one of the few witnesses still alive, what is Mr. Morris’s theory?
“I don’t believe in ghosts, I don’t believe that’s what it was.
“I think there was something that we don’t yet know about, some kind of force that was centered around Janet.”
Janet tried to relate to her family, who “for various reasons were not that communicative”, he said.
“She must have found it so frustrating that for some reason this energy gets released and things happen – kinetic energy, so things move.”
Interview with the Hodgson sisters
In the new Apple TV documentary, a melding of recreation with reality went as far as the set, which featured items from the Hodgson family home, including pots and pans, a stack of Jackie magazines – and even some Lego.
They were provided by the Hodgson sisters, Janet and Margaret, who were 11 and 13 when the strange happenings started.
Both are interviewed in the series. Rothwell said he wanted to put them back at the heart of the story.
“For me, it is first and foremost their history, and it was absolutely crucial to include them in it, because I think otherwise… you make them common property without much control.
“These events at the time were very traumatic and in many ways shaped the direction of their lives.
“First of all because of the events themselves, but also because of people’s fascination with those events and the ways in which that fascination, you know, fixes who they are.”
Marry past and present
Actors on the show also lip-sync the footage from the tapes — a skill that was easier for the younger TikTok generation to master than the older cast, Rothwell said.
“You’re taking away one of the tools that an actor has in their arsenal, which is how they deliver a line.”
Many of the actors said the key was “finding the way the person was breathing – and as soon as you got that, you could lip-sync”.
The tapes also became something of a director in their own right, Rothwell said.
“The more we listened to the tapes, the more you would realize what it was telling you about things that were going on in the room.
“We’d be shooting a scene and we suddenly realize that person can’t be in the position they need to be over there.”
The Enfield poltergeist has sometimes taken on a life of its own. It was front-page news in the 1970s – not always portrayed in ways the Hodgson family agreed – and has spawned several documentaries as well as inspiring The Conjuring 2.
What is sometimes forgotten in retellings—and what Rothwell wanted to get back to—is that this is a real family, and their story.
“It was important to honor people’s experience,” he said. “You know, people absolutely say they’ve had these experiences, they’ve seen this, they’ve heard this — and I wasn’t there, so who am I to argue with that?
“This is basically a working-class family with few resources who are plagued by middle-class ghost hunters or physicists or academics and whose house sort of got out of their control.”
Enfield Poltergeist is available on Apple TV+ from 27 October.