BROOKSVILLE — When looking for a main location for his independent horror film “The Clock,” Rick Danford’s top request was for the house to be unique.
“I didn’t want plain white walls and boring rooms,” the New Port Richey writer, director and producer said. “I wanted the house to have character so that it could be a character in the story.” The movie is about a demonic clock purchased by a young couple at a church estate sale.
The home that Danford landed has a story that could inspire its own horror movie.
The Victorian house at 122 W Fort Dade Ave. in Brooksville is known as one of the most haunted in Tampa Bay.
“When we found that out, it was just a bonus,” Danford laughed.
Yes, Danford filmed a movie about ghosts in a house that allegedly has ghosts.
Past owners claim to have heard whispers, seen doors open on their own and felt tugs at doorknobs. When it sat vacant in the 1970s and ′80s, passersby alleged to have seen flickering lights inside.
“We’re filming a supernatural horror film in a 141-year-old haunted house,” Danford said. “We have demonic possessions, demons, things that go bump in the night and we’ve been playing with the Ouija board. What could go wrong?”
Cast and crew heard a few bumps that they believe had ghostly connections. The camera at times attempted to autofocus on areas of the room where there were no visible people or objects.
“We’ve had some eerie things happen already on set,” Danford said. “And people have said they’ve had weird feelings while being here.”
But a haunting did not interfere with the production. (The movie will be screened locally this summer.)
“The ghosts have pretty much left us alone,” Danford said.
The ghosts have always left the current owner alone.
“I guess they like me, so they don’t bother me,” said Donna Smith, who bought the house for $50,000 at an auction in 2014.
Of course, there might be another reason why she has never been haunted.
“I’m a big believer in whatever your brain wants to see, your brain’s going to see,” Smith said.
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For instance, Tampa Bay Times archives explain the flickering lights during the home’s abandoned years. Homeless people sneaked inside and lit candles.
Smith has seen doors open on their own, but she has a more practical explanation.
“The house is tilted,” she said. So, years back, she installed hooks on the doors.
“They’ve not opened on their own since,” Smith said. “Maybe ghosts don’t know how to use hooks.”
Smith might not be a believer, but many have been throughout the years.
A real estate agent for the home in 2006 told the Times that ghostly orbs appeared in photographs that he snapped.
One former owner said that doors sometimes opened on their own when the family was leaving for the day. On one occasion, the attic lock mysteriously broke and fell to the floor.
Another former owner said he felt resistance when turning doorknobs.
The 2,019-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is also listed on websites dedicated to haunted houses.
“If you pass by late at night when the building is empty, you would see a candle passing by the windows on the second floor,” hauntedhovel.com says.
Paranormal investigators often reach out to Smith by phone and email. Some stop by uninvited and ask to come inside.
The answer is always no, Smith said. “It’s jaw dropping that they would ask.”
But Danford doesn’t think that Smith should dismiss the possibility of ghosts.
“The house is 141 years old, and many souls have passed through that door,” he said. “There almost have to be a couple that have hung around.”
The house was built in 1882 by local sawmill owner G. Gordy.
As the story goes, Gordy hid his fortune somewhere on the property. Perhaps behind the fireplace. Perhaps in the backyard.
According to Times archives, the man who owned the home in the 1980s and 1990s spent 13 years looking for the treasure. He dug up the yard and opened walls. He discovered arrowheads and coins from the 1890s but did not find Gordy’s riches.
“Previous owners have specifically bought this house just to find the treasure,” Smith said. “They had it completely wrong. The house is the treasure.”
That’s why she purchased the home despite it needing a wealth of electrical, plumbing and structural repairs.
“It was unlivable,” Smith said. “But it was worth the time and money.”
Smith admits that she was initially hesitant to be alone in the house.
“I watched ‘The Exorcist’ as a kid, and we all know that really happened,” she said with a wink.
But she has also seen “Scooby-Doo,” so she knew that dogs make the best paranormal investigators.
Soon after the auction, she brought Bitsy, her Maltese, to the house to sniff around.
“She never stared into an empty corner like something was there,” Smith said. “She never barked at the air. She was totally fine. That settled it for me. Either it’s not haunted, or the ghosts will leave me alone.”