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WINCHESTER

The Legend
Sarah Winchester (Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren) was more than just an heiress of an enormous fortune and majority shareholder of the company that made it. She was also the architect of a macabre plan to turn an 8-room San Jose, California farmhouse into a sprawling, labyrinth of inexplicable spectral chambers...

An exorbitant work in progress - built, torn down, built again. A non-stop year-round construction, its interior lavishly dressed in the finest decor of the day, Sarah's folly was beyond anyone's comprehension. And it was built for one purpose: To be haunted. The master plan: To recreate the realms where lives were claimed by a Winchester rifle. ...It's in the walls...

Built by the dead, but for Sarah, the dead would keep it.

The bereaved widow was building it to confront the unspeakable: Victim or villain, hundreds of vengeful spirits, some good and some bad, were imprisoned in this asylum and Sarah was the warden. And the most terrifying of all had one pursuit - for Sarah's own to meet their fate. ...It's in the air... "There's a lot of mythology around Sarah Winchester," muses Mirren. "In her lifetime there was a legend, a mythology that grew around her and the creation of this house. This house was built at a time where there was nothing around. Now it's in the middle of San Jose's main street - a shopping area. But at that time, it was just empty farmland and in the middle of it was this extraordinary construction, bit by bit being built by this widow who would always wear black and who no one in the local town would ever see. She was private, always in her house. You can understand why a mythology started building about her as the house became more extraordinary, more complicated, bigger and bigger. This mythology has lasted over the years. It's very difficult to extricate the truth about her from the mythology.

"With our film, there's a span between truth and mythology. I researched the truth of her but it was very hard to get to that truth. Many different people had different ideas about her. But you try to go to the source, to the people who worked with her, to sense what she was like. I believe she was a woman with great empathy, deep feelings (for others). At the same time the fortune that she spent on building this house came from the Winchester rifle fortune. So there is an incredible contradiction between the character of the woman and the source of her income," Mirren clarifies.

"It is fascinating. Whether that is the truth of Sarah or not, no one will ever know. There are no diaries. Only second-hand knowledge."

For horror maestros Peter and Michael Spierig (Jigsaw, Predestination), seizing an opportunity to write and direct a supernatural thriller inspired by a true story weirder than anything they had ever imagined - comes along once in a lifetime. What the Australian twin brothers envisioned is a disturbing testament to a historical mystery that can never be fully explained about a creator as confounding as her creation.

More than just a name, WINCHESTER is a formidable placeholder in time.

And Sarah Lockwood Pardee, an outsider who married the Winchester Repeating Rifle inventor, taking his name, would become a 50-percent shareholder of the company and heir to a vast amount of money as his widow. Her $20 million estate then would be equal to nearly half a billion dollars today.

As legend has it, Sarah would meet with a Boston medium after the death of her husband and infant daughter Annie, who would advise her to leave her native Connecticut, head west and begin building a house that would serve as an elaborate tomb of atonement for those who had fallen from the rifle. Sarah alone would stand as architect and warden of this charnel house of spirits, a hellish portal for any living Winchester targeted by their wrath. She was to never stop building if she hoped to thwart retribution against her or any she loved.

As Mirren notes, in Sarah's time "there was a lot of experimentation and new thinking, the era of Alistair Crowley on the dark side and the Rosicrucians on the light side.

"There was a spiritual search going on and I think Sarah was a part of that," Mirren adds. "This was an extraordinary woman. She was very into spiritual development and spiritual things in general.

"She was actually kind of trained as an architect. She had a huge interest in architecture and design before she got married. It was an era of building amazing, complicated palaces. But the purpose of her building was always to expiate souls."

This was the way she found to deal with "the responsibility of so many deaths (because) she was living off of them."

In the film, to protect her life and the two people she loves most, her niece Marion (Sarah Snook) and Marion's 8-year-old son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey), Sarah has but one choice - to meet the dead at ground zero and recreate their whispered renderings of where they met their end.

But the Winchester board fears it has a grieving nut case holding the company's purse strings. It exercises its right to have her examined, hoping she will be proved insane. But Sarah chooses the examiner... Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) of San Francisco is the only option.

"Do you believe in ghosts Doctor?" ...Sarah Winchester

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