It’s no secret that the Queen Mary harbors some dark secrets—and that sinister history is the focus of a new horror film, “Haunting of the Queen Mary,” which is set for release on Aug. 18.
The Vertical film, written by Stephen Oliver and Tom Vaughan, follows two families of three, separated by decades, but who are tied together through tragedy and the supernatural.
Over the years, the ship has experienced glory and turmoil. From serving as a troop transport with a bounty from Hitler during World War II and collisions with other ships, to almost capsizing due to a rogue wave. But the ship remains—and that persistence has become a part of the story.
“It keeps surviving,” he said. “It’s like this living, breathing thing that will not die—and that’s what we wanted to explore.”
Dozens of deaths were reported aboard the ship during its 31 years of service, which have blossomed into an array of ghost stories. And the film pulls from several of them: The White Lady, a specter seen floating in the first-class lounge; John Pedder, a crewman crushed to death by the infamous door 13; and Little Jackie, one of numerous children who drowned in one of the ship’s swimming pools, which—without giving any spoilers—becomes a crucial part of the film’s plot.
Director Gary Shore described the film as “a Gothic love letter to the ship.” But he, along with producer Brett Tomberlin and the rest of the team, did not want to create a modern-day, typical Hollywood horror film dependent on jumpscares.
“[Shore] wanted to attempt a film like ‘The Shining’ on a ship,” Tomberlin said, noting the atmosphere—going back and forth between “beautiful” shots with golden hues to dark, flashing imagery—plays a major role in the film’s scare factor.
“It’s much more than a horror movie,” Tomberlin said. “It’s a mystery, a drama and a horror film at the same time.”
The project has been in the works for about a decade, Tomberlin said. The first hurdle was getting all parties onboard with the vision of the film, including the city of Long Beach, which owns the ship.
“It was a challenge to get everybody’s approval creatively as to what the direction would be,” Tomberlin said. “It’s been an adventure.”
“I feel like I’ve been on a one-way trip to hell on that ship,” he added with a chuckle.
Next came the coronavirus pandemic, which put the brakes on the entire film industry. Once the industry restarted, Tomberlin said it was a turning point for production—now or never.
Filming finally began in October 2021 and wrapped just over two years later in November of last year, Tomberlin said.
About 80% of the movie was filmed aboard the historic vessel in Long Beach over three visits, Tomberlin said. Filming onboard was challenging, as the ship was undergoing long-overdue renovations and upgrades, so the production was limited to certain areas.
The remaining shots, including any stunts that could have potentially damaged the ship, were filmed on a soundstage in London. The crew took a LiDAR scan of the ship to for 3D imaging that was then used to create a 360-degree virtual stage similar to Disney’s “The Mandalorian” production, Tomberlin said.
Originally estimated at about $11 million, the budget ballooned to about $15 million when all was said and done, according to Tomberlin.
As with any film, especially horror, music was equally as important as the visuals. Singer-songwriter Tiffany Ashton teamed up with Tommee Profitt for the film’s theme song: a darker version of “It Had To Be You.”
“We took this classic and created a murderous take on something that everybody has come to know and love,” Ashton said, adding that it was Tomberlin’s idea to use the song.
Ashton said she read all about the ship’s history to come up with the modified lyrics for the song as well as four original songs she wrote for the film. Ashton appears on screen as the Grand Ballroom Singer performing on the ship.
“At first listen, it’s kind of like a 1930s throwback,” Ashton said. “But if you listen closer, it’s an original that we wrote specifically for the film that is speaking to the characters descent into madness.”
The initial plan was to create a trilogy, but Tomberlin said it remains to be seen if that will come to fruition due to how challenging it was to get this feature across the finish line and the inflated budget. For now, he is just basking in the joy of a completed project.
The trailer for the film dropped Tuesday, and some science fiction horror fans may recognize the narrator’s voice, even if they can’t put their finger on it. It’s an homage to Rod Sterling, creator of the iconic TV series, “The Twilight Zone.” The voiceover was done by a friend of Tomberlin’s, who also mimicked Sterling’s voice for Disney’s “Tower of Terror” attraction.
The film’s U.S. release is slated for Aug. 18 in select cities. Tomberlin noted moviegoers will be able to catch it in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The film also will be available On Demand that day, he said, with it hitting streaming services on Thanksgiving.
There are currently no screenings scheduled in Long Beach, Tomberlin said, but he is in contact with multiple locations, including the Art Theatre of Long Beach, for future showings.