When real life gives us scares here in Maine – a still-uncontrolled pandemic, political upheaval, whatever’s going on with the Red Sox – it’s good to kick back and treat ourselves to some good, old-fashioned fictional terror. Stephen King knows it: What’s a haunted hotel or a town full of vampires compared to facing a Maine winter’s worth of heating bills?
But sometimes what seem like fictional scares turn out to be, just maybe, real things going bump in the night, too.
“Pine State Phantoms” is the first film from Buxton-born, Biddeford-based filmmaker Nathanial Brislin, a documentary that goes in search of one Sabattus woman’s claims of a truly unnerving number of eerie phenomena that have been circling her wooded backyard. With her home’s isolated location backed up to Sabattus Pond, Kathy Fay, the woman in question, tells Brislin and his intrepid, three-person team of cinematic investigators that she’s been awakened by everything from UFOs to strange lights in the woods to ghostly apparitions to shambling, suspiciously Bigfoot-like shapes to small, humanoid somethings – some caught on camera. It’s enough to make a lifelong enthusiast for the paranormal and cryptozoological grab his camera and stomp off into the Sabattus woods. “It was enough to warrant further investigation,” said Brislin, with documentarian’s understatement.
For those out there who doubt all this paranormal stuff entirely (including, to his regret, this author) and wonder why anyone would watch a movie about such things, well, that’s what we love to do, isn’t it? Brislin and I bonded over childhood memories of being scared to bits by shows like “In Search Of,” “Unsolved Mysteries” and the like, and you only have to look at your cable guide to see that the proliferation of ghost-hunting, UFO-spotting and other paranormal reality (or “reality,” if you must) programming has only continued. And, as Brislin shares convincingly, some really weird stuff is going on in Sabattus.
Explaining that Fay’s tales came to him through cultural anthropology professor Laurie Notch during his time at Southern Maine Community College, Brislin said he felt the hairs on his neck stand up – both at the potential real-life encounters just waiting there, and the possibility of combining his two passions for his first feature film. Notch, who Brislin said appears and serves as a sort of de facto narrator for “Pine State Phantoms,” was on hand (along with one other brave crew member) as the team spoke to the homeowner and then set out on numerous nocturnal expeditions in search of proof. Did they find anything?
Well, that would be spoiling things, wouldn’t it? That said, the fact that Brislin’s original YouTube incarnation of “Pine State Phantoms” caught the eye of Maine producer Benjamin Elliott should provide hint enough that Brislin and his crew didn’t come home empty-handed. Elliott’s RuralChaos.TV has just released a DVD version of “Pine State Phantoms,” which you can get through the company site or at your local, always Maine-friendly Bull Moose location. Still, though, one person’s stories of an alarming-if-true number of weird encounters, all in the last three years? Sounds a little fishy, right?
“Well, there’s definitely one incident that sticks out in my mind,” said Brislin. “It happened right around dusk, which, admittedly, added to the creepiness factor. We were shooting B-roll of the woods near the house, and I told everyone to stop. There’d been movement, but it was getting dark, and it could have been anything. But we went in that direction, past the trees and over the hill, and … ”
Here’s the part where Brislin told me what he saw, but I’m not telling you. I will say that – thanks to my experience with a particular, fictional film about people stumbling through some woods in the dark – it got me. And that singular thrill is the sort of experience that still keeps Brislin on the track of the weird and potentially not-wonderful. Asked if he’s a true believer in the paranormal, Brislin pauses before answering.
“That word ‘believe’ contains connotations of blindly putting faith in something. I wouldn’t say I have faith, rather, that certain cases and historical sightings either yield a convincing enough story or evidence to convince me something’s been happening. In this case, there is so much consistent evidence, it would be kind of weird if there weren’t something going on.” With a chuckle, he concluded, “I guess there would be something wrong with me if I were still doing the investigations.”
“Pine State Phantoms,” indeed, just marks the beginning of Brislin’s cryptozoological filmmaking efforts. His next film, “Eyes from the Pines: The Pine Ape Project,” will see Brislin once more taking to the deepest Maine woods, this time on a quest to investigate Maine’s very own sightings of that elusive possible myth, Bigfoot. Featuring interviews with legendary Sasquatch expert Loren Coleman (owner of Maine’s Cryptozoology Museum) and plenty of interviews with Mainers who claim to have seen the beast in the hairy flesh, Brislin says that “Eyes from the Pines,” while filming was delayed by COVID, should see the light of day (and DVD) in time for next Halloween. In the meantime, set your trail cameras toward the woods, people. Those noises can’t all be deer, right?
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
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