[Interview] Director Dominic O’Neill Talks ‘Haunted Ulster Live’, Halloween in Ireland, and More

The new independent Halloween horror movie Haunted Ulster Live will have its U.S. theatrical premiere this weekend, and we recently talked to director Dominic O’Neill about his 1990s-set film that pays homage to Ghostwatch, as well as discussing making the found footage genre feel fresh, Halloween in Ireland, and more.

In the film, it’s Halloween Night 1998, as a local TV crew investigates a haunted house in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and viewers get to watch the “live” broadcast that hasn’t been seen in 25 years.

In a relaxed video conversation last week, O’Neill told HDN that the Halloween setting was always part of this project. (Halloween was) always a part of it,” he said, “because UTV is the station that it’s based on, which is like a regional North Ireland TV station, and I immediately, when I thought UTV’s Ghostwatch, it just made me laugh. There’s so much mileage out of that. It’s probably similar to public access TV in America. It’s that kind of community TV, where everything’s a little bit more low budget and you’re likely to get things going wrong or whatever. So I just knew there’d be so much mileage out of all of that.

“It’s cheesy to say it, but it’s like a love letter to that kind of TV in that kind of period, because even though that’s only 25 years ago, it looks like it’s 50 years ago when you watch that old stuff now. The world was so different. Broadcast style was so different. People looked so different, as well. (laughs) And I just knew that if we got the production design elements right of it, we could kind of capture that. Finding the house was the key, and when we found the house, it was like a sign, because we found the perfect house, inside and outside. Everything about it was just exactly what we wanted. And we kind of took that as the sign, because you could shoot the film on a phone with your mates and have a film, but without the location being right, it just doesn’t work.” 

Of course we also discussed the Halloween holiday itself and its ancient origins in Dominic’s native Ireland, how celebrations there differ from those in America, what he remembers from growing up in Northern Ireland where the film takes place in the 1990s, when “the Troubles” conflict was ongoing in that region, and why turnips make scarier jack o’ lanterns than pumpkins.

“The Halloween we have in Ireland now,” he said, “is very much like the American Halloween, which I’m totally happy with, because I think the American Halloween is one of the best things America has done for us, to be honest. I think it’s fantastic. It’s dressing up, it’s going out, it’s having fun, it’s people meeting their neighbors, it’s very community oriented, and there’s no big expense for parents. You don’t need to buy gifts and all that kind of stuff. I think it’s great. 

“Obviously it has its roots in Ireland, but trick or treating and that kind of thing is definitely more American. But when I was kid, it was a little bit different, because I grew up in Belfast in the ’80s and ’90s, when the Troubles were happening, so in the dark in the autumn time, you wouldn’t really have gone out and knocked on doors of people that you didn’t know. You might have, depending on where you lived, but where I lived you wouldn’t really do that. It was a little bit different.”

We talked much more about the film and the holiday, including why turnips make scarier jack o’ lanterns than pumpkins, in our full discussion.

You can watch our entire exclusive interview with Dominic O’Neill below.

Haunted Ulster Live will have its U.S. theatrical premiere this weekend at the Unnamed Footage Festival, and you can look for official release date details right here, coming soon to Halloween Daily News.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Halloween videos!

Matt Artz

Founded Halloween Daily News in 2012 and the Halloween International Film Festival in 2016. Professional writer/journalist/photographer since 2000.