'Winchester' opens in theaters as visitors flock to actual house in California

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On Thursday night, the movie "Winchester" starring Helen Mirren opens in theaters. (KGO-TV)

The movie "Winchester," starring Helen Mirren, is now open in theaters. It's the story of Sarah Winchester and the famously haunted mansion she built that still stands as a tourist attraction in San Jose.

Though most of the movie was filmed in Australia, ABC sister station KGO-TV interviewed Mirren and her co-star Jason Clarke last May, when they were filming a few scenes at the actual Winchester Mystery House -- a house where visitors and tour guides comb through a spooky maze of rooms and hallways.

"It's definitely haunted," said Winchester Mystery House marketing coordinator Jacob Williams. "I could sit there for hours and tell you ghost story after ghost story."

Williams knows the house like the back of his hand, though there are no maps or blueprints of it. His knowledge even earned him a tiny glimmer of stardom.

"The production company needed a stunt double who was familiar with the roofline of the house," he said. "I actually got to do a stunt scene that was doubling for Jason Clarke's character."

Clarke plays a psychiatrist who comes to visit Winchester at her mansion at the request of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, in which she held a majority stake.
"He's coming to do a hatchet job on Sarah," Clark said in a May 2017 interview.

After inheriting the fortune made by the Winchester rifle, Sarah Winchester believed she was haunted by the people it killed. A spiritual medium told her the ever-growing maze of rooms and hallways would help keep them at bay.

Because Winchester was notoriously reclusive, Mirren had to portray a character as mysterious as the house she lived in.

"The daughter of a carpenter, so she had this affinity with artisanal use of wood, which you see so unbelievably reflected in this house," Mirren said in the 2017 interview.

To get clues about her character, Mirren studied the house and became an expert.

"She could've led the tour, she was so knowledgeable," said Winchester Mystery House general manager Walter Magnuson.

The movie's release has opened the door for special tours and displays at the house, including a collection of costumes that were used in the film, on display in the room known as the Venetian dining room. And it's brought back local visitors who last saw the house when they were kids.

"Folks coming in and saying, 'I heard about the movie,' and this has always been on their bucket list, and they're finally coming," Magnuson said.

They're giving out commemorative posters and throwing a sold-out premiere party in the house's Grand Ballroom, which is one of a few rooms featured heavily in the film. Other rooms the movie makes famous may also see their moment with special events.

"As the movie comes out and more people get to see it, I think there's a real opportunity to showcase those," Magnuson said.

Click here for more information about Winchester Mystery House tours.
Related Topics:
entertainmentmoviesmovietourismhaunted houseCalifornia
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