Abigail's Vampire House Of Horrors Was Originally A Guinness Family Party Mansion

It's always important to watch your step when visiting a film set. There are cables snaking across the floor, expensive equipment sitting around, and random props that could mess up continuity if they're moved. But in one room on the set of Radio Silence's upcoming ballerina vampire movie "Abigail," the biggest challenge is trying not to tread on any intestines.

Though some filming took place in constructed sets and on the streets of Dublin, the vast majority of "Abigail" was shot inside Glenmaroon House. Located on the edge of Dublin's Phoenix Park, it's a party mansion built 120 years ago by playboy beer empire heir Arthur Guinness, who connected it to his adjacent family home via a footbridge so that he could switch from "family man" mode to "party animal" mode with minimal walking. Glenmaroon's luxuries include a smoking lounge, a grand stained glass window, and an indoor swimming pool — which, for the purposes of "Abigail," was filled with mangled bodies and corpse goo.

Kathryn Newton, who had to swim through this grisly concoction, describes it as "one of the most traumatic experiences I've ever had, in the best, coolest, grossest way ... I just did a Marvel movie and this is way harder."

Radio Silence is a filmmaking collective that includes directing duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who previously staged the bloody cat-and-mouse games of "Ready or Not" in Toronto's famous Casa Loma mansion. That movie ended with the final girl drenched in blood from head to toe, so Radio Silence had their work cut out stepping things up for "Abigail." Welcome to their new house of horrors: Wilhelm Manor.

From party house to convent school to vampire den

What do you do if your daddy is the richest man in Ireland? Well, if you're Arthur Ernest Guinness, you spend £5,000 (it was a lot of money at the time) building a second home right next to your first home and turning it into the perfect party mansion. But Arthur only got to enjoy Glenmaroon House for a few short years before he was called to serve in World War I. When he returned, Dublin wasn't a great place to be a Guinness. In 1913, Arthur's father had donated £100,000 to unionist forces to help them crush the republican rebels. Just two months after WWI ended, the Irish War of Independence kicked off in earnest ... and the Guinness family had backed the losing side. 

After the dust settled, Glenmaroon House was no longer located in Britain but in the freshly minted Republic of Ireland. Arthur had moved his family to London, and Glenmaroon stood empty. When Guinness died in 1949 the property was transferred to the Irish State, who then handed it to the Daughters of Charity, and the ultimate party palace became a convent school. This change of hands led to extensions being built — a chapel and a dormitory — that only add to the uncanny feel of Glenmaroon House, as it shifts from the mock Tudor opulence of the original building to the stark concrete columns and wood paneling of the 1950s chapel. It's the perfect setting for a slaughter.

"One of the things that we always try to do when we're doing anything is find a location ... and then kind of apply the story to it and let the story change with the location," Matt Bettinelli-Olpin explains. "That house is all the things we were hoping to find for this movie and more."

I use antlers in all of my decorating

As you might notice in the trailers for "Abigail," the aesthetic of Wilhelm Manor leans heavily on antlers and taxidermied animals. Most of the decor was, at one point in its existence, running around a forest — which should be a major red flag for the heist crew that assembles in its grand foyer to receive instructions from the mysterious Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito). The crew, who have never met before this night, all go by fake names — Joey (Melissa Barrera), Sammy (Newton), Dean (Angus Cloud), Rickles (William Catlett), and Peter (Kevin Durand) — and will be supervised in their kidnapping efforts by Lambert's right-hand man, Frank (Dan Stevens). They'll take harmless little Abigail (Alisha Weir) from her home and hold her in Wilhelm Manor until the $50 million ransom is delivered. Easy, right?

The antiques and animals around them look like they haven't been moved for decades, but in fact almost everything you see in Wilhelm Manor is set dressing — even the stag sculpture that stands in front of the house. And one of the benefits of shooting in a location like this is that the set doesn't really need to get undressed until the end of production. On the night I visited, with just a couple of weeks of filming left, the set encompassed almost the entire house, with something unsettling or outright nightmare-inducing in every room. The creepy atmosphere is enhanced by the haphazard, Escher-esque layout of Glenmaroon House, with its narrow hallways and multiple sets of staircases. You wouldn't want to get lost here, but it would be very easy to do so.

There's no place like home

Glenmaroon House was presented to the directors as a potential Wilhelm Manor by location manager Eoin Holohan, whom we also have to thank for scouting the stunning locations of Martin McDonagh's "The Banshees of Inisherin." For Radio Silence, Glenmaroon was instantly a winner. "Tyler [Gillett], he reminded me of a kid when we came in," Holohan recalls. "He just took off videoing loads of corridors and rooms."

The house was missing a few rooms that the script called for — a grand library, a basement, and a kitchen — which were constructed on a sound stage instead, but otherwise, it was ideal. "That house is all the things we were hoping to find for this movie and more," says Bettinelli-Olpin. "I mean, it's weird. It's anachronistic. It doesn't quite sit in a time because it's been updated. Parts are still kind of just demolished and run down, parts are kind of nice." The production had free run of the house for 35 days, the bulk of the 57-day shoot. "We lived there. We lived at Glenmaroon," says Gillett, laughing.

While they may not have literally lived in the creepy vampire mansion ("Absolutely not," declares Kathryn Newton, when the idea of staying at Glenmaroon is floated. "No sleepover, no hide and seek, none of that"), the cast did live together when they weren't on set. Melissa Barrera, who previously worked with the directors on "Scream" and "Scream VI," says that there was a similar set-up on those movies that enhanced the cast chemistry. "You create this makeshift family and it makes you really just focus on the work that you're there to do." 

The only cast member who didn't live with them was Alisha Weir, a Dublin local. ("I actually knew the guy who owned [Glenmaroon]," she tells us. "My friend's granddad owned it.") 

Ready or Not, it's going to be a bloodbath

"This house is purgatory," says Giancarlo Esposito. "You can't get out." He's referring not just to the characters in "Abigail," who find themselves trapped inside the house with their not-so-harmless kidnapping victim, but to the actors in the movie as well. "Every day, some of these people have to get caked in blood. It's nasty and sticky. You're doing your time until your time is up."

There's plenty of blood to go around. While Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin's "Scream" movies have their share of gore, it's not quite on the level of "Ready or Not," in which Samara Weaving battled the in-laws from hell and ultimately watched them explode in a glorious display of blood and guts. In "Abigail," the directors aimed to outdo themselves. You know they're serious when there are blood cannons in the arsenal. 

"It was definitely the bloodiest thing I've ever worked on in terms of volume, you know, just pints of red syrup that were required on set," says Dan Stevens, a veteran of fake movie blood, whose previous credits include Gareth Evans' 2018 horror movie "Apostle." One of the ways that "Abigail" seeks to set itself apart from a thousand other vampire movies and heist movies is not just by mashing the two genres, but by pumping up the carnage to an absurd degree that escalates over the course of the film, leading to a wild final act. "It was kind of like an event," Stevens remembers. "The whole crew gathered around to watch it, like a fireworks display." 

Barrera also teases an epic action sequence at the end of the movie that took about a week to film and was preceded by lengthy rehearsals. At one point she was so utterly drenched in blood that the make-up team had to remove some of it to make her face visible; all you could see of her on camera was a pair of eyes in canvas of dark red.

"There were days on set when you couldn't walk anywhere because it was just a bloodbath," says Tyler Gillett, smiling. "That, for us, is just super fun."

"Abigail" arrives in theaters on April 19, 2024.