In an ancient Ulster forest, the Prince of Darkness stirs
Donna Deeney got exclusive behind-the-scenes access to Dracula Year Zero, the locally-shot movie that pays homage to the greatest villain of the horror genre
A call for "quiet on set" rang out and a hush descended among the crew gathered at the Roe Valley Country Park yesterday.
The ancient woodland was the stage for the shooting of a scene for Dracula Year Zero – the start of a movie which is being filmed wholly in Northern Ireland.
Oak and ash trees stood guard on both sides of a weir where star of the film Luke Evans, sword in hand, awakens from a trance-like state with a bewildered look on his face as he surveys his surroundings.
Not a murmur could be heard from the dozens of crew members on the set after the warning that the cameras were rolling.
There was no other sound but for the babbling of the water as Evans, well-known for his Fast And Furious role, went through the scene until the director called "cut".
The Roe Valley Country Park is steeped in history from its association with Irish clan chief O'Cahan to the Phillips family during the Plantation.
Its dense vegetation has remained unspoiled for hundreds of years, which made the choice to shoot some of the film at this jewel in Limavady's crown seem obvious to local people who frequent the expansive three-mile long park.
Standing among the crew as the cameras captured the scene, they too could see the beauty and magic of the country park and have come to understand why the site was among several in Northern Ireland chosen by Paramount for the latest version of Bram Stoker's tale of the aristocratic vampire. The company behind this sci-fi version of what is perhaps the best known horror tale from the last century – how Vlad, Prince of Transylvania, becomes a vampire in order to defeat the Turkish army who are trying to take over his kingdom.
Visitors to the park have uninterrupted access from the main entrance and even on the pathway leading up to O'Cahan's Rock bemused locals were hoping to catch a glimpse of the film crew at work.
Filming at Roe Valley concludes today when the crew will pack up and move to the next location, and so end this chapter in the history of the park.
The town's mayor Gerry Mullan hopes the benefits to Limavady will continue after dozens of huge lorries laden with equipment have rolled out of town.
He said: "The buzz around filming is just fantastic and it's a timely 'good news story' for the area.
"Everyone is talking about who they might see in town and social media is full of rumours about leading roles.
"To be honest, I'm not surprised they decided to come to the country park... because it is such a scenic area, and the buzz is just great for the town.
"I'm sure the spin-off in terms of tourism potential will be noticeable in the weeks and months ahead."
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said there were huge benefits for all of Northern Ireland in attracting film companies to locate here.
He said: "We have wonderful landscapes in Northern Ireland. We are enriched with attractive country parks.
"Roe Valley is just one example and films such as this provide a great opportunity to showcase our natural beauty both locally and on a world stage.
"Not only is there the immediate benefits of having the production company, the stars and the crew all staying in local hotels and frequenting local shops, there is also the longer term benefits from the increase in the number of tourists."
Dracula Year Zero is directed by Irishman Gary Shore. He is making his directorial debut with the movie and has established a reputaiton in recent years as a prolific commercials director for clients including Adidas, Gatorade, Uggs, Sprite and Qoros. Luke Evans (below)– who will appear as Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug this December – will star as a young prince who, when the lives of his wife and child are threatened, risks his soul to save them and becomes the first vampire.