On the set of Amazon's Lore, watching a lobotomy

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Oct 13, 2017

It looks like an ordinary doctor's office. A physician asks a young boy to hop up on a table for an examination… and places a strange device on both sides of the boy's head.

This is an "icepick" lobotomy being performed by Dr. Walter Freeman in the 1940s. The scene is taking place on a soundstage in Atlanta, Georgia in 2017, but it reflects the reality of something that took place thousands of times.

Dr. Freeman is one of the best-known practitioners of the controversial procedure, and he's one of the real people explored in the Amazon series Lore, which debuts today on the streaming platform. SYFY WIRE visited the set of the show back in May when the episode about Freeman was being filmed.

The show, based on a popular podcast, takes its name from folklore and explores the true origins of the horror we read about and watch in books, film and TV.

"The idea that these stories really happened – they are the bases for the folklore that I've examined fictionally in TV series and feature films – it was an irresistible draw," said executive producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead, upcoming documentary Mankiller).

"It's far more frightening to realize that these things happened to real people and there were real and often horrific consequences."

 

The podcast, created and narrated by Aaron Mahnke, interweaves fictional horror and fact, and the TV series will bring that same feel to the screen.

"We're trying to turn what Aaron did into a visual podcast," said executive producer Glen Morgan (The X-Files), a self-described podcast fan who was blown away when he discovered Mahnke's show.

"I liked the fact that he was dealing with folklore which isn't necessarily fact. Folklore is like all of us re-telling a story and making it a better story, and over time it gets away from what actually happened and that's interesting."

Mahnke also narrates the TV show, which is both documentary and anthology.

"It's like a throwback to the days of The Twilight Zone where you have a host who is constant but the rest of us keep changing," actor Colm Feore (24, Gotham, House of Cards), who portrays Freeman, told us.

"The idea of a true story being exploded and examined each episode is really cool."

As for the lobotomy procedure itself, Feore said, "We're able to approximate without any CGI trickery how he did it – essentially using a knitting needle inside people's skulls."

It's the true-to-life horror that will come through in this and other episodes like one about creepy dolls and another about "real" werewolves. One episode might be very different from another.

"We're really trying to do a hybrid. We want to mingle fiction and documentary together. I didn't want to have talking heads – like an expert on lobotomy – we wanted more like an Errol Morris lyrical documentary," said Morgan.

"We had an episode about a haunted house in Connecticut where a minister did a séance. The lobotomy episode is more based in fact, whereas this one has some good haunted house stuff."

The shoot also took Morgan to different parts of Atlanta, meant to represent different places and times.

"One day we were in Key West, Florida, 1906, then the next Monday in Connecticut, 1850. Another day we were in Germany in 1590."

Re-enactments, like the lobotomy scene, will be featured along with archival footage and other methods of visual storytelling.

"When there's no footage – such as with an episode involving a witch burning – we animate it."

Because Lore deals in true stories, there's also a lot more nuance that can be explored, as Feore explained.

"We don't just see a monster doing bad things to people – we see why Freeman thought it was a good idea, we see slivers of his own life, and we see a great deal more insight into why he did the things he did."

Lore promises to be unlike any other show on TV, and the "based on a true story" nature of it should bring an extra-creepy vibe, just in time for the Halloween season.