HARTFORD — Paul Taitt was 18 with a job at Scotland Yard photocopying court cases when he joined colleagues on an after-hours ghost tour.
At a stop inside Chislehurst Caves in South East London, they carried lanterns and followed a guide telling spooky stories in the dark.
Taitt, at the edge of the group, got a weird feeling to look behind him. When he did, he saw three orange embers 30 feet away. A German woman next to him, the friend of a co-worker, saw them, too.
“It looked like somebody was dragging on a cigarette,” Taitt said. “Then they started to rotate.”
The pair watched in shock as the lights spun faster and faster and suddenly stopped, forming a nearly floor-to-ceiling triangle.
“Out of the center of them jumped this little jet-black humanoid, god’s honest truth,” Taitt said. “It took like 5 or 10 seconds for it to sink in what was happening. This thing was standing there, in this crouched position and it was looking around. Even though its head was panning past, it didn’t see us. It was just standing there looking around, as if it was surprised itself that it was there.”
When the German woman screamed, he said, the thing looked right at them, turned and ran right through the cave wall.
It was 1988, pre-internet, and Taitt had never heard of shadow people.
Now, 30 years later, he is just finished making the documentary film, “Supernatural Assault: Terror from the Shadows,” editing interviews with people who say they have been grabbed, harassed and terrified by the paranormal phenomena. The filmmaker, 48, who moved to the United States in 2006 and now lives in Hartford, included his own experience in the caves.
Taitt dedicated the 78-minute documentary, out this week, to a Farmington woman who told him off-camera that she worried the things in her home were going to kill her.
She died a year later.
“Supernatural Assault,” produced by Taitt’s Dark Element Films, opens with Dawn H. describing a flying black mass that followed her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend home, petrifying them both, the first of what would be many eerie encounters.
In another story, Melissa D. of Jay talks about feeling herself being pulled off the bed only to look up and see a shadowy outline with a hat.
“I was like …’What is that?'” she told Taitt.
Melissa instinctively ducked under the covers, then slowly peered back over — the black thing in a hat was still standing there. Only when she reached for a light did it disappear.
“She came across to me as very sincere, very real,” Taitt said. “Nobody was going to tell her what she saw was a figment of her imagination. I just felt that a lot of the interviews that we did were so compelling as far as the belief of the interviewee in their experience. This was not a dream, it was not a hallucination.”
Taitt, who has a background in videography and corporate video productions, mixes interviews with graphics and re-enactments and a chilling soundtrack.
Ten years ago, he produced his first documentary, “Your Worst Nightmare,” with then-film partner Andrew Barnes, on sleep paralysis.
During interviews for that film, Taitt said, he was struck that more than half of the people they interviewed claimed to see shadow people while also experiencing sleep paralysis, awake but unable to move.
“I said at that point, ‘What’s going on?'” he said. He tucked away the idea and some of the interviews for a second documentary.
He has a theory about shadow people, that they’re connected to, and possibly the same thing, as the djinn (also known as jinn), a race of supernatural beings from Islamic culture. In the documentary’s special features, Taitt has even included a “Djinn Exorcism Prayer” spoken in Arabic by Mohammed Wasim meant to be played in the viewer’s home to repel evil djinn.
When he had his own experience in Chislehurst Caves, he initially assumed the triangle and featureless black figure were part of a fancy projection.
“I thought it was tricks, I was down there looking around,” Taitt said. “(The tour guide) said to me, ‘What you’ve described, that shadow thing, has been seen by a lot of people.'”
The guide directed him to the front of the caves to ask for the sightings log book, which was more than an inch thick. He and the German woman both left their names and accounts and traded addresses.
“She was going to tell everyone about this. She said, ‘If people think I’m crazy, I want you to write a letter to say you saw it,'” he said.
“Supernatural Assault: Terror from the Shadows” is available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming at www.darkelementfilms.com. It will stream at sites such as Amazon Prime and iTunes later this month.
“I want (viewers) to have a sense of wonder: Could this be real? Is there more to the djinn?” Taitt said. “If they start Googling terms like ‘the hat man,’ ‘the old hag,’ they’re going to come up with troves of information, videos. Let’s look into this ourselves, let’s make our own judgments.”
This summer, Taitt plans to update and re-edit “Your Worst Nightmare” for a fall re-release, and he said there is more to come.
“I’ve got a third idea — I want to absolutely terrify people,” he said.
Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, unexplained and intriguing in Maine. Send ideas and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.