The Haunting of Barney Palmer is an hour-long children's film that was made for television by production house The Gibson Group. It is about a young boy who is haunted by his great uncle, and fears he has inherited the Scholar family curse. A live-action drama with special effects, The Haunting of Barney Palmer was based on Margaret Mahy's novel, The Haunting.
Barney Palmer was an international co-production between New Zealand and PBS in the United States. The co-production agreement dictated that the film had to have an American actor, and Ned Beatty was cast. At the time he was well known for his work in the films Network and Deliverance, as well as many TV and Broadway acting roles.
A grand dame of New Zealand acting, Yvonne Lawley shone in her role as the formidable Great Grandmother who was hiding a secret. Australian television veteran Andy Anderson played Barney's father, and Michelle Leuthart played the pregnant stepmother, Claire. The children in the cast however were all relative newcomers to acting.
Young actors Alexis Banas and Leo Banas starred as Barney and the young Cole respectively (they were the older brothers of Mirror, Mirror's Michaela Banas). Eleanor Gibson had a lead role in another Gibson/Mahy production, Cuckooland in 1985, and went on to roles in Roche, Country GP, Shark in the Park, White Fang, and Marlin Bay.
Meredith Braun played Barney's sister Troy Palmer, a role that launched her professional acting career. She went on to NZ television roles in Gloss, and The Muppet Christmas Carol. Gifted with a lovely singing voice, Braun has since carved out a successful opera and musical theatre career in England, New Zealand and Venezuela.
Directed by Yvonne Mackay, The Haunting of Barney Palmer was shot on location in and around Wellington. Mackay originally trained as a director in radio drama. Her mentor was Bernard Kearns, veteran actor and voiceover artist. In Barney Palmer Kearns plays a mysterious old man, just as he did in Mirror, Mirror.
The Haunting of Barney Palmer was the second collaboration between Mackay and children's author Margaret Mahy, (after Cuckooland in 1985). Mackay went on to direct Mahy's script for thriller Typhon's People (1994), Kaitangata Twitch (2010) and a documentary on Mahy's life and work, A Tall Long-Faced Tale (2007). She also has plans to produce a series based on Mahy's book Portable Ghosts.