The Haunting of Barney Palmer is an hour-long children's film which 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 award-winning novel The Haunting.
Barney Palmer was an international co-production between New Zealand and American network PBS. The co-production agreement dictated that the film had to have an American actor, and Ned Beatty cast. At the time he was well known for his work in 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 is hiding a secret. Television veteran Andy Anderson played Barney's father, and Michelle Leuthart played the pregnant stepmother, Claire. The children in the cast 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 played a lead role in another Gibson/Mahy production, Cuckoo Land, the previous year. She went on to further television 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. Later came 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 Cuckoo Land 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). There are also hopes to produce a series based on Mahy's book Portable Ghosts.