Netflix’s Phenomena: the true story of the Hepta Group

When a horror film is inspired on a genuine story, it always holds my interest. Only a select few movies have the power to provide a sneak peek into a world we ordinarily wouldn’t dare to contemplate. The Exorcist, Annabelle, The Conjuring, and Veronica are all prime instances of real-life events that served as the basis for scary or supernatural movies. The Spanish horror film Phenomena, which was directed by Carlos Therón and was based on actual incidents, will be released in 2023. Let’s learn more about them in this piece.

Netflix’s Phenomena: the true story of the Hepta Group

It’s not easy to find more information on the Internet, especially in English, but yes, the events presented in Phenomena are based on a true story that occurred in Madrid in 1999.

Father José Mara Pilón established The Hepta Group in 1987, and you may visit its official website here.

Father Pilón was a Jesuit priest who had earned degrees in sacred theology and philosophy. He established AMIPSA, the Spanish Association of Friends of Parapsychology, and was an expert on paranormal phenomena. He also produced numerous publications on the subject. He is regarded as one of the most well-known Spanish priests of the 1980s and 1990s as well as one of the leading authorities on radiesthesia. A video interview with him regarding this practice is available here on YouTube, and you can read his biography here (always in Spanish).

In 1987, he established the Hepta Group and enlisted the help of gifted individuals to look into paranormal events. His three primary colleagues, Sol Blanco-Soler, Paloma Navarrete, and Piedad Cavero, served as inspiration for the three female leads in the film Phenomena. The film is in fact dedicated to Paloma Navarrete, who passed away in 2022, just a few years after the film’s production, whereas Father Pilón died in 2012.

True to life, the case shown in the film Phenomena is one of the most well-known cases the Hepta Group has ever handled. The incident happened in a Madrid antique shop named El Bal del Monje. The store’s owners reported weird occurrences there, including loud noises, flying items, off-putting odors, and people’s shadows appearing and dissipating inside the rooms. It has a dedicated article on the Spanish Wikipedia and is regarded as one of the most significant Poltergeist cases in Spain. You can read the description of what happened by the Hepta Group’s mediums on that page:

“The lamps began to move by themselves. For example, the crystalline ornaments that hang from them appeared in other rooms. They jumped in front of your eyes or directly broke. The faucets turned on on their own; sometimes, it seemed like tableware had fallen on the floor. Many other times, a rotten smell arose, turning into an incredible scent of roses. It emerged from the rooms and impregnated some furniture. It smelled like burnt hair inside one of the closets.”

The three members of the Hepta Group were fine with the movie’s transfer of the events that took place in that shop in Madrid, as director Carlos Therón freely confesses. The three specialists who looked into the matter concluded that a poltergeist—a spirit that takes up residence in human-occupied spaces because it needs someone to listen to it and assist it escape its imprisoning circumstances—was the source of those happenings.

Surprisingly, the majority of the events depicted in Phenomena actually occurred. Although they are unrelated to Father Pilón’s passing, Phenomena is merely recounting a factual event that took place in Madrid in 1999 if we take out some fictional components the director included to keep the film intriguing.

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