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Helen Mirren delves into the haunted mystery of 'Winchester'

By Rollo Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With its 160 rooms and rumored ghosts hiding among the darkened corners, the mystery of Winchester House, built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of rifle company magnate William Winchester, still draws droves of people to San Jose to try and uncover the building's secrets.

In the new film "Winchester," out in theaters on Friday, it is Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren who attempts to shed a light on the enigma of Winchester, who died in 1922 leaving her labyrinth of a home to become an attraction.

Mirren compared the widow Winchester, whom she called "fascinating," to jilted spinster Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations," a literary character famous for being an eccentric, distraught recluse who lives in the past.

"Winchester" follows psychologist Dr Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who is hired by the Winchester rifle company to evaluate the sanity of the black-veiled Sarah, after she hired carpenters to work around the clock to build more and more rooms in her mansion.

"One of the legends that grew up around her was the legend that she bought the house to placate the ghosts who had been murdered or killed by the Winchester rifle, and the sense of guilt, the pressure and the weight of those spirits upon her," Mirren said.

As Dr Price's investigations continue into the house, more and more spooky events happen in the house, which is known as one of the most haunted houses in America.

"Ghost stories have been told by people over fires for thousands of years so the world of the spirits is very present in the human experience. We talk about it, we think about it, it's in our art, it's in our culture. It's an authentic part of the human experience," Mirren said.

(This story corrects spelling of Miss Havisham in paragraph 3)  

(Reporting by Rollo Ross for Reuters TV; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Sandra Maler)