Genre-lover Charlie Steeds branches out into period comedy with aplomb and a poop. A fun, unpretentious romp through lycanthrope tropes with a sound plot and strong characters.
I loved Charlie Steeds’ Death Ranch when it came to Grimmfest last month, so discovering that A Werewolf in England had already hit the high street, I had to take a look. Steeds is a young filmmaker who makes films with more passion than budget, and this is what we have here. Excellent: I’d already covered two other low budget werewolf films in recent months, and was interested to see how this one would differ.
A Werewolf in England is a comedy horror set in Victorian England; though I confess that the way the title brought A Field in England to mind had me expecting something set a couple of centuries earlier. The story starts with Parish Councillor Horrace Raycraft (Tim Cartwright) escorting Archie Whittock (Reece Connolly) to the place of his trial for murder. The weather is against them, so they stop at The Three Claws overnight, with prisoner and Councillor sleeping handcuffed together, despite Raycraft indulging in the services of the resident “lady of the evening”. Little do they know, but the innkeepers Martha (Emma Spurgin Hussey) and her brother Vincent (Barrington De La Roche) are planning to offer up their guests to the four-legged fiends who rule the nearby woods.
From there on, we watch Archie get to know the others staying in the inn and Raycraft discovers werewolves do exist after all, and we have a battle with beasts and landlords alike. Violence, gore, poop, and monsters, with a location, coach, and costumes to give it the pomp-and-period feel intended: earthy, rather than sumptuous.
Charlie Steeds directed, wrote, produced, filmed, and indeed edited A Werewolf in England; crying out for the word “auteur” again. As he told me in the interview he gave me a couple of months ago, he likes to “create new films and new experiences using old school techniques” – and dare I add – drawing from a wealth of genre inspiration. I admire the variety in his catalog, especially as it never seems to try too hard. Instead, what you see is what you get; and by and large, it’s exactly what he wanted to make too. In the case of A Werewolf in England, what you see is unpretentious fun, a romp through some familiar tropes and dressing up chests, all put together as he chose.
The cast gets into the spirit of it too, putting all the presence and gusto they can. This goes especially for Cartwright as the Councillor and Hussey as the main innkeeper; both genuinely seem ready to fight when needed, and this doesn’t get in the way of Cartwright’s development. You’re going to want to know about the wolves, though. The costumes are better than some I’ve seen, though I think their gait shows them more as men than animals. The gore effects are gruesome though, and unfortunately, so are the defecation scenes.
Thus, I arrive at the topic of tone. Comedy is a change of direction (again!) for Steeds, and although I knew to expect humor, I have a feeling many other viewers didn’t. The humor is pretty much evident from the start in this film, as much in the dialogue and the Riff Raff-style welcome the travelers get at the inn. After a while, it has to give way to action and monsters, which is where the humor moves from words and style to slapstick and poop. As I said earlier, A Werewolf in England is unpretentious fun, but to me, not a great deal of it was funny as such. I think the angry/anxious tension of Death Ranch and Barge People was more successful, but this one does well in a number of ways. The cinematography, for example, especially during the chaotic action, was as nimble and energetic as the plot required. The plot was sound, and I’d love to know more about The Three Claws’ back story. And considering it was filmed in the first three months of this year, edited during lockdown, and high on the DVD charts soon after release, I’m more than impressed at the outcome. Just imagine what could be achieved with more budget and marketing.