I was surprised when a young film-maker named Alex Beresford got in touch to tell me he was making a documentary based partly on my experiences. I was equally astonished when he said he wanted me to appear in it. I’m the old hideous-looking one in the middle.
So here it is; the stories told straight from the horse’s mouth (in my Stoke-on-Trent drawl). As I have been attempting to do for a while, Alex’s film Cult: The Final Chapter highlights a sinister side of the Derbyshire town of Buxton and the ending is particularly creepy. Alex has gone to hone his craft at film school and I look forward to seeing more of his cinematic explorations.
I’ve always wanted to play a zombie in a film ever since I saw Zombie Flesh Eaters when I was a kid. There’s something about pretending to be a mindless shuffling monster that appeals to me, and it comes naturally. Infact, first thing in the morning, I don’t even need any make-up. When asked if I wanted to be a zombie in a music video, I couldn’t pass up the chance. I was unlikely ever to be asked the same question again.
I’ve had a stab at making a few films myself and I know that it’s easier to surround yourself by cool people who cooperate and don’t grumble about anything. However, I spent the first two hours on location watching a queue of people get made up as zombies and it looked like the cameras were about to roll. I grew increasingly anxious about missing my opportunity. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about; I had about 10 hours between make-up and the scene I was in!
The first problem presented to me as a member of the undead was not to touch anything as there was make-up all over my hands. Of course, the first thing I had to do when I got out of the make-up chair was to go for a pee. This presented me with an interesting challenge; the details of which I shall spare you.
So with virtually a whole day to spare before “action” was called, how does a zombie pass the time? Plastered in horrific make-up and dirty stinking clothes, the options are limited. You can’t go on a date or pop to Tesco. Some of the other zombies and I decided to stumble around the Peak District village where the film was being shot, holding up traffic and making children cry but the fun soon wore off. I even went for a pint in the pub with Denis, who was playing the priest in the video but there was still time to kill (pun intended). Lunch was kindly provided although it was sandwiches and chilli con carne, not human brains. I wiled away more time by watching some of the other scenes being shot but I kept getting in the way; it’s not easy being a large and foul creature.
When “action” was finally called on my scene, my enthusiasm had worn off a little and I struggled to psyche myself up again. I wondered if Tom Cruise ever had the same problem. My heart sank even more when the director looked me up and down and said “put this big zombie at the back”. I had waited all day and I wasn’t even going to be in it! It turned out okay; I just pushed the smaller zombies out of the way during my rabid advance and you can see me in the video (if you don’t blink).
With special thanks to Denis Higgins for the photos and Seashaped
If you have an amusing tale about appearing in a horror film or would like to contribute to World of Wolfson in any way, please get in touch.
When I was a kid in the late 1970s/early 80s, the paranormal was all the rage. Magazines such as The Unexplained and television programmes like Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of developed my fascination with UFOs and things that go bump in the night. Many happy hours walking in the countryside with my granddad also contributed to my love of spooky mysteries.
My favourite phenomenon was Bigfoot. The concept of a huge hairy monster hiding in the woods was entirely plausible to the imagination of a child. Even though I’ve grown up and realised that it’s probably a load of bullshit, I can’t shake off the tiny possibility that Bigfoot is real or at least concede that the myth has some grounding in reality. Join me on a journey.
Wolfson on Location
A few years ago, I went on holiday to the west coast of Canada and the north-western corner of the USA. I had several reasons to visit this magnificent part of the world but one of them was to see Bigfoot country for myself. My trip included 3 nights sleeping in a trailer in the backyard of my friend Paula’s home on Vancouver Island. This gave me an opportunity to get up at the crack of dawn and explore the woods where the enigmatic beast has been sighted. This was a dream come true. Imagining the dark forested realm of Bigfoot was a childhood preoccupation and now I wandered there alone.
A characteristically large species hiding away from mankind in the wilderness is a hard concept to swallow, especially in this enlightened age of technology and communication. However, it gets a little easier to believe when you’re there. The woods aren’t like the cultivated versions in the UK. They are wild and thick and stretch for hundreds of miles. You can barely see ten feet in any direction and they are the domain of big predators that are seldom glimpsed, such as bears and cougars. I explored the shadowy forest trails with a lump in my throat. What would happen if I suddenly came face-to-face with an actual Bigfoot? Would anyone believe me if I did? At one point, I heard a twig snap from nearby and the realistic possibility of bumping into something big and hairy with fangs and claws overwhelmed me with bowel-loosening realisation. Needless to say, I initiated a hasty retreat, looking back over my shoulder; half in fear, half in hope.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t spot the big guy but I found it easier to believe people that had. In Canada, they call him Sasquatch because that’s what the Native American people have always called him. To the Canadians I spoke to, Sasquatch was real. Some of them had seen him and accepted his existence. English people tend to be cynical and they take the piss out of everything. It was a sobering change to be among folk who talk about monsters with a straight face.
It seems too much of a coincidence to me that no one has ever found an actual Bigfoot or the corpse of one, or even just a body part. I accept that the creature has a vast territory in which to hide but even so, surely a specimen would have turned up by now? Consider that he has cousins all over the world; the Yeti in Nepal, the Almasty in Russia and the Yowie in Australia to name but a few of the most famous. No physical evidence anywhere? Hmm.
It is also significant that in most places where a man-beast dwells, there’s also a bear population. A few bears have been recently caught on camera walking on their hind legs. In the dark of the woods, could a glimpse of a bear moving a bit like a man appear to be something more sinister and ape like?
Saying that, people still see Bigfoot and I’m sure that dismissing their encounters as misidentified bears would do little to comfort them. Perhaps it’s better if the puzzle is never solved. After all, life would be dull without a little bit of mystery.
Wolfson does Bigfoot
I once made my own ropey horror film about a hairy creature that lives in the wilds of the Peak District entitled … wait for it … The Horror of the Legend of the Night of the Beast. This cinematic masterpiece featured some amazing actors including Anthony Rothwell, Matt Ryan Rick Rushe and Ben Jones.
My collection of horror tales Hidden Places on Earth (available from Amazon) features a more serious take on the Bigfoot enigma called The Steve McQueen Story and I shall finish by treating you to an excerpt. By way of explanation, Steve McQueen is an American sheriff on the trail of a missing girl in Oregon. Betsy is his beloved rifle. Tammy is his naive deputy. Leoty is his extraordinary Native American tracker.
A scream awoke me. My eyes snapped open. I must have dropped off. I looked to my left and Tammy was gone. I turned to the right and Leoty was gone too. I shook the slumber from my head, grabbed Betsy and staggered to my feet. There was another scream but I couldn’t tell who it was. My heart was hammering.
‘Tammy!? Leoty!?’ I hollered and peered out into the darkness. I could see jack shit except for the fire and the tethered horses nearby and they too were in a state of panic. I called out again but there was just silence now. For the first time in my life I genuinely didn’t know what to do. I have always enjoyed sharp instincts and like my daddy before me, and his daddy before him, my decisiveness in an emergency got me my Sheriff’s badge. I stomped around for a while and shouted into the night. Before I could summon the sense to do anything useful, the ladies came out of the gloom, holding onto each other like goddam lesbians.
‘What the hell!?’ I yelled. ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack!’
‘Oh, Steve!’ sobbed Tammy. She ran over and threw her arms around me. She was shocked and I was shocked too but I held her lithe body close to me while she soaked my shoulder. I peered over at Leoty for an explanation but her perfect Indian features yielded nothing. I had to wait for my deputy to calm down.
‘I had to go pee,’ Tammy finally said.
‘Jesus, Tammy!’ I growled. ‘You should know better than to go wandering off into the woods by yourself at this hour.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She wiped the tears from her eyes. ‘A girl’s gotta have her privacy.’
‘Did you get a fright?’ I queried.
She nodded and all she could manage to say was ‘eyes …’
‘Eyes?’ I urged.
‘There were eyes watching me,’ she clarified.
Tammy shook her head.
Tammy shook her head again.
‘Not an animal? Not a man? Then what in the holy kingdom?’
‘I don’t know … just eyes … horrible …’ Tammy started crying and wrapped her arms around me again.
‘This isn’t right, Tammy,’ I said firmly and sat her down by the fire. I grabbed a flask of bourbon from my coat and offered this as an alternative means of comfort. She took it and sipped, then screwed up her face and handed it back to me. I took an almighty swig myself and allowed the firewater to dull me down. I turned to Leoty.
‘I found her,’ stated the tracker.
‘Did you see anything?’ I asked.
‘I saw nothing,’ she replied.
Tammy glared at her, resentfully.
I crouched down and put my hand on her shoulder. ‘The imagination can do funny things out here, deputy.’
‘I saw nothing tonight,’ added Leoty; ‘but we are being watched.’
‘What?’ I scowled at her.
‘We’ve been watched ever since we started.’
I stood up and looked into the tracker’s strange yellow eyes. She was a tall woman and we were at equal height. ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘I wasn’t sure,’ she explained. ‘I’ve caught glances of something through the trees; a stench on the wind, footprints here and there. I think your deputy has confirmed what I feared.’
‘Then what in the shit and shinola is it?’
Leoty shook her head. ‘I wish I knew, McQueen.’
That was pretty much the end of the discussion. Both women were spooked and, I have to admit, I was too. We stuck close to the fire till dawn and said little more. Twasimotokai’s warning bounced around my mind: ‘Some things are not meant to be found, McQueen.’
If you have any comments or experiences you would like to share, big-footed or otherwise, please get in touch. If you are a film company seeking original ideas, I’m your man!
So what were the problems with getting this cinematic masterpiece from a piece of paper on to a screen?
My ambition to make films has always exceeded my ability and there are several scripts gathering dust on my shelf that will probably never get made in to films, which is a good or bad thing, your point-of-view pending.
Perhaps the saddest of my failures is Massive Seagull. Conceived by my friend Matt Ryan, the story concerns an oversized avian killer. One of the funniest people I know, Matt comes up with stuff that still makes me laugh ages after he has said it. I couldn’t shake off the concept of Massive Seagull and we resolved to turn it in to a film production. We assembled a writing team that included ourselves and a few other pals; Rik Kirk, Emlyn Vaughn and Anthony Rothwell (see my last blog on the latter).
I have never been in a writing team before or since. I’m not sure why because it worked really well. The five of us got together for a few drinks and played around with the story. We concluded that Massive Seagull takes place on the set of an adult film called Lost Valley of the Cave Sluts. An aging porn star named Karl Gunt who can no longer rise to the challenge is replaced by a more capable younger actor named Stud Caruthers. In a jealous rage, Karl uses his occult knowledge to summon a demonic creature but instead of saying “eagle” he mumbles and says “seagull” instead. The gigantic murderous bird goes on a killing spree, polishing off the crew and cast, one by one.
Other characters have names such as Lolly La Mone, Chastity Vowbroken, Rudy Majors, Johan Knight, Ral King, Dick Challenger and Lady Fanny Hare. They have quality dialogue:
Johan: It seems Massive Seagull isn’t playing games anymore.
Ral: The Seagull? You think he did this?
Stud: Seagulls live at the seaside don’t they?
Johan: This is no natural creature! It is a monster from hell!
Ral: A monster from hell?
Johan: A creature that has been summoned in to our world to harm us.
Ral: But who would do such a diabolical thing?
(Suddenly, Karl Gunt emerges from the jungle and looks at them. They all turn and glare back).
So what were the problems with getting this cinematic masterpiece from scribbles on a beer mat and onto a screen?
1) Actually making a giant seagull is hard although you can see by the photographs accompanying this blog that we did try. A pair of massive seagull legs were a feature of my kitchen for about two years which at least made for an interesting conversation piece at parties.
2) We couldn’t persuade girls to be in it. There are several female characters in the film and even though it isn’t actually a porno, the fact that it takes place on the set of a porno film was enough to put them off. An important lesson in boys think differently to girls.
3) We needed money. Even the simplest of productions need investment and I was having trouble finding sponsors for a film that features a giant seagull tearing off a man’s penis. If you’re out there, please make yourself known!
I’ve been working on a short film called Matriarch: Low Life in High Heels. A fictional tale of small town gangsters, the story focusses on a conversation between the crime lords of Buxton in Derbyshire: Danny, charming playboy of Burbage, Mick, provincial ruler of Harpur Hill, Stan, weary boss of the town centre and Dwayne, the nutcase from Fairfield meet up to discuss the mysterious disappearance of their overlord. Together, they face the difficult decision of who will succeed him. Needless to say, established rivalries bubble to the surface and the meeting gets a little edgy.
Working with the local abundance of talent in Buxton, I have written the screenplay and left others the opportunity to produce, direct, act, although I do play a minor character called Touchy; a creepy toilet cleaner with a secret agenda (every film needs one). Matriarch features what could be supernatural forces, although they nibble at the edge of the story rather than stomp all over it. Blending the two genres of crime and horror, I have attempted to write a gutsy gangster story that’s also a bit eerie, a cross between Reservoir Dogs and The Wicker Man if you will.
The project has no budget so if you would like to help out, get in touch. You can tweet me or leave a comment on my Facebook page, using the links at the bottom. If you would just like to see Matriarch when it’s finished, watch this space for further announcements, as well as more exciting projects and some real-life investigations into the strange World of Wolfson.