Zombie for a Day

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.

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The man in the background hastily flees the zombie apocaplypse

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!

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I never could get the hang of those squeezy tomato sauce bottles

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.

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Denis is starring in the next Exorcist film

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.

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A grave situation

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).

D.W.

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.

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The Wolfson Collection part 1: 1979 Alien Toy

Into creepy stuff since I was a kid, I have retained many toys, games and books that have nudged their way into the annals of obscurity and wonder as the decades have passed.

Up first is a 19 inch tall action figure that I’ve never had the heart to part with, even though it’s missing its tail and inner set of teeth (the left arm is also blu-tacked on). I believe this was the first Alien toy ever manufactured shortly after the release of Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking science-fiction horror film in 1979; a long time before it became a franchise and spawned merchandise beyond count.

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just taking a stroll

I played with this toy loads even though I was too young to see the film but my mum and dad who had seen it, assured me that it was very good and that I could watch it as soon as I was 18. I think they caved in a few years later when it came out on Betamax. The somewhat gruesome plaything proved to be a great adversary for my Action Men, towering above them and thrusting its double set of teeth (activated by a discreet button at the base of its skull) while they had only their “eagle eyes” and naff rubber hands to save them from a grisly and inevitable demise.

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Alien is now happily married to Care Bear and they have two lovely children

I loved the way the H R Giger-designed cranium glowed in the dark so out of all my toys, I could still see it in my bedroom at night. Most kids probably would have been freaked out but I was a bit strange. I suspect that if my Alien was still in good nick and in its original box, it would pay for a holiday in Australia but what child of the 80s ever kept their toys in pristine condition? That would be even weirder than playing with the thing.

D.W.

Scary Books

No daring supernatural investigations recently. Weeks of gale-force winds and lashing rain have forced this horror writer into more sedate interior pursuits, such as actual writing. I have read some very frightening things too. Don’t bank on getting a good night’s sleep with this lot!

Dead Mountain

 

First up for no particular reason is Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar. I first read about the Dyatlov Pass incident a few years ago and I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a decent book about the subject. To summarise, nine young Russian hikers lost their lives in bizarre and mysterious circumstances whilst on an expedition in 1959. To this day, no one knows how they died although there are many crackpot theories. Donnie Eichar finely combs his way through the peculiar facts and finds a hypothesis of his own, utilising Sherlock Holmes’ theory of deduction, i.e. eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth, no matter how unlikely. Personally, I found his conclusion more unsettling than any of the others and I drifted off to a fitful sleep, no longer feeling too sure of the world around me.

Boggy Creek

I love stuff about Bigfoot and one of my favourite horror films is infamous 1972 Sasquatch docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. I was only a kid when I first saw it and it damaged me for life, especially the image of a cat that was literally scared to death by the monster. Boggy Creek looks a little tired and dated these days and fails to provoke anything more than an amused smile. The real-life sightings that inspired the film, however, have persisted and Lyle Blackburn drags the mystery into the 21st century with this excellent overview. He even features his own collection of Boggy Creek Monster memorabilia. The illustrations are fun too.

Real Wolfmen

It seems they have their hands full with monsters in America. Not only does Bigfoot insist upon hanging around in the woods but wolfmen too. No wonder that as a nation, Americans insist upon having guns. Linda S. Godfrey accounts for a disturbing amount of true encounters in her book. Before reading Real Wolfmen, the concept of people bumping into upright dog-like creatures all over the USA seemed outrageous but after reading through the whole lot, the consistency of the description and habits of the creature becomes a little worrying. The writer somehow manages to be both level-headed and open-minded in her investigation, putting you in a comfortable limbo where you can decide what the hell is going on for yourself.

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All three of these titles are available to buy on Amazon. I recommend all three of them. Your purchase could happily include my collection of scary stories Hidden Places on Earth.

Sweet dreams.

D.W.

Wolfson Investigates: Skellybob Wood

One of the creepiest spots in my hometown of Buxton, Derbyshire is also one of the most mysterious. Overlooking the northern edge of the town is a damaged Bronze Age burial mound called Fairfield Low. You could be forgiven for missing it; despite occupying one of the highest points in Buxton, it is encircled by a thick crown of trees on private farm land. Some locals are aware of its existence but know it as Skeleton Wood or Skellybob Wood (whatever a skellybob is!)

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Local antiquarian Micah Salt excavated Fairfield Low in 1895 on the night before Halloween. He discovered human remains, noting that the sight had been previously disturbed, probably by lime burners. The skull now sits on the desk in the town museum’s Boyd Dawkins study. It belonged to a man who died in middle age. It seems likely that Micah Salt’s morbid discovery is the culprit for the location’s eerie nickname.

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Intrigued, I set off to investigate the sinister place for myself. The summer of 2015 has been generally cold and wet in these parts, hardly like a summer at all. As you can see by my companion’s photographs, it was my good fortune to enjoy an uncommonly warm and sunny day.

Most of modern-day Fairfield is a vast labyrinth-like housing estate and it is easy to get lost unless you know your way around. Quizzing several residents as to the whereabouts of Fairfield Low did not help. As I’ve already mentioned, they call it Skellybob Wood. I focused my attention on the trees on the highest hill, rising above the multitude of rooftops. Finding it was not impossible. Getting to it was a different matter!

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Note unfortunate position of umbrella

Stumbling onto the right path was sheer luck. There are no sign posts and the first part winds its way round the back of a large industrial estate and through a maze of allotments. Here we encountered an elderly lady who had heard of Fairfield Low but by this point we were in its shadow. The lady was perturbed by the gun I was carrying. I explained that it was actually an umbrella.

There is no public access to Skeleton Wood and by climbing a couple of walls, we were technically trespassing (apologies to the owner). The cows that know the wood as home did not seem particularly impressed that we were there. One bovine occupant in particular had the most intimidating stare I’ve ever seen on an animal; so much so that we felt compelled to circumvent it. Even when we reached the tree line, we discovered further resentment from a group of tracksuited teenagers who were loitering around in the wood.

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Despite the opposition, I was pleased to find myself in the footsteps of Micah Salt, on top of what was clearly a burial mound. The ancient tomb is so well hidden by the trees, it is impossible to see it until the final ten metres of the climb. There is a deep gouge into the hillock. Whether this is the product of Salt’s excavation, the work of lime burners or a more supernatural disturbance is unclear. Skeleton Wood certainly has a very tangible and peculiar atmosphere. The warmth of the sun is replaced by a chilly breeze that gently rustles the leaves. The trees are old and twisted and command a solemn reverence, like graves in a churchyard.

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We felt no need to linger but before departing, I noted the unfamiliar view out towards Dove Holes. Dotted around the landscape are several other mounds that looked suspiciously man-made. The Neolithic henge called The Bull Ring is in that direction too. It strikes me that there was a lot of activity in this area thousands of years ago. The hills and dales evidently resonated with significance for our ancient ancestors. Standing here, I can’t help but wonder who they were and what they would think now, looking upon the sprawl of Fairfield estate. In Skeleton Wood, their ghosts linger, whispering forgotten secrets amongst the trees.

D.W.

Photos by Jen Francis of Explore Buxton

Massive Seagull

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).

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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.

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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).

Johan:        Gunt!

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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!

Thanks

D.W.

Wolfson Investigates: Grin Low Woods

Although my collection of short stories Hidden Places on Earth is largely fictional, some of it is based on real-life. Some peculiar experiences of my own have inspired me and two of these happened in the same place: Grin Low Woods in Buxton, Derbyshire. It seems like a good place to commence a series of intrepid reports called Wolfson Investigates.

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To provide those unfamiliar with the area some context, Grin Low Woods fringe the town of Buxton in the county of Derbyshire in the UK. Home to a spectacular limestone show cave called Poole’s Cavern and a Victorian folly known as Solomon’s Temple, it is popular with tourists and locals alike. Nowadays, it is well cared for by the Buxton Civic Association. 25 years ago, when I was a young man, it was considerably wilder and untamed. Being that awkward age of 16/17 years old when you are somewhere between a child and an adult, the woods were a sanctuary for me and my friends. We could get drunk and mess around and if the local police turned up, as they often did, we could escape into the dark realm of the trees. It was there, one night, when we saw it.

Will o the Wisp

My pals and I were astonished to see a ghostly globe of light dancing among the tree tops. We watched it as it bounced around playfully for a few minutes before vanishing into the gloom. It left us scratching our heads in bemusement. Little did we know that we were witnessing a rare but notorious phenomenon. In the UK, it is commonly called a Will o’ the Wisp or a Jack o’ Lantern but different cultures have their own names for them. They are usually seen in swamps or marshland and, in some myths, are believed to have a malevolent intelligence; luring unwary travellers from the road into dangerous bogs. A more scientific theory suggests that globes of fire are formed by escaping gas. Our Will o’ the Wisp was out of place in the woods but, in hindsight, I wonder if the deep limestone caves beneath them create a similar geological process. I did not think too much of the incident until some years later when I mentioned it to a friend. He retold the tale to his dad, who lives in a house at the bottom of the woods. Apparently, he went pale. He had seen one too!

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My second experience was less of a mystery, but no less disturbing. During the same period of nocturnal, teenage rambles, my peers and I were surprised to find that we were not the only group in Grin Low Woods at night. Following the main path up to Solomon’s Temple, we saw a long procession of cloaked and hooded figures, carrying flaming torches. They must have seen us too but gave no indication. They merely continued walking in eerie silence. We followed them for a while, frightened yet fascinated. The hooded assembly mounted the Low, free of the treeline to conduct a pagan ceremony on the hills. We finally lost our nerve and fled back through the trees. We noted the solitary bus parked near Poole’s Cavern at the bottom. At least the witches had arrived by conventional method!

I often walk in those woods but it is a long time since I have seen anything strange there. However, those early experiences still linger in my mind and I would still think twice before going there at night alone. If you have a similar exploit or an interesting theory on mine, I would love to hear from you. You can message Darcus Wolfson via Twitter or Facebook using the links at the top of the page.

D.W.

Matriarch: Low Life in High Heels

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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.

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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.

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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.

D.W.