Wolf Manor - Fright Fest World Premiere Review
Director: Dominic Brunt
Starring: James Fleet, John Henshaw, Jay Taylor, Nicky Evans, Thaila Zucchi
Written by: Joel Ferrari, Peter Wild
Produced by: Joanne Mitchell
Cinematography by: Vince Knight
Original Score by: Thomas Ragsdale
Shooting a vampire movie in an old abandoned house should have worked like a dream. However, with the full moon, the nightmare begins. The body count rises as the cast and crew encounter the mansion's resident werewolf.
This low-budget creature feature, shot in just three weeks in Shropshire, is a fun addition to British horror comedy and the general werewolf movie canon. You can tell the film’s cast and crew had fun making it and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, but sadly it’s not especially memorable.
The film is funny, I have to give it that. The script is wonderfully self-aware, drawing attention to the typical cliches in horror movies such as the superstitious and creepy locals in the seemingly only bar in town and backstories being unnecessary to understand or appreciate the present story (there is an obvious Hitchcockian McGuffin regarding a missing magician who we assume is the werewolf, but the film cleverly doesn’t delve too deep into it). Some of the funniest lines are delivered by the exceedingly likeable cast in a wonderfully dry, British way. When the vampire film’s leading man, washed-up alcoholic and former horror movie royalty, Oliver Lawrence (a reference to Lawrence Olivier, perhaps) mentions that vampires “could certainly afford cosmetic dentistry”, I laughed out loud because he’s not wrong! The physical humour also plays very well. For example, when a crew member finds a real severed hand, he tries the blood to make sure it’s fake not once, but several times, and even uses the severed hand as his own when searching through the bushes for the manor’s creature.
The characters are all pretty likeable and while they act predictably, in line with horror movie tropes, their actions and motives feel believable. ‘Wolf Manor’ is a classic body count film, but I was surprised that the last standing female character, Assistant Director Fiona, not only dies at the hands of the wolf, but is sacrificed by Oliver to save himself. I wasn’t expecting that – I was waiting for Fiona’s final girl moment, so I have to give that to the writers. Oliver was the last person I expected to survive until the end.
Some of the special effects are fantastic. The severed heads, enormous gushes of blood, and piles of intestines are simultaneously creepy as hell and hilarious. The visual gags are played brilliantly – in one instance, a crew member holds intestines in his arms and all he can say, in a high-pitched voice, is “this is just wrong”.
I have mixed feelings about the wolf’s design. It was created by renowned special make-up effects artist Shaune Harrison, who has worked for Disney, Marvel and also worked on ‘Game of Thrones’, make-up designer Katie Wrigley and Costume Designer Lance Milligan. While Brunt, the director, calls the prosthetics world class, they don’t look great. The wolf’s hair is realistic, and the face is fairly creepy, but it doesn’t move well so it feels like a cheap Halloween mask. The creature’s chest also looks like it’s been stuck on as an afterthought, with the hair at the top working well but the hair at the bottom looking noticeably odd. The wolf moves like a human in a wolf suit (although I’m not sure how else you could get round that) which made me laugh hysterically, but I don’t know if that was intentional. The sound design for the wolf’s guttural growls were fantastic, though, and the cinematography used during the exterior countryside shots, with the bright moonlight and eerie fog, worked really well together to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere.
The ending was both funny and a little disappointing. Oliver attacks the wolf with his walking stick and the decision not to use music and heighten the sound of the cartoonish thwacks was a great call, but Oliver’s staking of the creature went on for far too long to make any emotional impact, pathos or humorous. The final shot, as the sun rises, shows more werewolves coming out of the forest and walking away from the manor. I get that werewolves are normally turned when struck by claws or bitten, but most of the victims were literally cut in two or were missing their heads, so are these werewolves the victims transformed (which makes no sense) or was there more than one wolf the entire time? That also doesn’t make sense. The ending could have been ambiguous, but it feels unexplained in the worst way possible.
‘Wolf Manor’ is a fun werewolf film but it isn’t one I’d be quick to recommend to fellow horror fans unless they’re die-hard werewolf fans.
- Victoria Brown
'Wolf Manor' received its World Premiere at FrightFest 2022 on August 28th