England isn’t known for its westerns. Most people believe the last western shot in England was “Carry On Cowboy” way back in 1965. All that is about to change with the wide release of director/producer Jeremy Wooding’s latest feature film “Blood Moon”. Shot in Kent, the film is a western-horror “mash-up”. The timing is impeccable. With the recent announcement of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”, westerns are making a comeback. In fact, around fifty new westerns are slated for release in 2015. Wooding hopes the resurgence in interest will help draw audiences to “Blood Moon”. However, he is quick to point out that the genesis of the script dates back to 2008, well before “True Grit” and “Django Unchained” proved the genre was still financially viable. But a western shot in Kent?
“The film was shot at Laredo Western Town,” explains Wooding, admitting that his film was a somewhat ‘crazy venture’ – a mix of two genres that was full of challenges. “It’s close to Longfield. It’s the only western town in the UK. Elbow shot a video there. Part of “Finding Neverland ” was shot there as well. [Originally] Blood Moon was set in the desert. We looked at the old Sergio Leone sets in Almeria [Spain],” Wooding continues, expressing a love for classic spaghetti westerns, “but the sets weren’t very well dressed. Too theme park – too modern. It would have cost us £150,000 – 200,000 extra to shoot there.” Laredo Western Town, on the other hand, proved to be a perfect substitute. The town is run by a dedicated group of living historians/re-enactors who, after “lots of convincing”, allowed Wooding and his crew to realise their unique vision.
Recently, several high profile motion pictures (e.g. “Les Misérables”, “Black Sea”, “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) have been shot in Medway. Wooding understands why producers prefer the area.
“Most of our [production] crew came from the south east,” he explains. “Kent is easy for them to get to. Actors [living in London] can catch a 5:30 AM train and be in Longfield in twenty minutes. A crew may say ‘yes’ to a project since they can travel back and forth and see their family.” According to Wooding, screening the film in Kent is another plus, since Kent has the highest number of private cinema clubs and societies of any other county in the UK. Of course, Kent’s weather and landscape also contributed to the unique atmosphere of “Blood Moon”.
Wooding recalls that the rainy weather – despite turning the model town’s main street into a muddy quagmire, slowing down vehicles, and soiling costumes – helped ensure a dark, gloomy, gothic look for his film. He was also taken aback by how dark the Kent countryside was – perfect for a horror film! While light pollution was never a problem, drifting noise from the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit meant the crew had to put extra effort into ensuring the best outcome.
“This was shot as a cinema film,” Wooding explains. “It was shot on DV but holds up well on the big screen.” Wooding is quick to point out that collaboration with his cast and crew helped him realize his low budget, eccentric vision. He cites Alex Cox’s “Repo Man” and Richard Stanley’s “Hardware” as two defining moments of indie cinema, both of which inspired him to start making films outside of the regular studio system. Some other influences that helped birth “Blood Moon” include the English gothic tradition, comic books, graphic novels, European folklore, German expressionism, the TV show “Deadwood”, noir comedy “Something Wild”, classic westerns and Hammer horror films. In fact, some of “Blood Moon” was shot at Pinewood Studios using the vast heath and woodland areas of Black Park – the same setting used in several classic Hammer horror films. All these influences, combined with dollops of dark humour, came together to form what Wooding terms “gothic noir”. He goes on to describe “Blood Moon” as “Stagecoach meets The Thing”. If that tagline has you imagining a CGI creature, then think again. “Blood Moon” uses precious little CGI, relying instead on old-school make-up effects and costumes. As the title implies, Wooding’s rag-tag collection of cowboys face-off against a werewolf – or a Navajo skinwalker, to be more exact.
“The actor playing the role [of the skinwalker] is 7′ 1″,” Wooding says. “When in costume, he is 8′ 6″ tall, making him the biggest werewolf in movie history.” Wooding promises to bring the wolf head along to the Rochester Film Society’s special screening, so count that as one of many good reasons to attend! Another is the shear originality and audacity of the project. “Blood Moon” is a member of a very small club of horror mash-ups. There may be only three other members – “Mad at the Moon”, “Brotherhood of the Wolf”, and “Werewolf: The Beast Among Us”.
“A werewolf western felt like fulfilling two wishes I had as a kid”, Wooding explains. “It takes you back to when you were interested in genre movies as a kid.”
If you’d like to venture back to those halcyon days of genre films, then be sure to attend The Rochester Film Society’s special screening of “Blood Moon” on November 3, 7.30 PM, at The Rochester Corn Exchange. There will be a Q and A following the film with Wooding, co-producer Fiona Graham, exec producer Mark Melvin, scriptwriter Alan Wightman and cast member Tanya Franks (other guests TBC).