During filming of a British, low-budget horror movie, the cast and crew begin disappearing. As the full moon rises, the nightmare begins, and the werewolf strikes.
Wolf Manor is a look at the world of B-horror movies that isn’t typically seen; it’s a lighthearted view of the production world with a cast of characters that are sincere to filmmakers. There’s a producer who is impossible to appease (Jay Taylor), a director who knows he’s better than the job he’s doing (Rupert Procter), the talent, who is in their own world (James Fleet), and an SFX artist too impressed by the quality of viscera to realize it’s real (Martin Portlock).
The movie hints early on that the focus will be on character development and it lives up to it well. A lot of the humor comes from them simply acting the way production people do, whether it’s pretending to kill each other with props or the producer making everyone’s lives miserable–all the characters are earnest representations of a B-horror movie production crew.
Something that isn’t well known about the world of SFX is that werewolves are how special-effects artists compete; although implying it’s competitive isn’t necessarily true. They’ll openly show amazement for each other’s work and gladly share feedback, a fact which I’m sure Shaune Harrison (The movie’s prosthetic artist) was very aware of given his previous experience with Clive Barker. Harrison makes a brief cameo at the end of the movie but his work on the werewolf itself shows a true mark of genius.
The face is an elaborate network of wrinkles giving the beast a perpetual snarl and a thick bottom lip to show bared fangs. The design includes a full suit of scraggily, doglike fur that even includes silver to show that the werewolf is a senior. The feet in particular caught my attention as I noticed the actor (Morgan Rees-Davies) was encouraged to walk in with his heel raised–keeping in what would be correct for a wolf (A canine’s back leg is actually a very long heel).
It’s so detailed however that it means the beast can’t move too much or terribly well. That said, the movie plays into it with multiple cast members attacking the werewolf with completely ineffective blows while it simply stands and snarls. It does mean some scenes that would have had more action are underwhelming. The only way to improve that would be with CGI and as many B-movies pride themselves on only using traditional effects, it’s not something that should be held against the film.
Where the special effects really shine however is with its decapitated heads: there are 4 or 5 in the movie and–although brief–what I can tell you about them is that they used lifecasts from the actors to make them. They’re extraordinarily detailed with an insane amount of gore added to them. Some of the gore is so lifelike that I wasn’t even sure if it was made with special effects or if they used real animal organs. Make no mistake, this is something the movie is aware of.
In the movie, the manor they’re shooting in once belonged to a famous magician (played by Shaune Harrison) and the connection between stage magicians and movies is something I’m particularly fond of. It’s a homage to Georges Méliès, a French illusionist who became a silent film director best known for A Trip to the Moon (1902). Although many of his films were lost for decades, Méliès can be considered the father of special effects. He used illusionist techniques in film and produced a kind of magic the world had never seen and many of his techniques are still used today.
While all of this is great to appreciate the movie is not without its faults. The humor is oftentimes tongue-in-cheek, as is common with British films. Also, a lot of the scenes are drawn out to build tension and there is a point just before the hour mark that it hits a slog while the movie continues from there at a slower pace. It’s not a movie that should be watched with the expectation of it being a huge studio production, but it is well aware it’s a low-budget movie.
Something that’s always true about horror but especially true about B-horror movies is that special effects always go hard regardless of a movie’s quality and that’s absolutely true about Wolf Manor. Overall, the movie is a lot of fun for horror movie fans and has an unexpected depth to it that I really appreciated. Be sure to keep watching after the movie ends for a post-credit scene.