Words by Molly Forsyth
Reclining in my camping chair, I look across to my right at one of the ruinous baileys of Dudley Castle. A full moon sits ominously to the side, peering neatly over a grey cloud. Poetic, I think, for such a night as this.
I sit at Dudley Castle with hundreds of others (999 more, according to the ticket sales – Ed) for a screening of the 1981 cult classic film, comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London, hosted by Flatplack.
The open-air cinema event has the crowd abuzz; hives of Black Country folk swarm the bars and food stands, symbols of the occult are beamed on the walls, and the blow-up screen beams the iconic face of the ravenous lycanthrope that gave many people nightmares over 35 years ago.
The event opens with the much-lauded 2011 short film Howl, telling the tale of a young mother in denial of her daughter’s feral tendencies, from rampantly drinking water out of the toilet bowl to feeding from the pet dog amongst her puppies. Conflicted by her duties as a parent, the mother eventually accepts her daughter’s truth as a creature of the night, choosing to let her live freely as a werewolf rather than repress her.
Howl refrains from invoking plain-faced terror and instead explores the quietly-ignored horror of social denigration of those who are different, all through the eyes of a loved one. Natalie Bettelheim and Sharon Michaeli’s seven-minute feature is an able demonstration of how less is more, creating suspense, pathos and ultimately catharsis for its subject with a limited monochromatic palette and simplistic, hand-drawn animations.
Next is a more in-your-face spectacle, the full version of Michael Jackson’s music video masterpiece, Thriller. Thriller is director John Landis’ other most famous work aside from American Werewolf in London, and proves to be just as entertaining as it was in 1983. It strikes me upon viewing how rare it is to see such a complete conceit as Thriller in modern day pop culture.
From the wry inclusion of horror film icon Vincent Price, to the iconic dance of the zombie troupes as they descend upon Jackson’s helpless cinema date, every detail is accounted for in the full 14-minute run. While music videos are used more as a marketing ploy these days, Thriller remains a work of art in its own right and deserves its legend status judging by the audience members up on their feet.
Before An American Werewolf in London’s opening shots of the moors roll out on screen, an introductory video from John Landis himself plays for the crowd. In an unexpected treat, Landis jokes about the zoo setting for tonight, and warns the crowd to stick to the roads in a sly nod to the fates of David Hessler and Jack Goodman on their Yorkshire trip.
As American Werewolf in London is screened, the audience screech and wail their way through the 90-minute romp. There’s laughter at rotting corpses confronting the tortured David in the middle of a moral crisis at an adult cinema, and some fright as he makes his graphic transformation into the titular wolf and stalks his pray through the deserted Tube and Regent’s Park.
The communal element to tonight’s fun plays on my mind. For many sitting with me within the castle remains tonight, this screening is a moment of sweet nostalgia. We all share the experiences of sneaking into the forested grounds at night, looking over the houses of Dudley and getting our kicks from ghastly and grim folklore born from the castle with over a millennium of history to its name. Indeed, An American Werewolf in London is a film from some of our youths that compounds the chills and scares we indulged in recklessly, which makes tonight all the more valuable to this town.
All in all, tonight is a resounding success. Following their screening of Bride of Frankenstein last year, Flatpack have put on another fun event that is part of Dudley’s commitment to bringing its nightlife and entertainment offering back to its former glory.
My only critique is that this needs to be done more often. With Hallowe’en around the corner, there are opportunities here for Dudley to make the most of its medieval history with more creative events such as these, and I sincerely hope they do so.
For more from Flatpack, including their Assemble screenings and ongoing projects outside of the festival, visit www.flatpackfestival.org.uk
For more from Dudley Castle, visit www.dudleyzoo.org.uk/dudley-castle