BREVIEW: An American Werewolf in London @ Dudley Castle 05.08.17

BREVIEW: An American Werewolf in London @ Dudley Castle 05.08.17

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 BREVIEW: Howl - shown before An American Werewolf in London @ Dudley Castle 05.08.17 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.

BREVIEW: An American Werewolf in London @ Dudley Castle 05.08.17 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 BREVIEW: An American Werewolf in London @ Dudley Castle 05.08.17 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 

For more from Dudley Castle, visit

INTERVIEW: Amy Smart – Flatpack: Assemble

INTERVIEW: Amy Smart – Flatpack: AssembleWords by Heather KincaidPics courtesy of Flatpack Film Festival 

If you’ve ever struggled to catch interesting independent films in the West Midlands, you’re not alone. For all Birmingham is the UK’s second largest city, the region’s indie and arthouse cinema offerings have long been frustratingly limited outside of special events and festivals. But all that is now on course to change thanks to a new project from Flatpack Film Festival.

Launched in 2016, Flatpack: Assemble delivers a year-round programme of screenings and special events aimed at raising the profile of independent film in the region as well as supporting potential exhibitors. Following a preview of Hannes Holm’s irresistible Swedish comedy A Man Called Ove, project manager Amy Smart told Birmingham Review more about Flatpack: Assemble, its goals and its impact so far.

“About five years ago, the BFI set up the Film Audience Network, which was the first time any sort of serious money or support had gone into exhibition, because normally everything tends to focus on production,” explains Smart. “The network consists of nine film hubs scattered around the country, and each one has a lead organisation which is responsible for a given patch. When this started, the West Midlands was weirdly split between Film Hub South West and West Midlands, led by The Watershed in Bristol, and North West Central, which is led by HOME in Manchester.”

“Obviously that was a bit crazy, so Ian Francis, our director, had some conversations with the BFI about how Birmingham and the Midlands were quite underrepresented in terms of the number of screens and funding, and how it needed someone to champion the region. So in 2016, we got the funding from them to set up a sort of sub-hub, working closely with the Watershed in Bristol.”

Part of the difficulty of setting up a full hub in the West Midlands was the scarcity of decent-sized venues: all of the other nine hubs are based in relatively large, multi-screen independent cinemas, of a kind that just doesn’t exist here. Though Birmingham is home to the UK’s oldest working cinema, The Electric only has two screens, and without the safety net of being part of a subsidised arts centre like mac, it also has to remain commercially viable, showcasing popular blockbuster films alongside more unusual fare. As such, in Amy Smart’s own words, “Flatpack probably is the go-to organisation for film in Birmingham”.

To its credit though, Flatpack has managed to turn its lack of a fixed abode – other than its Custard Factory offices – into a strength, reaching out further and holding events right across the region. The next Assemble event, for example, will be an outdoor screening of La La Land in Rugby. The press and industry previews at the heart of its programme, meanwhile, take place at The Electric.

“Assemble is a bit of a beast,” laughs Smart. “Over the last twelve months, we’ve been doing a real range of different things – audience-facing activities like short films and pop-ups, and previews here for the professionals who don’t necessarily get chance to trot off to London to see new releases every other week. It’s also a great chance for press and bloggers to help shine a light on new films. The main thing we’re hoping to achieve is to encourage people to take a chance on indie films more. There are so many films being released every week that often things get lost, and something like [A Man Called Ove] might not even get a screening in the Midlands at all.”

Amy Smart, who previously worked as mac Birmingham’s cinema producer – putting together its screening programme, knows first-hand how tricky it can be for exhibitors to get to London on a regular basis.

“Often people who are working in the industry here end up programming blind – they’re having to go on recommendations and reviews rather than seeing things first, so it’s great that we’re doing these every other month,” explains Smart. “We knew that there was definitely a demand for this amongst distributors. I work with one other programmer from the Midlands who does go to London and see previews, but the others generally don’t, so I think it was quite important from that point of view.”

Flatpack’s criteria for selecting films is far from fixed, however: the only real stipulation is avoiding blockbusters and any films that aren’t likely to need help getting noticed. Of course, sometimes films will defy expectations and end up surprisingly commercially successful – both Moonlight and Hidden Figures received Assemble previews here in Birmingham. More often though, they’ll be much more low-profile picks: powerful documentaries like Notes On Blindness, or foreign language films like the superb Iranian horror Under the Shadow.

“It has to be British and/or independent, and we’ve tried to use different distributors each time so we can build up relationships with different people and get more variety. We’ve also tried to vary the genres, so we’ve done horror, comedy and documentary – we want to make sure it’s not just one kind of offering. But essentially it’s just stuff we want to see in Birmingham and we’re hoping people will trust Flatpack’s suggestions.”

How much take up there is for each screening seems to depend on the title (there have been attempts to vary days and slots with little apparent impact) but audience figures have remained pretty respectable since the project’s inception, particularly considering the Assemble previews are only open to those in the Flatpack network, rather than to the general public.

“With these things you never really know how it’s going to be received, but I think the lowest number of people we’ve ever had was about 40. Our best one [Moonlight] booked up completely.”

As well as bringing films to the people who might help to raise their profile or run future public screenings of them in Midlands venues, Assemble also offers professional training and networking sessions for those involved in the local film scene.

“In terms of training and development, we’re quite keen to offer things exhibitors want, so we’re quite open to talking with programmers and projectionists and marketing teams – and not just in traditional theatrical venues. It could be a festival, a pop-up, a community cinema or a film society – anyone who’s exhibiting films in some way.”

“For example, as part of Flatpack 11, the festival just gone, we had an industry day called Film Camp which was a mixture of workshops and panels on things like screening films with a live score. There’s quite a lack of quality children’s programming in the Midlands, so we had a workshop called Build Your Own Family Screening. We also ran a workshop called DIY Driving, where families made big cardboard cars and parked them up to watch a film, which was great – something a bit different from just going to the cinema and watching Frozen or Cars 3 or whatever. We’re quite interested in making events more special and interactive.”

Those looking to get started on new projects like community cinemas or local film nights can take advantage of the specialist advice, training and cheap equipment hire Assemble has to offer.

“We’ve got a project called Build Your Own Film Night that we’re really proud of, which is essentially a workshop to give people the skills, tools and knowledge to put on their own film night legally. We take them through property rights and creating playlists and selecting features, as well as how to promote it and put it on technically.”

We’ve also got some kit that we hire out to people through Cinema for All, which is a national organisation for championing community cinemas in the UK. It’s amazing – there’s a projector, speakers and a 12ft screen, and we’re hiring it out for £25. That gets a lot of use because one of the biggest barriers if people want to put on their own film night is that they’ve got to get kit from somewhere, and if you’re hiring it from a private company, it can cost you about £100.”

“While Assemble is predominantly industry-focused, ordinary film fans and audiences should be equally excited about these developments. With so much support available, we can hope to see a significant expansion and improvement in film offerings in Birmingham and beyond over the coming months and years.” Asked whether she’s optimistic about the future of film in Birmingham, Amy Smart’s response was emphatic: “Absolutely! I think we engaged with just shy of 40,000 people last year, so hopefully it’ll just keep growing and growing.”

“I think film is the most accessible artform, really,” she adds. “Some people wouldn’t necessarily walk into a gallery because they think it’s not for them, but pretty much anybody can walk into a cinema, so we’re just trying to build on that.”

For more on Flatpack: Assemble, visit

Flatpack: Assemble will be screening La La Land in Caldecot Park, Rugby on Sat 1st July – in partnership with Rugby Festival of Culture. Attendance is by direct invitation from Flatpack Film Festival.


For more on Flatpack Film Festival, including full details on the Cinema For All and Build Your Own Film Night initiatives, visit

Flatpack will be screening American Werewolf in London at Dudley Castle on Sat 5th August, with tickets priced at £10 (concs £8). For direct event info, click here.