STARBURST: So Howl is your second feature after The Seasoning House (2013) could you tell us a little about the film and why you chose the werewolf subgenre?
Paul Hyett: I basically tie it all into one answer. After The Seasoning House, I wanted to do something fun, with my first film being so dark and nihilistic, a retro creature feature appealed to me. I felt I wanted to do something commercial and fun. The guy that produced Howl had seen The Seasoning House at FrightFest and they said, “We think you’d be a great fit for our movie”. I read the script and I really liked it- a group of passengers on the last train out of Waterloo, and in the middle of a forest, it breaks down. All these passengers are trapped, you’ve got an everyman train guard who doesn’t want to be there and he has all these annoying passengers to deal with… What else could go wrong? Werewolves attack. It’s all about survival with a really good fun, ensemble cast. A fun retro movie with a real contemporary twist.
How have you found the transition from decorated SFX/Makeup Artist (The Descent, Attack the Block, Doomsday, Eden Lake) to feature filmmaker and has it had any effect on your directorial techniques?
PH: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of directors that are really good and I’ve learnt from some of the best British directors everything from blocking scenes, to developing story to working with cast and obviously the 20 years of my prosthetics career I learnt all about visual effects and make-up and stunts and fights so I was very luck in that I’ve had a complete learn in to every part of directing. It got to the point after 20 years though where I thought, ‘you know something? I want to tell my own stories. I want to do my own visions. It got to the point where I was reading scripts and I’d think ‘this is a great script, but it’s a pity because I would’ve done this or I would’ve done that’ and it got to a point where I thought I’ve GOT to make my own movies. I was really lucky to get The Seasoning House financed and from there I’m very lucky to get a second movie too. Overall, the transition hasn’t been too hard, it never felt like I was a fish out of water. Whether you are in a prosthetics career or you want to be a director everything is about a technical or a logistical challenge. It all kind of feels, similar.
Rosie, what was it that attracted you to the project? You were also in The Seasoning House, is the horror genre something you enjoy?
Rosie Day: Paul attracted me to the project basically. I hadn’t done any horror since The Seasoning House but Paul was like ‘I’m making another movie’ and I said yeah without reading the script because I love working with him so much. When I got round to reading the script and saw it was a creature feature I thought that was really cool and this felt much more commercial, there was nothing as upsetting as The Seasoning House and that was fun. I loved playing a completely different character and whilst filming it was really nice to be reunited.
Initially, the script had a lot of comedic and humorous elements, how did you work that into something more dark and menacing?
PH: The first script that they gave me was FULL of comedy. It still has humour but the first script was jam packed with gags. I wanted to keep a bit of humour but I wanted to take out the one-liners and have more of a grounded realistic horror. The humour ended up coming more from characters chemistry and interactions. But yeah, the first draft was very comedic and being me I had to change that.
The film tries to steer away from the somewhat clichéd werewolf mythology like silver bullets etc. Do you want to elaborate on that?
PH: As I said in some senses film has a classic, retro feel as it contained the trapped characters and tension but I didn’t want to go that way with the werewolves. Although I think the werewolf mythology is great for other movies, the transforming with the moon and the silver bullets just didn’t feel right in a movie that wanted realism so we get rid of all of that. My notion was, if someone gets bitten they transform over many, many, years. It’s like a virus that goes into the bloodstream and starts to change their bones and their muscles. It isn’t just a case of a bunch of hair and a snout appearing. Because the film is all about the characters, I wanted my creatures to have their own human characteristics as well. There is a running themes of being the alpha male and you can draw comparisons between the nature of the humans on board and the nature of the creatures outside. I felt the whole romanticised mythology of werewolves didn’t fit in with our world, it needed to be more contemporary. These are feral, gnarly creatures as opposed to beautiful wolves.
Are there any horror films you drew inspiration from?
PH: As a filmmaker, you take these things on subliminally and do them without thinking. People have said they’ve seen a bit of The Thing in the film with the characters being trapped. The bit with the claws scraping along the carriage was also my reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy. I don’t think there was any particular film I wanted to emulate, it was more all of my history of horror film watching and working came forth.
With you being such a decorated SFX artist, how did you approach the creatures? Was it more of a focus on practical or digital effects?
PH: It’s funny. A lot of people are saying, ‘look Paul has gone old school with these practical effects’ but they’re kind of not. The actors did have prosthetic creature suits but they have lots of 3D elements. What I did was take everything I knew from those two disciplines. You never want to do a fully CGI creature as it never looks as good so I felt lets have the suit, but I couldn’t have had the triple jointed legs without the visual effects. It’s the same with the opening of the jaw. Anything I couldn’t do with prosthetic I then employed CG.
RD: They were really scary to act with. The first time I saw them on set I just screamed, they were massive! So that’s great when you’re acting. It kind of helps.
PH: (Laughs) Yeah, they were HUGE!
HOWL is available on DVD from October 26th and is reviewed here.