Two friends, David (James McClusky) and image obsessed Marky (Nik Kaneti-Dimmer), trespass onto a yard containing an abandoned glazing factory. While investigating the ruins of the facility and thinking that they're on their own, they come across mead swilling Jack (Chris Wilson), a homeless guy who sees the ruined factory as home, and who, for reasons we'll find out later, is unable to leave.
Marky goes off exploring on his own and encounters, first a flurry of dark feathers and then a life sized terrifying bird man: the 'Ravenstein' of the title (the feather thing is a nifty side effect of the creature's ability to move very quickly). An incoherent Marky struggles to communicate the source of his fear to David.
Meanwhile two stoners, Andy (Thomas Walters) and Charlie (Seth Easterbrook) stumble across the same abandoned factory, and after a lot of drunken farting about, get slain by Ravenstein. Soon David, Marky and David's dad Ray (Martyn Eade) who comes looking for his son, end up cornered by the birdman. But where has Jack gone?
Don't look for oodles of plot in Ravenstein, and what there is - about the birdman slowly killing off the factory employees, and a powerplay between Ray, who used to own the factory (and right hand man Jack; yes, the same homeless Jack) - is a tad confusing. It's also way overlong and many scenes outstay their welcome (often a problem with one writer/producer/director gigs). But oh goodness there's also so much to love about it.
First off, the whole movie is shot at night. Now the odd night scene can be a challenge to a low budget director without the means to really carry the footage off, but Ravenstein is spectacularly lit and framed, making the junkyard setting way more spooky that it would have been in daylight. Second, the birdman is genuinely freaky, looking like a lifesize satanic version of that thing whose arse was regularly penetrated by Rod Hull, and with some genuinely eerie sounds emanating from it. And on the subject of sounds, particular mention should be made of Chris Wilson's diverse and hugely atmospheric soundtrack. From symphonic grumbles through stabs of shock synths and then cacophonous metal pieces signifying the arrival of Ravenstein; it's no wonder that the whole thing will shortly be available on the Rusalka Records website. So yes, this is a very good film. Shorter and tighter edits would have made it a great one, but it's a movie Ghost should be proud of.
Archie Whittock (Reece Connolly) is being transported for trial, almost certainly likely to hang following his murder of a man: except Whittock maintains that the person he killed was a werewolf. Whittock is handcuffed to his protector, Parish Councillor Horace Raycraft (Tim Cartwright), and the pair are travelling by coach. They’re forced to stay overnight at a coaching inn, appropriately named ‘The Three Claws’ and run by blowsy Martha Hogwood (Emma Spurgin Hussey). The area, Grittleton Marsh, is steeped in local legend, including being home to wolves.
But the inn they’ve happened on has its own secrets; not only do the Innkeepers have their own sideline in chopping up bodies, but it looks like the stories about lycanthropy are true, and worse, these two facts are connected. So Whittock is vindicated, but as the werewolves gather to attack the inn, will he last long enough to protest his innocence?
Steeds’ skills here – of creating something out of not much at all – are in abundance. Most of the movie takes place in a two room set (the inn is a real location in Cornwall but I’m guessing the owners feared for the soft furnishings) but so inventive is the camerawork and the interplay between the quirky cast that you barely get time to acknowledge and limitations of the interiors.
And let’s hear it for the werewolves, courtesy of the US SFX company Midnight Studios! There may not be enough money for a full on transformation scene, but with nary a CGI moment visible, A Werewolf in England’s ketchup and grue is authentically grisly; although I’m not entirely sure about the ingredients that went into the wolfman diarrhoea which features in a scene worthy of Peter Jackson’s early movies.
You can tell that Steeds is having fun here: the The Evil Dead visual references fall over each other, and the cast look like they’re enjoying themselves too: Barrington de la Roche, a fixture of all of Steeds’ movies, in particular turns in a super ripe performance as one of The Three Claws’ shadier staff. The director once again shows his versatility at turning out quality product which doesn’t break the bank but looks a million dollars. I do not know how he does it, but I’m damn glad he does.