Chris R. Wright
Howard Lew Lew
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Small Town Folk (2007)
18th Jun 08
A young couple, Jon and Susan (Greg Martin & Hannah Flint), do the horror standard by getting lost on their travels. They stop and ask for directions from a very odd couple of Knackermen, an elderly man with a small man on his back (Howard Lew Lewis & Warwick Davis). Davis warns them that no matter what they do, they are to not venture into a small town called Grockleton (It’s not on the map). Curious, Jon does just the opposite and ventures exactly where he has been told not to and they seek to spend the night there.
They are greeted by some rather dodgy looking local types, lead by the Landlord who has his eyes on wife Susan, given the lack of women in the town’s population. After Jon and Susan escape, the Landlord sends out his cronies to fetch them back. Whilst all this is going on, a young lad nicknamed Helmet (Simon Stanley-Ward) by his peers has also ventured into the realm of Grockleton. He joins with the young couple against the loopy ‘locals’.
Many years ago, I responded to an advertisement asking for people to invest in a low budget horror. As I had just sold my Bournemouth flat, I was in a position to do just that, so I got in contact with them.
They were a likeable bunch of fellas. They were surprised to meet with someone who actually knew, and was interested, in movies to the level they were. We met on a few occasions over many pints of alcohol as I awaited the screenplay.
The plan was that each investor would play a small part on camera. In time I found out what part I would be playing. The part in question was as a bank manager, albeit one that would be heard, rather than seen. Having a distinctive deep voice, I could see why they thought this would work. After a couple of read-throughs with my landlady, I was set for my big screen debut.
Unfortunately by this time a couple of months had passed and the monies I had to play with from the sale of my flat had begun to dry up and I could no longer commit. Consequently I soon lost touch with the guys involved.
Years later I finally caught the finished movie on DVD, a little number by the name of Freak Out (2004). It played very well initially before losing itself in an over-the-top charade that probably made them laugh during filming but was ultimately lost on the viewer.
However, there was enough there to make me curious to want to check out Small Town Folk when I saw the trailer after I recognised Dan Palmer, former drinking partner, who had featured in Freak Out and had a small cameo in Evil Aliens.
Small Town Folk is an improvement on the latter picture. It has a consistent and engaging visual identity and feels like it has been planned out and properly directed rather than the messy free-for-all that ruined Freak Out.
The framing is inspired, the acting pretty much above par and the direction spot on! It makes for an assured directorial debut from Peter Stanley-Ward, who knows how to get the best out of his limited budget. His editing and camerawork are sublime and the film’s look is as much a quirky character as his assorted band of weirdoes.
Having spent my whole life living on the fringes of a known holiday resort, the term grockle is an everyday word, usually spat out in contempt at those folk that invade our area come holiday season. It is a word I have very rarely heard used in speech anywhere else, so it came as a rather dubious pleasure to hear it uttered out loud in a movie that also has a town named Grockleton.
Small Town Folk was originally conceived to be a short film until, in making it, they realised that as it wasn’t costing them anything to make, they logically concluded that it would therefore not cost much more to make it into a full-length feature. Filming took place over four years; during whatever spare time they had at weekends and holidays and were completely funded by the cast and crew. With a budget just shy of Ł4000, what they have achieved is quite brilliant.
Their intention was to make a movie that didn’t look or play like any other British ‘indie’. Influenced by Peter Jackson’s wonderful Braindead (1992) and Sam Raimi’s demented Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn(1987), the makers set to make something that Looney Tunes might have produced if they had churned out a horror film. They have given it a pretty good stab!
The humour is constant throughout and raises the odd chuckle. There is the odd joke that kind of just sits there like a bad smell, but these can be overlooked as the pace that ensures that before any rot can set in that we are onto the next scene – credit to Natalie Conway for decent writing.
The movie is unusual in that it doesn’t just wink at other horror genre flicks. There’s more than the odd nod to the films of George Lucas with a Tusken Raider joke included and Indiana Jones being referenced on a couple of occasions. It is inevitable, given the plot-line, that it lends itself some comparison to TV’s The League of Gentleman’ with it’s ‘Are you local?’ vibe.
The cast generally acquit themselves well, playing second fiddle to the film’s design and concept. Dan Palmer as Dobbin appears to be acting in a different movie to everyone else. It could be that everyone else on the set thinks his brand of drooling and high-pitched giggling is a laugh riot. Sorry this viewer just couldn’t see the joke, instead finding Dobbin the most annoying screen presence since a certain Mr. Lucas decided something called Jar Jar Binks would be a good idea.
Helmet/Marcus, played by the director’s younger brother Simon, is another character that doesn’t work for me, all cheek-bones and pretty boy pout, his performance falls apart when called upon to open his mouth.
The stunt casting of Star Wars/Harry Potter’s Warwick Davis works well considering his brief screen time, however the film really belongs to Chris R. Wright who excels as the creepy Landlord, dressed up in fashion not seen since dodgy Nineties pop act 2wo Third3.
Small Town Folk doesn’t quite have the guts to go that little bit further and up the grisly stuff, preferring at all times to play for laughs, not all of which work, see Dobbin above. You expect ‘Deliverance’ with laughs but it doesn’t play that hard, it’s much softer hence the 15 rating. The film has more of a fantasy bent.
The use of effects is admittedly obvious given the budgetary constraints, but it works well, adding that little extra oomph to the creepy characters and location.
Small Town Folk is by no means perfect but it does make for a fun night’s viewing. Peter Stanley-Ward’s film deserves to find an audience and become the cult viewing it is destined to be.