It’s a damp, cold October evening in Plumstead, South East London and I’m standing at the side of a deserted cul-de-sac arguing with a bored-looking security guard stood the other side of the fence. I’m here for the shoot I explain, showing him the text I received earlier in the day from producer Ben Grass. He remains non-plussed but eventually decides I must be legit, so grudgingly opens the gate and allows me inside. There’s a long, unlit path leading towards an old Victorian warehouse, which dominates the skyline, all dark and foreboding. The perfect setting for a horror movie, I think as I stride ever closer.
Which is quite appropriate as it turns out, as I’m here to visit the set of Beyond The Rave, the first film from the newly revived Hammer Films, the legendary British Production Company that gave us the likes of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness and Twins Of Evil back in its heyday. This is the fifth – and final – week of the shoot and things have been going well. “They’re really getting their money’s worth,” opines assistant director Richard Newman as I grab myself a coffee. The crew have been here before – spending ten days filming the key rave scenes here at the start of the shoot, before they moved to the woods of Black Park in Buckinghamshire for ten days of location shooting. Although when I say “days” I actually mean “nights”; it’s been all nights, beginning at around 5pm each afternoon and working through to the following morning. Tiring stuff, but with just five more nights to go, the mood is still upbeat. The team are back at the White Hart warehouse today in order to film some pick up shots and a few exteriors.
Beyond The Rave‘s smart, sexy script has been written by Tom Grass and Jon Wright and centres around the character of Ed, a young soldier preparing for service in Iraq. With just sixteen hours leave, Ed is desperate to patch things up with his girlfriend Jen before he flies to Baghdad, so he hooks up with his best friend Necro in order to locate her. Jen has recently got involved in the illegal rave scene, organised by a group of travellers led by the charismatic Melech. What they don’t know is that Melech and his bunch of rave-punks are actually vampires, and they’re planning on using tonight’s rave to harvest blood … With Jen facing great danger, can Ed and his friends find the venue for the rave and reach his girlfriend before Melech acts out his diabolical plan?
“What I loved about the script was the hook,” explains director Matthias Hoene when I catch up with him later. “A young soldier faced with going to Iraq encounters something far worse than war in his own home town.”
There’s been so much speculation and false starts surrounding a Hammer revival in recent years, so how is it now that the company finds itself back in business? On May 10, 2007, it was announced that Dutch producer John De Mol (the man behind reality show “Big Brother”) had purchased the Hammer Films rights via his private equity firm Cyrte Investments BV, including its 295 title library for an undisclosed sum. “I met Simon Oakes, the CEO of Hammer Films, twelve months ago when he was at Liberty Global,” says Ben later, picking up the story. “Their subsidiary Zone Horror commissioned my last series When Evil Calls which Simon liked, so we stayed in touch and began to discuss the idea of doing a short form series for Hammer.” Having first hatched their plans for Beyond The Rave at Cannes this year it’s taken a mere five months to get to the stage we’re at today.
Back on the set, and with the Producer curiously absent, I’m left alone to wander around as I choose. The main corridor leads to a warren of small rooms where there’s a hive of activity taking place. In the kitchen Ryan from the art department is busy mixing some treacle with food colouring to create some sticky blood. There’s a meeting taking place behind the closed door of the production office. In another room a monitor is being set up so that crewmembers can watch some of the rushes. Meanwhile upstairs one of the derelict rooms is being turned into the Crockers’ flat, the three small time drug dealer brothers who dream of becoming hardcore gangsters.
Yet for all this activity there’s no actual filming taking place. Figures gather around a bonfire outside, rolling cigarettes, drinking steaming cups of tea and discussing England’s progress in the Rugby World Cup. It appears that the lighting truck has broken down on its journey from Paddington, so nothing can be done until it arrives. Already as a result of the delays Tamer Hassan (The Business, The Football Factory) has had his scenes cancelled and told to take the night off. Ashok, the sound recordist, tells me that the recent bad weather has caused a few continuity problems and that the rain occasionally gets into the equipment, but that aside, this is the first major setback they’ve had on this ambitious shoot.
Ben finally catches up with me around 10pm apologizing profusely for the night’s delays and offers to give me the guided tour. He explains that they found the location – which used to be an old waterworks – via the Greenwich Council Film Department. The interior itself is a large, high ceilinged room, cold and dark aside from four strip lights illuminating the left hand wall where a couple of guys are setting up their Varicam, the high end HD camera which is being used to shoot the movie. There’s a small balcony at one end piled with equipment, and five large 7ft square art canvasses are propped up against the walls, relics of the backdrop from the earlier rave scenes. A few oil drums are stacked up by the entrance and that’s it, this vast space is otherwise empty.
As we’re looking around I’m introduced to Matthias and Les Simpson (Dog Soldiers) who seems to be the only actor on set tonight. Les is taking the role of Belial, right-hand man to head vamp Melech (Sebastian Knapp) and he’s already in costume, decked head to toe in black with vest, jacket and combats hugging his fit, wiry frame, the look rounded off by a large pair of heavy boots. Les tells me that he’s loving his character who he describes as a “mean muthafucker” – he’s already been dubbed ‘Body Count’ by the rest of the cast. Matthias seems relaxed despite the evening’s problems, praising the script and enthusing about the whole project. “I love the mix of comedy, action, horror and human drama in the script. That and the fact that it’s all set against the backdrop of a big party with the chance of sourcing some cool tunes, it just seemed like a very exciting mixture to me.”
We find an empty room up on the first floor where Ben is able to set up his laptop and show me some completed footage. They’ve been editing as they go along and once filming has completed they’ll have a further couple of months to tweak everything until the film is launched. The plan is to initially release Beyond The Rave as a series of twenty three-minute episodes which will be available via MySpace and as mobile downloads. At a later date a longer cut of the film will be released on DVD. “We [Pure Grass Films] specialise in short film entertainment for internet and mobile so this was always the way we envisaged the project,” explains Ben. “We feel this kind of entertainment is perfect to reach a mass audience with fresh entertainment concepts. For Hammer I think this helps reach a new demographic and also get something to market far quicker than a traditional movie – we are getting this from idea stage to launch in approximately 8 months.”
The script has been written accordingly and having read it on the train journey up, I can confirm that it’s surprisingly well-structured and pacy, each short episode building to a little climax. I’m shown Episode 11 showing lead characters Jen (The Descent’s Nora-Jane Noone, almost unrecognizable sporting long blonde hair) and Ed (Jamie Dornan) arguing, plus a couple of speed freaks meeting elder statesman Leopold, and then the following episode in which Melech transforms to reveal his true self during the pivotal rave scene. The production values look extremely high for such a project and I’m quietly impressed with the footage I’m allowed to see. With 200 extras employed for the rave scenes and music to come from Pete Tong, Beyond The Rave is certainly aiming to make the most of its limited budget.
Concluding our tour, there’s a further vacant floor upstairs and Ben reveals that one of the runners has not been seen since he was sent up there; I can’t be sure if he’s joking or not. Downstairs is even more creepy, concealing a dark basement like something straight out of the final scenes of The Blair Witch Project. Les was down here filming his character profile earlier and the scenes with [dealer] Tooley’s Mum (Ingrid Pitt) were shot here too. “Ingrid is a fantastic professional and she made the shoot shortly after an operation and gave it her own special magic,” explains Ben. “I think she felt it would be fun to link up with Hammer again and the story appealed, so off we went!”
With the lighting truck eventually turning up late into the evening the crew opt to break early for food and then knuckle down for some intensive shooting in an attempt to get all of the scheduled scenes completed. Sadly it’s time for me to leave and whilst I’m disappointed not to have seen any actual acting, I remain cautiously optimistic about what I’ve seen here. “I think we would always have wanted to do a great job with the series,” says Ben when I ask if Hammer’s reputation has put the production under greater pressure to deliver a quality product, “But there is no doubt we felt a special privilege to be entrusted with the Hammer mantle and I think that spurred everyone on.”>
“Obviously I was also very honoured to be considered for the first
Hammer production in such a long time,” adds Matthias as we conclude our business. “I hope I can rekindle the Hammer spirit with Beyond The Rave and I hope this will be the start of a long run of exciting Hammer productions.”
Beyond the Rave premieres on its MySpace channel this Thusday, April 17th. Don’t miss it!
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