Midnight Peepshow Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest
Andy Edwards is one of the more prolific of the UK’s horror talents, and he’s also one of the most ambitious – not just for himself, but for the country’s horror film industry as a whole. This year has seen the launch of his first film as a producer, Graphic Designs, whilst he has also contributed a segment to anthology film Midnight Peepshow and co-written the script of The Ghosts Of Monday. As if that were not enough, he has been shooting Punch, which he hopes will be the first instalment of the UK’s first slasher franchise. When he got a little time away from all this to sit down for a chat, we discussed the exciting direction that his career has been taking, his early years in shorts and the feature which changed it all, genre hit Ibiza Undead.
“The shorts were directly responsible for Ibiza Undead,” he says. “I didn't go to film school or have any formal training. I did study film at university but that was very theoretical rather than practical. So yeah, what I did was, I did a series of short films called Houseparty Of The Dead. They're all on YouTube. And they start off pretty ropey. The first one was literally shot in an afternoon, in my flat with my friends, with ketchup and cornflakes for blood and guts. And then, from then on, I did five more short films progressively getting a little bit more ambitious.
“By the sixth one, we had professional actors and we had about 40 or 50 zombie extras. We had a crane shot, we had professional make-up artists. And then that's what made me go ‘I can do a feature version.’ And as I'd done these five zombie shorts, I was like, ‘Well, it should be zombies.’ And that's how Ibiza Undead came about.
“You can see my progression in terms of professionalism. Just learning the ropes until I felt I was in a position that yeah, okay, we can do this. I'm sure a lot of readers will have made their own shorts. Making a feature is exactly the same. You just have to be able to get that energy and enthusiasm which you have for two days on the short, for three weeks. It’s the endurance thing.”
Anyone interested in seeing it can currently do so for free if they have Amazon Prime, he notes. We talk about its Frightfest première and his relationship with the festival.
“Ibiza Undead was the first film that they showed, but I would go regularly as a punter before, so I kind of got to know people through that. That's entirely how Midnight Peepshow came about, through people I met through the horror scene, and Frightfest is a large part of that. There's so many talented people working in the horror industry in the UK and I think Frightfest is as close as we've got to a hub where people can meet. And I think it should happen more often. Because there are lots of people out there toiling away, I think, especially people outside of London who are probably feeling like they're a little bit isolated, toiling away on their first feature film. But you know, you're not alone. And I think collaboration is the way forward if we want to turn what is a moderately successful cottage industry into a proper industry, which I think should do, I think we can do it. We've got a talent. And I think, yeah, more collaboration.”
Andy's contribution to Midnight Peepshow
He’s worked on quite a few anthology films... "I do love a horror anthology. I think they're a really good format, because horror is something that works really well in the short story space. I think there are some ideas which are brilliant ideas but can't sustain themselves for a feature. So I think anthologies are a way of doing that. And yeah, if you don't like the one that one of the stories, the next one coming along, you might like that one. But also, you know, from a filmmaker’s point of view, it’s the actual ability to work with other filmmakers, which often you wouldn't do, especially other directors.
“It's, you know, world's smallest violin, but directing can be a lonely job, because there's only one of you on the set. You’re not part of the camera team or part of the acting team, for example. So it's really nice to be able to work with other directors, and see how they work and share advice and horror stories.
“How Midnight Peepshow came about was the producer, Airell Anthony Hayles, who also wrote and directed he, he came up with the idea. Then he asked Jake West to come on board, and so the two of them, they wrote the script, bar the middle section. For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's three stories with one wraparound, essentially four shorts. So they'd written everything bar the middle section. They just couldn't find anything that worked. And so they'd seen my film Graphic Designs and they were like, ‘Oh, you could be a good fit. Can you come up with any ideas for this middle section?’
“I read the rest of the script which was already done by them, and came up with some ideas that might work. And my thinking was, it's quite a dark movie. So I was certain that my bit should be a little bit more comedic, and be the little bit of light relief between the darkness, because I think that would work in terms of the journey that the audience goes on. So I pitched him a few ideas. The one that they liked best was Fuck Marry Kill, which was one that we we ended up going with. So yeah, so I wrote it with having the rest of the script already made, to be able to fit into what they'd already done.
Graphic Designs poster
“Unlike some anthologies, especially more modern ones, where they're a collection of different shorts from around the world, jammed together, this was always intended to be more like the old school Amicus ones where it was a cohesive film, so we had the storylines interlink. Some of the same actors are in each story, and it was shot with the same group. So it was shot consecutively like a feature, and we literally just swapped out the directors. They have the same DOP and same costume designer, the same production designer across the whole thing.”
Andy’s segment is very character-focused.
“You are trapped in a room with four people for 20 minutes, and it's real time. There's various countdowns in the film and they're all real time. And you have to understand who these people are, in a very short space of time. It's not like a feature where you might have time to reveal things gradually. So we made them very distinctive characters, and then we cast it as an ensemble piece. So we kind of tested out different people with different people and worked out where the chemistry was really.
“The characters should almost feel like they're not from a horror movie. They should feel like romcom characters. So you've got the lead girl – because the other the other female characters in Midnight Peepshow, there's a lot of traditional horror movie characters –I didn't want to write a third femme fatale into this movie. So she should be quite a normal girl, but a little bit ditzy, very warm, calm. She's like Bridget Jones. And then these guys are just the guys from her life. They're all these characters from a romcom, and it's a rom com dilemma. You know, there's three guys who like, which one does she pick? But then play it in the style of Saw.”
It is comedic, but it's also quite brutal in its way. Obviously, he’s progressed beyond the ketchup and cornflakes, so how does he handle gore elements now?
“Obviously gore is a huge part of horror movies, but I love to do practically where possible,” he says. “If I have the budget and time. I was lucky enough to work with Dan Martin on Ibiza Unded. Dan is a genius, and he's been working with Ben Wheatley and Brandon Cronenberg recently. You know, I think for any horror dealing with body horror, like zombies, or comedy horror, like Midnight Peepshow, if you can have is as real looking as possible then that adds to it. Also, I love shooting special effects, but it's hard. It will always take ten times more time than you think it does, and then if it doesn't work, you've got to reset and clean up all the blood and yeah – don’t think it’s easy.”
We talk about The Ghosts Of Monday and the very different experience of working with another writer to adapt a story written by a third person – which, he reveals, was then changed quite a bit by the director.
The Ghosts Of Monday
“As long as you can find the right people then I love collaborating,” he notes once again. “I've written a few scripts with various other writers. You can bounce ideas and everything. This came about through Frightfest, again. I met a writer called Barry Keating, who's based in Ireland, nd he's written various films that have played at Frightfest. We've written a couple of scripts together. And then he knew a producer based out in Italy, and he had a story that he wanted to do, and a shoot date, but he didn't have a script. We put a few drafts of that together. We had a kind of template to work on, we had elements that had to be in there.
“I went to the screening at Frightfest, and met up with Julian [Sands] and some of the other cast, and the director would rewrite on set. So the script that we handed in had gone through a lot of changes.”
This happens with films, he notes. He’d done his job and been paid, so he wasn’t going to make a fuss about it, but it meant that he got some surprises in the screening.
“The first half of the movie, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is kind of what we wrote.’ And then the second half, I was watching it like the audience, because I thought ‘I don't know what's going to happen - that character didn't die in that way!’ So all the characters and the scenario was what we wrote, but then things got changed.”
It was still a good oportunity to meet some different people, he says, and he would have loved to accept their invitation to join them on the set in Cyprus, but due to Covid it would have been too difficult for him to get home again afterwards.
Having worked on that job for hire, he’s now back to working for himself, on a project which he’s very excited about.
“I'm working on a movie called Punch. I'm mainly a writer/director. During the pandemic, because a lot of the projects I was working on, obviously, fell apart, I didn't want to be doing nothing. So I set up my own production company and we did our first film, which is called Graphic Designs. That is out now in the UK, on streaming. It’s a thriller movie, so a little bit of a departure.
“Punch is the second film I've produced so I'm learning the ropes of the producer really on small, independent, low budget movies. And it is a seaside set slasher movie, featuring...” He pauses, reaches down to his right and sticks a rubber mask over his face. “This guy!”
Anyone familiar with the British seaside will recognise the face of Mr. Punch.
“So yeah,” he says, “it's a very US-style slasher plot. Teenagers being murdered by a mass killer, but I wanted to make it the most British slasher movie ever. So we set it in a British seaside town in winter. We shot in Hastings and a little bit in Clapton. it takes place in amusement arcades and on piers and in chip shops. It's got this real melancholy seaside town in winter vibe. And, you know, we'll see how it goes. It's in post production at the moment, but the intention is that it will be the start of a franchise, because we don't really have a slasher franchise in the UK. We don't have a Freddy or Jason.”
It’s clear that he has a lot of ambitions for British horror beyond his own work.
“I think the way that we grow it is by collaboration. Obviously, the pull of Hollywood money is always there, so the issue at the moment is obviously if somebody does make it and gets a hit, their second film is doing something in the States. I’m not saying I wouldn't be tempted by the the lure of mega money, but I think we can do better than to be a feeder ground for the US. We've done it before, you know, when Hammer ruled the world of horror for a decade or so.
We discuss the films we saw at Frightfest. I mention Tommy Boulding’s Hounded as a good example of emerging British talent, and he reveals that although he hasn’t yet seen it, he has been talking to its cinematographer, the astoundingly talented Martyna Knitter. His pick of the festival was Candy Land.
“We’ve got so many talented people. I go to the festival each year, you know, I've seen people who started out going as fans and then maybe they had a short, and then two years later they've got a feature, and it's so nice to see that progression. So yeah, I think we could collaborate, and hopefully Mr. Punch will be the UK’s first proper slasher killer. Hopefully the time is right for a British version that's unapologetically British. I think we'd be nice to lean into more what we've got which which Americans don't, and then tie that with a very American style plot.
“We've got one more shot to shoot next week, a stunt shot, and then the film's finished shooting, and then we can put it out to the rest of post production. So hopefully, mid next year it'll be doing festivals.” He shrugs. “It's one of those things you can plan but you never really know what's going to happen. You never know what's going to be successful and what's not going to be successful. All you can do as a writer and director, and especially as a producer, is try and put the pieces in place and hope for the best.”