Melissa Todd takes part in a low-budget horror movie production and lives to tell the tale.
They say you should embrace new opportunities, give thought to the automatic ‘no’ that slides mindless from your gums, and try a ‘yes’ to everything instead, which is how I found myself in Aylesham, surrounded by the strangest of strangers, covered in fake blood, giggling hysterically, pointy bits of wood glued to my naval and décolletage.
So maybe ‘they’ are idiots.
Honestly, I don’t know how it happened. If I’d tried to get a part in a horror film it would never have come about, and heaven knows, dozens of my actory friends would have killed for the opportunity that floated into my lap – killed, indeed, more ruthlessly and bloodily than the scene I found myself shooting on Sunday. I don’t see myself as an actor, truly, yet acting parts keep coming. Eight months ago a producer contacted me on one of the many modelling sites that boast my fizzog, said he liked my ‘retro’ look, and asked if I fancied making a film. “Of course, whatever!” merrily I typed, well knowing that 98% of the projects I agree to never happen. But this chap kept messaging, arranged a date and location, told me about my supporting cast – which included Laurence Harvey, star of cult movies The Human Centipede 2, The Editor and Frankenstein Created Bikers – whereupon I started to fear he was serious. I looked the producer up on IMDb. He existed, and he produced stuff. “Bring a cocktail frock or two, some seductive underwear – oh, and a towel! You’re bound to need a shower afterwards.” After what, for heaven’s sake? What on earth is this film malarkey, my friends asked; do you have lines, where will it be shown, and I thought, these are all perfectly reasonable questions, and any other girl would have asked them, rather than typing of course, whatever, like a reckless dope.
But it was too late to back out, and I love an adventure, still more an Instagrammable one. So I rose early one Sunday and skipped into a posse of excitable noisy actors, crew trying to contain them, and a heap of weird stuff. Oozing skulls, lampshades made from human faces, severed hands, all made by the fabulous Tracey Jane, special effects superstar and self-proclaimed Queen of Gore, who makes edible body parts. “Go on, try one! They’re vegan!” Delicately I nibbled on her ear. Delish.
We spent the first two hours cutting and shaping different coloured filters for the lights, in a bid to give the film the weird blue and red glow beloved of splatter films, before setting up the bedroom for my big scene. It was a small flat, with six people in it, six lights, one camera strapped to a frustrated cameraman, and a lot of chocolate. Actors run on sugar. I was made tea with honey from Jeremy Clarkson’s farm, and perched on a corner of the sofa, watching a pet tarantula scuttle about its tank, trying to act as if this were my standard Sunday. “Used to have ninety-seven tarantulas”, said Mike, whose flat it was. “But it was too much work. So I sold the rest. One tarantula is enough.” I very much wanted to know why he’d held on to that particular fluffy beast, whom he’d named Neytiri, and what work tarantulas entail – walks through forests? Throwing frisbees? – but sadly at that very moment, my name was called. I was on set!
I played a good time girl in a shimmery frock who’s picked up by two chaps and discovers their idea of a good time doesn’t quite correspond with hers. The resulting misunderstanding involved me screaming, then lying still while Tracey Jane got busy with the fake blood and silicone. It was brilliant. I particularly loved the screaming. Life in general should involve more screaming. Mike has OCD so I was careful to tiptoe daintily to the bathroom post-shoot and not leave bloody footprints or fingerprints anywhere. Almost managed it.
The film is called The Witches of the Sands. It’s a post-modern existential B-movie, a homage to the quirky, cheesy horror films of the 1980s. Written and directed by Tony Mardon, it will be out mid-2023 and premiered at the Whitstable Playhouse before touring around assorted film festivals. See if you can spot me being murdered by the lovely Mike, looking mildly baffled, trying to envisage what weirdness I’ll agree to next.