As part of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival, working with culinary champions Bompas & Parr, I was fortunate to be able to propose and subsequently present a unique screening of the fairytale horror-fantasy The Company of Wolves (18) in the heart of the beautiful Grizedale Forest, Cumbria. Our screening venue was The Yan (named after the Cumbrian dialect for ‘One’), a new building in a breathtaking location built of traditional materials and reminiscent of Grand Designs meets The Brothers Grimm.
Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa) and dredged from the depths of 1984, this stunning reworking of Little Red Riding Hood is based upon author Angela Carter’s deliciously sinister interpretations of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. Containing disturbing scenes of human-animal transmogrification, the film still has the power to terrify and enthrall, underscored with a bewitching soundtrack by veteran composer George Fenton (Gandhi, Dangerous Liaisons).
Starring Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea and Sarah Patterson as the precocious lead Rosaleen, a young girl on the cusp of sexual awakening, it is a title that still figures large in lists of both classic British horror and seminal fantasy. Drawing deliberate focus to the art of storytelling through exaggeration and elaboration, the film takes a twisting route from beginning to ambiguous end until the audience are themselves lost, drawn into an enchanted, nightmarish forest of Freudian interpretation… where the worst wolves are hairy on the inside.
Having been gifted such an envious location I was keen to respond to the opportunity by creating a themed window dressing and exploring not just the principle highlight of Odorama but additional, immersive aspects for the audience to enjoy during the pre-show before we huddled together in the dark, hoping to emphasise the collective experience and not just the singular, private conversation that cinema can so often be. As a little-seen and clearly dated title, The Company of Wolves is also ripe for toying with without fear of reproach, unlike very recent releases that remain hard-shelled and perched high upon the mantelpiece out of reach.
With the assistance and generous permissions of The Forestry Commission team (“We’re cutting a tree down outside – do you want some?” HELL YEAH), I bundled branches together from a variety of species to fill the intimidating and large picture-window as the basis of an origami apple orchard, inspired by Granny’s garden within the film. Aided by a crew of AND volunteers we established a production line of paper folders using textured and patterned papers in red, green, yellow and brown to create the basic inflated box-shape, adding real sticks for stems and mismatched leaves.
Once attached they looked extremely effective, especially when populated by the woodland zoo of assorted taxidermy that resides within the building – from owls, stoats, ferrets, a falcon, rabbits, hares, birds and otters. All are used for teaching and educational purposes having been humanely collected or gathered following natural death, adding an uncanny presence once the outside light dimmed and the tea candles were lit. No light pollution out here in the forest – after dark was like plunging headfirst into a tin of treacle.
On arrival, the audience were greeted by Bompas & Parr, pouring generous measures of Hendrick’s Gin. A boutique nectar infused with the distinctive taste of rose petals and cucumber, sealed in apothecary-style bottles, it was ideally fashioned for our fairytale and alchemical mix. Feral popcorn was also served, stirred with chopped organic bacon and juices for the many carnivores in attendance. With this in mind, signage reminded all present that The Yan was a safe, unsanctified space and that all creatures of the forest were welcome providing they did not attempt to devour each other during the screening… and instead waited until they went back outside.
Our velvet draped transformation station offered patrons the option to receive one or more personal enhancements relating to themes or actual scenes within the film. An ornate menu offered a choice ranging from Huntsman’s Brow, an adhesive monobrow and certain method of identifying any likely lycanthropes, to Poison Arrow, a potent and mysterious potion. Very definitely flammable, just one shot of the latter was enough to put hairs on the chest (quite literally, in the storyline). Smokers were warned against lighting up soon after for fear their booze-boosted breath might actually catch fire.
Lips as Red as Blood offered a choice of feather-rolled lipsticks nestled in actual birds nests, with just as many men choosing this option even if they did colour outside the lines by using them to scribble drooling red saliva. The Mark of the Beast claimed the devil’s own via a wolf paw hand stamp, granting re-admittance into the world below. Protection of the Blessed Virgin took the form of a hanging forest canopy draped in tresses of tangled hair and scores of white plastic rosaries. Able assistants Emma Rios and Cecilia Carey took charge, assisting those who were unused to walking on hind legs in human clothing.