'Once Bitten...' A Tale of Horror Comes to Altrincham

“Martha needs the toilet fixed in her hotel bathroom but there's one problem: her plumber may just be a vampire”

I had mixed feelings about meeting Pete Tomkies of Manchester-based Duck66 Films to talk about his new horror film short ‘Once Bitten…’ which was filmed in Altrincham earlier in the summer.  I never watch horror films. I’ve never really understood the desire to be scared. The glimpses of the genre that I have experienced often involve the portrayal of women as victims of violence, one of my bug bears. However, I know that I’m the odd one out. Horror stories are as old as time – remember those bloodthirsty fairy tales? It seems that they fulfil a human need. Enacting fears in a safe space...or something.

Happily, Pete couldn’t be further from the creepy misogynistic horror film director of my imagination. Although he doesn’t see his horror films as a medium in which to make serious statements about politics and society, Pete does agree that the objectification of women in the genre is troubling. However, he tells me that there are increasing numbers of women directing horror films and that their influence is creating positive change.

Look behind you! Photo by Simon Buckley

Pete’s first attempts at directing involved a James Bond homage starring his brother that was filmed on a childhood holiday. However, tastes change and he later developed a passion for Hammer Horror films, with their tongue in cheek approach to gore. Pete doesn’t set out to make ‘realistic’ films - he isn’t a fan of Scandi noir dramas. Just as Hammer Horror films are set in some indeterminate European country during a period that could be either/both the middles ages and/or the nineteenth century, so Pete’s latest film is set in a version of the nineteen eighties – certainly a period without mobile phones or plasma screens. Pete likes to follow a tested formula and in seven minutes he aims to build sufficient suspense to make his audience jump once and then release the tension by making them laugh at the end. ‘Once Bitten...’ is Pete’s second short film -  his first, ‘TEAM’, is still on the horror film festival circuit.

‘Once Bitten…’ tells the story of a book publisher, Martha, who has problems with the plumbing in her hotel bathroom one dark stormy night. Unfortunately, the plumber who turns up might just be a vampire!’ Now this may sound like a likely scenario for the ‘woman as victim’ trope, however, ‘Martha’ was originally ‘Marty’ and the gender change came about when actor Lauren Ashley Carter came on board.

Lauren Ashley Carter is a well known actress in the horror genre: Photo by Simon Buckley

Casting Lauren was quite a coup as she is very well known in the independent horror film scene. Lauren is American but Pete met her in Manchester earlier this year at a screening of her film ‘Jug Face’ organised by the team behind the Grimmfest film festival. Feeling a bit cheeky, he took a chance and sent her the script of the film.  To his delight Lauren responded immediately and was keen to be involved. Such is her fame that Pete originally had her mind for a cameo role, not expecting her to want to commit to a lead role in such a small film. However, Lauren so enthusiastic about the film that Pete asked her to be cast in the main role and Marty became Martha.

Pete now had to find a new actor to play the cameo role of an American TV presenter of an urban legends show.  He made an intriguing choice by casting Sir Dickie Benson, more commonly seen performing on the stand-up comedy circuit. Casting issues also arose with the role of the plumber – who may or may not be a vampire!  The original actor dropped out two days before filming began and Garth Maunders stepped in. Garth must be a trouper as he had just had surgery and still had stiches. He was also smaller in stature than the original actor requiring last minute alterations to his costume. Stressful times for Pete as he only had two days in which to film!

Sir Dickie Benson

Although ‘Once Bitten...’ takes place in New York the budget didn’t quite stretch to a Big Apple location and it was filmed over two days on a purpose-built set at A4 Studios in Altrincham. Pete is grateful to John Lockwood of A4 who was ‘a genius’ when it came to building Martha’s hotel room. There was also a day filming in a green screen studio in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

Pete places great emphasis on the production values of his film and assembled a very talented team for ‘Once Bitten…’ The film was written by writer Kevin T Rogers . Pete was also delighted to work with cinematographer Mat Johns saying ,  “I have admired Mat’s work as a film maker for many years Mat’s use of light is simply fabulous so I know ‘Once Bitten...’ is going to look beautiful!”  

Pete also wanted to give credit to the photographer of the behind the scenes and publicity photos, Simon Buckley, and recommends Simon’s award winning ‘Not Quite Light’ project as well worth a look.

So, it turns out that, although I don’t like horror films, I may just give ‘Once Bitten …’ the benefit of the doubt!

‘Once Bitten…’ should be finished by the end of January 2018. To keep up with news on the film follow @OnceBittenFilm on Twitter or Facebook.


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