Directed by Pablo Raybould. Starring Laurence Saunders, Chris Simmons, Ben Manning, Pablo Raybould, Julie Peasgood, Joel Beckett, Julia Deakin, Ste Johnston. Certificate: 15 83 minutes.
Released by Left Films on DVD on October 29th 2018 and On-Demand on November 5th 2018.
Hitchcock once observed that horror and comedy were “Siamese twin genres, joined at the nervous laugh”, a summation confirmed by repeat viewings of his PSYCHO and subsequent modern horror landmarks (notably, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), in which hitherto layers of gallows humour unravel once you have become accustomed to the surface shocks. THE SNARLING joins the cluttered ranks of a specific sub-sub-genre: the werewolf horror comedy, though it displays little understanding of why its most successful precursors (THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, DOG SOLDIERS) worked so well. Unless you are Mel Brooks in your prime and have access to a premium cast of comic actors at their peak (c.f. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN), the secret to crafting a truly impactful horror comedy is never dilute the horror in service of the jokes. There are many funny moments in the three movies mentioned above, but they emerge from character banter in the face of horrifying situations, and the stakes remain high regardless of how many one-liners or knowing genre references pepper the script. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is frequently hilarious, and its zombies are mercilessly mocked at times – but there’s nothing funny about Shaun’s mum joining the legions of the living dead, and the film doesn’t soft-pedal her demise just because it’s a “horror comedy”.
THE SNARLING is, alas, light on both horror and laughs and quickly becomes enslaved to laboured or unworkable “jokes” in the absence of anything else. It centres around the fraught production of an allegedly cursed low budget zombie movie directed by Joel Beckett (aka Dawn’s obnoxious boyfriend in THE OFFICE) in an ominous English village where the local pub, The Dirty Hog, is preparing for the film crew’s arrival. An early heavy-handed pastiche of the opening of AMERICAN WEREWOLF (a pair of unfortunate backpackers head off the beaten track and pay the price) offers a misjudged reminder of a lycanthropic horror film that triumphantly pulled off the tonal juggling act at which so many others fail. A series of grisly deaths coinciding with the full moon (and staged off camera with a degree of…you guessed it, snarling) plague the film shoot, while a local schlub with a strong resemblance to the film’s tediously narcissistic actor “Lupine” (both played by Laurence Saunders, also in OUIJAGEIST this year) ends up doubling for the thesp.
Writer-director Pablo Raybould, making his feature debut, has crafted a low key, small-scale movie that yearns to duplicate the throwaway running gags and wordplay of classic Hollywood spoofs – and you can’t fault the quality of his obvious inspirations (AIRPLANE and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN). Both are invoked by deliberately silly dialogue exchanges like the following: -“It’s the work of a lycanthrope!” “Which is…?” “No! Not witches…”
Alas, even oddly likeable failed mirth-makers like this are overshadowed by the kind of horribly dated low-humour characterising the most barrel-scraping of BBC sitcoms. While endless gags about character stupidity and misunderstandings of words like “doppelganger” are almost endearing in their creakiness, the presence of gay “jokes” featuring phrases like “trouser bandits” and “bender” feel like something even your Dad stopped laughing at circa 1993. Elsewhere, there is much dopey police humour (notably, a copper prone to noisily eating Black Forest gateaux while watching footage of the killings) alongside random gags about Milton Keynes, Lidl, Danny Dyer and “See You Next Wednesday”.
Saunders gamely takes on the two roles, though his OTT turn as the egomaniac movie star wears out its welcome quite quickly. Julie Peasgood, as the movie producer desperately trying to appease her annoying lead, lends some gravitas to the project. She can’t, however, elevate the weak material when the writing is so clearly stranded at the stale level of a Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special. Self-conscious and strained, with minimal lycanthrope action and the overriding sense that the West Midlands deserves a better werewolf farce than this.