Mythological memories from shooting an ultra-low-budget werewolf movie
Editor’s note: this is a guest post from Dominik Starck, actor in and co-producer of Iron Wolf, this month’s Full Moon Feature. My thanks to Dominik for taking the time to write this, and for sharing the photos that accompany this post!
“It’s about a Nazi-werewolf”, the voice on the phone revealed to me. Pause. “I know what you’re thinking,” the voice continues. No, you don’t.
It’s early 2012 and I’m on the phone with producer Nico Sentner, whom I’ve met on the set of the German slasher SIN REAPER, starring one of my favorite genre actors, Lance Henriksen. Sentner and I got along well, ultimately bonding over our common love of Henriksen and some of the same genre movies. I mentioned to him that I’m looking into making movies, not just writing about them (I was a film critic at the time).
A couple of months later I received this fateful call. Sentner was about to make an ultra low budget movie and offered me a small part in it. I’d also be able to serve as one of the producers. But here’s the hook; I wouldn’t have any creative control over it and, well, it’s about an effing Nazi werewolf. I told Sentner I’d have to sleep on it, but I’d call him back within 24 hours.
It sounded like trash from the get-go. Should this be my glorious entry into the industry? I had doubts. Huge doubts. I didn’t even get to see a script. On the other hand, I would never have forgiven myself for not taking the chance.
A couple of weeks later I was on set, playing the character of bandleader Spike Jones and showcasing my own favorite leather jacket. My gig only lasted a couple of days, one of them including a sex scene, a fight scene and my death scene. Laying on the dirty ground in freezing temperatures on a cold March night in Eastern Germany felt fantastic.
Jens Nier (co-director, -editor and –producer as well as werewolf performer) choreographed the little brawl I had with the homeless man (played by writer Marco Theiss). Training and shooting that was intense too – even though we later learned that one of the camera operators failed to get the best angle in focus so that the scene turned out to be nobody’s favorite.
To be honest it’s also pretty intimidating to be in front of a camera for the first time performing intercourse with a woman you just met. I got the script about three days before shooting started, read it, and scene 16 simply said “Spike and Jersey have hard sex in the basement” – Wait, what? Nobody said anything about a sex scene at any point!
Sentner assured me I’d be in good hands and shouldn’t worry about anything. His amused laughter should’ve been a warning sign. When I met my co-star Carolina Rath on set we asked director David Brückner how he intended the scene to be shot. His vision was to shoot in the dirtiest room of the old slaughterhouse we were filming in. The crew would put a half-way decent couch in that room for us to perform our relationship on. Obviously that didn’t make any sense. We skipped the couch and solved the issue in a different way.
I love horror movies and I have a huge affection for werewolf movies. Aside from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, my personal favorite might be GINGER SNAPS 2 (yes, the sequel, Elisabeth Perkins is just amazing in it). To be on a set filled with enthusiastic film students was great. It felt like summer camp (even though I never went to summer camp). I even wrote a scene because they were afraid the movie might turn out too short. It eventually got cut from the movie because it would’ve made the opening too slow.
When I was wrapped it was hard for me to leave. Fortunately, there was a chance for a surprise return. When the rough cut was done it was obvious that some things didn’t work, among them the ending. It was supposed to end on Spike’s girlfriend teaming up with his brother Leon (named after the protagonist in Hammer Film’s only werewolf movie THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF), defeating the beast and riding off into the sun dawn. The way it was shot and the missing romantic energy between the characters on screen made it unsatisfying and the producers thought about a way to fix this.
In low-budget filmmaking, you’re always looking for a simple way to exploit an asset one has access to and deliver on a horror cliché that’s a cliché because it works. Since Spike was the only lead character we didn’t truly see dying on screen it was fairly easy to bring me back for a cliffhanger ending. We shot these tagged on scenes months after principal photography in the director’s basement. It’s my favorite scene I did in the movie.
IRON WOLF uses a trash premise, feeds off of the Nazi-exploiting concept behind IRON SKY and is underfinanced as hell. It basically was shot with a bag of pennies and a roll of tape. That said, it was inspiring to make the movie, and I made some friends I collaborated with on later productions (like my hitmen thriller THE HITMAN AGENCY, that’s available on Amazon and Tubi).
The producers did their best to make the movie as good as possible in the very limited time before it had to be ready for the film markets. It’s never good to work against a ticking clock. But on the other hand; I’m friends with filmmakers that had a ten times higher budget on a short film with two people talking in a room. Making a good werewolf movie demands proper planning, shooting and time for post-production to make it as effective as possible, even on a budget. Take time for prep away and cut the time on post-production and you’re set for failing.
Werewolves are cool. And the saving grace of IRON WOLF is that even cheap werewolf-movies with trash concepts behind them are still better than boring cheap vampire movies.
In the years following the production, there was actual talk about another IRON WOLF. While Sentner’s focus was on more Nazi exploitation in a prequel movie I pitched a true sequel about Spike struggling with his curse while looking for his big love Jersey. Meanwhile, she fully embraces her inner beast. Once they reunite they’d go full “Bonnie & Clyde in Furs”. We all moved on at this point. I worked a lot in action films, wrote a lot of screenplays and am in development on a completely different supernatural thriller. But there’s a part of me that still would like to make that sequel.
There are many more tales to tell and lessons learned in filmmaking, but for now, I have to finish this article. It’s already getting dark. And the moon is rising.
Big howl from Germany.
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