Director Charlie Steeds talks The Haunting of the Tower of London

Ahead of its festival premiere, we caught up with director Charlie Steeds to discuss his return to horror in The Haunting of the Tower of London.

For your last project Werewolf Castle you delved more into fantasy, is The Haunting… a return to more gothic horror?
Yes, we shot the two films at the same time, so it was fun to go from one day making medieval fantasy and the next day back to full-blown horror. Period horror is very appealing to me, films like Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and Mark of the Devil were inspirations when it came to crafting this particular story and script. It wasn’t my idea/concept to make a film based around the Tower of London and the two Princes, but my love for these films made me wonder how fun it could be to shoot this. Oddly, I wasn’t limited on how horrible I could make it, so we’ve ended up with an 18 rated film which I wanted to be very grotesque and dark, but at the same time very fun, delightfully gross and over the top.

What can you tell us about the filming locations for the film?
It’s a mixture of fabulous (and very expensive) locations in Wales and sets we built ourselves. The castle interior is Castell Coch, which was gorgeous, one room, in particular, was so spectacular that I knew I wanted to set one of the most brutal scenes there. We were told ‘don’t touch the furniture’, but I misinterpreted that as ‘murder a character on the furniture’, it looked great! I’d been watching Polanski’s Macbeth and films like The Name of the Rose to get a sense of what sort of locations I wanted and I was looking specifically for a big castle courtyard like the one we found. It was lockdown when we shot (with exemption/permission to work), so everything was closed to the public and made location booking much easier. I knew I wouldn’t get what I wanted from filming the actual Tower of London (it’s surrounded by modern London) plus I wanted it to look more gothic and crumbling, so Raglan Castle was a perfect exterior, Tower of London enthusiasts might hate me for that.

The cast has plenty of mainstays from your previous work, was this a no brainer?
A lot of my regulars returned for this one, which is a big cast, I wrote for them specifically, but there are a few notable newcomers. The co-lead character of Henry Pedrick is played by Richard Rowden, who I’d never worked with before, we had to meet/audition in a Tesco car park because of the lockdown rules… It was also my first time working with Greg Draven, who gets to play such a fun character in this film, the total opposite to his friendly, softer character in Werewolf Castle. It was fun to write chunky dramatic roles for Reece Connolly, Tim Cartwright and Emma Spurgin Hussey and then just watch them shine, the film is very melodramatic.

This film deals with religion and a loss of faith, are you taking any inspiration from The Exorcist?
No direct influences from The Exorcist here, but I wrote the film in the pandemic, it’s based on a real-life case of child murder, and the theme of the film is a loss of faith in everything; religion, people, the whole system. There’s two lead characters in the film, one starts at rock bottom, believing in nothing other than death (he speaks to the dead, that’s his skill), and the other is a Priest who is rather high and mighty. But they have opposing journeys, one finds hope, the other loses hope, and they cross paths along the way, that’s what made writing dual protagonists interesting. It’s a period film so religion was bound to feature heavily, it’s part of what makes the horror films I previously mentioned so terrifying, this religious fanaticism. I find religion and religious people occasionally unsettling as it is, a great source to pluck horror from when I’m writing.

How does this differ from previous films such as The House of Violent Desire and An English Haunting?
An English Haunting is a very subtle ghost story, you barely see the ghost (played by me by the way) whereas this film shows everything! I wanted to cram it with ghostly figures and make them really gross. Mary is a favourite, she has a lot of screentime in her scene and rips out her own heart then proceeds to eat it with a knife and fork at the table. Then there’s the hideous fetus of Henry’s dead baby, still connected to his ghost wife by an umbilical cord as she rocks in a chair at the foot of this bed… and that fetus prop kept appearing in my bed onset (the cast pranking me)!

The film is set for a DVD release in June, how has distributing your films changed since the start of the pandemic?
During the pandemic, DVD sales went through the roof for little indie films like mine that managed to find a space on supermarket shelves that were devoid of any new Hollywood releases, studios weren’t releasing their films during the lockdown! Now it’s changing, Sainsbury’s aren’t stocking DVDs, Tesco’s are following (at least mine has removed its DVD isle already). Distributors have been warning of this for the past 5 years but now I’m actually seeing it for myself, DVD dying out. I don’t know how many more films I’m really going to see released into UK supermarkets like this, so my world of indie horror is possibly quite endangered. It’s more important than ever to go out and buy these types of movies, if you want to see them continue, support your indie horror filmmakers, and buy physical copies!

What can audiences at Soho Horror Film Fest expect from The Haunting…?
It’s a story-driven horror, that’s what I’m most pleased with this one, I like these characters we created, I wish I’d had the budget to show even more. Expect torture, screaming, ghosts, melodrama, nasty characters with dubious plots and backstabbings (literally) it’s a fun time.

Does the film have any queer subtext?
One of the lead characters is a gay Priest, and this is a central plot of the film, this is his secret that can’t get out or else it would have horrific and bloody consequences (which we wouldn’t want in a horror movie, would we…). He has dreams/nightmares of naked men hung upside down in the torture room being whipped, in slow motion of course. Look, there are gay themes plus medieval torture, there was definitely space to have some fun here. Male characters are stripped naked for prolonged scenes of torture, and there are whips and chains (and worse) I’ve never had this many bare buttocks on screen before and if that alone isn’t worth £7 on Amazon then I don’t know what is.

The Haunting of the Tower of London will screen at the Soho Horror Film Festival: Pride Edition and is released on DVD on 27 June 2022.

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