WINGS OF DEATH
35mm drama short. BFI. General release with Nightmare on Elm Street.
Featuring Dexter Fletcher, Kate Hardie, Tony Hagarth, Paula Jacobs, Lynne Radford.
Costume: Sandy Powell
Camera: Gail Tattersall
Producer: Paul Webster
Special Prize Court de Metrage
1st Prize Cinema of the Fantastic, Spain
Co-director with Nichola Bruce. Co-writer. Co-composer.
In the revolting and decaying Byzantium Hotel, young heroine addict Alex, played by Dexter Fletcher, relives an idyllic - and possibly apocryphal - past before slipping into a much more terrifying world. A sinister little girl wanders the corridors, cutting open her doll "to see what's inside" while winos and junkies prowl as flesh-eating zombies...
The 1980s trend towards high quality short films continued with Nicholas Bruce and Michael Coulson's nightmarish Wings of Death which scooped the 1st prize at the 1985 Sitges Festival before going out on general release in the UK supporting Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street . Bruce and Coulson were trying to make a point about drug abuse, and they certainly make a good fist of it, brilliantly and economically capturing the horror of alienation and the terror of not being able to trust your own senses.
Wings of Death starred Dexter Fletcher s a young heroin addict who holes-up in a seedy hotel to review his life.
Wings of Death 
Country of Origin: UK Year of Production: 1985 Running Times: 21 mins Length: 1893 ft Format: 35mm Colour Format: Ratio: Sound:
PRODUCTION Production Company: British Film Institute Productions Executive Producer: Peter Sainsbury Line Producer: Wilko Swords Associate Producer: Paul Webster
SCRIPT Script: Nichola Bruce, Michael Coulson
DIRECTION Director: Nicholas Bruce, Michael Coulson Assistant Directors: David Brown, Andy Powell
PHOTOGRAPHY Director of Photography: Gale Tattersall Assistant Steadicam Operator: Vincent Race Rostrum Photography: Frameline Video Operator: Jane Young
EDITING AND POST PRODUCTION Editor: John Wilson
MUSIC Music: Muscle Films Noise Sequences Music: Fritz Haaman, Suzanne Reddington, Jim Whelan
SOUND Sound Recordist: Marion Dain Sound Re-recording: Clive Pendry
MAKE UP AND COSTUMES Costume Designers: Sandy Powell, Cath Pater Lancucki Make Up: Helen Whiting
SPECIAL EFFECTS Special Effects: Cinebuild Model Making / Sculpture: Fionn Rawnsley
VISUAL EFFECTS Main Titles: Jilly Francis Opticals: General Screen Enterprises
DESIGN AND SET CONSTRUCTION Art Director: Jane Bruce
MISCELLANEOUS Production Assistant: Lesley Eyles Choreography For Derelicts: Hidden Grin Theatre Company
CAST Dexter Fletcher [Alex] Kate Hardie [Looey] Tony Haygarth [dad / landlord] Paula Jacobs [mum / landlady] Lynne Radford [little girl] Adam French [dealer] Hidden Grin Theatre Company [derelicts] AVAILABILITY
UK Theatrical Distributors: Palace Pictures
USA Theatrical Distributors: British Film Institute
UK Rating: 15
1985 Catalonian International Film Festival, Sitges, Spain Caixa de Catalunya Best Short Film [Nicholas Bruce, Michael Coulson] - winner
1986 May Day Unknown: UK theatrical release
1987 July 27: UK - television broadcast [on Channel 4]
1992 March Day Unknown: UK - television broadcast [on Channel 4]
City Limits no.243 [29 May 1986] p.23 [UK] review
City Limits no.303 [23 July 1987] p.55 [UK] review
City Limits no.208 [27 September 1985] p.31 [UK] note
Monthly Film Bulletin May 1986 p.159 [UK] illustrated credits, synopsis, review [by Mark Finch]
Screen International no.491 [6 April 1985] p.171 note
Screen International no.518 [12 October 1985] p.12 [UK] note
Screen International no521 [2 November 1985] p.12 [UK] review
Time Out no.788 [26 September 1985] p.59 [UK] review
Time Out no.295 [7 November 1985] p.53 [UK] note
British National Film and Video Catalogue vol.24  credits
addiction, alcoholism, children, drugs, hallucinations, heroin, hotels, junkies, zombies
David Kerekes, a UK based writer is currently involved in a book on British cinema called Offbeat (to be published by Headpress later this year). One aspect of the book is the 'short film'.
David says that Wings of Death may have been the last short to play as a support to a main feature in England (it supported Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street in cinemas all over the country). David is writing a piece for Offbeat about the film and other ‘forgotten movies’ from the 1980s which he has kindly allowed me to post.
Wings of Death: The demise of the short film as supporting feature
By David Kerekes
Taken from the forthcoming book, Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems edited by Julian Upton. Further info: www.worldheadpress.com
Wings of Death proved to be an apt title for the departing of the short. These half pint oddities may have dragged on a little longer in places, but Wings of Death was the last I would see of them. The year was 1985 and the cinema in question some forsaken place in the north of England. Wings of Death and A Nightmare on Elm Street is a well matched pair, but the same cannot be said of many other programmes absent of aforethought. Short films were commonplace in British cinemas, appearing in the mid to late sixties as a cheap substitute for the B picture, gradually replacing it, and then disappearing in the mid eighties when cinemas ceased to exhibit a full supporting programme and the cash incentive for short filmmakers was pulled by the BFI. Today the short is all but forgotten with even some ardent cinemagoers of the seventies and eighties having scant recollection of them, as I was to discover courtesy my fellow Offbeat authors.
I decided I should at least try and speak with someone who had inside knowledge of short films, about how they were made and distributed. The end in this instance seemed the logical place to start.
Michael Coulson is one half of the filmmaking team behind Wings of Death. He wrote and directed it with Nichola Bruce, having worked together since meeting as students at Hornsey College of Art in the seventies, and establishing Muscle Films for the production of experimental art films. One of their earlier films, the five minute Clip (83), was screened at the ICA as support to Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (82). These early films were visual abstracts geared for television and festivals. Wings of Death on the other hand was envisaged as a mini feature, because, as Coulson puts it, “we wanted to get it seen.”
Michael Coulson: Wings of Death was produced by the BFI. Our producer Paul Webster was instrumental in getting it seen once it had been made. He was working with Palace Pictures at the time and knew they were going to be distributing this picture called A Nightmare on Elm Street. Palace became interested in Wings of Death and encouraged the BFI to let them distribute the film in the UK. Palace made thirty prints of the film at least, so that it went out with the feature Nightmare on Elm Street all over the UK. This was unusual. Normally, they wouldn’t put up the money to make that many prints.
The BFI was interested in us making a feature film, but they wanted to see what we would do with a short film first of all. As we had a reputation for being visual rather than narrative filmmakers, something like a horror movie seemed to be a good avenue for us to go down. We call Wings of Death a tragedy. The tragedy at the time was that it was easier for young kids to get heroin than get a job in the UK. So, the film was based loosely around the whole heroin thing that was going on, but we didn’t really want it to be a commercial against taking heroin. In the end, the BFI persuaded us to put in this opening sequence that made it more specific to heroin than we actually wanted it.
We were told to go off and write a script. So we did. It was originally going to have more of a William Burroughs influence to it but as we wrote the script we also created a series of large paintings and the film became more Gothic in style. We built sets based on our paintings and filmed exteriors in the then very derelict streets of East London. I don’t know if we were told what length it had to be. We had made a twenty minute short before, so maybe that’s where we were guided.
I’ve just discovered we’ve got about six to ten 35mm prints in our archive, which we didn’t know we had. Channel 4 had a remit to broadcast it, probably a certain number of times. I don’t know whether they will broadcast it again because it’ll probably mean they are going to have to pay for it. It was a big calling card for us showing it to people. In America they were very interested in it. Europe liked it a lot; the Italian festival audience really liked it. It won the first prize at the Cinema of the Fantastic in Sitges, Spain. So it got a lot of exposure at the time, and now unfortunately there’s no venue to see it so it’s disappeared.