It’s 5am and in the gray light of a cold September morning, a small group of people are standing waist-deep in the sea.
They drown a witch.
As the life leaves her body, one of the group pulls out a sword and beheads the woman. They then take the severed head and happily throw it away.
As time goes on, early morning joggers and dog walkers along the Reculver waterfront begin to stop and stare at the bizarre scene.
But all is not as it seems.
Luckily, the group is made up of actors and cameramen shooting a horror movie.
The Witches of the Sands is filming in locations in East Kent and is due out next year.
With a crowdfunding budget of under £20,000 and a cast and crew of volunteers, it doesn’t claim to be the next Scream or The Shining.
But its screenwriter and director, genre buff Tony Marden, is passionate about the project and hopes to bring it to Cannes.
“As a lifelong horror fan, I wrote The Sand Witches as a love letter to horror movie lovers everywhere,” he said.
The 49-year-old grandfather of three studied fine art at what is now Canterbury University of the Creative Arts, before training as a teacher and working in schools in Kent.
His foray into film began ten years ago, when he landed a small role in the horror film Gangsters, Guns & Zombies.
He enjoyed it so much that he took professional acting lessons and soon landed roles on shows such as EastEnders and The Tunnel.
The Sand Witches is his directorial debut and pays homage to British horror B movies of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
The project started when his friend, who was preparing an anthology of short horror films, asked Tony to direct one.
The anthology itself was later scrapped, but Tony decided to continue working on his film, which has since evolved and come a long way from its humble beginnings.
“It snowballed,” he said. “A lot more people came on board. It was as much of a shock to me as anyone else, to be honest.”
Tony started a crowdfunder which raised around £20,000, allowing him to hire professional special effects artists, who helped with prosthetics and bloody costumes.
Les Sorcières des Sables now features a cast of around 150 actors, including “15 or 16 well-known horror movie actors”.
It’s packed with all the classic horror movie villains – a vampire, zombies, a demon, ghosts – and some far more unusual ones.
There’s a femme-fatale, a film noir squid creature named Callie-Marie. There’s Glass Head Gus, who has shards of glass embedded in his face and at one point headbutts someone with predictably gruesome consequences.
Then there’s a cameo from Jacqueline The Ripper – Jack’s daughter – and even a “demon sandwich”.
“It was fun making them up,” says Tony.
“We thought it would be fun to incorporate as many as possible.
“The movie was called ‘Monty Python Meets Horror’. I think it’s a bit like that.
“Although the scenes are fresh, audiences will also find plenty of horror movie nostalgia in them.”
The “meta” plot follows director Fischer Markway – played by Tony – as he makes his own B-movie.
But as he begins to feel pressure both on set and at home, he gradually loses his grip on reality.
The Sand Witches switch between this narrative and scenes from the actual B-movie Fischer is filming.
“It’s very violent and very gory and a bit nasty,” Tony says. “But it’s very funny too.”
“It will be an 18,” he added.
It was filmed all over East Kent – at Reculver Towers near Herne Bay, Tankerton, Whitstable Harbour, the Playhouse Theater in Whitstable and a flat in Aylesham.
In March, filming is due to take place at a second-hand bookshop on the high street of Faversham.
Some American actors were also filmed on location in Los Angeles.
Tony, who lives just outside Whitstable, hopes to premiere the film at the Playhouse.
“Then we will submit it to festivals,” he said. “I would like to take her to Cannes if I can.
“I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s quite nerve-wracking. I think it’s quite personal to me. Since my debut, I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking.
“I’m very lucky to have a great team around me to help me technically so I can focus on delivering and getting my vision across.
“It was an incredible experience.
“It’s just great to meet all these amazing people.
“I would like to say thank you to everyone who gave their time and believed in the project.
“And a huge, huge thank you to everyone who donated.”
An actor’s experience
Among those starring in the film is Melissa Todd, occasional columnist for KentOnline’s sister newspaper, the Thanet Extra.
Speaking about the experience, she recalled: “I found myself in Aylesham, surrounded by the weirdest strangers, covered in fake blood, laughing hysterically, sharp pieces of wood stuck to my navy and cleavage.”
She described a set featuring “oozing skulls, lampshades made from human faces and severed hands, all done by the fabulous special effects superstar Tracey Jane”.
“We spent the first two hours cutting and shaping different colored filters for the lights, in an effort to give the film the eerie blue and red glow beloved of splatter films, before setting up the chamber for my big stage,” she said.
“It was a small apartment, with six people in it, six lights, a camera strapped to a frustrated cameraman, and lots of chocolate. The actors are running for sugar.
“I perched on the corner of the sofa, watching a pet tarantula frolic around its tank, trying to act like it was my usual Sunday.
“‘I used to have 97 tarantulas,’ says Mike, whose apartment this was. ‘But it was too much work. So I sold the rest. One tarantula is enough.’
“I really wanted to know why he clung to this particular fluffy beast, which he named Neytiri – but unfortunately at that very moment my name was called. I was on set!
“I played a good time girl in a shimmery dress who gets picked up by two guys and finds that their idea of a good time doesn’t quite match hers.
“The resulting misunderstanding caused me to scream, then stand still, while [special effects artist] Tracey Jane took care of the fake blood and silicone.
“It was awesome. I especially liked the screams.
“Life in general should involve more screaming.
“I was careful to tiptoe to the bathroom after filming and not leave any bloody footprints or fingerprints anywhere. I almost made it.”