Thursday, 22 September 2011

Youtube Film Club:
Shaitani Dracula

A couple of years back, Keith Allison of Teleport City posted a review of an absolutely astounding discovery: ‘Shaitani Dracula’, directed by one Harinam Singh.

It’s a great review and a good example of why Keith is one of my favourite film writers - you should read it. Maybe you shouldn’t read it quite yet though – I guess I can’t help but feel that the justifiable hyperbole the review layers upon this singular cultural artefact might spoil the surprise that lies in store for the innocent viewer.

For yes, viewers we shall be. After a conversation with my brother last week in which the subject of insane third world horror movies was broached, we exchanged a bunch of youtube links that led me toward the discovery that, somewhat inevitably, some maniac has uploaded ‘Shaitani Dracula’.

What can I say – everything the Teleport City review claimed of it is true. I could drivel on at length about my picks for the most crazed/note-worthy/hilarious aspects of this… well, I hesitate to call it a ‘movie’ as such… but I’d basically just be treading ground already covered in Keith’s review.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the process whereby weird/’bad’ films can reach a certain critical mass of disjointed abnormality, a point at which they cease to be subject to kind of expectations and judgements we usually apply to narrative cinema, and in fact cease to really function as ‘films’ at all, instead taking on a new life as… something else - some nameless and fascinating form of outsider art that happens when strange people and movie cameras collide?

We may laugh when we see these ‘films’ – often we will laugh uproariously, laugh until we’re blue in the face – but it would be wrong to assume that we are laughing AT them. As someone (Nietzsche I believe, although I’m damned if I can find the quote online, so maybe it was someone else) once observed, laughter exists to fill the space left by an emotion that has died. Thus we laugh simply because we don’t know how else to react to the impossible reality of these things, the fact that not only did human beings create them, they actually placed them before us as prospective entertainments.

‘Troll 2’ is a good example of one of these un-films, ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’ is another. ‘Roller Blade’ and its sequels, for sure. ‘Awakening of the Beast’. ‘Zombie Lake’ is borderline. I’d make the case for ‘Astro-Zombies’, though some might argue it’s a bit too self-conscious. ‘Future Hunters’ (another Teleport City discovery)! ‘Tales from the Quadead Zone’ anyone..?

Well you get the idea. So let’s just say that ‘Shaitani Dracula’, if not necessarily the most rewarding, is certainly the most extreme example of this kind of un-cinema I’ve ever seen. Either the absolute bottom of the barrel, or the shining peak of the mountain, depending on which way you look at it.

On a more prosaic level, it blows my mind that apparently ‘Shaitani Dracula’ was made in 2006. I dunno – 1986 or 1996 I could have handled, but 2006!? It just seems astounding that this level of naivety could still exist. Not that I’m suggesting that some quantum leap in cultural sophistication has taken place in the past fifteen year or anything, far from it, but, y’know…. we had the internet in 2006. Ok, so maybe people in rural India didn’t ‘have the internet’ as such, but Harinam Singh is evidently the owner of a few shiny 4x4 vehicles, and a movie camera, and whatever kind of resources it takes to get a seemingly endless number of attractive girls to hang out in the woods with him in revealing outfits – I’m sure he could have sorted himself out with a net connection. I’m sure he could have, I dunno… watched some films? Maybe read some Wiki pages on the basics of cinema? Perhaps he could have found a guidebook explaining how to set up his camera properly? But no – apparently he’s a busy man. Instead he just went for it. ‘Shaitani Dracula’ is the result.

So, the time has come. Let’s meet up on the other side, and we can talk about it.

Oh, and look out for the bit with the ducks.

Good luck!

(Purely by coincidence, whilst I was preparing this post earlier this week, I discovered that Todd Stadtman of the Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! blog posted a podcast in which he and an esteemed colleague discuss ‘Shaitani Dracula’ at length, alongside the similarly brain-breaking Thai film ‘King-ka Kayasit’ aka ‘Magic Lizard’. It’s a really entertaining and informative listen, throwing in a lot of background info on Harinam Singh, and the kind of culture that led to the creation of this extraordinary film, along with many additional chuckles.)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Recent Paperback Acquisitions # 2:
Psychedelic Sci-Fi.

(Ballantine / collection originally published 1948, this edition undated.)

(Panther, 1970 / Cover by the great Enzo Ragazzini.)

(Sphere, 1970)

(Mayflower, 1970)

(Lancer, 1967)

(Quartet, 1973)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

London Frightfest 2011, Part # 3.

Midnight Son
(Scott Leberecht, 2011)

The only flick I managed to catch this year on Frightfest’s smaller ‘discovery’ screen, the unsatisfactorily titled ‘Midnight Son’ wasn’t one I picked out specially or anything – it just happened to be on when I had a film-length hole in my schedule, and I’d already paid for a day pass, so hell, why not. I’m glad I made the effort, because it was pretty good.

Shot on HD Video on what was presumably a non-existent budget, the festival blurb for ‘Midnight Son’ describes it as following in the footsteps of Romero’s ‘Martin’, but really I think it’s closer to a West Coast equivalent of Abel Ferrara’s ‘The Addiction’. Guess that wouldn’t pull the punters in quite so well though.

Anyway, ‘Midnight Son’ invites us into the life of a poor young chap who works the night shift as a security guard in a corporate office building. Seems he has a bit of a skin condition that prevents him from going out in the sun much, and in his spare time he likes to sit in his dingy basement flat painting pictures of sunsets. Understandably feeling a bit washed out, he pursues the kind of remedy that macho doctors in the ‘50s probably used to prescribe to young men with mysterious ailments: vigorously eating a blood red steak and spending the evening chatting to a girl he met selling cigarettes and candy outside a nightclub. This dose of protein and human companionship seems to perk him up no end, but as the working week goes on, the familiar fug descends again, and his discovery that blood works better than coffee as a pick-me-up leads him inevitably toward some rather more unsavoury habits.

So far, so familiar, but the film’s tone of smart, low-key realism goes a long way toward side-stepping the clichés that usually accompany this kind of story, stringing us along effectively enough to make the character’s gradual realisation of his vampiric nature seems both interesting and surprising, as much as we knew it was coming. The awkward quasi-relationship he develops with the similarly troubled young woman is very well played – a combination of her matter-of-fact drug problems and his matter-of-fact vampire problems amusingly conspiring to prevent them ever managing to have a nice evening together.

Although not exactly big on jollity to begin with (thinking about it, this is actually the only film I saw at Frightfest that didn’t have a significant amount of humour running through it), the film takea a darker turn when our man finds himself hanging around by the contaminated waste bins behind a hospital, forging a dubious alliance with a wannabe-gangster porter that eventually leads the story into the realms of a full-blooded (sorry) vampire/crime epic. Here, the video shooting actually works in the film’s favour, allowing for the creation of a believably cold and threatening nocturnal Hollywood underworld, very much reminiscent of the street scenes in Lynch’s ‘Inland Empire’, and thankfully entirely devoid of the kind of dated goth/industrial hoo-hah that usually blights movies like this.

The mumbling indie relationship stuff manages to merge convincingly with the final-third shift into brutal noir crime story stuff, and if ‘Midnight Son’ does have a few of the drawbacks and unintentionally goofy moments that go hand in hand with such DIY, zero budget productions, they’re not worth bothering to go into here. By and large, I thought it was a very impressive piece of work, standing way, way, waaaay above the baseline for SOV horror. If you can stomach a heavy quotient of ‘grainy close-ups of pale, miserable people breathing heavily’ type stuff and aren’t sick to the back teeth of the kind of story that the DVD back cover blurb would probably describe as a ‘gritty urban vampire fable’, this one is well worth making time for.

Oh yeah, and another cool thing about this film – Tracey Walter, Miller from ‘Repo Man’, is in it! Yeah, y’know – “plate of shrimp”, “John Wayne was a fag”, “’ll see” – that guy. Always good to see him getting work, even if it is presumably unpaid in a micro-budget horror film. [Clarification: after checking IMDB, Mr. Walter is clearly not short of work – dude’s been in everything; wow, I had no idea.]

The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry
(Ángel Agudo, 2010)

Speaking of dudes who get a lot of work done for precious little recognition, it was depressing to see such a small turn-out for the screening of this documentary about the man Michael Weldon wryly described as ‘Spain’s most popular werewolf actor’, the one and only Paul Naschy.

Despite being presented as a tie-in with the Scala Forever season, only about half a dozen lonesome guys and a couple of couples made it into the auditorium to catch this one, perhaps reflecting the sketchy distribution and mangled presentation of Naschy’s films in the English speaking world. Although most of them are barely available at all in legitimate form, in the past year or so I’ve managed to scrape together a fair selection of the many, many horror films Naschy wrote and starred in during the ‘70s, and from what I’ve seen so far, you can count me a fan.

Whether at a career high watermark with 1971’s Leon Kilmovsky directed ‘La Noche de Walpurgis’ (aka ‘Werewolf Shadow’ aka ‘The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman’) or wallowing in a mass of straight to video shlock through the ‘80s and ‘90s, it seems like Naschy was one cat who was ALWAYS on form, his name guaranteeing a certain mixture of good-natured monster bashing, gleefully amateurish gore, brain-melting un-scripting and unhinged atmospheric weirdness that never gets old… assuming you’re the sort of misfit who enjoys it in the first place. Personally, I think it’s wonderful stuff – I’ll have to get around to doing some reviews at some point.

As a documentary, ‘The Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry’ isn’t exactly up to much – basically an extended DVD extra, it doesn’t have a lot to offer beyond an uncritical synopsis of the man’s life and career, interspersed with clips from his movies and talking head interviewees talking about what a great guy he was. But Naschy (real name Jacinto Molina) makes for a fascinating subject, and I don’t see anyone else queuing up to make documentaries about him, so I guess this one wins by default.

Beginning on an interesting note, it tells us all about Molina’s traumatic upbringing during the Spanish Civil War, and his subsequent education in a Nazi-centric ‘German school’ (a clip from one of his ‘80s movies that shows his character violently tearing up pictures of Hitler, Franco etc, cursing their evil legacies, seeks to leave us with little doubt as to what young lad’s feelings on all this were), before we follow him through his initial career as a boxer and bodybuilder. Subsequently working as a gopher in the nascent Spanish film industry as domestic productions began to get off the ground in the ‘50s, Molina initially saw himself breaking into pictures as an art director, and wrote his first werewolf script just in order to have something fun and fantastical that he could hopefully persuade some international backers to let him work on. Legend has it that it was only at a last minute production meeting after their proposed star dropped out that Molina was reluctantly (it says here) persuaded to take on the role of the wolfman himself. Needless to say, the barrel-chested human dynamo took to this assignment with such gusto that his performance helped make 1968’s ‘Las Noches del Hombre Lobo’ (released in the US as ‘Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror’, despite a palpable lack of Frankenstein) into a big hit, and, well – the rest is history, of a sort.

In between the endless personal tributes, generalised hagiography and overbearing music cues, the thing that comes across most strongly in this documentary is a sense of Naschy/Molina’s extraordinary work ethic and unwavering dedication to his own strange corner of cinema. From his initial breakthrough in the late ‘60s through to his death in 2009, it seems that barely a day went by when this man wasn’t busting his ass trying to make some weird movie or other a reality, ploughing on through financial collapse, personal tragedy, government censorship, health problems, disappearing distribution networks and public disinterest to keep his various projects rolling, taking in a long series of Japanese co-productions, an unexpected left turn into oddball thrillers and controversial ‘issue’ movies, and a late career revival aided by American trash-mongers like Brian Yuzna and Fred Olen Ray.

In the final analysis, Naschy has a neat 100 films to his name as an actor on IMDB, 43 of which he wrote, directed or otherwise co-produced. Such a body of work is quite an achievement in itself, and the consistency of vision he seems to have maintained across the decades is remarkable. Of course, a lot of people would argue that such consistency simply means his films were consistently crappy, but who cares what they think? Have they ever made a movie in which a werewolf fights a yeti, or one where the disembodied head of Torquemada freaks people out in nocturnal visions, or where a secretly devil worshipping Indian guru fights zombies with a broadsword in a London cemetery? I think not. The level of basic craftsmanship and goofy invention in Naschy films is always a delight, and say what you like about them, they’re great pieces of demented, gut-level entertainment that are rarely dull, even when they’re almost completely incoherent.

If such eccentric figures as Jose Marins and Jess Franco can become international cult movie heroes then I think Paul Naschy is long overdue his day in the sun, and it would be the greatest gift a horror fan could ask for if some DVD company or other could finally set about reconstructing some nicely transferred, uncut versions of his films before the financial viability of DVD releasing goes down the plughole, leaving us to make do forever with the fuzzed up public domain atrocities currently on the market. If you’re listening out there Anchor Bay or Arrow or whoever, I’ve got money in my pocket and a Paul Naschy Box Set sized gap on my shelves. Make it happen.


Following the Naschy documentary, my plan had been to hang on to catch the 11:30 screening of the fun sounding flick ‘Detention’, but to be honest, I was pretty worn out by this point – I had a splitting headache, and there was still an hour to go before that then, and I just couldn’t face the idea of killing yet more time hanging around the multiplex lobby drinking overpriced, metallic beer or aimlessly wondering the streets before fighting my way home on the nightbuses after the movie finished at 1am-ish, so… I’m sorry readers: I went home instead.

I know, what a wuss. As I sit here sneakily writing this on a rainy afternoon in work, I would absolutely love to be hanging out with a crowd of boozed up horror fans, watching some rip-roaring alien/zombie/high school movie, but on the night it just wasn’t gonna happen.

That aside though, another year of fine and varied programming from this festival, with even a lot of the films on the big screen serving to challenge the mainstream clichés of modern horror, and filling me with a lot more optimism for current genre cinema than I’ve felt for some time, I guess. Good stuff – looking forward to next year, etc.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

London Frightfest 2011, Part # 2.

The Innkeepers
(Ti West, 2011)

Ti West’s ‘House of the Devil’ very much impressed me as a semi-abstract, post-modern horror movie, and if this follow-up is ultimately a less distinctive piece of work, one can hardly blame the director for striking out in a slightly more commercial direction, foregrounding characterisation, humour and reassuring ‘boo!’ moments over weird, minimal dread.

Strong ‘Shining’ vibes are in evidence from the outset here, as the credits roll over a series of faded photographs of a town centre hotel in its historical heyday, leading gradually up to the present day, where we join the establishment's last few minimum wage staff members, sitting out a marathon weekend shift before the place finally closes down for good.

Like ‘House..’, ‘Innkeepers’ goes for the looong slowburn before any horror stuff gets going, and your overall enjoyment of the picture will likely hinge on your tolerance for the bitchy, Clerks-esque chemistry between the two leads - directionless teen Claire (Sara Paxton) and slightly older college dropout Luke (Pat Healy). Personally I very much enjoyed their shenanigans – I thought both performances were very good, and that the script built them up nicely as strong and individually motivated characters whilst keeping things just on the right side of whiny. Individual tastes may vary however – if you don’t have much sympathy for these kinda flawed, slacker-ish characters and their assorted bellyaching, you could be in for a tough ride.

Anyway, Claire and Luke are rather half-heartedly trying to investigate paranormal phenomena in the hotel, running a Geocities-style website full of hilariously unconvincing videos of doors slamming and ‘unexplained bathroom incidents’, and stalking the corridors at night with a tape recorder, in search of ‘EVP recordings’.* As you might assume, this investigation provides the hook that leads us straight into a wholly traditional haunted house narrative.

Aside from the aforementioned nod to ‘The Shining’, the big reference point here is, inevitably, Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting’, from which ‘The Innkeepers’ inherits its emphasis on strong characters, its pattern of slow-building set-piece scares and its atmosphere of gradually escalating hysteria. Indeed, the only other real character in the movie, a TV actress turned new age healer played by Kelly McGillis, seems very much like an older, more washed out version of Theo the psychic from Wise’s movie.

Such similarities can hardly be seen as derivative though, or even deliberate. Wise’s film casts such a definitive shadow over the haunted house sub-genre that all these elements are pretty much mandatory. In fact, ‘The Innkeepers’ is notable for the extent to which West seems to pull back from the haze of referential imagery and horror-fan nostalgia he perfected in ‘House of the Devil’, instead inviting us to see his film as a free-standing, wholly contemporary effort. And this, sadly, is where it falls short.

Like both ‘House of the Devil’ and ‘The Haunting’, ‘Innkeepers’ is extremely well-constructed, and will scare the pants off you exactly as it sets out to – seeing it in the cinema, I won’t deny that I was watching a lot of the later scenes through gaps in my fingers. Unlike ‘The Haunting’ though, the film crucially fails to really tie any psychological depth or emotional resonance into its scares – an absolute necessity for any decent ghost story. The scariness here, though undoubtedly effective, is of an entirely manipulative variety, utilising the kind of purely physical ‘shock’ effects that serve to turn a horror film into little more than a rollercoaster ride. And I don’t know about you, but I hate rollercoasters.

There is nothing genuinely disturbing in ‘The Innkeepers’, nothing that’s going to lurk in your mind in the dark hours of the night, nothing that instigates any particular catharsis, for either ourselves or the characters. Whilst it’s in progress, yes, you’ll jump outta your skin, and feel uncomfortable, and beg the characters not to go down to that bloody basement again, and so on. But when it’s over, it’s over.

Basically Ti West seems to have no interest at all in developing the narrative beyond the bare bones of a generic haunted house story, and in fact he fails to even comply with the basic expectations of the sub-genre by giving us a big reveal regarding the nature of the evil that lurks in the hotel. Some may defend that as a deliberate ambiguity, but given the lack of any particularly striking details to hook our imaginations to it just seems like a lack of interest to me, making the film a strangely hollow experience. Sure there are a few vague intimations of dark and twisted going on, but just as the Satanic cult in ‘House of the Devil’ seemed rather perfunctory when they finally turned up, the supernatural aspect of the storyline here never really extends beyond “there are some ghosts”.

It’s interesting that with both this film and ‘House..’, West seems to be building a reputation for making horror films in which all the best stuff happens before the horror starts. And in a way, I think that’s kinda applaudable – a nice reversal of the priorities of some of his more gore/shock-obsessed peers, anyway. Despite some significant drawbacks, ‘The Innkeepers’ is still well worth a watch for anyone who fancies a nice old fashioned spook movie with a bit of character to it. The humans in the film certainly pull their weight and will give you a few rewarding memories, even if the ghosts don’t.

*When that phrase was mentioned, the pedant in me immediately wanted to scream that, no, the term ‘EVP’ is traditionally used to describe mysterious voices turning up on dead radio frequencies and blank recording media – if you’re wondering around with a microphone capturing external noises then they’re just, y’know… regular recordings. Before I write an angry letter though, I’ll charitably assume this was a deliberate error thrown in demonstrate the general half-arsedness of our investigative duo, rather than a scripting mishap.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

London Frightfest 2011, Part # 1.

Armed with a one day wristband and a couple of additional screening tickets, I made my second annual visit to the appropriately hellish environs of The Empire in Leicester Square last weekend to check out a few of the more exciting offerings at this year’s London Frightfest. Although I was only present for a fraction of the full four day programme, I still managed to clock up nearly twelve straight hours spent in and around a multiplex in the centre of London’s foremost tourist trap hellhole, and I’m telling you readers, it hurt. But along with my hard-earned status as a guy who wastes time writing about weird movies on the internet comes a certain responsibility, and if at least once a year I can make the effort to keep myself- and by extension, yourselves – up to date on developments in the field of movies about people running around in the dark being murdered in horrible ways… well the discomfort is all worthwhile.

Here is what I saw with my eyes.

Troll Hunter
(André Øvredal, 2010)

I know this is the same crack I made at the start of last year’s festival write-up, but the fact remains: when you find yourself setting your alarm on Friday night to ensure you get up in plenty of time to make the 11am showing of a movie called ‘Troll Hunter’, something is going very right in your life.

Most likely you’ve heard a thing or so about this singular Norwegian production by now, given the (justifiable) hype that has grown up around it in the past few months, but in case you haven’t, here’s a quick synopsis:

‘Troll Hunter’ takes the form of a Blair Witch-style ‘found footage’ effort, following a trio of youngsters who are attempting to make a documentary investigating illegal bear hunting in rural Norway. Latching onto an eccentric and unfriendly man they believe to be a poacher, they begin following him around, eventually trailing him on a nocturnal excursion deep into the woods where, well… let’s just say they get more than they bargained for. Pissed off with his working conditions and the attitude of his superiors, the man subsequently admits to the filmmakers that he is actually a government employee, working for a covert Troll Security Service within the Department of Wildlife, and invites them to film him as he goes about his business, keeping the country’s troll population under control.

Beyond that, there is little that can be said about ‘Troll Hunter’ that wouldn’t spoil the numerous surprises and delights that first time viewers have in store for them, but suffice to say: on every level, this is a really great film.

There is something so awesome about the way that, rather than reinventing the trolls as some kind of scary, fast-moving modern horror type beasties, the creatures here basically still look like old fashioned storybook trolls, complete with knobbly noses and hairy kneecaps and all the rest of it. The special effects through which the monsters are realised are pretty incredible too – I don’t know how they did them exactly, but, speaking as someone who probably watches more than his fair share of monster movies, I thought it was remarkable the way that instead of thinking ‘oh right, they’ve got a guy in a suit’, or, ‘oh yeah, that’s some CGI’ when a troll lumbers on screen, the audience basically shares the astonishment of the characters in thinking, ‘fuck me, that really IS a troll’.

The trolls are rendered frightening simply through their size and physical presence, and the scenes in which they attack our protagonists are pretty intense, especially with the booming THX-whatever sound mix in the cinema. Rather than a conventional scare-the-pants-off-ya horror film though, ‘Troll Hunter’ is really more… I dunno - a comedic study in absurdist wildlife management, maybe?

With a blend of dry wit, weird low-key satire and constant visual invention, and a small cast who manage to establish themselves slowly and naturally without compromising the ‘found footage’ conceit (which remains eerily convincing throughout), it’s basically just very, very funny. By turns, it is also exciting, thought-provoking, humane and strangely melancholy and somewhat awe-inspiring - a really unique movie and one that I’m sure will find a healthy audience well beyond the niche horror fraternity.

If you only see one new film at the cinema this year… etc.

The Wicker Tree
(Robin Hardy, 2011)

I wish the same could be said of Robin Hardy’s 40-years-later sequel to ‘The Wicker Man’, but let’s face it… this was always going to be a bit of a car crash, wasn’t it? Taking the view that a pessimist is never disappointed, I went in not expecting much beyond a bit of a chuckle and some incidental weirdness, but sadly the film failed to even deliver on that modest level. ‘Wicker Tree’ is a meandering mess of a production that never really manages to get an angle on its own ideas and ambitions, or even to provide much in the way of entertainment.

Trying to run down everything the film got wrong in the process of updating and rethinking the premise of the original would be both needlessly cruel and extremely tedious, so I’ll try to restrict myself to just discussing some of its most chronic missteps.

Most crucial to the film’s overall failure I think is the way it bungles the attempt to replicate the unsettling clash of ideologies that was so vital to its predecessor’s success. In ‘The Wicker Man’, the reactionary clichés of horror storytelling are challenged from the outset as the pagan islanders’ way of life is presented as being essentially healthy, joyous and rather enticing, as opposed to the repressive, self-denying angst of Sgt Howie’s Christianity. It is only with the gradual realisation that the islanders practice human sacrifice to appease their strange gods that we too become shocked at their amoral behaviour, forcing our sympathies back toward the safer boundaries of Howie’s more puritanical worldview. It is this basic ambiguity, this questioning of easy dualistic thinking, that gives the film much of its enduring power and beauty.

No such subtleties are at play in ‘The Wicker Tree’ however, as the cultists orchestrated by Scottish borders landowner Graham McTavish fail to really rise above the level of weird, misguided villains, no more convincingly motivated in their beliefs or practices than the aristocratic devil-worshippers in the cheesy gothic horrors that the original film’s script set out to transcend. Similarly, the young Texas evangelists who are lured across the Atlantic to provide the cult’s annual sacrifice are little more than brain-washed dimwits – a liberal British director’s cardboard cut-out idea of right wing American culture, with none of the heartfelt intensity that made Edward Woodward’s character such a convincing central presence.

In spite of Hardy’s warning in his pre-screening intro that we “shouldn’t expect a conventional horror movie”, the failures of his script sadly reduce the narrative here to the level of the most banal modern horror, in which pointlessly evil baddies menace obnoxiously shallow ‘goodies’, with the end result that we basically don’t give a shit what happens to any of them, let alone the finer points of their respective belief systems.

Things aren’t exactly helped by poor performances across the board, and some of the most excruciatingly clumsy dialogue I’ve heard in a real world-set film for some time. The more experienced actors in the cast do their best to soldier on and keep things low-key, but hearing the young leads make a meal out of their soap opera level proclamations is absolutely cringeworthy (if I remember correctly, the male lead at one point announces “I’m just a poor, dumb cowboy, a long way from home”).

Perhaps conscious of such drawbacks, the first two thirds of the movie are basically played for laughs, throwing in a bunch of dated nudge-wink humour and ill-advised slapstick silliness that seeks to pre-empt criticism by blurring the line between intentional and unintentional laughs, although frankly neither raises much more than frequent eye-rolling and the occasional snigger of disbelief.

In fact, the more I think about it, it’s definitely the writing that puts the kibosh on this whole venture. The technical aspects of Hardy’s direction are pretty decent for a man who’s only made two films in four decades, and the cinematography, which utilises a kinda high gloss contemporary sheen, is actually very good, providing some atmospheric moments that successfully capture the eerie incongruity of an ancient country estate living on into the 21st century.

Better writing might have inspired better acting, which in turn might have allowed the film to capitalise on at least some of its potential. But with Hardy’s screenplay essentially little more than a load of rambling nonsense devoid of drama or insight, so clearly lacking in the kind of vision that Anthony Shaffer’s script or David Pinner’s source novel brought to the original, it’s hard not to cry ‘abandon movie’ and head for the lifeboats long before the toothless conclusion hoves into view. The final straw for me was when it starts desperately throwing in supposedly audience-pleasing tropes from post-Chainsaw Massacre modern horror, but then fails to actually go the distance and give us any real gore or nastiness, and…

Aah, forget about it, who cares. I think this particular post-mortem has gone on long enough.

Hopefully in a couple of years memories of this one will have faded away, and we’ll be able to remember Robin Hardy as a man who at least made one really great film with the word ‘wicker’ in the title.