Sunday 27 September 2020

Rising Tide

d./p. Dawn Furness, Philip Shotton; w. Dawn Furness; cast: Ileana Cardy, Anna Greenwood, Leif Halverson, Lewis Jobson, Joe MacCabe, Harriet Perkins, Casey Railton, Isolde Roxby, Jodee Temple, Jack Traynor, Peter Furey

Unavailable for some time now, this is a smart little film with a pleasingly ambiguous narrative. To celebrate their A-level results, ten Geordie friends head for a music festival, get booted off the coach for rowdiness, walk to the coast and end up trapped on a causeway-accessible island. They tell spooky stories around a campfire but, in commendable defiance of tradition, don’t get drunk or high. In the morning, two are missing and others vanish one by one, while a tall, dark-clad figure is occasionally glimpsed. The key, somehow, is ‘new girl’ gothette Izzy. A final act flashback montage of violent deaths and slashed tents contradicts the silent, mysterious disappearances, suggesting the whole thing might be in Izzy’s head. Well shot and edited, with atmospheric music by, among others, top folkie Kathryn Tickell. Shot in 2011, this had a couple of local screenings and was briefly available on the now defunct Vodo website. Music video director Shotton allegedly coined the term ‘Madchester’!

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Conjuring: (The) Book of the Dead

d./w./p. Richard Driscoll; cast: ‘Steven Craine’, Bai Ling, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Lysette Anthony, Sylvester McCoy

Unsure of its own title, this latest Driscoll film is (mostly) the one he shot in 2006 as The Raven Part 2 which he has been trying to edit together ever since. Over the years variously aka The Devil’s Disciple, Back2Hell, When the Devil Rides Out and even Blade Hunter, it’s a prequel to EvilCalls, in which author George Carney comes up with the main story of that film. Hence stock footage of Eileen Daly (credited top and tail), Jason Donovan (in end credits only) and Norman Wisdom (uncredited). The Ask, who assures me he got paid, actually pops up in two very brief new scenes as Carney’s cuckolding bother.

Carney is a pulp writer whose New York editor Martha (Anthony) has bought a collection of original HP Lovecraft manuscripts which includes the ‘Necromonicon’ (sic) which is, of course, actually the secret diary of Aleister Crowley aged 36½. Martha sends Carney to New Orleans to get the diary authenticated by bisexual femme fatale tattooist Zilia (Ling, who flashes her tiny tits at the drop of a hat). This will somehow enable him to adapt it into a graphic novel because that’s what sells (as evidenced by a news report on a superhero named the Praying Mantis). It all turns out to be a plot to ritually sacrifice Carney and thereby resurrect the Great Beast himself.

Everybody is involved in this conspiracy, of course, including auctioneer Dudley Sutton (died 2018), university academic Vass Anderson (died 2015), vintage bookseller Sylvester McCoy, Madsen and Sizemore (who are both some sort of underworld contacts, I think), Zilia, Martha, The Ask and an unnamed comic book artist who seems to be Carney’s flatmate (the credits don’t identify individual characters, but this doesn’t seem to be any of the credited male cast). RADA graduate Clive Shilson (died 2012) appears momentarily as a strip club patron. The original 2006 shoot definitely included Kenny Baker (died 2016) and allegedly included Tom Savini, but neither is evident here.

Despite the rambling, nonsensical, contradictory plot – and the fact that almost all the American characters have British accents – this is actually one of The Drisc’s more coherent narratives; certainly much more so than the random WTF-ery of Assassin’s Revenge. The ending is sudden and inexplicable but there is a plot of sorts. Nominally it is “based on the MR James novel Casting the Runes” (which isn’t a novel…) and there are a couple of references to a slip of paper with symbols on it which Carney finds inside the diary, but that is swiftly forgotten. Nevertheless, the additional footage shot in Cornwall in 2017, including a scene in the Boscastle Witchcraft Museum, was filmed under the title Curse of the Demon.

This has finally seen the light of day thanks to American executive producers Maria Norman and Galen Walker of B-movie/space documentary distributor Monarch Films. A trailer was released in October 2018 and it finally turned up on both British and American Amazon Prime this month.

All the above notwithstanding, the film’s highlights include Sutton’s HP Lovecraft infodump speech, partly cut and pasted from a horror wiki, which specifies his dates of birth and death and then adds a new line that gets his age-at-death wrong; a time-lapse shot of the Moon crossing the New Orleans sky with a real-time rain effect over it; and the traditional misspellings which include actress Gabz Barker (on the front desk of the museum) as ‘Gabz Baker’ and British horror regular art director Melanie Light (here an ‘Art Dept Assistant’) as ‘Melaine Light’. Some things never change.