Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Evil Calls - world's longest film review (pt.4)

See also Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Here’s an idea which has occurred to me as I write this review. Perhaps Evil Calls is the collision of two separate Richard Driscoll projects. Remember that he announced The Raven before filming Alone in the Dark and then, quite some time later, said that they were the same thing (or rather, that Alone in the Dark was the first film in The Raven Trilogy). The synopsis of The Raven 2: The Devil’s Disciple which is on the House of Fear site suggests that it is actually a film about George Carney. Furthermore it involves him meeting Alister (sic) Crowley which could place the action no later than the 1940s. This is plainly before the George Carney in Evil Calls was even born. It would mean that the events of ‘two years ago’ referred to in this film actually happened more than sixty years ago, which would at least make the hotel décor appropriate but which could, once again, only be explained by placing the entire story in a dimension without the expected rules of time and space. So that sixty years in the woods was actually two years in New York. That would make the ‘George Carney’ and ‘Victoria Jordan’ seen at the end… nope, still doesn’t work. They would have to be the original George Carney’s grandchildren, in which case they wouldn’t have known (and hated) their (great) uncle Vincent.

Unless they are the ghosts of the two children. Ghosts who have aged about thirty years since they died sixty years ago. Would that work? Am I getting close?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that Richard Driscoll shot a film about George Carney, then shot a film about the Internetters, then finally decided to combine the two by putting all the scenes from the former into a jumpy, scratchy, sepia-tinted form and calling them flashbacks and fantasy sequences. A few weeks’ filming in late 2007, early 2008 to get the extra shots needed for this to make sense (for some value of sense) and Bob’s your uncle. But then again, if the Carney stuff was originally going to be The Raven then why would Rik Mayall, who only appears in NSSF sequences with Driscoll, call the film Alone in the Dark in his interview segment?

I’m trying here, I really am, to find some way of making all the pieces fit. There must be some explanation, something I have missed which explains why the journey from the Winnebago to the cabin varies from two days to no more than an hour or so; why a man who bought a hotel was haunted by the hotel manager’s ghost (and his father!) while staying with his family in a log cabin in the middle of the woods; how images from throughout the woods (and within a tent) are broadcast over the web; why everyone gets killed at the end. There must be some rationale here which correlates the four things we are told about Harrow Woods at various points in the film: that it’s haunted, that it’s cursed, that it was the scene of many murders over the years and that George Carney’s family disappeared without trace. Is the story of the Carney family one of blood and gore (as we are told) or is it a complete mystery what happened (as we are also told)? It seems like Driscoll couldn’t decide whether to make the horror in this film psychological, supernatural or gory and decided to try for all three, sticking them in a blender but forgetting to put the lid on before pressing the big button.

I don’t know how else I can put it: this film Makes No Sense. None at all. It’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma and then liberally coated with nonsense and served with a side order of what the fuck? And yet, and yet, presumably Richard Driscoll himself thinks it’s a good film. He put his own money into it (or at least, there are no executive producers credited - where Driscoll gets his money from is one of the great mysteries unless there’s some extraordinary profit to be had in llama farming that the rest of us haven’t cottoned onto yet). The film was advertised in national mags; I don’t know what deal was struck with GoreZone (who promoted the film heavily) but I do know that the inside back cover of SFX doesn’t come cheap. Quite what the financial arrangements were between House of Fear and the publicity company which co-ordinated this advertising is not something I can comment on although I am given to understand that there was a parting of the ways shortly afterwards. The point is that House of Fear doesn’t have any visible backers, investors or partnerships. While Driscoll undoubtedly saved a couple of grand by not bothering with the legal requirement of a BBFC certificate before making this DVD available for sale, nevertheless a lot of money has gone into the production, promotion and distribution of this film. Well, not a lot of money. Not as much money as a proper studio film but certainly more than a film of this sort would normally warrant.

But then the whole business side of things here is screwy. An indie film like this would normally acquire a sales agent, play a few small festivals and then be flogged off to various DVD labels and cable channels around the world at the AFM, Mifed and Cannes. That’s how the indie film business works. Driscoll failed to sell Alone in the Dark for six years and eventually released it himself on his own label, after a couple of screenings in London and Cornwall for cast, crew and competition winners (who were led to believe that the somewhat reclusive Rik Mayall would be in attendance but were ultimately rewarded only with a glimpse of Sylvester Stallone at the premiere of Rambo round the corner in Leicester Square). Did Driscoll ever try to get a sales agent interested? Was this film ever offered for sale? I know that Driscoll was at Mifed in 2001 because he had a bunch of full-page ads in the brochure (for Blade Hunter, Toy Monsters and the still-in-development Harry and the Wizard). Did he spend six years trying to sell Alone in the Dark (and The Devil’s Disciple which, let us not forget, has also been on the shelf for a couple of years now)? Was he unable to sell the films because they’re so rubbish or was he asking too high a price? I ask because, you know, some pretty rubbish films get traded at the three big film markets. Unbelievably poor crap gets bought and sold, just not for very much.

It is wonderfully appropriate that the business/financial side of Evil Calls makes just as little sense as the narrative/artistic side. How and why this film got made and - well, not so much released as allowed to escape - is, to put it bluntly, Fucking Incomprehensible.

One thing that intrigues me is precisely which bits of this were filmed in the December 2007, January 2008 shoot, which is credited as ‘2nd Unit’ on screen. The only definitive information I have comes from the MySpace page of Jaeson Finn who also worked on Doomsday and inferior CBeebies Balamory clone Me Too!. Finn is credited on Evil Calls as second unit art director/concept artist and he gets annoyed when I mention him on my site (a clue, dude: if you don’t want people to discuss your work, don’t write a public blog). He mentions shooting Vass Anderson’s inexplicable scene, the demon/mutant baby thing, Karl’s death scene with the hook and the Celtic cross, Rachel’s head blasted to pieces and the insert of steam escaping from a radiator during the initial ‘seance’. He solves another mystery by revealing that the thing removed from Steve’s mouth isn’t a small tile, it’s a tiny book. That still doesn’t make any sense of course. Few (possibly none) of the ‘actors’ in the death scenes are the original actors; they’re mostly production assistants but to be honest you can’t really tell because it’s all so dark and edited together so fast.

The thing is: none of the stuff mentioned in the preceding paragraph, apart from the blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em death scenes, has any bearing on the plot. What on Earth is the demon baby thing all about? What has it got to do with anything? What connection does Vass Anderson’s ‘Prof. Jackson’ have with anything else in the film? How does the insert shot of the radiator enhance the seance scene? This is all extraneous stuff which looks like padding, added merely to bump the running time up to 77 minutes.

Despite all the publicity which the BBC and others gave to House of Fear Studios in early 2008, which suggested that the film had been shot in Cornwall, the bulk of the movie was filmed just outside Brighton at ‘Albourne Film Studios’ when Driscoll’s company was still called Metropolis International. This was an early attempt at creating what eventually came to fruition just outside Redruth. Driscoll hired people to construct three film studios and some post-production facilities and allegedly even purchased an old airliner with a view to shooting a film set on an aeroplane. But despite all the time effort and money ploughed into Albourne Studios, all that was shot there was Alone in the Dark and part of SF thriller Blade Hunter which was subsequently abandoned, as apparently was the nascent studio complex. The question is: what prompted Driscoll’s move from Sussex to Cornwall?

Quite apart from the location, there are lots of mysteries and inconsistencies around the cast and crew of Evil Calls. For example, the Inaccurate Movie Database lists David Raedecker (sic) as cinematographer - he was DP on the hilariously awful Inspector’s Casebook short on the Kannibal DVD - but on screen the ‘director of photography’ credit goes to Dennis Mahoney who is also listed as camera operator and gets a third credit as DP/camera operator in the ‘USA unit’ (there wasn’t a separate USA unit - Driscoll simply used footage from an earlier, unmade project). Mahoney was also DP on the American footage used in Kannibal which was, as here, produced by David and Domanic Valentino and may in fact have been from the same unfinished project. Domanic Valentino also gets an ‘associate producer’ credit; his name is consistently misspelled ‘Dominic’ but hey, if it’s good enough for Edgar Allan Poe... Apart from that opening aerial shot of the car (which is being driven on the wrong side of the road, like they do over there) and possibly the witch burning, I don’t think there’s any other American footage in Evil Calls.

Nevertheless, my research indicates that David Raedeker (Brick Lane, Elvis Pelvis and videos for St Etienne and Stereo MCs) was DP on the whole of principal photography: basically, everything except that aerial shot, the witch burning and the inserts of steaming radiators. exploding heads and Vass Anderson’s computer. Raedeker also DPed Ben’s Night In, a short film by John Scotcher who was assistant director on Evil Calls. Raedeker's crew, none of whom receive a credit, included focus pullers Pier Hausemer (who worked on Stardust, Batman Begins and The New Adventures of Pinocchio) and Nicolas Schroeder and clapper loader Richard O'Brian.

There are two credited editors: Pablo Renaldo and Tom Ramsbottom (possibly the online film reviewer of the same name). Bill Alexander, an experienced production designer who worked on Kannibal and plenty of more respectable productions too, gets a ‘production design consultant’ credit here and John Howls was art director. Sound designer David Richmond is another one of the very few Kannibal returnees. Where I’m not telling you anything about these people, by the way, it’s because there’s no trace of them on-line. Although we must always bear in mind that the credits may spell their names wrong.

‘From the special effects creators of The Shining’ is the slogan across the top of the poster and in practice this means Alan Whibley who also worked on Rambo, meaning that he actually had two films premiering simultaneously in London only yards apart on 12th February 2008. Whibley’s other genre credits include Venom, Paperhouse, The Lair of the White Worm, Split Second and Simon Hunter’s Lighthouse. It’s a bit cheeky though, isn’t it, to claim a direct connection with the film you’re unashamedly ripping off? But so few of the Evil Calls crew have any notable credits, even six years on, that I suppose it was all that was available by way of ballyhoo. ‘From the director of Kannibal and The Comic’ wouldn’t really get the punters excited, would it?

Steve Bettles was make-up effects designer although he doesn’t mention Evil Calls or Alone in the Dark on his website, preferring to cite respectable credits like Sleepy Hollow, Farscape and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. ‘Special effects’ are credited to ‘1st Effects, Richard Roberts, Nick Smith’ and on the House of Fear website we find the following: ‘House of Fear represent the special effects company 1st Effects. The company responsible for the special effects on:- The Shinning, Hellraiser II, Excalibur, Star Wars, Superman, Rambo 4.’

Hmmm, ‘the special effects’ on Star Wars and Superman (they even have the posters on the HoF page)? No, ‘some of the special effects’ is what they mean. ‘A few of the special effects’ or, really: ‘Helping out on a few of the many hundreds of special effects.’ And yes, it does actually say The Shinning! Michael Faherty gets the ‘visual effects’ credit - and also ‘title design’ - but like so many of the crew he has either done nothing of note before or since or he is using a pseudonym. Or his name’s spelled wrong. Editor Tom Ramsbottom gets ‘additional visual effects’ and there’s a ‘practical effects’ credit shared between Conal Palmer (The Mutant Chronicles, Cold and Dark) and Simon Attwood. Make-up supervisor Ameneh Mahloudji also worked on Son of Rambow and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and is now an item with David Raedeker. Costume designer Fiona O’Conner is probably Fiona O’Connor who also did the rags for London Voodoo.

Rather brilliantly, Evil Calls may be the first film where the on-screen credits are less reliable than the IMDB listing. The ‘second unit’, which should really be called the ‘six years later unit’ (as opposed to the ‘USA unit’ which is the ‘several years earlier on a completely different film unit’) was overseen by Neil Jones - credited as both 1st AD and unit manager - who is not the same Neil Jones that directed Stag Night of the Dead. Neil Johnson DP-ed the extra footage which used make-up by Angela Sims. Fetish model Rebekka Raynor gets an ‘effects stand-in’ credit for being Doreen Carney in the shots of the demon baby being born. Most of the ‘second unit’ footage is effects shots and the ‘special effects make-up’ in this footage is credited to Robbie Drake who also worked on Beyond the Rave and now writes a column for Gorezone.

Meanwhile, among the cast not yet mentioned, Doreen is played by model Jules Wheeler who was also in Dirty Pretty Things. The Carney kids, who are apparently called Lisa and Steve, are played by Keren Hatcher and Jamie Roberts, both of whom must be in their early twenties by now. Leanna Knowles is the ballerina. The naked chicks in the weird washroom scene include porn actresses Amanda Pickering, Amanda Dawkins and Kelly Marie (the May 2001 Penthouse Pet).

One point which is worth making – and making emphatically – is that the general crappiness of a film does not necessarily mean that everyone who worked on it is an idiot or should be ashamed or must shoulder part of the blame. Film-making, at every level, is a collaborative effort and a lot of different people do their job on a film set to the best of their ability: camera crew, sound crew, chippies, sparks, gaffers etc. If specific work is shoddy then yes, there is somebody to blame and you can probably find them in the credits somewhere, but most people who work on a film like this are doing a job. You take what you can get when you’re a freelancer and even jobs on crappy films can be useful in establishing industry contacts with other crew members that can lead onto jobs on decent movies. And hey, it’s a pay-cheque. (That’s assuming everyone got paid, of course. They did get paid, didn’t they, Mr Driscoll? I’m sure there’s no truth in any of the various stories I have heard, is there…?)

The overall crappiness of a crappy film – and I’m sure you have realised by now that Evil Calls redefines the concept of a crappy film to the extent that all films previously deemed crappy must now be considered borderline competent by comparison – usually stems from one or more of three people: the writer, the director and the producer. In this case, that’s Richard Driscoll, R Driscoll Esq and Mrs Driscoll’s little boy Richie. Of course, sometimes a film is also let down by a miserable central performance and certainly Evil Calls suffers by having ‘Steven Craine’ in the role of George Carney. You can’t get away from it: Driscoll is an auteur, solely responsible for all the significant decisions made in the production (and indeed, the release) of this film. Everything about it that’s bad can be laid at his feet but so can, to be fair, the few things that are good, like the casting of Rik Mayall and Sir Norman.

A word on the acting is surely due here because it’s something I haven’t touched on, being too busy documenting the insanity and inanity of the story and the tupenny-ha’penny production values. It goes without saying that ‘Steven Craine’ is awful and that Rik and Sir Norman are marvellous. Rik’s last venture into low-budget indie fantasy was Paul Matthews’ Merlin: The Return which actually had a limited theatrical release in 1999 and of course he can be spotted, absurdly young, in the background of one scene in An American Werewolf in London. Sir Norman was in the 2004 version of Five Children and It and a few years earlier he filmed a cameo for Grant Littlechild’s star-studded indie spoof Cosmic Brainsuckers which has been in production on and off for a decade now. His last actual on-screen role was a non-speaking appearance as a vicar chasing a fly in Expresso, a coffee-themed short from Kevin Powis (The Killin’) filmed in January 2007 when he was 91. After that he was simply too ill to work, his dementia confining him to a care home, although at time of writing he is still alive. But he will never make another film again and I for one would rather people thought of Expresso as his final work, not this embarrassing rubbish, however much he may light up the screen.

Richard Waters is actually pretty good as Karl, especially in his withering put-downs of the more cynical team members: “I hope it’s better than last year. Devil cat my ass.” “Well, that’s one place we didn’t look, isn’t it, Lewis?” Robin Askwith is given nothing to do – I think he has about three lines of dialogue in the whole film – and Eileen is Eileen. Askwith spent the 1970s alternating between cheeky jack-the-lad sex comedies and horror classics such as The Flesh and Blood Show, Horror Hospital and Tower of Evil. He must be pleased that, with the release of Evil Calls, Queen Kong is no longer the worst film he has ever been in. Eileen was ubiquitous in British horror for a few years but this was one of the last mainstream things she did before shifting to more esoteric fare. In the space of three or four years she starred in Alex Chandon’s Pervirella, Elisar Cabrera’s Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft, Tony Luke’s Archangel Thunderbird, Jake West’s Razor Blade Smile, Nigel Wingrove’s Sacred Flesh, Kannibal for Mr Driscoll and Cradle of Fear for Alex again.

While I have seen all of those, Eileen’s subsequent horror career has somehow passed me by completely. I’m completely unfamiliar with Machines of Love and Hate, Sentinels of Darkness, Dave McKean’s short film N[eon] or a 2007 film called Messages with Jeff Fahey and Marysia Kay. Is it just that my professional circle of acquaintances and Eileen’s circle have drifted apart? Could it be connected with the British horror revival, given that all the above films – with the arguable exception of Cradle of Fear – either predated the BHR or were influenced by pre-BHR tropes more than the gritty social realism of the burgeoning revival itself? Perhaps these two possibilities are one and the same thing. Anyway, the upshot is that Eileen hasn’t stopped working but her films have stopped making it onto my To Be Watched pile. But Eileen is Eileen and we love her.

The rest of the cast, to be honest, are pretty stiff and in some cases positively awful and there isn't a single convincing or consistent accent anywhere in the film. Most of the actors never did anything before this and many of them seem to have done nothing since. How awful must it be if Evil Calls is your only professional credit? I don’t know which would be worse, telling people you made a film so bad that it still hasn’t been released after six years or telling people you were in a film which took six years to get released and which there is a danger they might then see. Perhaps some of the cast changed their stage names and went on to successful careers as jobbing actors, leaving Alone in the Dark to fester as a guilty secret mysteriously omitted from the bottom of their CV.

Ironically for such a shit film, one of the most disappointing things on this DVD is not the movie itself but the extras which are decidedly sparse. The sleeve promises the following: ‘Rik Mayall Blog, Jason Donovan Blog, Robin Askwith Blog, Norman Wisdom Blog, SFX behind the scenes, Evil Calls trailer, Evil Calls TV spot.’ I don’t know which is sillier: the idea that a short video interview is a ‘blog’ or the idea of Evil Calls being advertised on TV (unless it was some tiny cable channel).

There’s a three-minute interview with Rik Mayall and two-minute interviews with Robin Askwith, Jason Donovan and Norman Wisdom; a three-minute montage of behind-the-scenes footage (called 'set visit' on the menu'); Heads will Roll (called 'Make-up FX' on-screen) which is an interview with Steve Bettles about creating Lewis’ decapitated head and the slit throat seen briefly on Carney Jr in an SSF; plus trailers for Evil Calls, Kannibal and Killer’s Kiss (the retitling of the Driscoll-produced Dennis Nilsen biopic Cold Light of Day), Evil Calls 'TV spot' (a cut-down version of the trailer) and a few seconds of behind-the-scenes footage as an easy-to-find Easter egg. Yet there was so much more that could have been included. Kannibal had a director’s commentary (which was hilarious), a full Making Of documentary (which was fucking hilarious) and the Inspector’s Casebook short film (which was fucking unbelievable). Here we get less than ten minutes in total. Alix Wenmouth (who is credited here as Alex but hey, welcome to the Edgar Allen Poe Club!) handled the behind-the-scenes stuff and there must have been plenty of footage shot. There are certainly some more interviews because they’re on the House of Fear website. So why aren’t they on the DVD?

When the film was released, GoreZone magazine carried a cover-mounted DVD which included the Donovan, Mayall and Wisdom interviews (not called blogs on this disc), the behind-the-scenes montage and a four-minute interview with Driscoll himself. This is actually the short film The Silence of the Llamas directed by Tiffany Holmes for ‘Bump in the Night Productions’ which plays on the front page of the House of Fear website when you click the ‘Meet Richard’ button there. It’s the one where Driscoll says, “If I knew what made a good horror movie, I’d make good horror movies.” Ah, if only. This disc also include trailers for Evil Calls, Kannibal and Killer’s Kiss plus a Marilyn Manson video (‘Sam Son of Man’, which consists entirely of stock footage connected with the Son of Sam murders) and the public domain classic House on Haunted Hill.

But what makes the GoreZone disc interesting is a montage of clips from Evil Calls and Kannibal which plays when you slip the DVD into your player - as this contains two shots not in the film (possibly from the same scene). One shows George Carney and the body (Vincent?) that leans out of the wall at the end. Carney has a bloody mask of human skin - a peeled face, basically - held over his own face and dances around the room before hanging the face on the wall. The other clip shows a pair of feet - presumably Carney’s - dancing on the desk, coming perilously close to knocking the typewriter onto the floor (a fireplace is visible in the background so this seems to be the same room, hence possibly the same scene).

Speaking of GoreZone, that issue included an interview with Robbie Drake about effects on the 2007/08 ‘second unit’ pick-ups which includes a large, clear photo of the body at the end, the one that stacks through a hole in the wall. It’s wrapped in chains, coated in blood and definitely meant to be Vincent. Probably.

Checking the interview clips on the website (look, I’m not calling them blogs, okay, even ironically), the one by Kathryn Rooney - which misspells her name ‘Roony’ - includes the information that the group are all psychology students - which is not something evident from the film itself. Rooney has since gone on to carve herself a career in panto and probably thought that her one, misguided foray into film-making (including her full frontal nude scenes) was dead and buried. Sonya Vine also has an online interview but she gets her name spelled right at least.

Consistency never being a hallmark of House of Fear, whereas the first two clips are titled Alone in the Dark with Anna and Alone in the Dark with Rachel (with the actress’ name as a caption over the picture), the third is Alone in the Dark with Eileen Daly. Now this is interesting because Eileen explicitly states that her character is George and Vincent’s sister. So at least I don’t need to get my head round the whole kids and ghosts thing but what this means is that, let’s see: George Carney has been hiding for the past two years, presumably in the basement of the cabin, and he also has a sister who is never mentioned and who either helped him kill their brother or at least didn’t mind when Vincent and Doreen were killed.

So if ‘Victoria Jordan’ is actually Victoria Carney, what happened to the real Victoria Jordan, the one that Prof. Jackson recommended? Did Prof. Jackson know that Victoria Carney would turn up in the woods? Did he send her? Is she actually a medium? How did she manage that whole swirly supernatural entrance thing? Why does she kill all the students? Reading between the lines of Eileen’s explanation of the plot, George and Victoria live in the woods along with the not-quite-dead Vincent who is kept behind a wall. When the Internetters come calling, George hides and Victoria pretends to be the medium that Karl is expecting but only so that she can have some fun with the townies before killing them. That comes perilously close to making sense, although it only accounts for a tiny fraction of the actual plot of the film of course.

It’s interesting to see Jules Wheeler’s video clip, not least because she seems to be under the impression that her character is named Vivienne when we all know she’s actually called Doreen. “She doesn’t fully understand what’s going on,” says the actress without a trace if irony. Richard Waters, in his clip, observantly compares George Carney to Jack Torrance in The Shining. Really, Richard? You think this is a bit like The Shining? (Or possibly The Shinning?)

Charlie Allen is called ‘Charlie Allan’ in his clip which I suppose makes up for the ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ cock-up in a sort of karmic way. I had wondered whether this was the former National Youth Theatre actor who died young of cancer but my research shows that the NYT Charlie Allen died in 2007 aged 20 which would have made him only 15 when Alone in the Dark was shot, so this clearly isn’t him. This Charlie Allen is still alive and reading this review in horror after somebody e-mailed him to say, “Hey, you know that shitty horror film you were in with Rik Mayall that you thought no-one would ever see?”

There is a second video clip with Rik Mayall, including a visual gag with Driscoll and Askwith and a quite lengthy discussion of his role in the first Harry Potter film as Peeves the poltergeist, which was cut from the finished version. There are also three ‘production blogs’: ‘FX’ (Alone in the Dark with Alan) is Mr Whibley discussing fake blood and how to make gallons of it come through the walls. ‘Production Cam’ is the behind-the-scenes montage and 'Make-up FX' is the Steve Bettles interview.

It seems to me that the biggest problem with this film - bigger than the days being in the wrong order, bigger than the producer's inability to spell people’s names correctly - is simply that there is too much in it. Even after padding out the running time with footage of demon babies and radiators, it’s still very short and yet it has at least three different time zones: the present, two years ago and the 1940s, with only a tangential connection between them all. Actually, it’s four time zones if we count the witch-burning.

In his interview in GoreZone, Robbie Drake says: “It’s a constant work in progress because that’s the way Richard Driscoll works. He’s always rewriting. You never know what’s coming up, he might have another idea or he might see something that he can put in the script.”

There was a script?

But you can see what he means. Evil Calls looks like a film which has been assembled piecemeal over many years (as indeed it was) with new ideas and new bits being added (or taken away) throughout the film. Order changed, context changed, new dialogue added and insert shots, ah, inserted. Frankly, without the whole 1940s hotel malarkey, there’s the germ of a usable story here. Students go into woods to investigate why bloke and his family disappeared two years ago, only to find that the now-insane bloke and his batty sister are still there and determined to let no-one escape their forest alive.

But Richard Driscoll had to add in the whole psychic thing, the whole internet thing, the stuff about the hotel (most of which, by the look of it, then got removed again) and the ghost of the barman which he later decided was both the hotel manager and the hotel manager’s father. Then on top of that he decided that there should be a mutant baby and an old guy looking at stuff on a computer. Good job he released the film when he did - if he’d left it much longer he might have added dancing girls and an Aztec pyramid. And vampires.

Thinking things through, this is the reality, isn’t it? This isn’t two films stapled together (except inasmuch as the ‘USA unit’ footage is obviously from something else). There’s certainly not a coherent rationale that I’ve missed because I’ve been paying more attention to what day it is and the many spellings of the actors’ names. This is just a mishmash created by a man with too much time and money on his hands who loves the process of making movies, however bad the result might be. Everyone has things they enjoy but are rubbish at. You should hear me singing in the shower. But I don’t release my off-key bathroom warblings on compact disc.

Richard Driscoll, I think, loves the process of making movies but doesn’t know how to make ‘a movie’. He doesn’t understand narrative structure. Or indeed narrative. Frankly, I don’t think he’s really sure what ‘structure’ means. He doesn’t understand how a movie is made, only the process of movie-making: he’s all beginning and middle and he doesn’t know how, or when, to end. It’s a bit like the difference between me and young TF Simpson when we get the Lego out. I make a helicopter or a car or a bridge or a fire station and though I may have only a loose plan I can tell when I’ve finished. But TF just keeps adding bricks, long past the point when his creation might have been a recognisable powerboat or crane or space rocket. I think Richard Driscoll makes his films just like that, just like a four-year-old building things out of Lego. I hope he gets just as much fun out of it.

The difference of course is that I don’t exhibit TF’s Lego creations to the paying public, nor do I take out adverts in magazine describing him as ‘critically acclaimed’. (That’s what it said in the ads in GoreZone: ‘A film by the critically acclaimed Richard Driscoll.’ But there's only one film critic who ever writes about him - and I’ve certainly not acclaimed him.)

In conclusion, Evil Calls is rubbish, of course it’s rubbish - but it’s fascinating rubbish. I can’t think of any other films that I could have written a 22,000 word review about. There is just so much here: so many disparate elements (many of them hilariously poorly crafted) with so few recognisable links and connections between them. The scope for speculation and argument, as you can see, is enormous. I urge you to buy this film, no really, I do. Go to www.internetgore.com and buy it now - £12.99, free shipping - then watch it and then come and find me, buy me a pint, and tell me what you think.

I was asked, recently, what constitutes a ‘cult movie’ (as in ‘and the people who make them’) and my definition is that a cult film (or book or TV show or whatever) is one which inspires interest beyond appreciation. ‘Cult’ is nothing to do with how good or bad a film is or how big or small it is or how popular or obscure it is or what it’s about or who made it. A cult film is one where, having seen it, you want to read about it, talk about it, write about it, argue about it, discuss it, dissect it, find out more about it.

In that respect, I believe that Evil Calls is the greatest cult film ever made.

MJS rating: A+/D-

Evil Calls - world's longest film review (pt.3)

See also Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4

In the basement (which, I note, also has a typewriter), Karl and Anna explore the room or maybe she shows him the room or something. Yes, I’m calling it a basement for the sake of sanity because it’s underneath a building except of course log cabins don’t normally have basements. Unlike the room upstairs, this is fully furnished - if a trifle dusty - with numerous hunting trophies on the walls. Karl lights a candle (not sure why as Anna has a torch and the room seems considerably less dark than upstairs) and they find a ballerina music box.

Okay, time out. I have to say something here. I absolutely fucking hate ballerina music boxes. They are the biggest cliché in cinema, certainly in horror and fantasy cinema. When have you ever actually seen a ballerina music box in real life? Exactly! The only thing worse than a ballerina music box is a ballerina music box in a room which has been kept exactly as it was when a child died/disappeared. One of the reasons why I consider The Silence of the Lambs to be such an over-rated piece of crap (not least because of the sequence where Hannibal Lecter escapes by employing world-class lock-picking skills never mentioned before or since and also by taking advantage of the police suddenly deciding to completely ignore their own advice and treat him as a low-risk prisoner with minimal guard, where was I? Oh yes...) One of the reasons that I hate Silence of the Lambs is because it employs this hoary old cliché: the child who disappeared or was killed and the bedroom left untouched all these years, just as she left it, and when Jodie Foster looks around she picks up a fucking ballerina music box which is Still Wound Up. I hate hate hate this cliché and I remain completely unable to fathom why people think that awful film is some sort of masterpiece.

And if I hate Silence of the Lambs that much, you can imagine what I think about the cut-price Silence of the Lambs rip-off that is Kannibal.

Okay, breathe easy, rant over, waves on the shore, waves on the shore...

I am pleased to report that, although Evil Calls features a ballerina music box, it has not been kept by distraught parents. Well, actually, thinking about what I’m going to write here, maybe it has. Or maybe it hasn’t if he’s not their real father.

Anyway, while Karl and Anna look at the little doll twirling round we are treated to a brief SSF of the two Carney kids, dead but standing up and holding hands, then we jump back momentarily to the basement before another SSF, probably my favourite of all these flashbacks as it’s the most cinematic. As the Carney kids lie in bed, George Carney shows them the music box, the ballerina casting a dancing shadow onto the wall behind them, illuminated by the glow of a flame burning in the palm of Carney’s hand. It’s a lovely image. I don’t understand it, but at least it looks good.

This is followed by a shot of Anna, standing in a trance - there’s no sign of Karl - holding the music box which gradually fills with blood. This isn’t a lovely image, it’s just pretentious.

Another NSSF has Carney, wearing the check shirt that he wears in every scene except the ones in the hotel, walking through the hotel. In the washroom he meets a long-haired woman in a full-face mask and damn me if we don’t have that entire ‘mind the hot taps, aren’t you the manager?’ scene again. The lady in question wears the same as Norman and Rik did, only without a shirt (or bra). The other main difference here, apart from Carney’s own apparel, is that around the room are several naked or semi-naked young ladies, indulging in sexual antics either solo or in pairs.

By the by, do you know how you can tell the difference between pornography and erotica? Seriously. If a woman is completely naked it’s erotica. If she keeps her shoes on - that’s porn. These women, even the naked ones, all wear sexy heels. Oh, and they all have either masks or blindfolds. (Which is kind of curious, as masks and blindfolds are sort of the opposite of each other. A mask prevents people from recognising the wearer, whereas a blindfold prevents the wearer from recognising other people. I think it says something that by this point I’m more interested in pontificating on the social significance of blindfolds than concentrating on a washroom full of sexy, naked chicks.)

As the woman in the suit, bow-tie and white gloves goes through the now-familiar dialogue with a frightened-looking Carney, she pushes him to the floor then removes her jacket while the other women paw and grope both Carney and herself. Then she removes her mask and - it’s his wife! It’s... nope, we still don’t know her name. She’s still just ‘Mrs Carney’.

But the interesting thing here is the woman’s voice. Because according to the publicity, it’s Marianne Faithfull!

I say ‘according to the publicity’ but there is no mention of Faithful on the poster or the DVD sleeve or the House of Fear website, nor indeed is she credited on screen. But Rik Mayall, in his interview, says that the voice is Marianne Faithfull, the IMDB listing (which I wouldn’t normally trust but I’m fairly sure it has been updated by Driscoll or someone in his employ) says it’s Faithfull and the Wikipedia entry created after the film was released (which again I wouldn’t normally trust but I know for a fact this was written by Driscoll or someone in his employ) says it’s Faithfull.

When I first watched the film, when the cast list on the IMDB had no character names and before the Wikipedia entry was created, I doubted that this was Marianne Faithfull. It’s a plummy, posh English accent and I thought it might be Eileen - but it’s not, now that I listen a second time. Well well, Marianne Faithfull. An already strange cast list just progressed one notch further along the bizarre stick.

Now. Now things gets really weird. Now things start to make no sense at all. Oh, you might think that the previous 11,000 words (stick with me - nearly done!) described weird stuff that made no sense at all, but baby we’re just getting started and the night is young.

As George Carney lies on the floor of the men’s washroom in a posh hotel, groped by naked, blindfolded women while his semi-naked wife, also groped by naked, blindfolded women, tells him exactly the same thing that he was previously told by two blokes in the same room... a toilet cubicle door bursts open and gallons of crimson blood cascade out, flooding the room. This really is one of the most extraordinary images I have ever seen in a film. And what makes it even better is that the solitary bloke among all those hot, blindfolded, semi-naked, blood-splashed chicks wrote and directed this himself.

A Freudian would have a field day with this scene. Toilets, naked women, gushing blood: surely this is some sort of menstrual allegory, isn’t it? Well isn’t it?

As the blood flows, the scene switches to colour but only so that we can then, almost instantly, switch to another bloody SSF within this flashback. This is just some shots from Rik Mayall’s previous scene, with Chrissy Walken still doing his stuff on the soundtrack.

Now we watch Carney, wearing his check shirt (which he had taken off in the washroom), being roughly manhandled by masked/blindfolded waiters out in the main ballroom, with masked and blindfolded diners and dancers looking on (or not, I suppose). The waiters throw him into the washroom, which is now clean and empty, and he smashes a glass thing on the wall to get at a fire axe. With this he starts to smash down a cubicle door until he receives a tap on the shoulder, a polite cough and - there’s Rik asking: “Is there a problem with the handle, sir?”

Mayall then gets to spout some enigmatic tosh, once again showing himself to be the best thing in this film by a country mile, ending with the proclamation that, “If love is like a lightning bolt then betrayal - ahahaha! - betrayal is like a thunderclap!” At which point George Carney strangles him while fireworks burst from the urinals.

I really, really didn’t think I would ever type the phrase ‘fireworks burst from the urinals.’

All the above is sepia, leading straight into another bloody SSF of lightning hitting the ground near Vincent and Mrs Carney (the hell with it, I’m going to call her Doreen) as they walk through the forest towards the cabin. Not only are they unconcerned by this near-miss, I also think it’s curious that (a) it’s not raining and (b) the lightning hit the ground despite there being all these trees around. On account of, you know, it being a forest and everything.

Just when you thought that we had seen all the essential imagery we might need, we are presented with a colour shot of a teenage girl dressed as a ballerina and holding a crystal ball. (This may be Carney’s daughter, but as we have only previously seen her briefly in sepia with her hair done different, I couldn’t say for certain.) As we close in on the crystal ball we see, within it (and in sepia of course), Doreen tied to a chair with her mouth taped shut and George behind her. Before he slits her throat, he comes out with possibly the single worst line of dialogue I have heard this decade, expertly enunciated by Mr Driscoll in a display of acting wooden enough to suggest that his ideal role would be Pinocchio.

“You look beautiful tonight,” he tells Doreen (you see how much easier this has now become - I wonder what her real name is), “but like the four seasons, love changes, be it Summer, Autumn, Spring and of course Winter, the coldest time of the year. And like Winter - love grows cold!”

If I live to be one hundred I shall never be able to write dialogue as terrible as that. I mean, Christ, you would think he would at least get the seasons in the right order.

This is all intercut with an SSF of Vincent. Ah, now if you check right back at the start there was an SSF of somebody walking towards the cabin carrying a couple of fish and a net. This, it turns out, is Vincent and we see him finding Doreen, bleeding and dying, on the cabin floor. In a quick montage we get another shot of that female body impaled on horns (presumably it’s Doreen, there not being any other adult female characters in the flashbacks apart from the anonymous chicks in blindfolds), a recap of Carney sitting at his desk while blood pours through the walls and a brief shot of Anna still holding the blood-filled music box.

Then it’s daylight - finally. It’s the next morning and all the team are at the camp, including Victoria but excepting Steve. Rachel asks Anna to come with them because, “there’s nothing for you here,” but Anna says she can’t because, “I can’t explain.” Well, frankly neither can the audience, love. As Rachel, Lewis and James head off towards the Winnebago, carrying their flightcases but leaving their tents, Karl tells Anna that she made the right decision.

Ooh, ooh, here comes, your friend and mine, not seen him for ages, forgotten all about him but he’s back, it’s... the ravenringfirething!

At the Winnebago, Rachel, Lewis and James realise that Steve has the only set of keys. As the vehicle is clearly unlocked, presumably they are far enough away from civilisation to not have to worry about theft, so why weren’t the keys just left in the ignition? What was Steve planning to do with them in the middle of a forest, unlock some trees? More to the point, why has nobody said anything about Steve’s disappearance? And even more to the point, why is it now the middle of the night again? (Or still.) Is it because the journey between the vehicles and the cabin, which initially took two days and later took less than an hour has now averaged out at one day?

Back home, Gary (remember him?) looks at his monitor and sees a steadicam shot of the leaf-covered forest floor (apparently in daylight) so he tries unsuccessfully to contact Karl, then takes a look at another screen showing a map of the woods. Well, I say map but it’s actually just a green window with some evenly spaced tree graphics on it, plus some dots which presumably represent the team. But boy, wouldn’t that have been handy when Rachel was looking for Steve last night?

Gary calls Rachel but speaks with Lewis - the three friends are trekking back through the night-time woods - who angrily asks: “What can you see? ... What do you mean, you thought it was a set-up? People might be dying here and you’re worried about logging-on statistics!”

What is it that Gary thought was a set-up? Why might people be dying? Anyone got a clue? Anyone? Hello? As the camera whips around the trio at high speed for no reason, we cut briefly to a peaceful night-time shot of the camp, where the campfire still burns brightly, but only for a moment because here he comes again...


Rachel, Lewis and James find Steve’s dead body, although we still can’t see it’s Steve to be honest, but who else could it be? Lewis pulls from the corpse’s mouth a small... something. It might be a tile maybe. It looks ceramic, about an inch by inch and a half, with a black image of a raven and ‘The Raven’ written on it. No-one says anything and this is never referred to so let’s be honest here, this is an insert shot. It’s a pick-up which was filmed six years later in a desperate attempt to connect this film in some loose way to the Poe poem.

Because the truth is that, apart from this one briefly seen but unexplained and indecipherable thing, there are only three ways in which Richard Driscoll’s Evil Calls: The Raven is connected to Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’. One is Christopher Walken actually reading the poem at various points, one is the ravenringfirething and the third is the witch’s name, Lenore. There are no actual ravens of any sort in this film apart from that arbitrary interstitial corvid: ravens are neither seen nor referred to, not even allegorical ones. No-one ever says the word ‘raven’ (apart from Walken). There’s no bust of Pallas, no-one says ‘nevermore’. Because when the bulk of this was shot it was Alone in the Dark and The Raven was a different putative Driscoll project.

“What about Karl and Anna?” says someone. “We’ve got to help them!” says someone else. Yes, what about them? Help them in what way? Are they in some danger? Apart from Steve’s corpse, there’s no indication of any danger and nobody seemed particularly worried that he was missing. In fact, nobody seemed to even notice, not even Rachel.

In another part of the wood, Karl (who has apparently left the camp for some reason) is looking for Anna when he stumbles across a stone Celtic cross, lying on the ground. He hefts it upright and as he does so we get a brief SSF of that witch being burned (in, let’s remember, the mid-19th century). After a brief cutback to Rachel who now seems to be, ahem, alone in the dark, Karl pulls the cross right out of the ground and a cloud of white smoke emerges from the hole. But how could it be stuck in the ground when he has only just lifted it up from where it was lying down among the undergrowth?

The action comes thick and fast now, and some might say that this makes it resemble the film-makers but that would be terribly unkind. There’s a jumble of brief, violent shots. A shotgun is loaded and then blasts Rachel’s head apart (a pretty neat effect). Some sort of hook slashes into Karl’s face and he is dragged, screaming, into the smoky hole from where he pulled the stone cross, his feet kicking ineffectually as he disappears under the earth. James is hit in the stomach with an axe, yet another victim of the off-screen murderer who has suddenly appeared from nowhere.

Lewis passes the previously seen scarecrow and stops. Staring in amazement he says, “It’s you!” before a chainsaw not only lops his head off but in the same movement sends it spinning through the air to land atop the scarecrow, knocking the scarecrow’s own head off in the process.

A scarecrow? In the ... wait, have I already done that bit?

A brief shot of an LP on a record player brings us to George Carney, wearing his check shirt but looking unkempt and unshaven. He is inside but it’s not clear where he is as there is a large stone fireplace and lots of brutal looking tools and weapons on the walls. As the only two rooms we have seen are the cabin and the cabin basement, and as this room is furnished and the walls clearly aren’t made of wood, my guess is it’s the basement although it looks nothing like the basement we saw before with the typewriter and the bookshelves and the hunting trophies.

Anna is pointing a pistol and we have to assume she’s pointing it at Carney although they never appear in the same shot. He runs over to one of the walls and slams his fist into it, smashing a gaping hole in the plasterboard. At this point the image, which has been a sort of blue-ish twilight, both inside and out, ever since Rachel, Lewis and James left the Winnebago, goes briefly into full colour. Carney pauses to light a cigar from a large, iron candelabra that we haven’t noticed before. Then he waves a meat cleaver about and cuts, I think, the head off an upside down body which is now sticking through the hole in the wall (although it wasn’t there when he made the hole). Actually, there is a scream which suggests this body is still alive.

But who’s this coming down the ladder? It’s Victoria Jordan! “Ladies and gentlemen,” says Carney, possibly to Anna who pops up occasionally in non-matching cutaways so is maybe supposed to be in the same room, “let me introduce to you - my little sister!”

The ladder confirms my suspicion that this room is the cabin basement even though it looks completely different to the basement that Karl and Anna explored. “But of course, Vincent,” he continues as he gives Victoria a big screen kiss, “you already know her.” And we see an SSF of Vincent Carney, walking backwards, superimposed over the body in the wall which is now rightside up and has its head attached, the unruly blonde hair suggesting it’s meant to be Vincent.

George says: “We never did like you, but that was our little secret.” Victoria holds up the missing part of the photo that Anna found and says, just in case we were in any doubt about the identity of the fur jacket-wearing woman in the picture: “That’s right - it’s me!”

Grinning like a loon, meat cleaver in hand, George Carney advances on the camera, which is presumably supposed to be Anna’s POV although the lack of any matching between shots of her and shots of him makes this less than certain. As the cleaver comes down...

...Anna sits bolt upright in bed. Karl draws the curtains to reveal a sunny day in New York and says they have a busy weekend ahead. Oh my Lord, she has gone back to that first morning! Is she doomed to live it all over again, endlessly repeating the same rubbish film? Will it make more sense the second, third or fourth time?

I very much doubt it.

The end titles start over a scratched, red-tinted effects shot of a gothic hotel, the one and only exterior of the building that we ever see. Then they cut to, and play out over, a photoshopped group shot of the cast and crew in evening dress (Mayall and Driscoll are very visible at the front). At the end of the titles we are given the blood-red caption ‘The Raven 2: The Devil’s Disciple - coming soon’ and a momentary image of Carney and some sort of demon thing.

Seventy seven minutes after it started, Evil Calls is finally over.

All right: what just happened? What was the actual story here? Well, here’s what I can work out:

A century and a half ago a witch was burned at the stake in Harrow Woods, New England and cursed the place. A large hotel was subsequently built in Harrow Woods where the manager went insane and killed his family then later the hotel was purchased by horror writer George Carney. He took his family to a log cabin in the woods, presumably somewhere near the hotel that he had just bought but didn’t want to stay in. In this log cabin, which included a basement, Carney’s wife and brother Vincent killed his children (who were really Vincent’s children). Carney, driven to a jealous rage by the comments of the hotel manager’s ghost, murdered his wife and brother in return, then cleared up all the mess and disappeared. Two years later, on a date which is not only the anniversary of the Carney family’s disappearance but also the birthday of Anna (the only psychic in the group), five students and their tutor travel from New York to Harrow Woods. Their intention is to spend the weekend exploring the woods, trying to work out what happened to the Carneys, and this will all be broadcast live on the internet via a network of webcams positioned in the trees. Karl, the tutor (who is having an affair with Anna), has secretly invited along another psychic, Victoria, whom he has never met.

Something something something ravenringfirething.

The group split up and are brutally murdered one by one until only Anna is left - who discovers that George Carney is still alive and that Victoria is his sister. Then she wakes up and the whole thing starts again. (Room for one more on top…)

You can’t have failed to notice a big gap in the middle of that synopsis. A gap large enough to drive a Winnebago through. This is because everything from Victoria’s arrival to the quick montage of grizzly deaths at the end is Fucking Incomprehensible. Actually nearly everything up to and including Victoria’s arrival and nearly everything from the first grizzly death to the end of the credits is Fucking Incomprehensible too but at least there is some vague semblance of things happening, however nonsensical or contradictory they may be. It’s that middle act which just defies any ability to understand it. It seems to be a random jumble of images, not helped by a complete lack of consistency in terms of chronology and geography.

Did Richard Driscoll ever have a coherent script? It seems unlikely that the finished film is the one he started making back in 2002. There would be no reason for him to wait six years to film a handful of pick-ups and effects shots. So some of the picture’s incomprehensibility is almost certainly due to the enormous gap between principal photography and completion. I believe there was a finished version of Alone in the Dark (or at least a rough cut) all those years ago but I don’t know that for certain. What I do know is that Evil Calls more closely resembles a film derived from a garbled, confused, Fucking Incomprehensible script than a film derived from a coherent script which has been rendered Fucking Incomprehensible by post-production lasting the best part of a decade. What it resembles most closely however is a joint result: a Fucking Incomprehensible script which has, through extensive post-production, been rendered even less comprehensible. Fucking.

One thing that particularly intrigues me is the whole ‘hotel’ thing because, as I say, we only ever see this building under the end credits. There is no mention anywhere in the dialogue of a hotel yet a whole bunch of flashbacks are clearly set in an opulent establishment full of dinner tables and dancing couples. I surmised at the start of this review that the fake newspaper headlines under the opening titles might be the best clue to the movie’s plot and indeed they are. It almost seems as if the log cabin and the hotel are meant to be one and the same thing and that they are both, simultaneously and without contradiction, the building which exerts a powerful, supernatural influence on George Carney. It really looks like Driscoll wrote a story about a hotel then decided that the present day scenes would work better in a log cabin but never changed the flashbacks. I did wonder, as one does, whether the cabin had been built on the site of the hotel but it’s in the middle of the woods with lots of fairly large trees right next to it and no road anywhere near it. That’s just not a possibility (at least, in our dimension). In any case, the newspapers in the title sequence clearly state that a horror writer has bought a hotel. They don’t mention any cabin.

There is also no relevance whatsoever to George Carney being a horror writer (a dreamweaver, if you will - I’m sorry, I find it very difficult to write about the character without adopting a Garth Marenghi voice). It seems that he is a writer because Jack Nicholson in The Shining is a writer and he buys a hotel because Jack Nicholson in The Shining took his family to a hotel. There, I’ve said it. Evil Calls rips off The Shining even less subtly and more incompetently than Kannibal ripped off The Silence of the Lambs and its sequel. Very amusingly, the film’s Wikipedia entry (written by ‘InternetGore’ who must therefore be either Driscoll or someone working for Driscoll) claims that the film pays homage to The Shining (undoubtedly!), The Blair Witch Project (students filming themselves investigating spooky woods - fair enough) and Reservoir Dogs. I have watched this film twice, the second time taking notes that redefined for generations of film critics to come the concept of ‘excruciating detail,’ and I am completely unable to see any connection between this movie and Tarantino’s debut. There are no gangsters, no-one has colour-coded pseudonyms, no ear gets cut off, the soundtrack is completely devoid of Stealer’s Wheel songs. Seriously, help me out here folks. Has anyone seen this film and spotted a Reservoir Dogs influence? I will happily rewrite this paragraph if anyone can elucidate me.

But we don’t need to go to the Wikipedia entry for unanswered questions, there are plenty of those in the film. Actually, the end credits answer a few, most notably that she’s called Vivienne. Also, the ballerina is not Carney’s daughter and Vass Anderson plays ‘Prof. Jackson.’

Who? I mean… well, I just mean ‘Who?’

Thinking back through the plot (oh God, it’s like watching it all over again!) and eliminating all the other characters I can only surmise that this is the old guy with the PC, who never says anything and whose face we never see. Vass Anderson, who was in both The Comic and Kannibal, is an old, white guy and so that must be him - there are no other elderly people anywhere on screen apart from dear old Sir Norman (unless there’s a few extras at the back of the witch-burning mob). So that means the old guy is called Professor Jackson. If I recall correctly, when Gary and Karl were discussing how neither of them has actually seen Victoria before, Prof. Jackson was mentioned as the colleague who had recommended her. But that’s it - just one passing reference. As Victoria turned out to be trouble - possibly a supernatural entity, possibly a murderer, possibly not the real Victoria Jordan - are we to take this as evidence that Prof. Jackson set up the whole thing? Are they, indeed, related? Did he orchestrate this bewilderingly complex sequence of events as some means of disposing of his colleague Dr Mathers? If so, it’s the worst murder plan in cinematic history because even American cops should have no problem investigating the disappearance of six people during an event which was broadcast over the web.

And of course, Victoria doesn’t kill Karl, does she? Although she probably kills everyone else. That could be her blasting Rachel with a shotgun, that could be her lopping Lewis’ noggin off with a chainsaw (compare his “It’s you!” with her later “That’s right, it’s me!”), it could be her who gets James with an axe (poor old James, he had absolutely nothing to do; apart from criticising Lewis’ anachronistic taste in music in one short scene inside the Winnebago, he barely spoke). It is undoubtedly Victoria who kills Steve (in some unspecified way) and presumably she then leaves that little thing in his mouth. But Karl is dragged into the smoking pits of hell by a hook when he removes a stone cross that was blocking up the gateway to the netherworld. That couldn’t be Victoria’s doing. Could it?

Let’s face it, those final gore-shots - most of which were filmed during the Christmas 2007 shoot - make no sense. Why are the team killed? Why indeed do they split up? Why does not one single person mention Steve’s disappearance?

Then there’s the whole question of the relationship between George Carney and the woman calling herself Victoria Jordan. He says she’s his little sister. Look again at his dialogue in that final scene: “But of course, Vincent, you already know her. We never did like you, but that was our little secret.” Perhaps I’m missing something but unless Carney’s sister is a brand new character introduced two minutes from the end without explanation, the only other way to read that is that the person in the check shirt in the final scene, smoking a cigar and waving a meat cleaver around, is Carney’s son. Am I right? Is that how you read it? No-one else in this film has a sister (that we know of). There are no other siblings, certainly none who know Vincent Carney - and know him well enough to hate him. And if that was actually George Carney’s sister then it would be Vincent’s too.

But that can’t be Carney Jr all grown up because he was only a kid two years ago (as was his sister). Plus of course we saw them killed: the girl was drowned in the bath, the boy had his throat slit. But then again, we had an SSF of the two standing there, holding hands: she was dripping wet and his shirt was bloodstained. Are these their ghosts? After all, Victoria’s arrival was a supernatural affair. But even if they are ghosts they are still about thirty years too old! My brain is starting to itch.

Time and space. Time and space. Another dimension. It’s the only explanation. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. Karl Mathers and his students just crossed over into… the Fucking Incomprehensible Zone.

Another thorny problem is working out in what decade the flashbacks take place. We are repeatedly told that the Carney family disappearance was two years ago (although we are also told that the Internetters have been doing this for both three and four years and that Saturday is the day after Monday). But when are the scenes in the hotel set? I’ve called them flashbacks - SSFs and NSSFs - but they’re really dream sequences or fantasy sequences I suppose, although they are still presented like old film. The palm-bedecked opulence of the place, the dinner suits and evening gowns, the obsequious staff in the washroom and especially the big band music suggest the 1940s, give or take a decade. But of course the nature of posh hotels is that they tend to look old-fashioned even today and there are still plenty of older couples who like to jive to a bit of big band boogie.

Is it significant that both the Carneys and the Internetters drive a car from around that era (possibly the same one)? Surely there must be some relevance in Lewis’ penchant for Glenn Miller and his ilk. But what? What does it all mean? Let’s face it, in a film which shows us people in 18th century clothes burning a witch and assures us that it happened in the mid 19th century, how can we use any on-screen clues to determine the era in which a scene takes place?

Continue to Part 4

Evil Calls - world's longest film review (pt.2)

See also Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4

Suddenly - and I mean, suddenly, as in mid-sentence - we cut to Anna sitting up abruptly in bed as Karl opens the curtain to reveal a New York skyline. This is a proper flashback in that it has sound and colour and characters from the actual film but it is completely inexplicable why we have suddenly flashed back. It doesn’t seem to be sequential for Anna - she hasn’t jumped in time and space. Or has she?

This seems to be the morning of either Saturday 19th October or Sunday 20th October because Karl, who is married but having an affair with Anna, says that his wife is away for four days and will be back on Tuesday. Anna would prefer to spend more time alone with Karl but he says, “What about your surprise birthday trip?” I’m trying to work out some sort of timeline here. If they drive out to Harrow Woods on Monday, presumably the announcement and seance scenes were on Sunday. But as Karl says he has “spent a long time setting this one up”, the very first scene of Gary telling Karl, which seemed to be the same day as the announcement, must have been well before that, even though Gary and Karl wear the same clothes in both scenes.

So anyway, while Karl fixes breakfast, Anna gets out of bed, gives us all a bit of full-frontal nudity and goes into the shower - where she is strangled by George Carney (in his red check shirt) as the water from the shower rose turns to blood. Intercut with this is another silent sepia flashback (hereinafter shortened to as an ‘SSF’) of the previously seen mutant/demon baby puppet being delivered by caesarian section while Mr Walken recites on the soundtrack.

As we recoil in horror - Anna sits up abruptly, screaming. Only this time she is in a sleeping bag in a tent with Karl. So, let me get my head round this. She wakes up abruptly from a dream that it’s two days later and she’s in the woods, then when that reality turns into a nightmare, she wakes up abruptly again and it is two days later and she is in the woods. Now do you start to see why I believe this all takes place in another dimension where time and space hold no meaning? I mean, the bit with George Carney and the blood in the shower must be a dream, but that means she wakes up abruptly in a dream from being awake round the campfire, mid-sentence. Perhaps she’s narcoleptic.

And while we’re at it, won’t tomorrow morning be Tuesday, which means Karl’s wife will be back home and find he’s not there because he’s screwing some other woman in a tent in Harrow Woods?

So anyway, Karl and Anna go back to sleep and a long-shot shows the group’s tents - right next to the log cabin! So is this the next night, when they finally reach the cabin? Is it Tuesday night? Have we cut out a whole day of their foresty adventures? Who cares because here’s the ravenringfirething again!

All this becomes both clearer and more confused with the next scene of Rachel and Steve flirting in the woods which is captioned ‘Saturday October 22nd’. Just to saving you checking, let me remind you that the gang’s arrival in the woods was captioned ‘Monday October 21st’. Now I think I know what has happened here. I suspect that everything from Gary and Karl announcing the weekend’s venue through to Anna’s spooky ability to know something that wasn’t in her pack took place on Friday (which is, you know, the normal day to start a weekend) and that the flashback to waking up in the apartment was actually that morning. Friday morning; so Karl’s wife goes away Thursday evening, comes back Tuesday morning. She’s away for four whole days during which Karl and Anna can screw in the woods surrounded by their chums.

And I think all this would have made some sort of sense if Friday’s date had been 21st October. In the campfire scene, Karl specifically states that the Carney family came out to the cabin on 21st October (despite the pre-credit sequence showing them doing it on 23rd October) and the ever-alert Rachel pipes up “That’s today’s date.” I’m trying to get my head around this and how it might have been caused if some captions were written by somebody who realised that the same date in different years falls on different days of the week - and other captions were written by a moron. But my brain is starting to itch and it’s simply much, much easier to accept the ‘alternative dimension’ theory. In this world, it is perfectly possible for Saturday to follow immediately from Monday.

This temporal anomaly also has the advantage for Karl that, although Mrs Mathers is only out of town for four days, he apparently gets a full week to screw Anna.

So on this sunny morning in Harrow Woods, with none of the others around, Steve and Rachel come across a Blair Witch rip-off which has no apparent connection with anything. “What the hell is that?” gasps Steve, pointing at a life-size figure made from sticks and dressed in a shirt and hat. “Just a scarecrow, numbnuts,” retorts Rachel.

A scarecrow. In the middle of the woods. Right.

Meanwhile, Lewis is listening to 1940s big band music in the Winnebago, although presumably this is off CD rather than 78. Steve thinks it’s rubbish. (I’m very confused between Steve and James, to be honest. I thought this was Steve but Rachel called the other fellow Steve. It would help if either character had, well, a character.) They both set off into the woods with Anna and Karl who assures the others that they will bump into Rachel and Steve “on the way”. Which seems remarkably confident, given that they’re just walking through the woods, not following any paths or anything.

In fact, they don’t bump into Rachel and Steve because that couple reach the cabin first. That’s the cabin they were camped next to last night, which could not be easily reached from where the car was, although there are now no tents next to it and the other four will reach it in the next scene, having just set off from the Winnebago which is parked next to the car.

The cabin has a wheelbarrow and a pair of old training shoes outside and a child’s tricycle inside. It apparently has only one door and one small window. For no apparent reason, this and the previous Rachel/Steve scene are shot in that irritating speed-up-slow-down way that was popularised by Channel Four medical shitcom Green Wing. It is as pointless and annoying here as it was there, although Evil Calls is considerably funnier.


Now, remember that magic webcam that allowed Gary to see Anna on his computer during the non-seance? Well, there’s obviously a bunch of them around. We now get some shots of a mysterious old guy sitting at a desk. He wears glasses and a striped tie but we never clearly see his face. He switches on his PC, immediately bringing up the website of the incorrectly apostrophised ‘Internetter’s Birthday Club’ which has small portraits of all six people and a large window showing them walking through the woods. Not only is this an impossible image, unless there are magic webcams in the trees, but these scenes of the old guy and his computer - which presumably aren’t flashbacks on account of he is watching what is happening right now - are fucking sepia! What is it with this film? Nobody has used this much sepia-tinting in a film since 1902. The old guy never says anything, we never see his face, he never appears again after this scene and there is absolutely no indication of who he is or why he might be relevant.

When Karl and company reach the cabin, Anna opens the door and Rachel falls out, pretending to have an axe in her chest. The others think this is a hilarious gag but Anna is upset and the old guy observing on-line just watches in silence. It’s quite a clean-looking axe, not a rusty thing that has been sitting around for two years. There is no indication of where Rachel found it.

The old guy with the PC also watches Rachel and Steve talking in a tent - eh, where did that come from? A moment ago they were in the cabin and there were no tents. Perhaps this confusion has been caused by inserting a shot of the tents next to the cabin which should have gone in the film later on. Perhaps they should have shown the tents at some sort of stage one camp before they were packed and moved on to the cabin. But that wouldn’t fit with what we have just seen: four people walking easily from the vehicles to the cabin, establishing that the two locations are not too far apart, certainly not two days’ walk. Ah, but if time and space are warped in this reality, it could have taken two days to reach the cabin which is now only half a mile or so away.

Anyway, there must be two magic webcams inside Steve and Rachel’s tent because the conversation, as viewed on the old guy’s PC, is perfectly edited: shot/reverse shot. Steve is as sceptical as Lewis but Rachel is dealing Tarot cards and believes in all this spooky stuff. Except - and I think this is a very important point worth making - no-one has yet mentioned anything specifically spooky. All we have is the location of a disappearance (not even a confirmed murder). It’s all very well for Lewis to say, “These woods don’t look very haunted to me,” but no-one has suggested they are haunted. Apart from Karl’s little tale about a witch being burned and cursing the place, we have had no indication what the supernatural aspects of the location actually are. There has been lots of talk about who believes or who doesn’t, but nobody has discussed what it is they’re actually meant to be believing in.

I mean, there are lots of paranormal things happening, like the cabin being both next to and a long way away from the road at the same time, people waking up suddenly in dreams/flashbacks and of course the magic webcams. But I don’t think those are the things the characters are talking about. Although in the next scene James does indeed set off into the woods, clutching three or four webcams, announcing that he is going to “place the cameras around the woods.” Rachel asks Anna, who has just gone inside her tent, if she’s coming out but Anna says no she can’t or won’t or something.

Ravenringfirething (again).

That night, Karl spots something among the trees. As the others (apart from James, who may still be off somewhere gaffer-taping webcams to branches) join him, a swirling visual effect solidifies into everyone’s favourite British horror honey - Ms Eileen Daly! Wearing a short fur jacket and bright scarlet lippie, she greets ‘Dr Mathers’ (confirming a suspicion that he is an academic and the others are his students, although this is never specifically stated and they all appear to be about the same age). He is surprised to see her there although he has just been talking to someone on his mobile, asking where she has got to. Eileen is Victoria Jordan, a medium who promptly diagnoses Steve as having a headache and, when she shakes Anna’s hand, has an SSF of the grimoire baby-book and the demon-mutant-baby-thing being born.

This is followed by a brief, supposedly comic interlude in which Steve, clutching a microphone and talking to a handheld camera, repeatedly tries to introduce himself to the on-line viewers. Every time he stumbles over his words or loses his thread, the image goes snowy with static and wobbly for some reason. Why? Either the camera is still on or it gets switched off. What sort of video camera makes the image snowy and wobbly every time the person on screen pauses?

Meanwhile, Anna is accusing Karl of having an affair with Victoria although he claims he has never met her before and that she was recommended by a colleague at the university. “She’s a psychometrist,” he explains. “She picks up psychic vibrations by touch.”

Karl then tells Anna and Lewis (who has come to mock) that he doesn’t want anyone, “tipping Victoria off about the history of the wood.” Erm, perhaps that would have been worth mentioning before she turned up. In any case, he’s assuming that Victoria hasn’t bothered doing any research into Harrow Woods before heading out there for a weekend of ghost-hunting with a group of complete strangers. Either this place is famous for the ‘many murders’ committed there since 1843 (when witch-burning was still being practised in the USA, apparently) and there are accounts on-line of the Carney family’s disappearance two years ago - or this is just an ordinary bit of forest. Make your mind up!

Back home, Gary is watching Topless Babes with Big Guns again and either his PC monitor has a really weird shaped screen or this footage hasn’t been properly matted into the shot of the computer. He flips over to a live feed from a magic webcam, framed in another thing that looks like a home edit suite programme (the webcam image is black and white, which makes a pleasant change from sepia). He hears Karl tell Rachel: “There’s an energy field around the camp. Frankly I don’t know what it is.”

Next we have Anna talking to camera as Steve did earlier, except she is plainly holding a different microphone. “Hi! I’m Anna and this is my birthday weekend,” she says, grinning like a Spice Girl. “So - what will it entail? Well, we’re going to take you on the journey of a lifetime. So if you like to be scared - and I know you do! - then Stay Logged On!”

It’s not clear that Gary is watching this clip, which begins with the obligatory wobbly snow (boy, they need some better cameras!) until we cut back to him. But wait a minute, hasn’t Anna been increasingly withdrawn and miserable ever since they got there? She was looking forward to spending four days shagging her professor while his wife is out of town and instead she has had to travel into the wilds of New England with four other people, sleeping in a small tent, having weird flashback nightmares and most recently facing the possibility that the man who is cheating on his wife with her is having yet another affair behind both their backs. Why the hell is she suddenly so perky?

Gary’s next port of call is the front page of ‘The Internetter’s Birthday Club Website’. Still not grasped that whole apostrophe thing, have we? Mind you, we should probably start with something simpler like which day comes after Monday. Anyway, this front page is black except for the title, a drawing of Vincent Price and an audio clip of somebody doing a half-hearted Price impression: “Do ghosts exist? Can we talk to the dead? Join us tonight at midnight, the witching hour, for live psychic experiments from Harrow Wood.” (It’s definitely ‘Harrow Wood’ here, not ‘Woods’ as before.)

Then Gary flips back to the edit-suite webcam thing where he sees Victoria and asks Karl, via a microphone, who that is. I guess Karl must have a radio ear-piece on, waiting for Gary to ask, because he responds immediately, explaining that it’s the medium. So wait, neither of you two thought to actually find out what this woman looked like before inviting her to join the team? And Karl, let’s remember, is surprised that Victoria found them (she says, “I’m psychic, remember?”) so presumably he invited her without giving her a map of how to find the infamous cabin which is well-documented on the web and only a short walk from the road.

My brain is starting to hurt now. I’m not even going to try and guess what Karl means when he says that he has tried to keep Victoria’s involvement a secret as long as possible, “otherwise the experiment won’t be worth a candle.”

After a brief scene of Victoria flirting with a nervous Steve who is busy putting up more cameras, Anna announces that she’s not ready to do a seance but when Victoria offers to do it instead, Anna suddenly agrees. As before, this is not a seance by any accepted understanding of the term. What we get is an effects shot which is meant to show Anna’s head shaking about at incredible speed while the others walk around behind her. This is achieved by the actress shaking her head quite fast while everyone else moves i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y then speeding up the footage. Unfortunately it doesn’t work because it’s not at quite the right speed and everyone still looks as if they’re walking a bit too slow.

Also, there seems to be some confusion among the actors over whether they are meant to be walking forward or backwards.

While this ‘seance’ happens, we see an SSF of Mrs Carney and her brother in law killing the two Carney Children, who are about twelve or thirteen years old I would say. “Come to Daddy,” says Richard Askwith. “Come to your real daddy.”

A quick ravenringfirething and then it’s Sunday 23rd October - but only just, as the caption says it’s 12.01am. Gary tells Karl, “We’ve got action. People are logging on in their thousands.” Rachel and Karl both do little to-camera pieces like we saw the others do but as Gary watches Karl on his edit-suite thing (it’s clearly not from one of the tree-webcams as it’s moving, handheld footage) suddenly the connection is terminated. We know this because the image of Karl disappears - instantly; none of your wobbly snow now - and is replaced by a red caption that says ‘connection terminated.’

Possibly my favourite moment in the film is a shot of Gary trying to restore the connection by banging the side of his monitor. You can’t blame young Mr Donovan. In his shots he’s looking at a blank screen and he has been asked by the director, Mr Driscoll, to react as if he is watching video footage of Karl which suddenly disappears. Donovan has obviously assumed that this video footage was full-screen, so when it vanishes there’s every possibility that it’s a problem with the monitor. Although it must be said that most people would check the leads rather than just bang the side of the thing. This isn’t a 1960s television set.

But Jason Donovan has been made to look a fool by whoever designed the edit-suite screen with the video feed within a window. When the ‘connection terminated’ notice appears, in a reverse shot probably filmed months after Donovan had shot his scenes, the rest of the screen is fine. And yet we still see Gary, allegedly a computer whizz, attempting to restore a lost connection from a distant webcam by banging the side of his monitor.

Round the campfire, everyone is confused because Victoria has disappeared. For some reason Steve is the only one who goes to look for her and, when he finds her, she seduces him. Meanwhile, inside the cabin, Anna is wandering around with a torch (when and why did she go in the cabin?). She is sprinkling some sort of powder on the ground and then notices something under the dust that covers the floor.

When next we see her she is climbing down a ladder into a room full of dusty furniture and bookshelves. It took me some time to realise that this is meant to be a secret room underneath the cabin so presumably in the previous scene she found a trapdoor. That might have worked better if we had actually seen that she had found a trapdoor.

Exploring this room (which we can recognise from the last SSF), she picks up a George Carney novel, Murder at the Carlton. The blurb, underneath the previously mentioned Garth Marenghi author photo, begins: “Take three people, the husband, the wife and the lover and then mix them up with jealousy, murder and mystery.” So Carney’s publishers didn’t bother proof-reading his jackets or they gave the job to someone with no grasp of punctuation as the arrangement of commas in this sentence makes it read as if there’s six people involved.

Another SSF - actually, it’s not silent, it has big band music playing - shows us Carney plus wife and brother sitting around a table in a ballroom while smartly dressed couples dance. As the other two chat over-amiably, Carney broods and glowers, smoking a cheroot. This is the best bit of acting I have ever seen Richard Driscoll do, probably because he is not called on to speak.

Back in the room under the cabin - where the soundtrack has inexplicably changed from Christopher Walken to a 1940s female vocal - Anna finds a torn half-photo showing Carney and Vincent in the forest. Back in the sepia dance hall, the illusion is shattered when George Carney speaks. Even though we can barely make out what he says (the sound mixing is abominable), two things are rapidly evidently: George Carney is being nice to his two companions and Richard Driscoll still can’t act. They all drink a toast of champagne and then Mr and Mrs Carney get up to dance.

In the gentleman’s washroom of this establishment, as Richard Driscoll straightens his tie, who should come in but Sir Norman Wisdom - and instantly the film raises itself into something new, more interesting and more entertaining. Say what you like about Driscoll as actor, writer and director but he actually has some ability as a producer because casting Norman Wisdom was exactly what this film - or at least, the film he was making when he shot these scenes - needed. If only he would stick to producing instead of persisting in his tragically misguided belief that he can act, write or direct.

Now here are the basics of the Norman/Driscoll scene. They are alone in a large, wood-panelled gentleman’s washroom: basins at one end, a large mirror above them; toilet cubicles at the far end; marble urinals along one wall; door directly into dance hall opposite them. And a few potted palms in the corners. Both gentlemen wear evening dress. Sir Norman also wears white gloves and adopts his classic pose: slightly hunched, elbows bent, hands out front, pointing together but one slightly higher than the other. You know how he stands - the servant, ready to help in an instant if he is only told what to do. In fact, two things have just occurred to me. First, this is exactly the same pose that C-3PO tends to adopt - eager but subservient - and second, this may stem from Norman’s early success as an army boxer. He says in his brief interview on the disc that his comedy career started when he was shadow-boxing in an army gym, having attained some degree of success as a flyweight pugilist, and decided that he should let his imaginary opponent get a few blows in. Think of how he stands: all he would have to do is clench his fists and he’s ready for the ring.

Anyway anyway, Norman (I’ll call the unnamed character Norman) warns Carney about the hot taps but says he would know that anyway. When Carney points out that he has never been to this establishment before, Norman responds that he is certain that Carney is in fact the manager. Norman comments on Carney’s beautiful friend and, when told that she is his wife, again responds with incredulity, sure that the other gentleman at the table must be her husband. Carney assures Norman that the lady is his wife and the other man is his brother. Norman says they would make a lovely couple.

Now here’s the clever bit (or interesting bit or bizarre bit, depending on what mood you’re in). As Carney turns again to the hand basin, a white-gloved hand rests on his shoulder only this time it belongs to Rik Mayall (whose character I will call Rik). Carney and Rik then go through exactly the same dialogue as Carney and Norman did a moment ago. Well, not exactly the same. It’s clearly the same script but the interpretation is different and it’s actually a fascinating opportunity to directly compare two very different acting styles.

Mayall and Sir Norman play essentially the same character, in the same scene, speaking the same dialogue to the same actor playing the same character, shot by the same director and cameraman. Yet the two scenes are radically different. It’s fascinating. Even if you don’t want to sit through a Richard Driscoll film, you should buy the disc and just watch these two scenes (assuming nobody puts them on YouTube in the meantime). They start at 50 minutes in.

Rik looks dapper and handsome, his hair slicked back, like the sophisticate that Richie from Bottom always imagined he was. Where Norman was meek and humble, Rik is unctuous to the point of oleaginity (if there is such a word). Like Sir Norman, Mayall is able to do wonders for both the part and the film as a whole. Quite apart from the remarkable contrast between the two actors playing the same role in consecutive versions of the same scene, one can also compare and contrast Mayall with Driscoll. And it’s painful to behold.

Mayall is an actor who can evidently work without a decent director (as indeed is, or at least was, Sir Norman). Driscoll is a lousy actor who is directing himself. Watching these two extremes of talent and ability actually working together is just extraordinary. (I say ‘extremes’ but obviously there are better actors than Mayall and worse actors than Driscoll, although I only know that because I’ve seen Kannibal.)

Both scenes are shot in sepia (of course) with fake scratches and a juddery image, just like all the SSFs. It’s only with this longer scene, helped by the wooden panels in the background presenting more consistent tones than the forest, that we can see quite how bad the actual video image is here. I thought, at the start of the film, that some degree of pixilation had been employed in the sepia sequences (which would completely contradict the whole point of making them look old) but I think this is actually just video artefacting. If I didn’t know I had put a DVD in my machine, I would think I was watching a VCD because the quality is so poor. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was a VCD although I don’t think you can fit a whole film on one VCD so it’s probably just some technical cock-up in post-production. Whatever, it looks bloody awful.

Nevertheless, Sir Norman is great, Rik Mayall is great and their scenes - well, their scene - is the highlight of the film. It doesn’t make any more sense than the rest and in fact it makes less sense than some parts, but it’s genuinely entertaining and interesting. There is no indication of who Rik and Norman actually are, other than that they appear to be an employee of the hotel (I assume it’s a hotel from the newspaper headlines in the title sequence, though this is never stated). In his interview, Rik says that they play the same character and this is what I have also been told by people involved with the film. Yet when a synopsis of Evil Calls, written by Driscoll himself, appeared on Wikipedia a few weeks after the DVD was released, the two characters were described thus: “Rik Mayall plays Winston, a menacing spirit of a former hotel manager who tricks writer George Carney into killing his wife. Norman Wisdom plays Mayall's father, who also appears to guide Carney in amoral ways.”

Around the same time, character names appeared on the film’s IMDB listing: Sir Norman as Winston Llamat and Mayall as Winston Llamata Jr. The joke surname is obviously a reference to Richard Driscoll’s llama herd - no honestly, he owns a herd of llamas - although it’s amusing that whoever added this to the Inaccurate Movie Database couldn’t actually make the surnames consistent.

There is, it must be stressed, absolutely no indication that the characters are hotel managers (their claim that they think Carney is the manager suggests that they are anything but). And there is even less indication that they are father and son. If you check out the Rik Mayall interview on the DVD or the website, he not only specifically states that he and Sir Norman are playing the same character but also describes the character as “a barman named Winston.” So if Rik Mayall can’t tell that the character he is playing is meant to be the ghost of a hotel manager, how are the viewers supposed to determine this (probably fairly crucial) piece of information?

At the end of Rik’s scene, Carney turns back to the hand basins and Rik disappears, in the sense that he is not reflected in the mirror. This is deliberate and actually works really well. What Carney sees in the mirror instead is his wife and brother walk into the room and start groping each other, the wife topless as her strappy evening gown is pulled down to her waist. Of course, when Carney turns to look, he is alone in the room. And when he checks the main hall, his wife and brother are still sat at the table, fully clothed.

From here on in, things get even more confusing - which at least confirms the old adage that anything is possible.

After a very brief shot of Anna in the cellar, we have another non-silent sepia flashback (NSSF, I suppose) of Vincent and Mrs Carney in bed together which merely confirms two things we already knew: they are having an affair and he is the kids’ father. Although one thing we still don’t know is Mrs Carney’s first name! This leads into the aerial shot of the car from the pre-credits sequence (complete with young Mr Walken starting his poetic recital from the top again) and a scene inside the car where Vincent says he fancies a spot of hunting in the forest and taunts George for never being able to kill anything.

Another momentary shot of Anna leads into a brief scene of Rachel looking for Steve in the woods and finding Victoria instead. Meanwhile James is watching porn on a laptop (one scene looks like it might actually be footage from Kannibal) but he is interrupted by Karl who hasn’t seen Anna for two hours “since she went to the log cabin to prepare for the seance.” Hmm, I’m just wondering... have you tried looking... in the log cabin? Unless she pulled the trapdoor shut behind her and somehow swept the dust back over it from underneath, she shouldn’t be too difficult to find.

A steadicam shot through the woods shows us a dead body too briefly and obliquely to identify the person but I’m guessing it’s Steve as (a) Rachel was looking for him, (b) he was last seen with Victoria who is surely up to no good and now seems to be alone, and (c) he and Lewis are the only two characters we haven’t seen in the past ninety seconds or so.

In the cabin (good place to look!), Karl finds Anna in a trance, sitting on the floor, endlessly typing ‘DEATH’ on a manual typewriter. He shakes her awake and she assures him, “It’s here, Karl. The secret to what you’ve been looking for. It isn’t hokey-pokey like the past, it’s real.” No honestly, she says ‘hokey-pokey’. At that moment the trapdoor flings itself open with a bang which surprised me because, based on the earlier scene of Anna finding the trapdoor which conspicuously didn’t show us the trapdoor, I had assumed that they couldn’t afford, or simply didn’t bother to build, a trapdoor. But apparently they could, or did.

Continue to Part 3

Evil Calls - world's longest film review (pt.1)

Originally posted on my main website in 2008 but removed, like the other reviews, to save my Webhost from receiving any more threatening e-mails from Richard Driscoll

Before you start reading this, be warned. The full review is 22,000 words long.

See also Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

Director: Richard Driscoll
Writer: Richard Driscoll
Producer: Richard Driscoll
Cast: Rik Mayall! Jason Donovan! Sir Norman Wisdom! Crikey!
Country: UK
Year of release: 2008
Reviewed from: UK DVD
Website: www.houseoffear.co.uk 

Here it is at last. Seven years after Kannibal and six years after it was actually shot, Richard Driscoll’s fourth feature (or possibly fifth) finally makes it to DVD, self-distributed through Driscoll’s InternetGore website without the benefit of a BBFC rating (which is not strictly legal…). The bulk of this film was shot in 2002 as Alone in the Dark although Driscoll had announced the previous year that he was planning to adapt Poe’s ‘The Raven’ (which he seemed to think was a story rather than a poem).

In a move which is bound to frustrate title purists, the actual release title is unclear. ‘Evil Calls’ is superimposed over a silhouette of a raven, then the two words fade away and the bird shape morphs into ‘The Raven’. So is it The Raven: Evil Calls or Evil Calls: The Raven? Or just Evil Calls? Or, as per the sleeve design and assuming that the three phrases thereon are to be read in the same order as the similarly structured logo for Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, is this film actually called The Raven Episode One: Evil Calls?

Who knows? Who cares? I’m not bothered by these things the same way some other horror movie journos are and the actual title is the least of the film’s problems.

In terms of narrative theory and on the basis of the two Driscoll films which I have previously been able to see, the man is an auteur whose work falls into two camps: pictures like Kannibal which are blatantly unoriginal rip-offs and pictures like The Comic which are - please excuse me but I don’t know of any other way to phrase this with appropriate emphasis - Fucking Incomprehensible. Evil Calls definitely falls into the latter category, defying any attempt to establish a coherent narrative (although it does also rip off some better-known films, as we shall see). This picture makes absolutely no sense, both in terms of the overall story and at a more detailed level within individual scenes. Having watched it twice, my belief is that the only way to fit the film into any sort of narrative convention - the only way to effectively understand or ‘read’ the film - is to accept that it all takes place in an alternative dimension where the basic rules of time and space, cause and effect, reality and fantasy just break down completely and no longer apply. I am absolutely sure that this is not Richard Driscoll’s intention (at least, not throughout the whole film) but it’s a fun way of looking at this extraordinary motion picture.

I should stress here that, whatever else it may be, Evil Calls is enormously entertaining. The Comic was incomprehensible and boring but Evil Calls is a rare example of an oft-cited though rarely delivered cinematic genre. It really, really is So Bad It’s Good. Most films which are claimed to be SBIG, on inspection, aren’t. That’s one of the reasons why Mystery Science Theatre 3000 edited down the films it showed and added not just comments over the image but also interstitial scenes with the regular characters. In a sense it’s why horror hosts traditionally intrude into TV screenings to make comments. Yes, on a technical level they’re acting as bumpers to the commercial breaks but on an artistic level they are adding an additional level of entertainment to something which seems on the surface to be an absolute riot but which is likely to pall quickly if it goes on for more than ten to fifteen minutes without interruption. Essentially, the host is there to stop the viewers from channel-surfing by switching the action of the remote from the receiver to the broadcaster, pre-empting what-else-is-on boredom by jumping in to poke fun at the film, elevating mildly amusing concepts to (supposed) hilarity through pointed satire. Bad films simply aren’t So Bad It’s Good when you sit down to view them, they’re just bad. They need a regular infusion of good from somewhere else to be worth the time and effort invested in watching them.

Few indeed are the bad films which can stand on their own two feet, engaging a viewer’s attention for a full 70-80 minutes. As a jobbing film journo and devotee of cinematic exotica I’m probably easier to please in this respect than most people. But I genuinely do believe that Evil Calls is so awful, aiming so high and falling so low in so many respects, that it is actually far more fun to watch than many ‘good’ films which, in truth, are merely competent. By way of example, and before we get down to the review proper, allow me to place on record that this is a film ostensibly inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe which manages to misspell Poe’s name in the opening credits. It really is that gloriously inept and it rarely lets up. Truly, this is like an opera version of Tosca.

I almost used the adverb ‘relentlessly’ in the previous paragraph but Evil Calls is not relentlessly awful. One reason why it succeeds is because it has moments of genuine quality - not least the appearances by Rik Mayall and Norman Wisdom - which serve to break up the film in the way that an intrusive, satirical horror host might (or indeed a few decent TV ads). Ironically, Mayall’s and Wisdom’s scene are consecutive but as the film is fairly short anyway, they provide a suitable midway break. Mind, it’s the performances of the two actors which show quality, not the scenes themselves which are possibly even more Fucking Incomprehensible than the rest of the film.

So Evil Calls is, perhaps, the perfect bad film. It’s not too long, it’s packed with different ideas and themes and it’s sufficiently outré that the viewer can easily see that their incomprehension stems from the film-maker’s lack of talent rather than their own lack of understanding. Above all, it’s deliriously, decisively, deliciously weird. In an interview among the DVD extras, Mayall tries to argue that Alone in the Dark (as was) is not a horror film but belongs in its own subgenre which he calls “fucking weird”. He’s talking nonsense in claiming it’s not horror (though to be fair most of the really gruesome stuff was shot six years after his scenes and probably wasn’t in the script he saw) but he’s spot on with his ‘fucking weird’ subgenre. This is a trippy film, one that might actually start to make sense if viewed through a drug-induced distortion of reality, the unreality on screen effectively cancelled out by the unreality of the viewer’s narcotic-fuelled cognisance. That’s an experiment I’m not planning to try although that has more to do with my clean lifestyle than a reluctance to watch Evil Calls again. Still, who would ever have thought that Richard Driscoll would make a film that, in one sense, could stand comparison with masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Koyaanisqatsi?

The other point which I want to stress upfront is that I did not approach Evil Calls with preconceptions. Until I actually watched the DVD it was - like everything else I review - a quantum movie, inbetween the phase states of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (though there are of course many gradations within and between those concepts in the real world) and only settling into the latter state once I had seen the whole thing. Although I must admit it started leaning that way the moment I saw how they had spelled Edgar ‘Allen’ Poe in the credits. Of course I came to the film with expectations. On the basis of Kannibal and The Comic I fully expected Evil Calls to be rubbish - and my expectations were met beyond my wildest, erm, expectations. Any artist who establishes a consistent style across two or more pieces of work creates expectations but a truly open-minded and honest critic (which I like to think I am) knows that however consistent the artist’s work to date might be, each new piece can surprise and/or disappoint. Just as I would expect a Tim Burton film to be gothic, a Roger Corman film to be cheap and a David DeCoteau film to feature a number of young men without shirts, so I expect a Richard Driscoll film to be, by any reasonable standard, rubbish.

But expectation is not prejudice. Had this turned out to be a masterpiece, or even vaguely competent, then I would be the first person to sing its praises. Let’s face it, I’m the only film critic who ever writes anything about Richard Driscoll’s work so if I don’t give credit where it’s due, who will? And credit is due to some aspects of Evil Calls, as indeed it was due to some aspects of Kannibal (check my review - there are moments of praise in there) although I don’t think there are any redeeming features to The Comic apart from its highly commendable obscurity. In a sense, it’s the flashes of potential which make this film and its predecessor so terrible, serving only to emphasise how crap the rest of it is by briefly reminding the viewer what a real movie looks like.

So I come not to bury Richard Driscoll nor to praise him, only to document, explore and analyse his unique contribution to cinema. If I have a bloody good laugh along the way, that’s just a bonus.

Because of its lack of coherent narrative structure, the best way I can analyse Evil Calls is to take you through it, scene by scene, as I was forced to do with some of the more eccentric Thai films that I have reviewed in the past. In those cases I was hampered by cultural differences and a lack of subtitles but here there is no such obvious get-out clause for the film. Evil Calls simply Does Not Make Any Sense, as I am about to demonstrate. So if you would prefer to enjoy the film without my critical influence, I urge you to stop reading now, go to www.internetgore.com, order yourself a copy and watch it. Then come back here and see if we agree. I’m sure we will. For those who have seen the film or plan to never see the film or don’t care about spoilers - eyes down for a full house.

We kick off with two caption screens: the first verse of Poe’s ‘The Raven’ - with the writer’s name spelled correctly - and then ‘Monday, October 23rd’. Our first actual image is a helicopter shot of two horses running along a beach (are they from Driscoll’s stud farm, I wonder) which then pans to show a car driving along the coast road, a great big, white, open-top thing with fins and all sorts. I don’t know cars so I don’t know what make this is - it’s not any of the ones listed on the House of Fear ‘props’ page - but it looks 1940s/1950s to me. The odd thing is that this footage is sepia-tinted, has fake scratches and is juddery (presumably to give the impression of having been filmed at one speed but projected at another) which I can only assume is intended to make us think that this is very old film. But by the 1940s sepia tinting was virtually unknown and 24fps was universal on account of sound films having been invented. So already we have a contradiction in terms of implied time period.

The soundtrack meanwhile has Christopher Walken reciting ‘The Raven', accompanied by ominous music and sound effects. Back in 2001, when The Raven and Alone in the Dark were still two separate projects, Richard Driscoll attended a Fangoria convention where he told the attendees, “I've already shot Walken's scenes for the movie. This Raven is the Poe story with a Lara Croft spin on the material."

Now, apart from ‘The Raven’ not actually being a story - and let me assure you that there is no ‘Lara Croft spin’ on anything in the finished film - this raises the intriguing question of Walken’s ‘scenes’ of which, er, there aren’t any. Just this reading of the poem, here and then intermittently throughout the film’s soundtrack. The curious thing is that Walken had already recorded ‘The Raven’ in 1997 for an all-star CD of Poe’s poems and stories entitled Closed on Account of Rabies. This was released on Island/Mercury and also featured such bizarre delights as Iggy Pop reading ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and Diamanda Galas reading ‘The Black Cat’!

Walken’s track from the album (which you can listen to on Amazon and elsewhere) sounds remarkably like the reading in Evil Calls although the accompanying music is different. I suppose a pro like Walken would tend to always read the same poem the same way, especially if it’s one of his favourites. There’s no acknowledgement to Island/Mercury in the credits so we must assume that Driscoll did indeed record ‘scenes’ of Walken reading the poem a year or two before he shot Alone in the Dark and several years before he decided to retitle it and its two sequels as ‘The Raven Trilogy’. There’s no other explanation...

Now the car stuff becomes intercut with other footage of various sorts, some of which shows Richard Driscoll (or technically ‘Stephen Craine’, the acting name he uses as there is already a thespian called Richard Driscoll) wearing a check shirt, sitting at a desk in an otherwise bare log cabin. These images are quite heavily pixelated. There are also some exterior shots of the log cabin which sits in the middle of a wood and some extreme close-ups of a manual typewriter typing ‘D E A T H’.

Driscoll examines an ancient grimoire with a picture of a baby on one page and there is a close-up of a piece of paper with a series of handwritten names: WB Yeates, HP Lovecraft, MacGregor Mathers, William Wynn Wescott, Harry Price, Arthur Machen. I would expect most of you to be familiar with numbers one, two and six; Mathers and Wescott were both occultists involved with the Order of the Golden Dawn while Price was a psychic researcher. All except Wescott have Wikipedia entries and you can google him. All except WB Yeats are spelled correctly.

A hand, presumably that of Driscoll’s character, circles Lovecraft and Price. Who knows why?

As Chris Walken continues to recite, we have a shot of a semi-naked woman’s body impaled, through her breasts, on two curved, white horns from an antelope or somesuch; we can’t see her face. We also see that the typewriter has just typed ‘DEATH’ over and over again. And we finish this pre-title sequence with the most extraordinary shot, an image of Kubrickian symmetry as Driscoll’s character sits, immobile at his desk in the bare log cabin. First dark mould (or something) creeps across the floor in stop motion and then blood starts pouring through the walls. Lots of blood. I mean, gallons and gallons of the stuff, falling in scarlet torrents (well, they would be scarlet if all this stuff wasn’t still tinted sepia) and splashing and swirling on the floor.

If that really is Richard Driscoll sitting there without moving a muscle as this stuff cascades all around him, then hats off to the man, he’s a better actor than I have given him credit for. Of course, it may just be a cardboard cut-out of Driscoll or he may have been matted in in post-production.

Anyway, the point is that, apart from the obscurity and anachronism of the scratchy sepia-tinting, this is quite an effective pre-credits sequence although the woman impaled on horns seems a somewhat gratuitous and out of place mix of bare tits and gore. Freudians would have a field day at the use of animal horns to impale a provocatively displayed female torso, wide-lapelled coat held open, out-of-frame face anonymising her sexuality - but to be honest I can’t take this shot seriously since it occurred to me that she looks like she’s been impaled on an impala. However, the ‘gushing torrents of blood’ bit is marvellous. It really is. Who says I never say anything good about Mr Driscoll?

Mind, it’s one image. Images are for music videos, films need stories and characters.

Speaking of music videos, we then launch into the title sequence itself for which the music changes to a modern beat with snatches of Walken’s reading sampled over the top, like a rap version of ‘The Raven’. The title (just Evil Calls, Kim) passes across the screen over what I assumed, on first watching, to just be heavily pixelated footage of naked women. It was only on my second viewing that I recognised one of the women through the digital distortion and thought: damn me, it’s Bettie Page!

I have no idea whether Richard Driscoll knows the significance of the public domain images he’s using or whether he thinks it’s just generic old-time bondage stock, but how’s that for the final addition to officially the Most Eclectic Cast in Cinema History? Let’s just recount them (in alphabetical order): Robin Askwith, Jason Donovan, Rik Mayall, Bettie Page, Christopher Walken and Norman Wisdom - together at last!

Mixing in with the Bettie clips (and with the actual opening credits in red type over the top) are a series of apparently genuine, ‘true crime’-style magazine headlines about notorious wackos and serial killers: Albert Fish, the Boston Strangler, Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy. These, which have absolutely no connection with anything we will see in the next seventy-odd minutes, are followed by fake newspaper headlines as follows:
  • ‘Lenore Murder Mystery’ 

  • ‘The Woodlands Hotel’ 

  • ‘Hotel to be Built on Witch Burning Site’ 

  • ‘Hotel Manager Murders Family’ 

  • ‘Death Hotel is Site of Witch Burning’ 

  • ‘Horror Hotel in Murder Mystery Again’ 

  • ‘Hotel Manager in Axe Death Spree’ 

  • ‘Writer Buys Horror Hotel’ 

  • ‘Horror Writer Kills Wife and Family’ 
So basically, a hotel was built in a place where a witch was once burned to death. The manager killed his family and it was subsequently bought by a horror writer who then also killed his family. This is worth documenting in such pedantic detail because it could well turn out to be the clearest indication of this film’s plot.

Oh, and three words appear during this title sequence, ‘typed’ on screen in boxes: ‘perversion’, ‘snuff’ and ‘victims’. Finally, in another box appears the typed message ‘Karl, I think I have found what you are looking for.’ Then we get 'Evil Calls' over a raven silhouette as previously described.

We are six and a quarter minutes into the film, we have reached the end of the title sequence - and this review already runs to more than 3,000 words. It’s going to be a long night.

Suddenly we’re blasted into a very short montage. Topless women! Women with guns! Topless women with big guns shooting cops! Explosions! I don’t know what film this is from but it doesn’t look like it was shot for this one. Anyway, the hot girl/gun action pauses because it’s being watched on a computer monitor by Gary (Jason Donovan), who wears a T-shirt over his jumper and gives us the first of what will be many variable and frankly unidentifiable accents. It’s not really American, not quite his native Aussie, but he uses it to inform Karl Mathers (Richard Waters: The Killer Tongue): “I think I’ve found what you’re looking for.”

Gary is a computer geek, you see. He indicates this by wearing his baseball cap backwards and there is a large one-sheet for the 1958 Dracula on his wall among various cut-out pictures of sexy women. Speaking of which, how can he just have found what Karl was looking for - a gory, bloody website which will “make her little panties hot for you” - and have been watching that sexy action montage at the same time?

“The place is called Harrow Woods, New England,” explains Gary which doesn’t really make sense because a moment ago he was talking about a website, not a place. But just to emphasise that this film will all take place in a location called Harrow Woods, we get a brief sepia flashback showing a wooden sign that reads ‘Welcome to Harrow Woods’. You know, just in case we weren’t paying attention.

Two years ago in October (we are told) a horror writer named George Carney took his family on holiday to their log cabin. A flurry of silent monochrome flashbacks includes some Carney books, the only discernible title of which is To Teach Her a Lesson. And there is a photo on the back of one volume which is pure Garth Marenghi! There is also a shot of someone approaching the log cabin (the one from the pre-credits sequence) with a couple of large fish and a landing net and some more footage of that white car, in which we see not only Mr and Mrs Carney and their two kids but also George’s brother Vincent (the legend that is Robin Askwith).

“Vincent?” queries Karl. “Vincent,” Gary assures him, as if this is significant or impressive in some way. Gary tells Karl that the family were not murdered but simply vanished, never to be seen again. A selection of surprisingly clearly scanned on-line newspaper clippings includes one with a photo of the Carneys (without Vincent) sitting in a doorway above a really bad faked-up headline: ‘The second week missing and still no traces of their whereabouts.’ This is great, absolutely great, partly because the spacing is all wrong and whoever knocked it together only underlined half the words, but mainly because it’s ungrammatical rubbish. How can you have a trace of a whereabouts? A ‘whereabouts’ is a location but locations either are or aren’t; they’re a binary concept. You can’t have traces of places.

There could be no trace (singular) of the family or their whereabouts could be unknown. But ‘no traces of their whereabouts’ is simply illiterate. Good grief, if you’re going to ask somebody to fake up a newspaper headline you should at least give the job to someone who knows how to write English.

I’m also trying to work out how this squares with the headlines about a horror writer (presumably Carney) buying a hotel and murdering his family there. (You know, I can’t help thinking that I’ve read something somewhere about another film where a writer attacks his family in an isolated hotel that has already seen a previous family slaughtered. Where would I have come across something like that? It may even have had a typewriter in it...)

Oh, and in what way does a collection of newspaper cuttings about a family who mysteriously disappeared tie in with Gary’s claim that he has found a website full of blood and gore?

To link us to the next scene we have a brief shot of an expanding circle of flame with a raven briefly seen behind/within it. It’s a bit like the inter-scene doodads an America sitcom: the exterior shots of Jerry’s apartment building in Seinfeld or the bouncing planets in Third Rock from the Sun. This will crop up several more times and to save having to describe it again, I’ll just say ‘ravenringfirething’. Okay?

Our next scene introduces the rest of ‘the Internetters’, a group of friends who apparently celebrate birthdays by going on creepy expeditions and broadcasting them over the web. This is, says Karl to people who already know, the third year they’ve done it and today is Anna’s birthday. So presumably they do it for a different person’s birthday each year. Anna is interested in the paranormal so they’re off to Harrow Woods. (Later in the film a character says that this is the fourth year that they have all gone away like this, but who’s counting?)

“Where?” says a voice. “Harrow Woods!” chorus the assembled friends. Just in case that wooden sign flashback in the previous scene had escaped your attention.

Karl and Gary are explaining the set-up to blonde Rachel (Sonya Vine, an actress/painter who sometimes uses the name ‘Sonya Craine’ and is apparently the sister of Newsnight presenter Jeremy Vine and comedian Tim Vine!), brunette Anna (Kathryn Rooney) and cynical Lewis (Charlie Allen). There is another male character at the back of the room, in the shadows, who never says anything but there is also a very obviously looped voice from a character who is never seen, ie. he only speaks on shots of other people. The voice - he’s the one who asks “Where?” - is identified as Steve and there’s also someone called James who will be in charge of the webcams and visual mixer at the investigation site while Gary actually manages the website back at home.

Because of the hamfisted editing and camerawork in this scene it’s impossible to tell whether the figure at the back of the room is Steve or whether that’s James and Steve is not on screen at all. And I mean ‘hamfisted’. This finishes with a shot of Gary and half of Karl. Literally, as Karl is speaking off-screen he moves half into shot, then steps back as the camera moves with him, staying half in-shot. Oh, and the whole scene starts with someone putting a 78 of ‘In the Mood’ onto a gramophone, which seems to have nothing to do with anything.

The following exchange between Gary and Lewis is, I believe, worth quoting in full: “So we’ve become guinea pigs for your experiment in the ‘creepy world’ of Gary and Karl?” “I told you before, Lewis. The paranormal is not only the key to the future but a way of understanding our past. I mean, man, come on: a form of religion you can grasp in both your hands.”

If anyone can explain to me what that means, I’d love to know. All credit to Jason Donovan for saying this with a straight face. If anyone ever doubted the thespian skills of this former soap star and pop singer, doubt no more. Mind you, if you look deep into his eyes as he says this, you can spot the exact moment at which he starts considering a change of agent,

In response to Lewis’ scepticism, Gary proposes “a test, here and now - a seance.” You might think that this would involve a ouija board or at least everyone sitting round a table holding hands. In fact, what they do is hook Anna up to Gary’s laptop. So, not a seance at all then. Gary spouts a load of bland technobabble, Jason Donovan having presumably resigned himself to the idea that he’ll at least get paid (I assume he did get paid...) and no-one’s likely to ever see this rubbish.

Oh, go on then. I’ll quote you a bit: “Full contacts maintained and registering, temperature steady at 73.1 degrees, dynamometer reading decreasing to 1822 ... Temperature lowering, pulse rate 93.4.” This is particularly great as, a few moments later, he announces that the temperature is “continuing to rise.”

Shots of Anna, showing her either concentrating or in a trance, are filmed from a point a couple of feet above Gary’s head. I mention this because reverse shots of Gary’s Toshiba laptop (I’m sure those aren’t Jason Donovan’s hands) show a number of fluctuating graphs/levels - a desktop edit suite is what it looks like and probably is - plus a large, grainy, monochrome image of Anna which is the one we just saw. In other words, he could only have this image - of the woman who is sitting directly in front of him - if there was a webcam directly above his head. Which the establishing shots show, unsurprisingly, there isn’t. Obviously the shots of the laptop screen were done much later and nobody has bothered to check whether they make any sense in this context.

But then, as I mentioned earlier, this film only works if it is set in a world where time and space have little meaning.

There is also an odd close-up of an analogue CO2 meter with a wildly flickering needle and another close-up of a hand moving a glass of red wine slightly, which I assume is Rachel’s hand as it is followed by a shot of that character. Steve, Lewis, Karl and James are also around the table although none of them say anything apart from a couple of lines at the start. (James is played by Ben Tolkien, Steve by Paul Battin.)

As Anna starts to shake we get a shot of the needle slipping off that Glenn Miller 78 (which has not been playing in this scene) and some sepia, silent, shaky flashback footage of a door with ‘150’ on it and a man in a fetish mask walking down a corridor. And a mutant baby or demon baby or something.

“Loads of electronic ectoplasm coming through,” whispers Gary as the lights flicker, steam billows from a nearby radiator and Jason Donovan struggles manfully to not giggle. Eventually Anna screams and Rachel knocks her wine to the floor in slow motion. Curiously, all the character shots are bathed in red light but all the close-ups of the laptop, the wine glass etc are in normal light. We finish with an image of a clock showing 11.22. Who knows what all this means?

And then we have the ravenringfirething again.

A few quick shots of the log cabin, just to remind us that it exists apparently, are followed by Karl, Anna, Rachel, Lewis and James (who really seems to be just making up the numbers) arriving in the woods. They’re in what seems to be the same car that George Carney had in the prologue, which they simply leave among the trees. There is no indication of why they stop there rather than anywhere further into the woods. I suppose this is the closest point that the track gets to the cabin. I suppose.

A caption tells us that it is Monday 21st October which I at first thought was a goof - but then I realised that if the pre-credits stuff with George Carney was two years ago then 23rd October would fall on a Wednesday this year (assuming no leap year inbetween) so this is actually correct.

Now, apparently they’re not camping here by the track but they’re not going to reach the cabin tonight either so James has to look for somewhere warm to set up camp. (Somewhere warm? In a wood?) Food, we are told, will be served later when ‘Steve turns up with the Winnebago’ but if we assume the Winnebago will park next to the car - which indeed it later does - that means they can’t actually camp more than a very short walk away.

Karl gives each of the others at this point a folder with a map, directions and information about the legend of Harrow Woods and they traipse off through the trees, lugging metal flight cases which presumably contain their tents but frankly look more like they are normally used for transporting film equipment.

That night, gathered around a campfire, Karl tells them the legend of Harrow Woods (which is in their pack, isn’t it?). It seems that ‘the maiden Lenore’ (ooh, shoehorn in that 'Raven' reference) was burned as a witch in that location in October 1843 and as she died she screamed a curse on the folk responsible and the place too. Doesn’t seem terribly sensible, burning a witch at the stake in the middle of the woods. Town square, that’s the place for a witch burning. But as we can see in yet another bloody silent sepia flashback, the 1843 inhabitants of Harrow Woods wore clothes at least one hundred years out of fashion so clearly they weren’t terribly on the ball. (The DVD blurb and other publicity says that ‘Lenore Selwyn’ was burned in the 17th century but on the screen it’s definitely 1843.) The witch, under all that make-up and sepia tinting, might be played by Eileen Daly. Quite what this mini-remake of Black Sunday, obviously extracted from a completely different film, has to do with anything is not clear although Karl claims that since that date there have been ‘many murders’ on that spot. Really? Many?

Then he tells them about the family who disappeared two years earlier. Rachel asks if the bodies were ever found and Karl assures her they were but Anna contradicts him and says they weren’t. He checks his pack - she’s right. But, but… how could she possibly know? That information was only in Karl’s pack and not anyone else’s.

Well gee, I don’t know. Maybe Gary mentioned it to her, maybe she googled ‘Harrow Woods’ before setting off. It’s clearly a well-documented case. What is spookier is how Karl could have not known that fact when Gary had clearly told him and shown him and when he had not only written it down in his own info pack but made a specific point of omitting it from everybody else’s.

Continue to Part 2