Wednesday, 5 June 2013

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

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