Friday, 25 December 2015


Director: Ken Colley
Writer: Ken Colley
Producer: Ken Colley
Cast: Mel Stephenson, Matthew Reynolds, Kirsty Cox
Country: UK
Year of release: 2008
Reviewed from: Viewster

So I’ve just been to see The Force Awakens, which was very good (although, let’s face it, Star Trek was better). One thing I noticed was that the two lead actors have each starred in a recent British horror film. John Boyega was in the somewhat over-rated Attack the Block and Daisy Ridley is in the as-yet-unreleased Scrawl. Plus of course Mark Hamill himself was the token Yank in Airborne.

Which prompted me to dig out and watch Greetings, a curious and largely ignored British horror film which has its own Star Wars relevance because it was directed by no less than Admiral Piett himself, Ken Colley.

With its middle class domesticity and static, talkie nature, Greetings is oddly anachronistic, seeming to owe more to 1970s Play for Today dramas than 21st century horror, although this does certainly make it distinctively British. Cathy (Mel Stephenson, who was the mocap actor for Destiny Angel in the CGI Captain Scarlet remake) and her husband Matt (Matthew Reynolds, artistic director at the Labyrinth Theatre in Peckham, who once played Victor Frankenstein on stage) have invited a few friends round for drinks. It is both Cathy’s birthday and a year since they moved into their new house. Ken (Colley himself) and Maria (Maria Long, violinist with a band called Neroli whose music provides the party soundtrack here) both say goodnight before anything interesting happens.

Not that anything very interesting does happen for quite some time. The dialogue is realistic, the acting adequate, the direction competent but uninspiring and really all we’re doing for the first half hour is watching some strangers sit around drinking red wine and making small talk. On the one hand it’s great that they are all reasonably intelligent, well-spoken individuals. This isn’t just a bunch of horny teenagers smoking and swearing, as in so many low-budget horror films. But nothing happens. And curiously, no-one seems to get even slightly tipsy, despite the amount of vino being knocked back.

Cathy and Matt have recently bought an antique oak table, a small round thing with letters around the edge which one of the others identifies as being a Ouija board. You all know how I feel about Ouija board movies. Actually I don’t really have a problem with movies like this that are about Ouija boards (especially when there are no horny teenagers using it ‘for a laugh’). It’s films which just throw in a Ouija board scene because they feel they need to which annoy me.

Can I also pause here and make it absolutely clear that the phrase ‘Ouija board’ - pronounced ‘weejee board’ - takes the indefinite article ‘a’. Because it begins with a ‘w’ sound. You would be amazed (or perhaps not) by how many people think the correct phrase is 'an Ouija board', justifying their mistake with “because it begins with a vowel”. The use of ‘a’/’an’ is not determined by spelling but by pronunciation, ‘Ouija’ does not begin with a vowel sound. One would no more say “an Ouija board” than “an university”. You can, I am sure, imagine how annoyed I was when Urban Terrors was published and I discovered that the editor had changed every mention of “a Ouija board” to “an Ouija board”. Gaaaah!

Also, ‘Ouija’ is spelled with a capital O apparently. I only discovered this recently and I have no idea why.

The friends use the board and get the message ‘D-O-N-O-T-D-I-S’ but then fall to debating which among them is pushing the glass around. In a clever touch, the rest of the truncated message (‘T-U-R-B’) appears in condensation on the bathroom mirror. But still the debate continues: how can we determine which one of us is actually pushing this? Eventually something genuinely spooky does happen when, unseen by anyone, the table inverts itself and floats in mid-air (a clever and effective special effect).

After this, Alan (John Rackham: WarrioressLeft for Dead) and Henry (Henry Dunn) head off home, leaving Kirsty (Kirsty Cox: Radio 4 Dr Finlay series) and David (Ben Shockley: Ten Dead Men, Cold Earth, Dark Rage, Preternatural) to stay over at the hosts’ place. In the final half-hour or so, things ramp up further, including messages written in burns or blood (a readable ‘NO’ among the blood splatters on a white T-shirt’ is one of several clever touches). Trapped downstairs in the living room, the quartet make their way back up to the bedroom so that Cathy can retrieve her sanitary towels, a sequence that manages to be tense despite the oddity of the motivation. In fact Cathy’s period becomes a major part of the plot as further messages complain about wanting to be ‘clean’ (which Kirsty correctly identifies as being the Biblical sense of the term). Menstruation and the supernatural have been linked in the past (think Carrie, think Urban Ghost Story) but rarely has menstrual blood been such a major part of a horror story.

Eventually the demon, which remains unseen except as a glowing light round the edge of a door, is defeated by being electrocuted. Dave and Matt somehow run a wire from a socket direct to the door handle and then – for reasons which totally escaped me – need to pee on the door handle to complete the circuit.

I can see that Ken Colley has thought through the rationale of his film: why the demon appears, what it wants, how it can be beaten. But that doesn’t mean that this all makes sense. The confused and confusing denouement could be excused if the narrative had been stronger up to that point, but sadly it’s all been very slow and drawn out. For example at one point Cathy makes three cups of coffee and a good minute or two is wasted on taking orders and then wondering who wanted sugar. It’s remarkable that a film running only 72 minutes can be this languorous and slow. Greetings might have worked better at a taut 40-50 minutes but this was made in the days when the Blockbuster 70-minute minimum still held sway.

Shot in 2007 in Colley’s own house in Hythe, Kent, Greetings had an alleged £100,000 budget (you could probably knock a zero off that) and a 20-day schedule. Until now it has sat on my master list as a 2009 release because of the DVD that Brain Damage put out in September of that year. However, a little research has revealed that it played for a single week at the Canterbury Odeon (with a ‘15’ BBFC certificate) in January 2008. Which – damn and blast it all! – makes this yet another title that should have been included in Urban Terrors: New British Horror Cinema 1997-2008. There were two additional big screen outings for the film in 2009 in Kent: Folkestone in February and the Swale Film Festival in July. All of these screenings played with Colley’s 2007 ten-minute short Alligator, in which he plays a retired hitman. John Rackham is in that too and it marks the final acting role for another Death Star officer, Richard ‘General Motti’ LeParmentier.

Colley, whose other horror credits include The Blood Beast Terror and Scar Tissue, has been acting on screen since 1961. Aside from his turn as Admiral Piett in Empire and Jedi (and 2012 Lego Star Wars short The Empire Strikes Out), his most notable other role is probably playing Jesus in Life of Brian. His other directorial credit is a 2006 short called A Nearly Silent Film; Cox, Rackham, Shockley and the director were all in that too. In fact, it’s clear that there’s a bit of a Kent rep company as the cast have a number of other shared credits including Keith Eyles' The Avenging Spirit and The Shadow of Bigfoot and Rackham’s own The Liberator and Bloodmyth.

Editing by Andy Coughlan (also associate producer) and photography by Denis Cullum are both acceptable; truth be told, there’s not a lot can be done with a story set entirely inside a house. Steve Hayes (Warrioress, Left for Dead, Ten Dead Men) provided the limited CGI effects.

Though an undoubtedly sincere production and a laudable attempt to make a serious horror feature that’s not just another teen slasher or zombie apocalypse, it can’t in all honesty be said that Greetings succeeds. The cast give it their all but Colley’s screenplay was desperately in need of a good script editor: to tighten up the action, polish up the dialogue, clear up the ending and perhaps slightly reduce the amount of time spent discussing menstruation.

Greetings is available on various VOD sites, all using the Brain Damage sleeve image which bears no relation to the film. But then neither the title nor the fact that it’s Cathy’s birthday have any real relevance to the story anyway.

MJS rating: B-

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