Thursday, 24 December 2015

Twisted Souls

Director: ‘Jason Meyers’
Writers: ‘Jason Meyers’, Matthew Palmer
Producer: ‘Jason Meyers’
Cast: Absolutely no-one you’ve ever heard of
Country: UK
Year of release: 1992/2013
Reviewed from: YouTube

Wow, here’s an undiscovered oddity. It’s an hour-long amateur horror made by some teenagers at Kidderminster College in 1992, and it has its fair share of cheesy effects, clichéd ideas and bad acting. But it’s genuinely enjoyable and, I would venture to add, historically significant.

Behind the slasher-inspired pseudonym ‘Jason Meyers’ (sic) is RN Millward, a West Midlands film-maker who has made a number of interesting shorts over the years although the only one I’ve actually seen is a fanfilm, The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith. Twisted Souls predates that by a good 13 years, although it only became available when it was posted to YouTube in February 2013.

Millward and his classmates had access to four useful things: a cemetery, a light industrial plant which could be reasonably passed off as a coffin factory, the college’s AV equipment, and a coffin. From these, a fun little black comedy horror was constructed.

James Sankey is the proprietor of Cooper’s Coffins, whose two remaining employees are Bub (Mark Jones) and David (Bradley Gammond), neither of them particularly swift on the uptake. These two are also employed as gravediggers, and the scam is that, having buried a body, they return at night and dig it up. Not to sell the corpse for medical experiments like a latter-day Burke and Hare, but so that the coffin can be cleaned out and sold again. (NB. I’m not sure Gammond’s character is ever actually addressed by name, and there’s no character name in the credits, so I’m going with David.)

The above of course raises all sorts of questions which the film brashly ignores, like how come no-one has noticed all these desecrated graves. And how come every body fits into the same size coffin and all the customers at Cooper’s Coffins apparently want the same style of box.

One night, the two are disturbed by a couple of lads taking a shortcut through the cemetery (Nathan Fawke and co-writer Matthew Palmer). Panicking, the hapless grave-robbers kill the two witnesses with a pick-axe and then take the dead bodies back to the coffin factory, hoping their boss will know what to do. A terrific dream sequence shows us what could happen if the dead return to life.

Further problems mount with the investigations of a justifiably suspicious vicar (Adrian Mills) who is kidnapped and brought back to the factory, where he is subsequently murdered by the increasingly psychotic Cooper. Meanwhile, a customer (executive producer Mike Flight, who was an art teacher at the college) has found graveyard earth – and a dismembered finger – in a supposedly new coffin. The black humour and gradual escalation of horrific problems put me in mind of 1980s classic Crimewave. Sam Raimi is thanked for his ‘influence’ in the end credits - along with Argento and Jackson - although I imagine that’s probably more of a nod to The Evil Dead.

Then, about 20 minutes from the end, Twisted Souls take a sharp turn in a new direction. While Bub and David are burying the vicar, a bolt of lightning hits a gravestone (in an effects shot clearly pinched from somewhere else) and the dead start to arise, including the vicar himself and the two guys who got pick-axed near the start.

To my amazement, I found myself watching a 1992 zombie film. This isn’t the very first British movie with post-Romero zombies – Alex Chandon’s Bad Karma was made the previous year – but at 61 minutes it’s arguably the first modern British zombie feature. Some of the zombies still wear their shrouds, which is a nice touch. One has a full-head ‘old man’ mask which looks pretty bad. What’s really interesting is their style of walking which is much more naturalistic than we are now used to. In today’s world, everyone knows how zombies walk. They stumble forward, arms outstretched in a stance that can be traced directly back to Bela Lugosi in Ghost of Frankenstein. But back in 1992 there weren’t the same conventions. And of course, there are no fast-running zombies here. They all walk slowly – that’s a convention which was well established and not yet busted.

David escapes from the cemetery, teams up with a passing young woman named Alex (Karina Melbourne, rocking a very definite early ’90s look) and they head back to the factory which is, for some reason, judged to be the only safe place. Except it’s not. Cooper is by now playing cat and mouse among the lathes and band-saws with a plain clothes copper (Michael Dexter). The former now has a pistol, the latter has armed himself with a handy garden fork.

Did we mention that the reanimated vicar, who is now commanding the zombies, can magically teleport? No? Neither did the film but this he can do, and does – thereby entering the locked factory where the police officer, shot dead by Cooper, is reanimated as an additional zombie. David and Alex escape using a previously unmentioned tunnel connecting the factory to the cemetery. In a display of extreme cinematic chutzpah, the tunnel entrance is represented using the old ‘crouching down as you walk behind a desk’ gag!

Alex turns out to be a horror movie fan and there is some pre-Scream cinematic referentiality before she and David eventually trap the priest within a hastily drawn pentangle in the woods. Satan himself then appears, represented by some glowing eyes which must be one of the first ever uses of computer animation in a British indie film (it was done on an Amiga!). The priest burns up and all the zombies collapse. Or something.

What an incredible mishmash of ideas, themes, imagery and tropes, all crammed into an hour-long student film from over 20 years ago. While it’s nowhere near as polished as Demonsoul, I can’t help feeling that Twisted Souls should also be considered as a direct precursor to the British Horror Revival. It’s shot on video (variously U-Matic, Hi8 and VHS-C), it’s set in contemporary Britain (there’s even a reference to money being tight because of ‘the recession’) and the references and in-jokes are to 1980s films, not creaky Hammer classics.

This is a forward-looking, modern film, not a faux gothic throwback. It’s grabbing the camera and making a movie for today (when today was the early 1990s) rather than trying to recapture some quasi-mythical ‘Golden Age’ of British horror. And if the acting is distinctly variable, and if the effects are straight off the cheese counter (not least a gloriously cut-price papier mâché severed head), then who cares? There’s a devil-may-care, post-punk attitude here that simply ignores limitations.

Millward, who mostly makes corporates, has five subsequent horror shorts on his IMDB page, dated from 1999 to 2007, plus the Hellraiser film, a couple of recent horror-related documentaries and three docus on narrowboating (one of which nevertheless features Adrian Mills as a ghost!). Aside from a few roles in Millward’s shorts, no-one in the cast of Twisted Souls ever did anything else on screen, so far as I can tell.

The special effects are credited to Simon Cox (with a few specific ones by ‘Meyers’). This may possibly be the Simon Cox who made Written in Blood and has been working on low-budget sci-fi epic Kaleidoscope Man for the past few years. Or maybe not. Music supervisor Jesse Webb gets a special credit for co-writing the dream sequence, for some reason.

In 2013, Millward gave the original film a decent restoration and posted in onto YouTube, along with four minutes of out-takes/behind the scenes and a minute of split-screen clips showing how much restoration was needed. Since then the film has had a rather desultory 630 views.

Historically interesting for what it is and when it was made, and kind of fun in its own right anyway - if you can look past the pocket money budget - Twisted Souls is well worth a view by anyone interested in modern British horror. You won ‘t find it in English Gothic of course. In fact it doesn’t even seem to be on Pass the Marmalade (although it might be by the time you read this). Nevertheless this sort of grass roots production is the very essence of modern British horror cinema and it helped to point towards the 21st century explosion of domestic frightfare which I have been documenting lo these many years. I’m very pleased to be able to add this to the historical record.

MJS rating: B+

No comments:

Post a Comment