Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Dozen Summers

Director: Kenton Hall
Writer: Kenton Hall
Producers: Kenton Hall, Alexzandra Jackson
Cast: Scarlet Hall, Hero Hall, Kenton Hall
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

I so rarely get to watch kids’ movies nowadays. Well, except for the latest Pixar or Blue Sky summer tentpole with TF Simpson. Most of what I watch is microbudget indies, and not many people make microbudget indie children’s films. So hooray for A Dozen Summers, a charming and fun kids' picture that adults will also enjoy, shot around my home town of Leicester and currently on the festival circuit.

Written and directed by Kenton Hall from KillerSaurus, the film stars his own 12-year-old twin daughters Hero and Scarlet Hall as Maisie and Daisy McCormack. Kenton himself (without the facial hair and with a more obviously Irish accent) plays the twins’ father Henry, an eccentric author separated from their advertising model mother Jacqueline (Canadian script supervisor turned actress Sarah Warren).

A Dozen Summers is a divertissement, a lightweight musing on the highs and lows of the tween years: too old to be a little kid, not yet a teenager. Crushes, bullies, teachers, parents, bicycles, shops: these are the elements of a 12-year-old’s life and many conventional film-makers would have aimed for some sort of artistic or meaningful statement, which would have been praised by the critics and ignored by everyone else. Kenton Hall's take on matters is more prosaic than pretentious and therein lies is strength (and watchability). A gently wry humour permeates the entire film; you can't take life seriously when you're twelve and making a movie about yourself.

The distinctive schtick of A Dozen Summers is its playful self-referentiality. Maisie and Daisy, finding themselves in a film, take the opportunity to make a film about their lives, using jump-cuts, flashbacks, fantasy sequences and other cinematic conventions. The camera becomes a character, though there is no camera-man or any other actual physical crew. Interestingly, where many self-referential films would have characters address the audience directly, via the camera, here it is the camera itself which they address, an intangible (but noticeable to other people) eye into their world.

Though told from the view of a 12-year-old, this is of course an adult’s view of the view of a 12-year-old and Kenton Hall is not afraid to include references or sequences that no schoolkid is going to understand (most notably a black and white, subtitled Seventh Seal parody). There are also werewolf and ghost gags to keep indie film fans happy. Nevertheless, the script and direction ensure that the film remains solidly in the children’s world, even in scenes which feature only adults. This is a 12-year-old’s view of adults (“Parents are weird.”) – though it is of course, technically, an adult’s view of a 12-year-old’s view of adults.

It would be churlish to criticise a film this sweet and open, like kicking a puppy. Naturally among a cast of children with varying levels of experience, the actual quality of the acting also varies. Some are excellent, others are giving it their best, bless ‘em, and in a sense the occasional wooden performance gives the film a grounding in realism that helps to distinguish it from Hollywood pablum or pretentious indie cack.

A Dozen Summers is a bit like the city of Leicester itself: not big-headed, not overblown, but a good, solid, down-the-line, get-what-you-pay-for British city with a population proud of their home, not because they believe it’s better than everywhere else, but because they know it’s a generally great place for them and their families, with the good outweighing the bad, and that’s all you can ask for in this day and age. Canuck ex-pat Kenton Hall may not be a native of Leicester, but he has made a very Leicester film.

The young cast includes local star Holly Jacobson (Suckablood, Bloodline) as a diminutive, psychotic school bully (her dad Ben has a couple of technical credits), Quinton Nyrienda (Assan in Young Dracula) as a love interest and David Knight (Ned in Hetty Feather) as the token boy in the twins' gang.

Among the adults, Tallulah Sheffield (bit parts in Jekyll and Dorian Gray) and Kieron Attwood (Unearthing Evil) are teachers, Ewen MacIntosh (K-Shop, The Office and Jaime Winstone fantasy pilot Beast Hunters) is a shopkeeper, and former Time Lord Colin Baker (also in Rhys Davies’ Leicester-set short Finding Richard, which shares numerous cast and crew with this film) provides top-and-tail narration.

A Dozen Summers is something different, something light and fun but imaginative and surprisingly resonant. Just like your twelfth summer, it is ephemeral and will be gone before you know it - so see it if you have the chance.

MJS rating: A-

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Silencer

Directors: Steve Lawson, Simon Wyndham
Writer: Steve Lawson
Producers: Steve Lawson, Simon Wyndham
Cast: Glenn Salvage, Maye Choo, Clive Ward
Year of release: 2006
Country: UK
Reviewed from: DVD screener

The latest feature from Steve Lawson (Insiders) is a taut, exciting, polished piece of action film-making with engrossing characters, a cohesive storyline and well-edited, kick-arse fights. I’m not sure you can ask for much more than that.

Glenn Salvage (Left for Dead, Underground, Ten Dead Men) stars as Michael Eastman, one third of an anti-narcotics team which aims to catch local gangster Sirrus Rooke (Clive Ward: Insiders) in the act of dealing drugs. The bust must be timed to the second - so where are Eastman’s colleagues Chris (Chris Jones: Soul Searcher) and Richard (writer-director-producer Steve Lawson) when the moment comes?

Well, it transpires that they’re both as crooked as a nine-bob note and hoping that Rooke’s goons will dispose of the honest 33 per cent of their team before he finds out what is going on. However, though thoroughly shot up and left for dead, Eastman survives - sort of. A doctor (Vimal Stephens: Animals) explains the situation to him, when he is ready to leave hospital some time later. He cannot speak - vocal chords shot to hell; he cannot feel pain - which is handy in a fight but means he can’t tell if he is seriously injured; and although he can walk, one solid thump to his lower back will leave him paralysed.

Returning home, Eastman finds that his wife Lily (Maye Choo: Silent Witness, Blood Ties) has now shacked up with Richard. His boss Ginty (Jim Clossick) finds him a grotty bedsit and provides a phone which he can use to text people. Ginty and Richard both do their best to make Eastman feel guilty, assuring him that it was his timing that was off and he was responsible for screwing up their only chance of nailing Rooke.

But Eastman is determined to get to the bottom of all this, to find out who set him up and why. He pulls on his leathers and his helmet, gets on his motorbike and before you know it he’s a subway vigilante. Small-time dealer Danny (Kevin Gash) and his thugs are getting ready to rape a Chinese girl (Christine Yung) when a mysterious, silent figure turns up and kicks seven shades of shit out of them. With its symmetrical framing and helmet-wearing vengeance dealer, this scene is basically what The Wraith would have looked like if Stanley Kubrick had directed it.

Writing and editing keep the film tight and to the point (75 minutes). It’s a clever and well-crafted take on the mysterious vigilante subgenre which could so easily have descended into sub-Batman exaggeration but instead stays rooted in the real world of thugs, dealers and bent coppers. Great fight direction (mostly by Simon Wyndham, one scene by Chris Jones) and remarkably accomplished cinematography (also by Wyndham) combine to make the film look much, much better than its budget suggests it should.

The downside is that some of the acting is, frankly, no great shakes (you might think I’m one to talk if you’ve seen my brief role in Insiders). There’s a lot of aggression and threat in the dialogue which is diluted by performances that often don’t seem aggressive or threatening enough. Perhaps the unavailable luxury of rehearsal time or even workshopping would have helped. A notable exception is Salvage who turns in a terrific performance despite - or perhaps because of - his lack of dialogue, and Choo is remarkably good too.

That said, the fights go some way towards making up for the talkie bits. Low-budget martial arts pictures can often look like, at best, home-made training videos but the action sequences in The Silencer are extraordinarily professional in both choreography and camera-work.

This is a distinct step-up from Insiders in almost every department. It’s an excellent low-budget martial arts picture, completely independent and 100 per cent British. Well done to all concerned.

MJS rating: A-
Review originally posted 31st July 2006.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Ten Dead Men

Director: Ross Boyask
Writer: Chris Regan
Producer: Phil Hobden
Cast: Brendan Carr, Doug Bradley, John Rackham
Country: UK
Year of release: 2008
Reviewed from: screener

Ten Dead Men (or 10 Dead Men as the US distributor insists on calling it) is a brutal, violent film in which unpleasant people hurt each other very badly. It is also skilfully crafted and adroitly directed with some excellent performances and a thoroughly professional look.

Like the previous feature from director Ross Boyask and producer Phil Hobden, Left for Dead, this is a gangland revenge tale in which a bloke who makes his living by hurting and killing people decides to give it all up and settle down, only to find that his bosses want to punish him by, ah, hurting and possibly killing him. So he goes away then comes back and, ah, hurts and kills them. The morality of the central character is distinctly dubious but then it must perforce be in any gangster film.

Certainly, Boyask and Hobden’s films don’t glamourise the lifestyle like studio produced gangster films do. These characters are unpleasant men living miserable, unhappy lives. But whereas Left for Dead was borderline fantasy and devoted most of its action to fancy kickboxing, Ten Dead Men is much dirtier and more realistic. There are a few spin-kicks towards the end but you certainly couldn’t call this a martial arts picture. Last time I checked, slamming someone’s head repeatedly into the floor was not actually a martial art.

Brendan Carr (who played a ‘spectacular warrior’ in Intergalactic Combat) stars as Ryan who has actually left all that and settled down with a wife and a mortgage. But he finds himself pulled back into the darkness and shortly afterwards, mob boss Hart (Terry Stone: Doghouse, Jack Said, Kung Fu Flid) has Ryan executed after first forcing him to watch the murder of his wife Amy (some excellent, terrified acting from ex-EastEnder Pooja Shah). Ryan’s bullet-riddled body is wrapped up and thrown into the sea but somehow... somehow... he survives and makes it back to the beach.

This is the closest that the film gets to the not-quite-realism of its predecessor. Although I did wonder at some points whether this whole thing was flashing through Ryan’s brain in one second as the bullets take his life away, I think that ultimately we just have to accept that somehow... somehow... he has survived.

So actually, Left for Dead would have been just as good a title here. Possibly even more apposite. But the Modern Life? team had already used it once.

What follows is basically a sequence of revenge killings on the ten men who were directly involved, in one way or another, in the death of Amy and the pseudo-death of Ryan. These include professional cage-fighter Bruiser (Tom Gerald), pathetic body-disposer Axel (John Rackham, writer-director of Bloodmyth), compulsive gambler Harris (Lee Latchford-Evans, formerly of ghastly plastic pop combo Steps!), corrupt cop Detective Inspector Keller (Ben Shockley) and the closest thing that the film gets to comic relief: a bickering couple named Parker and Garrett (JC Mac and Jason Lee Hyde, both in Stagknight) who are probably gay although this is never explicitly stated. There is also a smartly-dressed, sinister sadist simply called the Projects Manager (Keith Eyles, who played the father in Ross Shepherd’s award-winning short Kingdom of Shadows) who becomes the main villain, Hart himself keeping well out of the way of any actual violence.

Obviously that’s not ten men but the others such as Stone (producer ‘PL’ Hobden) aren’t as clearly defined and seem like rather interchangeable, shaven-head thugs. The film’s website has brief character bios which mention, for example, that Stone is Hart’s nephew but this is never stated in the film.

All this would be a frankly tedious sequence of one fight after another - simultaneously violent and picaresque - if the film was told in chronological order. But where the script by Brighton-based Chris Regan (Jenny Ringo and the Monkey's Paw), working from Boyask and Hobden’s story, works brilliantly is in chopping up the tale and mixing it with slices of earlier events so that we only learn why this is happening as we’re watching it happen. Cause and effect bundled together into one remarkably coherent and logical plot.

Not that the viewer could necessarily work out precisely what is going on without a little help. Hence the drily detached narration by Doug Bradley - which at first seems, as narration invariably does, tacked-on and gratuitous. As the film progresses, as we start to realise which bits of the story happened before or after other bits (including, later, some bits which we saw out of context at the start), Bradley’s narration becomes not only worthwhile but indispensable.

Ten Dead Men eschews the voyeuristic glee of so many gangster films in favour of powerful character conflict and fights which, though realistic, remain watchable and serve a narrative purpose. It is an imaginative, well-crafted British gangster thriller which, if there was any logic in the world, would have had a theatrical release instead of whatever tedious, inferior reworking of Lock, Stock Guy Ritchie has churned out this month.

Also in the generally very fine cast are Jason Maza, Silvio Simac (Transporter 3, Intergalactic Combat), Adrian Foiadelli, Cecily Fay (who was inside the TV series Marvin costume in the awful Hitchhiker’s Guide movie) and Glenn Salvage (The Silencer). Many of the cast were in Left for Dead and/or Boyask’s earlier film fIXers; quite a few were in Bloodmyth and/or Rise of the Footsoldier.

Scott Benzie (Soul Searcher, Room 36) provides the score. The cinematographer was Darren Berry and Ross Boyask did his own editing. The very busy stunt co-ordinator was Jude Poyer (Stag Night of the Dead, Beyond the Rave) whose early work in Hong Kong includes the likes of Star Runner and Gen-Y Cops.

The rather impressive UK DVD of Ten Dead Men includes ten deleted/alternate scenes, a 55-minute Making Of, two commentaries, sundry other behind-the-scenes bits, a brace of trailers and a 30-page spin-off comicbook entitled Ten Dead Men: The Last Job.

Not just another British gangster film, Ten Dead Men is proof that there is life in the genre yet, despite the paucity of imagination which normally infects these films.

MJS rating: A-
Review originally posted 3rd April 2009.

Thursday, 11 June 2015


Director: Edward Evers-Swindell
Writers: Ross Evison, Stuart Fletcher
Producers: Sian Williams, Stuart Fletcher
Cast: Ross Evison, Susan Riley, Paul Sutherland
Country: UK
Year of release: 2005
Reviewed from:UK DVD (Blackhorse Entertainment)

To really enjoy Ed Evers-Swindell’s debut feature Infestation, one should have both a tolerance for ultra-low budget film-making and a fondness for generic British zombie films. Who has both of those qualities in spades, also two thumbs and speaks French?

C’est moi!

Under normal circumstances, this would be a routine and unexceptional entry in the British Horror Revival (and its wholly owned subsidiary the British Zombie Boom), distinguishable only by its impressively early production date – shooting began in late 2000 – and a sci-fi first act which gives every impression of being a completely different movie. But circumstances are not normal, because of the possible appearance on this disc of a very unexpected individual – and I’m not talking about the trailer for obscure gangster drama Rulers and Dealers which features (“And introducing…”) a pre-Tardis Freema Agyeman.

Fact: of all the NuWho companions, Martha Jones was easily (a) the best, and (b) the hottest. Challenge this assertion at your peril. The other unskippable trailers here include Ross Boyask’s Left for Dead (a film on which Ed Evers-Swindell gets a ‘thank you’ credit, apparently) and The Silencer, directed by and starring an absurdly young-looking Steve Lawson. Anyway…

Infestation starts with some captions explaining that a deadly virus epidemic broke out in 2009 (you may recall that – it was in all the papers) and that two years later the surviving human race retreated to a vast underground city, Subtropolis. Now it’s 2034 and a terrorist group is causing trouble - for reasons that are unclear. Our main characters are two Subtropolis security guards, Loki (co-writer Ross Evison, now a freelance trailer editor in New York) and Sash (Susan Riley), who are on patrol when they surprise a squad of terrorists up to no good. Much violence ensues, both fist- and firearm-based, in a sequence which is cut together too fast to see what is actually happening (a common mistake, even in many big budget productions). This was filmed in the ventilation system of the Mersey Tunnel, an impressive, suitably industrial-looking location but one which the film-makers were unable to sully with fake blood. Hence we have the somewhat ridiculous sight of a person being riddled with bullets while standing in front of a white-tiled wall which remains pristine throughout.

One of the terrorists escapes, Loki gives chase and they both jump into flying machines which look like stubby X-wings, only without the wings. These two cheap CGI vehicles hurtle at speed through a cheap CGI city. Underground.

Let’s just pause the tape there, because the whole Subtropolis thing is nonsensical with a capital daft. Quite apart from having been constructed in just two years, this is an ‘underground city’ not in the sensible way of being a vast network of tunnels, but in the sense of being a single, vast cavern full of tower-blocks. Hence people travel everywhere in flying cars, as we shall all assuredly do in two decades’ time. There’s no suggestion of how Subtropolis functions as a city, except that it is ruled by a militaristic individual ironically named Commander Freeman (Malcom Raeburn: lots of TV work since the 1970s including Juliet Bravo, Corrie, Fairly Secret Army, The Bill etc; used to mostly play policemen, now mostly plays doctors and vicars ). Little things like how any such underground society would actually produce food are simply scooted over.

But not to worry because, by the end of Act 1, the city and the flying cars and the terrorist group will all have vanished from the story. Basically, the terrorist crashes and kills a load of people; Loki takes the blame and resigns. Six months later, Commander Freeman asks Sash (for some reason) to go on a mission to the surface and she agrees on the condition that she can also take Loki, who is by now a sad sack sanitation worker. The duo join a squad consisting of efficient Sergeant Svelder (Pete Farrar, later a contestant on reality TV series Survivor), hulking ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox (executive producer Paul Sutherland), spiky Gibson (Perveen Hussain, now a jobbing actress with bit parts in the likes of Shameless and Corrie) and techie geek Cole (Evers-Swindell’s brother William). They are blasted up to the surface in a rocket-powered capsule travelling through a never-explained ventilation shaft (hang on, haven’t we already established that the air up there is potentially deadly because of the virus?). Some arbitrary tension is generated by the ventilation shaft having a door that opens and closes at set times, unchangeable by the techies down in Subtropolis control. Will they make it in time, even with a malfunctioning booster? Well, if they don’t it’s going to be a short movie.

Up top, after a quick trek across a quarry on Anglesey which also featured in a Mortal Kombat film, the six squaddies arrive at a collection of derelict buildings. This is (or was) Tower Beach Prestatyn, the only holiday camp ever built and run by Thomas Cook Ltd. Pontins took over the place in the 1970s and it closed in 1985, after which it was used by the police for riot training (hence, presumably, the large number of smashed windows). A number of other productions shot there, notably 1990s post-apocalypse TV series The Last Train, before Ed and his merry band arrived. Principal photography on Infestation ran for two weeks in February 2001, literally finishing a few days before the camp was demolished (it’s now a housing estate).

So, leaving aside all the basically irrelevant sci-fi hokum and Sega graphics of the first act, the set-up is thus: a previous expedition to the surface are all believed to be dead, but their transponder-things show them as still moving around. Svelder’s squad inject themselves with a serum which will give them 24 hours’ resistance to the deadly airborne virus. They then have to locate the previous team and find their way to something unclear which will get them back home, except that seems unlikely and they all know this is potentially a suicide mission.

Just over halfway through, we finally get our first look at the zombies as a couple of them lurch at our heroes. This follows a tense build-up clearly modelled on the legendary three-metres-that’s-in-the-room scene from Aliens and the original intention was that the zombies would burst up from the floor. That not being possible, they just walk through a doorway which is – how to put this? – less effective. That said, when one of the characters falls prey to the zombies there is a very cool, full-on, Dawn of the Dead style gut-munching scene.

After this, it all becomes pretty much standard fare with the undead (or rather, virus-infected) hoards picking off our heroes one by one. Who will survive and what, like the man says, will become of them? Eventually, good old Loki locates an entrance to some sort of underground hangar from where he launches another cheap CGI flying machine, rescues his surviving comrades and then heads back down into the bowels of the Earth, having discovered the (frankly rather dull) truth about the virus.

You’ve seen worse zombie films than this (or at least, I have) and you’ve certainly seen better. The whole thing has a very cheap, video look with almost every scene tinted some colour or other. The acting is not bad. Evison has a slightly gormless look which effectively belies the character’s savvy and fighting ability. There’s some good character conflict, especially between Sash and Maddox, and a not unreasonable sequence of narrative events. Evers-Swindell makes the most of his locations and uses tight shots and small sets for other scenes, such as inside the aircraft. The UK disc comes with an enjoyably self-deprecating and honest commentary by the director.

Eventually completed in 2004, Infestation made its debut at the 2005 Cannes Film Market and premiered on Italian DVD in August that year (with sleeve blurb moving the events to 2080). There was a Japanese disc in February 2007 (with, as you might expect, a freaking awesome sleeve) and a UK release a few months later plus assorted releases in other territories including Portugal and Australia. Actually, I must just note my surprise that the copy I bought off eBay had ‘For rental only’ emblazoned on the sleeve. Checking Amazon I find that there was indeed a rental disc released on 12th November and a sell-through disc three weeks after. I honestly had no idea that the concept of a rental window still existed that late. What was the point? Was anyone so desperate to see this indie obscurity that they couldn’t wait for sell-through?

The only press coverage I’m aware of was a review in SFX which accused this 2001-produced film of ripping off The Core (2003) and Serenity (2005). Sigh. Also of note is that the sleeve (and hence the Amazon page) proudly displays the BBFC symbol for an ‘18’ rating when in fact Infestation was passed uncut as a 15. And frankly it probably only just scraped that, it’s more of a 12.

In historical terms, this could have been the first serious, traditional British zombie feature if it had been released swiftly, preceded only by Andrew Parkinson’s very atypical I, Zombie, the cheap splatter comedy of Zombie Toxin/Homebrew and an early, self-released effort from the indefatigable Jonathan Ash. Plus a few shorts but really not many. So although Infestation seems – heck, is – thoroughly generic and formulaic, that’s only because when it eventually emerged from post-production (that CGI may be cheap-looking but it still takes time) the genre and the formula had already established themselves in the meantime.

So why is this film interesting? It’s because of Mr Neil Marshall. There is a quote from him front and centre on the UK sleeve (reading, in full: “Awesome!”). Ed Evers-Swindell worked in the sound department on The Descent, providing all the ‘voices’ of the Crawlers, and he is also credited as ‘script consultant’ on The Descent Part 2. As I type this he is deep in post on his long-awaited second feature Dark Signal, which is being executive produced by Marshall.

The executive producer on Infestation was Paul Sutherland, the actor who played ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox. And here’s the really spooky part: he looks exactly like Neil Marshall! The bald head, the little beard, same height, same build, northern accent. Surely – I thought, as I watched the film – surely that is a young, unknown Mr N Marshall who has subsequently asked for his dual contribution to be disguised by an alias. Otherwise, we have to believe that Ed Evers-Swindell, a known associate of Neil Marshall, has made two feature films, executive produced by two different men who look like twins!

But is it really Neil Marshall? Let’s apply scientific procedure to this. What evidence do we have that it’s not Marshall? Certainly neither he nor Ed nor anyone else has ever mentioned this acting gig. But of course absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Slightly more concerning is that the February 2001 shoot for Infestation was literally a month before principal photography began on Dog Soldiers, when Neil Marshall should have been working all hours God sends on last-minute pre-production for his own debut feature.

Here, I think, is the clincher. Infestation is a co-production between three companies. Racing Snake Films was Ed and Will Evers-Swindell’s production company. Fierce Productions was co-writer/producer Stuart Fletcher (although the name has now been adopted by an unrelated company in London). But the main prodco was ESP Pictures Ltd, and a quick check of the company details reveals that the three directors of that were Ed Evers-Swindell, Sian Williams (the other producer) and… Paul Andrew Sutherland. Hence the name: ‘ESP’ for Ed, Sian and Paul.

Which means that Paul Sutherland is a real person. So, unless ‘Neil Marshall’ is an alias, these are two different people, and my surprise at discovering a low-budget zombie film secretly starring one of the biggest names in British horror is dashed. Would have been cool, though. And the matter is slightly confused by Sutherland being credited as both (sole) producer and co-producer on the British Council’s listing for the film, and being misnamed ‘John Sutherland’ elsewhere.  And you must admit, only their mother can tell them apart.

Plus, while I was writing this review, someone alerted me to the fact that there is a British horror film with Neil Marshall on screen, acting under a fake name. So you know, it wasn’t such a crazy idea. But to be absolutely certain, I contacted Ed himself who assured me: “I can confirm that Neil Marshall and Paul Sutherland are two very different and separate people. In fact, if you get them in a room together they don't actually look very similar...but I have heard people mistake them in the past.”

Edward Evers-Swindell is part of a surprisingly extensive Evers-Swindell clan of unclear relationship to one another, spread between North Wales and New Zealand. As well as brother Will (who is composing the music for Dark Signal) there’s Nico, a jobbing actor who was in several episodes of Grimm and played Prince William in a 2011 TV movie; Laura (assorted production gigs); Katherine (hair and make-up on 2010 violent revenge thriller Dark Waters); and identical twins Georgina and Caroline (a rowing team who won Olympic Gold for New Zealand at Athens and Beijing!). Ed and Katherine were both involved (as editor and actor respectively) with Karen Bird’s Expiry Date, a BHR film so obscure it makes Infestation look like a top pick on Netflix. According to the Inaccurate Movie Database, Ed also received a ‘thank you’ on Wraith Island, an even more obscure BHR film than Expiry Date (filmed in 2009, possibly never completed and directed by either Sioned Page or Marc Brimfield, depending on your source).

The ‘special make-up FX’ on Infestation were jointly handled by Amber Smit (who later got a credit in the wardrobe department of The Phantom Menace), Wendy Couling (now a professional artist) and Cathy Griffiths. ‘Special FX supervisor’ Andrew Whitehurst has gone on to an impressive career, working at the Framestore and Double Negative, amassing credits on the likes of Skyfall, Scott Pilgrim and assorted Harry Potters. Richard Blackburn and Philip Creed are credited with ‘special gun FX’; they also shared editing duties with Ed and both subsequently played zombies in Colin! ‘Screen FX’ (which I assume means the various computer displays on show) are credited to Andy Harding of Paintbox Studios.

There’s no credited DP but Ed is listed as camera operator (the camera in question being his dad’s, purchased from Curry’s, hence the ‘home video’ look) with Stuart Fletcher responsible for lighting. Neil Ratcliffe did the titles which, in the manner of such things, are one of the best parts of the movie. Someone or something called Emissary provided the music.

Aside from the principals, the cast included Evison’s brother Simon as a survivor from the first expedition, and Matt Routledge who subsequently wrote, directed, produced and starred in legendary action comedy Mersey Cop (he also DPed Angie Bojtler’s unreleased BHR feature Jacob’s Hammer).

As for Edward Evers-Swindell himself, he started making super-8 films as a kid, set up a film-making club at school and then began serious production at university where his graduation film was a shorter version of Infestation. This feature, his magnum opus (until now), cost a whopping £5,000 all-in. In 2015 as I type he is deep in post on his second feature Dark Signal, executive produced (as noted) by Neil Marshall. Ed tells me that both Neil and Paul Sutherland were offered cameos but neither could make it, meaning we still haven’t seen the two of them in the same place at the same time…

MJS rating: C

Friday, 5 June 2015

interview: Michael Riley (2012)

I first interviewed Michael Riley in 2008 for a feature about Vampire Diary. Four years later, in February 2012, he produced The Seasoning House, the directorial debut of Paul Hyett. While the film was shooting, Michael kindly agreed to another of my mini-interviews by e-mail.

Vampire Diary is one of the few British horror films of recent years that Paul Hyett didn’t work on, so how did the two of you first get together?
“We met on my feature which was a rites-of-passage drama entitled Boston Kickout in 1995. It had a great lead cast (including John Simm, Marc Warren and Andrew Lincoln) and we were all stranded in Stevenage during the filming there, going a little crazy. There was a scene in a rough old nightclub where one of the characters ‘glasses’ another. So Paul, who was just starting off in makeup prosthetics then, came along and designed a piece that fitted on the actor’s neck. It looked suitably disgusting and as I've got a leaning towards the macabre we got on like a house on fire.

“We share a similar taste in tastelessness. That and accuracy, straight-talking and sense of humour. Paul has a great sense of humour - I guess it's part of the job. When you're surrounded in blood and guts all day long (and Paul certainly does his research - his library is not for the faint-hearted) it helps to have a laugh sometimes. Since then we've worked on countless films together. He's my go-to man whenever special makeup fx are needed. Including Vampire Diary in fact. Paul's workshop designed and built the vampire baby for the birth at the end. Nice and stomach-churningly disgusting!”

Why is now the right time for this project, The Seasoning House, to happen?
“Paul has been considering making the leap to directing for a few years, and he's run a few ideas past me. A project called The Black Site was one that immediately interested me - a dark psychological thriller in the vein of Jacob's Ladder/Manchurian Candidate - and we have been developing that for some time. We shot a teaser/trailer for it recently and I'm starting to raise the budget for it. However it is a fairly sizeable budget for a first-time director and we both came to the conclusion that a smaller scale project would be easier to kick off with. So we batted a few ideas about, had some ideas suggested by others, and the story for The Seasoning House was born.

“Paul wrote it with his colleague Conal Palmer in a creative spurt relatively quickly and instinctively, and we raised the money via an Exec Production company called Temple Heart Films within a fairly short space of time. The quality of the script, my experience and the reputation that Paul has all played a big part in getting the film off the ground. But one of the main driving forces in getting it together has been a rebirth of audience appetite for intelligent and uncompromising horror films. Recent successes such as Frontiers, Martyrs and Inside have all marked a renaissance in smart, independent original storytelling in the horror genre. That all of those films are French inspired Paul and myself to drag that aesthetic over the channel and try it with an English sensibility.

“We're both sensitive to the fact that the backdrop to the story is similar to real events that occurred in the Balkan conflict in the ‘90s during which thousands lost their lives, but we've been careful to de-emphasise any national specifics, keeping it as neutral as we can, and suggesting that such events happen wherever there is conflict. There's no mention of place or time, and we treat all the victims of the events that take place in the house in an extremely respectful way. We're treading very carefully. But we're also keen to push audiences, not to solicit their goodwill, challenge them and make them squirm. It's time the UK made more films like this. Like our next project: The Black Site, similarly uncompromising and provocative.”

How did you assemble the cast for The Seasoning House?
“Our wonderful casting director Manuel Puro (with whom I've done a number of films) put together a perfect collection of actors for us to audition. The most challenging was the lead, Angel. She had to be very petite, young, resilient and of course a great actor. Paul and I met over 80 actresses during the process, and it was a happy day when Rosie Day walked into the room. She immediately understood the role, had extensive experience (she was the youngest actor to ever work with the Royal National Theatre) and she threw herself unquestioningly into the physical and emotional demands of the character to the extent that Paul and I knew we had found our Angel within just a few minutes.

“Sean Pertwee and Kevin Howarth were both friends of Paul's having worked with him and known him over the years. I believe Paul has killed Sean more times on screen than anyone else. And I've worked with Anna Walton quite a few times over the years, and she immediately picked up on the originality of the script and came on board. So it just happened that we have been surrounded in talented actors as well as friends in our cast, which made the production a joy to work on. Lots of laughs and goodwill amid the carnage.”

What logistical/practical problems are there in shooting a film where (a) the lead character is a deaf mute and (b) much of the action takes place in cramped, confined spaces?
“Rosie, who plays Angel - the deaf mute at the centre of the story - learned sign language for the role. And she trained with stunt co-ordinators for weeks before the film's commencement, delivering a powerful and committed performance unlike any other. The fact that she can't hear what is going on around her massively increases the drama and tension for her and the audience.

“We shot the film in a vast, abandoned former RAF base in the west of London. Given the constraints of the film this worked out to be perfect for us as 100% of our locations were to be found there - from cottages, empty streets, woods and industrial buildings, to the Seasoning House itself. About two thirds of the film takes place in and around the house, so it was essential that the design be both eye-catching and practical at the same time.

“The wonderful art direction team (headed by the awesome Caroline Story) completely took over a large building, a former children's clinic, and transformed it into the chilling, decrepit house you'll see in the film with the incredibly talented DoP Adam Etherington bringing a truly beautiful and grim atmosphere in his photography. Not wanting to give away too many secrets ahead of time, I won't go into too many details as to how we achieved the big set-pieces in the film, but you can be sure that the film breaks totally new ground in bloody action, tension and horror.”

With this film, the just-out Deviation, the forthcoming Scar Tissue and the on-the-way Zombie Apocalypse your CV is suddenly full of horror movies - what can you tell me about these various projects?
“Although I haven't made that many horror films, I've always been an admirer of the genre. For some reason I grew up being a huge fan of Lucio Fulci. Must have been the boredom of growing up in suburban Nottingham, but something about those movies sparked my imagination. I must have seen Zombie Flesheaters 20+ times before I was 16. Any scene featuring a topless girl being attacked by a shark who in turn is attacked by an underwater zombie has profound effects on a young boy! No CGI either - it was all shot for real. I have a collection of UK quads including many of Fulci's classics from that time (The Beyond, House by the Cemetery, City of the Living Dead etc) and when I met him in the late ‘80s he was a smart, funny and shrewd influence on me.

“But my tastes are pretty wide-ranging and it's perhaps because of that that I look for the unusual and unexpected in the genre. I'm not so interested in typical slasher films or monster movies, more in the original and boundary-pushing. I hope all my forthcoming projects can be described a little like that. It's not easy getting films off the ground in the UK, especially films that can find an audience and turn a profit. Anyone can borrow a 5D and a laptop with FCP, but it's the script that counts ultimately. And they're not so easy to find.”

Interview originally posted 5th March 2012

interview: Michael Riley (2008)

I interviewed Michael Riley by phone in June 2008 about Vampire Diary. I think part of this may have been used for a feature in Fangoria. A few years later, I interviewed Michael again, this time about The Seasoning House.

To what extent, in your opinion, is Vampire Diary a horror film and to what extent is it a gay romance?
"It’s more of a horror film than a gay romance. It was always intended as a drama that reveals how far people are willing to go once they find out that there’s a subculture that may or may not be fictional. Holly does fall in love with Vicki during the process but it’s not primarily a gay love story. It’s much more of a horror film with a romantic element to it."

Obviously there are a million straight-to-video lesbian vampire films out there but all the others are trashy soft porn, so was it tricky marketing this and explaining it to people who might make assumptions?
"Well yes, there’s the title as well and that genre does come with baggage. We were trying to do something a little bit more interesting than your straightforward, bodice-ripping, lesbian, get-your-tits-out kind of movie - which we’re totally set against. Obviously the style we shot it in has been done a bit as well. Since we made Vampire Diary, Cloverfield’s got a similar kind of vibe and Blair Witch and stuff. But we did try to steer clear from too many parallels with the cheesier element of the genre. At the same time, we’re playing with expectation that people have with that particular genre. I think this is a much more modern, much more hip take on that."

There seems to be a coming together this year of things like Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead and in fact in the UK you came out within a couple of weeks of The Zombie Diaries. Were you aware, when making it, that there was this increased use of the found footage genre?
"Not particularly. Obviously we were very aware of Blair Witch Project. But the story came first and it was always intended as a sort of documentary within a film. A lot to do with the fact that that was a nice way into the story, it suited the narrative - but also we could shoot it on a smaller budget. It allowed us a certain amount of freedom although, saying that, it is actually really hard to shoot something like that. It means you’re shooting very restricted angles. You can’t cut away to reaction
shots as you would normally do in a regular film for example. It’s totally dictated by who’s pointing the camera where.

"And also logistically it’s very difficult because you can’t hide your lights anywhere because you’re normally shooting 360 degrees. Actually it’s not a cheap way out. So we didn’t steal any ideas from anybody, we just felt that this was quite an interesting way to tell this particular story. We’re not doing that for the sequel, we’re doing it much more straightforward, I guess you’d call it conventional filming. So it’s not a documentary within a film for the second one."

What can you tell me about the sequel?
"We’re starting to develop it now. We’ve got a script. We’ve just shot a teaser for it, raising finance for it because the first one went down quite well, so we’re doing a second one. I’ve always complained that British producers and production companies don’t take advantage enough of successful first films and don’t make sequels. Where’s The Full Monty 2, for example? And obviously horror always lends itself to sequels and franchises and stuff. So we’re quite keen on doing a second one. We shot a teaser, as I said, for it recently down in a nuclear bunker in Essex. So it’s looking good. We’d like to get Anna Walton to reprise her Vicki role but obviously Anna’s going off to do great things at the moment so it might be tricky scheduling-wise."

I met her when I was down on Mutant Chronicles so if that takes off, that will raise her profile.
"Yes, but before that comes along Hellboy 2 is coming out soon and she’s got a big part in that. I think the premiere’s just happened or just about to happen. So her star is definitely ascending. She’s now taking the female lead in the new NBC multi-multi-million pound Crusoe TV series."

Ah, that’s being written by a mate of mine, Steve Gallagher.
"She plays Mrs Crusoe."

A character not heavily featured in the original book!
"No, not a character I recall l that much! So she’s really on the way up and we’re really pleased to have got her for the first one. Hopefully she’ll do the second one but if not we’ll recast. But certainly Vampire Diary 2 is definitely on the cards now."

So it’s still the character of Vicki?
"Yes. It won’t be a straightforward sequel. There are elements of the first one - the characters are in there - but it’s more of an Evil Dead 2: ‘inspired by’ rather than following or continuing from."

So presumably the first film, even though it’s not out in America yet, must have been successful where it has been released.
"Absolutely. It’s done well, it’s got some great reviews and people kind of get it I think. It’s gone down fantastically in Germany; there must be a quite large gothic scene there. It’s coming out in France soon, it did pretty well in the UK and as you say it’s coming out in the US. So for a tiny, tiny, minuscule budget, well-intended hip little movie it’s done quite well."

With the marketing and the festivals it’s playing, is it being aimed more at the horror crowd or gay audiences?
"It really depends which festival it’s going to. We’re kind of keen on not making it too much of a niche gay picture although it’s done well and played well in a lot of lesbian and gay film festivals. So while we’re not completely keeping it away from that particular area, it’s not something we’ll be concentrating on. I think it’s much more of a horror movie than it is a gay and lesbian picture."

How did the filming work between the two directors, Mark James and Phil O’Shea?
"The way they split it: Mark often dealt with cast much more on set, with the camera, the image and the editing; Phil, also cast but also overseeing script - he wrote it. So that’s the division if you want to talk to them about those areas."

One final quick question: in your opinion, is she or isn’t she a vampire?
"An interesting question! In my opinion - it’s not an opinion shared by the writer, by the way, she is not a vampire. She shows how a smart, intelligent, sexy woman can manipulate people into thinking certain things. And she gets away with it. There’s nothing, as far as I’m concerned, in the first one that says absolutely, unequivocally she’s a supernatural monster aka vampire. What she does is totally physical."

And we’ve only got her word for it about the whole 'pulling the teeth out' story.
"Exactly. But it’s interesting. I’ve done Q&As at film festivals and opinion is divided. Some people just buy into that she is completely monstrous and she drinks blood and she’s been alive for centuries and stuff - but others are more my way of thinking. What do you think?"

I think she isn’t but I think one of the film’s strengths is that it’s ambiguous. It’s kind of like whether Deckard’s a replicant or not.
"I guess so but there are two cuts of Blade Runner: one which makes it kind of explicit that he is and the other one is not explicit but he kind of is as well. But I think in Vampire Diary - there are no two cuts by the way - Vicki, for me anyway, she’s definitely not. But it does make it a bit more interesting that it’s ambiguous. Did you write a piece about this film and you were saying you weren’t sure whether Richard Stanley was in it or not?"

Yes, you confirmed this when we first exchanged e-mails.
"Me and Richard go a long way back. So yes, he is in it. Maybe he’ll be in the sequel but we’re not sure. But just to make it clear: he is the Spanish rapist."

Interview originally posted before November 2004

Monday, 1 June 2015

Demons Never Die

Director: Arjun Rose
Writer: Arjun Rose
Producers: Jo Podmore, Rhian Williams, Arjun Rose, Jason Maza
Cast: Tulisa off X-Factor, Reggie Yates off Radio 1, have you had enough yet?
Country: I’m ashamed to say, the UK
Year of release: 2011
Reviewed from: DVD

Demons Never Die is absolute rubbish and gets worse the more you think about it. It was filmed as Suicide Kids but the title was changed at the last moment, allegedly because it couldn’t be said on radio and TV (possibly also because there was a 2009 American indie film called that). I’m guessing that there may also have been fears about what the media might do if any young person did top themselves after watching this movie, which could easily have happened. I certainly contemplated jumping out of a high window a few times. Of course the title change doesn’t alter the (for want of a better word) plot which is all about teenagers forming a suicide pact, so it wouldn’t have saved them anyway.

Actually, the title is the best thing here. Demons Never Die is a great title. Or at least it would be a great title for a horror film about, you know, demons. There is however nothing supernatural in this formulaic, lazy slasher - although a few red herrings point that way (for example, one character claims to have never seen another character’s constant companion). The ‘demons’ referred to in a clumsy voice-over near the start are of the metaphorical kind. I don’t know if that opening voice-over was added late in post-production, but the brief reprise at the end which finishes with the words “…and demons never die!” has so obviously been tacked on at the last moment that you can see the drawing pins.

This is a film about, and potentially for, Millennials (or “the Skins audience” as one of the sleeve quotes has it). It’s about a bunch of whining, self-important, self-obsessed teenagers who have nothing to worry about but like to complain anyway and feel the world owes them something just for getting out of bed. There isn’t a single likeable or empathetic character in the entire film. Why should anyone care what happens to these kids? These are characters who are so shallow (in both senses) that for most of them we only learn their names after they die.

At a sixth form college, the Principal announces that one of the students has killed herself, which is met with a startling lack of response from her disinterested peers. A couple of plain clothes policemen are there, one of whom warns the youngsters about the dangers of copycat suicides, something I’m sure would never happen in real life because the natural response of any troubled teen would be: “Well, I hadn’t really thought of topping myself, but now that you come to suggest it…”

Despite this warning, a second teenager also kills herself shortly afterwards, while attending some sort of never explained photoshoot, after recording an equally unexplained, random video diary saying she has bulimia. (There are frequent other random uses of video cameras throughout the script, to such an extent that I’m left wondering whether this was conceived as found footage in an earlier draft. There is also a single bizarre sequence when the characters all talk to each other via webcams, shown on screen as coloured blocks that look like a bad game of Tetris.) The bulimia remark is typical of the sort of brief, half-hearted infodumps which are intended to show that these teens have ‘demons’. Another one later in the film goes like this: “Why do you live in that squat?” “My dad kicked me out because I got a girl pregnant.” Seriously, a whole bunch of people thought this was a filmable script.

It transpires that both these girls (the first one’s ‘demon’ was apparently that she had split up with her boyfriend – Jesus, get over yourself!) were part of a suicide pact, along with eight other stereotypes (the stoner, the nutter, the fat kid, the sensitive Irish lad, the Token Black Guy…). Not one of these people shows any actual evidence of suicidal tendencies: there’s no nihilism, no punk attitude, not even any emo moping. They’re all just as bland and boring as most Millennial teenagers. What is wrong with the world? Sid Vicious and James Dean both died for your sins, and all you can do is text each other on your fucking Blackberries.

The remaining octet are mildly concerned that their two dead pals have jumped the gun on the whole 'suicide pact' thing, but we know that in fact they were murdered by a hooded psycho with a shiny metal mask. Almost immediately a major problem presents itself. Because among a veritable motorway pile-up of stupid and illogical plot points, the most fundamental is that this entire film relies on the police being unable to distinguish between self-inflicted stab wounds and wounds received during a frenzied knife attack. Frankly a child of ten would be able to tell the difference, but not these two clueless coppers. Mind, given that one of them is Ashley Walters from laughably shit rap combo So Solid Crew and the other is personality-free Radio 1 DJ Reggie Yates, it’s no real surprise that they don’t know the first thing about policing. Or anything. (Walters was also in Outcasts, Anuvahood and WAZ. Yates was also in Top of the Pops and Rastamouse.)

The third victim (Jennie Jacques: Truth or Dare, Cherry Tree Lane) is a tentative item with Sensitive Irish Lad (Robert Sheehan: Misfits, Nick Cage turkey Season of the Witch and Irish horror Ghostwood) so already marked as our Final Girl. She somehow evades the masked killer, but not everyone is convinced she saw someone because her mother has split personality syndrome (which the script is agonisingly careful to avoid calling schizophrenia) and she might have it too. Further bodies mount up, including a teacher and his wife/girlfriend. In the real world the school would be closed and a massive police operation would swing into place. But in the shoddily amateur writing of debutante film-maker Arjun Rose, everything carries on as normal. No-one seems perturbed by the spate of violent deaths or the threat of further killings, and the investigation remains limited to two coppers in one car.

The teacher, incidentally, is seen downing whiskey (possibly that’s his ‘demon’, though once again there’s neither context nor comment) and telling someone on the phone that he wants out of whatever they’re involved in. Out of what? Who was on the phone? Why is he drinking? Is he the killer, or involved with the killer? This is just one more random red herring that leads nowhere and means nothing, never either explained or justified. Maybe that actually is the killer on the phone, but if so what is the teacher’s involvement? We don’t know, and if Arjun Rose knows he’s too incompetent a writer to explain.

Some of the remaining, still alive youngsters decide that they maybe don’t want to commit suicide after all because… well, there’s no more reason for them to change their minds than to decide on hara-kiri in the first place. Rose has no concept of characterisation or motivation. It doesn’t help that some of the cast are shockingly wooden actors, but even talented performers couldn’t make this work. Remember Harrison Ford’s famous comment on the set of Star Wars? “You can write this stuff, George, but you sure as heck can’t say it.” Well, Arjun Rose can’t even write it.

It all culminates at a massive party in a huge house where dozens of vacuous teenagers drink and chatter and snog but the most actually rebellious thing they can manage is a game of Twister. The one psycho teen who organised the original pact (pointlessly shadowed everywhere by an acolyte with a video camera – see note above re. found footage origins) is now determined to murder everyone instead, using his dad’s gun. He’s played by Jason Maza (Rise of the Footsoldier, Ten Dead Men, Truth or Dare) who also produced this and a few other features (including BHR obscurity The Tapes). There’s a stultifyingly awful dialogue exchange where he explains to his camera-toting chum that this will make him a mass murderer, not a serial killer, complete with dictionary definitions of each. Added to an earlier exchange between Final Girl and Sensitive Irish Lad about character arcs, this overt textual analysis of horror film tropes within a horror film underlines that Rose has watched Scream and, well, that’s about it. He watched Scream and decided to copy it.

Rapper Cop and DJ Cop have been invited to the party because… plot. Not likely to compromise the investigation in any way, that. (This is a party, bear in mind, full of people who have lost several friends/associates to a violent serial killer and who are all potentially in danger themselves as students at the College of Death, yet are all too thick - or written by somebody too thick - to care.) The plain clothes cops now have, for some reason, police-branded jackets on. And fire-arms. Because yes, British police officers just habitually carry automatic pistols around with them when they’re out of uniform and attending a teenage party.

In the end [spoilers on] it turns out that the killer is one of the cops, which makes no more sense than anything else in the film. So let’s see: he murdered a random girl at a random school, somehow making it look like suicide. Then got assigned to that case. Then started attacking other spoilt-brat students, somehow working his way through the members of a secret pact of ‘suicide kids’ that he couldn’t possibly have known about. [spoilers off] Then, oh, my brain itches just trying to justify this. It can’t be justified. This is one of the worst, most insultingly stupid scripts ever filmed. First draft dialogue strung around a make-it-up-as-you-go-along story based on half-arsed ideas.

Arjun Rose is a former city trader who apparently decided he wanted to make films instead of shuffling money so roped in some of his rich friends to finance what is, in effect, a vanity project. Which is why the four executive producers include Idris Elba and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. I can accept TPT wanting in; she’s just a posh totty socialite brain donor who knows no more about films than she does about work. But Idris Elba, man! He should know the difference between a good script and a pile of ill-thought-out clich├ęs like this! He could be the black James Bond, for God’s sake! The other two ex.prods are Stephen Behrens (possibly the Morgan Stanley VP of that name) and Peter Delfgou, a former editor who now runs Soho Screening Rooms (not as naughty an establishment as it sounds!).

In interviews, Rose cited Donnie Darko as an influence on his script, and one can certainly see that, though only in the way that one can see Italian cuisine is an influence on a microwave lasagna. But here's something intriguing: I found another interview with Rose where he talked about having been inspired by an arty film called I Give You My Heart and it's clear from the description that he's actually talking about Tristan Versluis' 2008 short I Love You!

The cast - whose individual talents could be kindly described as 'varied' - is toplined by N-Dubz/X-Factor bimbo Tulisa Costacoffee, a piece of cynical stunt-casting mercifully killed off early on. Many of the real actors have worked with/for Noel Clarke in pictures like, Kidulthood and Adulthood. Among their notable credits: Jacob Anderson plays Grey Worm in Game of Thrones and was also in Comedown and Broadchurch; Emma Rigby was in Hollyoaks and Rentaghost spin-off Becoming Human; Andrew Ellis was in the various versions of This is England; Patrick Baladi played Dodi Al Fayed in a TV movie about Princess Diana; Jack Doolan was in May I Kill U?, The Facility and Cockneys vs Zombies; Nick Nevern was in The Tapes, Outpost: Black Sun and Strippers vs Werewolves; and Arnold Oceng used to be in Grange Hill. Most of the principle players - students and cops alike - were, not unexpectedly, in their twenties when they shot this. Hence the 'teenagers' look too old to be believable and the police look too young. Normally that would be a black mark but here it's the least of the film's worries.

Nathaniel Gleed, who has somehow previously played young versions of both Harry Hill and James May, plays a younger version of Sensitive Irish Lad in black and white flashbacks which, like everything else here, don’t make any sense. Rosalind Knight, whose career stretches all the way back to Carry On Nurse and Olivier’s Richard III, is in the cast apparently, but I don’t know where. And although I totally failed to spot her (probably because I wasn’t looking), comedy legend Morwenna Banks is in here somewhere too, probably as a teacher.

DP Toby Moore primarily works in television, shooting dramas such as Mr Selfridge and Law and Order UK (plus episodes of Torchwood and Young Dracula). Editor Tim Murrell cut Wake Wood, The Children, WAZ and The Day of the Triffids. Both put in fine work here which sadly can’t save the film itself from being crap on a stick. Likewise production designer Paul Burns (Piggy) and costume designer Robert Lever (Ra.One, The Tapes, Mirrormask). Possibly the only person who comes out of this shambles with anything to be genuinely proud of is Steadycam legend Roger Tooley whose work stands out on screen, especially in the title sequence as he moves around a lecture theatre. He’s not listed on the IMDB page and Rose managed to call him ‘Roger Avers’ in an interview.

Demons Never Die was shot over 18 days on a budget of £900,000. Rose called the film “real low budget” but just short of a million is obviously considerably more than most British horror films get and the results certainly don’t show up on screen. In fact, let’s just put that in context. Stag Hunt (almost entirely shot on location) cost £20,000. Blood and Carpet (packed with CGI post to remove 21st century background clutter) cost £3,000. Darkest Day and The House of Him cost £900 a pop. I’ve reviewed 15 new British horror features so far this year and only two might conceivably have had budgets anywhere near that of Demons Never Die. The total budgets of the other 13 films added together wouldn’t come to £900,000.

What the hell has Rose spent the money on? There are no big effects or action sequences, no costly locations, no expensive costumes or props, even the ‘gore effects’ are largely limited to throwing fake blood on fully clothed actors. For a man with a financial background, Arjun Rose (who was also one of four named producers) shows precious little evidence of how to manage money on a film production. He just knows how to raise money and then how to waste it, which I suppose is what you would expect from a city trader...

(Some sources cite a budget of '£90,000' so someone somewhere has either added or lost a zero, but even that is a hundred times what Rab Florence spent on The House of Him.)

Announced for a June 2011 cinema release under the original title, the film was promoted with a series of short-but-uninteresting videos in which various actor mates of Arjun Rose cited ‘3 reasons to live’. Retitled, the film was eventually released to theatres in late October - after a D-lister-packed West End premiere - and hit DVD the following February. I’m not aware of any festival play and frankly not surprised by that. The only other country where it seems to have been released so far is Turkey, for some reason.

Here’s the thing. It may seem like I have a problem with today’s young people, the so-called Millennials, the Skins audience. And indeed I do. But just because they’re boring and shallow, that’s no reason for people to make boring, shallow films about them. There has already been at least one perfectly good British horror film set within this generation of young people. Jon Wright’s terrific 2009 supernatural bully revenge saga Tormented is intelligent, well-crafted and even scary. So it’s not intrinsic that this sort of film is bound to suck. This is not a rubbish film because it’s about the youth of today. It’s a rubbish film and it’s about the youth of today.

It may be, as the quoted reviewer suggested, that 'the Skins audience' will indeed love it. I suppose we should draw a distinction between films about Millennials and films for Millennials. For someone with no imagination or perspective or ambition, who judges the quality of a film not on story or characters or evidence of creative talents but on how many people off the telly are in it, then maybe this picture is the business.

Speaking of things that suck, as we were, the film’s ghastly soundtrack (the licensing of which may account for quite a bit of that budget) is full of soulless, forgettable songs by soulless, forgettable artists like Jessie J, Chase and Status, Tinchie Stryder and Rizzle Kicks. If that’s your kind of music, then once again: you may enjoy this film.

Seriously? Jessie fucking J? What has become of the world?

MJS rating: D+