An affectionate, entertaining pastiche which mashes up of two of my favourite periods of horror – the old dark house parties of the 1930s and the outrageous gore-sloshing of the 1980s – as if The Ghoul (1932) were melded with The Evil Dead (1982) in a teleporter mishap. It opens (as does another FrightFest selection, Finale) with a nod to the prologue of James Whale’s Frankenstein, as a tuxedo-clad host (Jasper Britton) stands in front of a stage curtain to warn those of a nervous disposition of the ordeal to come … then it rattles along in fine old style (and academy ratio/black and white). A knife-toting American oil millionaire George Walker Jr (Tom Bailey) is filled in on the spooky reputation of the house where he’ll be weekending by a helpful chap (Robert Llewellyn) sharing his train compartment as they chuff-chuff into the countryside. Cut-up cravat-wearer Victor Hall (Charlie Robb) has just bought a near-derelict mansion whose last inhabitant was a famous black magician, Ichabod Quinn (Nicholas Le Prevost). Victor has gathered chums – including his vampy sister Christine (Margaret Clunie), tennis-playing toff Freddie (Timothy Renouf), and Fredie’s Meg Tilly-in-The Big Chill new non-U girlfriend Elizabeth (Jessica Webber) – to visit. As a wheeze, he also calls in medium Madame Bellrose (Maureen Bennett).
The opening stretch is all tart, brittle character byplay, but the séance shifts gears into splatter as the medium is possessed and gets part of her head blasted off … then malign supernatural influence leads to a lot of gore (the tennis pro is aggrieved to lose his serving finger), not-unexpected backstory revelations, and a bit of subliminal social comment. Lower-middle-class Elizabeth proves herself much more fit to survive than the useless high-born prats who are easily sucked into a maelstrom, and strides her blood-spattered gown (‘it’s only a cheap dress,’ nasty bitch Christine has said) through the carnage. It looks great, the cast manage a perfect balance of period-apt woodenness and hints of deeper feeling, and there’s a charming period score from Ben Pearson. In common with the much-better-resourced The Little Stranger, this comes up with an old dark house setting that feels more believable – big, empty, rotting rooms which are impossible to heat or keep clean – than the cluttered, cosy, candyfloss-cobwebbed sets seen in most vintage old dark house movies. Scripted by Jack McHenry and Alice Sidgwick; directed by McHenry.