‘Look, when I said I wanted to go for a nice walk in the forest , I did not mean round a demon tree!’
For Lawrie Brewster’s Hex Media, this is omnibus horror movie is a relatively breezy, fun project – thirteen short films about demons from around the world (ie: Scotland and some other places) strung on a tiny frame thread about a devil dsiguised as Death (Nicholas Vince) paging through a book of scary woodcuts on a blasted dark ages heath. Hex’s mainstream films – Lord of Tears, The Unkindness of Ravens, The Black Gloves and Autumata – tend to contemplative, allusive, intricate spins on classic gothic genre films, whereas the segments here are more in the line of EC horror comic or blackout sketches. Many follow the simple format of a tiny bit of set-up as two or three characters venture somewhere demon-haunted followed by an ‘aaarrgh – it got me’ punchline with optional gut-munching gore effects or found footage-type ‘dragged off to an unknown doom’ fates.
A few anecdotes are more developed. ‘Night Journey’, from writer-director Brad Watson (Hallows Eve, Asylum Night), is concise but ambitious, with a demon encounter on a richly shadowed film noir look period train that turns out to be wrapped in another story entirely and offers up an original idea. ‘Father’, by Mark Logan, is a proper EC-type tale of scheming heirs, a misunderstood spell, and gory but merited fates – with Laurence Harvey (The Human Centipede 2) as a cherubically sinister butler. Nick Vince turns up again in another story – Intervention, by Paddy Murphy (who also has The Perished in this year’s FF lineup) – a found footage tale of a botched for-the-followers livestreamed exorcism and the Morrigan (suggesting that Murphy has staked out his distinctively Irish genre territory). The other genre star name is Eileen Dietz, who to be fair is more the answer to a trivia question than a diva (she was Linda Blair’s occasional body double/stuntwoman on The Exorcist), flashing a sinister grin and handing over a cursed object in another git-gets-what-he-deserves tale, The Damned Statue by Matthan Harris (The Inflicted).
Though there isn’t a sense of shared world, demons here tend to be humanoid and flash big toothy grins and rip out chunks of flesh, eyeballs, insides, etc – perhaps because these very short pieces don’t have time for much in the way of atmosphere or dread. Even at blackout sketch length, ‘Three Times Round’, by Andrew Ionedes, stretches to a disturbing tree (and some nice editing tricks), and ‘Creek’, by Keith Robson, has a nice monster-filled final shot. Also in the mix: Gavin Robertson’s ‘Wendigo’ and ‘Murder of Crows’, Carlos Omar de Leon’s ‘Bad Company’, Alex Harron’s ‘Demon in the Woods’, Dane Keil’s ‘The Slaughtering Ground’, Thomas Staunton’s ‘Breath’ and ‘The Summoned’ and Mitch Wilson’s ‘Eli’s House’. The hit rate is higher than, say, the ABCs of Death films, though the range of filmmakers is a bit narrower (all men, all shooting in English). It works well on the principle that if you’re not enjoying the current story, something different will be along in a few minutes.