Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring James Fisher, Rebecca Herod, Cy Henty, Eleanor James
Directed by Pat Higgins
Distributed by Brain Damage Films
Now here’s a surprise. Generally, when a review copy of a direct-to-DVD film I’ve never heard of (even within the indie circuit) drops onto my desk with a stated RRP circa £2.99, I’ll immediately launch into a mental training regimen in preparation for the blast of anti-entertainment I’m likely about to endure. Furthermore, from previous experience most movies bearing the logo of Brain Damage Films are the type that you’d literally have to BE brain damaged to enjoy. Shortly into Pat Higgins’ Hellbride I realised that said preparations hadn’t been required at all – it’s actually an extremely competent piece of indie horror-comedy.
The opening moments, through some well done illustrations and voiceover, lay down the back-story of one Josephine Stewart. Over one hundred years ago, upon learning of her husband’s infidelity, Stewart went on a rampage. She murdered relatives, her husband, and then killed herself. From that point in time, her wedding ring became cursed by her vengeful spirit, leading every subsequent unfortunate owner to suffer a murderous wedding day.
From there, the ring disappeared into the hands of a wealthy curio collector, and upon his passing ends up in a modern day jewelry store where it finally catches the eye of our protagonist, Lee (James Fisher). Once the ring is handed over to his girlfriend, Nicole (Rebecca Herod), spooky happenings abound and peripheral characters are gruesomely offed by the ghost of Stewart and her rotting, rook-masked henchperson. Eventually Nicole’s friend takes her to see her eccentric occult-specialist cousin Sinclair, who manages to dial down the threat as long as the ring is kept safe from violence and bloodshed.
It’s just a pity, then, that Nicole’s dad (James Kavaz) has seriously pissed off the local mob boss – to the point that he has declared her wedding be a massacre for the ages.
While the actual plot is through and through a horror flick, Higgins’ screenplay throws in a huge amount of comedic one-liners, visual gags and quirky characters. It’s smartly written, with an oddball appeal – yet the laughs remain organic. The introduction to Nicole’s father is one such laugh-out-loud moment as he screams down the phone at a colleague, describing the fate that could feasibly befall him if he doesn’t get the money required to pay off the aforementioned mob boss. The main characters are all likeable and recognisable (you’ll more than likely know someone just like them), which makes settling into the proceedings very easy to do. The funniest written character has to be Sinclair; however, actor Cy Henty’s over-the-top snivelling and too-awkward delivery somewhat detracts from his scene as you’re forced to pay a little more attention to just what he’s actually saying to get the most out of it. The humour in the film is distinctly British, so watch out across the pond if that is something you’ve already discovered you don’t quite “get”.
Higgins’ direction is spot on for such a low-budget piece of work, though some scenes fall foul of noticeably poor lighting and the blown-up DV source gives the entire film a blurry, out of focus, visual quality. Kudos to him for pulling off a few shots that you would almost swear were done using with a small crane or steadicam, but are revealed in the commentary to have been hand held. The lack of budget betrays the wedding climax, with a shootout that, well, couldn’t even be called a shootout and the final confrontation with the ghost of Josephine Stewart is much too restricted. In an apparent effort to make the final scenes appear more frenetic, the previously smooth editing also becomes difficult to follow at moments. Some decently splashy gore gets thrown around, though, which is welcome, and Higgins also squeezes in some acceptable low-budget digital effects of the After-Effects variety.
For such a low budget piece of work, and at such a low price point, Hellbride’s DVD release holds a surprising amount of features. The first is a commentary with director Higgins and cinematographer Alan Ronald. These two waste no time dishing out all the behind the scenes info they can muster and honestly critiquing those elements that they felt didn’t work as they could have on screen. Things get quite muddled at points though as it’s revealed that the two are sharing one microphone – so occasionally you’ll struggle to hear what someone may be saying in the background. There are a number of laughs to be had, too.
Next to that, we have around 13 minutes of “Making of” material featuring standard behind the scenes footage interspersed with interview style dialogue from Higgins. Alongside, we have the Hellbride trailer and 3 deleted/alternate scenes. The dialogue on the first two of these scenes appears to be raw and untreated, so is very hard to decipher. The scenes themselves don’t appear to add anything to the movie so no big loss there.
Finally, is a blooper reel chronicling actor Kavaz’s multiple attempts to nail the quick-fire dialogue found in Nicole’s father’s introductory scene.
Hellbride isn’t a great film, but in a sea of distinctly shitty shot-on-DVD horror flicks that are little more than glorified home movies, Higgins’ effort stands head and shoulders above the rest mainly on the strength of its highly entertaining script. For what it is, the fact that you can pick this up for less than the cost of a double whisky and coke in most bars makes it a firm recommendation and a more than able time waster.
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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