In England’s black-and-white, 4:3 ratio past, rich dilletante Victor (Charlie Robb) invites his friends to see his latest acquisition: a decrepit, insolated, and supposedly haunted manor house. After sharing dinner with emotionally wounded Texan George (Tom Bailey), acid-tongued socialite Christine (Margaret Clunie), conceited tennis player Teddy (Timothy Renouf), and Teddy’s nervous lower-class girlfriend Elizabeth (Jessica Webber), Victor reveals the night’s main entertainment: a seance to contact the former occultist owner of the house.
What seems like a tedious comedy take on old-fashioned English cinema gets an unexpected burst of inspiration when Here Comes Hell make a spontaneous transition into being a spot-on tribute to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Visibly produced on a shoestring budget, the film is buoyed by smart gags and character humour, along with a few genuinely effective moments of horror. It does not all add up to something great, but it definitely represents an awful lot of fun. It is both charming and gleefully over-the-top.
While the film’s first half-hour feels a little slow and awkward, a sharp right-turn not only finds a much more entertaining direction but actually provides a better background against which the characters can develop. The over-confident and catty Christine starts to fall to pieces, for one thing, while the quiet and reserved Elizabeth is given an opportunity to come into her own. Between them they seem the film’s most valuable assets, adding both strong comedy but also more fully realised characters.
That extra dimension of character is important, because Here Comes Hell manages the tricky feat of adding a few genuinely unsettling and effective moments of horror. With the key characters being given time to develop a little in the film’s mid-section, it leaves them well primed for the audience to relate better to them by the finale. The film’s climax is superb, and succeeds in an area that lesser horror-comedies often manage. While Here Comes Hell does take a while to get set up, it is the latter section that shows great promise. I am keen to see what co-writer and director Jack McHenry (the film is co-written by Alice Sidgwick) will do in the future; hopefully with a larger scale and budget.
Performances are evenly balanced across the board, with each actor well-cast for their specific archetypal role. Clunie is particularly effective, as well as Tom Bailey as the tightly wound and gun-slinging George. Red Dwarf alumnus Robert Llewellyn makes a delightful cameo in the film’s train-set opening scene. Occasionally the performances slip toward pantomime – particularly before the stakes are radically raised – however that feels more like an intentional affectation than a failure in acting. It is, after all, a pastiche of 1930s cinema.
Probably not quite accomplished enough to gain a cult status, Here Comes Hell is still a pretty great low-budget blend of comedy, horror, and period drama. Its target audience will likely know who they are from the premise.
Here Comes Hell is playing at this year’s Sydney Film Festival: click here for more information.