The Beast on the Moor: Short Black Comedy With a Message

Poster for The Beast on the Moor
Natasha Harmer has done it again. In 2013 she performed her one-woman cottage industry act when writing, producing and directing her short film Once Bitten, Twice Shy. I can attest to her skills in all three endeavors as the lovely lady cast me in the lead role as the hunter with a secret. In 2015 she has worn a triple hat once again with The Beast on the Moor. A short black comedy that will appeal to those who know what village pubs are like in Britain’s small villages and for those who loved the opening of American Werewolf in London, the film will also be a delight.

A couple of tourists who are thinking of relocating to this small village near the moors stop into the local pub for a drink and a little information. The publican, whose dark presence in the shadows does not bode well for the two, is not a welcoming figure at all.

This use of a local urban legend, or would that be rural legend, to turn away unwanted outsiders who want to settle in the village is clever and funny and hides a message. It is not too unbelievable when one considers the amount of resentment from village residents at the “posh” out of town residents who work in the city and only show up on weekends and holidays.

These part time residents drive the price of houses and property up for the folks who actually live there all the time. The message is that these part-time villagers are making it hard for the folks from the village to continue to live there. That is my understanding and may not be what Natasha meant at all. You’ll have to ask her.

Possible messages aside, the lighting is perfect for this “punk’d” scenario and the location is perfect. As the story progresses the music fits the mood perfectly and the sudden O. Henry ending is delightfully done. The actors all perform their parts well and the publican (bartender) was a last minute replacement to the originally hired actor who had to drop out.

Sadly, this will be the last film from Natasha for a while. When I expressed dismay at this news she explained that losing access to all that equipment on loan from the University was a major factor in her decision to “retire.”

The Beast on the Moor can be found on YouTube and Vimeo, as can Once Bitten, Twice Shy. Head on over and have a look, it won’t take long and I promise you will enjoy it. The cast list includes Midge Mullin as Trevor, Tracey Norman as Sandra, Mark Norman as Jason, and Luke Abbot, from Oracle of Film plays James.

9 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

When a Stranger Calls (2006):Agonisingly Slow

Cover of "When a Stranger Calls"
Cover of When a Stranger Calls

I remember seeing the original of this film, the 1979 one with Carol Kane as part of one of those Drive-in Special features where you got three films for the price of one. Not too different from the $1.00 a car night where no matter how many hot and sweaty bodies you crammed in the car, it only cost a buck.

I say not too different because the concept was the same, you got two films that were kind of crap and one  “big” feature. If memory serves me correctly, the 1979 When a Stranger Calls was not the main feature, something else was and it wasn’t as good as the Carol Kane film, which scared the crap out of everyone in the car.

The whole premise came about because of an urban legend. I still remember it making the rounds ages before the film came out. It was, funnily enough a girl who was about 3 to 4 years younger than me (who had an embarrassing crush on me, if I’d only known how she was going to be when she grew up, I wouldn’t have been so embarrassed…I know, shallow; uh-huh) who was going to be doing her first professional baby sitting job.

We’d just finished messing around (With a Ouija board! Get your mind out of the  gutter!) when she relayed to me in a kind of breathless yet horrified way the story as she’d heard it.

“This girl? Well, she goes to baby sit these twin boys…or girls…I don’t remember which and she starts getting phone calls. Which she isn’t supposed to get cos she’s meant to be babysitting, right? So this guy keeps asking her if she’s checked the kids. So she keeps checking on them and when she gets tired of this whole rigamarole, she calls the cops. They then put a tracer on her phone and then they call her and say get out of the house! He’s upstairs!”

Incredibly, everyone believed this particular boogeyman story, as folks were just getting into having separate phone lines put in for their kids to have their own phones, so it sort of made sense. Of course it was easier in the days before the internet to spread those kind of urban myths because it was a lot harder to check up.

Presumably the film makers who decided to make the remake thought, quite rightly, that cell phones (or mobiles over  here) could facilitate the plot just as well.

Unfortunately the film moves at a snails pace and no one ever explained to the director that suspense that drags on too long becomes tedious and then boring. The addition of loveable Clark Gregg (aka Agent Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D.) in a minute part as the babysitter’s pop, could not save this yawn fest from dragging on and on and on and on….

Camilla Belle is too stunningly attractive to be a real teenage babysitter in the real world and although her performance convinced me that she was about to have a major league panic attack or heart attack, the films agonisingly slow, almost backward, pace wouldn’t let me care.

So, as this is on Netflix right now (in the Uk anyway) and  if you’re having trouble sleeping, pop this puppy on and you’ll doze right off.

A 2 out of 5 stars only because. dammit, Belle is gorgeous and hey, it’s got Agent Coulson in it.

Phil Coulson
Phil Coulson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Uninhabited (2010): No Love for this Film

Every once in a while you find a film that for some reason has invited lots of vitriol to be heaped upon it. Uninhabited is one of those films. If you type the name into your Google search engine you’ll see what I mean. But, come on guys. Is it really that bad? I’ve reviewed much worse films than this one. It seems that a lot of folks don’t like the “based on true events” tag that the film used. But, if you search long enough (about 5 minutes, for me) you’ll find it is based on a “local” urban legend.

Written and directed by Bill Bennett, Uninhabited has a damned small cast. It features, at one point, four whole people on the screen at once. But for the record, there are only six actors in the entire film including Mr Bennett himself in a cameo at the beginning and end of the film.

The cast list is as follows:

Geraldine Hakewill Beth
Tasia Zalar Coral
Henry James Harry
Billy Milionis Spiro
Bob Baines Jackson
Terry Siourounis Elias

*Courtesy IMDb.*

The film starts with Beth and Harry being taken out to an island that is just one of many along the Great Barrier Reef. They are to be there for 10 days and it is a romantic little get away for them. They will be the only people on this small island.

Now the actors playing Beth and Harry are attractive young people, although, Henry James has a mole on his back the size of a small country that was really off-putting during a romantic sensual “roll-in-the-sand” clinch early in the film. Unfortunately, most folks that watched the film did not feel the two had much in the way of chemistry together.

Looking great, but not too smart…

I agree to a large extent, it did seem to be a case of opposites attracting, but, they didn’t entirely stink together. Their main problem was that they just did not come across as the sharpest tools in the shed; which was interesting as she was supposed to be a marine biologist. If he gave any indication as to what his occupation was, I did not hear it.

The plot is fairly straight forward. They go on this “deserted” island and find that it is haunted by a girl ghost. So far, so mundane; but, this ghostly girl is really pissed off. It seems that when she was alive she stepped on a “deadly” Rockfish (I don’t know how deadly these things are, but they are most certainly one of the ugliest species I’ve ever seen) and as she lay dying in agony, seven men raped her. Now she prowls the island killing unsuspecting people stupid enough to stay there.

The movie works okay, in the realms of creepy, Bennett pulls this off well with an eerie soundtrack (although as a lot of folks pointed out, it can be a bit irritating at times) and he makes use of the islands sounds to crank up the tension. Lots of rustling leaves, snapping twigs and far-off screams of the female variety all make for a gradual rise in the young couple’s fear factor.

They repeatedly search the island for what they assume are some pesky kids and find nothing. They eventually stumble upon an ancient shack that they have somehow managed to miss each and every time  they explored the island before. They also discover a visitor’s log that they missed the first time they entered the cabin.

This log helpfully tells the story of Coral (the young girl in the legend) and explains the “grave” outside the shack. The two finally decide that they want off the island and go to get their satellite phone and it’s (gasp) missing. It all goes downhill from there. Harry decides that two foreign men who are shooting fish (?) in the ocean are the culprits and stupidly antagonizes them. The part that he seemed to disregard was the shooting of the fish; you do not antagonize men with guns.

It turns out quite badly for all concerned, but, the movie does not end there. My description of the plot does though as I don’t want to give the ending away. Although if you haven’t guessed the ending by this point in the film, you must have been sleeping through it.

And this is why we don’t piss off the two foreign men with guns.

A lot of complaints had to do with the clichéd nature of the film. I do have to agree a bit. There is a scene early on that might as well have had a sign that was in bright neon lights saying, “THIS WILL SHOW UP LATER IN THE FILM! ATTENTION: IMPORTANT PLOT POINT HERE!”

But really, apart from the fact that the two leads were hired apparently because they were attractive young people, the film was not that bad. I’ve seen and reviewed much worse. At least the film was not what my daughter Meg calls “horn” which is a standard mix of sex, senseless nudity, and horror. The body count is very low for a horror/ghost film and the gore is minimal. There is also not a trace of nudity, unless you count near nudity because of the swimsuits, and no sex.

The biggest complaints seem to come from the ‘true events’ tag (as I said earlier) but, guess what? It is. The young lady in question (Coral) was actually named Lola and she did die on an island and the “cabin” is actually in a museum somewhere in Australia. When Bennett heard the story, he wrote the screenplay.

I honestly believe that if you watch the film expecting a ghost story, which it is, and do not expect to see buckets of blood and entrails strewn across the screen, you’ll find it isn’t that bad. An easy 3.5 stars out of 5 just for the effective use of sound to build up the tension; trust me, (as I said at the beginning of this review) there are much worse films out there than this.

If you go into the woods…eventually you will find a cabin.
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