During the inaugural episode of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Creative Processing podcast, Rian Johnson talked about originality in films and whether wearing the film’s inspirations on its sleeves affects the value of the film itself. While some movies do lose themselves in the things they’re trying to pay homage to or parody, sometimes you get a brilliant film that not only reminds you of other films, but is made with such passion that you find lose yourself within the story that is being told, no matter if you’ve seen part of it before. Jack McHenry’s Here Comes Hell is one of those films.
What happens when you take the humor and snappy dialogue of Clue, the love for schlock of William Castle, and the special effects and gore of Evil Dead, mix them all together and serve in a bowl of 1930s British dinner party movies? You get one of the most impressive feature debuts of the year as well as one of the most fun “what-ifs” imaginable.
It begins like many genre films of the time did, including many of William Castle’s films, with a host telling the audience that the picture they’re about to see is not for the faint of heart, before the curtain rises and we’re transported back in time to a fantastic recreation of early horror films of the ‘30s. The whole movie is shot in black and white and in the Academy ratio, with static images for the exterior shots and even rear projection for scenes in vehicles. McHenry spends so much time and effort establishing the time period gimmick that if it wasn’t for the sense of humor and the very ‘80s-inspired gore and special effects, Here Comes Hell could easily be mistaken for a film made in the early years of “talkies”.
But before we get to the blood and gore, we’re introduced to an array of characters and future victims of misfortune. There’s Elizabeth (Jessica Webber), a solicitor’s secretary who is way out of her comfort zone when her newfound boyfriend, a rich young man named Freddie (Timothy Renouf), takes her to a mansion to meet some old friends of his. Among those friends is Christine (Margaret Clunie) a ruthless socialite who still has a thing for Freddie, her former fiancé George (Tom Bailey), the son of a wealthy oil tycoon from Texas, and also Christine’s brother who also plays host to the group (Jasper Britton). Honestly, the film could have just been about the entire group trying not to have sex with one another before killing each other and it would have still been good. But then the group decides to have a séance and, in the process, accidentally open a gateway to Hell, so past grievances will have to wait because there may be more than just a couple of spirits that will try to do them harm.
Rory McHenry’s efforts to recreate the filmmaking style of the ‘30s black and white films on digital are impressive, even if at times the film looks a bit too clean and modern, especially when it comes to the use of a handheld camera. The score is ominously haunting, with Tom Bailey directing a string quartet (plus a bassoonist) that accentuates the old-timey horror. But make no mistake: this is a parody, one that clearly loves the movies and tropes it is making fun of, while presenting those tropes in a bold new way.
When it comes to the horror, the film’s shoestring budget limits what McHenry is able to bring to the screen, relying on a few lines of fake blood and contact lenses to simulate a demonic possession. That being said, the movie also does a wonderful job combining the special effects from ‘30s movies with the schlocky gore of ‘80s movies like Evil Dead. There’s body horror, a man with worms instead of eyes, literal buckets of blood, and even some stop-motion animation that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. Here Comes Hell may not win any makeup effects awards, but the things the team is able to do with such a low budget, and do them so effectively, is charming enough to make you forgive their limitations.
The performances are all spot-on, capturing the over-the-top theatricality of ‘30s performances, while also playing fully on the comedic. Particularly great are Margaret Clunie as the despicable Christine, whilst Jessica Webber’s humble secretary Elizabeth easily becomes this film’s version of Ash Williams. Webber brings a humanity to the film that manages to bring down the supernatural at times, while also becoming a sword-wielding badass when the need arises.
Though it doesn’t have the budget or the genius of Sam Raimi, the love for cinema at display reminds of One Cut of the Dead, and like the Japanese sensation, Here Comes Hell movie will instantly win over your heart by reminding you of why movies are so special in the first place.
/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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