Does a new collection of webisodes hosted on MySpace and featuring tabloid teen favourites Jamie Dornan and Lois Winstone constitute a revival of the Hammer Horror film? Not so, says Kim Newman…
Technically, that dreadful 2007 movie I Want Candy is an Ealing comedy: it’s at least intended to be a comedy, and it was made by a company called Ealing Studios which is the corporate descendant of the outfit that made Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers; likewise, Beyond the Rave is a Hammer horror. In theory, it’s the first of its breed since To the Devil — a Daughter (1975), though arguably it is more remote from the general idea of what ‘Hammer horror’ is than the hour-long episodes of the television series Hammer House of Horror (1980) or that bland batch of 1983 TV movies produced under the rubric of Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.
Made as 20 three-and-a-half-minute-long episodes posted on MySpace (with DVD compilation due eventually), BtR isn’t even the first of a new breed of British genre production in cyberspace, since it trails after Johannes Roberts‘ When Evil Calls (also co-written by BtR’s Tom Grass and co-starring Lois Winstone), a similarly-episodic item which went the mobile phone download route before being stitched together as a feature for disc release. Hammer fans who’ve waited all these years are probably entitled to a moan of ‘is that all there is?’ since even the micro-presence of Ingrid Pitt, a Hammer icon who barely registers in the nothing role of ‘Tooley’s Mum’, doesn’t really establish this as the new growth of an old tradition.
In all probability, the Hammer name is a hindrance to Beyond the Rave. If it were a comes-from-nowhere, one-step-above-an-enthusiastic-amateur British production like Vampire Diary or The Zombie Diaries or Razor Blade Smile or Mum & Dad, it would hold its own by virtue of being professionally assembled by commercials veteran Matthias Hoene. Even the tiny window on the average computer monitor shows that Hoene can compose for widescreen, and make the English night look glamorous and a bit threatening. However, even allowing for a stop-and-start structure which means something horrid has to be crammed into every segment and precious seconds wasted with teasers for the next episode and a sign-off line (‘you can’t help them, they’re already dead’) that becomes tiresome with repetition, the script is notably shoddier than the competition.
Ed (Jamie Dornan), a soldier, is due to leave for Iraq tomorrow, and needs to patch up his relationship with pissed-off girlfriend Jen (Nora-Jane Noone) — but his weirdo pal Necro (Matthew Forrest) wants to drag them to a mysterious rave which, as we find out early on, is run by vampires as a means of getting hold of many gallons of blood in one night. Melech (Sebastian Knapp), the head vampire, is a floppy-haired smoothie who wants to recruit Jen, while his goth sidekick Lilith (Winstone) hopes to bring Necro over to their side.
The episodes jump about among thinly-conceived characters: instead of Twins of Evil, we get a pair of prankster bloodsuckers (Leslie Simpson, Jake Maskall) who bite a DJ, thus splattering his vinyl with blood to produce weird sounds, and feud with a bunch of tough-talking hardnut drug dealers led by Crocker (Tamer Hassan). Anais (Emma Woolard) and Lucretia (Lauren Gold) are the most old-school Hammer characters (fanged seductresses hot for each other rather than the dweeb they waylay in the toilets) while Sadie Frost (who has a toehold in this tradition thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula) hovers over the ravers on a Peter Pan rig to hold them spellbound.
The token attempt at depth is Ed’s anxiety over his past or future war record — he hallucinates a child suicide bomber at the rave, and is carting around his Dad’s union jack (with which he spears Malech at one point) in Necro’s hearse. Three or four moments suggest some thought (as when a passenger asks why anyone would want a radio in a hearse), but dialogue mostly ranges from ‘f*ck*n c*nt f*ck*n’ pretend-tough nonsense to ludicrously melodramatic mock-ancient pronouncements from Lilith’s cracked old vampire uncle (Alexander Newland).
These clubbing bloodsuckers are more in the tradition of Blade, Near Dark or The Thirst than, say, Kiss of the Vampire or Dracula — Prince of Darkness — which is not necessarily a bad thing, though it would have been nice to have at least one new idea in here somewhere. The structure is inhibiting: the shaggy dog one-gruesome-gag-per-episode style of When Evil Calls might not have made for high art, but was workable in a horror comic context. Here, there’s an attempt at a more coherent storyline but a plot which takes place in a few hectic hours was doled out online over weeks (even watched as a clump, the film stutters rather than progresses).
This hampers the development of suspense — let alone the mood of dread necessary for a proper scary film. Noone, so good in The Descent, is stuck with a conventional whiny girly role, and Dornan’s potentially interesting hero suffers because the film can’t slow down to let his neuroses register. Rave-style jumpy editing also precludes the gothic atmospherics which ought to come with the brand name, making these monsters seem like poseurs with fangs starring in a pop promo.
To be fair, when fashions in music, clothes and hairstyles change, Beyond the Rave — it’s a silly niggle, but what a pity the title riffs on an Amicus picture — might pick up the nostalgic, faintly camp appeal of Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972 — though that had Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Munro going for it, not to mention the folks most obviously missed here, the late Peter Cushing and the unaffordable Christopher Lee. If your classiest cast name is Sadie Frost, it’s a fair bet you’re not going for the original Hammer’s transgressive mix of respectable bourgeois actors with decadent sex-horror material and an English gothic tradition.
Obviously, what fans want (and what British horror culture needs) is a revitalised Hammer Films making quality theatrically-released gothics which respect the great tradition while connecting with today’s audiences. Over the years, various films would have made sense as contemporary Hammer films — Mary Reilly, Interview With the Vampire, Dog Soldiers, Eden Lake. In the mean time, Beyond the Rave feels like an ephemeral footnote to a great tradition rather than a full-blooded gothic revival. Next up for the company, apparently, is a TV series.