Hello. Today The Bloodstained Balcony is taking the form of a public service announcement. Its purpose? To warn horror fans of the perils of truly terrible horror cinema, a subgenre that has been known to cause misery, disappointment, depression, and in some cases a general sense of self-loathing and stupidity at having sat through the endeavour in the first place, coupled in the most severe cases with losing faith in our beloved horror genre.
What’s a bad horror film?
What constitutes a Truly Terrible horror film? Well what I don’t mean by this term is what I and many other genre fans might call, and with some affection, Good Bad Horror Cinema. When Channel 4 began (a time way back in the early 1980s before I suspect many of you reading this were born) one of the first things it ran was a season of ‘worst ever’ films, hosted by Michael Medved. The line-up of movies included Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, Eegah! and The Creeping Terror, but the first film to be shown was allegedly the ‘worst film of all time’ – Edward D Wood Jr’s Plan Nine From Outer Space. If the Medveds did nothing else, they probably did more to popularise Ed Wood’s films than his distributors ever did (and they possibly made a great deal more money into the bargain), resulting in a cult around the director, and Plan Nine in particular, that exists to this day. Is Plan Nine From Outer Space a terrible film? Well it’s not terribly good, but the incompetencies can be viewed as endearing, the utterly whacked-out behind the scenes story of how the final movie came about adds to its charm, and while it’s not a terribly good film, there is a weird sense of integrity and above all enthusiasm behind the camera that adds that extra sparkle that has turned this film from a neglected disaster into a fan favourite. Consequently, Plan Nine is not the kind of film we’re talking about here.
Then of course there are the films some people can see no value in while others can. I’m going to leave the movies of Jess Franco for another day and another column (readers will only be excused if they have a note from their psychiatrist). No less a genre authority than Stephen King called Pete Walker’s The Comeback ‘just bad’ while Walker’s fans, myself among them, would disagree. My website the House of Mortal Cinema was constructed with the express purpose of defending many films that I feel have been given short shrift over the years, hopefully giving them a reasonable defence and explaining why I think they have elements of interest.
But there is another sub-genre of the horror film, the one I would describe as Truly Terrible Horror Cinema. These are films that have no redeeming features whatsoever and are to be avoided at all costs, films that are not so bad they’re good but so bad they’re depressingly awful, and one of these, ladies and gentlemen, is what I wish to talk about today. Anyone now expecting me to launch into a tirade against the absolutely awful Birdemic will be disappointed, but that’s only because I have found something that is actually worse.
The worst film in the world
A colleague of mine who shall remain nameless to avoid besmirching his taste in film recently lent me a movie called Legend of Harrow Woods, following a discussion I had in Manchester with one of the film’s stars, Robin Askwith, which piqued my interest. Mr Askwith, a veteran of numerous low budget British curiosities (including Horror Hospital, Tower of Evil, and Let’s Get Laid) now appears in more upmarket television fare such as Eastenders and Benidorm. His memories of the movie did not include the title, which is not surprising as even from the extras on the DVD it’s apparent that, since being made at some uncertain time last decade, the film has undergone numerous title changes including Alone in the Dark, Evil Calls, The Devil’s Disciple, and The Raven Part 2. It’s ‘directed’ by Richard Driscoll, a name I shall now never forget, and stars Mr Askwith along with Rik Mayall, Jason Donovan and Norman Wisdom. I cannot possibly comment but a quick trawl of the internet has raised the suggestion that the reason for the numerous title changes is that these and other cast members have yet to be fully (or even partly) financially reimbursed for their efforts. Christopher Walken’s name is on the credits too. He doesn’t actually appear in the film, but his voice does, quoting The Raven endlessly and with a voice distortion filter so extreme it’s difficult to tell if it’s actually him, or indeed if it’s actually Poe’s poem. Again, I understand from internet sources that Mr Walken wished to have his name removed from the project and perhaps it was from one of the other versions but it is in place here.
You will notice that so far I have not mentioned the plot. This is for two reasons. One is that I’m still not really sure what the film was about, and the other is that even trying to remember this film is giving me a horrid case of indigestion. The film starts with a group of jerkily-filmed actors travelling off to Harrow Woods where a witch called Lenore was burned several hundred years ago. People wander around for a bit and every now and then there’s a weird optical effect of an eye with a raven in the middle of it that’s probably there to justify the 3D. Yes 3D. I’m not going to say any more about that. There are a lot of sepia flashbacks to what looks like a hugely inferior rip-off of The Shining. Norman Wisdom appears as a toilet attendant, then Rik Mayall appears as the same character and says all the same dialogue all over again. There’s a weird orgy bit close to the end that may be ripping off Eyes Wide Shut but by then my brain was starting to consider how to get out of my skull and away from all of this so again I can’t be sure. All I can be sure of is this is 78 minutes that no-one should ever have to be subjected to. It’s awful. Properly awful. The camerawork veers between static and so shaky I assumed it was all being done on a camcorder, so when I saw on the extras that Mr Driscoll actually had a full crew working on this I wondered how on earth it was possible to make something look so bad. Even Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman did a better job on their 1963 movie Blood Feast and there were only the two of them working the camera and the sound. The sound in Harrow Woods was probably recorded beneath ten mattresses, put through a distortion filter, run through a mixing desk left in the hands of a bored five year old and then played very quietly while a much louder music track was added on top.
Is Mr Driscoll the British Jess Franco? Absolutely not. Mr Franco has a few fans who can find something of interest in his work, and he has been known to make a
reasonably competent film on a very good day. Until I did some research for this column I had quite forgotten the hostility of the crowd reaction at a film festival to Mr Driscoll’s first film, The Comic, back in the 1990s. I understand he has made other films in the meantime and, unlike either Jess Franco or Ed Wood, I have absolutely no intention of watching any of them.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT