Sunday, 22 December 2013

Three's a Shroud

Directors: Dan Brownlie, David VG Davies, Andy Edwards
Writers: Dan Brownlie, David VG Davies, Andy Edwards
Producers: Dan Brownlie, David VG Davies, Andy Edwards
Cast: Eleanor James, Emily Booth, Suzi Lorraine
Country: UK
Year of release: 2012
Reviewed from: festival screening (BHFF 2012)

Three’s a Shroud is part of the British Horror Anthology Revival, a wholly owned subsidiary of the BHR. Dan Brownlie exec-produced the feature and shot one segment plus the framing story, bringing in Andy Edwards and David VG Davies for the other two bits.

It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, it’s fun. Can’t ask for much more than that. Plus it has - though I am one of the few people who would consider it such - an All Star Cast.

In the framing story (called ‘Two’s Company’ although there are no title captions anywhere in the film), a young boy asks his baby-sitter to tell him and Teddy some scary stories before he goes to sleep. Which is all well and good - I do like a framing story in my anthologies - but the baby-sitter is Suzi Lorraine (receiving co-credit with Brownlie for this part of the script). Now, she undoubtedly adds name value to the production, but I don’t buy her as a babysitter: way too old and way too glam. Baby-sitters are teenagers, and Suzi Lorraine is not in a position to play a teenager any more.

Lorraine is one of those ‘scream queens’ who seems to have fashioned an extensive career without ever being in anything that anyone has ever actually seen (or heard of). According to the IMDB she’s made about 60 films in the past ten years, starting out in Sinister Cinema crap opposite Misty Mundae, under various names. From where I sit her career seems to have consisted largely of writing columns for Gorezone - and latterly Shock Horror - while posing in various stages of blood-spattered undress.

I’m pleased to report that on this evidence she can actually act, and hopefully her role in Ivan Zuccon’s Wrath of the Crows will give her some stature. Nevertheless, I just don’t believe her for one minute as a baby sitter. Nor do I believe that any small boy, if he had a baby sitter that hot, would demand bedtime stories when he could be spying on her through the bannister then nipping back to bed for a quick pubescent one off the wrist.

Ooh, that’s not a good start for a review is it? Ick.

Anyway, Suzi tells the lad (the director’s son, Louie Russo Brownlie, far from the worst child actor I’ve seen) and his ted three stories. The first, ‘Don’t Open the Door’, is directed by Brownlie and concerns a couple who lived at the same address previously. Brad Moore (The Nephilim, House Party of the Dead V and VI) is the bloke and Amber Erlandson is his missus, who very considerately dresses to cook him breakfast. Tight white blouse, pencil skirt, stockings and suspenders (I’m guessing), hair all done fab and plenty of liner and lippy. All that just to fry up some bacon and eggs. But Erlandson looks at home in such stiffly formal get-up because she is aka fetish model Morigan Hel - last spotted several years ago in Nature Morte!

Anyway, the nub of this tale is that, later that evening the Wife comes back from wherever she’s been and calls the Hubby from her mobile, instructing him in no uncertain terms that he must not open the door to her. He is understandably confused by this, even more so when he can see her through the frosted glass, standing outside on the doorstep, ringing the bell.

There’s a really nice disconnect, well-handled by Brownlie, between the two versions of the Wife, apparently existing simultaneously: the fuzzy figure seen through the door panel who wants to get inside, and the one on the phone, seen only as an extreme close-up of a bloodied mouth and nose, who endlessly repeats - but never explains - her mantra: “Don’t open the door.” The Husband, who clearly loves the Wife despite their minor domestic over the breakfast table, goes through a barrage of emotions, well-handled by both Moore’s acting and Brownlie’s script. The denouement, when it comes, is satisfying, horrific and apt - exactly what we all want from an anthology segment.

The one area where it could have been improved would have been a bit more variation in the wife’s instructions because just repeating “Don’t open the door” gets a bit boring. I was hoping that she might branch out a bit: “Look, I’m begging you, if you love me, whatever you do, do not open that door.” Sort of thing.

Nevertheless, a good start. But Teddy still isn’t tired so onto the next story ‘Over-Developed’ (it’s about a photographer, see, and there are also some busty women, get it - oh please yourselves). There’s a lot of recognisability here. It amused me that in the very first shot of Eleanor James, the actress is instantly recognisable, even though all we see of her is her feet. Knowing that she was in the cast (and hadn’t been in the first tale) I was watching out for her - and suddenly there they are: a pair of strappy heels that no-one - no-one! - in British indie films could get away with except Ella James.

Also, it was very obvious that this was David VG Davies’ segment. Bear in mind that I haven’t seen either of Davies’ features - Animal Soup and Monitor - but I’ve read enough about them to realise that the fragmentary, post-Lynchian style of direction here has got to be the work of DVGD - and indeed it is.

So there you are: I recognised the directorial style of a film-maker whose work I’ve never previously seen, and I recognised an actress from her shoes. A bloody genius, me.

Michael Gyekye makes his feature debut as Mickey, a photographer who is obsessed with model Sarah (the photogenic Ms James). But, as so often with attractive, intelligent women, Sarah prefers the company of some tattooed bozo who chats up barmaids behind her back (ably portrayed by this segment’s director). Mickey is tormented by the voice in his head, telling him that he can have Sarah. Then, and this is where it gets really trippy, that voice is somehow personified as a little clown demon thing.

Effects guy Mike Peel created this puppet, which is stiff and inflexible but not more so than the stars of latter-day Puppet Master sequels. It looks, in all honesty, like a cross between Killer Klowns from Outer Space and The Mr Men. If one of the Killer Klowns anally raped Mr Happy, the resulting offspring would be this creature, known to the film-makers as 'Flowers'. Actually, that raises the question of: how would you go about anally raping a Mr Man? I mean, if the front of their body is one huge face, does that mean that the other side is just one giant arse, separated by the world’s shortest (or possibly most circular) alimentary canal? Ick again! How do I get onto these subjects?

‘Over-Developed’ also features the legendary Emily Booth as a woman complaining about her photos (Bouff’s having a bit of a run this year, what with this, The Reverend, Inbred and Death), plus Sophia Disgrace (The Shadow of Death, Spidarlings and Paul TT Easter’s Thumb N It) and Emma Lock, who was in Andy Edwards’ marvellous short Six Ghosts (watch it on Vimeo) and, erm, The Human Centipede II. Can I get another ick?

Writing this a few days later, I can’t actually remember how ‘Over-Developed’ ends, which is perhaps a good sign. What does stick in my mind is a scene where Mickey spies on Sarah in a dingy bar while a punk band (Dan Brownlie’s beat combo brand-B) slam away on a tiny stage. One has to wonder how come she doesn’t spot him as there’s only about three other people in the place. But that’s a quibble. Some good use of digital, as well as practical, effects make this segment interesting as well as horrific, but it’s let down by poor sound with numerous points where the soundtrack disappears altogether for a second or two.

So anyway, with Teddy still not yawning, Suzi L tries one last story. This is ‘The Time-Traveller’s Knife’ an enormously enjoyable sci-fi/slasher romp directed with skill and panache by Andy Edwards.

It’s Halloween and goth barmaid Amelia (Hannah Wilder) is shutting up her pub, only to discover that three of her friends have hidden in the toilets in the hope that all four can enjoy a private lock-in - to which Amelia reluctantly agrees. Much booze is drunk, and very quickly so are the girls. But a mysterious text message claims there is a killer in the pub with them. And indeed there is: a figure in a black costume and scary white mask (another Mike Peel creation, I believe, based on designs by Mr Brownlie). Who could that be, if it’s not one of the girls? Is it one of the girls? Is it more than one of them?

The driving force behind the plot is an antique watch, recently given to Amelia by her boss, which jumps her backwards and forwards in time throughout the evening. I love time travel stories, me, and this is a corker. It gets very complicated and I would need to watch it again to see whether it actually makes narrative sense and whether all the causes and effects happen in the right order, from various people’s point of view. There’s certainly no obvious problems. I would like to think that Edwards has a flow-chart somewhere showing where and when each girl is at any given point. I know I’d have something like that if I was attempting a script like this.

‘The Time-Traveller’s Knife’ was my favourite segment, though all three have their merits. Wilder is excellent in the challenging lead role, perfectly balancing the humour and horror of the situation and helped by Edwards’ smart script which, unusually for a time travel tale, lets Amelia ponder out loud what’s going on and why. The other three actresses are also very good: Aisling Knight (Exorcism), Kate Soulsby (Zombie Women of Satan, Blood Army) and Victoria Broom, also credited as Associate Producer, whose many horror credits include Umbrage: The First Vampire, Dead Cert, Forest of the Damned 2, Monitor, Stalled and Deranged.

Finally the film wraps up with the (somewhat predictable) conclusion of the framing story. The boy’s mother is played by Dani Thompson (Just for the Record, Forest of the Damned 2, Zombie Women of Satan 2 - yes, there’s a sequel!). Thompson is actually a bit younger than Suzi Lorraine, though just about old enough to have a son this age - but again, way too glam for the part. While Thompson and Lorraine may bring in the drooling fanboys, ‘Two’s Company’ would have worked better with a more mumsy mother and a teenage baby-sitter. And you know, it’s not like there aren’t already plenty of hot chicks in the cast.

In fact, probably the biggest failing of Three’s a Shroud - and it’s only a minor one, but it bugs me - is that, Master LR Brownlie aside, pretty much the entire cast are about the same age: mid-20s to mid-30s. It’s a common failing of low-budget horror films. Most of the people who make these things and want to appear in these things are of the same generation. Which can be fine within a limited story but seems artificial and restrictive when there are characters like Suzi’s and Dani’s that would work better outside of that age group. One to bear in mind there, casting directors.

Binding all four stories together, in a particularly nice touch, is a fifth: a spoof feature about deadly make-up (or something) called Night of the Pouting Dead. The babysitter is watching this on TV; the husband in ‘Don’t Open the Door’ does likewise; there are posters for it in ‘Over-Developed’ (plus a very visible copy of Shock Horror with Bouff on the front); and Amelia in ‘The Time-Traveller’s Knife’ wears a Night of the Pouting Dead T-shirt.

I enjoyed Three’s a Shroud very much and heartily recommend it to you. It wears its tiny budget on its sleeve but it wears its enthusiasm and commitment on its other sleeve. This is what modern horror anthologies should be like: creepy and fun and gory and clever and nasty.

MJS rating: A-
review originally posted 18th October 2012

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