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Friday, 31 August 2012

HIM INDOORS (2012)/ 11 mins/ Stars: Reece Shearsmith & Pollyanna McIntosh// FRIGHTFEST 2012 SCREENING

Copyright : Colin J Smith Photography
*This review may contain spoilers ~ please watch before reading* 


The most horrible of sorts in the history of the horror movie, have always been the nicest as well.

Think: Peter Cushing or Vincent Price. Ian Bannen too - a gentle, kindly actor, deeply religious and softly spoken, and who tragically died in a car crash in Loch Ness in 1999, was one of the nicest people I've ever met (briefly) in my life.

Bannen appeared in such wonderful horror movies as 'Fright' (1971) with Honor Blackman, Susan George, George Cole (Arthur in Minder) and Dennis Waterman (Terry in Minder) as well as such eclectic movies as sci-fi chiller 'Doomwatch' (1971), anthology spookfest 'From Beyond the Grave' (1974), Italian possessionsploitation 'Ring of Darkness' (1979) and the unfairly neglected Disney movie 'The Watcher in the Woods' (1980) with Bette Davis. But to meet Ian Bannen in person, you'd think it impossible, that this unassuming, almost bashful man with a real-life twinkle in his eye, could ever 'do' a horror film. 

Reece Shearsmith, is perhaps equally unlikely a horror icon - but he's scared the life out of us too often now for there to be any doubt; this man has a natural talent for portraying pure evil in a very nice way. Get this man in a make-up chair and the person that gets up again is Maureen Sowerbutts, serial killer obsessive and loyal mum to David, the local psychopath (as seen in the BBC's 'Psychoville'). Maureen is also not averse to a spot of homicide herself.

In the 2008 shocker 'The Cottage' Shearsmith also chilled a fine line, playing nerdy nasty younger brother Peter, quietly flipping-out over a kidnap plan that goes horribly wrong, while his rougher, tougher older brother David, played by Andy Serkis, carries on the kidnapping duties with gusto. Until the father of the missing girl sends along a few hitmen to get his daughter (Jennifer Ellison) back and the odd mad farmer with a pitchfork turns up. British black-humoured horror at its best.

There was also a scene-stealing cameo from Shearsmith in 'Shaun of the Dead' - but it was those years spent in the nightmarish BBC TV series 'The League of Gentlemen' that gave unholy birth to perhaps the most unsavoury of all his many faces of death; the wife-collecting circus owner Papa "Hello Dave" Lazarou (based on a landlord that Shearsmith and co-writer Steve Pemberton once had who would only ever phone up and want to "speak with Steve", never Reece) that became a boogeyman to rival Kruegar or Vorhees.

Reece Shearsmith may appear in the odd Marple episode on TV, luring you into his cosy world like an alarmingly sweet cup of tea in heat, and whenever interviewed as himself, is clearly one of the good guys. But don't be fooled - because when Shearsmith does shocks, he does so with a smile that cuts you in half by the time the end credits roll.

Shearsmith's latest short film, premiered at this year's London Frightfest, called 'Him Indoors', is up there with the man's other worst nightmares. It's directed by Paul Davis; the man who gave us the recent 'An American Werewolf in London' documentary 'Beware the Moon'. Davis is a self-proclaimed classic horror movie fan and loved-up writer about such satanic stuff, but has recently ventured into making those monsters come alive himself - both on screen, in a few short film horror roles, and behind the camera on both 'Him Indoors' and the upcoming 'Silent Night of the Living Dead' (2013). The 'Him Indoors' short is seen as something of a trial run for the full length 'Silent Night of the Living Dead' in which zombies get to terrify a small country village on Christmas Eve.

So what do we know about 'Silent Night of the Living Dead' so far?

The screenplay is from noted British horror screenwriter James Moran, who also gave us the poundingly vicious suited-survival horror 'Severance' (2006) as well as the more recent 'Cockneys vs Zombies' and 'Tower Block', both premiered at London Frightfest this year. 'Tower Block' closed the festival in fine form and was a quite astoundingly violent, vibrant and claustrophobic horror-thriller, with the last remaining residents of a tower block at the mercy of a ruthless sniper.

'Silent Night of the Living Dead' also has Reece Shearsmith on board as the film's star, along with special effects maestro Tom Savini who gave us the special effect and make-up icks on such horror classics as 'Dawn of the Dead', 'Maniac', 'Friday the 13th' and Dario Argento's 'Trauma', as well as starring in many movies (at least 10 in the next couple of years or so). Savini is possibly most famously known for his now legendary character of 'Sex Machine'; the guy with the unusual weapon of choice in Robert Rodriguez's heavy metal vampire mash 'From Dusk Till Dawn' (1996).

In 'Him Indoors', Shearsmith plays the role of Gregory Brewster, a quiet agoraphobic (perceived as a fear of wide open spaces). To be picky, experts on the condition may tell you that agoraphobia is a general condition of panic attacks in any space, even crowded shopping centres, not just open areas, which is the basis of the film's final - wonderful and crowd-pleasing - twist.

Pollyanna McIntosh who was so excellent in last year's The Woman (where she played a feral find in the nearby forest, captured by a local family man and subjected to all kinds of hideous humiliations before gaining her revenge at the end), here plays mild-mannered - but slightly too kooky for her own good -next door neighbour, Lizzie. 'Mad' Lizzie really is the man-hungry sort and looks tall enough and scary enough to eat poor Gregory alive.

I half expected a twist where Pollyanna goes all wanton wildlife on us and tears little Reece to shreds before the end credits of 'Him Indoors', but it wasn't to be. Pollyanna has at least 12 film and TV projects on the go right now, including the long-awaited adaptation of Irvine Welsh's 'Filth' - and it's heartening that such a talented and rising young star still supports and appears in low budget shorts like this one.

At the packed Frightfest screening of 'Him Indoors' to a wildly cheering crowd, Pollyanna appeared on stage to introduce the film along with director Paul Davis and took the opportunity to update us on the story about her mother who attended Frightfest last year as a non-horror fan. Pollyanna told the audience in the same venue a year ago that she was worrying whether her mother was going to walk out when she saw some of the harrowing scenes in 'The Woman' - and I think, in fact, that is exactly what she did! But this year is different, and her mother is again in the crowd but this time as something of a horror fan, not missing a movie and soaking up the excitement of Frightfest with the rest of us!

Pollyanna, and this is an exciting prospect, is to be seen next on the London stage starring in a Halloween week of live frights in the play 'The Hallowe'en Sessions' which has been jointly written by some of the most sinister (not personally) writers in the horror genre including Kim (Anno Dracula) Newman and Stephen (Ghostwatch)Volk.

All hell breaks loose in 'Him Indoors' when bubbly (and burning with hot desires deep inside her designer jogging pants) Lizzie pops round to Gregory's place for "a cup of tea. Or a shag," - in her words. She gets the tea. Interestingly, writer and director Paul Davis claims that Pollyanna played the role as if under the impression that Gregory is gay, her overt come-on less of a threat then, more playful. I'm not so sure. Remember when Boy George was quoted in the 80's as 'preferring a cup of tea to sex'? Lizzie seems the kind of girl who'd ask for both - at the same time, regardless of sexual preference.

Copyright : Colin J Smith Photography

(Major plot spoilers appear in the next few paragraphs)

But Gregory's life is in barely-contained turmoil with fear of eviction and being sent back into the real world, looming. In fact, he's just had a visitor, a delivery boy played by Seelan Gunaseelan who Gregory has tied to a chair in the kitchen "I was going to have a Chinese, now it's going to be an Indian," says Gregory, in a line that seems a bit unnecessary, but I think meant harmlessly enough.

In fact, fast forward a week or two and director Paul Davis kindly replied to my uncertainty about the line in question shortly after reading this review, commenting: "The line said to the delivery boy is actually intended to explain what it is he plans to do with him. Eat him. The revelation that he's a cannibal, as well as a serial murderer, is there to suggest how he's gotten away with it for so long and how he disposes of the bodies. The casual racism toward the delivery boy is a character trait I threw in, suggesting that he'd been sheltered from multiculturalism by his mother for so many years and didn't really have a grasp on political correctness. It's a sad fact that a lot of people from the generations before us still harbor a casual racist nature - think Alf Garnett. My intention was to show that his mother's opinions towards different cultures and races had rubbed off on him - because he stays indoors, to himself and doesn't know any better."

I still think the audience were uncertain how to react at the screening to this line, maybe because Reece is so well known for the humour in many of his roles, however deviant. I don't think many took it as 'a gag' though - and can't remember more than a few odd chuckles. Which seems to be the effect on the audience the director/ scriptwriter, Paul Davis expected - and the right one.

The delivery boy is killed in a casual way, a quite revolting stab to the neck, and the body placed under the sofa. Lizzie of course notices the lump under the cushion where the body lies, explained away by Gregory as a design fault in the sofa bed, and the dark stain leaking from the side of the sofa also explained away as the red wine he spilled earlier. Lizzie sees horror posters on the wall ('Rosemary's Revenge' - and what a movie that could be!), as well as those horror and sci-fi collectible figures that all genre freaks stock up on (like others buy milk or bread) from shops such as Forbidden Planet, scattered around. Lizzie casually asks Gregory what film he last saw at the cinema. In the best line of the film, Gregory thinks for a moment: "The Fly, in 1986.. (long pause). I don't get out much." The brutal dispatch of Lizzie when she discovers that clearly the sticky red goo she touches on the side of the sofa isn't wine at all, is swift and not funny. Gregory gets what he hopes for - a prison sentence. Locked away alone for the rest of his life - sounds perfect. Except for the bit about daily exercise in a big open space!

(End of spoilers)

Copyright : Colin J Smith Photography

'Him Indoors' earned a fantastic reception at Frightfest 2012, and features a suitably unhinged performance from Reece Shearsmith that's effortlessly chilling, and sweetly contained. Pollyanna McIntosh as sex-mad Lizzie is almost as frightening a prospect, but you feel real terror for her as she begins to realise that Gregory isn't a bit of alright, or even at all right (in the head), after all. The horror is suitably nasty and the humour as black as four-day-old blood. While the film is just 11 minutes long, it's full of inventive visual setpieces and chock-full of modern wit and precise dialogue.

Copyright : Colin J Smith Photography

The film's director, Paul Davis, commented before 'Him Indoors' was screened at Frightfest that it had been shot in some haste, and readied for the screening as quickly as possible - perhaps, given more time, some small but niggling troubles could have been smoothed out. A recent update post-screening confirmed that the filmmakers were unhappy with some aspects of the presentation at the festival - especially the synching of the sound (a projection issue apparently) and the picture grade. The new print, to play at future festivals and the one to be released on DVD, has been described as looking 'stunning' by the filmmakers. Still, despite technical issues at the Frightfest screening, there is clear talent at play here, and Paul Davis shoots with exquisite efficiency and agoraphobic flair; piling on that rising panic attack with a certain coolness and contained precision of touch, so that, when the horror comes - it's clinically brutal. Rather like the mind of Gregory Brewster in fact.

words: mark gordon palmer

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