|Is there anything more joyous than seeing the HAMMER logo?|
A young couple, grieving for the recent loss of their daughter in a horrific accident, move to a small secular community in an attempt to rebuild their shattered lives; and find that the old religions are still practiced there. In the sleepy village of Wakewood they have the opportunity to do something most of us never get to do with our loved ones. Say goodbye properly. But at what cost?
I've been excited as all hell to see this film for a while now. Theres two reasons why this ones been on my radar. One is the concept, which for my money is rife with dark possibilities, and the other is the fact that this is the third release proper from the newly re-established Hammer Studios.
For folks from my generation, and the generation before me, Hammer was an institution. A rights of passage almost. On a personal level, it was through late night showing on British television that I first fell head over heels in love with the horror genre. Those technicolor nightmares struck a chord with me that's sheld sway in my imagination ever since. They fueled my dreams in a way nothing else could come close to and set me on the path to a lifelong love of horror. Sure, I loved Star Wars and Indiana Jones as much as the next brat, but the thrill of sneaking downstairs late at night to catch classics like THE MUMMY, or HORROR OF DRACULA was untouchable. Some of my most vivid memories of childhood are of these classics. Theres a scene in SCARS OF DRACULA that still haunts my dreams to this day, (more on that another fine day).
So , in short, Hammer Studios re-opens and I'm a happy camper....
There's been three releases so far from the studio, not counting the shitfest known as BEYOND THE RAVE; and with varying results. First up we had LET ME IN, a remake of the modern classic, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. For a first release, it seemed like a huge misstep, being as it was horror sacrilege to remake such a beloved film, (and so soon too, can people not read subtitles!?). Despite all fears, the film turned out great thanks to sharp writing and brilliant lead performances, oh and nicking the original movies atmosphere whenever and wherever possible.
It was a fine start, and a risk that payed off.
WAKE WOOD's plot synopsis seemed to me to be the most 'Hammeresque' of their recent releases. It ticks many of the boxes that can be considered Hammer staples. Isolated country village? Mysterious goings on in dark woods? Resurrections and the dire consequences therein? Its all here, and this FEELS like Hammer. That in itself is a great thing. Sure, we're a long way from classic monsters, matte castles, luscious technicolor and buxom bosoms, (please let Hammer go there in the future!); but we're back in English countryside, with creepy rituals, class actors, and an atmosphere to kill for.
WAKE WOODS brilliant concept isn't wholly original. It closely mirrors one particular horror film that I wont mention here for fear of giving away any spoilers. (Any fans out there will know it when they see it). And comparisons to THE WICKER MAN are inevitable, but WAKE WOOD grooves to its own tune, down a relatively untraveled road. That's surely something to be commended in a genre awash with countless remakes and rip offs.
WAKE WOOD goes to some very dark places, and does so with a refreshing lack of humor or bravado. The horrors that occur simply 'are'. Your dragged along for the ride through strong storytelling, menacing atmosphere and some fine performances. The standout being the great Timothy Spall who turns in a performance thats somehow both comforting and sinister all at once. And damn, does he have the mannerisms and the looks of many Hammer actors of old. In fact, the whole film is populated with actors who have the look and feel of classic Hammer. There is no pretty teen bullshit here, and the film is all the better for it. For once we have a village populated by real people and not supermodels or six pack sporting jocks. WAKE WOOD has class, maturity, intellect and heart.
With WAKE WOOD, I found that much of the horror is derived from what you bring to the table yourself. As a soon-to-be father, the concept horrified me. We're all hold different fears after all, but we've all lost loved ones, and we've all wished for just one more day with them, haven't we? It generates its scares not from tired jump/shock tactics, but from a far more disturbing place. Films such as this, and DON'T LOOK NOW, tap into something much more terrifying than ghouls and ghosts. After all, what in the world could be worse than losing your child?
The setting is wonderful too, and really helps add to the creepiness the film exudes. Being set in the present adds a fascinating juxtaposition between the mysterious rituals the community practices and the fairly mundane modern surroundings. This must be the first film to use those fucking wind farms to bring chills to an audience. I thought that was a great touch. Something about them has always gave me the willies, and in WAKE WOOD, they stand tall over the village, like near silent harbingers of approaching doom. Its a brilliant touch.
Music wise its hit and miss. There are some effectively creepy melodies to be found. Shame then that completely uncalled for percussion occasionally dims the effect. I'm sure the percussive elements of the soundtrack will work for some, but for me it slightly tainted the atmosphere. Its a minor quibble but it did piss on my parade ever so slightly.
Overall, WAKE WOOD is something of a triumpth for Hammer, and they're best release yet as they look to the future. Its not perfect and could have done with being a little longer to flesh out the characters back stories, and would benifit from a little more insight into what these pagan rituals actually are and where they came from etc, but its a disturbing journey into a place most of us don't dare think about. Its reasonably well acted, tense, dark, thought evoking and surprisingly gory, and is well worth a watch. Just don't go in expecting the second coming and you'll be fine. And its a far, far more effective film than hammers last outing. It deserves to be seen, and is worth a purchase. Hammer's future looks very exciting and they are quickly establishing themselves as a force for good in the genre. They deserve your support.
If you like your horror pitch black and with real heart and heartache, this one's for you.
Now could someone please resurrect Terence Fisher....