Here Comes Hell first look review: FrightFest Glasgow 2019

Jack McHenry’s debut Here Comes Hell is knowingly backward-looking 1930s-style castle horror

“This motion picture contains elements of horror, terror and demonic possession,” warns the on-stage tuxedo’d host (Jasper Britton) in literal black and white at the beginning of Here Comes Hell, as he presents ‘our feature presentation’ in terms reminiscent of the prologue to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931). The curtains open, and the film begins – a monochrome trip back into the 1930s, presented in Academy ratio, with crisp accents, affectedly stilted performances and a melodramatic string score. A group of upper class friends and relations is gathering at the dilapidated Westwood Manor, recently purchased by playboy Victor (Charlie Robb), but formerly the abode of one Ichabod Quinn, an occultist who vanished.

“We’re all going to die, Elizabeth,” failing tennis pro Freddie (Timothy Renouf) tells his latest love interest (Jessica Webber) as he speeds along the road in his sports car.  “The one thing we can choose is if we do it with style.” As if to underscore Freddie’s point, this sequence is shot with stylised rear projection. Here Comes Hell may be a horror movie, rehearsing well-worn scenarios from Evil Dead II and Insidious, but it plays out its preoccupations with mortality through the mannered idioms of a bygone era (and its outmoded filmmaking techniques), all in the pursuit of that most elusive and covetable quality, style. Much as, in this old dark house, a quintet of characters – including Victor’s sister Christine (Margaret Clunie) and their American friend, the Texan oil heir George (Tom Bailey) – makes sport of raising the dead, the film too revives historical modes. Everyone here is monied, carefree and effete, but for Elizabeth, who works for her living, and who does not drink – two qualities that her set her apart from her company. Where the others are stuck in the past, squandering their dwindling inheritances and struggling to find any purpose beyond partying, independent, intelligent, industrious Elizabeth represents some kind of future – if only she is not swallowed up by her musty surroundings.

Co-writing with Alice Sidgwick, first-time director Jack McHenry pastiches the hoary tropes and parlour tricks of murder mystery and castle horror – until eventually, inevitably, this bleak gothic home is invaded by a degree of monstrous gore and pandemonium that, for all its old-world stylisations and practical effects, can only have been conjured from the sensibilities of a later age. This clash of different horror modes and eras engenders an irony that is often funny, and increasingly strange, as Here Comes Hell brings about its own deconstruction, literally collapsing on the ancient foundations that support its knowingly flimsy premise.

Here Comes Hell was seen and reviewed at FrightFest Glasgow 2019.