By midlandsmovies, Aug 1 2017 06:36PM
Hell rises at the Phoenix
On a sunny Monday night, Midlands based writer/director Steve Lawson brought hell down on the Leicester Phoenix thanks to the premiere of his latest movie 'Hellriser', produced through his own company Creativ Studios in conjunction with 88 Films, who are fast establishing themselves as the go-to label for cult and genre cinema.
Fans of independent British horror will recognise a whole host of faces, if not their names, as Hellriser stars Steven Dolton (Zombie Undead, Devil’s Tower and KillerSaurus), Charlie Bond (Strippers Vs Werewolves; Vendetta) and Nathan Head who has stared in way too many independent British horrors to name here.
The film itself follows a jaded alcoholic detective (Dolton) and his new, fresh faced partner; Detective Keyes (Bond) as they trail a mysterious killer who seems to be solving the local prostitution problem in their own bloody way.
Although things are not quite as they seem as the action soon takes an occult twist, with the introduction of the hammy German psychologist Dr. Unnseine, terrifically portrayed by Andrew Coughlan, and his patient Annie Dyer (Raven Lee – returning to her role from an earlier Steve Lawson film - however Hellriser is designed to work as a standalone film).
Some of the early scenes are evocative of several contemporary gialli, with this connection no doubt aided by the use of triggers such as black gloves and choice of lighting, while a specific murder torture scene reminded me somewhat of a similar set up in Dario Argento’s much (and rightfully so) maligned film ‘Giallo’ only here it is better executed and situated within a much better film.
Talking of the colour yellow, sorry for the poor segue, Hellriser manages to keep things fresh for the viewer with the injection of not only dark humour but also something a little brighter and eagle-eyed British viewers past a certain age will enjoy the nod to a certain author.
The ability to combine the thriller elements with the humour is why Hellriser works so well, Steve Lawson manages to pepper in intentionally humorous dialogue and moments without breaking the tonal consistency of the film and the result of this is a film that is comfortable with its limitations while maximising those areas that don't cost money - namely decent writing and great timing.
While special mention has to be made for the music by Kevin MacLeod, which on first listen came across as a mixture of Goblin (in particular Claudio Simonetti) and a less electronic Robin Coudert. Music can often make or break a film, and here it certainly plays its part in supporting a highly entertaining watch.
So it is unfortunate then that the film suffers from an anti-climactic ending; which despite being very slightly reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead fails to hit the mark. Perhaps part of the problem however is that we go from one terrific flesh melting death to that of a pretty easy and inconclusive final battle. Although for those that way inclined the ending is at least pretty easy on the eye.
Ultimately however, Hellriser is a highly influenced but never derivative fun film and writer/director Steve Lawson must be commended for the way in which he seamlessly weaves these references without disrupting the flow or impacting on the enjoyment of the more casual fan.
In a subgenre that is so easy to get wrong, Hellriser stands as a shining example that will undoubtedly please horror fans and hopefully will find its audience. Talking of which, before I headed off to the premiere I tried doing a bit of background research but found the title somewhat of a hindrance when I went online although I suspect that it was chosen for sales and marketing reasons as when you are browsing the shelves in their local store or the selection on a VOD service it’s similarity will peak enough interest to make this approach worthwhile.