By midlandsmovies, Jan 16 2020 07:16PM
Midlands Review - The Haunting of Alcatraz
Directed by Steve Lawson
High Flier Films/Creativ Studios
Can you make a film set on Alcatraz Island but film it around the Midlands? Well, Leicester-based horror director Steve Lawson attempts to give that a go in his new film The Haunting of Alcatraz.
With many legends set within the infamous walls over the years, we open up with a bloody bang of a beginning. An inmate manages to trick a guard who ends up giving him a blade (from a pencil sharpener no less) and a swift suicide leads to more mysterious deaths as the film progresses.
With Aura, Hellriser and Time, And Again under his belt Lawson again aims big with this film. He introduces us to Charlie Schmidt (Tom Hendryk) who comes straight out of college in 1937 to get a job as a prison guard. With the jailhouse routines explained by The Warden (Mark Topping excellently channelling some of the pious and cruel barbs of Shawshank’s Samuel Norton), he begins his shift.
But it isn’t long until Charlie’s bright young mind starts to investigate the strange deaths at the prison, yet despite warnings from a fellow guard (a very creepy Chris Lines) he continues to explore the bleak cellblocks.
Filmed at the disused Gloucester prison no less, Lawson does a more than admirable job convincing us this local made film is actually set in the bay of San Francisco. The British cast also do very well with American accents. So much so that I had to look up Chris Lines who is in fact from Stoke and not the US Deep South. And with good use of stock footage, it’s sometimes only the overcast UK weather that hints that we’re not in sunny California.
The film takes time to build its plot and Charlie eventually crosses paths with Helen Crevell’s nurse Sherry and together they begin an awkward bond of friendship, and perhaps more, which alleviates some of the more morbid aspects of the story.
Their relationship sadly leads into the middle third of the film which needed a few more scare scenes to keep the horror aspect at the forefront. And as it slows you start to notice the slightly functional camerawork – more variety in the shots could have helped visually – and some of the more cliched dialogue. Plus for a large prison, there seems to be very few inmates incarcerated. Almost none to be exact and a couple more tense scenes in this middle section sure wouldn’t have gone amiss.
However, the flashing lights and spooky sounds combined with a screeching soundtrack do just enough to keep you guessing at the film’s cryptic narrative and what could be lurking in the secretive “Cell 13”.
As Charlie uncovers further corruption, as well as possibly some supernatural goings-on, the movie definitely, and wisely, picks up the pace towards its conclusion. And later on Charlie’s enquiries into visions and voices leads to him unfortunately finding himself stuck in a cage (although not with The Rock alumni Nic Cage).
With traces of Shawshank and the Green Mile mixed with horror elements, The Haunting of Alcatraz’s does extremely well to create a convincing setting to hang its story around. Despite the obvious budget limitations, the film’s mix of penal punishment and cagey corruption drags it over the line before the illusion breaks.
And so, although you’re advised to stay well away from creepy “Cell 13”, it’s recommended you definitely head towards this disturbingly dark tale set at the infamous and sinister prison known as ‘the rock’.