Cradle of Fear

Cradle of Fear

I came to this with low expectations. A low-budget film shot on digital by the "director" of BAD KARMA - starring the singer of some UK Death Metal band? Yeah right, I'd rather taste the contents of Marc Almond's stomach ...

But, after an admittedly poor pre-credits sequence (cockney accents, unsimulated puke and Dani Filth indulging in a bit of silly gratuituous violent mayhem), this does start to quietly compel it's viewer. Whether this is despite it's bargain-basement values or because of them is open for debate. The credits themselves are nicely displayed atop a cleverly edited montage of graphic stills depicting a couple of young women naked and blood-soaked. Very nice.

The film consists of four stories. These are linked by an encompassing plot concerning detective Neilson's (Edmund Dehn - cursed with some of the worst dialogue ever) attempts to make sense of a series of brutal murders on his patch. He begins to suspect that a former arrest of his, the psychotic hypnotist-cum-kiddie killer Kemper (David McEwen), is sat in his padded cell ordering the murders of the people who put him there. Unsurprisingly, this is EXACTLY what is going on.

Dani Filth (vocalist with CRADLE OF FILTH) is 'The Man' - Kemper's servant. His task is to dole out supernatural deaths to those who sentenced, testified against and locked Kemper up.

His first victim is Emily Bouffante - he picks her up at a nightclub then subjects her to demonic sex at her place. Not much to see here - it's all strobe lights, sharp edits and dodgy Death Metal music. The morning after her one-night-stand, Bouffante takes a shower and is sickened to discover copious amounts of blood leaking from between her legs. She visits her friend and gets freaked out along the way by lots of strange images - everyday people sporting monstrous heads, bad CGI etc. Sleeping over at her friend's house, she eventually gives birth to The Man's mutant offspring - erupting ALIEN-like from her stomach - and both women are splattered to death in spectacularly gory fashion. Acting is OK in this episode, and the gore quotient is satisfyingly high. The scene where Bouffante stabs her pregnant stomach several times with a pair of scissors would've made Mr Fulci proud.

The second segment centres on two women looking to rip off a local pensioner by turning up at his place while he's away, and searching for his hidden cash. Unfortunately they stumble across the old man and bloody murder ensues. In a typical scene of overkill, the man is bludgeoned several times with a candlestick, then stabbed through the face and collar-bone. Oops! He's still alive ... but a few heavy blows to the face with a large ornamental figurine put an end to that.

The girls clean themselves up in the bath (together - of course!), and it becomes apparent that one plans to double-cross the other. But revenge is swift and eye-gougingly brutal as the betrayed girl and the pensioner return as corpses for their revenge, CREEPSHOW style (there's a nice broken-bottle-in-the-eye moment to be savoured here).

Next up is the tale of a man in love with his wife (Redemption sex symbol Eileen Daly) but uncomfortable with the idea of sex because he is lacking one leg. This is the least interesting and most predictable chapter in the film. Having said that, it does contain some fine high-speed car scenes, all set to dance beats that make it reminiscent of SHALLOW GRAVE's opening credits - albeit in a crude way, of course. And, without giving too much away, there's a fantastic scene of leg-hacking that easily rivals any gore offered in Fulci's NIGHTMARE CONCERT. The twist to this particular tale is silly and the CGI car-crash comes close to being criminally bad. The highlight here is seeing Ms Daly getting fresh with her hubbie's stump.

Finally, as Neilson moves closer to the truth, we learn that his own son is to be The Man's final victim.

The son, Richard, works for an Internet provider called Freesurf (wonder who that could be based upon?!?!). He spends his working day, however, surfing the Net in search of snuff footage. Things turn ugly when he becomes obsessed with an elusive Website entitled "The Sick Room". The Sick Room in itself is a brilliant, dangerous idea - a webcam focuses on a sealed room with a victim awaiting your decision on their fate. "YOU are the murderer"!

This chapter starts out looking like one of those terrible workplace training videos I'm sure everyone has experienced/endured at some moment in their life (the "Geordie" boss is especially weak). But things soon pick up as Richard becomes infatuated with the idea of "The Sick Room", and eventually endeavours to track it down ... with fatal consequences. This plays like a brisker, far gorier imitation of Cronenberg's VIDEODROME.

The wrap-up at the end is gory but a tad unsatisfying (having said that, there's a great head-exploding scene that betters the one from THE BEYOND's climax). Overall though, CRADLE OF FEAR delivers the gory goods in spades. It's fast-paced, inventive, stylish and filled with imaginative editing licks. Okay, the humour and some dialogue may have been ill-advised (and the scene with Dani stabbing the cat should have been deleted - not on grounds of taste, but because it's crap), but such discrepancies can surely be forgiven in a home-grown low budget gorefest like this.

Ignore the ramblings about bad acting. Yes, there are weak spots - name one Italian horror film you've seen without weak acting spots - but for the most part, the cast do well with what is at best a fair-to-middling script. You could argue the script is crap becaue of the amount of English dialect in it - but then people would be just as vocal if it had been bastardised by Americana.

This is one of the best films I've seen that was shot on Digital. The previously dubious Alex Chandon (DRILL BIT; PERVIRELLA) has proven his worth, and given a decent budget would no doubt be capable of a heavyweight modern horror treasure ... if the misplaced attempts at humour were tamed. Having said that, with a production as cheap as this the humour quotient is essential as this is simply not effective enough to have worked as a deadpan horror film. The BBFC obviously agreed, seeing as though they recently passed it uncut with an 18 certificate. Gory it is, scary it is not.

This one is bound to divide audiences. But those who can see past the cheap digital film look, occasionally risible acting and cringe-worthy dialogue will be able to recognise CRADLE OF FEAR as (neck on the line here!) the best UK horror film in over 15 years. Honest! It's unapologetic, unbelievably gory and never boring. And let's face it, how many British horror films in recent memory have offered these ingredients? BEYOND BEDLAM? DARKLANDS?? I ZOMBIE????! ... I rest my case.

The film is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen 1.66:1 (or thereabouts). Picture quality is nice and sharp for the most part, though artifacting is noticeable at times - especially during the night sequences. For the most part, though, this is shot in well-lit conditions so the grain will not distract too much. There's a brief moment of picture disturbance at around 46 minutes into the film (I've watched two copies of the film to validate this - my apologies if anyone disagrees) where a slight pause occurs followed by the mildest flash of severe artifacting. It's during Neilson's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT style dream of having his teeth chiselled out by Kemper - and as it lasts for about half a second, really isn't worth worrying about.

The extras are OK. The Behind The Scenes segment is short (12 mins), but amusing. The stills gallery is a 60+ assortment of screen-grabs from the film and on-set photos. The two trailers are nice - especially the 2nd one that focusses on all the gory horror elements of the film. You also get a colour insert card advertising Emily Bouffante website.

If you like your gore gory (don't we all?!) then this is bound to quench your thirst. It's well-directed, fast-paced and as stylish as it possibly could be on it's apparent budget. The use of coloured filter lighting helps you forget that this was shot on Digital sources. Don't even worry about that - the main points to remember are: NO it's not just an extended promo for CRADLE OF FILTH (their music only features very briefly in the film) ... YES it was passed uncut, despite being gory as Hell ... NO picture quality isn't perfect, but you won't care ... NO Dani Filth doesn't speak (well, hardly) ... buy with confidence!!

Currently available at Blockbusters for 6.99 to buy on DVD. Definitely worth picking up at this price. It can also be obtained by the thieves at Virgin and HMV for 15.99 ... the choice is yours!!!

Review by Stuart Willis

Directed by Alex Chandon
Released by Film 2000
Extras :
Behind The Scenes featurette; 2 trailers; stills gallery