Andrew Jones, Blind woman, Camping trip, Georgina Blackledge, Haunted house, Horror, Julian Glover, Lee Bane, Mark Drake, Murder, Nazis, Plumpton, Reincarnation, Revenge, Review, Rosie Akerman, Screenwriter, Sophie Barker, South Downs, Tom Sands, World War II
aka Nazi Vengeance
D: Tom Sands / 97m
Cast: Mark Drake, Sophie Barker, Rosie Akerman, Miles Jovian, Julian Glover
When Ralph (Drake) undergoes past life regression at the suggestion of his friend Claudia (Akerman), he has visions of Nazis in the small English village of Plumpton, and the deaths of an unknown woman and her three children. Confused and upset by this, Ralph manages to persuade his girlfriend, Andrea (Barker), along with Claudia and her boyfriend Lucas (Jovian), to go on a camping trip to the South Downs, and to investigate the area that Ralph saw glimpses of. Finding the village proves more difficult than expected, and while Ralph and Claudia explore further afield, Andrea and Lucas stay with the tents and continue the affair they’ve been having. While in the midst of having sex, an old man knocks Lucas unconscious and threatens Andrea with a shotgun. He ties up both of them and takes them to an old farm building where he tortures them before leaving to find Ralph and Claudia.
Ralph and Claudia return to the tents but don’t immediately realise that their partners have been abducted. Later they do, but by then it’s late and they decide to bed down for the night and go for help in the morning. The old man attempts to grab them but they manage to escape. Having got away, Claudia suggests that Ralph undergo further regression in an effort to find out more about what happened in Plumpton, and if it has any bearing on what’s happening to them now. Ralph learns he was one of the Nazis he saw before, and that he was responsible for the deaths of the woman and her children. He and Claudia seek shelter in a church but the old man is laying in wait for them; they too find themselves held captive with their partners in the old farm building and at the mercy of the old man’s thirst for revenge.
Sometimes, when watching horror films – especially if you’ve seen way too many of them for your own good – there’s often a point where you know exactly what’s going to happen next, and how, and why. This is the feeling you get after the first five minutes of Backtrack, and the feeling persists throughout. For example, when Ralph and Claudia realise their other halves have been abducted, neither of them can make a call on their mobile phones (naturally). Or when Ralph realises he was a Nazi – something the viewer’s known all along. Or when Claudia tells Ralph to keep a Swiss Army knife in his pocket because, you know, it just might come in handy later on. But these examples of lazy storytelling aside, this is a movie that gets it wrong on so many levels it’s almost embarrassing.
While the basic idea of Backtrack is okay for this sort of thing – revenge-driven World War II survivor targets reincarnated souls who killed his family – the movie is defeated from the beginning by some really really really terrible dialogue (think Harrison Ford’s famous quote, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it”, and you’ll find you’re not even close to how bad the dialogue is). Defeat comes as well through its cast’s complete inability to make the dialogue sound even remotely normal (even Glover, a classically trained actor, can’t do anything with it). And to make matters worse, the cast are uniformly awful, giving amateurish performances and exposing their lack of experience, and lack of knowledge of their craft in every scene.
Stepping away from the world of documentaries for which he’s best known, Sands does a ham-fisted job in every sense, and fails to inject any tension or drama into the proceedings, leaving the cast to fend for themselves and showing no sign that he’s recognised the absurdities of Mick Sands’ apparently first draft script (the old man stalks the two couples by tractor, one that must have the biggest muffler in the world attached to it, as it doesn’t make a sound). With basic attempts at framing and composition, and the feeling that a lot of shots were first takes, the look and feel of Backtrack is that of a movie that should have had a lot more attention paid to it at all stages of its production.
Rating: 1/10 – dire in every way possible, Backtrack is an object lesson in how not to make a low budget horror movie; if the choice is watching this or watching paint dry, then watch the paint – at least it’s got a more credible story arc.
D: Andrew Jones / 81m
Cast: Lee Bane, Georgina Blackledge, Tessa Wood, Vivien Bridson
When screenwriter John Davies (Bane) rents a house for a couple of months in order to work on his latest screenplay, he finds there’s a sitting tenant up on the third floor: a blind old lady (Bridson) who never leaves her room. Annoyed at first because there was no mention of the old lady in the advertisement he saw, John is reassured by the estate agent (Wood) that it won’t interfere with his work. He spends a day or so visiting the nearby town and reminiscing on the visits he made to the area as a child. Then, one day, he meets a young woman, Cassie (Blackledge) in the garden. She apologises for being there, but John is unconcerned and, slightly smitten, tells her she can visit again if she wants to.
As his relationship with Cassie develops into something more romantic, John begins to have nightmares and experience strange phenomena. At night, a record player comes on and plays the same song each time. A doll in one of the bedrooms is found on the stairs, and a picture that hangs in the hallway ends up on the floor without being touched. He contacts the estate agent to see if the house has a history, but she says there’s nothing to tell. Cassie suggests using a ouija board, but John rejects the idea – at first. One night he uses one to find out if anything has happened in the past, and it tells him that there was a murder there. Convinced that the old lady must know what’s going on, he visits her, only to find that nothing is quite as it seems, and that his life is now in danger.
With the look and feel of a short movie expanded to meet the needs of a full-length feature, The Last House on Cemetery Lane contains a lot of padding and a shortage of actual drama. The first twenty minutes contain enough off-putting moments to make even die-hard horror fans tune out from boredom, and though the introduction of the blind old lady adds a bit of mystery to proceedings, John’s walk through the nearest town, and then along the beach (accompanied on the soundtrack by a trenchant piece of AOR) seems almost like a test: if you can endure this, then the rest of the movie will be a piece of cake (or a walk on said beach). And even though writer/director Jones begins throwing the odd bit of supernatural phenomena into the mix, the movie finds itself focusing on John and Cassie’s relationship instead, subjecting the viewer to mildly interesting scenes where they get to know each other and trade inane lines of dialogue.
It’s not until John consults the ouija board that the movie begins to pick up pace and reminds itself as to why it’s here. The old lady’s revelations, though, prove less than original and lead to a violent showdown that borrows from Halloween (1978) for a key moment, and which lacks any real tension thanks to the clumsy way in which it’s shot and edited. And with a clear resolution to the tale, the script then undermines and ignores its own logic, both insulting itself and the patient viewer. With so much going on that lacks adequate attention from Jones, it’s left to Bane to carry the bulk of the movie, and while he’s worked with Jones on several previous occasions, even he can’t help the viewer along when the going becomes dull.
A haunted house mystery where the real mystery is why the movie was ever produced, Jones’ strives for atmosphere but misses it by a mile, and never develops his own tale beyond its mundane opening scene. There’s the germ of a good movie here, but Jones and his crew can’t quite get a grip on it.
Rating: 3/10 – only occasionally intriguing, The Last House on Cemetery Lane is a throwback to the kind of rural thrillers made in the Seventies, but without any energy or attempts at effective pacing; with a score that’s more irritating than eerie (not to mention too loud in places), any pleasure to be had will come from its brevity, and its brevity alone.