HellBride is the third feature from Pat Higgins and while it’s better than his debut TrashHouse, I have to say in all honesty that I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as KillerKiller (which was filmed after HellBride but completed first).
The film comes with one of the great tag-lines: ‘At Nicole’s wedding, there will be blood, mayhem and slaughter. There will also be cake, and a late bar.’ But this is somewhat misleading. There is indeed plenty of blood, a little mayhem and some undeniable slaughter but there is no cake and no late bar in this film. Anyone expecting, as I was, supernatural pandemonium at a wedding reception will have to look elsewhere because HellBride never gets past the actual ceremony. It’s a shame, but I think another tagline is called for.
The basic plot revolves around a cursed ring. A hundred years or so ago, a bride-to-be named Josephine Stewart (Eleanor James, who was in Forest of the Damned, has been cast in the frankly doubtful remake of The House on Straw Hill and looks like she could be the next Eileen Daly) discovered that her husband was cheating on her so she cut off her finger and then killed the bastard. Now she haunts the ring, bringing death and mayhem to anyone who tries to use it to get married. Only by actually tying the knot - while avoiding the vengeful spirit and her surprisingly corporeal axe - can the curse be broken.
Lee Parker (James Fisher: The Zombie Diaries) and Nicole Meadows (Rebecca Herod) are the latest happy couple to pick the troublesome ring. Lee is a stand-up comedian which is ironic as I noted that many of the cast of KillerKiller actually are stand-up comedians in real life, whereas Fisher seems to be strictly an actor. I’m not sure what Nicole does but her father Lesley (James Kavaz, Harris in KillerKiller, who passed away suddenly while this film was in post-production and to whom it is rightly dedicated) is a businessman with some shady, but unspecified, dealings. In fact he owes a local mob boss named Mr Gardenia a quarter of a million quid.
When Gardenia’s unpleasant son Jason (Joey Page - not the American singer of that name) comes calling, Lesley Meadows kills him and is surprised to find that Nicole is unfazed by this, even offering to help dispose of the body.
Meanwhile, Josephine Stuart has started manifesting herself to Nicole and Lee, along with a curious, unexplained character in a sort of heavy cloak who wears a long, beak-like, metal mask. Described as a ‘monster’, I can’t work out who or what this is, nor could I work out who it is that is killed after the ‘monster’ emerges from behind a sofa (although I subsequently discovered it's the jeweler who sold Lee the ring). Beaky is some sort of supernatural henchman of Josephine’s but no explanation is offered.
Counterpointing the lovey-dovey couple are their respective best friends, jack-the-lad Ricky (Oli Wilkinson: Luke in TrashHouse) and reformed gothette Carly (Natalie Milner) who are, of course, an ex-couple themselves, now hiding their simmering feelings for each other underneath a layer of antipathy. As Carly was once interested in the dark arts, Nicole seeks her help and the two young women drive through the night to visit Carly’s geeky cousin Sinclair (Cy Henty, who was in both of Higgins’ previous features) whose knowledge of the supernatural enables him to temporarily deal with Josephine Stuart.
The first two acts of the film are very enjoyable. Comedy is the hardest genre to attempt in a low-budget picture, especially romantic comedy, but HellBride manages to be both funny and romantic and the gradual intrusion of the horror elements is deftly handled. The characters are believable and sympathetic, the dialogue often hilarious.
It’s the third act, the wedding itself, that left me somewhat disappointed. The hall where the civil ceremony takes place is represented by a high-ceilinged room with yellow curtains around all four sides. A few flowers and balloons are not enough to make this feel like somewhere that a couple are actually getting married. Also contributing to the lack of a wedding feel is the absence of any guests, explained by Lesley having filled the hall with hitmen to protect the happy couple, rightly fearing that Gardenia will want to spoil the day in revenge for his son’s death.
As the supernatural shenanigans start inside the hall, we are expected to believe that Meadows’ men are having a pitched gun-battle outside with a gang of hoods hired by Gardenia, yet we never hear any shouts or gunshots - and that seems to me to be a major (albeit relatively easily fixed) problem with these scenes.
More intrinsic is a sudden lack of pace. Just as the film is reaching its climax, with a gangster battle outside and Josephine and Beaky prepared to do anything in their power to stop Nicole marrying Lee... the film seems to slow down. There’s no panic in the climax, no powerful bang-bang-bang in either the editing or or the music, and the story really, really needs to be ramped up, once the bullets start flying and the ghost appears, into a powerful, punchy piece of action.
There is still some sparkling dialogue and plenty of gore - don’t get me wrong - but where is the excitement? Where is the tension? Things should be happening on top of each other, not in sedate succession. This third act should build to a climax until the final, inevitable bride vs bride denouement - and it doesn’t. I don’t know what has happened there. It must be a deliberate decision on Pat Higgins’ part but it’s very strange.
HellBride is good fun and very original - and I can appreciate that a tight budget is not going to allow for some massive Richard Curtis-style society wedding in a marquee the size of Wiltshire - but it lacks oomph when it needs it. Plus I still don’t understand who or what Beaky is. On the plus side, Cy Henty (who also contributed the drawings shown under the very funny prologue and epilogue) absolutely steals the picture with a terrific comic turn as Sinclair. Danielle Laws from KillerKiller turns up in a film-within-a-film, a monster spoof titled Squid Slayer that Lee and Ricky watch on TV.
‘Gore and prosthetics’ are credited to Beverley Chorlton who also worked on KillerKiller and did a terrific job on both films. Alan Ronald (Jesus vs the Messiah) once again handles cinematography. Higgins pulled quadruple duty, as usual, as writer, director, producer and editor - and also found time to crop up in one scene as a comedy club compere.
I really wanted to like HellBride more than I did, possibly because my hopes of cake and a late bar were unrealistically high. It is a good, funny, gory, romantic comedy horror but it’s let down by that flat third act. Tighter editing and a background track of screams and gunfire would have made all the difference.
MJS rating: B-