Welcome to Hell Review - Haunted Mansion High-Jinks

Summary and Review of Welcome to Hell

Christine: Margaret Clunie Elizabeth: Jessica Webber Freddie: Timothy Renoulf Victor: Charlie Robb George: Tom Bailey Director: Jack McHenry Release: 2019

Jack McHenry, director and co-writer of “Here Comes Hell", clearly has a passion for vintage horror films and it shows in this affectionate tribute to the genre, interwoven with modern day horror techniques without losing the spirit of his homage.

Following the jaunty 1930s big band style opening theme and a “trigger warning” announcer, “Here Comes Hell” opens with hip-flask wielding George (Tom Bailey) on a train to Westwood Manor to meet his friends. He chats to a fellow traveller, who tells him of the mystery surrounding George’s destination and the hell-summoning activities of its former owner, occultist Ichabod Quinn.

As the cast of characters assemble at the Manor, there are tensions and old rivalries bubbling under the surface. Christine (Margaret Clunie) has history with both Freddie and George and Elizabeth draws contempt merely for her lower class status. And, as if this wasn’t awkward enough, Victor announces that he wants to hold a seance to summon the ghost of Ichabod and has invited a local medium, Mrs Bellrose, to conduct it.

This is where the fun really begins as the medium becomes possessed by the spirit of Ichabod and the narrative descends into a nightmarish spectacle as she terrorises the group, stalking them through the mansion, variously attacking and possessing them. And so begins the madcap adventure as the friends attempt to outwit their tormentor and find a way out of the mansion which has now sealed them in.

McHenry made the most of moody lighting in a tumbledown old mansion capturing stark contrasts of light and shadow to create an unsettling atmosphere and I wondered if The Old Dark House was an influence. The audio wasn’t great and a decent mic and a muffler wouldn’t have gone amiss in some scenes but it was all underpinned by a well-crafted melodramatic score, perfectly complementing the atmosphere.

This wasn’t a masterclass in acting but the cast held up their parts well. However, there were two standouts in Margaret Clunie and Timothy Renouf. Clunie was an absolute scene stealer as Christine, dripping with acidic venom. A cross between Bette Davis and Veronica Lake, she plays the character for all she’s worth and makes a great job of it. The same can be said for Renouf as Freddie. His suave, caddish portrait of an arrogant egotist is the perfect foil to Christines’s sarcastic siren.

“Here Comes Hell” isn’t all high camp and witty banter. There were some genuinely creepy moments and I was impressed with how decent the effects were, given the £20k budget, although filming in black and white covers a multitude of sins. Nonetheless, it looked good with a combination of old-time scare effects and Evil Dead-esque demonic possession with a touch of Hitchcockian direction. In fact, this film borrowed from a lot of sources but don’t let that put you off.

The archives are plundered as many a technique from the vintage film-maker’s handbook are employed. It’s nicely shot in black and white and the viewer is rewarded with a sense of nostalgia as the film manages to pay tribute to its influences while carving out a unique identity for itself.

This was great fun and with a run time of 80 minutes, you’re not going to break your time bank and it’s worth investing in Jack McHenry’s celebration of a bygone era. In some ways, this first time effort from him verges on genius, given the meagre resources, and I’d love to see what he does with a bigger budget.



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