Monday, April 23, 2007

Review: When Evil Calls Episodes 1 to 5

We gave Zone Horror's When Evil Calls a mention a few weeks back, and now that we've received a DVD of every single episode, we can go into a fair bit more detail. We havent received the 'clip show' style compliation, featuring Sean Pertwee as a punning host, linking the little episodes. All we have are the episodes themselves- the meat, if you will. And there are twenty of them in total.

To begin with, let's look at the first five chapters, which between them pretty much get everything set up for the subsequent installments to follow.

Episode 1: The Wish

Most of the story, in this episode and beyond, takes place in and around Willburn Hall, 6th Form College.

Jennifer Lim plays lonely schoolgirl Samantha. It's a stretch. Here's a picture of Jennifer, as she appeared in Eli Roth's Hostel:

Doesn't seem the typical 'horror film lonely girl', does she? And have another look - does she bear resemblence to any of the Red Dwarf cast? No? Well... more on that later.

Lois Winstone, one of Ray's girls, plays the school bully Kirsty. She stomps on and knackers Samantha's mobile phone and gets the plot rolling. The rest of this episode takes place off of campus.

Back at home, Samantha sits and mopes in her bedroom. You might be forgiven for thinking it's supposed to be her little sister's bedroom - it's dressed in pink and there's teddy bears and make-me-up doll heads dotted about, but no, apparently, this is supposed to be the room of a modern teenage girl. Unfortunately, it looks like a genuinely amateur piece of set dressing, cobbled together in a few seconds and without any attention to detail at all.

Preety soon, a creepy clown appears from nowhere, repairs Smanatha's mobile, and hangs around to spook me out a little. Samantha's newly repaired phone receives a text message that offers to grant her a wish, so she makes one: she wants to be popular. "At any cost?" asks the creepy clown. Of course at any cost.

At heart When Evil Calls is a simple variant on that old Monkey's Paw business - you know, "Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it". This episode is over, without Samantha's wish being granted, but the format is being set in stone...

Epsiode 2: Bad Trip

We focus on another wish. This time Jane (who is, of course, plain) wishes too. "I wish I was prettier than Victoria" - one of her classmates. Does Jane become any prettier? No. Is Victoria currently in a chemistry class with flesh-eating acids ready to spill? Yes. And that's about it.

Jane is played by Victoria Aitken, amusingly enough. I think Ms. Aitken would like to be famous, rather than infamous, but I'm not sure When Evil Calls is going to help her at all.

Episode 3: Face Off

The wish, this time, is made by a very, very spotty boy, bullied by Kirsty for his incredible amount of acne. He wishes to get rid of it... and very shortly, he's dumped into a wheelie bin by Kirsty and co-hort, who weigh the top down with a couple of little slabs. And then, of course, the rats come looking for food...

Episode 4: Die-T

Another episode. another stereotypical teenage anxiety - and more bullying by Kirsty. This time, a rather fat schoolboy wishes he was thinner (seeing him eat guaranteed that I soon will be - no more meals for me until I've shaken the image). A very quick pay off that comes out of nowhere is signposted just a few seconds early and then, one brief gore image later, the episide is done.

Episode 5: Beauty and the Geek

This is where the formula gets shaken up a bit. No Kirsty, for one thing. And the requisite wish is made with seconds of the episode starting... and then, before the 'ironic' and inevitable payoff, we cut away and some new characters arrive on the scene.

Two Detectives meet at the school to visit the headmaster. This is where the other stars finally turn up: Dominique Pinon as Detective Ringwald, Chris Barrie as the Headmaster (and, okay, Pierce Brosnan's son Sean as the other Detective, if he counts as a star). This is where we find out that the school is under investigation - presumably as a result of the splattery incidents related in Episodes 2 to 4 - and also, that Samantha is the Headmaster's daughter. All of this, it seems, is going to build into an over-arching plot or, at the very least, some back story.

(Note that Pinon and Barrie were clearly never on set at the same time, and that nothing has been done to successfully hide this. Their 'conversation' is, as represented in the final edit, is very stilted and badly paced.)

...and then, suddenly, we're treated to a very violent pay off to the opening wish. The end of Episode 5.

That's a basic overview of the first quarter. But is it any good?

Well, what do you want from it? When Evil Calls was designed to be viewed as seperate episodes on mobile phones. The pieces are certainly short enough and there's lots of the typical gore - as well as that freaky clown.

To be fair, this is quite a bad little series. The producer has said "Zone Horror is proud to present a small screen series with big screen production values" but, honestly, it looks pretty bad on a 28 inch TV set and that's not a big screen - not even for the home, these days. These episodes all hang on a simple shaggy dog story - with the exception of the first, which was pure
exposition, and the fifth, which pushed the typical ingrediants aside just to make space for the introduction of the Detectives.

The director is Johannes Roberts. I could nit-pick his decisions until the end of the year, but let's just look at some of his more puzzling choices.

Counting the shots in episode 1 only, 10 of them feature actors looking directlty into the lens - as though the camera were the other participant in a conversation. Hideous. This alone would prevent the film from being immersive - before we get onto the other issues. Episode 2 suffers from this even more, and in Episode 5, the camera again stands in for a direct POV while somebody is getting their head smashed in, again and again and again...

There's also a good few shots that move up and down on a rather cranky crane - not smooth at all, and really, Roberts would have done well to decommission the thing.

Buffy revolved around a vaguely similar premise, at least at first: the concerns, fears and desires of teenagers rendered real, perhaps horrifically so, through a little magic and fantasy. Buffy attained a level of relevance and empathy that When Evil Calls doesn't even seem interested in, however. These are simple 'gag' films, designed to be viral, to have a certain watercooler factor - or whatever the adolescent equivalent is. A bike shed factor?

I'll take you through the remaining 15 episodes soon. Could it be that Pinon, Barrie and the introduction of an over-arching story will change things for the better? Or will the continued gore and newly introduced nudity and lesbianism be enough to earn the last 15 chapters their Exploitation film stripes?

Try to keep an open mind... against all odds... or, perhaps, download the episodes for yourself and make up your own mind.


Sarah Dobbs said...

You really missed out by not getting the Pertwee version. It's allll about the Pertwee.

Also, can you actually download the episodes from the website? I could never find a way to do that.

Brendon said...

No, the website only gives instructions on how to access it via mobile phone download.