Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Review: Tell Tale Heart

Steven Berkoff's Tell Tale Heart (BHFF 2017)
Cert: tbc / 80 mins / Dir. Stephen Cookson / Trailer

Not sure why I hadn't noticed before, but Edgar Allen Poe us basically Charles Dickens for goths, isn't he? Excellent stuff. Anyway, last up for the 2017 British Horror Film Festival was Stephen Cookson bringing us Tell Tale Heart, a film adaptation of actor Steven Berkoff's own stage adaptation of the classic Poe short story. This telling takes place in London's Whitechapel district in 1890, as a fastidious and eccentric manservant confides in the viewer how he stalked, tormented, murdered and dismembered his elderly, vulture-eyed master*1.

Although other performers appear (and with substantial roles and dialogue), this is effectively an 80-minute multi-scene monologue from Berkoff, with the unsettling mannerisms of Donald Pleasance and timbre of Anthony Hopkins. Tell Tale Heart is what happens when a theatre heavyweight steps back into film. Self-indulgent beyond belief, but absolutely glorious as a performance-piece, and few others could make it work like Berkoff does. This is, let us be kind, a slightly challenging watch. Rewarding in its own theatrical way, but challenging nonetheless as a diaristic descent into spiralling madness.

Alongside the performances, the lighting*2, music, cinematography, and the meticulous and trepidatious pacing are all note-perfect. Once this piece hits the domestic release market, it will become my Hallow'een-tradition equivalent of watching A Christmas Carol. Magnificently macabre...

This main feature was prefaced by Simon Ross's 19-minute short, Deal Cool, a morbid farce which is genuinely horrifying, touching as it does on delusion, abduction, r*+e, murder and necrophilia in a present-day suburban setting. Not quite as outwardly grotesque as The League of Gentlemen's darker material, but every bit as quietly threatening. It's also got some genuinely funny moments, although they're mainly founded in precisely how funny the situation shouldn't be...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Think, the more period-aspects of Hellraiser, if Vincent Price was telling them on Jackanory....

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you get the chance, yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Absolutely .

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
That's not really for me to say, even though I know this will be a consistent high.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not one jot.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Steven Berkoff was in that 44 Inch Chest along with Andy 'General Romodi' de la Tour.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 That's not a spoiler, it's literally the basis for the story he tells. [ BACK ]

*2 Genuine question though: As much as I enjoyed submerging myself in Berkoff's introspectively fantastical world, would a lit-lamp cast a solid shadow like that against a wall, especially if that shadow is only being cast by an identical lamp further away? And why does this bother me when the rest of the production is so clearly the point of view of an unreliable narrator?
[ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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