Thanks to Chris of WeThreeClub for this charitable donation.
Halloween is fast approaching, a time of year where I like to watch low-budget horror films and eat sugarcoated sweet things. Admittedly, that’s what I do all the time anyway, but Halloween makes it socially acceptable for me to do it whilst wearing stilettos and a dress.
As it so happens, I received a low-budget horror film in the post just a few weeks ago. It’s a recently released British horror film called The Legend of Harrow Woods, and boasts an impressive cast that includes Christopher Walken, Sir Norman Wisdom, Rik Mayall, Robin Askwith and Jason Donovan.
The film was sent with a requirement: that I must watch it all the way through, from start to finish.
No problem, I think to myself, I’ve watched Dark Heritage and Bachelor Party Massacre before, the presence of Jason Donovan surely guarantees a certain level of quality? After all, if a poster at the end of my street is to be believed, a writer for The Southern Daily Echo has described a recent production of The Sound of Music starring Donovan as “Definitely one of [his] favourite things.”
Obviously, he’s referencing the classic Sound of Music song “My Favourite Things”, but there must be some truth in the statement, surely? Making love to his wife, holidaying in the Ardèche, the smell of freshly cut grass — a musical starring Jason Donovan. Definitely some of his favourite things.
Needless to say, I have high hopes for The Legend of Harrow Woods as I pop it in my DVD player. Perhaps it will become one of my favourite things.
Naturally, I choose to watch the film in 3D with the red and blue glasses that came with the DVD, but unfortunately, the 3D version is about as impressive as joining up the corners of two squares with a pen. Plus it’s genuinely quite painful to look at.
I decide to restart the film in regular 2D mode and notice, as the credits begin to appear, an impressive claim on the DVD box in front of me. Supposedly, The Legend of Harrow Woods, the filmmakers claim, is made by the same people as The Shining — presumably not the shitty Kubrick film, but the classic, well-remembered made-for-the-SyFy-Channel film The Shining: Shock & Terror, as well as its sequel The Shining 2: Keep On Shining.
The film opens with an audio recording of Christopher Walken reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, accompanied by images of pixelated dancing girls and really awful electronica music.
After what seems like a lifetime of credits, we’re treated to an explosive action sequence complete with guns and tits. Suddenly there’s an explosion and the screen freezes. We cut to a room in which a disheveled-looking Jason Donovan is sat watching with a friend. “I was surfin’ the net, yeah?” says Donovan, in a really forced American accent. “I came across this site with yer name of it. Death, blood, gore — I mean, if that doesn’t make her lil’ panties hot for you, then nothing’s gonna.”
It’s hard to believe that this is the same Jason Donovan that a writer for The Southern Daily Echo described as “definitely one of [his] favourite things”; the transformation is quite startling. He’s rough, he’s tough and he’s irrepressibly American. He’s almost too much American. And just in case Donovan’s incredibly convincing performance wasn’t enough to establish his nationality, he sits proudly in front of a US flag, like all residents of the United States. Naturally, Donovan works in the film industry (or “da movies” as the yanks would say), specialising specifically in films that consist almost entirely of breasts and explosions (or “titty pics” as the yanks would say).
After Donovan’s country of origin has been fully established, he grabs his baseball cap and puts it on his head (back to front, naturally, because he’s American) and begins to tell his friend about a story involving horror writer George Carney. What relation this has to do with the panties, I’m not quite sure.
George and his family, Donovan explains, disappeared whilst on holiday at a cabin in Harrow Woods, New England – which looks suspiciously like the drab woodlands of Leeds, minus the discarded used condoms and torn pages from Anal Weekly.
We then cut to a party where we’re introduced to the main characters of the film: Karl, the one who can actually act; Anna, the floozy psychic; James, the one with no real defining features; Lewis, the douche bag; Rachel, the generic blonde one; and, of course, Gary (Jason Donovan), the American one. Although, when I describe Gary as “the American one”, I should point out that several of the characters appear to be attempting American accents, they just can’t quite commit to doing them for very long. Occasionally, mid-sentence, they’ll bail on being American and decide to be British for a few words, before returning back to a heavy American drawl when they’ve built up the confidence. It’s like stumbling across a group of socially aloof British nerds, re-enacting their favourite scenes from Con Air, except this is somehow more embarrassing to watch.
The group are supposedly film students, led by Karl, a lecturer. Together they decide to lead an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of George Carney and his family, and film the whole thing using live webcams that Jason Donovan has set up to his website, the “Internetter’s Birthday Club”, which apparently isn’t a website specialising in downloadable porn torrents.
Before the trip, despite struggling to grasp even the most basic fundamentals of speech, the group decide to hold a séance, which ultimately reveals nothing, apart form the fact that most of the group seem exceptionally irritating.
Upon entering Harrow Woods, our heroic team of vaguely American student filmmakers experience an array of creepy occurrences, each one increasingly more unimaginative than the last. We learn that in October of 1843, a local witch named Lenore Selwyn was burnt at the stake, cursing Harrow Woods moments before she died.
As the students investigate the mystery of Geroge Carney and his family, much of story is revealed through flashback, borrowing heavily from plot of The Shining. It’s during these flashback that we’re introduced to the spirit of a former hotel manager, played by Young Ones star Rik Mayall, who’s ability to enter a room at a completely inappropriate time, provides much of the film’s unintentional humour.
Despite starting out as a trashy British horror film, complete with obligatory breast shots, halfway through The Legend of Harrow Woods starts to take itself a little more seriously, choosing to focus on a more classy variety of gratuitous boobtography. In one scene, George is confronted by a topless woman in a mask. As she removes her mask, revealing herself to be his wife, a group of attractive, naked woman walk around in artsy fashion as suspenseful music plays. Suddenly Mayall, walks in through the door with a glass on a tray. “Drink?” he asks, seemingly unphased by the ridiculous events taking place in the room.
Speaking of tits, the aforementioned Robin Askwith makes an appearance as George’s brother, who he believes is having an affair with wife. Robin made a name for himself starring in campy British sex comedies in the 1970s, perhaps most notably the Confessions… series. For me, however, he’ll always be known as the star of British horror film Horror Hospital, which I vividly remember watching in the very early hours of the morning on BBC Two several years ago. I don’t think comforting lines like “I’m not gonna rape ya!” will ever leave my mind. I was almost numb its incredibly campy, marginally offensive charm at the time, although admittedly, I had been heavily drinking. Robin’s still up to his old tricks, and by tricks, I mostly mean heavy breast fondling and being kind of a dick.
Making an appearance as Harrow Wood’s very own Bela Lugosi, is Sir Norman Wisdom. He aptly, for just a few seconds, plays a confused old man, making it difficult to tell if he’s acting or whether some men with a camera approached him and recorded his reaction.
As The Legend of Harrow Woods progresses, the students are picked off one by one by a series of contrived events, and the remaining screen time is spent on creating cool, creepy imagery — specifically a room slowly filling with blood, which is shown over and over again.
When the film finally finishes, the audience is left with the image of this rather haunting photograph, and time to ponder some of the profound questions raised by the film, like “are we supposed to believe that this is actually a real photograph?” and “what the hell was that?”
So that was The Legend of Harrow Woods, a film that tries to be a little bit Blair Witch, a little bit Shining and a little bit Jim Davidson’s Boobs in the Woods, whilst ultimately being very bad. This is genuinely the first time I have nothing positive to say, apart from perhaps the inclusion of some very dated-looking 3D glasses — two of them!
The main problem with the film is that nothing really happens. They weakly establish the main characters and then completely bail on them, instead choosing to focus on ripping off much better films. It all feels very last minute and the plot literally goes nowhere.
Reportedly, The Legend of Harrow Woods lay dormant for many years, having originally been titled Alone in the Dark and then Evil Calls. According to Darren Moore (the casting director of The Legend of Harrow Woods), who comments on a review of The Legend of Harrow Woods on AndyErupts.com: “…they did not get the actors legally onboard this movie, many were not paid as driscoll disappeared with the footage in 2002 claiming insolvency…Now it turns up without him telling or informing any of the actors at all under this title, and quite plainly it is ridiculous, he does not have walken attached to it at all as it is not shown anywhere in public other than on the cover of this and he has just dubbed the recording into it after obtaining it and i doubt whether he has permission to do so as the names recently been removed from it.”
Definitely not one my favourite things.