The Waking Dead
Wake Wood 2011
Directed by David Keating
Hammer Films Region 2 DVD
Warning: Yes, there are big spoilers here for those of you who have not seen it.
While I generally like a fair few of “old school” Hammer Films, I’ve been pretty disappointed with their recent releases as a rule. Their return to the big screen with Let Me In was, by far, inferior to the original Swedish movie (although both movies took substantial liberties with the original source material) and their recent movie, The Resident, suffered from disappointing second and third acts which didn’t really take advantage of the set up... at least that’s the way I saw it.
I find it strange, then, that this third “modern Hammer” movie was not released at the cinema and gets a straight-to-DVD release as, frankly, it’s actually quite watchable and entertaining and I would certainly had liked to have seen this one on the big screen where it belongs.
That being said, there’s not an awful lot that’s “too” special in Wake Wood... it’s pretty much taken the famous short horror story The Monkey’s Paw as its starting point, but it does add a couple of little twists to it that are kinda neat... although not exactly mind blowing.
The film starts out with shots of a troubled couple's car journey to the village of Wake Wood, which is intercut with the couple's backstory as their young 7 or 8 year old daughter is killed by a dog and the journey is all underscored with a piece of music that can best be described as a rustic version of a John Carpenter power theme. The father is a veterinarian with a boss played by consummate professional Timothy Spall, while the wife is the owner (?) of the local pharmacy in Wake Wood. It’s in her capacity here that she finds out about the sinister and knowing underbelly of Wake Wood which is something akin to the closed communities in the original The Wicker Man or an episode of the original TV series of The Prisoner, although it’s depicted here in very quick and broad strokes and so loses a little of the weight and intensity it might have found if the film had ben allowed to wander at a more leisurely pace.
So saying, though, the pace is somewhat blistering (you won’t get bored on this one) as the couple find that they can have their little girl back for “three days only” as long as they obey the rules... a) she doesn’t cross the boundary lines (which would destroy her it turns out) and b) she has to have been dead for no longer than a specific amount of time (think it was a year).
The couple agree and they borrow somebody else’s fresh corpse (part of the procedure) and the village community rebirths their little girl in a fiery ritual worthy of a Dennis Wheatley bestseller. As it happens, however, there’s something a bit wrong with this young girl and she acts a little differently from other regular rebirths the village indulges in... and when I say “acts a little differently” I mean she goes around murdering assorted village locals who want to send her back from whence she came.
After a while it all comes out that the couple had broken the rules and she’s ben dead longer than the prescribed time... when they eventually find the trail of corpses left by their little angel they join in the manhunt (err... dead girl hunt) and the mother tricks her undead young ‘un back into the ground... but there’s a catch and once the initial story is finished, there’s an interesting little coda set a while later which I won’t spoil here, suffice it to say that the husband's skill at cutting open cows so they can birth their young is a skill which is about to come in very handy to him after the credits have rolled. The worst is yet to come... although I don’t expect we’ll ever get to see a sequel and, to be honest, it doesn’t really need one.
Wake Wood is a nice, little atmospheric horror film and, the thought struck me as I was watching this, it would really not look out of place as an episode of the original TV show Hammer House of Horror... it has that kind of vibe to it. Personally I could have done with the movie being about a quarter of an hour longer so they could slowly build on the feeling of having such a close-knit community in the village, but I guess the powers that be were thinking of the MTV generation audiences again... slow and delightfully ponderous is not back in fashion again yet, it seems. If you like old-style, early seventies horror movies though, even if this one is not exactly scary, you’ll certainly want to take Wake Wood out for a spin. It’s certainly the only one of the recent batch of releases from Hammer that certainly would not look out of place with their rich back catalogue. Worth a look!