Friday, May 20, 2016

Past Misdeeds: The Hereafter (1983)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Neville Harmer (Steven Longhurst) has lived most of his life dominated by his rich, wheelchair-bound father, in whose old country mansion he still lives as a grown up. Lately, Neville has found someone else to tell him what to do, though. I suppose his girlfriend Vicky's (Catherine Rowlands) way to manipulate him is rather more pleasant. Still, having the bedroom of a grumpy old guy right next door to your own can put a strain on any relationship.

One day, Neville's father dies in a freak wheelchair accident, leaving Neville with quite an inheritance. Unfortunately, his dad's will contains a clause that forbids his son to sell the dreary old mansion and demands of him to keep living there. The family business has been conducted out of the house anyway.

Living alone in the house with Vicky, with their only regular human contact being the manly-man groundskeeper Patrick (David Slater) and Neville's secretary Dorothy (Wendy Young), seems to put Neville under quite some psychic strain. He is convinced that the house is haunted, and what do you know? Soon after he has told Vicky about his ideas he begins to see a strange, papier-mâché-masked figure creeping around. The séance Vicky arranges "just for fun" doesn't exactly soothe his mind either.

The strange happenings are of course all part of a mildly fiendish plot Vicky and Patrick have concocted to make Neville look disturbed enough to commit suicide. All seems to be going well with their plan, until a masked Patrick throws Neville out of a window without managing to kill his boss.

Their victim still doesn't realize what's really going on, though, so there's always a chance for a second try. It should be easier to murder Neville now anyway, seeing that his fall left him as paralyzed and wheelchair-bound as his father before him.

With this thought (and sex) on their mind, the would-be murderers are getting careless, and it does not take long until Neville finally understands what is really going on around him. This realization - and the possibly not unfounded idea that his ancestral home itself is trying to protect him - suddenly lets the up to now passive man grow a spine. Neville develops his own plan for a little revenge.

Finding any information about The Hereafter's director Michael J. Murphy (here working under the pseudonym of Michael Mersack) or his films online isn't exactly easy. The IMDB for example only lists two of his 25 movies, this one not among them. Fortunately there is at least this interview to be found, which makes Murphy sound like a British version of some of the budget-less yet driven filmmakers who are responsible for some of the most interesting genre films you'll be able to see. People like him and Norman J. Warren make me wish for a UK-oriented version of Stephen Thrower's wonderful book Nightmare USA. In Murphy's case, I'd even be satisfied with the simple availability of more of his movies.

The Hereafter itself isn't exactly a masterpiece, not even of the highly skewed and strange variation I usually get excited about. It is not weird enough of a film to be fascinating, and a little too dull to fully function as the thriller with slight supernatural undertones it is supposed to be. That does not mean The Hereafter is bad, rather, the whole film seems to be out to prove to later generations of backyard and low budget filmmakers that having no money need not be an excuse for having no ambition of making an actual movie instead of a shoddy succession of scenes you call a movie, but fails at the final hurdle of working as well as it would like to.

At the least this one has a real script, with not original yet at least consistent characters, and tries its hardest to make an unexciting premise into an exciting film by sheer force of will of its director.

Murphy didn't have money, but he had a creepy looking house, a lake, and woods, and he obviously tried his hardest to put them to as much and as good use to build a mood as possible.
You can really see the director straining in every shot to do something at least a little interesting, be it through the use of unconventional angles, more thoughtful than one can expect editing or some very cool use of handheld shots. Sometimes - to be honest a little too often - the film is only straining for that point where "interesting" becomes something more, but in its best moments like the scene of Neville using all his not exactly inexhaustible strength (very much reminding me of the movie itself in this point) to crawl up a flight of stairs, it actually finds it and becomes the sort of stubbornly individualistic film I'm looking for in my no-budget movies.

That stairs scenes is also one of the fine moments of Steven Longhurst in a film not exactly dominated by strong acting. I wouldn't call the film's acting bad, it just tends to be (perhaps in conscious avoidance of soap operatic scenery-chewing) a bit too disaffected for its own good. It's a bit of a shame when you look at the handful of scenes where Longhurst and Rowlands are allowed to show a bit more emotion. The unemotional effect is amplified by the fact that much if not all of the dialogue seems to have been dubbed in after the film was shot and everyone's line readings sound very much like readings.

However, what differentiates The Hereafter enough from many other ultra low budgets films that only sometimes achieve their artistic goals to make me pine for seeing more of Murphy's films is the raw talent underlying it all. It seems obvious to me that Murphy had the ability and the creativity to make a film that's special. If he has ever managed to actually make one is something I'd just love to find out.

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