Not since the resurrection of Doctor Who two years earlier had the relaunch of a much loved brand been burdened with more expectation than that of Hammer Films.
Castle Dracula had been boarded up cinema-wise since the late 1970s and, aside from two last gasp ventures into TV in the mid-80s, the legendary production company had been locked in a state of virtual suspended animation.
Until 2008, that is, when the first horror to bear the proud, if heavy, name of Hammer in a popcorn-munching, SFX-reared generation’s lifetime finally hit the screen. The computer screen.
From the outset, Beyond The Rave (rave/grave, get it) was determined to leave the plastic bats, burning castles and Victorian haircuts firmly in the past.
Confronted with a target audience who probably knew more about M C Hammer than their label, the marketing team at Hammer hit upon the canny idea of distributing the new title over the Internet, straight into the mental inboxes of inbetweeners the world over.
The spiel justifying the five-minute ‘webisode’ format and exclusive upload to MySpace sounded convincing, but would the 20 instalments carry a production with bite, or reveal one that just plain sucked?
The story revolves around the last hours of freedom of new soldier Ed (Jamie Dornan), who is flying out to Iraq the next day. Ed is trying to find his girlfriend Jen (Nora-Jane Noon, The Descent) who was last seen getting off with a man who not only looks like a suave, 21st century necrosexual vampire, but also has a name to match, Melech.
Now, Melech (Sebastian Knapp) and his long-toothed cronies are holding a secret rave with the ultimate objective of bottling a cellar’s worth of vein juice tapped from the attendant clubbers and, for some odd reason, Ed’s best friend, Necro (Matthew Forrest), thinks it’s just the sort of jolly bash missing missus Jen would rather die than skip.
Ed, Necro, some bloke called Big Jim who fancies a stripper (also along for the ride), a trio of chav comic relief gangsters and a swiftly reconciled Jen all get high and get down, in that order, before the fun begins and they are left fighting to save their necks, literally.
It’s like Human Traffic relocated to the Titty Twister of From Dusk Till Dawn fame and, in its survival horror, a big departure from the get cape, wear cape, die formula of Hammer old.
What is does retain of its illustrious forebearers, however, is the seediness. Boil it down to one continuous shot of a blood-splattered line of coke on a hooker’s heaving chest and you’ve successfully summed up the tone of the whole film.
It also has a remote, night time forest setting, the sine qua non of any self-respecting modern day gore reel.
So, it’s Hammer for da kidz with drug binging on-screen, suitably supported with a banging Pete Tong dance-orientated soundtrack and turbo-charged direction that betrays young director Matthias Hoene’s background in adverts and music videos.
It looks gritty and grimy, even slightly blanched, except when an exploding jugular is spraying everyone in deep red blood, and in amongst the usual indie mix direction there are some memorable shots, such as the inside of a vein being sucked dry from the POV of a blood cell and a bullet-ridden girl dropping to the dance floor in slow motion.
That last one doesn’t completely make sense, but then again, the whole endeavour is treated like a conveyor belt of violent OTT spectacle, so, in no time at all, there’s another severed head or sword in gob dispatch to distract your attention.
The characters are about as well realised as you’re going to get from a film that does all its storytelling in the space of 24 hours and, incredibly, there’s even time for a little pathos when lovesick bouncer Big Jim sees his dream girl drained before his pilled-up eyes.
Though the Tourette’s-afflicted Cockney gangsters deliver a dark Guy Ritchie-style comic relief, its old pot-smoking vampire Leopold (Trevor Byfield) who stands out as the finest creation of the piece.
Whereas the others are inexplicably as happy to chop up their prey as actually feast on them, he’s much more laid back in his predation, which is probably what you’d expect from someone who’s had permanent red eye for 700-plus years.
There are flaws to Beyond The Rave. The rules governing what exactly can and cannot kill a vampire seem to change with every other scene, for example. But in the final call, it’s a slick slice of undead action that pretty much succeeds in putting Hammer back on the horror map.
Even so, it’s better to watch it as originally served, in bite-sized instalment. The titles and next episode previews are frustratingly intact even if you select “Play All” and by continually breaking the flow, they kill any chance of treating the whole thing like a movie.
Along with the feature presentation, the DVD carries a bounty of extras including the usual: teaser trailer, making-of, still gallery and commentaries, and the essential: character clips and deleted scenes.
The latter are required to really get the most out of watching the flick proper, with one scrubbed moment in particular proving essential to understanding Ed’s get-out of an arrow-delivered death.
Said scene also features iconic Hammer star (and one-time Den Of Geek columnist), Ingrid Pitt, in a cameo as a mad witch or some such, but though its nice to see her pop up all these years later, it’s an ill-fitting interlude that doesn’t benefit one iota, from the inclusion of a throwback rubber rat attack.
I can fully understand why it ended up not being used. Likewise, Ed’s meeting with his military cliché of a father. It’s too weird and forced to really work, being added for a tiny dash of character exposition and a big dollop of contrived prop placing.
Better is the added episode 21, Necro’s First Kill, which picks up the story with new vamp Necro having to forego his vegetarianism to feed himself and stop leaching off girlfriend Lilith (Lois Winstone, daughter of actor Ray) and Leopold for the rest of his unlife.
It all makes for an impressive package.
Beyond The Rave is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.