When Evil Calls

cast: Jennifer Lim, Sean Pertwee, Dominique Pinon, Chris Barrie, and Lois Winstone

director: Johannes Roberts

75 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Sony DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson

One of the curses of modern media is that storytellers will explore each new window for exploitability and a place in history when some of us just want them to give us an old-fashioned horror romp with a start, a finish, and taking something like 70 or 80 minutes to tell us the bloody tale. Of course, I am open to all shapes and sizes of presentation but once a maker has condemned it to an unsuitable format he shouldn’t then expect us to accept his attempts to cobble it together and try and pass it off as something else, in the case of When Evil Calls, something long form. Director Johannes Roberts goes one step further in the supporting material by describing When Evil Calls as a compendium horror, a bit of a cheek given that we know it to be a serial. When Evil Calls jumps from one episode to another in mini-tales connected by characters, environment and the principal premise, that of a supernatural clown, that resembles Mick Miller, with a pyramid scheme of black wishes, the rules of which are never entirely clear, secondary as they are to the splatter.

What is there to understand? As the original episodes would have been released over a period of time as mobile phone downloads of several minutes in length each delivered possibly on a weekly basis, continuity would have been of lesser consideration too. Each of the 20 instalments would have to give a reason for callers to come back and so gruesome deaths and big girls in school uniforms dominate proceedings… nothing wrong with that, of course, though it becomes a rat-a-tat of crass Grand Guignol nonsense when later compiled for release as a feature.

The roll call of horrors takes place in high school during term time and the sequences are linked by segues commandeered by an aggressive janitor (Sean Pertwee) clumsily relating the events to an off-screen schoolboy that he has just rescued from bullies. Jennifer Lim plays Samantha, the headmaster’s daughter. She is an unpopular girl in school, one of life’s extras, largely ignored. Wishing she were more popular gives an invite to the clown who grants her wish of ‘popularity’ but each plus has to have a minus. Furthermore, he requires her to text on the service to two others. Others do not do as successfully in the chain of text messages that follow, an extended variation on The Monkey’s Paw, the original story of which is visited more directly at one stage when a character wishes his dead father could see him now at this table eating dinner with his girlfriend and her family, and the corpse turns up on the doorstep. The play on the wishes can be cruel and clever, at other times heavily contrived and odd: a wish for x-ray vision, that one is good enough to eat, that one was thinner or could lose a pound, or never had to see her boyfriend again, or that they were more beautiful than that person there. When one wishes his acne away, rats eat the zits. Acid in the face, scissors in the eyes, disembowelment and exploding tits are never far away.

In the transferral to feature-length the episodes are doubly broken up by the inset chapter headings and the bridging narrative of the Pertwee character, really gone for by the actor, but dominated by an increasingly irritating run of bad quips. When Evil Calls is never dull, the beautiful women and the bloodletting assist in that, but the degree of silliness informs me that this is not intended for me, not at all, but for the idiot youths and dumb clucks out there, the snickering stupid legion. Neither was the original bit-by-bit version of this made for me. I prefer my films in great big blocks of storytelling. Who the fuck wants to arse around collecting the bits of a tale but a bunch of stupid kids? The result of the scrunching of the 20 segments is not dissimilar in its results to someone trying to crank the engine repeatedly on an old car, which starts up momentarily before chugging to a halt again.

When Evil Calls annoys in many other ways. It is a pantomime with celebrity guests to match. Chris Barrie in the role of the headmaster who seems largely untroubled by the unnatural mass slaughter of his sixth formers (sixteenth formers, if some of the actors are anything to go by – the school could be twinned with Rydell High). Dominique Pinon (who worked for Roberts previously on Dark Hunters) seems uncertain of the contract and gives a bizarre and unintelligible performance as the detective.

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Marysia Kay returns from Roberts’ Forest Of The Damned and behind the scenes appears to do her supportive best to persuade the other actresses to join her in shedding their clothes. Lois Winstone (daughter of Ray) is an obnoxious bully, but a rum bit of pumpy, and Sean Brosnan, in a supporting role, trades on his father’s popularity, having inherited his lack of talent and that quare humourlessness. Sean Pertwee is better than this and really should stop slumming it.

Roberts admits to going for an attitude in line with 1980s’ horror pop nonsense, by which I assume he refers to comedy monster shows like Monster In The Closet, Prom Night 2: Hello, Mary Lou, and Troll, and sillier more confused outings. He is convinced that the film has moments of suspense but you need time to build suspense and When Evil Calls is in a constantly needful rush. The mobile movie has no future. The behind-the-scenes material is a useful documentation on what was required of the team to get the film made and the director of photography, John Raggett, is dismissed to conduct some second unit photography (yes the DoP is sent to capture some second unit) while Roberts films the naked female basketball sequence himself. Never better was there an example of director’s privilege. Roberts comes across as a likeable fellow, but a serious filmmaker, never! The film was enabled by co-production with cable channel Zone Horror, and the soundtrack includes a couple of numbers by Japanese garage rock act The Electric Eels, but even that can’t earn the film any additional favour from me.