Schlock horror. Horror movies, frequently B-movies, so bad they’re often unintentionally brilliant. Bad acting, scream queens, creaky characters, and often creakier plots, their sumptuous mansions and windswept soundscapes are often surpassed only by their Grand Guignol levels of gore. Especially when it comes to contemporary movies. With several now considered minor cult classics, influencing many contemporary film makers, they almost constitute a semi-respectable, sub-genre with its own history and conventions. Which include never sacrificing the over-the-top nature of the medium for the sake of an overtly serious message. This being an offence which Stewart Roche’s otherwise delightful homage, “Wringer,” unfortunately commits. Yet “Wringer” differs from usual schlock offerings in other significant ways, being built on impressive production values, solid direction, and standout performances from its three strong cast.
In keeping with the tradition, minus the gore, it all takes place, late one evening, in a wind beaten mansion somewhere in the middle of nowhere; an impressive set design by an equally impressive Naomi Faughan. Faughan shows immaculate attention to detail, in costumes and set, right down to the coffin shaped chair and Wicker Man top. On top of which Mark Hendrick’s sound design adds all the moody, wind howling broodiness you could possibly hope for, ably supported by Colm Maher’s lighting design. Here the devil rides out in the shape of horror blogger Elsa Crenshaw, a terrific Maeve Fitzgerald, looking to interview one of her acting idols on the verge of making a comeback. The gentlemanly Jonathan Ravencliffe, beautifully done by Michael James Ford, is dressed to impress in his blue velvet jacket and suave spoken sophistication when first they met. The suspicious Mrs Newman, a superb Joan Sheehy, Ravencliffe’s mandatory housekeeper brimming with disapproval, serves them wine as they set about remembering the greats of horror cinema. Until Elsa’s true agenda makes itself known and old glories give way to disappeared directors, missing actresses, unsolved murders, and wild orgies which all come home to roost. All beautifully directed by Aoife Spillane-Hinks who sets pace, and mood, just right throughout.
While Roche’s knowledge of horror movies is undoubtedly impressive, “Wringer” sometimes suffers a little heaviness as a result. Knowledgeable name dropping, from James Whale to Roger Corman, along with various other movies and references, risks “Wringer” appealing primarily to the horror geek and preaching knowingly to the informed. But Roche is smart enough to deliver for the ordinary pundit, with his homage to Hammer style Horror being a pastiche everyone can enjoy. For Roche’s tale of the unexpected is at its best when it plays as a loving pastiche. Yet it loses its way for trying to introduce a Roman Polanski-ish commentary on historical sexual abuse late in the day. Using it as a device to add some meat to the bones proves problematic for being under developed. In true schlock horror fashion, a neat little twist is conveniently tagged on which goes a long way to explaining much that was inexplicable, delighting those who love the tacky contrivances of the genre. Except, by now, we’re in a different, more serious, more moralistic play. One far less convincing, and a little less fun.
Stewart Roche’s homage to all things Hammer Horror is best when it does just that. There’s no real evidence it ever intended to offer a serious interrogation of the sexual politics of the horror genre, and if it did, it doesn’t go far enough. If “Wringer” makes the mistake of trying to elevate itself into something with a message, it still does more than enough to celebrate its loving, unapologetic enjoyment of the B-movie horror genre, making it a genuine pleasure. Even for those who aren’t die hard horror fans.
“Wringer” by Stewart Roche, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until November 4.
For more information, visit Bewley’s Café Theatre.