Review: The Mill At Calder’s End

Plot

A period gothic horror tale told with puppets, the story follows Nicholas Grimshaw (Jason Flemyng) as his family’s past pulls him into a journey that could cost him his life.

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Here We Go Again
DragonCon was my first encounter with filmmaker Kevin McTurk and his puppet films. I discovered The Narrative of Victor Karloch, a couple years ago and was taken by its classic presentation of horror and adventure. It was a storybook brought to life by way of Jules Verne and HP Lovecraft. With it’s Japanese Bunraku inspired puppetry techniques and stellar voice casting; it was well worth the painfully short runtime.

At this past week’s (as of this writing) DragonCon, the sophomore director’s latest effort joined the packed screening of other gothic horror themed shorts. I’d missed the opportunity to see the film twice before at other film festivals and I was determined to break the habit.

With all the fuss to see it though, I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed by what was on offer.

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A Little Ambitious Aren’t We
As with Victor Karloch, Calder’s End is told through excellent voice-over narration and Bunraku puppetry. Also, it’s painfully short running. The similarities pretty much end there though. This new film is bigger in the telling in every way. It’s a slow and steady start, but quickly blows off its restraints for some satisfying puppet action beats.

The cast is just as strong as the last film with the likes of Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch; X-Men First Class) and Barbara Steele (Black Sunday; Dark Shadows; Shivers) replacing Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings; Wilfred) and Christopher Lloyd (Back To The Future) from the last picture. The puppets resemble each actor for the most part though Flemyng’s younger version looks a heck of a lot like Jamie Bell (Fantastic Four; Deathwatch; Billy Elliott). In fact I would have been hard to convince it wasn’t Bell if I hadn’t double checked the cast listings on IMDB to make sure.

The plot is brief, but effective. Family secrets; cursed inheritences; ghosts; lovecraftian monsters; and madness.

I mentioned an increased scope for this outing and I meant it. Whereas Victor Karloch was mostly shot on indoor sets, Calder’s End is told with a combination of a whole new batch of beautifully erected indoor settings, but also new is integration of outdoor location photography. It gives the whole picture the feeling of the puppets having a whole world to move around in, though the ocean set built for the first film didn’t exactly feel ineffective either. This gives the film a scale that the other one was lacking.

The Production design work on the first film was already first-rate, but McTurk outdoes himself on this one. Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola did a poster for the first film, but on this one he actually had a hand in designing one of the key props for the film. Joining him were Guy Davis who’s known for creating the most imaginative of monsters having worked for years under Mignola on the BPRD spinoff series of comics and later for director Guillermo del Toro on At The Mountains of Madness and Pacific Rim. Here he creates one of the more menacing monsters that Grimshaw must face in his efforts to rid his family line of their pesky curse. Finally, there’s Alex Palma who has worked in various capacities for effects house, Spectral Motion (also where Kevin makes his day job). Palma did the bulk of the design work from what I can tell and what a fabulous job it is.

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Conclusion
The Mill At Calder’s End is still making its rounds at film festivals around the country (and the world) and I highly recommend you seek it out, if you can. It’s an ever so very small window into Kevin McTurk’s imagination, but his is an imagination that I’m happy to revisit should he choose to share more in the future.

Upcoming screenings of THE MILL AT CALDER’S END

Festival Festival Européen du Film Fantastique de Strasbourg
Saturday, September 19 at 11 am STAR ST-EX
Wednesday, September 23 at 18h STAR
Saturday, September 26 at 13:30 STAR ST-EX

Calgary International Film Festival
Saturday, September 26, Eau Claire, 9:45PM
Saturday, October 3, Eau Claire, 10PM

Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival
Friday, October 2; 10pm
Screens with WE ARE STILL HERE

Fantastic Fest
Sept. 24th – Oct. 1st in Austin, Texas
Part of the Chiller Scary Good programming

Maurice
Original surviving founder of Fanboy Confidential, the podcast, and this supporting website. This is the fruit of his labor, created while on his off days from saving orphaned children from forest fires.

Only some of this is true.

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