A stylish pre-credits sequence affords a well-spoken male narrator to tell of how the murderess (and jilted bride) Josephine Stewart's engagement ring was cursed by her evil spirit and had been successfully buried with her, until "some thieving bugger" stole it from her coffin.
We then learn that the ring has passed on largely uneventfully throughout the decades. But, as the narrator tells us, it is just a matter of time until someone fulfils the prophecy that the ring must once more be used as part of a wedding ceremony - thus enabling the spirit of Josephine to possess the ring's current occupier and resume her reign of terror.
Which brings us to nice-but-dim stand-up comedian Lee (James Fisher), who unwittingly spies the ring in a pawnbrokers' store and haggles for it. After buying the ring, he meets with best mate Ricky (Oli Wilkinson) and confides in him his intentions to propose the very next day.
This he does, successfully, to the sexy Nicole (Rebecca Herod) while chilling on a grassy bank in the summer sun. Lucky man: not only is she leagues above him in terms of looks, she's also a darn sight funnier than he is.
The pair rush to tell Nicole's dad Lesley (James Kavaz) the good news. He's outwardly elated and pledges his support towards the big day, but behind the scenes he has bigger things to worry about - he owes £250,000.00 to local mobsters.
Meanwhile, the loved-up couple continue to pet each other through parks and beside crashing waves, while Ricky gets busy trying to organise a stag night for his best mate. Preferably somewhere that offers a "vomitorium" - where people can throw up copiously, in order to allow for more booze to be consumed.
Then everything starts to go slowly but surely pear-shaped. Lesley shoots a Gangster in the head when he threatens the safety of Nicole. This is witnessed by Nicole, who then discusses her misgivings with best friend Carly (Natalie Milner). She in turn calls on the services of her younger cousin Sinclair (Cy Henty).
Sinclair just so happens to be an expert in the occult and, upon clocking Nicole's engagement ring, he recalls its infamous history and warns that it must never get blood spilt upon it. Or there'll be Hell to pay ...
Enter Josephine (Eleanor James) who, after much (admittedly snappy) banter and wedding preparations, begins to appear in jolting flashes that prelude the murderous deeds her spirit has in mind. All she needs is the ring-wearing Nicole as her vessel into this world.
Throw in some violence-hungry Gangsters, a quite frankly mad John Thaw-alike Dad and a completely oblivious central couple, and you have a recipe for a farce of brief but enjoyable dimensions.
Director Pat Higgins previously gave us TRASHHOUSE and THE DEVIL'S MUSIC, both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site. They're good films that demonstrate how alive the no-budget UK genre scene is. And he's managed it again with HELLBRIDE.
The film is short (76 minutes), rapidly paced and filled with sharp dialogue. Despite its meagre budget and digital origins, there is no doubting the amount of forethought that has gone into the script and composition of some well-lit, well-shot scenes.
Editing is professional, performances are largely good and the minor gore FX are okay when they appear. It's more of a comedy drama than a horror, perhaps, but then I admire Higgins for doing something a little different than an exercise in nastiness - which is the all-too-easy way for no-budget filmmakers to get noticed nowadays.
Alan Ronald's cinematography is good considering the limited scope, while Herod and James impress the most in the acting stakes.
As a horror film, it's tame stuff and seems to emphasise the comedy aspect more. As a comedy, it's genteel but agreeable enough. You'll smile, but I'm not sure if you'll titter aloud.
Still, I commend the film for its ambition, scope and originality. It's also stylish within its own constraints and works in so much as that it holds the attention on a dramatic level.
It's nice to see Brain Damage putting a little more effort into their discs too. And it's also surprising, given the low retail price of £2.99.
Anyhow, the disc opens with a very attractive if unfussy animated main menu page. From there, there is no scene-selection menu but the film can be navigated through by way of 8 chapters.
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. The picture quality is somewhat soft in general and a little murky during night scenes, but this is more likely down to the fact that the film was shot on digital video. Just bear in mind that it does look like home video footage at times - which kind of lends itself to the theme if you think about it.
English audio comes in 2.0 stereo and is efficient throughout, only dipping when you assume actors' dialogue wasn't captured too well by the crew's recording equipment. It's never problematic and there is no hiss or distortion to speak of.
The real surprise here is a handful of interesting extras.
First off is an excellent commentary track from Higgins. Ever the affable, honest and straightforward type, Higgins makes for an easy and insightful listen that will no doubt be of particular interest to any budding home-grown talents out there. Ronald is also on hand to bounce off Higgins on occasion, and together they provide a decent level of mirth and information. Higgins in particular pulls no punches when addressing the pitfalls of filming on such low budgets, and makes a refreshing change to all these self-congratulatory commentary tracks we seem to hear nowadays.
Next up is an equally engaging 10-minute Behind The Scenes featurette, offering some interesting on-set footage and more agreeable musing from Higgins.
Three minutes of deleted scenes add nothing to the overall oeuvre and their exclusion from the final cut can easily be justified upon a single viewing.
Two minutes of "not happy" bloopers follow, which are not as painful as these things can sometimes be.
Finally we get the HELLBRIDE trailer, 1 minute in length and capable of cramming in a healthy amount of gore and giggles.
It's nice to see another Pat Higgins film enjoying a commercial DVD release in the UK, and it's also good to see Brain Damage offering a little more on their discs.
For £2.99 of your money, surely this is worth the investment.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Brain Damage/Fremantle Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|