Horror predilections come in all sizes and shapes. For every slasher film freak, there is another fan that prefers Giallo, or one who thinks the Hammer Studios aesthetic is the epitome of the genre. For those who fall into the latter category, the thrill comes not so much from horror as terror or dread. Enter Kevin McTurk's marvelous concoction, The Mill At Calder's End.
It may be a short film, but it packs more foreboding into its 13 minutes than five teen horror blockbusters put together. What's even more remarkable is that the film isn't live action or even animated; it uses puppets. It adds to the creepiness of the film, giving it an otherworldly flavor, much like the 1960s Japanese editions of famous fairy tales from Shiba and Golden Books.
These books featured lenticular covers and full color, full-page graphics to accompany the text, in which the characters were portrayed by puppet-like dolls with handcrafted felt skin, beads and buttons for eyes, and exquisitely detailed clothing and sets. As a child I was fascinated with these books and would stare at the pictures for hours wishing - despite my fear of inanimate objects coming to life -I could exist in that world. The Mill At Calder's End takes that aesthetic and breathes life into it and the result is breathtaking.
With a story from Ryan Murphy and a script penned by McTurk, you might feel like this is an H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe tale that you've read before. It's Gothic in the style of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Young Nicholas Grimshaw is troubled by a "curse that has haunted my family for generations," and wonders, "How did it find me after all this time? With a plot reminiscent of the original Lon Chaney Wolfman film, Nicholas must take possession of the family's Mill at Calder's End after the mysterious disappearance of his father.
Despite the film's uniquely different mode of production, it successfully captures the bold, ominous look of classic Gothic horror films, down to the color scheme and voice over narration. Nicholas's father, Harrison Grimshaw, bears more than a striking resemblance to Peter Cushing and Barbara Steele provides the voice of "The Apparition."
The Mill is part of the curse and the curse is part of the Grimshaw family, like the land itself, being passed down to each generation. It's never specified if the sins of the father from decades past started the malevolent chain of events, but that's part of what makes The Mill At Calder's End so satisfyingly spooky.
There's a Lovecraftian, folk horror element to the eventual reveal of the Great Beast, and McTurk keeps the monster in shadow, which makes it that much more fearsome. And even though the younger Grimshaw sets the Mill aflame and crushes the monster beneath its pillars, the original contract with evil remains in the form of a scrap of paper.
"Can one ever truly defeat evil?" Nicholas wonders in the end. It's the basis for so much horror and The Mill At Calder's End shows that it can persist, no matter how nebulous, and continue to bewitch and terrify us in cinematic form.