A Richard Mansfield Double Feature : “The Demonic Tapes”

Posted: May 20, 2017 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sufficiently convinced that I had a solid handle handle on the oeuvre of no-budget UK filmmaker Richard Mansfield thanks to his decidedly lackluster 2014 effort The Mothman Curse, I nonetheless decided that my constitution was probably resolute enough to handle at least one more product of his imagination, so a mere 24 (or so) hours later, I logged onto Amazon Prime and, noticing that his latest, 2017’s The Demonic Tapes (also, it would seem, streaming in some markets under the title of Fright Christmas — though at least, as of yet, not available on Blu-ray or DVD with either name attached to it) was right near the top of the “recently added” horror queue, rather reluctantly pressed that little “play” arrow and hoped for the best. Or at least for better.

The story in this lean (as in 71 minutes) number, reportedly made for the princely sum of four hundred pounds, focuses on an unnamed man (portrayed by one Darren Munn) who, alone for Christmas, decided to force some holiday “cheer” upon his home by digging out the old artificial tree from the basement, only to have his attention diverted by a dusty old box he finds down there that seems to have faint,almost moaning, noises coming from it. Who can resist a find like that, right?

The box contains an old-school dictaphone machine and a bunch of micro-cassettes, and of course he listens to them, only to become immersed in a tale of supernatural intrigue relayed by semi-renowned London-area psychic medium Claire Reynolds (played/voiced by Alice Keedwell, who actually does double duty here as — well, more on that it a minute), who has quite a story to tell even though she’s dead  — a yarn about a spooky and vengeful entity known only as “Mr. Sheets” who, as luck would have it,  just happened to be haunting our nameless protagonist’s very own house way back in the hazy past of 2003. And at Christmas time, no less!

A return visit is no doubt in order — ghosts, as a general rule, tend to show up whenever somebody’s investigating them — but he kind of keeps to a safe distance until our “hero” decides to track down Claire’s identical twin sister, Sarah, who warns him to give the whole thing up and maybe find himself a new place to live while he’s at it. He does neither, of course — we wouldn’t have much of a movie otherwise — and that’s when Mr. Sheets (who is, quite literally, a dude wrapped in a bedsheet) decides he’d better make his move and get this nosy bastard out of the picture for good.

Folks who’ve read my review of The Mothman Curse — or, even worse, actually seen the flick — will undoubtedly spot more than a few plot similarities between that earlier movie and this one, but the good news is that this flick is far more successful when it comes to exploiting admittedly age-old horror standards. Mr. Sheets is surpsingly creepy in his utter simplicity, he comes and goes with suitably-staged mysteriousness, and Mansfield seems to have developed a solid handle on when and how to deploy his necessarily-minimal array of sound effects in a manner that accentuates the understated power of his visuals. Competent-bordering-on-good performances from his tiny, and quite obviously amateur, cast make The Demonic Tapes a far more watchable affair than its predecessor, it’s true, but it’s our writer/director’s much more confident approach to his craft on a stylistic level that makes the greatest difference here. We’re still dealing with a fairly basic, even time-worn, premise this time around, sure, but the “art-house movie minus the resources” aesthetic that Mansfield seemed to at least be trying to go for earlier is something that he actually achieves this time around, and the end result, while far from revelatory, is a well-worth-your-time ghost story that might even freak you out on occasion.

I guess the lesson here, then, is never give up on even the most seemingly-hopeless micro-budget horror director. Richard Mansfield circa 2014 looked like a guy who would be better off hanging up his hand-held camera and seeing if the local hardware store was hiring. Richard Mansfield circa 2017, by contrast, looks very much like a guy who just might have a bright future in this business after all.

  1. Ryan C. (trashfilmguru) says:

    Reblogged this on Through the Shattered Lens.

  2. Lisa de Vincent says:

    I liked the movie. It’s a must-see for aspiring filmmakers on what can be done on tiny budget and still accomplish a decent product.

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