has always been a macabre side to the art of puppetry, going back to the
commedia dell’arte roots of Punch and Judy. We sort of lost sight of it because
of the Muppets, but it would occasionally manifest itself in ambitious Henson
projects like The Dark Crystal. However,
Kevin McTurk raises old school rod puppetry to new gothic heights in his
visually arresting short film The Mill at
Calder’s End (trailer
screens during the 2016 Philip K. Dick Film Festival in New York.
a long absence, Nicholas Grimshaw is returning to Calder’s End to claim his
inheritance. It is a lonely drive, but his destination is even drearier. His
family estate is a shunned place in the Lovecraftian sense. He would gladly
relinquish all his claims to it, but an ancient Faustian bargain binds his
family to the evil force centered in the ominous looking mill.
course, everything in Calder’s End looks
ominous, even including Grimshaw’s late but still accursed father, who bears an
unmistakable resemblance to the great Peter Cushing, which has to be one of the
coolest cinematic hat tips ever. It is altogether fitting too, since the
influence of Hammer Horror and the Corman Poe films is evident in the
wonderfully rich and atmospheric production and art design. As if that were not
enough fan service, Barbara Steele, the Giallo legend and a semi-regular Corman
repertory player gives voice to the malevolent Apparition of the Mill.
story of Calder’s End would still be
a satisfying little gothic hair-raiser had it been a conventional live action
drama, but as a piece of puppet theater, it is kind of stunning. McTurk (whose
technical credits include films like Iron
Man, Hugo, and Pacific Rim) and
his accomplished team have done some of the best special effects, set
construction, and costuming you will see in a film of any length, with any sort
End doesn’t seem very Philip K. Dick-like, but who cares?
Fans of Cushing, Hammer, and gothic British horror in general will absolutely
flip for it. So far, McTurk has been honing his macabre puppetry in shorts
(this being only his second), but when he applies this concept to a feature, it
will be a major event for genre fans. Very highly recommended, The Mill at Calder’s End screens as part
of a short film block this Friday (1/15) at the Cinema Village, during this year’s
Philip K. Dick Film Festival.
Labels: Horror Movies, Philip K. Dick '16, Puppetry, Short Films